Palmer to partner Maldonado in 2016

Lotus F1 Team this evening announced that their reserve driver Jolyon Palmer will race for them alongside Pastor Maldonado in 2016.

The Briton, who has been Lotus’ reserve driver since January after winning the GP2 Championship, drove for the team in Free Practice One sessions this season.

“We are very pleased to announce that exciting British racing talent Jolyon Palmer is promoted to a race seat with the team for next season,” said Gerard Lopez, Lotus Team Principal.

“We’ve seen Jolyon’s hard work and talent this season in the way he’s approached his third driver role and he is a really popular choice for the team.

“As well as having a great future ahead of him behind the wheel, Jolyon is an intelligent and highly marketable asset to the team. He deserves this opportunity, and everyone at Enstone is excited to see what he can achieve next year.”

Palmer said: “I’m obviously delighted that I’ll be racing in Formula 1 next year. Lotus F1 Team gave me a tremendous opportunity this season and I thank them for assisting my development to a level where they have put their trust in me for a crucial season in their evolution.

“I’ve enjoyed and learnt a lot from my year as Third and Reserve driver so I’m looking forward to putting this into practice as a race driver in 2016. I can’t wait for next season to get underway!”

The 24-year-old, the first British GP2 Champion since reigning F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton in 2006, fills the vacancy left by Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman announced earlier this month that he was to race for rookie team Haas in 2016, having raced for Lotus since 2012.

Pastor Maldonado, who brings approximately $27m of sponsorship a year to Lotus from Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, has been retained by the team despite criticisms of his driving ability.

Image courtesy of Lotus F1 Team.

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Hamilton wins in Russia as Rosberg retires

Lewis Hamilton cruised to a dominant victory at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, capitalising on his team-mates early retirement to extend his Championship lead and effectively shut down any potential designs Rosberg may have had on the Championship.

Rosberg had grabbed pole during Qualifying by an impressive three-tenths over Hamilton, having also lead the three practice sessions. In contrast to his embarrassing show at the Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago when Hamilton robbed him of the lead into the first corner, Rosberg successfully maintained the lead through the first lap. Although Hamilton was looking somewhat dangerous in the German’s mirrors, any threat was neutralised when Nico Hulkenberg spun off at the second corner and collected the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson, throwing debris everywhere and prompting the Safety Car. While the two aforementioned racers clambered for their cockpit, Max Verstappen hobbled back to the pits with a rear right puncture.

With the track cleared the Safety Car pitted and Rosberg led Hamilton across the line. Bottas made a nice move on Raikkonen to reclaim the third place the Finn had taken from him on the first lap, while Hamilton couldn’t pass the Mercedes in front of him. He would not be stuck for long, however, as Rosberg came on the radio to report his throttle was getting stuck open. Losing control of his car through most corners, it was easy for Hamilton to slip past him – as did the rest of the points scoring drivers – before Rosberg crawled into the pits. The team assembled around his car and decided they could do nothing to recover Rosberg’s car and retired him from the race.

While Hamilton settled into the lead, Carlos Sainz – who 24 hours beforehand had been in a hospital bed following his big FP3 shunt – was making progress and passed Button easily to promote himself to eleventh. The next man to attempt to pass Button was Romain Grosjean, whose attempt resulted in him losing control in the slipstream, get onto the marbles on the fringe of the track which curves left and clout the barriers at a mighty rate of knots. His car spun several times out of the barriers and caused big superficial damage to the bodywork – but luckily the driver was completely okay. Nonetheless, a second Safety Car was needed to clear the debris – and some gaffer tape to repair the barrier!

Some drivers took the opportunity to pit for new tyres – but none of the top 8 drivers took this option. Hamilton complained off his tyres going too cold behind the Safety Car but had relatively little hassle from Bottas on the restart. As he stormed into the lead, the Ferraris were battling for P3. Vettel made a move on his team-mate into T2 which left Raikkonen cutting across the run-off area to avoid contact, and retaining his position. He moved aside later in the lap though to allow Vettel up to third, as Kimi had illegally kept the position.

Bottas was provisionally second but once he took his pitstop, he came out in eighth. When Vettel pitted two laps later he had successfully jumped the Finn and moved up to second, while Raikkonen emerged just behind the Williams. The two Finns began scrapping for position – a story which would last for the end of the race and end badly for both men. While Perez had held third place for a large chunk of the race, Bottas was hunting him down. It took him several laps to pass the Mexican but he finally wiggled his way up to the rear wing of the Force India and pulled an impressive overtake on Perez. Raikkonen followed the Williams through and demoted Perez to fifth as the Ferrari driver now targeted the Williams in his sights. With one lap left Raikkonen was closing but he pulled an extremely optimistic and amateurish dive on the inside of Bottas which sent Bottas spinning into the barriers and damaging Raikkonen’s car. While an ecstatic Perez drove through the collision and back into third, Bottas got on the radio to ask “what the f*ck” Raikkonen was doing.

Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz also retired just before the checkered flag. Ricciardo appears to have lost his brakes and pulled safely over, while Sainz also lost his brakes but spun backwards into the barriers – ironically at the same place as his shunt on Saturday – which damaged his car and ultimately proved terminal to his race. A fairly large fragment of his front wing was on the racing line after the incident which a brave marshal chose to clear – but this left him ducking out of the way of Vettel’s Ferrari as the German came around the corner and narrowly missed the volunteer.

Up front there were no real issues for Hamilton as he breezed across the line to secure his 42nd victory. Vettel crossed the line second while Perez gratefully accepted third place. Massa took fourth while Raikkonen finished fifth but will likely be moved down the order when a penalty is applied for his contact with Bottas. Kvyat, Nasr and Maldonado finished sixth, seventh and eighth while the two McLaren drivers secured points with ninth and tenth for Button and Alonso respectively. Verstappen was the first man outside the points while Bottas was classified as twelfth. Merhi and Stevens brought both Manor cars home for thirteenth and fourteenth, the last of the finishing drivers.

Provisional Race Results:

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

Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Team

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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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