July 02, 2018
F1 Update!: Austria 2018 The skies above the Osterreichring A1-Ring Red Bull Ring were clear for the first time all weekend when the Thundering Herd made its way to the grid. While this made for a pretty view, it also meant that the surface of the track was experiencing something for the first time all weekend: heat. The asphalt was nearly 120º F under the blazing sun, and the teams were glancing nervously at their tires. Would the race be affected? Would the softest compound tires turn into rubber-flavored ice cream? Who would benefit? THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Austria.
*LIGHTS OUT: While the start was frantic, by the end of the first lap it turned out to be a lot of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. Polesitter Valterri Bottas, who earlier had said that you had to really screw up your start to lose places in the short run to the first turn, proceeded to screw up his start and lose places. He was shuffled down to fourth, but when Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull's DH Verstappen squabbled amongst themselves for second, Bottas basically said "you guys have fun, I've got a race to win" and took the place for himself. That he settled in behind his teammate Lewis Hamilton was... ominous, however. It very much looked like a Mercedes 1-2 snoozefest was in the works.
*OR... NOT!: We here at F1U! thought the heat would bother more than just tires today, wondering among ourselves if the cars would have problems too. The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg potentially made us look like geniuses when he pulled over on Lap 10, smoke and flame blowing out the back of his car. He took care to put it somewhere far off track so there was no safety car needed. No, that little gift occurred just two laps after Hulkenberg toasted marshmallows, when Bottas' Mercedes rolled to a stop with no hydraulic system to speak of. Alas, he was unable to be as considerate as the Renault driver and the recovery process required a Virtual Safety Car to be called for. And therein lies a tale.
*THROW IT AWAY: The heat of the day had already thrown the strategists into something of a tizzy. Before race day, a one-stop race was almost certainly in the offing. Now, however, the starting tires were liquefying on the hot asphalt and nobody was quite sure how long they'd last. Surprisingly, the calling of the VSC did not solve the problem: Lap 12 of a 71 lap race was too early to be sure of making a one-stopper. Which didn't make a whit of difference: VSC means "free pitstop", almost as free as an actual safety car. Everybody piled into the pit lane, Ferrari and Red Bull so eager to get onto new rubber that they double-stacked their cars... the second one had to wait for the first to be worked on before it could make its stop. Fresh tires all around! Except... um... well, Mercedes didn't bring in Lewis Hamilton from the lead. The reason was simple: they took too long to figure out if they needed to. By the time they made the call, he was already past pit-in. By the time he made it back around to pit-in, the VSC had ended. Hamilton still had the lead, clear of the pack by 12 seconds, but he still needed to stop.
*IT TAKES SOUR GRAPES TO MAKE A FINE WHINE: Clearly remembering the debacle of Australia, where Mercedes threw away a Hamilton win due to a VSC-based mistake, the reigning champion was on the radio asking how in the world the pit wall could screw up again. His complaining got so bad that the team's strategist, James Vowles, got on the radio and said "I threw away the win, but you can still do what you can." The team pitted their man around Lap 25. He came out in 4th, just ahead of Seb Vettel's Ferrari, with the hardest compound of rubber on the hubs.
*REALLY? WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT US TO DO?: Of course, Hamilton hated the new tires. He couldn't get any pace with them, they didn't feel right, they were blistering (this one was probably true: we haven't seen that many blisters since the last time we went to the beach) they were too round, etc etc etc. Eventually, they brought him in for a new set of supersofts, we suspect as much to get him to shut up as to give him speed. This time he came back out in 5th place, behind the Red Bull of Smiley Riccardio. Who promptly pulled over with a gearbox full of metal shavings and neutrals.
*MEANWHILE: Smiley's teammate, DH Verstappen, was in the lead by a handful of seconds over Kimi Raikkonen. The Ferrari driver was slowly closing the gap though, as was Vettel to his teammate.Hamilton was a more distant 20 seconds back, but setting fast laps consistently. Verstappen, though, seemed to be the only driver out there to NOT be having some sort of problem with his tires.
*REWHINE: And then Hamilton pulled over with what proved to be a fuel pressure problem. All around Austria, dogs lifted their heads and looked towards the Red Bull Ring as his complaints became inaudible to human ears. One can only expect that there's going to be many vacancies at the Mercedes team at Silverstone.
*THE REST OF THE WAY: Hamilton's retirement had the pleasant side-effect of promoting the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean into 4th place, the best finish in the team's history. Even better, DP Magnussen, his Haas teammate, was right behind him in 5th.... an amazing result for a team that's had some bad luck this season thus far. But the race belonged to DH Verstappen, who didn't put a foot wrong the whole afternoon. The twin Ferraris stayed close, and if the Dutchman had erred they would have been past him in a flash, but it never happened. Here at F1U!, we're not overly fond of the kid, but credit where credit is due... he won this race on merit, it wasn't handed to him at all. On an afternoon when everybody had tire problems due to the heat, Verstappen didn't... and he brought Red Bull their first victory at their home track.
