A new era in aerodynamic shape for the 2016 FF1M Season along with a modification in engine rules regarding customer ERS use in races has produced a few interesting results in the opening ten races along with a number of drivers showing potential to challenge for the drivers championship. The first six races saw six different winners from four different teams and three different engines. Five from five was already a new record, and more drivers could yet win races in the second half of the season if their team managers play their cards right.
A traditional season opener, the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne saw the Mugen teams widely viewed as favourites, particularly in the hands of the rejuvenated Mitchell team, who looked very strong throughout pre-season testing. Similarly, Nico Rosberg in the Mugen-powered Pedersen was blisteringly quick during the final day at Kyalami, and he maintained this form into the first qualifying session by taking pole position by a staggering three quarters of a second from his expected championship rival, Lewis Hamilton.
The two Australian drivers performed well in front of their home crowd with Cooper Lee in 3rd and Daniel Ricciardo in 7th. Both had different incentives to have good races; Lee was keen to make amends for crashing out last season, while Ricciardo fancied two home wins in a row. It was the man from the Northern Territory who made the better start to move into 2nd behind polesitter Rosberg, while the other Mitchell of Hamilton dropped to 4th behind the Tornado of Sergio Perez.
Further down the order, both FJR drivers, who qualified better than their disastrous pre-season testing form suggested, were struggling with their underpowered Judd engine and were slipping down towards the rear of the field. This culminated in an untidy battle between Kevin Magnussen and the Willows of Dutch debutant Max Verstappen into Ascari. Both drivers went in far too quickly resulting in contact and a spin for Verstappen, and then to rub salt into the wound, he was collected by his teammate. Just Verstappen retired with no front wheels, while Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne continued without damage.
At the front, Rosberg had built up a three second lead over Lee before both came in for the first of three pitstops. Both teams’ pit stalls were next to each other, and a brilliant stop from the Mitchell mechanics allowed Lee to jump Rosberg for the net lead. The German would get his own back at the second round of stops by staying out one lap longer and performing the overcut.
During the second quarter, a battle for 3rd had developed between Perez, Hamilton, and the Exolite of Fernando Alonso. Perez was the first of the three to pit, followed by Alonso one lap later. It looked as if the Spaniard had overcut the Mexican, although Perez had the momentum. However, he also had a case of over-optimism as he carried way too much speed into the first corner and spun into the path of Alonso. This effectively handed 3rd to Hamilton, and it also allowed the other Exolite of Romain Grosjean into 4th place. Alonso would overtake his teammate at the start of lap 36 to move back into 4th, and Grosjean responded to this by running into the gravel at turn 3, otherwise known as Vettel corner, and dropping a place to Perez.
Perez and Grosjean dropped two more places in the third round of stops to Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, who had quietly made his way into the points from 12th on the grid, and then the two Class of 2010 graduates got into bother at Vettel corner after a clumsy collision. Ironically, the main beneficiary of their incident was Vettel, who moved into 7th place. This then became 6th when Alonso’s engine failed with just three laps to go. From there, the positions remained until the end of the 57th and final lap, and Rosberg took victory, Pedersen’s first since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. Lee and Hamilton made it a double Mitchell podium, the first time that had happened since the 1990 Monaco Grand Prix, and it was Lee’s first career podium finish as well. Ricciardo made it two Aussies in the top 4, while Vergne finished ahead of Vettel. Tomas Gonzalez was a somewhat anonymous 7th with the final point going to the Meister of Felipe Massa.
The second race of the season was another flyaway, the Brazilian Grand Prix, and it had been a strong start to the season for Mugen, who had monopolised the podium at Melbourne. Their strong start continued, as Rosberg took his second consecutive pole at Interlagos by nearly nine tenths of a second. This time around, he was joined on the front row by Gonzalez. It was as close to a home race for the Argentine, and he was looking for his first career win after a strong debut season in 2015. Local hero Felipe Massa was down in 12th, but the Brazilian-owned Gojira AutoSport faired even worse on the 9th row. Having been billed as pre-season favourites, it wasn’t what Gui Cramer wanted, but he was still happy enough to co-commentate on his home race.
Rosberg led away from pole position in what was a fairly static first lap. The only change in the top eight was Alonso briefly going from 7th on the grid to 6th going down Reta Oposta before Valtteri Bottas retook the position from the Spaniard into Descida do Lago. Alonso would outbrake the GRM driver at the start of the second lap to move back into 6th, while further back, Vandoorne was pressured into a spin at the exit of the Senna S by Robert Kubica and spun into the path of the Gojira driver. Vandoorne then made it as far as the outside barrier and despite not losing any wheels, he was unable to rejoin the circuit. Back at the front, Rosberg couldn’t get away from Gonzalez and going into Descida do Lago on lap 3, the Argentine took the lead of the race.
The other Tornado of Perez found himself battling with Grosjean once again, but it was a much cleaner battle for 6th compared to Melbourne as no contact was made in a few laps of cat and mouse, which was eventually won out by Grosjean. The midfield was just as hard fought as Rosberg’s teammate, Nicholas Latifi, was making progress at the expense of Massa and then Carlos Sainz for 11th. Massa then lost another position to teammate Kimi Raikkonen, and then faced an onslaught from the three Vs; Vergne, Vettel, and Verstappen. The midfield continued to shuffle as Bottas slipped down the order. He had qualified well but his race pace suggested that GRM focused more towards a qualifying set-up for the Finn. Conversely, Latifi was having a good race as from 15th on the grid, he was on the verge of points as the first round of two pitstops approached. Rosberg and Hamilton were the first of the frontrunners to pit and once again, Rosberg was jumped by a Mitchell, but he would quickly retake the three-time champion as the two encountered traffic on their outlap.
