Hamilton Eases To Victory At Japanese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton eased to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, overtaking his team-mate on the start and commanding the race for the remaining 53 laps. After falling several places into the first corners, Rosberg fought back to bring Mercedes a 1-2 finish, but has still lost another crucial 7 points on his team-mate, extending Hamilton’s lead in the Championship to 48 points.

Rosberg had clinched pole on Saturday with Hamilton slotting in behind him to keep the pressure on. But at lights out, Hamilton had a slightly stronger start than the sister Silver Arrows which allowed him to pull alongside into T1. Rosberg’s efforts to snuff the overtake failed miserably as he spilled over the track limits and allowed the Ferrari of Vettel and the Williams of Bottas to slip past him and demote him from first to fourth in the first two corners. Behind them, Ricciardo had been squeezed and knocked into Felipe Massa’s front wing. The ensuing traffic saw Perez get hit and slide into the gravel at a vast rate of knots. Subsequently Massa and Ricciardo had to pit to repair their respective punctures, with Massa also taking on a new front wing.

As Hamilton secured his lead with a new fastest lap helping extend the gap to second placed Vettel, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz began the first of many mid-field squabbles when he slipped past his countryman Alonso, while Button seemed to be reversing as Nasr and Verstappen breezed past him on both sides into T1. Alonso made sure to radio his frustration at the “embarrassing, very embarrassing” ease with which he was passed – at engine developer Honda’s home race.

Nevertheless he managed to fight off the challenge presented by Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull for ten laps. The young Russian himself had to fend off Verstappen at the same time and eventually dove into the pits, leaving the feisty Verstappen to challenge for Alonso’s tenth place. He, again, managed to hold the Toro Rosso off for several laps until a small error on the exit of the final corner allowed the 17-year-old to use DRS to pass the 34-year-old double World Champion.

Ericsson repeated his practice spin at Spoon curve which allowed Grosjean and Nasr to get past him, while Vettel maintained his position over Bottas after the two had completed their first stops. Following his own pit stop Rosberg began to charge after the cars in front of him. His first target was Bottas who he caught with remarkable speed and made short work of the into the final chicane, diving down the inside of the Finn, who didn’t seem to be particularly expecting the move from far behind.

At the same time, Verstappen was trying to make ballsy moves of his own and attempted a pass around the outside of Kvyat on the outside of 130R, although sensibly backed out of it when the Red Bull closed the door. Will Stevens showed the perils of taking 130R for granted later on in the race when he spun through the corner and narrowly avoided a huge impact with team-mate Alexander Rossi.

Vettel ducked into the pits on lap 31, avoiding debris left by Sainz who hit a pitlane bollard and broke his front wing. The German was stationary for less than three seconds as he changed his Pirellis, but when he emerged the much faster Rosberg had successfully utilised the undercut to sweep past him and into second. With Hamilton over ten seconds away, and pulling out half-a-second per lap, Rosberg settled in to maintain his second place from Vettel.

Further down the grid was less settled with everything left to fight for. Sainz scooped past Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso (to another angry radio outburst and scream from the Spaniard) and then Jenson Button into 130R to grab the final spot. Verstappen followed his team-mate through the field and pulled a nice move on Sainz at the final chicane. Kvyat made a similar move, despite running with front-end issues which made his car unstable, on Ericsson on the penultimate lap. The penultimate lap also saw Felipe Nasr pull into the pits and clamber from his cockpit.

With nearly twenty seconds in his pocket Hamilton proved unstoppable as he cruised flawlessly to his 41st Grand Prix victory. The tally puts him on par with his idol, Ayrton Senna, who ironically won his three World Championship titles at the same circuit. He has pushed his title lead to 48 points over Rosberg and with both drivers ringing up 43 points for Mercedes, a 1-2 at the next Grand Prix would seal another Constructor’s Championship for the team.

