Daniil Kvyat an unfortunate victim of ruthless Red Bull regime

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Credit: Getty Images

Formula One can be a ruthless world, as Daniil Kvyat found out to his cost earlier this week.

No more than two weeks after a combative display earned him a podium finish in the Chinese Grand Prix, Kvyat finds himself demoted from his seat at Red Bull to Scuderia Toro Rosso, his crash-strewn performance at his home race in Sochi proving his last act at the energy drinks company’s premier outfit.

Kvyat’s unceremonious fall from grace paves the way for 18-year-old Max Verstappen to seize a chance at Red Bull that, while seemingly inevitable for 2017, comes surprisingly soon for anyone on the outside looking in.

Although Red Bull and its driver development programme chief Helmut Marko will say that there is a clear rationale behind making the switch at this stage of the season, one cannot help but think that this is a rash move, and one that is unduly harsh on the Russian.

Taken as a collective, Kvyat’s performances this season have not set the world alight. His podium in China – which nearly saw beat teammate Daniel Ricciardo by less than seven seconds despite the Australian’s puncture early in the race – aside, the 22-year-old has consistently found himself wanting in terms of speed, with early exits from qualifying in Melbourne and Bahrain an early cause for concern.

Following the race in Shanghai, for which his robust, yet fair, first corner move on Sebastian Vettel earned him his place in the headlines, the spotlight fell on the youngster as he prepared to take part in his home race. There unfolded disastrous first lap in which he hit Vettel twice, consequently ruined Ricciardo’s race and earned a stop-go penalty, restricting him to a 15th place finish in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It would be naïve in the extreme to suggest that Kvyat’s performance in Sochi is the reason for his demotion to Toro Rosso. All drivers make mistakes, and even a regime as bloodthirsty in their dealings with young chargers as the Red Bull Young Driver Programme does not simply make changes off the back of one torrid afternoon.

But even a sub-standard start to the season does not justify Red Bull’s decision. With 17 races to go, there was ample time for Kvyat to raise his game and begin to perform to a consistent level. Let us not forget that he actually beat Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings and came out 7-6 ahead when both drivers made it to the chequered flag last season. Ricciardo may have suffered more than his fair share of misfortune in 2015, but Kvyat was, more often than not, there to capitalise when needed and with strong drives in Monaco, Hungary and Mexico, justified the faith Red Bull showed by signing him to replace Vettel.

If the Russian was deemed not good enough for the senior team, then why was the switch not made before the start of the season? Verstappen has begun 2016 strongly, but is yet to reach the astonishing heights of his debut campaign that may well have earned him a promotion in the off-season.

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Max Verstappen will make his debut for Red Bull at the Spanish Grand Prix

There is talk that Red Bull has moved quickly to prevent potential suitors in Mercedes and Ferrari from snatching Verstappen’s signature, but was the Dutch prodigy likely to sign elsewhere with the promise of a race seat at the senior team in 2017? It would seem far-fetched, given the regulation changes that are set to come into play, giving Red Bull the chance to close the gap to the front of the field.

As things stand, the chances of Mercedes replacing Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg are extremely slim, while even if Kimi Raikkonen were to leave Ferrari at the end of the season, it would have been an extraordinarily adventurous move for a team which has been extremely cautious when it comes to signing inexperienced drivers to bolster their title assault with a teenager.

While that would not have staved off the risk of Verstappen signing a pre-agreement with another team for 2018, it is difficult to imagine that his signing of a new deal at Red Bull until 2019 to coincide with his promotion hinged solely on him leaving Toro Rosso with immediate effect.

Other reasons given for the switch include the opportunity to better evaluate all four drivers within the Red Bull stable, and the increasing friction between Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr at Toro Rosso. Both seem plausible, but with the vast reserves of data available to all teams nowadays, does a worthwhile comparison between drivers really depend on them driving the same car?

Verstappen and Sainz Jr may be at loggerheads, but is a team marshalled by such experience in the form of Franz Tost and the recently arrived John Booth really unable to control the situation?

The fundamental reasons for the move are simple. Red Bull clearly see Verstappen as the future. That is why they went to such lengths to prevent him signing for Mercedes in 2014, by offering him a drive at Toro Rosso aged just 17. Kvyat, on the other hand, is clearly not seen as someone with world championship-winning potential.