Gonzalez maintained the lead after his first stop, while Ricciardo and Alonso were destined for great middle stints. On fresher tyres, Ricciardo overtook Hamilton for 3rd at the start of lap 27, and then Alonso quickly followed suit going into Descida do Lago. Seven laps later, Ricciardo caught and passed Rosberg for 2nd with Alonso once again following through on the following lap. Hamilton’s early first stop had been unravelled as he struggled with tyre performance. By lap 43, he had slipped down to 8th behind Grosjean, Perez, and the flying Latifi, who had overtaken Lee a few laps earlier. Unfortunately for the Canadian, he pushed too hard and crashed out after running wide at the exit of Ferra Dura.
Hamilton’s poor middle stint was such that he rejoined from his second pitstop out of the points behind Lee and Sainz, but on fresher tyres, he caught and passed the GRM driver for 8th going into Descida do Lago on lap 59. Hamilton then made light work of his teammate for 7th a few laps later, and then with just five laps remaining, Sainz overtook the struggling Lee for 8th. Further up, Grosjean overtook Rosberg for 4th going into the Senna S to make it two Exolites in the top 4, and then Perez followed suit to further demote the polesitter. Even further up the order, Gonzalez had brilliantly controlled the race ever since he took the lead from Rosberg and duly took his maiden FF1M win to the delight of team boss Tobias. A battle for second had developed across the final stint between Ricciardo and Alonso, and despite enormous pressure, Ricciardo held on for a well-deserved 2nd for Andrew Racing. 4th place should’ve gone to Grosjean, but on the final lap, he rather inexplicably crashed out in much the same way as Latifi did. Inheriting that position was Perez, while Rosberg and Hamilton’s difficult races resulted in 5th and 6th, with Sainz and Lee completing the top eight.
The first European race of the season took place at the Nurburgring for an earlier than usual European Grand Prix. Engine manufacturers had the first opportunity to upgrade their engines for this race, which was welcome news for FJR and Willows, whose Judd and Ilmor engines had struggled in the opening two races. As it transpired, Willows chose to save their credits until the following upgrade between Monaco and Canada. Qualifying saw Hamilton take his first pole position of the season, his first since the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. and Mitchell’s first pole position since the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix courtesy of Nico Hulkenberg… speaking of which, Judd’s engine upgrade had done FJR wonders to the point where Hulkenberg actually topped FP2, and in qualifying, he joined polesitter Hamilton on the front row to the amazement of Exolite and Tornado.
At the start, Hamilton had a good launch but had to fend off the advances of his teammate, who jumped Hulkenberg going into the Castrol S. From 8th on the grid, Rosberg also made a good start and jumped Perez and Ricciardo for 6th. At the end of the first lap, it was Mitchell leading FJR. Having favoured a qualifying set-up, Hulkenberg was already beginning to hold up the field, and his defence cost his teammate 4th place to Gonzalez going into the Ford complex and put him under pressure from Rosberg, who may well have favoured a race set-up. On lap 3, Magnussen would get his own back on Gonzalez as the Argentine made a small mistake going through Ford and lost places to Magnussen and Rosberg. On the next lap, Gonzalez regained 5th from Rosberg going into Castrol. Things weren’t going so well for the other Tornado of Perez as he had a spin on lap 2 under pressure from Antonio Felix Da Costa and dropped way down the order.
The tricky Veedol chicane has often proved notorious in previous races, and the first such collision to occur was Bottas punting Vergne into a spin on lap 4. Attempting to rejoin, he drove head-on into the luckless Vandoorne. The Gojira was forced to pit for a new front wing, while the Willows was able to continue with some sidepod damage. On the next lap, the two Andrew Racing drivers narrowly avoided contact at the same corner thanks to some good reactions from Da Costa. Lap 6 wasn’t so clean, but both saved their places with Da Costa moving ahead of his teammate, who then spun on the next lap at Castrol and dropped down the order. Less simple was the collision between Alonso and Kubica at the Dunlop hairpin after the Exolite driver misjudged his braking, and also Massa running himself and Sainz off the road at Veedol.
As the first round of two pitstops approached, Hulkenberg was still in 3rd, but still under pressure from Magnussen and Rosberg. On lap 16, the Pedersen driver attempted a move on Magnussen going into Castrol and looked as if it would be an easy move, but Magnussen braked much later and somehow managed to stay in 4th. Two laps later, Rosberg would finally succeed at the same corner and set off after Hulkenberg, who had scampered away by three seconds. At the first stops, Rosberg overcut Hulkenberg into 3rd place, but he dropped more than 20 seconds to the two Mitchell drivers, who were both running away with it. Meanwhile, Magnussen and Gonzalez then began their own battle which lasted until the end of the race. At times, it got a little fraught with moments including slight contact at Veedol and Gonzalez running off the road at Castrol.
Compared to the opening two races, the Megatron engine appeared to be less competitive with none of their cars featuring in the top 8. It wouldn’t get any easier on lap 25 as the Shake ‘n’ Bake of Itsuki Yoshida was shunted into a spin by the recovering Vergne at Veedol and dropped to last behind Bottas, and it continued to be difficult when Grosjean lost 9th to Perez on lap 28. At least Alonso gained a place five laps later, but at the expense of another Megatron runner in the form of Sainz. The GRM driver would be forced into the pits shortly after to remedy a minor brake issue and convert to a three-stop strategy.
Further up the order, the two FJR drivers were about to go into combat once again as the second round of stops approached. This time around, Hulkenberg was much more submissive as Magnussen moved up to 4th on lap 42, and the German began holding up Gonzalez before making his second stop. Although he lost 5th to Gonzalez, Hulkenberg’s tactics allowed his teammate to eek out a gap over the Tornado driver. During the second round of stops, the pit lane exit proved to be a nuisance. Vergne had to swerve off the road to avoid Vettel and promptly spun upon rejoining the circuit. The exact same thing happened to Lee when he came across Da Costa. He had been catching Hamilton and was just 1.4 seconds behind before the incident, but at least he rejoined, unlike last season when he beached it at the same corner.
