June 06, 2011

F1 on TV!: Montreal 2011

Ah, Canada.  A place where they put gravy on french fries and call it a delicacy.  Where maple syrup would be the national beverage if they didn't have Labatts.  A land where bacon isn't bacon.  Where death by moose is a serious possibility, even in your living room.  A nation whose best restaurant is Tim Hortons.  Their football is played on a 110-yard field, their baseball is played indoors, and their greatest cultural icon is Celine Dion.*

But damn, do they have a helluva Formula 1 track!  Let's take a look at the map for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve:

Built on a man-made island in the Montreal section of the St Lawrence River, the track is 2.71 miles long, very fast, and brutal on both brakes and tires. 

Brakes suffer here because of the abrupt stop-and-go nature of the circuit.  On this layout, you're either going ridiculously fast (200+ mph is the norm here) or ridiculously slow (see Turn 10 or Turn 6/7).  That's hard on the brakes for two reasons: first, there's just the effort required to slow the car down from 200mph to 50mph or less; that takes its toll on the carbon/carbon material.  Second, the brakes tend to glaze here.  The brake material heats up to the point where the very top layer begins to melt... then is rapidly cooled by the unending straights.  This makes the brakes less efficient, meaning they need to work even harder and get hotter and melt more... then they rapidly cool off.  Rinse and repeat for 70 laps.  You don't see explosive brake failure very often in F1, but when you do, it's undoubtedly going to be here.

Tires die miserable deaths here due to a tarmac that has the odd properties of being abrasive, yet not particularly grippy.  This lack of surface grip is why Pirelli is bringing the same tires as the ones used in Monaco: the softs and super-softs.  Nowhere is that need for grip needed more than at Epingle, better known as the Hairpin.  Not only because of the tight bend and the need to decrease speed in a hurry, but because of the ever-present danger of Marmots.  Like this one in 2007:

Or this one the following year:

Or this one:

Oh wait, that one isn't a marmot at all, but a Japanese track worker trying to run in front of Seb Buemi during a fundraiser in Japan for the victims of March's Earthquake/Tsunami.  Believe it or not, the doofus is fine.  So is the guy who tried to cross the track in front of a F1 car. 

Anyway, the nicest part of the Grand Prix of Canada is that it's run here in North America.  None of that "getting up at 4am" crap for this race!  It all kicks off with live streaming coverage of Practice 1 on Friday morning, from 9am to 1030am!  Then Practice 2 is also live, this time on SPEED, from 1pm to 240pm.   

Saturday brings streaming coverage of Practice 3 from 9am to 10am, followed by live coverage of Quals on SPEED, again from 1pm to 230pm.

The 2011 Grand Prix of Canada will be Sunday, live from 12noon to 2pm... on your local FOX affiliate.  Yes, that's right, it's that time of year again.  At least the Legendary Announce Team will be on hand to do the honors.

And so will the F1U! team!  See you then!

*I kid the Canadians... but only because I know they're too polite to actually complain about it.  Ha!

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June 05, 2011

Missing Midway Photography

Unless you're like me, and heaven help you if you are, you may not have noticed one of the most surprising facts surrounding the Battle of Midway.  That is, where are all the pictures of the Japanese carriers?   Now, I can hear you saying "Wonderduck, there's plenty of pictures of Kido Butai at Midway out there!  Just look at this one of the Akagi!"

"Or this one of the Soryu!"

"Or this one, it's the Hiryu!"

"Or this one, of the Kaga... er... hey!"

I'm sure there are variants of the above three pictures in the National Archives, but for all intents and purposes, those are the only images of the Japanese carriers involved at the Battle of Midway that we have.  Taken from B-17s on the morning of June 4th, 1942, they represent the entirety of the US photographic effort during the battle.

Or do they?

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June 04, 2011

The Reason For Midway

Reader Siergen asks: "Assuming that the Japanese had succeeded in taking Midway, did they have any plans to actually use it, such as for land-based bombing of Pearl harbor?  Or was it intended solely as bait to lure the US carriers out and sink them?"

A fine question.  Indeed, there was a strategic reason for the Japanese to take Midway.  However, in my estimation, their reasoning was somewhat... flawed.  As the War in the Pacific drew close, the Japanese military knew that they could not realistically go toe-to-toe with the United States for more than a year or so, two years maximum (let that sink in: they started a war they could not win militarily... and knew it).  Instead, they intended to win politically, by inflicting such heavy losses on the US and her allies that they'd give up and go for a political settlement.  In the political realm, they believed that they'd have a strong case for keeping their conquests (primarily the Indonesia area, with her rubber, tin and oil deposits) and become both self-sufficient and the unquestioned master of Asia.

