October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014

I live with ducks and lizards and other things that go bump in the night...

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October 29, 2014


For the love of god, could I please catch a break, just once?

This ends my frustrated complaining for the day.  Thank you for your attention, and we now return you to your regular blog.

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October 27, 2014

F1 on TV: United States 2014

After a couple of weeks, the F1 Circus has made its way from Sochi on the Black Sea to Austin deep in the heart of Texas.  Along the way, however, two of the teams have gotten lost... more on that later... but for now, we've got the United States Grand Prix!  Let's take a look at the track map.

The Circuit of the Americas has proven to be something of a mixed bag in the two previous races.  The drivers universally love the track, but the races themselves have been a bit less than special.  The circuit itself, much like the English language, has merrily stalked other tracks down back alleys and mugged them for the best bits.  The Turn 03 thru 06 Complex is highly similar to the "Esses" at Japan, for example.  The big arching turn of 16-18, unfortunately known as "Diabolica", is reminiscent of Turkey's Quad-8.  Turn 11 is almost-not-quite similar to Montreal's hairpin.  But then you get the parts that are All-American!  The uphill Turn 01, amusingly known as "Phil Hill", with its steep climb to a blind apex leading to a dropaway to the quick Turn 02, is like nothing else on the calendar.  The long back straight actually has a blind crest roughly where the DRS zone begins, and of course it isn't entirely straight.  The most difficult turn on the track is 19, a slippery, tight right-angled bend after the high speed Diabolica.  It's not easy to get whoa'd up to make the turn without killing a tire or going for a gallop out on the Pecos.  It's a enjoyable circuit, no doubt!  We've just not had good racing on it yet, but I know that's not universal.  A few weeks ago, the FIA World Endurance Championship held a race at CotA, a six hour affair marred by heavy rains, but it was still great.  There can be good racing here.  We just haven't seen it yet in F1.

The Legendary Announce Team is geared up and ready to go for their home race, with a special bonus for us to boot!  Here's the schedule:
1130a - 1p: Practice 1 live on NBCSN
2p - 4p: Practice 2 live on NBCSN
12n - 230p: Practice 3 and Quals live on NBC
130p - 4p: 2014 United States Grand Prix live on NBC

That's right, not only do we get all three practices, but P3 and Quals are going to be shown on the Mother Network itself, NBC!  This is undoubtedly because of the huge upswing in viewers/ratings, up 93% from last year, up 39% from Speed's final year in 2012, and the best ratings for F1 in the US since 2002.  Viewership is averaging over 375000 people per race, outstanding numbers considering F1's status in the US.

And in an interesting note, the Missing Man from the Legendary Announce Team, Bob Varsha, will be taking to the airwaves of Austin's "Fringe 105.3 FM" on Saturday and Sunday to provide live commentary during P3, Quals and the race itself.  Even better, it'll be streaming on Fringe FM Austin.  I may just check it out during P3.

And yet, while the sport is celebrating unprecedented success in this country, two teams have gone under in the past two weeks.  It's no surprise that Caterham went down... I predicted that Japan would be their last race... but they've officially gone into Administration.  Essentially the last step before bankruptcy, the court Administrators have taken the team assets and are trying to sell it off piecemeal to pay back creditors.  If that fails, then bankruptcy happens.  What did come as a surprise is that Marussia has joined them in Administration.  Neither team will appear at the USGP, though it's not impossible that they might make it to Abu Dhabi.  Marussia in particular has reason to make that final race, as they are currently 9th in the Constructor's Championship, and only six points behind Lotus for 8th.  With double points on the table for that last tilt, there's a substantial amount of prize money available... rumored at thirty million dollars or more.  Except nobody knows if they're eligible for it anymore now that they've gone into receivership.  Oh, I'm sure the FIA does, and the team itself, but the rules are so opaque that they could be taken any way you want to take them.

So there'll be 18 cars on the grid, the smallest number since... um... the 2005 USGP, when six cars took the lights.  Quals should be pretty interesting is all I've gotta say!