*NEXT UP: Stop #3 on the triple-header is Silverstone, this coming weekend. See ya then!
June 25, 2018
F1 Update!: France 2018, The First Person Edition For this I hurried home from work? THIS? This is your F1 Update! for the 2018 Ball Of Dreck Grand Prix of France.
*LIGHTS OUT MEANS RACE OVER: I had hope. Sure, Lewis Hamilton was on pole and the Mercedes was looking like the mean machine of old. But his teammate Valterri Bottas was next to him, and his main rival for the driver's championship, Ferrari's Seb Vettel was right behind. It shouldn't be a runaway I thought. Either should be able to challenge Hamilton, either at the start or as the race went on... the Merc isn't that much better than the Ferrari, after all. And then the race began and as they came into Turn 1, Vettel and Bottas got tangled up with each other. The Ferrari needed a new nose (and was hit with a five second time penalty for causing an accident), the Merc needed... well, it needed the sort of repairs you can do at a six-hour long World Endurance Championship race, but is hard to pull of in a 90-minute F1 race... so he had to do without, and the car was limping all day because of it.
Meanwhile, in a frantic bid to escape the carnage DH Verstappen went running off towards Paris on the huge expanse of runoff area that is Circuit Paul Ricard, only to rejoin in second place. Now I'm no expert on F1 or anything... I'm just a hyperintelligent duck that can type... but I thought if you gained an advantage by going off-track, you're supposed to return the positions. Verstappen probably shouldn't have been in second at this point, but hey, what do I know? Another few turns later saw another schmozzle, this time hilariously between False Esteban! and Pierre Ghastly, two Frenchmen in their home race. Both were out on the spot, mon dieu, and the dark form of Berndt Maylander was summoned to add to his total of more than 700 Formula 1 laps led.
And thus ended the race.
*OH YOU WANT DETAILS?: Hamilton nailed the restart and thenceforth was never threatened. What excitement there was came from Seb Vettel's fight from the rear. He clawed his way up the field, getting as high as third before his tires began to give up the ghost. A late pitstop saw him end up in fifth, not horrible, but still surrendering a metric ton of points to his Mercedes rival.
Really, the only question was if Smiley Ricciardio would manage to usurp Kimi Raikkonen for third, while DH Verstappen held in an iron grip. As has been the norm for quite a few years now, the Ferrari Finn managed to get on the podium... for what turned out to be the 25th time without a victory, a new F1 record. Which makes one wonder, is he still really good? Or is he okay, and will never win again? Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen!
Oh, and Verstappen finished in second. Yay, I guess.
*FRANCE, WHICH IS FRENCH FOR "BAD F1 TRACKS.": In the... what, 14 or 15 seasons I've been an "adult" Formula 1 fan (as opposed to those years back in the 70s and early 80s when I'd see the Monaco GP on ABC's Wide World Of Sports a few weeks after it actually happened), they've raced on two circuits in France. The first was Mangy-Curs, the only circuit that I dislike more than Hungary. They stopped racing there in 2008, and a better decision has never been made. And now they've returned to France, with Paul Ricard. Interestingly enough, Paul Ricard was NOT constructed as a racing circuit, but as a test track. There's something like 170 different configurations available at the place, and there's even sprinklers built in if you want to test in the wet. But it's an awful, awful place to race... it's DULL. AND it's owned by Bernie Ecclestone.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the place.
Next up, we go to the Red Bull Ring in Austria. I'm not sure why. See ya then!
June 11, 2018
F1 Update!: Canada 2018 A warm, partly cloudy day greeted the F1 Circus as they pulled up to the starting grid on the Ile Notre-Dame's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Ferrari's Seb Vettel was on pole, but the Merc of Valterri Bottas and the surprisingly quick Red Bull of DH Verstappen were clearly about to go hard at him from the start, hoping to steal a march on the red car. So what happened and how did it happen? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Canada!
*THE START WAS INTERESTING: When the red lights extinguished Vettel got away clean, but Bottas had Verstappen all over him for the first few turns. It took the oomph of the Merc power unit to get the Finn clear, but the Red Bull stuck all over his diffuser. Until the safety car was called out a few seconds later when Pleasant Stroll got a touch squirrelly and bumped into the Toro Rosso of Brendan Hartley.
Just for the record, this is not an angle you want to be seeing from this camera. Unsurprisingly, both cars were out of the race and Berndt Maylander was roused from his ancient slumber to take the safety car for a spin. He was out for four laps before he was sent back to whence he came. Seb Vettel handled the restart pretty much flawlessly and the race continued on.
*THE MIDDLE NOT SO MUCH: Tires. Everybody was protecting their tires and hoping for another safety car because it's just too damn hard to pass in F1 right now. You need a massive speed advantage, more than just the DRS, to make a pass and have it work. So in lieu of that, everybody protects their tires, trying to stretch them as far as possible and hope for a break somewhere. The drivers hate it, of course, and so do the fans. This went on for lap after lap after lap, until the race was almost done.
