Kimi Raikkonen surprised with pole, Max Verstappen started fourth in Monaco

Raikkonen takes first pole for nine years, Hamilton starts midfield in Monaco

Kimi Raikkonen stormed to his first pole position since 2008 by beating Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas by less than half a tenth after Lewis Hamilton was eliminated in Q2.

A thrilling and competitive qualifying session saw Ferrari lock out the front row for the second race weekend in three races. Valtteri Bottas only just missed out on second by two-thousandths of a second, with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo starting fourth and fifth respectively.

Lewis Hamilton was caught out by a late yellow flag in Q2 after struggle to find grip in his Mercedes, he will start 13th on the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Track temperatures topped 50 degrees as qualifying began in Monaco. There was a rush of cars who took to the circuit, with the Ferraris, Red Bulls and Mercedes all out straight away on ultra soft tyres.

As in final practice, it was the second timed lap that was proving the quickest. Ferrari set the early pace with Vettel posting a 1’13.289, with Mercedes only managing high 1’13s, until Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen lowered the quickest times in the Red Bulls.

After crashing in final practice, Esteban Ocon took to the circuit with ten minutes in the session after Force India successfully repaired the Frenchman’s car.

Romain Grosjean spun his Haas at Mirabeau, leaving him vulnerable in the drop zone. As time expired, there was a straight fight between the two Frenchmen of Ocon and Grosjean to make it through into Q2, with Grosjean able to improve enough on his last lap to eliminate the Force India driver.

Jolyon Palmer was also eliminated in P17, almost a second off Nico Hulkenberg’s pace, with Lance Stroll failing to make it through the first session after a suspected hydraulic leak on his Williams.

The two Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson were the slowest in the session, with Ericsson clipping the inside barrier at the chicane forcing him out with a broken left-rear wheel.

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Bottas seeks to double up in Barcelona

Valtteri Bottas seeks to prove his maiden Formula One success at Sochi was no fluke by repeating the feat for champions Mercedes in this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The unflappable Finn, who has emerged as a serious threat not only to his more celebrated team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but also Ferrari’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel, believes his determination, form and speed justify his optimism.

“Getting that win has definitely given me a lot of confidence that I can do it – because I always thought that I had the ability.

“And now it’s done all I want to do is to go and win again and again,” said Bottas.

Another Bottas win would not be a surprise at a venue that has a habit of producing more different winners than anywhere else – if he is successful, he will be the 11th different winner in as many years.

The Circuit de Catalunya, a track drivers and teams know intimately from days of pre-season testing, is capable of throwing up the most unexpected and unpredictable results.

That was demonstrated last year by Dutch teenager Max Verstappen’s win on his debut for Red Bull.

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Bottas’ recent bright form – pole position in Bahrain and victory at Sochi – has confirmed him as a worthy successor to retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes where, temporarily, he has managed to put three-time world champion Hamilton in the shade.

But that does not mean much as the teams, all with upgraded packages, begin the European season with Ferrari likely to set the pace if the weather conditions put the onus on tyre management.

– marginal –

The Italian team has a car that is less demanding on its rubber and operates well across a wider range of temperatures than the Mercedes.

For Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, it is a concern, but not yet a serious worry.

“I don’t think there is a particular pattern yet,” he said. “It is all very marginal with tyre compounds, interaction with the track, the surface of the track and the track temperature itself.

“But, one thing is for sure — we have a very fast race car and a fast qualifying car. We just need to tune it and this is an exciting exercise.”

Tyre suppliers Pirelli will take their harder tyres, not greatly loved by Mercedes on the evidence so far this year, to Barcelona this weekend.

“I think it will be close – in fact more than very close,” added Wolff.

“Ferrari came out of the winter with a good car and it seems to suit Sebastian a lot. So, we just need to stretch ourselves to perform as good as we can and, if we do like we did in Russia with Valtteri, we are able to compete.”

He said the team had no immediate explanation for Hamilton’s uninspired form in Sochi where he struggled with the car.

“Lewis had a difficult weekend in both qualifying and the race,” said Wolff.

“We’ve since been unpicking what happened to understand why we couldn’t get the car in the right window so he could feel comfortable with it.”

Hamilton said he was mystified by his lack of pace as he finished fourth to fall 13 points adrift of Vettel after four rounds of the championship.

“We must give him the tools he needs to do the job in the next races and that will be a big focus for us,” added Wolff.

“Barcelona will be interesting as our pre-season was not spectacular in Spain. It’s a very different track to Sochi and we’ll be running with harder tyres. So, we are taking this season one race at a time…”

Ferrari and Mercedes may be the front-runners again, but Red Bull expect to be close in pursuit with a heavily-updated car while local hero Fernando Alonso has more modest hopes.

After failing to start in Russia, he is just hoping his revised McLaren will be on the grid to take part in his home race this Sunday.