It should go without saying that the F1Update! team will be all over this weekend... see ya then!

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October 25, 2014

Gripes and Grumps: Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova is a series that ran at the end of 2013.  Produced by Studio Sanzigen, it was that company's first full series after having done 3-D work on a couple of others previously.  I watched the first couple of episodes when it was airing, but let it go at the time as it never grabbed me.  On the surface, this is ridiculous... the show may as well have been designed for me.  I mean, here's the plot:

In the near future, fleets of sentient warships that model themselves after WWII-era ships appear out of nowhere.  Armed with technologically advanced weaponry and defenses, they sweep the seas of terrestrial vessels.  The Fleet of Fog (FoF), as it's known, goes on and blockades all nations and shuts down communications between them.  Humanity has one trump card: the I-401, a FoF submarine that is commanded by Chihaya Gunzo, a JMSDF student who wants to change the world.


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October 23, 2014

Ducks In Anime: Iwo Jima Edition

-Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Ep07
During my recent enforced vacation from the internet, I decided to give Arpeggio of Blue Steel another try.  If you don't know, the show is about humanity's fight against "The Fleet of Fog," robot aliens that model themselves after warships from WWII.  Their computer systems take the form of young women... that's cruiser Takao on the left, and main character submarine I-401 on the right.

I have some reservations about this show.  I'll get into them in detail in a different post, but suffice to say that I was pretty unhappy with the overall package.  But it's got a duck.

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October 22, 2014

Attention.... Your Attention Please...

Pond Central's internet connection is down, but for once it isn't my service provider's fault!  According to them, the powers-that-be one step above them are having problems.  It's supposed to be fixed today (Wednesday), but... yeah, who knows?

I'm at the Old Home Pond as I write this.  Hopefully, I'll be up later today and I can get you some sweet, sweet Ben-To! episodic review.

Or not.  We'll see.

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October 20, 2014

Grrr Grumpgrumpgrump

Mood bad.


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October 17, 2014

The Buffaloes of Finland

It is an article of faith that the worst fighter plane of WWII was the Brewster F2A Buffalo.  It's pretty difficult to contest this assertion: in the single true fight it was in, the Battle of Midway, it was essentially massacred by the Imperial Japanese Navy's A6M2 Zero, much the same way a high school team would be by the Chicago Bears.  "It is my belief that any commander that orders pilots out for combat in a F2A-3 Brewster Buffalo should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground" reads one Marine after-action report.  After Midway, the barrel-shaped plane was relegated to trainer status, then to mechanic training.  Its passing was unmourned, its memory one of ridicule and scorn.  The British and Dutch, who also received versions of the Buffalo, felt similarly.

It fell to the Finnish Air Force to give the Buffalo its taste of glory.


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October 16, 2014

Broken Follow-up

The day never did get any better.  Pointless from the moment I got up (again) to now, just a complete waste of everything that could have been.

I'm trying to keep The Pond from becoming a "Dear Myspace..." column, but it's hard.  Expect some quality this weekend, maybe?  Ben-To! Ep10?  The Buffaloes of Finland?  I have a photoshoot thingy I want to do, but that's really quite involved, surprisingly.

No, not surprisingly at all to anybody who knows me.  Remember the Christmas Carol ducks?  This'll make that rig look like a cardboard box with flashlights stuck in it.  If it's worth overdoing, it's worth really overdoing.

Or it's just as likely I won't get anything done because motivation.  We'll see. 

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Adventures In Broken Sleep Patterns

Wednesday night, I laid down to take a short nap, intending to get up around 1030pm or so and work on a blog-related matter.  I don't remember turning my alarm clock off, but I must have because the next thing I knew, it was 430 in the morning on Thursday.

That was 90 minutes ago, and I'm going back to sleep.  However, I can honestly say that I've learned something: once people get something in their minds, they'll never believe it isn't true, particularly when you present them with facts.  Perhaps especially when you present them with facts.