This ensured Hamilton’s first win of the season, with Lee making it a Mitchell 1-2 and Rosberg 3rd. Magnussen won his battle against Gonzalez and took 4th ahead of the Argentine, while Hulkenberg made it a double points finish for FJR, which considering their first two races, was a bit of a miracle. The recovering Perez took 7th after overtaking Da Costa in the closing stages, although the Portuguese scored his first point since the 2015 Australian Grand Prix. All 22 cars were classified, although Verstappen wasn’t running due to an engine failure.
The San Marino Grand Prix once again took place at Mugello after the Tuscan venue was positively received by the FF1M community. Qualifying produced a significant result in terms of the all-time record of pole positions, jointly held by Alonso and Michael Schumacher at 32 each, but Rosberg’s third pole of the season allowed him equal that record. Although he didn’t win at the Nurburgring, he had kept hold of the championship lead and was keen to build on that. Just as at Interlagos, Rosberg was joined on the front row by Gonzalez, while Perez and Nurburgring winner Hamilton were on the second row.
The top four remained the same during the first lap with the most significant mover being Da Costa, who went from 7th to 6th at the expense of Lee. The Australian would regain the place at the start of the second lap going into San Donato, which left the top 7 how it was before until Perez moved ahead of his teammate at the start of lap 4 to move into 2nd. The real mover in the opening stint however was Magnussen. He had started 15th after FJR concentrated on race set-up with both cars and was already up to 9th by lap 3 before converting his car into a dodgem to move past Kubica into the points. Once he cleared Da Costa on lap 5, Magnussen set the fastest lap of the race and it became clear that he could challenge for victory if he stayed out of trouble. Hulkenberg’s progress wasn’t as immediate, but he was still able make up places.
Gonzalez wasn’t as quick as the others in the opening stint and lost places to Hamilton and Ricciardo, but then regained one on lap 7 as race leader Rosberg carried far too much speed into Scarperia, spun round, and dropped all the way to last. This put Perez into the lead, but Tobias wasn’t confident of staying there due to the pace of Magnussen, who had gained another place at the expense of Lee and quickly caught up to 4th-placed Gonzalez. Their battle soon became one for 3rd when Hamilton ran wide at San Donato on lap 10 and dropped to 5th. There was also a fierce scrap for 8th between Da Costa, Kubica, and Hulkenberg throughout the first sector. Raikkonen briefly joined that battle, but then quickly fell away and retired with a blown Climax engine. One lap later, Magnussen passed Gonzalez going into San Donato and immediately caught Ricciardo for 2nd, but the Andrew wasn’t as easy to overtake and Magnussen would have to wait until Ricciardo made his first of two pitstops at the end of lap 16.
One lap earlier, the pitstop sequence was triggered by Hulkenberg, who had gotten stuck behind Da Costa. Somewhat comically, three drivers immediately behind him followed like sheep to make their first stops, with Latifi leading Vettel, Hulkenberg, and Alonso out of the pits. The two Germans swapped around on lap 17 and two laps later, Hulkenberg made light work of Latifi. Once the first round of stops ended on lap 22, Perez was now leading Magnussen, who had jumped Ricciardo by staying out five laps longer and was quickly catching the race leader. Hamilton was also catching Ricciardo for 3rd, while Gonzalez was catching the pair of them. On lap 24, Hamilton tried to pass Ricciardo on the outside on the main straight but was baulked and ended up losing a place to Gonzalez. Having seen off the double threat, Ricciardo then lost concentration, completely missed his braking point into San Donato and appeared to be on the way towards totalling his car. However, despite a sizeable wallop against the barriers, astonishingly, nothing was damaged, and Ricciardo carried on in 6th having earned a nomination for Bandit of the Season. One lap later, Hamilton retook Gonzalez for 3rd.
Both FJR drivers were still the fastest on circuit as Hulkenberg moved up to 8th ahead of Kubica and Magnussen continued to catch up to race leader Perez, but then on lap 27, Hulkenberg’s engine failed. Team boss and lead commentator James Brickles revealed that he had requested Judd to run ‘Mode 11’ for the race. Whatever that meant, it cost Hulkenberg a possible podium finish, but it helped Magnussen overtake Perez for the lead at the start of lap 29. Other engines that went pop were the Megatron in the back of Vettel’s car on lap 34, and another Climax in the back of another Meister on lap 48, while Vandoorne’s traumatic season continued with a spin at Savelli.
Once he overtook Perez at half distance, Magnussen never looked back aside from a final lap wobble at the exit of Correntaio shortly after lapping Rosberg, and he superbly took his maiden FF1M win from 15th on the grid, further cementing FJR’s remarkable turnaround after a terrible pre-season for the Yorkshire team. Brickles himself admitted that he wasn’t expecting to win this race. Perez came home 2nd ahead of Hamilton, and with Gonzalez 4th, Tobias declared this a “solid result.” Vergne bagged more points in 5th for Gojira ahead of the lucky Ricciardo, while a mid-race duel between Lee and Kubica for 7th was decided in favour of the Australian.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mitchell) – 27
2. Tomas Gonzalez (Tornado) – 23
3. Nico Rosberg (Pedersen) – 22
4. Cooper Lee (Mitchell) – 19
5. Kevin Magnussen (FJR) – 17
1. Mitchell – 46
2. Tornado – 38
3. Pedersen – 22
The first of three brand new venues played host to round 5, the returning Spanish Grand Prix at the Aragon circuit near Alcañiz. Despite a relatively modest points haul at Mugello, Mitchell led the teams championship by eight points from their Somerset rivals, Tornado, with Pedersen 3rd with less than half the amount of points scored by Mitchell despite Rosberg’s win at the opening race. Qualifying saw Mitchell on top form with Hamilton leading his teammate, although part of that could’ve been down to the Brit being the only driver on soft tyres. 3rd was Ricciardo, his best qualifying result of the season so far, with the two Tornado drivers next up. Mugello winner Magnussen was 7th, while home heroes Alonso and Sainz were way down in 16th and 21st, highlighting Megatron’s dip in competitiveness.
