RED Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo continued his impressive start to the Azerbaijan GP weekend by setting the fastest time in Practice Two, though Ferrari also gave a glimpse of their potential in an intriguing session.
After being edged out by Valtteri Bottas earlier in the day, Ricciardo posted a 1:42.795 in P2 – an ultrasoft-tyre marker which, at the time, looked like it would only be challenged by team-mate Max Verstappen with Red Bull enjoying the narrow street circuit.
But while Verstappen finished just a tenth of a second off Ricciardo, it was Kimi Raikkonen who eventually pushed the Australian closest, with the Ferrari driver just 0.069s off the leading benchmark.
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Raikkonen’s encouraging session came despite enduring a disrupted Friday, with little track action in P1, and despite team-mate Sebastian Vettel’s struggles.
The championship leader span three times and failed to hook up a qualifying-style lap on ultrasofts, finishing 11th and more than a second off the pace.
Mercedes also couldn’t get close to battling Ricicardo. The world champions, who have surprisingly not yet won a race yet in 2018, had Bottas some seven tenths adrift in fourth, with Lewis Hamilton just behind.
The longest straight on the F1 calendar was expected to favour Mercedes, as it has done in recent years, but it is the Red Bulls and Raikkonen who have adapted quicker to the cool, windy Baku conditions.
Ricciardo will also be boosted by the fact he was also leading the field on the supersoft tyres, even when much of his rivals were posting their times on the supposedly quicker ultrasofts.
“He is the one to beat at the moment,” noted Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson – who also believes teams will be debating running the supersofts in the second part of qualifying with little difference between the compounds.
There was a glimmer of a breakthrough at McLaren after a below-par start to life with Renault power, with Fernando Alonso sixth and within a second of Ricciardo’s time.
The Woking team have worked hard to find solutions to their straight-line speed deficit, and Alonso out-paced Force India’s Estaban Ocon and Renault’s Carlos Sainz by just over a tenth.
Kevin Magnussen was ninth as Haas returned to form, while Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.
Much like the opening session of a much anticipated weekend, many drivers were struggling for grip. On top of Vettel’s three spins, An off-form Stoffel Vandoorne brushed the wall while Lance Stroll reported that his Williams was “undriveable”.
Stroll was 14th at the end of P2, with team-mate Sergey Sirotkin 17th and ahead of Brendon Hartley, Vandoorne and Marcus Ericsson.
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Alonso retires from Formula 1
GRAND PRIX WINS — 32 (6th all-time)
Alonso’s 32 career victories place him sixth in the all-time list, nine shy of Ayrton Senna in fifth and one ahead of Nigel Mansell in seventh.
A sign of his team choices after 2007 is his poor winning percentage — as of the Hungarian GP, he has a strike rate of just 10.56%, the worst among the top 15 drivers on the all-time win list.
Alonso will likely remain sixth on that list for a long time.
The closest active driver on the list is Kimi Raikkonen in 16th, but he is on just 20 career wins and unlikely to surpass Alonso before he too retires.
The next best is Daniel Ricciardo with his seven career wins to date.
Alonso is also currently the third youngest driver to win a Grand Prix at 22 years, 26 days; beaten only by Vettel (21y 2m 11d) and Verstappen (18y 7m 15d).
Should Alonso somehow score one last victory before the end of his career, he would set a record that will likely stand for all time.
He has taken part in 101 races since his most recent win in the 2013 Spanish GP. The current record for most races between wins is held by Ricciardo Patrese, who waited 99 races between his 1983 South African GP and 1990 San Marino GP wins.
Patrese would still hold the record for time passed between wins, however, with any win for Alonso between now and the end of the season only moving him to fifth on the list for that metric.
PODIUM FINISHES — 97 (6th all-time)
Just three more podium finishes would give Alonso a perfect century for his career.
He currently sits sixth on the all-time list, two behind Kimi Raikkonen — who will reach 100 podium finishes with his next top-three result — and 17 ahead of Ayrton Senna.