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October 13, 2014

Time And Tide

In long-term preparation for a photo project, I had been searching Amazon for a teeny-scale SBD Dauntless model kit.  No, not that small, even smaller.  Nope, smaller than that.  Eventually, I found something that was absolutely perfect: this one from Trumpeter.  Exactly what I was looking for, in fact.  As it's been literally decades since I last put together a model kit, let alone one as... tiny... as that one, and I could envision the need for a larger Dauntless for one or two of the pictures I had in mind, I found another kit that I could practice with. 

Yep, that's right about my speed, even at my best.  Well, that's not entirely the case, but in comparison to Marty Suspenders, I was the flash left on the sprue.  Anyway, while I was adding the kits to my Amazon basket, along with the usual accoutrements required for such an endeavor, it struck me... I didn't need to order this from Amazon, there's a place in Duckford that likely has it all!  So it was with a giddy step and a goofy smile on my face I galumphed my way through the rain to my car.  From there, the destination was clear... ROYAL HOBBY!


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October 12, 2014

Mini-F1Update!: Russia 2014

It was a beautifully sunny day at Sochi as the F1 Circus, missing one member, pulled into their starting slots on the grid.  A win by polesitter Lewis Hamilton would put his teammate and driver's championship rival Nico Rosberg in dire straits indeed.  And what of the upstart Williams of Vallteri Bottas, could he make a difference?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the inaugural Grand Prix of Russia!

*LIGHTS OUT:  We'd come to discover two things about the Sochi Autodrom during practice and qualifying.  First, the track was quite difficult to pass on, and second, it was ridiculously easy on tires.  That meant most cars would be making one pit stop, taking any strategy relating to the pits out of the game. It also meant that Mercedes Nico Rosberg would be desperate to lead his teammate Lewis Hamilton after the first real turn, Turn 2.  When the race began, Rosberg pushed his teammate hard as they ran down the front "straight," and it looked like he might be able to pull off an amazingly important pass.  Then he waited just a little too long and braked a lot too hard, front tires smoking like a Grateful Dead concert without the twenty-minute guitar solo.  He wound up going off-track, rejoining in the lead, but having to give the position up because of the track limit violation.  Almost as soon as his team told him to surrender the lead to Hamilton, Rosberg reported that he had to pit due to massive vibrations.  Entirely unsurprising, considering that he had squared off his front tires.  This he duly did at the end of the first lap, falling all the way down to 20th, ahead of only Felipe Massa, who pitted a few moments later.  As Rosberg waded back into the fray, he asked the pitlane what the tire strategy was going to be.  The reply couldn't have been what he wanted to hear: "We think you need to go the rest of the race on this set, Nico."  Fifty-two laps on a single set of medium tires.

*MEANWHILE:  Up at the front of the pack, Hamilton was dominating the rest of the field with the heartless precision of a scientist pouring molten aluminum into anthills.  Farther and farther ahead he pulled, until he was able to make his only pitstop and not lose first place.  And that's the way things ended up, with Hamilton leading the rest of the field home unchallenged save for the first lap.

*BUT...:  That's not to say that behind him, amazing things weren't occurring.  Rosberg, admittedly in the best car on track, began to haul himself up the field, making the mediums work without visibly stressing them in any way.  At one point, McLaren driver Jenson Button was told that Rosberg was apparently going to go the whole way on one set of tires, and the disbelief in his voice was apparent.  As the pit stops came and went, he jumped farther and farther up the grid, ending up in third behind the Williams Valtteri Bottas as he tried to get his new tires warmed up.  It took a couple of laps for the Merc to dispose of the upstart, but it happened soon enough, putting an exclamation mark on the day's proceedings, if he could keep his tires fresh.