Hamilton’s start was perfect as he led away from pole position with Ricciardo getting the jump on Lee for 2nd around the outside of the first corner. Further round the first lap, Lee lost another place to Gonzalez going into the bus stop section, followed by another to Perez at the long back straight. Lap 2 would see much worse for Lee as going into the bus stop, an ambitious dive from Da Costa resulted in contact and spins for both, dropping them way down the order and ruining their good qualifying performances. To rub salt in Andrew Racing’s wound, Ricciardo then lost places to both Tornado drivers.
Meister were performing better compared to previous races with both drivers making up places in the early laps. Massa went from 8th to 5th, while at the start of lap 3, the one-stopping Raikkonen overtook the two-stopping Rosberg for 6th, although the German would repass the Finn on the following lap. Where Meister had improved, Gojira appeared to be going in the opposite direction as Vergne tangled with Grosjean going into the bus stop and spun. Kubica didn’t react in time, damaged his front wing against his stranded teammate, and came into the pits for repairs. Although his car wasn’t damaged, Vergne had fallen down the order and would later retire with transmission problems, the first mechanical problem for a Mugen runner this season.
Two Megatron customers became embroiled in a rather hairy tussle for 12th on lap 5 as Alonso got alongside Bottas down the back straight and then attempted to intimidate the Finn with a swerve at the braking zone into the hairpin. His tactic mustn’t have worked as Bottas attempted to repass Alonso going into the first corner on the next lap, but carried too much speed and shunted into the Spaniard, causing spins for both. Alonso certainly wasn’t happy with that, evidenced by driving into Bottas upon rejoining, and Bottas responded by driving back into Alonso in revenge. Less ill-tempered but just as misjudged was Lee colliding with Yoshida into the bus stop, causing the retirement of the innocent Shake ‘n’ Bake driver.
At the front, Hamilton led the two Tornado drivers by a total of five seconds before 3rd-placed Perez headed into the pits on lap 17 for the first of two stops. Hamilton immediately responded on the next lap, while Gonzalez waited until lap 20 to come into the pits. This put Ricciardo into the lead and on a one stop strategy, he’d gained track position over the main three. He was caught by Hamilton and Gonzalez, who both became embroiled in a battle on lap 27 when Gonzalez slipstreamed past Hamilton into what would’ve been the net lead. A later however, Gonzalez was delayed by the pitting Ricciardo and Hamilton had the opportunity to repass the Argentine, but contact was made at the first corner and Perez took advantage by taking the lead.
Ricciardo’s one stop strategy elevated him up to 2nd once the two stoppers made their final stops, but on older tyres, he slipped behind Hamilton and Gonzalez. Other drivers who made a one stop work were Raikkonen and Latifi, who had moved up to 5th and 6th. The other Meister of Massa made two stops and slipped behind Mugello winner Magnussen, whose FJR wasn’t particularly competitive around Aragon. He confirmed this fact when he lost the final point to Massa. Latifi meanwhile lost 6th on the penultimate lap to his world champion teammate, but brilliantly regained that place on the final lap and beat Rosberg by less than a tenth. Five places ahead of him was Perez, who had taken his second career win and his first with Tornado. Joining him on the podium were Hamilton and Gonzalez, who blamed each other for their collision which cost both a potential race win.
Two points separated the two Somerset teams with Tornado leading the way as the Monaco Grand Prix approached. Both teams shared three wins between them with Pedersen and FJR taking the other two. In fact, five different drivers had won the first five races, which broke the previous record of four from four, which had been achieved three times previously (1989, 2006, and 2007). Qualifying was a different story with all pole positions so far having been achieved by Mugen runners, but this symmetry was broken at Monaco courtesy of Judd’s first ever pole position in the modern engine formula, FJR’s first since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, and Magnussen’s first career FF1M pole by an emphatic six tenths of a second from Rosberg, with Hulkenberg and Lee sharing row two.
Despite the short run to Sainte Devote, Rosberg had a perfect start and took the lead from Magnussen, who was caught sleeping even further after a fast starting Lee took 2nd round the outside exiting Sainte Devote. Elsewhere in the top 8, both Tornado drivers swapped places with Aragon winner Perez moving ahead of Gonzalez for 5th, and team boss Tobias revealed his team were not running any race ERS, unsurprisingly for such a tight circuit. In the early laps, Lee stuck with Rosberg and pressured the race leader into a catastrophic error when he went straight on at La Rascasse and hit the barrier, necessitating a pitstop for a new front wing and dropping him to last.
Meanwhile, Hamilton, who had dropped to 8th at the start behind Alonso, regained his lost position with a clunky overtake into the Seafront chicane and began pressuring 5th-placed Gonzalez. A similarly clumsy overtake that occurred at the chicane was Kubica bumping into Vandoorne at the entry. Although the Willows driver maintained 18th place, a better exit allowed Kubica to power ahead going into Tabac. More straightforward was Raikkonen’s late braking manoeuvre on Yoshida for 15th. Curiously, the Shake ‘n’ Bake driver was going for a one stop strategy, which at one point, moved him up to 8th, but ultimately, it wouldn’t pay off after a collision with Vergne dropped him down the order.
At the front, Lee had built up a 13 second lead over Magnussen in 17 laps before making the first of three pitstops and rejoining in 3rd behind the two FJR drivers. Magnussen’s fuel load didn’t make it clear whether he was two or three stopping, while Hulkenberg was definitely two stopping and quicker than his teammate, but his strategy proved irrelevant as a loose wheel forced him out of the race on lap 24. On the same lap, Magnussen came into the pits and short-filled, confirming a three stop strategy for the Dane. He rejoined in 3rd behind Lee and the two-stopping Gonzalez, who would pit at exactly one third distance and rejoin in 5th behind Lee, Magnussen, Perez, and Hamilton. Meanwhile, Da Costa retired with transmission issues on lap 28, while Verstappen’s Ilmor engine blew up on lap 45. To rub salt into the Dutchman’s wound, Kubica tore a wheel off the Willows.