*THE END WAS... INTERESTING: The laps counted down, and Seb Vettel was never challenged. On Lap 69, he came through the final chicane and onto the pit straight to take the checkered flag. Which is fine and good, but for one thing: the race is 70 laps long. As a result of this gaffe, per regulations the standings devolve back two laps, so the 2018 Grand Prix of Canada was actually 68 laps long officially. Oy. Vettel led the entire race, and it never looked like he was ever concerned.
*WHAT NEXT?: What's next is the 2018 24 Hours of LeMans, featuring Fernando Alonso driving for the LMP1 favorite, Toyota. Gunning for the triple crown (LeMans, Indy 500, Monaco) no doubt. For the first time ever in the US, the entire race will be shown on ONE channel, Velocity. Look for it on your satellite feed! It starts at 9am Central on Saturday.
*NO REALLY... WHAT'S NEXT?: Still France. F1 returns to France for the first time since Mangy-Curs went away, heading off to Paul Ricard Circuit. While it's been a long time, F1 has raced there before and it's often been a testing location as well. Should be fun, I guess! See ya then!
May 29, 2018
F1 Update!: Monaco 2018 Unlike the previous days of the race weekend, the skies above the world's second-smallest sovereign nation were kinda not great. A small chance of rain proved to be naught but a tease... we were to be treated to a dry race. Which should have been a good thing! This was the first time we were to see Pirelli's new Hypersoft tires... imagine a fresh Krispy Kreme cake donut... which promised to be as close to a "qualifying tire" as we're likely to ever see. For those unaware, back in the "old" days, qualifying used to be a one-car-one-lap affair, as opposed to the much superior knock-out qualifying we have today. A qualifying tire was specifically designed to last one, maybe two hot laps, before completely failing. But the grip! They would hold the road with all the tenacity of a T-Rex locking onto the neck of a hamburgerosaurus. Combine that with qualifying engines that would generate 1200hp or more, but would grenade themselves after only a couple of hotlaps, and qualifying was quite the spectacle. But we digress. The field today was led by Smiley Ricciardo, who had the 2016 Monaco grand prix victor stolen from him by a failed pit stop. Would he cash in this time? THIS is your F1U! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Monaco!
*ZZZZZZZZZZZZ: Monaco is always a spectacle. Fast cars whizzing down narrow city streets at ridiculous speeds while spectators hang out on patios drinking glamourous beverages, there's seriously nothing like it in the world. Watching the Thundering Herd charging down to Ste Devote in one massive pack is one of the great moments in a Formula 1 season. Unfortunately, it was probably the highlight of this year's race too. Ricciardo kept the lead through the first turn, opened up a 1.2 second lead over Ferrari's Seb Vettel with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton behind him. It became apparent quite quickly that the Red Bull was the chassis of choice for the tight confines of Monaco, as once we reached the first pitstops there had been no challenge posed to him.
*ACTION! DRAMA! SUSPENSE! TIRES!!!: All of the top runners had qualified on the hypersoft tires. When the pitstops were over, everybody save for Merc's Valterri Bottas had gone onto the ultrasoft. Bottas went onto the supersoft rubber... which actually turned out to be the better choice for the day. The ultrasofts turned out to be stupid-sensitive, graining at the drop of a hat, so the first four runners (Ricciardo, Vettel, Hamilton, and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen) went into tire management mode. Gone were the thrilling high-speed dives and dashes and swerves around the narrow racetrack, replaced by what appeared to be elderly ladies terrified by the gas pedal. The only drama now was to see who could keep their ultrasofts alive until the end of the race, or was Bottas going to win when the tires fell off the other four?
*ALMOST DRAMATIC: Around one-third of the way through the race, Ricciardo reported a drop in power. A few minutes later, the pit wall got back to him, saying in effect that they knew what the problem was. "Is it going to get better" asked the driver. "...no." came the response. It turned out the MGU-K in his engine had failed... that's the part that harvests energy from braking and channels it into the batteries worth about 125hp. In other words, he was going to be down about 1/4th his power for the rest of the race. Sounds bad... and it would be at any other circuit but Monaco. Here, though, it's already the slowest track and the most difficult to pass on. If you're going to lose power, this is the place to do it.
*NOPE: Vettel kept pressure on the Red Bull all day, but couldn't come anywhere near close enough to make a move. And everybody's tires held together for the 60 laps since the pit stops... because nobody was pushing. The result? A dull processional that saw the top six qualifiers finish in exactly the same position they started. Yeesh. Even the devoted F1U! crew couldn't stay awake for the whole thing.
At least the next race should be a little more interesting as we head to Canada! See ya then!