*THE END:  When the entirety of the day's excitement is wondering if someone's tires were going to last 53 laps, you know the race wasn't great.  It wasn't.  Rosberg pulled off the "impossible" task, ending up 15 seconds behind in second with tires that looked liked they could go another ten laps easy.  Bottas was five seconds adrift in third.  Hamilton was handed the winner's trophy by Vladimir Putin, and the day's events came to an end.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Nico Rosberg.  Yes, the problem was one of his own making, but the recovery drive he performed today was pretty darn impressive.  20th to 2nd, making one sent of tires go 52 laps in the process?  Yup, that works.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Mercedes clinched the Constructor's Championship today, barring penalties from nefarious wrongdoings of course.  Yup, that's a good season.


That was the race, right there. 


"Well.  That was easy, wasn't it?" - Lewis Hamilton

"Shut up." - Nico Rosberg

"I can't believe I shook that guy's friggin' hand." - Valtteri Bottas, Finn

"Well, that wasn't a bad day at all." - Jenson Button (note: real quote)

"It was like a chilled-out Sunday drive." - Kevin Magnussen (note: real quote.  This is not a good way to describe a race)

The Blundering Herd moves on to Austin in two weeks!  Halloween weekend in Texas, y'all!  See ya then!

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October 11, 2014

F1 Quals: Russia 2014

SO close... so close indeed.  Here's the provisional grid for the 2014 Grand Prix of All The Russias:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.759 1:38.338 1:38.513
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:39.076 1:38.606 1:38.713
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:39.125 1:38.971 1:38.920
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.560 1:39.381 1:39.121
5 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:40.074 1:39.296 1:39.277
6 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.735 1:39.022 1:39.629
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.519 1:39.666 1:39.635
8 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:40.255 1:39.786 1:39.709
9 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:40.098 1:39.838 1:39.771
10 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:40.354 1:39.929 1:40.020
11 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.382 1:40.052
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:40.273 1:40.058
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:40.723 1:40.163
14 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:41.159 1:40.536
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:40.766 1:40.984
16 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:42.526 1:41.397
17 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:42.648

18 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:43.064

19 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:43.166

20 Crashtor Maldozer Lotus-Renault 1:43.205

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:43.649

Yesterday, I said that "I fully expect that Mercedes will be the class of the field (as usual), but it'll be whichever one of them that's running last that'll get the pole."  That's exactly what happened, but I didn't say "whoever is on track last will have a shot."  Because that, too, is exactly what happened as Valtteri Bottas went purple (aka "fastest of the session") in the first two sectors.  Only a lockup going into Turn 17 and a fuzzy exit from the last turn cost him pole. 

His teammate, Felipe Massa, had a fuel feed problem and couldn't make it out of Q1.  Expect to see quite the melee going into the first real turn as it's quite possible that Bottas, who has started very well this year, could insert himself into the argument for the lead.

Race in the morning... might be boring, might not!  We'll find out together!

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October 10, 2014

F1 Practice: Russia 2014

Silly computer seems to think that this is the first F1 Practice report I've done since Monaco, something like 10 races ago!  Hm.  Well, we've actually got something to talk about this time: the debut of a new track!

The Sochi Autodrom, home of the Grand Prix of All the Russias, has proven my predictions both wrong and right.  I suggested earlier that it was going to be similar to the old circuit at Valencia, and in many ways I was proven correct.  The track is quite wide in most places, and despite being run through and around the Olympic Park, the visual setting is usually quite boring... all concrete barriers and catch fencing. 

Usually.  The amusement park in the background is caught on camera a number of times per lap, lending an almost surreal air to the proceedings.  Getting back to the track itself, the pit lane entry is obnoxiously narrow.  It looks like it's one car width plus one foot on either side, then barriers.  Probably won't be a problem unless there's a breakdown which prevents a car from making it in.  Then there'll be a Safety Car / Red flag immediately.  Zero tolerance for risk this race, not after last weekend.