To do this, the Japanese adopted a strategy that relied on the concept of a defensive perimeter.  They figured that if they captured enough island bases, like Wake, Guam, Rabaul, and the Philippines, then improved them to stronghold status so they'd be impossible to re-take, they'd be able to create an impassible border that would keep the Japanese Home Islands secure.  Along the way, they'd also attempt to sever the lines of communication between Australia and the US, though that would be more of a bonus than a goal.  It's hard to imagine the strategy without looking at a map, so let's use a simplified one: the board for the game Victory In The Pacific, by Avalon Hill.

This would be the situation going into June, 1942.  The shaded zones are controlled by the Japanese, the lighter areas by the US and her allies.  The defensive perimeter is starkly evident this way, along with the one weak area in the strategy: there are two open paths directly to the Home Islands.  The first is from the "Hawaiian Islands" area directly through the "Central Pacific"; the other, through the "North Pacific" and "Aleutian Island" zones. 

Prior to the Doolittle Raid, there was quite a bit of debate in the Japanese military command as to what the next targets would be... in effect, they had been so successful so quickly, they outstripped their own plans.  But then the attack using B-25 medium bombers, flying from the deck of the USS Hornet, made clear that the Home Islands were still vulnerable, and the plans to attack Midway and the Aleutians were approved.  Capturing those "areas" would prevent any attacks to slip through without being discovered and countered, either via ships sailing from Truk or from Japan proper

There was never any plan to use Midway as a point to launch aerial attacks on Pearl Harbor; even for the incredibly long-legged Japanese aircraft, the 1300 mile flight was too far a distance.  Instead, it would be a self-defending base able to send reconnaissance flights out to patrol the waters around it.  Just how the Japanese would be able to keep Midway supplied was never really answered; they would figure it out when the time came.

The flaw in this strategy is that the real world isn't a game board with zones of control that prevented enemy movement, yet in effect that's exactly how the Japanese were looking at it.  The Pacific Ocean is huge, particularly in the Northern and Central Pacific areas, with vast stretches of open sea where ships could sail without ever being noticed.  Indeed, the fleet used in the attack on Pearl Harbor took advantage of this fact on its approach.

The attack on Midway had the goal of sinking the American aircraft carriers, no mistake about it... but defending the Home Islands was the primary goal.  That the strategy behind the goal probably wouldn't have worked was apparently never considered.

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The Brewster Buffalo: Midway's Most Reviled Plane

When one thinks of the Battle of Midway, images of Dauntless dive-bombers plummeting down towards Japanese carriers immediately leap to mind.  Or perhaps the tragic story of the massacre of the three torpedo squadrons flying TBD Devastators is the more dramatic, and therefore more memorable, saga.  Whatever the military buffs out there think of, it's unlikely that the Brewster F2A Buffalo would get more than a derisive snort, if even that.

That's somewhat unfair to what was the US Navy's first monoplane fighter.  As originally designed, the Buffalo was actually quite nimble and well-liked by its pilots.  Indeed, its wing-loading was only slightly higher than that of the Zero.  No less a name than Marine pilot Pappy Boyington praised the Buffalo, saying "they were pretty sweet little ships. Not real fast, but the little plane could turn and roll in a phone booth."  The most glaring weakness of the F2A was its armament: two machineguns in the nose, one .50cal and one .30cal, a most odd combination.  The landing gear was considered marginal for use on carriers, but good enough.

But then the Navy accepted it for service... with a few modifications.  Armor plate was added, as was a larger-capacity self-sealing fuel bladder.  Further, two wing-mounted .50cal guns were also added... all of this on just a 900hp engine.  Performance in the form of top speed and climb suffered badly in a plane not great in either category.  By 1941, the Buffalo had turned into the F2A-3, with a 1200hp engine (the benefit of which was mostly lost by the increased weight it added, both in its size and in the larger airframe required to mount it), even more armor, and a bigger wing with integral fuel tanks.  This increased the range to nearly 1000 miles, giving it much longer legs than the F4F Wildcat, but ruined the plane's one true feature, its handling.

By the Battle of Midway, the Buffalo had become too slow, too heavy and too lethargic, a bad combination for a fighter plane.  However, as someone many years later said, "you don't fight wars with the military you want, you fight wars with the military you have," and when the Japanese planes were approaching Midway Atoll, what the defenders had were the 21 Buffalos and seven F4Fs of Marine Fighting Squadron 221.