April 29, 2018
F1 Update!: Azerbaijan 2018, The Ruminations Edition A windy day greeted the Thundering Herd as they waited for the crimson illumination to extinguish. Gusts of up to 30mph, they said. Seb Vettel, on pole in his Ferrari, surely didn't seem worried, either of the wind or of his opponent, Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, right along side. And why should he have been? He was leading the Championship, the Ferrari had proven to be the fastest on track this season, it all looked bright and shiny for him.
*MOST OF THE RACE: Taken in the macro, most of the 2018 GP of Azerbaijan wasn't overly exciting. Yes, in the micro you had drama, but it didn't look like it was going to amount to anything, not really. It was brought to us by the two Red Bull teammates, Smiley Ricciardio and DH Verstappen. The two of them decided that they had to go at each other hammer and tongs all day, no matter what it meant to their personal chances for the race or the benefit lost to the team. Four or five times they clashed, bumping at least twice and once hard enough to draw smoke from their tires, in a race-long fight that had to be causing team boss Christian Horner to lose his cool.
It's good this was going on, because up at the front we had all the makings of a complete runaway. Seb Vettel had a two second lead after the end of the first lap. While an early safety car would kill that lead, the restart saw the Ferrari driver leave Hamilton in the dust. A flat spot on the Mercedes made it even harder for the Brit to make up time, and a pit stop put him behind his teammate Valterri Bottas. Vettel stopped 10 laps later, coming out behind Bottas who had yet to stop, and ahead of Hamilton. It all looked bright and shiny for Vettel; the gap to Bottas would go away when the Finn stopped for new tires, yet Bottas would probably return to the race ahead of Hamilton... perfect!
And then those wacky Red Bull guys showed up again.
*RACECHANGER: Ricciardio had slipped behind Verstappen, falling into fifth, but had DRS enabled as they came down the 2km long front stretch and was closing fast. Approaching Turn 1, he faked to the right (which Verstappen fell for, moving to block) then went to the left.
And so did Verstappen.
Suddenly, the gap Ricciardio had been aiming for was gone and the rate of closure was so fast that there was nothing he could do. The resulting nose-to-tail collision knocked both cars out of the race, caused Christian Horner to shoot blood out his ears, and Red Bull owner Dr Helmut Marco to say something fierce in German. Of course, everything sounds fierce in German so that's not saying much. Both drivers would be reprimanded by the FIA, and Horner made it perfectly clear that both would be apologizing to the team... possibly by being flayed alive.
Out came the safety car on Lap 40 of 51
*SPRINT: With the appearance of the safety car, the entire texture of the race changed. Instead of being Vettel's to lose, it suddenly became Bottas' to win as he could make his stop for tires without any loss of time. Now he had the lead, a fresh set of ultra-soft tires (as did the rest of his challengers), and an ever-shortening number of laps to deal with. It wasn't until Lap 47 that the safety car period ended, extended thanks to Lettuce Grosjean binning his Haas whilst trying to warm his tires.
Bottas handled the restart about as well as you can, getting an early jump on Vettel, et al. On any other circuit, this would have worked a treat, but at Baku it just means you're giving your opponents a tow down't the long, long front straight. A tow that Vettel, Hamilton AND Raikkonen tried to exploit. Vettel made a daring attempt at a pass going into Turn 1, locked up his front brakes, and simply skidded right past Bottas. While he attempted to recover, Hamilton and Raikkonen both passed him, sending Vettel down to fourth, and with a massive flatspot to boot. He would later lose another position to the Force India of Sergio Perez.
Then, at the end of the lap/beginning of Lap 48, Bottas ran over a chunk of debris and had his right-rear tire dissolve... just past the entry to the pit lane. He did, eventually, get the car parked safely, but his race was over thanks to a piece of metal nobody saw. FROM THE LEAD.
This promoted Hamilton to the lead, a position he would not relinquish. Kimi Raikkonen finished second, just ahead of an ecstatic Sergio Perez and Force India pit crew. Vettel finished fourth.
So a vaguely dull race saved by the final 10 laps or so. Not bad! Next race is Spain in two weeks... see ya there!
April 11, 2018
F1 Update!: Bahrain 2018, The Thoughts And Statements Version Hello everybody! As we here at F1U! are clearly not able to work on deadlines, we decided to actually talk about the race instead of do a formal writeup.. Cool? Cool. THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Bahrain!
*QUICK OVERVIEW: If you were raised on oval racing like you see in NASCAR or at the Indianapolis 500, you'd've watched this race and gone "what the hell was that?" There wasn't all that much passing and a lot of "gap racing", where drivers were just sort of out in the woods alone. It may have even happened that you'd've turned the race off after one of the teams so badly screwed up a pit stop that they only changed three wheels. Not to mention another team having both of their cars die in the space of a couple of laps. You would have been very, very wrong to do so... this was one of the most exciting races we've seen in a long time if you knew what you were watching.