Red Bull operates like a business. As Christian Horner stated in an interview at the Chinese Grand Prix: “We have a stable of four drivers and two are on loan at Toro Rosso. All the drivers are essentially on the same contract and we have the ability at any point in time to move things round should we so wish.”

They will argue that if Verstappen jumps into the senior team and is closer to the pace, or even at the same level as Kvyat to begin with, their decision will be the right one. But that does not make the timing, or manner of this switch seem fair.

Kvyat now has the opportunity to regroup and try to rebuild his Formula One career. The chance that he will race again for Red Bull is extremely limited, and with this now being his third season, it is difficult to imagine him remaining at Toro Rosso beyond the end of 2016, especially if Pierre Gasly performs well in GP2 and shows that he is good enough to drive in F1.

Good results over the rest of the year may put him in the frame for a Renault drive, albeit with competition from Esteban Ocon and Sergey Sirotkin, while Haas could be seen as another possibility, with Romain Grosjean possibly on the shopping lists of the big teams and Esteban Gutierrez having failed to live up to expectations so far this season. Otherwise, Kvyat’s place on the grid in 2017 may well come down to whether he can muster enough sponsorship to bag a drive with one of the other, and less well off, midfield runners.

It would be a huge shame if Kvyat were to find himself without a drive next year. He may not be on the level of the very best in the sport, but at just 22 he has time on his side and has the potential to at least be a very capable asset for one of the midfield teams for many years to come.

Red Bull’s sink-or-swim strategy has cost several drivers their Grand Prix careers in the past. Just ask Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne to name but three. Let us hope that the name of Daniil Kvyat will not soon be added to that list.

Stephen D’Albiac

Solving Formula One’s prize money problem

 

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Credit: Bleacher Report

Last week, Autosport revealed that Formula One teams had been awarded a prize pot of some $965m for their performances last season.

The money was given by Formula One Management (FOM) to the ten teams that competed in the 2015 world championship, with newcomers Haas not yet eligible for a share of the pot.

While the teams were all awarded some part of the cash for participating in the series, as well as for performance, a staggering $295m of prize money was awarded not on merit, but to a select few teams as a result of pre-signed agreements with Bernie Ecclestone.

It means that Ferrari – which benefits from a $35m constructors’ championship bonus as well as a controversial $70m payday for its status as Formula One’s most historic team – took home $192m for its 2015 efforts, while runaway champions Mercedes – which enjoys $74m in bonus payments – earned just $171m.

A further $74m in bonuses for Red Bull meant that the Austrian concern was given $144m, while Williams – which is entitled to just $10m in added payments and beat them to third place in the constructors’ standings – earned just $87m.

McLaren – which endured a wretched 2015 and placed a disastrous ninth – were the fifth most successful team in the earning stakes, with a generous $32m bonus handout netting the Woking outfit $82m.

Beneath McLaren are the teams not deemed eligible for these funds in the eyes of the sport’s elite. Force India earned $67m, while Lotus (now Renault) took home $64m. Toro Rosso was rewarded with a $57m piece of the pie, while Sauber benefitted to the tune of $57m. Manor, the only team not to score a point in 2015, earned $47m.

A full breakdown of the prize fund for 2015 can be seen here:

Pot 1 ($335m) Pot 2 ($335m) Pot 3 ($295m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Ferrari $33.5m $53.5m $105m $192m
Mercedes $33.5m $63.5m $74m $171m
Red Bull $33.5m $36.5m $74m $144m
Williams $33.5m $43.5m $10m $87m
McLaren $33.5m $16.5m $32m $82m
Force India $33.5m $33.5m N/A $67m
Lotus $33.5m $30.5m N/A $64m
Toro Rosso $33.5m $23.5m N/A $57m
Sauber $33.5m $20.5m N/A $54m
Manor $33.5m $13.5m N/A $47m

Thanks to gift-wrapped bonus payments, what these figures create is a huge disparity between the teams fortunate enough to have been around long enough or been successful enough in the past, and those whose efforts have not been rewarded on the track.

That Formula One currently finds itself in a situation where teams at the back of the grid are struggling to make ends meet while the sport’s coffers are being divided in such an unfair manner is a damning indictment of those at the top.

Ferrari may be the longest serving and most successful team in Formula One history, but what gives a team that has won nothing in the way of championships since 2008 the right to a healthy bonus of more than $100m, while teams like Sauber and Manor earn nothing as they face a desperate struggle for survival?