The result was both better and worse than anybody could have expected.  Despite being outnumbered by the 36 Zeros escorting 72 bombers, 17 Japanese planes were shot down by VMF-221, but at the cost of 13 Buffalos and 2 Wildcats (and all of their pilots) lost.  Of the remaining planes, only two were still airworthy after the fight.  F2A pilots were vociferous in their condemnation of their planes afterwards, one going so far as to state "(the)F2A-3 is not a combat airplane... ...it is my belief that any commander that orders pilots out for combat in a F2A-3 should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground."

After the Battle of Midway, all remaining Navy Buffalos were sent to the US mainland as advanced training aircraft, which duty it performed until 1944.  Because of the infamous quality that Brewster built their planes with (i.e., none at all), there are only three F2As known to survive.

Outside of the US Navy, however, opinion of the Buffalo is much higher.  The British, Australian, Dutch and Finns all used an export variant of the plane.  The Finnish Air Force in particular used the B-239E variant to great effect in the air war against the Soviet Union, with one squadron (Lentolaivue 24) registering 459 kills, while losing 15 B-239s.  It's notable that these variants did not have the extensive armor plating and heavy self-sealing fuel tanks of the F2A, and therefore kept its maneuverability.  To be fair, however, the Finns were not fighting against Zeros flown by crack pilots, but poor Soviet pilots with lousy leadership and, at least at first, obsolete planes. 

In conclusion, the F2A deserves more respect that it is shown.  It was an acceptable enough fighter to begin with, but by the time the Navy was finished throwing stuff into it, it had become a pig.  Consider it a lesson learned, similar to the one the US Army learned with the P-39 Airacobra.  That it was outclassed by the Zero isn't a mark of shame; everything was outclassed by the A6M2 in 1942.  Without the Buffalo being present at Midway, the Japanese might have done more damage to the base there.  Enough to render it unusable?  Probably not, but with the F2A present, they certainly didn't. 

It wasn't a great plane, but it was there.

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Midway Day 2011

Today, June 4th, is the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.  At Naval bases around the world and on board ships at sea, commemorative events have been taking place over the past couple of days, remembering both the Navy's greatest victory and those who lost their lives during the Battle.

Wreath-laying ceremony at the Navy Memorial, June 3rd, 2011
I should have a post or two up later today on some aspects of the Battle itself.  Until then, if you have any questions about the Battle of Midway, feel free to ask and I'll be happy to answer them as best I can.

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June 03, 2011

Bahrain A Go-Go

The FIA, in their infinite wisdom and uncanny powers of reasoning, have decided that there'll be a Grand Prix in Bahrain after all this season.  It will be taking over the weekend the Indian Grand Prix was scheduled for, October 30th.  India will now be the last GP of the season, running on December 11th.  Not only will this be the longest F1 season in terms of number of races, now it'll be the longest in terms of calendar time as well.

As one can imagine, this is not going over well.  The deputy director of Human Rights Watch said "It seems like a highly questionable decision by Formula One.  (Teams and drivers) now have to make a decision influenced by financial reasons and personal feelings."  The Guardian is essentially calling for teams to boycott the race.  Mark Webber, who has been the most outspoken driver regarding a return to Bahrain, tweeted "When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport. Let's hope the right decision is made."  Former world champion Damon Hill came out against the decision, saying F1 "will forever have the blight of association with repressive methods to achieve order."  And the head of F1 Update! here at The Pond said "This is a ridiculous decision by the FIA.  If the championship has been decided by Bahrain, look for teams to not even show up."  As much as it pains us, the F1U! team actually agrees with former FIA Fuhrer Max Mosley's view that advertisers are going to run screaming from the public relations fiasco that will occur.

If you have any questions about exactly why the decision was made to race in Bahrain, one needs look no further than this article on F1 Fanatic.  Formula One Group, the corporation that owns the rights to the promotion of F1, is set to generate almost $1.8 BILLION in revenue this year.  Money makes the sport go 'round.

Which also explains the other news that came out of the FIA today: the calendar for next year has 21 races on it.  The inaugural US Grand Prix on the new circuit in Austin, TX, will be June 17th, 2012.  One year to get the track ready... cross fingers, folks!

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June 01, 2011

Random Anime Picture #62: The Last Refuge For The Lazy Wonderduck

-El Cazador de la Bruja, ep12

Just because I felt like putting up a random anime picture... its been a while, and heck, it's not like El Cazador got enough attention.  Quite a good show, from the team that brought us both NOIR and the hideous Madlax.  Yep, it's the third of the BeeTrain "girls with guns" trilogy, and the only one with a sense of humor.  It's not as polished as NOIR, but few shows are.  Well worth a watch or two.

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