Provisional Race Results:

  1. Lewis Hamilton
  2. Nico Rosberg
  3. Sebastian Vettel
  4. Kimi Raikkonen
  5. Valtteri Bottas
  6. Nico Hulkenberg
  7. Romain Grosjean
  8. Pastor Maldonado
  9. Max Verstappen
  10. Carlos Sainz
  11. Fernando Alonso
  12. Sergio Perez
  13. Marcus Ericsson
  14. Daniil Kvyat
  15. Daniel Ricciardo
  16. Jenson Button
  17. Felipe Nasr
  18. Felipe Massa
  19. Alexander Rossi
  20. Will Stevens

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team. 

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Verstappen handed three-place grid penalty

Max Verstappen has been handed a three place grid penalty by stewards after he was deemed to have parked his car in a “potentially dangerous” way when it broke down during qualifying.

The Dutchman lost power coming out of the hairpin in the final seconds of the Q1 session and could not safely park his car out of the way of the oncoming traffic. Yet when stewards investigated the incident, it was found that Verstappen had first tried to park on the left side before crossing the track and attempting to park on the right side – which subsequently left his car parked diagonally across the track.

The stewards judgement read: “Car 33 experienced a sudden power loss at the exit of turn 11. The driver initially moved to the left side of the track towards a safe position and when it was about to stop, moved to the right onto the racing line, where it eventually stopped. This caused double yellow flags to be shown and endangered oncoming drivers.”

The rookie had already set a time which allowed him to progress to Q2 but could not participate, meaning he would start 15th. With the 3 place penalty he will start from 18th.

Jenson Button and Alexander Rossi were two drivers who were particularly affected by Verstappen’s break-down: Button wasn’t told which engine setting to choose before his first timed lap which led to a slow lap and when he tried to set a second timed lap he encountered the yellow flags and had to slow down, meaning he had to abandon the lap which may have seen him progress to Q2. Rossi, who’s racing in his second Grand Prix this weekend, had been affected by an earlier spin by Marcus Ericsson which left him trying to set a single flying lap in the final seconds of qualifying. Having to slow down for Verstappen, the American eventually set a lap outside the 107% rule, meaning he had to persuade the stewards to allow him to start, which they agreed to.

Nico Hulkenberg also took a three-place grid penalty today, dropping from eleventh to fourteenth, for his part in the collision with Felipe Massa at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

You can read my qualifying report here.

Image courtesy of Toro Rosso/Getty Images. 

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Rosberg Pips Hamilton To Japanese Pole

Nico Rosberg cemented Mercedes’ return to dominance when he grabbed pole at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday. The German had to fight off the challenge of his team-mate who edged closer every session, but an error on his timed lap in Q3 cost Hamilton and he settled for the second slot on the grid. Valtteri Bottas proved best-of-the-rest while Daniil Kvyat emerged unscathed from a mammoth crash.

In an effort to make up for the lack of dry running, most of the drivers took to the track as the green light flashed at the beginning of Q1. Max Verstappen was the first driver to clock a lap, although his fast first and second sectors were somewhat tarnished when he slipped wide at the final chicane. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg jumped then to the top of the timesheets while the Williams cars and Daniel Ricciardo were some of the men separating the Silver Arrows from Verstappen’s Toro Rosso. Marcus Ericsson came close to clouting the barriers when he touched the astroturf on the lead into Spoon curve, with his C34 snapping and spinning into the gravel, leaving a startled Ericsson asking what had happened.

His spin affected Marussia driver Alexander Rossi who couldn’t set a competitive lap with the yellow flags flying and so ducked into the pits. When he returned to the track at the end of the session to finally set a lap, Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso ground to a halt just after the hairpin with what looked like a mechanical gremlin, which again impeded Rossi and left him without a lap time. It also affected Button who didn’t have the chance to improve on his time and got stuck in 16th – meaning he’d drop out of Quali at Q1. He blamed the team for not telling him which way to set his engine and subsequently setting the wrong engine map himself. It’s the first time in his career the Briton hasn’t qualified in the top ten at Suzuka. This benefitted team-mate Alonso, though, who narrowly scraped through to Q2.