Mercedes may be the team of the moment, and Red Bull, McLaren and Williams have certainly enjoyed many a day in the now firmly set suns of yesteryear, but in the here and now, prize money should be what it says on the tin. It needs to be distributed in a fair way, based on performance, and not as a note of thanks for their contributions to the sport.

That a team like Force India has produced such fine cars in the face of such a raw deal from the sport’s kingmakers is a glowing testament to the talents of their workforce back at Silverstone. With a fairer share of the prize pot, their potential to achieve would only be greater still.

A redistribution of funds

F1 Grand Prix of Italy

Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Now, armed with a calculator and with my Bernie Ecclestone-styled wig firmly donned, I have devised an alternative prize pot with the aim of rewarding teams on performance rather than prestige.

To make this a fair experiment, I will be playing with the $965m that the teams were given in the real world, but I have changed the way in which it is handed out.

I have split the total prize fund into three distinct pots, the first two worth $432.5m apiece, with the third pot containing $100m.

Pot one will be given to teams for their participation in the sport, ensuring that, straight out of the box, everyone earns a nice starter of $43.25m.

Pot two is a tiered performance bonus, with Mercedes, as champions, earning 14.5 per cent, with Ferrari netting 13.5 per cent for coming second and so on until you get to Manor, which gets 5.5 per cent of the pot. This ensures that each team earns a minimum of $67.05m, more than Force India got in real life for finishing fifth.

This brings us to pot three, which is a pure $100m performance bonus, and is shared between teams based simply on how many points they scored in the previous season.

Mercedes finished with 703 points in 2015 – 36.6 per cent of those available, and therefore, they take away $36.6m, with Ferrari – who amassed 22.3 per cent of the possible points on offer – bagging $22.3m. This filters down to McLaren, which earned just 1.4 per cent of the points last season. Manor, which failed to score in 2015, gets nothing from this pot.

This leaves us with the following breakdown:

Pot 1 ($432.5m) Pot 2 ($432.5m) Pot 3 ($100m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Mercedes $43.25m $62.7m $36.6m $142.55m
Ferrari $43.25m $58.4m $22.3m $123.95m
Williams $43.25m $54.1m $13.4m $110.75m
Red Bull $43.25m $49.7m $9.7m $102.65m
Force India $43.25m $45.4m $7.1m $95.75m
Lotus $43.25m $41.1m $4.1m $88.45m
Toro Rosso $43.25m $36.8m $3.5m $83.55m
Sauber $43.25m $32.4m $1.9m $77.55m
McLaren $43.25m $28.1m $1.4m $72.75m
Manor $43.25m $23.8m $0 $67.05m

As a result, the amount of prize money that each team earns reflects fairly their on-track performance during the 2015 season.

While in real life, the difference between the amount of money awarded to the highest-earning team and the lowest was $145m. Under my system, this disparity falls to $75.5m. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren all find themselves worse off, but the four richest teams in the sport aside, every other constructor benefits to the tune of at least $20m.

This boost in revenue would give the midfield teams more funds, which could be used to invest in better personnel and facilities, increasing the chances of added competition on the grid. Teams would be less likely to need to procure the services of pay drivers, opening up more room for the most talented youngsters to progress to Formula One.

At present, teams only begin to earn prize money at the end of their second season, and only the top ten in the championship benefit from the system. I would change both of these factors, which would allow the Haas team to immediately reap the fruits of their vast investment into the sport and prevent the risk of any one team being cut adrift as a result of a lack of money.

With a formula in place that rewards teams on current endeavours rather than past glories, the message would be simple: if you want more money, do your talking on the track.

Stephen D’Albiac

Hamilton takes Nurburgring pole

Lewis Hamilton will start on pole for the second race running as he pipped Sebastian Vettel to the top spot in qualifying for tomorrow’s German Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver had been off the pace in the morning’s practice session, but found the sweet spot in his car when it mattered to beat Vettel’s Red Bull by just 0.103 seconds.

Mark Webber will start third tomorrow, just ahead of the Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, whilst Daniel Ricciardo continued his impressive run of strong Saturdays to qualify his Toro Rosso sixth.