Gonzalez’s two stop strategy came into play once the top four made their second stops at around half distance. Lee and Magnussen remained 1st and 2nd, but Perez and Hamilton dropped behind the Argentine once all final stops had been made. At the final stop, Hamilton pitted a lap earlier than Perez and only just jumped the Mexican once he made his final stop. Another driver on a two stop strategy also moved ahead of the duo, Bottas, who was having a strong race in a season which was struggling to get going for GRM. His teammate would succumb to suspension failure on lap 55, and then Bottas’ good race came to a premature end when he crashed out of a potential 4th place on lap 72.
Back at the front, Lee had been in a class of his own ever since he took the lead from Rosberg, despite having to see to the FJR threat after his first stop. He even had time for a couple of hairy moments with backmarkers in the final laps; one with Gonzalez at Seafront, and the other with Raikkonen round the outside at La Rascasse and Anthony Noghes on the final lap, but he still became sixth different winner of the season and the third to take their debut triumph. Magnussen was a distant 2nd, nearly a full minute behind Lee, while Gonzalez withstood heavy pressure from Hamilton in the final stages to take 3rd. Perez finished 5th ahead of Ricciardo, while both Exolite drivers completed the top 8, Grosjean’s first point of the season.
The North American leg of the season began at Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix, and with the top seven in the drivers championship separated by 16 points, there was a lot at stake. Having taken his maiden pole position in the previous race, Magnussen made it two in a row, the first time a driver had taken back-to-back poles after his first since Hulkenberg in the 2010 season. Championship leader Hamilton joined him on the front row, while Alonso took a season’s best 3rd. The top 18 were separated by less than a second, which suggested a potentially close race.
Magnussen’s getaway from pole position was much better than at Monaco and he maintained the lead at the start. Alonso’s start from 3rd was superb and darted past Hamilton before the first corner. Trouble lay ahead for the Mitchell driver as he was sandwiched by Ricciardo on the inside and Perez on the outside at the first corner. Contact was made between Hamilton and Ricciardo, which sent the Mitchell spinning down to last. Further round the first lap, Da Costa powered past Rosberg for 6th, who promptly jumped the Wall of Champions chicane and dropped behind teammate Latifi. Under pressure from Gonzalez, Bottas mirrored Rosberg’s error and dropped towards the rear of a traffic jam including his teammate, both Meister drivers, and Grosjean, who nearly gained three places but had to settle for just Bottas.
On a light fuel load, Magnussen quickly pulled away from Alonso, who appeared to have favoured a qualifying set-up and was becoming under pressure from Perez. Meanwhile, Rosberg moved back ahead of Latifi at the end of the second lap to move back into 6th, but made a mistake into the turn 6-7 chicane and dropped to 10th. Rosberg then lost two more places to Grosjean and Massa, and then Pedersen’s race got worse when Latifi was forced into the pits to remedy an issue. Further up front, the battle for 2nd took shape as Perez overtook Alonso going into Wall of Champions, despite a bumpy ride at the second apex, while Vergne’s race came to an end. He collided with Hullkenberg going into the first corner and rejoined, but then almost immediately and embarrassingly crashed out exiting the turn 3-4 chicane.
Having lost 2nd to Perez, Alonso then became under pressure from Ricciardo. The Andrew driver attempted to divebomb the Exolite going into Wall of Champions on lap 5, but went in too quickly and had to briefly fend off Lee and Da Costa. Further back, the battle for 16th got heated as Vettel and Vandoorne bumped across the Wall of Champions chicane, leaving the Shake ‘n’ Bake driver under threat from the recovering Hamilton. Going into the turn 3-4 chicane, Vettel locked up, went across the grass, and rejoined into the path of Hamilton causing contact. A few laps later, Vettel overtook Bottas for 15th.
As early as lap 10, the first pitstops were underway, triggered by Da Costa just as he was overtaken by Gonzalez for 6th. Most of the field were on three stop strategies except for Lee, who had planned to stop just twice, and he took the lead once Alonso made his first stop on lap 17. The Exolite driver had maintained his place ahead of Ricciardo, but the Andrew driver pressured Alonso into a small error at Wall of Champions on lap 19 and moved into 4th place. Alonso then lost another place to Gonzalez two laps later at the same place.
On lap 23, Lee made his first stop and rejoined 4th ahead of Gonzalez and Alonso, which put Magnussen back into the lead, but he was being caught by Perez, who had slightly fresher tyres and less fuel than the Dane. Perez triggered the 2nd round of stops on lap 30 and rejoined in 4th behind Lee and Gonzalez. Three laps later, Magnussen made his 2nd stop and maintained track position ahead of Perez, but this put the two-stopping Lee back into the lead of the race. Meanwhile, Grosjean was bringing himself into play with strong race pace, but nearly threw it away on lap 32 with a half spin at Wall of Champions as he tried to pressure Da Costa into an error. Never mind… could be worse, as Sainz and Raikkonen retired with mechanical troubles. The other Meister wasn’t doing too badly though as Massa overtook Da Costa for 8th, in part thanks to a well-timed ad read from the Shake ‘n’ Bake team boss.
Lee made his 2nd and final stop on lap 44 and put Magnussen back into the lead before the Dane made his final stop on lap 51 and maintained the lead. Lee’s teammate was still trying to fightback into contention but struggled to overtake Yoshida for 12th, at one point hitting the Wall of Champions. He was destined to finish outside the points. Another driver destined for no points was Perez, who pitted on lap 52 and rejoined 3rd, but crashed on his outlap at the exit of the 3-4 chicane. This affected Ricciardo’s race as he drove into Perez’s errant wheel and needed to pit for a new front wing. This dropped him to 8th behind his teammate, but moved back ahead on lap 56 after a good battle. This then became 6th when Lee unexpectedly crashed out exiting Wall of Champions. The Northern Territory driver had the cheek to blame his mistake on a commentator’s curse.