Q2 got underway and, although fast enough to progress into Q2, Verstappen was obviously out of contention and watched from the pitlane. Almost immediately, Rosberg dived to the top of the timesheets and was soon followed by Hamilton who went second fastest. The Williams men flanked the Silver Arrows but Kimi Raikkonen edged himself two-hundreths ahead of Massa, while Vettel occupied the other side of the Williams. The top six felt confident enough to sit out the rest of the session, leaving the remaining eight to battle it out for the last four places in Q3. Perez split the Red Bulls with the three men in the top ten, while a late lap from Alonso was not strong enough to make the top ten. Hulkenberg opted not to put in one last lap and was demoted to eleventh – and out of qualifying – when Grosjean took the last Q3 spot. The Force India driver has a three-place grid penalty from his crash with Massa last weekend and so will drop to fourteenth as a result. Carlos Sainz clocked twelfth ahead of Maldonado, with Alonso in fourteenth but only 0.5s off the cut-off mark.

Although ten drivers were left to battle for pole position, realistically only two were in the fight. Rosberg was the first to set a timed lap in the session and clocked a 1.32.584 while Hamilton set a lap 0.076s behind the other Mercedes, although this was on a lap where he locked his brakes at the hairpin, suggesting he could overthrow Rosberg for pole. Behind them, Bottas provisionally clasped third ahead of Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Grosjean.

But as the drivers returned to the track for the final laps, Kvyat touched the grass on the entrance to the chicane and lost control of the car, spinning into the barrier which sent him sideways across the gravel and rolling the car. The Russian’s RB11 was utterly destroyed in the impact which will neccesitate a full rebuild, and as a result he will start the race from the pitlane. The red flag spurred by the crash came with only 36 seconds on the clock meaning there would not be enough time to set another lap and so qualifying was ended. Rosberg took pole as a result, with Hamilton rueing his lock-up which potentially cost him pole and Bottas taking third for Williams. Vettel took fourth for Ferrari, with former Ferrari man Massa ahead of the other Scuderia car, piloted by Raikkonen. Ricciardo took seventh ahead of eighth-placed Grosjean, while neither Sergio Perez nor Daniil Kvyat could set a time before the red flag, leaving them ninth and tenth.

Provisional Starting Grid:

  1. Nico Rosberg
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Valtteri Bottas
  4. Sebastian Vettel
  5. Felipe Massa
  6. Kimi Raikkonen
  7. Daniel Ricciardo
  8. Romain Grosjean
  9. Sergio Perez
  10. Daniil Kvyat
  11. Carlos Sainz
  12. Pastor Maldonado
  13. Fernando Alonso
  14. Nico Hulkenberg
  15. Max Verstappen
  16. Jenson Button
  17. Marcus Ericsson
  18. Felipe Nasr
  19. Will Stevens
  20. Alexander Rossi (No Time)

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team. 

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Mercedes Return To Top Of The Timesheets In FP3

Mercedes showed that they appear to have retaken their stronghold over the rest of the field when they clocked the two fastest laps of FP3, over half-a-second clear of their closest rival.

It was Nico Rosberg who had the run on his team-mate when teams finally got a chance to complete some dry-weather practice before Sunday’s Grand Prix. The German was the only man to break into the 1m 33’s while Hamilton set a lap over two-tenths slower. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was the best of the rest as he led the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Bottas had sat out the rain-affected FP2 knowing the rest of the weekend would be dry, and appears to have suffered no disadvantage in return. The Ferrari drivers were sixth and eighth, with last-time race winner Vettel 1.2s shy of the Mercedes drivers. Verstappen took seventh for Toro Rosso while Grosjean taking ninth and Sainz rounding out the top ten – the latter completing the most laps of anyone this morning.

Nico Hulkenberg in eleventh led an extremely close group of drivers where only four-tenths of a second separated eleventh to seventeenth. Button, in twelfth, looked strong at his engine supplier’s home race, but the Briton missed out on any low-fuel running as the team rebuilt a broken floor on the McLaren. Ericsson was thirteenth for Sauber while FP2 leader Daniil Kvyat couldn’t better fourteenth. Pastor Maldonado brought his Lotus to fifteenth ahead of Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez for McLaren and Force India respectively. Felipe Nasr finished eighteenth while the Marussia drivers of Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi took their usual spots at the back of the grid for Marussia.