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Sebastian Vettel wins Bahrain Grand Prix for Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel is back on top of the Formula One standings and his Ferrari team is bursting with ambition again.

A couple of hours after Vettel had held off his Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton to win an exciting Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday — the German driver’s second victory in three races — Ferrari’s chairman spoke with new-found confidence.

“It is, of course, hugely satisfying to be back on the top step of the podium,” Sergio Marchionne said. “More importantly, however, we are now completely confident that our victory in Melbourne wasn’t just a one-off and that we will be at the forefront of this world championship until the last (race).”

Fighting talk from Ferrari, at long last.

Vettel is chasing his fifth world title and is seven points ahead of three-time champion Hamilton in the drivers’ standings, while Ferrari is three points in front of Mercedes in the constructors’ race.

The renewed optimism is in contrast to last year, when Ferrari did not even win a race and where Vettel drew more attention for his frustrated outbursts during actual races rather than his driving.

Ferrari won the last of its 15 drivers’ titles through Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, and the last of its 16 constructors’ titles a year later. A demoralizing drought for such a fiercely proud team, certainly, but this year promises to be different.

“We finally have a competitive car to count on and it is important to recognize the speed with which we implemented the developments,” Marchionne said. “My compliments not just to Seb for his achievements in Bahrain, but also to the whole team.”

Max Verstappen on stage in China

Lewis Hamilton dominates Chinese Grand Prix ahead of recovering Sebastian Vettel and charging Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton scored his fifth Formula 1 career Chinese Grand Prix victory with a commanding performance in Shanghai to come home ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

The British driver moved level with Vettel at the head of the drivers’ championship as a result, while Verstappen scored Red Bull’s first podium finish of the season.

After much of Friday’s practice running was lost when low cloud prevented the medical helicopter from operating as required, there was much speculation that the race could be disrupted as it took place in similar conditions.

That situation was avoided as the FIA arranged for the necessary neurosurgery staff to be transferred to a hospital closer to the circuit, but rain had fallen in the build up to the start and all the drivers – except Carlos Sainz – set off on intermediates.

Hamilton held his lead from pole position on the run to Turn 1 as Vettel, who had lined up strangely to the side of his grid box, defended hard from Valtteri Bottas through the long right-hander, while Daniel Ricciardo passed Kimi Raikkonen for fourth place.

Verstappen, who had started down in 17th after he suffered an engine problem in qualifying, had made it well into the top ten by the end of the first lap, which was disrupted by a collision between Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez at Turn 10 that ended the Canadian driver’s race.

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Sebastian Vettel wins first grand Prix in Melbourne.

The 2017 Formula 1 season is looming as a shoot-out between the sport’s greatest modern drivers after Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix, 10 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The Brit started the day in pole position but a tactical misjudgement from his Mercedes team allowed the Ferrari driver to take the lead on lap 24, and the German held on with ease to claim the first race win for the Prancing Horse since 2015.

Valtteri Bottas finished behind his Mercedes team-mate to claim the final podium position, while local hope Daniel Ricciardo endured a miserable afternoon, bowing out of the race with a whimper on lap 30.

Hamilton (three) and Vettel (four) have seven championships between them, but have never competed against each other in evenly matched machines, meaning the 2017 season now looms as a mouth-watering showdown between the two.

“It is a long way ahead. For now we are just over the moon,” Vettel said after the race.

“The car is really screaming, ‘more, more, more’,” he said of the rule changes which promised to bring Mercedes back to the pack slightly and give fans more action-packed racing than in 2016.

Ricciardo, due to start from 15th on the grid after his Red Bull team were forced to change the gear box in his car after yesterday’s crash, did not make it through the warm-up lap before problems surfaced.

His car stuck in sixth gear, leaving him stranded on the track. He was given a lift back to the pits and his team frantically worked to get the engine going again. They eventually did so, two laps into the race.

Relatively clean start gives Hamilton the early lead

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Max Verstappen: “I think everything is still within reach.”

After the fourth and final test day Max Verstappen remains confident about his chances for next season. De Limburger, which is the final test session – partly in the rain – in his RB13 concluded with the second fastest time behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, talks about a successful week. “Actually, nothing here really surprised me in Barcelona, the last four days. And I think everything is still within reach.”

“For us it was important to make the meters with the new car. Get used to the car and team and see if all parts of the car to do what they should do. The car behaves happy just fine.”

Red Bull launch RB13 ahead of 2017 F1 season

Red Bull Racing has as last top team in F1 unveiled his new car. The car in which Max Verstappen and team mate Daniel Ricciardo will compete, has a distinctive opening at the front of the nose.

The in matt colors painted car has also a kink in the nose as the car of Force India. The large shark fin on the RB13 is sprayed completely dark.

Photos: #Twitter – @redbullracing