*1-2-3-4, I DECLARE A TIRE WAR: This race was all about tires. Ferrari's Seb Vettel, the polesitter, began the race on the super-soft compound, as did Mercedes' Valterri Bottas, starting from third. Qualifying in fourth but dropped to ninth due to a penalty, the Merc of Lewis Hamilton was clearly going for the obvious one-stopper as he had on the soft tires. Pirelli had said that the expected life of the super-softs was 25 laps, the softs could go 30, and the medium tires 40 of the 57 lap race. We here at F1U! expected both Vettel and Bottas to go supersoft-soft-supersoft, or maybe flip the last two. Meanwhile, Hamilton would probably go soft-medium, as there was evidence that the hardest compound available for the race was fairly good around the track.
Vettel made his first stop on Lap 18, going to the soft tire as predicted. Mercedes, however, had watched the McLaren of LeMans Alonso very closely when he put on the mediums during his Lap 14 stop. When that worthy had managed to make good time, and having failed to bring Bottas in before Vettel for the undercut and attempt to pass him in the pits, the team changed plans on the fly and put the Finn on medium tires during his Lap 20 stop. Hamilton put on the mediums on Lap 27. This left Vettel and Ferrari in an unenviable position. While he held the lead, he wasn't able to open up a big enough gap to Bottas to be able to make a second stop and not lose the place... and probably drop to third behind Hamilton as well. While he'd be on the softest tire, and thus faster, he'd still have to fight for the win from behind. Getting past Hamilton would be doable, though with effort... but could Vettel then chase down Bottas and get past him to take the lead? Dubious. So Ferrari did the only thing they really could do:
They left their man out there, hoping that the soft tires would last nine laps longer than Pirelli said they would.
*EPIC RUN: Vettel had the grip advantage, but couldn't use it without killing his tires. Mercedes could use their tires to the fullest, but would the slower rubber be fast enough? For Hamilton, who earlier had passed three cars at one time, the answer was no. He wound up in third, about seven seconds back. For Bottas though, the question was still in doubt. With seven laps to go the Finn was five seconds back. Then it was four. Three. Two. As Vettel and Bottas began the final lap, they were within one second of each other, and Bottas could use DRS... and still couldn't get past. The Merc driver had one last chance going into the final turn. A daring driver like Smiley Ricciardo, who has made a living out of being the last of the great late brakers, would have had a go. Bottas made a token effort and backed off, ceding the win to Ferrari. Vettel later said that the last 10 laps had seen his tires turn into bagels, barely able to grip the tarmac, but he'd made them work for a nicely won race.
*FERRARI FAILURE FRACTURES FRANCESCO'S FIBULA: The keen-eyed reader might have noticed a disturbing lack of Kimi Raikkonen, who started the race in second for Ferrari, during the above race report. That's because Ferrari had an awful pitstop for the ages on Lap 35. Raikkonen did his job, stopping the car in exactly the right spot, the mechanics fell to work, getting three tires changed... but the left-rear tire never came off the car. Despite this minor detail, the car was released to return to the race... despite mechanics still working on the left-rear tire. Francesco Cigarini, who is the mechanic that fits the new tire to the car, was in his position waiting for the old tire to come off when the Ferrari pulled away. The tire snapped his lower left leg in what can only be described as "an ugly way." Raikkonen made it a few car lengths away before the team told him to stop... nobody knew what sort of state the left-rear tire was in, was it locked down or loose, that sort of thing. Cigarini underwent emergency surgery shortly after the incident, and his instagram account showed him up and walking with crutches and a medical person for support within 24 hours of the incident.
While nobody is entirely sure what happened, the prevailing theory is that Ferrari's automated pit release system is based on two factors: is the car off the jacks, and are the four tire nuts on the tire. Usually this means "have all four tires been removed, new ones put in place and secured?" This time, though, the conditions were met without the left-rear tire being removed... hey, the nut was on after all! The FIA fined Ferrari €50000 and an investigation is ongoing.
*RED BULL... REALLY, WHAT THE HELL?: The team sponsored by the Austrian drink maker went into the race on Sunday feeling pretty good about their chances. Smiley Ricciardo was to begin in fifth, while it was assumed that Embryo Verstappen, starting in 15th due to an accident in quals, would be able to get up among the leaders quickly enough. Instead, Ricciardo's car just... turned itself off after one lap, forcing him to pull over and retire the car. At very nearly the same time, Verstappen bumped into Lewis Hamilton, resulting in a puncture. As he limped his way through almost a full lap, the vibrations from the imbalanced tire assembly were transmitted into the gearbox, which soon went all wonky-doodle. Both Red Bulls were out within three laps of the race start. Team boss Christian Horner later described this as "extremely disappointing."
*GHASTLY NEWS: Toro Rosso was over the moon by the end of the race, as their man Pierre Ghastly brought the Honda-powered car home in fourth place. The surprising thing is that nobody on the team knew where the speed came from. We here at F1U! know that we've never heard a team say "we'll have to examine the data to see why we were so fast" before.