Mercedes look to have stood back up and dusted themselves off after being trampled on in Singapore. Although still leading the Championship by 41 points, Hamilton will be keen to exert his dominance and return to the top of the podium. The question of qualifying therefore is can Rosberg beat Hamilton to the front of the grid?

Free Practice Three results:

  1. Nico Rosberg
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Daniel Ricciardo
  4. Valtteri Bottas
  5. Felipe Massa
  6. Kimi Raikkonen
  7. Max Verstappen
  8. Sebastian Vettel
  9. Romain Grosjean
  10. Carlos Sainz
  11. Nico Hulkenberg
  12. Jenson Button
  13. Marcus Ericsson
  14. Daniil Kvyat
  15. Pastor Maldonado
  16. Fernando Alonso
  17. Sergio Perez
  18. Felipe Nasr
  19. Will Stevens
  20. Alexander Rossi

Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Team.

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Kvyat Stays Ahead Of Mercedes In FP2

Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat stayed ahead of the Mercedes duo when he clocked the fastest lap of the second practice session ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Kvyat had recorded the second fastest time in the morning’s opening session when Toro Rosso rookie Carlos Sainz had topped the time sheets, with the Mercedes drivers of Rosberg and Hamilton taking third and fifth. After their surprise lack of speed at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, all eyes were on the Silver Arrows to see if, as Vettel had predicted, they could bounce back to their usual dominance. Indeed, Rosberg was only 0.023s shy of Kvyat’s time, yet Championship leader Hamilton was over half a second behind his team-mate. Daniel Ricciardo sandwiched the Mercedes men with a time good enough for fourth, while the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, and the Toro Rosso pairing of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen slotted into fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. Verstappen’s running was delayed as the team searched for a lost bolt on the rookie’s car, and thus completed the least laps of any running driver – 5.

Felipe Nasr clocked ninth, almost a full second ahead of Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado who rounded out the top ten. Fernando Alonso had a delayed running when his car was reassembled by the team, meaning he came out during the heaviest rain period which left him down the order in 17th. His team-mate drove a time good enough for twelfth while Romain Grosjean – whose ties with Haas are getting stronger as the week progresses – settled in for fifteenth. Felipe Massa was twentieth for Williams, while team-mate Bottas chose not to participate and so did not complete a lap. The Manor drivers of Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi, the latter celebrating his 24th birthday today, filled out the final places on the time sheets.

Although Kvyat has outpaced both Mercedes drivers so far this weekend, and Rosberg has kept far ahead of team-mate Hamilton, the fact that the rest of the weekend will be dry means realistically we can’t predict who’ll take pole on Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow morning’s FP3 session, when the teams trial the dry tyres and prepare for Qualifying, will give us a much better idea of how the grid may take shape.

Free Practice Two Results:

  1. Daniil Kvyat
  2. Nico Rosberg
  3. Lewis Hamilton
  4. Daniel Ricciardo
  5. Sebastian Vettel
  6. Kimi Raikkonen
  7. Carlos Sainz
  8. Max Verstappen
  9. Felipe Nasr
  10. Pastor Maldonado
  11. Nico Hulkenberg
  12. Jenson Button
  13. Marcus Ericsson
  14. Sergio Perez
  15. Romain Grosjean
  16. Felipe Massa
  17. Fernando Alonso
  18. Will Stevens
  19. Alexander Rossi
  • Valtteri Bottas (No Time)

Image courtesy of Red Bull/Getty Images

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Japanese Grand Prix: Sainz Quickest In Rain-Affected FP1

Toro Rosso rookie Carlos Sainz was the fastest man during Friday morning’s practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix, marking the first time the Spaniard has topped a session.