The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso lock out the fourth row of the grid after opting to qualify on the medium tyres in order to optimise its race strategy, whilst Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

The big shock of qualifying was Nico Rosberg’s failure to make it through to the final part of qualifying. The victor at Silverstone last week was kept in the pits by Mercedes, the team thinking they had done enough to make it through to Q3, but a flurry of late improvements left him down in 11th and with an uphill struggle to fight for the podium tomorrow.

Rosberg was joined on the sidelines in Q3 by Paul di Resta, Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Williams celebrates its 600th Grand Prix this weekend, but the team marked the milestone in the worst possible way as both cars fell at the first hurdle. Valtteri Bottas will start 17th and shares the ninth row with Pastor Maldonado.

Charles Pic starts 19th, with Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton completing the grid.

Qualifying Results
1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes
2) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
3) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
4) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault
5) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault
6) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
7) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari
8) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari
9) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
10) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari
11) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
12) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes
13) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes
14) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes
15) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
16) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
17) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault
18) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault
19) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault
20) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault
22) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth

Stephen D’Albiac

Why the title race is far from over

Sebastian Vettel leads the world championship, but Fernando Alonso is lurking behind him

Sebastian Vettel’s dominant drive to victory in Canada last weekend has prompted many to conclude that the title race is already as good as over.

The world champion’s seemingly effortless charge to the chequered flag in Montreal was the most convincing win of the year so far, and helped the Red Bull driver increase his lead over Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ standings to a comfortable 36 points with just seven races gone.

The nature of the win means that Vettel is now odds-on favourite to claim a fourth successive title, with the 25-year-old’s price amongst the bookies being slashed as low as 2/5, indicating a fairly sizeable amount of confidence as to the final destination of the 2013 world championship.

But is the title race really over at this still early stage of the season?

There can be no disputing that Vettel is the clear favourite to make it title number four at this stage. He has a lead larger than at any point since his stroll to the championship in 2011, and his Red Bull is looking stronger than it has at any point over the season. If your life depended on choosing a champion this year, you would plump for the German.

But take a closer look at the race in Canada and the season as a whole, and things don’t look quite as clear-cut.

Focusing solely on the last race for the moment, and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve looks custom made for the RB9. With no high-speed corners to speak of, the track is far easier on its tyres than the likes of Barcelona and Sepang, meaning that everyone, even the notorious, rubber-wrecking Mercedes, had a relatively easy time of things during the race. This was borne out by the fact that the Force India of Paul di Resta was able to complete a marathon 57-lap stint on a set of mediums without any significant drop-off in performance.

Therefore Vettel’s Red Bull, one of several cars to suffer with high wear on the 2013-spec Pirellis, was rid of its main Achilles heel, and the tyre advantage of its rivals, particularly Ferrari and Lotus, was effectively gone before lights out, meaning he was able to push his car to the limit without any fear of having to conserve his rubber.

Not only that, but the RB9 is a clear step ahead of its rivals when it comes to generating traction, a characteristic that Montreal tests like perhaps no other venue on the calendar. The traction of the Red Bull is such that it makes the car capable of gaining at least a tenth through each acceleration zone, giving it a huge advantage throughout the lap and more than making up for what it loses through its relative lack of straight line speed. It’s also no coincidence that Vettel’s other convincing win this season came in Bahrain, another circuit which is heavily reliant on traction.

It so happens that traction is a weakness of the Red Bull’s closest challenger, the Ferrari. There is no doubt that the Scuderia have a cracking car on their hands this year, but its pace on circuits where good acceleration is a must has been noticeably lacking. Alonso was losing time to not only the Red Bulls through the traction zones, but the Mercedes as well, which delayed his charge through to second to the closing stages, and meant that even if he’d had a clear run at Vettel throughout the race, it’s unlikely he’d have ruffled many feathers upfront.

These factors created the perfect recipe for Vettel, and he took full advantage of it to produce the perfect dish for his team.

So what can we expect going into the next few races?

Focusing on the four tracks coming up, we have Silverstone, the Nurburgring, the Hungaroring and Spa.

They all have their unique challenges, but the quartet that makes up the next chapter of this season share some fundamental elements. All four have significant sections of long corners, plenty of which are medium to high-speed bends, all four should provide a bigger test of the Pirelli tyres than Canada, and traction is much less of an issue at each of these venues compared to Montreal.