Next race is in China this coming Sunday! See you then.
March 26, 2018
F1 Update!: Australia 2018 The weather was sunny and comfy down in Melbourne as the F1 horde made its way to the starting grid for the first race of the year. Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes sat on the pole, but the two Ferraris hovered ominously over his shoulders, looming menacingly behind him. A little farther back, the ever-present Red Bulls stalked the leaders looking for the opportunity to charge. The American team, Haas, was a pleasant surprise right behind them and gunning for their first podium. So what happened during the race? Who did what? It's a new season, full of hope and wonderment... it's the 2018 Grand Prix of Australia, and THIS is your F1 Update! for it!
*EARLY DAYS: Once the lights went out, the start went much as you would expect... at least for the first three grid spots. Hamilton held the lead, just ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel, but Embryo Verstappen did... something... at the start and was quickly gobbled up by the Haas of K-Mag for fourth. Only an impending turn kept Lettuce Grosjean's Haas from relegating Dutchboy to fifth... but only for a few laps, as Verstappen pushed a bit too hard going into Turn 1 and went into a lovely pirouette. And away went Grosjean, promoted to fifth.
*STRATEGERY: And none of it mattered. Hamilton was pretty much untouchable out in front, despite the noticeably quick Ferraris behind it. That's no real surprise... the surprise was that it was Kimi Raikkonen and not Seb Vettel that was clearly the faster of the two Red Cars. That was quite uncommon in 2017, and there was nothing to indicate going into the new season that anything was going to change. Instead, the Finn had nearly a five second lead on his teammate when Ferrari did the sensible thing, strategy-wise. They tried to undercut Hamilton by bringing Raikkonen into the pits first, and hope that he could put in a hot lap or two to jump Hamilton when Mercedes brought him in. It didn't work; Hamilton pitted one lap later, and returned to the track in second place, ahead of Raikkonen. Both were now some 13 seconds behind Vettel, but as the pit delta was somewhere around 22 seconds or so, unless the German did some real fancy driving, he was going to end up back in third when he pitted. Ferrari left him out in the lead, doing the other half of the high-low strategy... in theory, they had Mercedes cornered. Problem is, they had Lewis Hamilton cornered, and he was not one to sit idly by as the walls close in around him. Sometimes you can have the best strategy ever, and your opponent still trounces you.
*AND A ONE AND A TWO: On Lap 23, K-Mag brought his Haas into the pits; he was still in 4th place, his teammate just a couple of seconds behind. Things were looking quite rosy for the American team... even if they didn't finish 4-5 because the Red Bulls got by them, 6-7 is nothing to sneeze at either. In came K-Mag, out went K-Mag... and shortly thereafter came a radio call: "The suspension is broken!" He brought his car to a stop on the side of the track with what turned out to be a cross-threaded and unengaged wheel nut. Though everything looked and more importantly felt fine to the man on the tire gun, the Haas essentially went back on track with one of its wheels totally loose. The quick camera shot of the Haas pit crew was more than a little sad. But at least they still had Lettuce Grosjean looking equally racy! A lap after K-Mag's day came to an end, the Frenchman was summoned into the pits for fresh rubber... and shortly thereafter pulled his car over to the side of the road with a loose wheel. Again with the cross-threaded wheel nut. If the first look at the Haas pit crew was sad, the next one was heartbreaking... stunned looks, and one mechanic clearly going "backstage", as it were, helmet still on so nobody could see his face, clearly distraught. Though not confirmed, it's easy to assume that that was the wheelgunner. However the nightmare occurred, it left us with two cars stranded just off the track on a circuit with very little space to spare. A Virtual Safety Car was announced.
*VIRTUAL LESSON TIME: To understand what happened next, one must understand exactly what occurs in Virtual Safety Car conditions. First, since there is no physical safety car, drivers stay separated out on track. If Car 1 is 100 yards ahead of Car 2, that gap will stay roughly the same throughout the VSC period. With a real safety car, the entire field gathers behind Berndt Maylander. Second, cars are required to drive to a certain time in each of the three sectors of a lap on track. We'll be making numbers up for this next bit, but while the numbers may be wrong, the idea is correct. Okay, the VSC is called, and Vettel immediately dives into the pits. Remember, the pit delta time was 22 seconds... that's 22 seconds to drive to your pit box, change tires, leave the pit box, drive to the end of the pit lane, and regain the track. At the time of the VSC, Vettel's lead was 13 seconds, more or less... substantially less than the pit delta. But under the VSC, everybody slows to the same speed, thus keeping the gaps on track the same. But! That 13 second lead that Vettel had was at full race pace, not the substantially slower VSC pace. If the VSC pace slows the cars down to half the speed they'd normally go, that means that it takes double the amount of time to go any distance. Now normally under the VSC, nobody cares about that since everybody is going the same speed. Here though, it made all the difference in the world. The 13 second gap between Vettel and Hamilton suddenly became a 26 second gap as it would take the trailing car twice as much time at half-speed to cover the distance between the cars.
