Another race, another stroke of misfortune for a Mercedes driver.
Two weeks in a row, they’ve seen a driver top FP2 only to be forced to take a 5-place grid penalty for changing their gearbox. First it was Lewis Hamilton, this time it was the Valtteri Bottas who felt the pain.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that taking it here instead of next race in Hungary means he’ll be disadvantaged on a track where passing is much more feasible, but for a man that seems to have hit his straps of late, this certainly has to sting.
It also makes you wonder if, just like last year, Mercedes’ reliability issues could play a significant role in the title fight. Bottas made himself a legit contender at the Red Bull Ring, but with a 35-point deficit to leader Sebastian Vettel, still has some serious catching-up to do, and now you’d assume he’s going to fall even further behind after this weekend. By no means can you count him out for the win on Sunday, but it’s already set to be one hell of an uphill battle.
Back to the drawing board on head protection
Try as we might, not everything in life can be a success the first time, and F1 certainly has plenty of examples: Romain Grosjean, F1 in America, and Lewis Hamilton’s hairline to name a few. Add the “shield” to that list.
Trialled by Sebastian Vettel for the first time on Friday, the device was quickly removed from his car due to the visual distortion it caused, with the German complaining afterwards of feeling “dizzy”. Clearly any safety benefits of such a device are negated by a drivers inability to, well… drive, but hopefully this isn’t the end of the experiment, even if some drivers and fans would like it to be.
Speaking on Friday, Haas’ Romain Grosjean was the most notable voice to reiterate their opposition to any and all such head protection, but to do so on the grounds that it is not part of F1’s DNA and/or an acceptable risk is nonsensical.
Racing is always going to have the inevitable risk associated with impacts at high speed, but if there’s a way to prevent the injuries that killed Justin Wilson and Henry Surtees, sidelined Felipe Massa and could have happened in numerous near-misses over the years (Alonso Spa 2012 comes to mind), it’s certainly worth the experimentation. It might take a long time to get it right, but in the meantime, all F1 and the FIA can do is try.
Mercedes may have finished 0.332s ahead of Ferrari on the timesheets, but the long runs were much closer, with a little over a tenth between the leading average pace of Lewis Hamilton and both Ferraris, per FIA timing data. If that holds up, Sunday should be a real corker.
Speaking of Hamilton, it’s safe to say he hasn’t exactly put his best foot forward this week, but bringing along Billy Monger as his guest for the weekend is a fantastic gesture.
Jolyon Palmer finishing 11 spots behind teammate Nico Hulkenberg is not a good look, especially with the spectre of Robert Kubica moving ever closer.