This spells good news for Ferrari. Its car thrives on circuits with long, sweeping bends and its abundance of front-end grip means it can carry more speed through these corners than the Red Bull, and do it whilst being kinder on the tyres. Of the three tracks raced on this year that fit this profile, Alonso has won comfortably at two of them (China and Barcelona), and his spectacular front wing failure and premature exit from the Malaysian Grand Prix left an open goal for Messrs Vettel and Webber to squabble it out for the win, with explosive results.

If they get it right on the pit wall side of things, and luck goes their way with the weather, they have a very realistic chance of winning all four of those races.

And with the benefit of a driver with the relentless consistency and determination of Alonso to unleash on the field, if he gets a sniff of victory, he will be there every time to tough it out for the win.

Kimi Raikkonen is a potential third title contender, but his Lotus team appears to have taken a step backwards in recent races, and with the Enstone team overly reliant on tyre wear and hot weather – something far from guaranteed in the paradise of uncertainty that is the European summer – it looks as if his hopes may be starting to fade.

This leaves us with a probable repeat of the 2012 title battle; Vettel v Alonso.

Alonso trails Vettel by 36 points, but a win at Silverstone, coupled with a retirement for his rival, would cut the deficit to just 11, and with three tracks that should theoretically suit the Ferrari over the Red Bull to follow next, the title race would be well and truly back on again.

That’s not to say that Vettel doesn’t have a chance over the summer months. The Red Bull will undoubtedly still be right up at the sharp end challenging for podiums at the very least, and with the brain of Adrian Newey at its disposal, the team is only ever one upgrade away from taking a giant leap forward.

But if Ferrari does take the upper hand over the next few races, consistency will be key for Vettel. Even with a 36-point lead in his pocket, if Alonso can string a sequence of wins together, a sizeable advantage can evaporate fast for the championship leader if he’s not there picking up the points. It’s something these two men will know only too well after last year, when a run of four straight wins at the back end of the season helped Vettel overhaul a 39-point deficit to the Ferrari driver and take a lead he was never to lose in the title battle.

Things change so quickly in Formula One that it would be unwise to jump to any conclusions at this stage. What may look comfortable one day suddenly looks decidedly uncomfortable the next, and it is far too early to proclaim that there is only one outcome in this year’s title battle. The next four races will tell us much more, and only then will a clearer picture begin to emerge as to who will be crowned world champion in Brazil at the end of November.

For, to borrow a phrase from the legendary Murray Walker: “Anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does.”

And as the opening salvo of the 2013 season begins to take its final bow, a new chapter of uncertainty may be just around the corner.

Stephen D’Albiac

Performance Podium: Bahrain

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned out to be a race in which some rather unexpected names stood out, making this the Performance Podium of the ‘unusual suspects’.

But in which order did the stars of Sakhir end up in performance terms? Keep reading, and you’ll find the answer.

1) Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez answered his critics in fine fashion in Bahrain with a highly impressive drive to sixth place.

The McLaren driver had been criticised for not defending hard enough when battling with other cars in China, but Perez came back brilliantly in Bahrain, getting stuck into fights with other drivers throughout the race, most notably with teammate Jenson Button, with whom the Mexican tussled in a thrilling duel that lasted many laps.

Perez got the better of his McLaren sparring partner late on in the race, before passing Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in the closing laps and also demonstrating his renowned tyre management by getting to the end on three stops, in a race where Button was forced to make four visits to the pit lane.

The challenge now is for Perez to continue to produce drives of this nature, and if he manages to do so, he will more than begin to repay the faith McLaren showed in signing him to replace Lewis Hamilton.

2) Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean was another man slightly under the cosh before this weekend. The Frenchman hadn’t driven particularly badly, but had failed to show the speed he had often demonstrated in 2012.

It was perhaps apt, then, that Grosjean produced by far his best performance of the season so far in Bahrain, the scene of his maiden Formula One podium last year, making best use of a three-stop strategy to take third place.

Having spent the first part of the race mired in a battle with the McLarens, Grosjean came alive in the second half, using his fresher medium tyres at the end to pass Paul di Resta in the closing stages and claim his first podium finish since Hungary last year.

Grosjean has managed to keep his nose clean so far this season, and if he can build on the speed he found this weekend, then the Frenchman could well become a regular podium challenger throughout the year.

3) Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta made best use of an extremely quick Force India to match his career best finish of fourth in Bahrain.

di Resta moved up to fourth on the opening lap, and when Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg began to drop back, for a time was running in an incredible second place on merit.