Again, Hamilton (126) and Vettel (106) also head him on the list among current drivers, while next behind him is Daniel Ricciardo on 29.
Remarkably, Hungary marked four years since his last podium finish, coming second to Ricciardo in the wet-dry 2014 race at the Hungaroring.
POLE POSITIONS — 22 (13th all-time)
Despite not being the most prolific pole qualifier of his era Alonso still sits 13th on the all-time list, two behind Nelson Piquet and two ahead of Damon Hill.
However, Alonso’s 22 sits well below Hamilton’s mark of 77 and climbing, which is both the best on the grid and of all time, while Vettel is also well ahead of Alonso on 55. And yes, that means Hamilton has scored the same number of poles as Vettel and Alonso combined.
Nevertheless, Alonso still sits third of all drivers currently on the grid, five ahead of Raikkonen but 17 poles ahead of next-best Valtteri Bottas!
Alonso is one of just 11 drivers to have held the title of the championship’s youngest pole sitter, taking the mark at 21 years, 7 months, 23 days when he started from P1 at the 2003 Malaysian GP.
At the moment he has been beaten by only one driver — Vettel — who was just 21 years, 2 months and 11 days old when he took his first pole position at the 2008 Italian GP.
Verstappen is the driver most likely to beat either’s marks, but he only has until the end of the 2018 season to beat Vettel, or May 23 next year to pip Alonso.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS — 2 (11th all-time)
Alonso’s brace of drivers’ titles in 2005 and 2006 place him equal 11th on the all-time list, tied with six other drivers.
The racers he is level with are some of the greatest ever to grace the grid: Alberto Ascari, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Mika Hakkinen, and Emerson Fittipaldi.
The latter makes for an interesting parallel with Alonso. Fittipaldi was, for many years, the sport’s youngest world champion until Alonso took his place. Similarly, both earnt two world titles before a series of poor team choices cost them chances of adding to their success.
Alonso’s 2005 world title — aged 24 years, 1 month and 27 days when he clinched it at the Brazilian GP — sees him third on the all-time list of youngest world champions. Only Lewis Hamilton (23y 9m 26d) and Sebastian Vettel (23y 4m 11d) were younger when they reached the summit of the sport.
The driver most likely to give that a nudge is Max Verstappen, who will undercut Alonso on the list if he wins a drivers’ title before November 26, 2021.
Alonso is also one of just 10 drivers to win world championships in consecutive years.
RACE STARTS — 303 (4th all-time)
As of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso has registered 303 Grand Prix starts — additionally, he also he failed to start the 2017 Russian GP and infamous 2005 US GP, and was ruled unfit to take part in the 2016 Bahrain GP.
In Austria this year Alonso became one of just four drivers to register 300 career race starts, and is the second youngest to do so behind former teammate Jenson Button.
He currently sits fourth on the all-time tally of Grand Prix starts, but should move up to second by the end of the season.
In Singapore, he will tie Button’s tally of 306, while a race later in Russia he will equal Michael Schumacher’s 307 career starts, before moving into a clear second place at the Japanese GP.
However, the record for most starts will remain out of reach — unless he decides to come back for another full season.
Alonso will fall 11 races shy of Rubens Barrichello’s mark of 323 when he retires after his 312th and final race at Abu Dhabi.
RENAULT boss Cyril Abiteboul says Daniel Ricciardo is no chance of winning the Formula 1 world championship during his entire contract with the French team.
The immensity of Ricciardo’s incredible gamble to leave Red Bull after five seasons and jump ship to a less competitive team has been fully explained by Abiteboul’s wake up call.
The Renault Sport Racing managing director has made it clear his team has no secret weapon up its sleeve.
Having returned to the Formula 1 grid as a fully factory-backed team in 2016, Renault has made steady progress, but remains fourth in the 2018 F1 constructor standings with just 82 points — miles behind third-placed Red Bull (223).