In other track news, apparently it's proving to be easy on tires, but hard on fuel consumption.  Makes sense; for a street circuit, an astonishing large percentage of it is spent at full throttle.  It's the "easy on tires" part that nobody was expecting.  New track surfaces are usually quite green and slippery, but at least for now, that's not the case.  The truth of the matter is that the surface will evolve all weekend as more and more tire rubber is laid down; F1 tires love running on F1 tire rubber.  If they could make a track out of Pirelli rubber, you'd have drivers ripping their own heads off from the gees in the turns.  I fully expect that Mercedes will be the class of the field (as usual), but it'll be whichever one of them that's running last that'll get the pole.  Rubber on the track makes that much difference.

Finally, Marussia has decided to run only one car on Sunday.  They got to the circuit, built up both Max Chilton's and Jules Bianchi's chassis, then submitted them both to scrutineering for approval.  Both were approved, and it was assumed that young American driver Alexander Rossi would be in Bianchi's car for the race, but no.  Instead, the team went to the Delegates and formally withdrew the car.  This is quite the gesture.  It takes time to put a car together "from scratch" as it were, like they would have to do for Bianchi's chassis.  The intention is to keep the car in the garage on jackstands with the door open, as if they're just waiting for Bianchi to walk in and jump in.

Every driver and car are emblazoned with stickers of support for the critically injured French driver, reading either "Tours avec Jules", "#JB17" or "#ForzaJules".  Many of the GP2 drivers and teams are doing the same; he was third in that series in 2010 and 2011, and is apparently quite popular with them still.

Qualifying in the morning.  We'll see you then.

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October 08, 2014

Ben-To! Ep09

I should be asleep.  I should be cleaning Pond Central, which looks like a tornado went through it... a solid year of 12+ hour days will do that.  I should be doing laundry.  There are a hundred things I should be doing right now, but instead I'm doing the writeup for Ben-To! Ep09.  The long awaited sequel to the writeup for Ben-To! Ep08, it is hoped that many questions will be answered.  For example, what is Left's real name?  Why is it called "Ralph Store"?  Just why did the twin sisters think that the Ice Witch was in the hospital?  And why can't the production staff just give us a good episode?

I already know the answer to that last one, by the way.

Morning, and Ms Fortune is looking... well, cute.  Too bad she's a walking disaster area, causing death and destruction where ever she goes.  Without knowing it, even.  If the people of the East high school ever figured out what was going on, they'd have to find a way to end her.  But how do you dispose of someone who causes horrible things to occur around her?  You're just as likely to end up being turned into a turnip than succeed in your mission.  Besides, she's cute.

Being cute (and oblivious), she's got a cute idea... she's going to make a bento for Our Hero!  Shaga wonders what the protocol is for burying a cousin, because dear god, he's gonna die.  That's the only result possible.  If he's lucky, the end will come quickly... though with his uncommonly quick healing factor, he's likely to live through the entire thing.  Ms Fortune skips away to prepare the Death Lunch, and...

...passes the Student Council President from the West high school.  Well.  That's odd... one might even suggest it's totally unprecedented in the world Ben-To! inhabits..   Shaga spies on her as she walks by, as the horrible sounds of a car accident pierce the air.  Later that day...

...Shiraume Ume, the previously mentioned Prez, decks Our Hero and walks away, without even asking permission the way she normally does.  Ooh, someone's pissed.  He gets up and makes it to the Half-Price Association's clubroom...

...oh hell.  The bento is there, waiting, and there's no way he can dodge it.  Still, it looks really good...

Oh the humanity


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Something Really Completely Different

It's been pretty grim around here of late, and for good reason.  To lighten things up a bit, let me introduce you to my latest music/video obsession: World Order!

The music is catchy, but its the dance moves that makes the group stand out.  As an added bonus, their front man, Genki Sudo, is a retired mixed martial arts / kickboxing fighter.

As you can imagine, their live show appears to be quite impressive.  To the point where I've found myself weeping tears of amazement and regret.

If I hadn't failed in grad school, I could have been doing lighting designs like this.  Or not.  Who knows?  There were tears, let's leave it at that. 

Ben-To! Ep09 is forthcoming ASAP.