The Scot lost out to Kimi Raikkonen on lap 34, but then ran solidly in third place, and looked set for a maiden F1 podium before Romain Grosjean’s charge bumped him down to fourth in the closing stages.

Despite missing out on the podium, di Resta will be delighted with his weekend’s work, and with Force India fighting it out at the front on merit so far this season, a top three finish may not be too far away.

HM) Sebastian Vettel

It would be hard not to find a place in this Performance Podium for Sebastian Vettel, who even by his standards produced a storming drive in Bahrain.

A stunning overtake on Fernando Alonso on the first lap put him second, before his swift pass on Nico Rosberg gave him an early lead which allowed him to streak clear at the front.

From that point Vettel never looked like being beaten, and comfortably drove out the rest of the race to take his second win of the season and cement his place at the top of the drivers standings.

HM) Fernando Alonso

It’s a testament to Fernando Alonso’s driving ability that he recovered from two DRS failures to secure eighth, and a good haul of points from today’s Grand Prix.

Two unscheduled stops in the early part of the race, put him on a compromised pit strategy, and with no DRS to make his way through the field, he was forced to make up lost ground with a significant speed disadvantage.

Despite the lack of DRS making him defenceless against Sergio Perez in the closing stages, Alonso will be happy to have salvaged some points from this race and minimise the ground lost in the title battle ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 13pts
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 10pts
2) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
2) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
5) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 5pts
5) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
9) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 2pts
12) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
13) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 1pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Rampant Vettel takes dominant win in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel cruised to his second win of the season as he romped to victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

After losing second to Fernando Alonso at the start, Vettel produced a stunning overtaking manouevre to reclaim second at turn five on the opening lap, before passing polesitter Nico Rosberg on lap three to take a lead he never looked like losing.

Kimi Raikkonen came second after using a two-stop strategy to come through the field, while his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean took his first podium of the season by finishing third, passing the Force India of Paul di Resta in the closing stages of the race.

di Resta’s fourth place underlined the improvement Force India have made over the winter, whilst Lewis Hamilton, the hugely impressive Sergio Perez, Mark Webber and the luckless Alonso, who had to pit twice in the opening laps after his DRS got stuck open, rounded out the top eight.

Poleman Rosberg and Jenson Button completed the points, with both struggling to preserve their tyres throughout the race and the pair had to make four stops to get to the end.

Everyone got away cleanly at the start, with Rosberg making it to the first corner from pole position, ahead of the dicing Alonso and Vettel.

Alonso made it out of turn three in second place, but Vettel then used his KERS to great effect on the exit of the fourth corner to blast up the inside of the Ferrari and reclaim his starting position in brilliant fashion.

Now into second place, Vettel clearly had more pace than the Mercedes of Rosberg, and having spent the whole of the second lap threatening a pass, pulled off a move at turn six on lap three to move into the lead.

Alonso then waited his turn behind the Mercedes, and with the help of the DRS made his move on Rosberg to take second at the start of lap five.

However, in passing the Mercedes the Ferrari’s DRS had failed, and the flap on the rear wing of Alonso’s car jammed open, contravening FIA regulations and forcing him to pit on lap seven to get it fixed.

That pitstop dropped the Spaniard way down the order, and instead of hunting down race leader Vettel, he was now staring at the gearbox of Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. He used the DRS to pass the Frenchman into turn 11, but as he did so the Ferrari’s flap stuck open again, forcing a second visit to the pits in as many laps.

With the use of DRS not an option for the remainder of the race, Alonso was forced to make his way through the field without the use of his main overtaking aid, but creditably fought back into the points in the closing stages. He passed Perez to take seventh place, but with no way of using his rear wing to make inroads into the scrapping Webber and Hamilton ahead of him, he became easy prey for the McLaren in the closing laps and the Mexican retook the place to leave Alonso in a still very respectable eighth.

Perez was one of the standout performers of the race. Having received plenty of criticism over his racecraft since his move to McLaren, he got himself into some cracking battles for position throughout the race, most notably with teammate Button in the second and third stints. The pair made contact on more than one occasion as they fought wheel-to-wheel, and the Mexican got the better of his more experienced teammate, managing to complete the race on one less pit stop.

A fine afternoon for Perez was completed on the final lap when he passed the Red Bull of Webber to take sixth place.