*BETTER LUCKY THAN FASTER: When the Virtual Safety Car was announced, Vettel was 13 seconds ahead of Hamilton, and Ferrari immediately called him into the pits for his tire change. As he entered and exited the pit lane, he actually sped up as "pit in" and "pit out" are NOT considered to be "on track." He just had to get himself slowed down to pit lane limiter speed (on the way in) and VSC speed (on the way out) before he crossed the timing lines used to delineate the limits. That gave him an extra little bit of time to work with... not much, but some. Ferrari changed his tires quickly and with no trouble, and the time he spent in the pits was essentially that of the delta: 22 seconds. He returned to the track with a four-second lead over Hamilton, who had taken 26 seconds to cover what under normal racing conditions would have taken 13 seconds. Hamilton was soon heard on the radio asking what went wrong, did he make a mistake or what? Post-race, Mercedes seemed to be leaning towards a flaw in their strategy software... while details are sketchy, it seems that it wasn't calculating gap times correctly. The team had Hamilton driving a bit slower than he was capable of, to preserve his tires, save fuel, and to be easier on the engine, because their software was telling them that they had a big enough gap to be safe if a VSC occurred. And thus did Mercedes relinquish the lead to Ferrari.
*TO THE BITTER END: The race wasn't over, not by a long shot. There were nearly 30 laps left to go at this point, and Hamilton spent most of the remaining laps within DRS range of Vettel. There were two problems to be dealt with by the Merc driver. First, Albert Park Circuit is considered by some to be the most difficult track on the calendar to pass on, save for Monaco. It's relatively narrow, and there's no one turn that says "aha, here's a good place to pass." And second, his engine (well, his "power unit") was overheating, and the team was telling him to lift-and-coast into turns to keep things cooler. Since each car only gets three full power units this season, it's imperative to keep them going for as long as possible. It wasn't until just a handful of laps remained that the team let him off the leash... and by then, his tires were shot, and Vettel's were some seven laps fresher. The Ferrari would finish the race some five seconds ahead of Hamilton, who was a second ahead of a hard-pushing Raikkonen. Another second behind the Finn came the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo. Back in fifth, some 20 second behind the Aussie, came a sight unseen in quite a while: the McLaren of LeMans Alonso. Fifth was a better finishing position for the new McLaren/Renault pairing than the team had in three years with Honda.
*FINAL THOUGHTS: It's hard to judge just exactly what the relative pace is between Ferrari and Mercedes right now. The Merc was faster up front in clean air, but when it was in second it was a whole different story, very twitchy indeed. The Ferrari is clearly slower than the Merc, but just how much slower is still a mystery. Yet they still won the race. We here at F1U! are loathe to make predictions, particularly after just one race, but... we're leaning towards a relatively easy Mercedes championship. The lucky VSC isn't going to happen again, and neither Raikkonen nor Vettel was going to catch Hamilton on-track. We do reserve the right to change our minds.
Next race is in two weeks at Bahrain! See ya then!
March 25, 2018
F1 Update!: Australia 2018, the ESPN edition The weather was sunny and comfy down in Melbourne as the F1 horde made its way to the starting grid for the first race of the year. Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes sat on the pole, but the two Ferraris hovered ominously over his shoulders, looming menacingly behind him. A little farther back, the ever-present Red Bulls stalked the leaders looking for the opportunity to charge. The American team, Haas, was a pleasant surprise right behind them and gunning for their first podium. So what happened during the race? Who did what?
We here at F1U! don't have the slightest damn idea. We watched the ESPN broadcast, and it was the worst steaming pile we've ever experienced for an F1 race. Even worse than the disastrous CBS broadcast of the 2006 San Marino Grand Prix, and that was so bad I still use "crashing over the curbs" as a catch phrase for something particularly awful in the real world.
Commercial breaks came in the middle of sentences. They occurred during the restart after the Virtual Safety Car period. If we went by the ESPN coverage of the race only, we'd still have no idea why Lettuce Grosjean's car came to a stop. Important moments during the race took place during commercial breaks, and since they were only using the International Feed, we got no replays other than what was broadcast... NBCSN could generate their own, and often did. Not ESPN, oh no. My guess is that they had no producer on the show, and thus the breaks were all pre-programmed and would occur no matter what. I know Formula 1 is a nothing for ESPN; that's why the race was on ESPN2, the secondary channel, on a night when there was nothing else going on at the time and would have fit nicely on the main channel. I get that. But F1 fans here in the US are... um... vocal, and they're yelling to high heaven. ESPN has apologized, but who knows what that means. For now, it means that the first race of the year was butchered.
We here at F1U! are going to have to watch a yarrrrrr'd version of the race to intelligently (shaddap!) talk about it. Sorry folks.