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October 07, 2014

Bianchi Update II

We've gotten more information on Jules Bianchi's condition via the medical center in Japan.  He is still unconscious, he is indeed on a ventilator, and he suffered a "diffuse axonal injury."  According to Dr Gary Hartstein, who was part of F1's traveling medical team until 2012, this type of injury is radically different from what Michael Schumacher suffered.  In this case, "diffuse" means that there isn't a specific point-source of damage a hematoma, for example; in effect the entire brain is injured somehow because there's no obvious injury anywhere.  "Axonal" means it hurt the axon cells that actually conduct information around the brain.  He's listed as being in critical but stable condition.

So, the good news is that it appears Bianchi's helmet wasn't penetrated during the wreck.  The unfortunate news is that, as a result, nobody knows just what's wrong, exactly.  Prognosis for DAI is usually quite bad... however, readers of this blog actually are familiar with at least one person who have recovered from from this same type of injury: Richard Hammond, "Hamster", one of the presenters from Top Gear.  When he rolled the jet dragster and wound up with his head dragging along at 230mph, he suffered a DAI as well.  He woke up after five days, and had a complete recovery except for a new taste for celery.

Now, for the elephant in the room.  Very late Sunday night/early Monday morning, amateur video of Bianchi's wreck surfaced.  Shot from across the track with a pretty decent zoom lens, it shows nearly everything one could possibly want to see except for how the accident began.  Under normal circumstances, I would embed the video and leave it at that, but this is a special situation; it's graphic and unsettling and I wouldn't want anybody to watch it who didn't make the decision to do so themselves.  So instead, I'm going to link to the video at liveleak, and a very good quality gif.  Watch either one, but do understand that they should probably be considered NSFL.  I know my stomach got really tight when I first saw it, but I made the decision to do so for the readers of my F1U!s.  I was also struck by the irony that the thing that likely kept Bianchi alive was that the recovery vehicle had Sutil's Sauber "on the hook", thus moving the center of gravity forward and allowing for some amount of swivel when the Marussia hit.  Of course, if Sutil hadn't've wrecked, the recovery vehicle wouldn't have been where it was, but that's beside the point.  As it is, he had quite a bit of speed going at impact (someone over at reddit calculated it at around 95mph), so if he hit the tire barrier instead it would have been a nasty accident anyway... but not as bad as what we ended up with.

The teams have moved on to Sochi.  More news as it becomes available.

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October 06, 2014

F1 on NBCSN: Russia 2014

This should be a week where excitement is high and interest in the upcoming F1 race is keen.  Any time you visit a new circuit, there's supposed to be a whiff of anticipation in the air.  The events at the end of this past weekend's Grand Prix of Japan, however, have cast a pall over the anticipated proceedings.  It's difficult to imagine how the drivers and teams feel... I'm sure it's a mix of "it can't happen to me" and "holy crap."  But if they can sit in the cockpits of their high-tech-high-speed cars, I can suck it up and guide you on a tour of the new Sochi Autodrom, home of the 2014 Grand Prix of Russia.

There's a distinct whiff of Valencia here, in that it's a "street circuit" that winds through the Olympic Village, but without any of the drama of an actual street circuit like Monaco or even Singapore.  This video makes it fairly clear that it's a Hermann Tilke design, full of flow-killing right-angle turns.  To the circuit's credit, Turns 01, 11 and 12 seem like they'll be more suggestions than actual turns, at least in a F1 car.  The big horseshoe left-hander promises to be a real neck-stretcher, though how good it'll be for racing is another question.  Turn 02 will probably be the big passing zone, with 06 and 13 earning marks in that category as well... at least, just by looking at the map. 

It's a wide track, though not so immense as Valencia, where you could put four cars side by side and have room left over.  With concrete barriers right up against the track, one wanders offline at one's peril.  The guess is that the asphalt will be smooth and slick, which is why Pirelli is bringing the Soft and Medium compounds for tire choices; it'll give good performance without being too conservative... unless the surface was secretly made out of ground glass and razor blades. 