Hamilton was another driver that fought through in the closing stages. The Englishman had endured a subdued afternoon up until the final round of stops and looked set for a place in the lower reaches of the points, but fought through in the closing stages to pass Perez and then Webber right at the end after a thrilling battle that lasted several laps.

By now Vettel and Raikkonen were safely out front, and the big question was as to whether di Resta would be able to claim a place on the podium ahead of Grosjean, who had been forced to visit the pits on three occasions throughout the race.

Having driven a storming race, undoubtedly the finest of his F1 career, it looked as though di Resta was set for his first ever podium finish, but the Lotus of Grosjean made a late charge on the medium tyres and with just five laps remaining, took the place from the Force India on the pit straight to take third place and ensure an exact repeat of the podium standings from last year’s race.

But there was no stopping the dominant Red Bull of Vettel, who comfortably drove his car home to take his second win of the season.

He now leads the world championship on 77 points, ahead of Raikkonen with 67, whilst Hamilton lies third with 50, three clear of Alonso in fourth place.

Classification
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:36:00.498 secs
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – +9.111 secs
3) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – +19.507 secs
4) Paul Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – +21.727 secs
5) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – +35.230 secs
6) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – +35.998 secs
7) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – +37.244 secs
8) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – +37.574 secs
9) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – +41.126 secs
10) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – +46.631 secs
11) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – +1:06.450 secs
12) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – +1:12.933 secs
13) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – +1:16.719 secs
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – +1:21.511 secs
15) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – +1:26.364 secs
16) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1 lap
17) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
18) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – + 1 lap
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
20) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 2 laps

Not classified
22) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 41 laps

Stephen D’Albiac

Brilliant Alonso storms to Shanghai victory

Fernando Alonso took his first win of the season with a scintillating drive at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Alonso passed poleman Lewis Hamilton for the lead at the start of the fifth lap and never looked back, the only thing troubling him from then on being the negotiation of those on different strategies after his pit stops.

Kimi Raikkonen finished second after getting the jump on Hamilton at the final round of pit stops, with the Lotus driver having an eventful race which included him damaging his front wing when Sergio Perez forced him off the track on lap 16.

Hamilton finished third, although he only just held off a charging Sebastian Vettel on the final lap, with the Red Bull driver’s mistake coming onto the back straight costing him the chance to launch an attack on the Mercedes in the DRS zone.

Jenson Button came home fifth after making a two-stop strategy work better than anyone else, with Felipe Massa following him home sixth.

Daniel Ricciardo produced a very impressive drive on his way to a career-best seventh, with Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg completing the points.

Eight drivers, including both Raikkonen and Vettel, were investigated for illegal use of the DRS under yellow flags after the race, but the stewards took no further action against them, meaning the result of the race stands as completed.

There were a number of other incidents throughout the race, with the most spectacular coming on the sixth lap when Esteban Gutierrez misjudged his braking point on the back straight and slammed into the back of Adrian Sutil, ending both their races. The Mexican’s mistake has earned him a five-place grid penalty for next week’s race in Bahrain.

It was also a race to forget for Webber, who after starting from the pit lane, stopped on the first lap of the race to get rid of the soft tyres, and jumped more than half the grid to move himself solidly into the points.

However, it all unravelled for the Australian when he collided with Jean-Eric Vergne, and then retired after his second pit stop went wrong and his right-rear wheel came loose, eventually parting company with his Red Bull on the exit of turn 14. To compound Webber’s misery, he has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the Bahrain Grand Prix for causing the incident.

Nico Rosberg’s stunning run of form at Shanghai is also at an end after the Mercedes driver retired on the 22nd lap with a mechanical problem.

The result of today’s race means Vettel leaves Shanghai as the championship leader with 52 points, three points ahead of Raikkonen on 49, with Alonso’s win moving him up into the top three with 43 points.

Classification
1) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1h36:26.945
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – + 10.100s
3) Lewis  Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – + 12.300s
4) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – + 12.500s
5) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – + 35.200s
6) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – + 40.800s
7) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – + 42.600s
8) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – + 51.000s
9) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – + 53.400s
10) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – + 56.500s
11) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – + 1m03.800s
12) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – + 1m12.600s
13) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – + 1m33.800s
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – + 1m35.400s
15) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
16) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
17) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
18) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap

Not Classified
19) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
20) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault21) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
22) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) – Sauber-Ferrari

Stephen D’Albiac