April 20, 2014
*LIGHTS OUT: Other than mechanical failure or driver error, there was really only one chance for anybody to beat the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton today, and that was to catch him and pin him down quickly. The problem was, the driver most likely to manage that feat, Nico Rosberg, was sitting in fourth place. In between the two Mercedes teammates were the two Red Bull pilots, 4Time Vettel in second and Daniel Ricciardo in third. Neither were particularly inclined to move over, but the RB10's Renault engine simply doesn't have the grunt to keep up with the Merc W05. However, it's more than powerful enough to keep a car behind them. A good getaway would be essential for Rosberg... and that's exactly what he didn't get. The telemetry on his car failed just as the lights began to stage, so the team couldn't tell him exactly what would be the right settings for a good getaway. He bogged down, dropped down to seventh, then was clubbed by the Williams of Valterri Bottas that surprisingly didn't damage either car. A couple of years ago would have seen one or both out with shattered suspensions; apparently the teams are making their carbon fiber with a special Wheaties layer. In any case, it would take Rosberg some 14 laps (and one pit stop) to make it back up to fourth place, and any chance he had to catch his teammate was long, long gone.
*MEANWHILE: Felipe Massa seems to have a job for himself in drag racing after his F1 career is over. For the second race in a row, the Williams driver had the greatest reaction of all time off the line. He swung to the right to get around the wallowing Rosberg, then cut back towards the center of the track to avoid a blocking 4Time Vettel. He was balked by Ricciardo directly in front of him, and then the Ferrari of HWMNBN bumped into him. And by "bumped", we mean "uppercut to the chin." Again, neither car was obviously damaged, though in the time it took Massa to return from Low Earth Orbit, he had lost most of the places he'd gained with his magic start.
*OH, AND...: By the end of the first lap, Hamilton had a 1.5 second lead over Vettel. By the end of Lap 6, it was four seconds. By Lap 9, it was nine seconds and growing by over a second per lap.
*LIVE BY THE START, DIE BY THE STOP: Despite his short visit to the ISS, Massa looked like things were still going well. He was in 8th place, holding back the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, and was looking racy. All looked normal when he swung into the pits for his first tire change, but things were anything but. At first it looked like the Williams mechanics were putting the rear tires on the wrong sides (right on left, left on right), but then it became obvious that they had the wrong compound of tires! Then it became clear that there had been some subtle damage in his encounter with HWMNBN... the left-rear wheel nut refused to come off the tire. By the time everything was sorted out, what should have been a three-second pit stop had turned into a one-minute-plus nightmare. Massa would return to the race in 18th, never to be seen again.
*AND THEN...: Eventually, Rosberg managed to pull himself up the field, disposing of the Red Bulls with ease, then HWMNBN late to take 2nd place. In the last 10 laps, the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo began to take huge chunks of time off of HWMNBN, looking like he might have had a shot at catching him. In the end, his tires gave up and he ended the race some four seconds behind the Ferrari. Remember this, for it will be come important later on. The Spaniard was some six seconds in arrears to Rosberg. Rosberg was a distant 18 seconds behind Hamilton, and it seemed like it could have been more if the polesitter had wanted to push the matter. That makes three wins in a row for Shiv Hamilton, the third time Mercedes has finished 1-2 this season, and the team has won all four races this season so far. This is disturbing in so many ways, we can't even begin to start.
*DRIVER OF THE RACE: HWMNBN. The Ferrari F14T just isn't that good of a car. Oh, it's perfectly okay, but it isn't really a podium contender. UNLESS the driver is HWMNBN, who can take a less-than-stellar chassis and make it good. Right now, the best anybody that isn't in a Mercedes can do is third, and that's exactly where HWMNBN brought his Ferrari this race, when by all rights it should be somewhere around sixth or seventh. THAT'S a drive.
*TEAM OF THE RACE: Mercedes. The first time since 2004 that a team has had three 1-2 finishes in a row, and that car, Ferrari's F2004, is probably on the short list of best F1 car ever. Completely dominant.
*MOMENT OF THE RACE: On Lap 23, Rosberg passed 4Time Vettel for 3rd place, but it wasn't easy. Vettel fought the pass tooth-and-nail, but couldn't quite keep the Mercedes back... and the struggle allowed Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo to close up tight to the back of Vettel. The two were on different strategies, and Ricciardo had fresher tires to boot. As they crossed the start/finish line for Lap 24, Ricciardo was a mere .230 seconds behind. Half a lap later, the call came from the pit wall: "4Time, let Daniel (Ricciardo) through, please. Let him through." Ominously, Vettel didn't respond. Finally, Vettel asked "What tires is he on?" "Primes, same as you." Vettel, in defiance of team orders, came back with "Tough luck." It took another lap or so, but Ricciardo managed to force the issue and get past. In the two or three laps involved, however, Nico Rosberg had managed to run away and hide to the tune of nearly six seconds. How much time did he lose behind Vettel just because 4Time threw a little temper tantrum? Certainly enough to have made a difference at the end of the race... he may not have been able to get past HWMNBN, but it wouldn't have been a four second gap. Good job, 4Time!
*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:
"I am the greatest in all the land. Bring me your finest meats and cheeses!" - Lewis Hamilton
"I'm still leading the Driver's Championship, y'know." - Nico Rosberg
"We gotta race 'em one day at a time. I'm just happy to be here, and hope I can help the team. I just want to give it my best shot, and Lord willing, it'll all work out." - HWMNBN
"Vettel's old and washed up. Youth must be served." - Daniel Ricciardo
"I'm only two years older than you, punk." - 4Time Vettel
"I was in the race." - Nico Hulkenberg
"You know, I am a native of Finland. My compatriot, Kimi Raikkonen, is not reflective of our speaking ability." - Valterri Bottas
"mrmmrmdfdmmmfmfl mfrmmrmrmrlbl mrmrlrbrlrl." - Kimi Raikkonen
"I too was in the race. Did you know that Force India was in 2nd place in the Constructor's Championship until today? Now we're in third." - Sergio Perez
"Like, y'know, my iPod battery died halfway through the race. Bummer." - Kid Kyvat
That's the end of the first flyaway stint! We now take a three-week break to allow the teams to make their way back to Europe, where we'll meet up in Barcalounger for the Spanish Grand Prix. THERE, we'll see the real performance levels of the cars. See you then!
The team standings right now are pretty amazing:
4: Ferrari 52 pts
3: Force India 54 pts
2: Red Bull 57 pts
1: Mercedes 154 pts
After only 4 races it's probably too soon to call the season over, but it sure does look like it is, doesn't it?
(I love seeing Force India up there like that! Awesome!)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 21, 2014 07:42 AM (+rSRq)
Posted by: RickC at April 21, 2014 03:52 PM (ECH2/)
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