The unexpected speed in extremely wet conditions saw him clock a fastest lap over half a second clear of second quickest Daniil Kvyat in the sister Red Bull car. With Mercedes’ surprise lack of pace at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix fresh in their heads, Rosberg and Hamilton recorded third and fifth respectively, with Ferrari’s meddler and Championship contender Sebastian Vettel wedging his way into fourth.

The torrential rain saw limited running from those who ventured on track, with eight drivers – including Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Lotus reserve driver Jolyon Palmer – deciding to stay in the shelter of their garages. Max Verstappen brought the other Toro Rosso to sixth, over 1.5s shy of team-mate Sainz’s session-topping time. Kimi Raikkonen took the second Ferrari to seventh while Williams’ Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas coasted to eighth and tenth, and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr placed ninth and eleventh. The slowest driver to clock a lap was McLaren’s Jenson Button with a lap over six seconds slower than that of Sainz’s effort.

The order of practice cannot give too much scope to how Qualifying might play out. The conditions were far too heavy to even set a time for most of the session, and the latter part of the running saw drivers tip-toe the circuit for fear of losing control – and valuable parts on the car. Bottas, for example, went off at the ultra-fast 130R corner while Felipe Massa skipped through the gravel earlier in the lap.

Sebastian Vettel predicted this week that Mercedes would return to their strong hold over the grid this weekend, but judging from the times he seems to be holding them honest. With a dry qualifying and race predicted, the major players’ pace is still to be seen.

Free Practice One results:

  1. Carlos Sainz
  2. Daniil Kvyat
  3. Nico Rosberg
  4. Sebastian Vettel
  5. Lewis Hamilton
  6. Max Verstappen
  7. Kimi Raikkonen
  8. Felipe Massa
  9. Marcus Ericsson
  10. Valtteri Bottas
  11. Felipe Nasr
  12. Jenson Button
  • Daniel Ricciardo (NT)*
  • Nico Hulkenberg (NT)
  • Sergio Perez (NT)
  • Fernando Alonso (NT)
  • Pastor Maldonado (NT)
  • Jolyon Palmer (NT)
  • Will Stevens (NT)
  • Alexander Rossi (NT)

*NT = No TIme

Image courtesy of Scuderia Toro Rosso/Getty Images.

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Vettel Victorious In Singapore

Sebastian Vettel stormed to a dominant victory at the Singapore Grand Prix yesterday, taking advantage of the shock lack of pace from World Championship leaders and season dominator, Mercedes. The German four-time World Champion returned to the extreme levels of dominance he displayed during his peak at Red Bull, leading former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by over three seconds by the end of the first lap. Meanwhile, Championship leader Hamilton’s fifth place start deteriorated into a DNF – his first since the Belgian Grand Prix last season.

Saturday’s Qualifying session had sprung a surprise when the Mercedes’ true pace was uncovered, showing that the Silver Arrows’ slow pace was not mere sandbagging. Both Ferrari and Red Bull had shown some unexpected pace during practice, and Ricciardo’s optimism about his teams speed proved well founded when he lined up on the front row of the grid, just ahead of fourth placed Daniil Kvyat. But it was Vettel who stole Hamilton’s pre-reserved slot at the front of the grid when he clocked in a lap 6-tenths clear of any opposition with a flawless lap around the tight streets of Singapore. His Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen took third, with Mercedes slotting into fifth and sixth for Hamilton and Rosberg respectively.

On the start, Vettel left the grid far behind him as he sped into the distance, while Raikkonen, the two Red Bulls and two Mercedes jostled through the first corners but essentially retained their qualifying position. Further down the grid, Hulkenberg had made strong gains from eleventh while Verstappen stalled his Toro Rosso on the grid. The Dutchman was left stranded and in need of a push from the marshalls, who returned him to the pits before he rejoined the race a lap later. Further down the lap the drivers, with the exception of the mechanical Vettel, were struggling for grip on the slippy circuit, with a number of close calls including Perez losing control under breaking and narrowly avoiding contact with his Force India team-mate.

