October 02, 2018

F1 Update: Russia 2018

The weather was fine, the track was fresh, the cars were ready, the drivers were prepared.  And it was DH Verstappen's 21st birthday.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Russia!


*START:  Up at the front, Seb Vettel put in a run at the two Mercedes drivers when the lights went out, but a clever bit of team driving prevented him from succeeding.  Vettel had a better start than either polesitter Valterri Bottas or championship leader Lewis Hamilton, but Hamilton slotted in directly behind the Finnish driver.  You don't expect to see drafting on the run to the first turn on any track, but that's what we got here.  Not only did this prevent Vettel from getting between the two silver cars, it kept him from making any attempt to improve position.  We here at F1U! were duly impressed by this example of teamwork.  Down at the end of the field, DH Verstappen had started 19th due to penalties for engine/gearbox/hamster changes.  By the end of Lap 1, he was 13th.  By the end of Lap 8, he was fifth.  You read that correctly: fifth.

*NEXT:  At that point, the race settled down a bit. But we here at F1U! couldn't help but notice that Verstappen was on the hardest-compound tire, yet still putting up a good rate of knots.  Meanwhile, the cars in front of him were on much softer tires... tires that were rapidly beginning to die.  The leader pitted first, looking to perform an "overcut" on Vettel, Hamilton, et al. and thus stay ahead after the rotation.  The logical move would have been to bring in Hamilton the next lap... and Mercedes goofed.  They left him out, Vettel immediately stopped.  Hamilton stopped the next lap, but the damage had been done: the Ferrari drove by the Merc as Hamilton left the pit lane.  That state of affairs lasted for about a lap-and-a-half.

*ALL FOR ONE, ONE FOR ALL:  Vettel locked up, allowing the Brit to close up quickly.  One questionable blocking maneuver from Vettel later, Hamilton got past and trundled off into the distance.  But all was not well on his silver arrow: his activities with Vettel had caused a blister to form on one tire.  Short term, not a problem.  Long term though?  If it got worse, it could compromise the tire.  The Ferrari and Mercedes were close enough, capability-wise, to make this a matter of concern.  Certainly they weren't going to pit him again.  So what could they do?  Soon the Mercedes radio freqs crackled to life: "Valterri, we need you to let Lewis pass you."  This, the Finn did, like a good soldier.  Now, we here at F1U! know that Team Orders are a thing in F1, have been pretty much since day 1, and letting Hamilton drive without having to defend his position was far and away the most likely to bring home a 1-2 finish for the team.  Bottas could drive defensively, keeping Vettel at bay and Hamilton would pull away.  We get all that.  It just leaves a bad taste in our collective mouths.

*DISBELIEF:  Meanwhile, Verstappen had taken over the lead.  Furthermore, he wasn't going to be threatened for quite a while.  Red Bull left him out on track for nearly 50 laps, hoping for a safety car.  If they had gotten one, there's every chance in the world that the birthday boy would get a podium, and even maybe a win.  It didn't happen.  He would end up leading the most laps for the race.  Even when his tires had turned to rags, he still had a chance to podium.  The team put him onto the ultrasoft tires during his late stop, but for whatever reason the Red Bull didn't cotton to the speedy rubber.  He would rejoin the race in 5th place, but couldn't close back up to the leaders.  Still, fifth place when you start 19th is a pretty okay birthday gift.

*ENDING:  Once Verstappen pitted, Hamilton was promoted to the lead, over 10 seconds ahead of Vettel in third.  That's how it would end up, Merc-Merc-Ferrari-Ferrari.  With just a couple of laps left, Bottas subtly expressed his displeasure with having to give the race win to his teammate.  "How are we finishing?" was his radio call to the pits.  "No change, Valterri" was the response.  The team could have switched Bottas back to the lead if it really was all about the team.  It wasn't.

This was not a good race.  The only interest came from Verstappen's charge through the field and the Mercedes drama.  We're almost sure all the passing came from the Red Bulls and Team Orders.

Japan this weekend, and early weather forecasts calls for rain during that race.  One can only hope, we need something interesting.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:51 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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1 Leclerc had a good move on K-Mag on lap 1. But yeah, that was it. Daniel's climb to sixth was much less interesting than Max's charge. I think Max actually has matured this season...I'm hopeful he will be able to get a good car when the regs change in 2021. (Also...while I like Daniel, I suspect at least part of the reason he's leaving is he knows a mature Max who isn't constantly stepping on his own toes* will wipe the floor with him.)

I totally get what Mercedes did and why. I even agree it was the smart move. But I still think it was... Can we swear here? It's a scatological word involving barnyard fowl. 

But it was funny seeing both Bottas and Vettel immediately move to inspect Hamilton's left rear as soon as they all parked. Bottas didn't even wait for Hamilton to get out of the car before he started checking it out, and Vettel actually pushed Hamilton's car to look at the whole tire. 

*Me at work: "Guys, I just want to make sure we're communicating so we're not stepping on our own...um...tails."
My work friend, later, maybe just *slightly* sarcastically: "Nice save."

Posted by: Mrs. Will (Kathryn) at October 03, 2018 05:35 AM (JPRju)

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