This left Magnussen with a comfortable lead over Gonzalez and had time to lap his teammate on his way to his second win of the season. Taking his second podium finish of the season was Alonso, who had performed well considering his less than ideal race set-up. Grosjean was an impressive 4th having started 14th, while Ricciardo overtook Massa on the penultimate lap to finish 5th. Rounding out the points finishers were Da Costa for his best ever FF1M result, and Kubica.
A little bit south and a little bit west from Montreal is the state of Wisconsin, the location of the United States Grand Prix at the brilliant Road America circuit. Although the teams championship battle was between two teams from southwest England, Magnussen’s win at Montreal had brought him well into championship contention. He qualified down in 7th after FJR had focused more on long term upgrades in practice. Qualifying brought about a significant result in that Rosberg had taken a record-breaking 33rd career pole, with Hamilton alongside him on the front row. Both Andrew Racing drivers qualified very well in 4th and 6th.
From pole position, Rosberg had a good start and maintained the lead going into the fast first corner, but Hamilton utilised the slipstream to great effect and took the lead going into Moraine corner. The battle for the lead wasn’t quite over yet as Rosberg had a look going into the Kink before powering ahead at the start of the second lap. The battle for 3rd was similarly dicey as Gonzalez was swamped by Perez and both Andrew Racing drivers coming out of Moraine and under the Toyota bridge, and dropped to 6th. Back at the front, Hamilton and Rosberg continued their fierce scrap going into Moraine, and an elbows-out move put Hamilton back into the lead. Rosberg’s loss of momentum allowed Perez up to 2nd.
Magnussen had lost a position at the start to Massa, but regained the place going into Moraine on lap 3. Massa didn’t take that one lying down and repassed the FJR driver into Canada corner, and their squabbling allowed Vettel to move into 8th ahead of Magnussen, and then 7th ahead of Massa on lap 4. On the same lap, Raikkonen tried an optimistic overtake on Magnussen going into the Kink and made contact, causing a big shunt and the first retirement of the season for Magnussen. Despite a minimum of six spins, Raikkonen continued with no damage. Another driver who had a big shunt was Vandoorne, who ran wide at the Carousel and smashed into the wall losing both front wheels in the process.
At the front, Perez took the lead from Hamilton at the start of lap 5, while a battle for 3rd had also developed with Rosberg already starting to fade and losing two positions to Gonzalez and Da Costa. On lap 5, Da Costa overtook Gonzalez going into Moraine, but later ran slightly wide while still under pressure at the Kink and dropped to 6th. His loss of momentum allowed Vettel to get past going into Canada corner, and then Massa had a look as well, but Da Costa held on to 7th and Massa then focused his attention on Alonso behind him. The other Exolite then found itself in the wars as Grosjean attempt an overtake on Kubica going into the first corner, but contact was made and Kubica was flipped upside down into retirement. Grosjean got away with a damaged front wing, while Raikkonen was also caught up in the melee and needed a new front wing as well.
Vettel was on the move as he overtook Rosberg for 5th on lap 10, while Alonso was also progressing as he overtook Massa to move into the points and began pressuring Da Costa for 7th, but it proved difficult to overtake the Andrew Racing car, which was showing some great straight line speed despite the 40% ERS limit set by Climax. Alonso breathed a sigh of relief when Da Costa made his first of two pitstops at the end of lap 12, and the Spaniard hoped to overcut the Andrew driver, but it backfired as he ended up stuck behind Massa once again. Perez had also made his first stop on lap 12 and had to make his way through some traffic. Four laps later, Hamilton made his first stop and rejoined a long way behind Perez, indicating that new tyres were much more powerful than a lighter fuel load, and certainly much more powerful than broken transmission, which caused Latifi’s retirement.
Once again, Vettel was displaying Shake ‘n’ Bake’s improved form in this race by challenging Ricciardo for 4th. It proved difficult to overtake thanks to Andrew Racing’s slippery aerodynamics and Ricciardo held on for a good few laps. Ricciardo then became the only Andrew in the race as Da Costa stopped due to a right front puncture. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg was trying to uphold FJR honour by overtaking Bottas for 10th going into the first corner on lap 25. The GRM driver then made a mess of his defence of Yoshida and spun at Canada corner a lap later. At the front, although Hamilton was catching up to Perez, both were being caught by Gonzalez, and the Argentine powered ahead of Hamilton fairly easily on lap 27.
With both Tornado drivers running 1st and 2nd, Mitchell needed both drivers in the points to keep in touch, but Lee wasn’t having a good race as he was stuck in 13th. He tried a move on Verstappen into Moraine on lap 28 and although he succeeded, he ran wide, which allowed Vergne to take both. Lee would reverse the damage and move up to 12th a lap later into the same corner. Lee efforts were in vain however as his engine failed on lap 36. Meanwhile, the Massa-Alonso squabble continued, even after the second round of stops when Massa still held on to track position despite a wild moment at the first corner, but now Hulkenberg had brought himself into play to make it a three-way scrap for a net 7th. Probably frustrated from following his wheel tracks for much of the race, Alonso outbraked Massa into Moraine on lap 32 with Hulkenberg following through. Free from Massa, Alonso caught and passed the struggling Rosberg for 6th on lap 43 after a few laps of trying.
For a moment, it looked as if the two Tornado drivers were about to contest for the race lead in the final laps as Gonzalez was catching Perez by eight tenths per lap, but the Mexican responded to the threat and maintained a three second lead until the chequered flag for his second win of the season ahead of his teammate. Hamilton finished 3rd in a Mitchell which was clearly the second quickest car behind Tornado. Vettel took 4th after overtaking Ricciardo in the closing stages while Alonso, Rosberg, and Hulkenberg completed the top 8.