Almost immediately the grid settled down into the traditional procession which gave the race it’s ‘Singabore’ nickname, opting to preserve brakes and tyres rather than challenge for position early into the long race. Romain Grosjean was the first man to duck into the pitlane for a new set of boots, spurring the first round of stops in the process. Alonso and Ericsson suffered long delays, McLaren struggling to get Alonso’s front-left tyre off his car, and then both men having to wait until Maldonado and Ericsson breezed past them in the pits before they could be released. Grosjean took advantage of Alonso’s slow stop, the first of many to suffer blunders, to jump the double World Champion on track.

Massa was one such driver who suffered a long pit stop and it proved costly when he emerged from the pitlane into the path of Nico Hulkenberg who, unable to see the Brazilian from his angle, unwittingly closed the door on the Williams and was sent airborne as a result. While the German spun into the barriers and clambered from his cockpit, Massa was able to continue until a gearbox issue would end his race prematurely in the latter stages.

The Safety Car was deployed for several laps to clear the debris from Hulkenberg’s crash which bunched the grid up, and the second time round saw Vettel kept far more honest by the drivers behind him. Indeed, fourth placed Hamilton (having passed Kvyat by pitting before the Safety Car came out) took to his team radio to claim Vettel was purposefully holding Ricciardo up. Ironically, the Briton soon took to the radio to say he was losing power. With the team’s suggestions proving useless for Hamilton, he dropped further down the grid until the team finally told him to retire the car. Not before Alexander Rossi, in his F1 race debut, had the chance to pass the slow car on track, undoubtedly giving the American a smile. Alonso followed Hamilton into the pits to retire with yet another mechanical issue.

As Grosjean spurred the second round of pit stops, the yellow flags came out in Sector 2, and then a Safety Car. A 27-year-old man had somehow gained access to the circuit and was leisurely walking along the track taking photos on his mobile phone while walking against the cars. Eventually the idiotic invader decided to clamber back over the track lining barrier where he was tackled by security and arrested.

The Safety Car eventually pitted, with Rossi tangled up in the top three and holding Kimi Raikkonen up. Further down the order, a slow moving Sainz saw Maldonado hesitate on the restart and drop behind Alonso on the grid. The Lotus driver was subsequently left open for attack and when Jenson Button attempted to pass the Venezuelan, the Lotus inexplicably slowed out of the corner with Button running into the back of him. As his front wing shattered and showered the cars behind, Button hopped on the radio to criticize Maldonado, with the 2009 World Champion eventually retiring. Maldonado subsequently dropped four places with the two Toro Rosso men and two Sauber drivers promoting themselves at his expense.

Up front, Ricciardo had closed Vettel’s lead to only 1.4s but could not close the gap before the maximum race time of 2 hours clocked out, leaving the Aussie bemused and blaming the second Safety Car for missing out on the win. Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line for third to seal a double Ferrari podium, with Nico Rosberg claiming fourth. Valtteri Bottas finished fifth for Williams with Kvyat crossing the line in sixth ahead of Perez. The Toro Rosso drivers crossed the line in front of the two Saubers and the two Lotus’, with the Manor drivers keeping their head down and finishing the race – Rossi beating team-mate Stevens on his debut.

Despite his retirement, Hamilton maintains his grip on the World Championship with 41 points over closest rival Nico Rosberg, and Vettel 49 behind. But the question now is, can Ferrari throw in a last minute challenge for the title?

Race Results: 

  1. Sebastian Vettel
  2. Daniel Ricciardo
  3. Kimi Raikkonen
  4. Nico Rosberg
  5. Valtteri Bottas
  6. Daniil Kvyat
  7. Sergio Perez
  8. Max Verstappen
  9. Carlos Sainz
  10. Felipe Nasr
  11. Marcus Ericsson
  12. Pastor Maldonado
  13. Romain Grosjean
  14. Alexander Rossi
  15. Will Stevens
  • Nico Hulkenberg
  • Felipe Massa
  • Lewis Hamilton
  • Fernando Alonso
  • Jenson Button

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari. 

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