Basically the circuit will come down to how hard the right-angle turns are on the actual racing.  Fortunately for us, the good zeks of the Legendary Announce Team will be bringing us their usual sterling commentary on the following schedule:
Practice 2: 5am - 630am live
Quals: 6am - 730am live
Grand Prix of Russia: 530am - 8am live

One interesting bit of news regarding the race... teams are not going to be allowed to bring in any upgrades.  Not by FIA regulations, but because of the ongoing embargo against Russia regarding the ongoing mess in Ukraine.  The teams can bring their stuff from Japan, but spare parts from, say, Woking, are banned.  We'll see how that works out.  See you this weekend!

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October 05, 2014

Mini-F1Update!: Japan 2014

Typhoon Phanfone awaited the Blundering Herd as they made their way to the grid at Suzuka, rain pelting down in great grand buckets that made one wonder if there would be fish waiting at the first turn.  It wasn't a question of if it would affect the race but how much.  THIS is your mini-F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Japan.

*LIGHTS... UM... ER...:  The circuit was so wet that the race began behind the Safety Car, the field rolling off in grid order... and that's the way they stayed for two laps, save for Marcus Ericsson spinning his Caterham off at the end of the first lap.  He resumed at the back of the field.  At the end of the second orbit of the track, the expected Red Flag was thrown, bringing the proceedings to a halt.  Unexpectedly, the field lined up behind the Safety Car in the pit lane instead of the grid, sending pundits everywhere scrambling for the FIA rulesbook.  It turns out there are circumstances where this can be a thing, the teams brought out the gazebos and umbrellas, and we settled in for the latest installment of Rain Delay Theatre.  It became a guessing game, wondering if the FIA Weather Llama, Pedro, had figured what the typhoon was doing.

There's nothing deadlier than an enraged gazebo.
*RESTART AND SAFETY CAR:  After 25 minutes, it became clear that Pedro knew his stuff.  The rain had... not stopped, exactly, but was very much reduced.  The field was sent back out behind the Safety Car, their mandatory full-wet tires pumping 65 liters of water off the track per second... except when the cars hit rivulets deeper than the tire treads.  Then things could become exciting.  Halfway through the resumed third lap, the Ferrari of HWMNBN came to a silent halt at Turn 7, water having had an adverse reaction with the car's electronics.

"I wonder if I can go to McLaren tomorrow..."
The recovery vehicle stationed at Turn 7 trundled out and hooked up the car, and all progressed as normal.  By the end of Lap 4, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was on the radio saying that the track was fine, let's go racing.  By the end of Lap 8, teams and drivers are discussing shifting to Intermediate tires, so well was the track drying.  Finally, on Lap 9 the Safety Car came in and we got our first racing of the day.

*BOTH OF YOU, RACE LIKE YOU WANT TO WIN!:  As has been the routine this season, the two Mercedes drivers, polesitter Nico Rosberg and Hamilton in 2nd, decided they wanted to be alone and immediately drove away from the rest of the field.  Indeed, at one point they were going faster on full wet tires than the rest of the field, most of whom had switched to Inters as soon as possible.  By Lap 25, the two were about 18 seconds ahead of then-third place Jenson Button.  Finally, on Lap 29, Hamilton made his move, passing Rosberg on the outside of Turn 1 in a lovely example of car control and knowing exactly where the limits of traction were.

:  After both drivers put on new Inters, Hamilton began to pull away, creating a seven second gap back to his teammate, which is where it basically stayed.  However, ominous signs were in the air.  On Lap 40, the pit wall called out to both their drivers, warning them that the rain was coming.  Hamilton pointed out that it was already here, particularly in the first turn.  A couple of laps later, Jenson Button stopped for full wet tires, an indication of how bad it was getting out there.