Abiteboul says his team was able to sell Ricciardo on the prospect of challenging for the 2021 Formula 1 drivers championship — but has made it clear he told Ricciardo right from the outset that the team still faces a tough two seasons while Ricciardo is under contract.
Ricciardo signed a two-year deal with Renault — taking him through to the end of the 2020 season when Lewis Hamilton’s and Sebastian Vettel’s contracts also expire.
The 2021 season is also when Formula 1 has forecast another radical shake-up of regulations.
Abiteboul has told French newspaper Auto Hebdo that Ricciardo is aware Renault won’t be in a position to win grands prix until his second season with the team.
He has also revealed the team won’t be able to challenge for a world championship until 2021 — when Ricciardo will be out of contract.
“We sold him the goal of fighting for championships in 2021, and to start winning, I hope, in 2020, but not before,” Abiteboul said.
He told the publication the team was also able to persuade Ricciardo on its commitment to giving him a platform to help shape the car’s development.
“He has also been sold a role that goes beyond that of a simple pilot, but that of someone who participates in building a team,” he said.
“I realised that the drivers at age 29 — it’s the same with Nico (Hulkenberg), who will be 31 (later this month) — they want to drive but also aspire to do other things.
“It’s not the same with everyone, but I believe it’s the same with these two guys.”
Abiteboul earlier this month said Ricciardo’s decision to join the team next season means his team must now deliver on the promises it has made to the Aussie driver.
“His commitment to us proves our willingness to accelerate the recovery process for the leading teams,” he said.
“It’s also recognition of the work we’ve done over the last two and a half years. Daniel’s talent and charisma are a great bonus for us. We have to reciprocate that confidence by giving it the best possible car.”
He admitted earlier this week his team had been surprised by Ferrari’s ability to continue to improve its power unit.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said last month his team’s decision to drop Renault for Honda as its engine supplier was “clear cut”.
Horner and Abiteboul have traded barbs over Red Bulls decision to end its relationship with Renault — and the Renault boss again fired back at its Honda rivals in his interview with Auto Hebdo.
Abiteboul said Ricciardo’s doubts about the performance and reliability of Honda’s power unit were “justified” on the evidence of Red Bull’s experiment with Honda power in its Toro Rosso development team.
“Like everyone else, he recognises Honda’s progress,” Abiteboul said.
“He also sees the statistics and engines consumed by Toro Rosso.
“We do not talk much about it, because honestly, (Toro Rosso driver Brendon) Hartley taking 80 penalty places, it does not make much noise, but when Honda will be at Red Bull, the pressure will be very different, and it will be more.”
DOUBLE world champion Fernando Alonso will retire from Formula One at the end of the season, he has announced.
The 37-year-old Spaniard is competing in his 17th F1 season and his fifth with McLaren, and has been widely tipped to race in the Indianapolis 500 next year as he attempts to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport.
Alonso, a double Monaco Grand Prix winner, won the Le Mans 24 Hours on his debut with Toyota in June this year and is currently ninth in the F1 drivers’ championship standings.
Alonso said in a statement: “After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on.
“I have enjoyed every single minute of those incredible seasons and I cannot thank enough the people who have contributed to make them all so special,” he said.
“There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever.
“Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner. I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures.”
Alonso’s current team, McLaren confirmed the news on their official website. And McLaren Chief Executive Zak Brown said: “There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his.
“We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career.”
Alonso was F1 champion in 2005 and 2006 while he was with Renault, with his first championship ending a five-year dominance by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.
He went on to join McLaren in 2007 before returning to Renault in 2008. Alonso then made the switch to Ferrari two years later and stayed with the Italian marque for four years, before rejoining McLaren once again.
However, Alonso left the door open to a return to F1 — strongly hinting that this could be a hiatus rather than a retirement.
He added: “I have built so many great relationships with many fantastic people at McLaren, and they have given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and race in other categories. I feel I am a more complete driver now than ever.”