1. Tomas Gonzalez (Tornado) – 51
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mitchell) – 46
3. Sergio Perez (Tornado) – 43
4. Kevin Magnussen (FJR) – 37
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Andrew Racing) – 32
1. Tornado – 94
2. Mitchell – 77
3. FJR – 41
The return to Europe was heralded by the Austrian Grand Prix for round 9 of an intriguing championship. The big news entering this race was that Ilmor would be departing from FF1M at the end of 2016 after what had been a bad season for them and Willows so far. It was speculated that the ERS reset at the start of the season had hurt them the most and had left Willows struggling for pace and the only team without any points. As a result, Willows would become customers for 2017, although at this point, it wasn’t known which engines they would be running. There would still be five manufacturers for 2017, meaning a new name. In the present, qualifying at the Red Bull Ring saw Magnussen take his third pole of the season ahead of Perez, the first time that a Mugen runner hasn’t been on the front row this season.
Magnussen’s previous two pole positions saw varied results from the start. When the five red lights went out for Austria, he made probably the worst getaway of the season so far, immediately losing the lead to Perez within the first two seconds, while Rosberg also made a poor start from 3rd to 6th. Conversely, Bottas made a great start to move into 2nd from 5th on the grid, but that was nothing compared to Vandoorne, who went from 22nd to 15th.
In the early laps, the Niki Lauda curve (Turn 1) proved to be particularly bothersome when not on the racing line. Rosberg ran wide on lap 2 and dropped down to 8th, which then became 9th when Gonzalez forced his way through going into the Gösser curve. Lap 3 saw Hamilton challenge Hulkenberg for 6th into Lauda but carried far too much speed and took both into the gravel trap. Hulkenberg managed to keep forward momentum and rejoin 9th, but Hamilton had spun and dropped down to last. The drama also delayed the unfortunate Rosberg, who had slipped to 11th behind Grosjean and Lee. Even further down the order, Vergne ran wide at the Rindt curve on lap 4, spun in the gravel, but rejoined back onto the circuit where he was nearly tipped over by Yoshida. Somehow, both escaped without any damage. The other Shake ‘n’ Bake was also in trouble as Vettel lost positions to both Meister drivers before shaving Raikkonen’s rear bodywork going into Lauda on lap 5.
On lap 7, Gonzalez overtook Alonso into Lauda and moved up to 5th, and then things suddenly got worse for the Spaniard as his transmission failed on the next lap. Things were going into the opposite direction for Gonzalez as he powered ahead of Magnussen for 4th on the straight towards the Remus curve on lap 9. The young Argentine had qualified only 10th but was showing great race pace, indicating that he had favoured a race set-up. His next target was Ricciardo’s 3rd place, but the Andrew Racing driver ended up being the first to trigger pitstops at the end of lap 13, so Gonzalez didn’t need to catch and pass him unless he rejoined behind Ricciardo after his pitstop. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s recovery was tempered somewhat by Latifi going into Lauda on lap 14. This time, Hamilton came off better of the two.
Gonzalez did end up behind Ricciardo after his first stop, so he needed to pass Ricciardo after all, which he did do on lap 19 going into Lauda. Vettel tried to capitalise going into Remus, but carried slightly too much speed, made contact with Ricciardo, and spun into retirement. Ricciardo continued in 5th, but it would ultimately cost him track position to Magnussen, who had gone against the mould and had chosen a two stop strategy compared to the more trendy three. Ricciardo then had Magnussen’s teammate to fend off before the second round of stops, but succumbed to the pressure just before Hulkenberg pitted on lap 37. Race leader Perez also pitted on the same lap and crucially, rejoined ahead of Magnussen. The other Tornado’s strong race pace allowed him to overcut Bottas for 3rd, making it two Tornado drivers in the top 3.
Having recovered to 5th on a two stop strategy, the Lauda curve once again become Hamilton’s undoing as on lap 41, he ran wide under pressure from Hulkenberg and slipped back down to 9th and then had to fend of Rosberg for a couple of laps. The Pedersen driver was then nudged off the road by Da Costa going into Remus. On lap 44, another Andrew was doing the exact same thing as Ricciardo punted Hulkenberg off the road and moved up to 5th. The next few laps saw a few retirements for different reasons. On lap 46, Raikkonen’s engine blew up, and then on lap 51, Latifi ran wide at the Berger curve and smashed into retirement, but not before rejoining into the path of the unlucky Yoshida. Although it appeared that the Shake ‘n’ Bake didn’t suffer any damage, the impact was so strong that the car shut itself off.
The final round of stops saw Gonzalez perform another overcut, this time on Magnussen for 2nd place, cementing the team’s second consecutive 1-2 finish of the season. FJR’s mood wasn’t further helped when Hulkenberg crashed out on lap 66 after trying to chase down Lee for 6th place. It almost got even worse than that as Magnussen nearly lost 3rd place to a charging Bottas, but held on by less than two tenths of a second. Ricciardo finished 5th ahead of the two Mitchell drivers, while a hard-earned 8th went to Massa.
The exact halfway point of the 19-race season took place at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, and with all but three teams based in the UK, all would be particularly keen to win their home race. There were also strong talks of a 9th British team for 2017 as Ajay Motorsports were planning on developing Hart engines for next season, who were effectively taking over from Ilmor as the fifth manufacturer. At this point, it wasn’t certain if Ajay would be on the 2017 grid, but they were likely to be at the expense of Meister. The only British driver on the grid, Hamilton, had before the race meeting announced a contract extension with Mitchell and was looking to celebrate that with another good performance in front of his home crowd. He was in touch with 5th on the grid behind polesitter Gonzalez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, and Lee. Gonzalez’s pole position was only the second of his career and his first since Nurburgring last season. One notable performance was Verstappen qualifying 12th in his uncompetitive Willows, while on the opposite end of the scale was Perez way down in 17th.