*GRIM REMINDER:  If you've read The Pond since Saturday, you know what happened next.  Adrian Sutil aquaplaned off at Turn 7, the same turn that HWMNBN had his Ferrari die.  A hard shunt ended the Sauber driver's day, and the recovery vehicle trundled out to extract the broken car from the tire wall.  A lap later, the Marussia of Jules Bianchi aquaplaned off in the exact same spot as Sutil, jumped the curb, flew mostly over the gravel trap, and went under the recovery vehicle.

The Safety Car was called out , and was immediately passed on-track by the Medical Car.  After the field was picked up by Berndt Maylander, another red flag was thrown, and as the rain continued to pelt down, the sun dipped closer to the horizon, and an ambulance took to the cirucit, the race was halted.  Hamilton led Rosberg, Seb Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Jenson Button, Valterri Bottas, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg, Jules Vergne, and Sergio Perez across the metaphorical line.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Lewis Hamilton.  In a season where the Mercedes has been the dominant car, Hamilton actually had to drive in today's bad-then-okay-then-bad conditions, and served notice that Rosberg is going to have to beat him for the championship.  After today, one gets the feeling that that isn't going to happen.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  An honorable mention to McLaren, who made all the right calls today and, if the race hadn't've been red flagged, could have had a podium.  But the team of the race goes to Mercedes.  Another 1-2 finish, tough but fair driving on track, and the realization that there's no reason to wreck each other.  A good change from earlier in the season.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:  Considering the pall it put over the rest of the event, Bianchi's crash gets the nod.


"Everything that happened with the racing on track is secondary today, one of us is in a bad shape and we don't yet know how he is. Jules had a bad accident and we hope to have some very good news, very soon. Not knowing what's going on feels terrible, I think all the drivers really feel with him, as we know how difficult and slippery it was today; we hope for the very best." - Sebastian Vettel, speaking for all of us.

Next weekend, the F1 Circus moves to Sochi for the inaugural Grand Prix of Russia.  We'll see you then.

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Jules Bianchi Update

As of around 6am Pond Central Time, the reports on Marussia driver Jules Bianchi are... mixed.  The FIA confirmed that he suffered a serious head injury from the accident.  What happened is that Adrian Sutil aquaplaned off in the Dunlop Curve and went into the tire barrier.  Waved double-yellow flags, indicating that drivers must reduce speed significantly, were deployed as a vehicle resembling a front-end loader came out to carry Sutil's Sauber off-track.  One lap later, Bianchi aquaplaned off in the exact same place of the circuit, hit a curb, flew over most of the gravel runoff, and slid into and under the front-end loader.  This was all witnessed and confirmed by Sutil, who was still on site and saw the entire thing.

There was no on-screen footage of the accident shown.  The first inkling that there was any problem was when the Safety Car was called out.  What the Legendary Announce Team (as did SKY and BBC's teams) missed was that as the Safety Car pulled out, it was closely followed, and rapidly passed by, the Medical Car.  Bianchi's car was seriously damaged, showing a lot of deformity around the cockpit; a few inches worth of the airbox/roll hoop behind the driver's head were missing.  It's unsure if it was removed by the extraction team or by the impact.  Either way, the left-side sidepod was crushed, and Bianchi suffered exactly the type of accident we've all feared... one that apparently defeated the crash structure of the car.  For those who might want to see the situation, I have included a photo behind the SPOILER tag.  There is no gore, but it is still somewhat disturbing.  Your call.

Bianchi was taken to the Suzuka medical center, then to Mie General Hospital via ambulance.  While the usual routine is to use the medical helicopter, it appears that the size of the ambulance, allowing more medical personnel to attend to the stricken driver, caused the change in procedure.  Once at the hospital, a CT scan showed the extent of the severe head injury and surgery took place immediately.  As of roughly 12noon Sunday, Pond Central Time, Bianchi is out of surgery and taken to ICU, where he is reportedly breathing on his own (note: there are now reports saying that he is intubated).  Some of the drivers were at the hospital waiting for news.

The F1U! crew asks our readers to send happy thoughts in the direction of Japan today.  It may not do any good, but it won't hurt either.

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