The top 5 remained in order during the first lap with the exception of the two Mitchell drivers swapping places through the first part of Maggots, but it was clear that Hulkenberg was keen to make amends for his careless error at Spielberg and wanted the lead off of Gonzalez. However, it was Mitchell on the move as both moved ahead of Alonso in the first three laps. Vettel was also charging, but he faltered a bit with a minor mistake at Becketts leading to Verstappen taking 9th from the Shake ‘n’ Bake driver going into Stowe.
On lap 5, Hamilton had caught up to Hulkenberg and challenged him down the Hangar straight, but chose the wrong side and had the door shut on him. The other FJR, having moved up to 6th from 9th on the grid, chose the correct side on 5th-placed Alonso going down the same straight and glided by going through Stowe. On the next lap, Hamilton made amends, and he didn’t even have to wait until Hangar straight as he flew past Hulkenberg into Copse. Further back, Yoshida’s terrible season continued as he carried far too speed into the final part of Becketts and totalled most of his rear end, some of which made its way back onto the circuit and poor Kubica had nowhere to go. The Gojira driver was forced into the pits for a new front wing and eventually retired with an engine failure.
Lap 9 saw Magnussen overtake Lee into Stowe and start to close in on the top three, who were separated by less than a second as they started lap 10. On that very lap, Hamilton was in a good place to challenge for the race lead into Stowe and succeeded despite Gonzalez’s brave efforts to hang on round the outside. On the next lap, Hulkenberg mirrored Hamilton’s manoeuvre on Gonzalez and moved up to 2nd, before Magnussen did the exact same thing on the following lap to move into 3rd.
Like Montreal and Spielberg, the race would see a mixture of two and three stops with Hamilton blinking first at the end of lap 12. He rejoined in the thick of traffic, opening the door for the two FJR drivers to capitalise. Magnussen was the first of the two to pit on lap 14 and despite traffic problems of his own at the pit exit, he had crucially jumped Hamilton. He quickly cleared Raikkonen into Stowe, and immediately started to distance himself from Hamilton, who was stuck behind both Raikkonen and Da Costa. Gonzalez was the next to pit on lap 15 and couldn’t quite capitalise on Hamilton’s traffic jam. Two laps later, Hulkenberg was in and rejoined ahead of Hamilton, but behind Magnussen.
The two FJR drivers were now 4th and 5th behind Grosjean, Vettel, and Bottas, all of whom were two-stopping. Race leader Grosjean was driving particularly well despite team boss James Whiteley’s reservations on their hard tyres, in part thanks to two missed races on his spreadsheet. Grosjean made his first stop on lap 20 and rejoined in a net 4th ahead of his three-stopping teammate. Although Alonso attempted a move going through Stowe, he immediately switched to a more defensive role to protect his teammate’s position from Lee, Gonzalez, and Perez. Those three then squabbled for a few laps and on many occasions, contact was nearly made. On lap 25, potential contact became a reality when under pressure from Verstappen, Lee attempted a move on Perez into Stowe, but understeered slightly wide into the Tornado driver and converted his own car into a helicopter, dropping both way down the order. After the race, Lee attempted to blame Verstappen for “distracting me into Perez.”
Gonzalez almost had his own collision as he scrambled past Alonso for 5th at Copse on lap 26. The Exolite’s loss of momentum put him into the rejuvenated Verstappen’s grasp and a lap later, the Willows driver moved up to 6th into Stowe, and then Vettel mirrored the overtake on Alonso to move into 7th. Meanwhile, Perez had another incident, this time all by himself at Becketts and he lost even more time. Also, Verstappen’s teammate had retired with transmission problems, and Bottas’ two stop strategy was compromised by a spin at Abbey.
As the three stoppers were approaching their second round of stops, Hulkenberg had caught up to race leader Magnussen and was letting him know of his presence, but it was the Dane who pitted first on lap 31 and extended his advantage over his German teammate once he’d made his second stop one lap later. Grosjean briefly took the lead once again but lost 1st and 2nd on track to the two FJR drivers and for a moment, the Yorkshire team were on course for their first canon 1-2 since the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix. With Magnussen in the lead, it would’ve been the perfect outcome for the team, but on lap 39, disaster, as his right rear suspension failed going through Bridge, handing the lead to his teammate. Other retirements by this stage included two blown engines for Massa and Vettel.
Having overtaken Grosjean on track for 2nd on lap 40, Hamilton made his final stop six laps later and maintained his position over the Exolite driver, who was still on course for a podium finish despite a couple of laps stuck behind Verstappen. Hulkenberg’s final stop saw him maintain the lead over Hamilton by more than 10 seconds and had time to watch Vergne making a brilliant overtake round the outside of Da Costa into Club in his rear view mirrors. The gap over Hamilton extended to 15 second by the time he completed the final lap to take his first win of the season, his first with a team other than Mitchell. Hamilton took yet another podium finish in front of his home crowd, his 5th in 10 attempts, while Grosjean took his first podium of the season after a strong drive. Gonzalez was 4th ahead of Verstappen, who overtook Ricciardo in the closing stages and scored Willows’ first points of the season. Rounding out the top 8 were Alonso and Rosberg.
After Silverstone, the drivers championship lead was held by Gonzalez in the Tornado, eight points ahead of the Mitchell of Hamilton, the largest gap the season had seen so far, indicating how close 2016 has been. Perez was 3rd on 55 points despite taking more wins than any other driver so far with three, while Magnussen was 4th on 43 points, but it could’ve easily been 55 if his suspension had held together. Nevertheless, FJR probably weren’t expecting to be in the hunt after the first two races of the season. Rather conspicuous by his absence in the championship fight was Rosberg, who needs more than a big push if he is to leave FF1M as champion. With a 29 point lead over their southwestern rivals, Tornado had a buffer to play with, but Hungary has a tendency to provide chaotic races, and Mitchell could take advantage of that.