November 26, 2017
F1 Update!: Abu Dhabi 2017, The Season's Over Edition So with that, the 2017 season drives off into the sunset... literally, considering the sun went down during the course of the race today. The championships had been sewn up for weeks. It was theoretically possible for Mercedes' Valterri Bottas to take 2nd in the Driver's Championship, but he'd have to win and Ferrari's Seb Vettel would have to finish... um... 9th or below, it looks like. Half of the staff of F1Update! called in today, too busy spending the holiday weekend with family or friends or both. So it was a depleted crew that gathered in the F1U! Media Center And Snack Bar as the F1 Circus waited for the lights to go out. What sort of show did we see? THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi!
*LIGHTS OUT: We're changing our mind. We're not going to do bullet points tonight. The conversation, it flows through us. Because whooo-boy, this was a big race full o' nuthin'. Right from the start, Bottas took the lead from teammate/world champion Lewis Hamilton and would essentially not relinquish it for the rest of the day. However, almost immediately we here in the F1U! Media Center And Pizza Joint became incredibly suspicious. Hamilton didn't exactly attack the first turn the way he normally does... not that Bottas gave him much in the way of opportunity to do so.
And thus it came to pass that when the first lap ended, the top 12 cars on the starting grid... were still in the same position they started in. This did not come without some tomfoolery, though, as Nico Hulkenberg's Renault had been passed by the Force India of Sergio Perez. Hulkenberg, aware that the drab and boring Top 12 thing was resting fully on his shoulders, decided to take the place back by the simple expedient of ignoring Turn 12 altogether. He would eventually be given a five second time penalty, which he served during his only pitstop. It made no difference however, as he was able to open enough of a gap on Perez to come out ahead on the whole thing. Makes us here at the F1U! Media Center And Ball Pit wonder when someone is going to do it intentionally and win a race by doing so...
Anyway. Bottas and Hamilton began to open a lead on Vettel in third, while Bottas stayed around two seconds, give or take, ahead of his teammate. It is true that Yas Marina Circuit is difficult to pass at, but we suspect that if there had been anything to gain, Hamilton would have been giving it a bit more effort. Kind of like this writeup, come to that. When the two Mercs made their respective pitstops, Hamilton tried... he put in some quick times in the laps between Bottas' stop and his own, and the stop itself was faster than the Finn's... but it was to no avail. It was going to take a Safety Car situation to close them up. There were two opportunities for Berndt Maylander to wake from his eternal slumber and make an appearance. The first was when Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo was told to retire the car due to a hydraulics failure. He found the biggest patch of grass in Dubai and nearly managed to roll it behind the wall for the track workers. The second time was later in the race when Renault let Carlos Sainz leave the pits without ever actually tightening the left-front wheel nut. Yup, the gunner never bothered. While this sounds like something that would happen at the F1U! Media Center And Lube Rack, it probably shouldn't during a F1 race. Just saying, y'know?
As the laps ticked down, the race settled into the processional we here at the F1U! Media Center And Parade Organizational Facility had expected all along. Late it looked like we could possibly have some action when Bottas locked up a wheel. That allowed Hamilton to close into possible attack range, but the Finn was able to fend off the World Champ easily enough. After this, it was clear that the Brit said "okay, you win". From spending the entire race within two seconds or so, he was suddenly four seconds back. And that's the way it stayed, the two Mercs finishing 1-2, with the Ferrari of Seb Vettel a distant 15 seconds behind Hamilton. After that, it was nearly a half-minute of waiting before the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line, Embryo Verstappen nipping at his diffuser as he did. There was then another wait of 40 seconds before Hulkenberg finished.
After the race, the two Mercedes drivers pulled onto the pit straight and proceeded to do donuts for the crowd, with the World Champion showing that one skill he doesn't have is doing donuts in a F1 car. Here's Bottas, carving perfect circles of rubber onto the track surface as befits the android he is, then there's Hamilton, flooping around like he's hooked up to a spirograph. We here at the F1U! Media Center And Etch-A-Sketch Art Gallery could only roll our eyes and groan. Which we then did, loudly and with feeling, when the Williams of Felipe Massa slowly edged its way into the picture. Yes, we know it's your last race, Felipe. No, we don't care, you had your moment in Brazil. The staff of the F1U! Media Center and Etiquette Facility tut-tutted savagely. We figure he thought he'd be the only one out there and by the time he realized the Mercs were, y'know, celebrating their season-long accomplishments, it was too late to turn back to the pits. Even Massa's long-time chief mechanic, Rob Smedley, asked "are you sure you're supposed to be there?" No, Rob, he wasn't. Thanks for asking, though.
In the end, the only change this race presented was Renault passing Toro Rosso for sixth in the Constructor's Championship. That went Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso, Haas, McLaren, and Sauber disappointingly brought up the rear. With a whimper, the 2017 Season came to a close, leaving the members of the F1U! Media Center and Prognostication Division to wonder: "wither the sport?" Things need to be fixed, from penalties for parts changes to constant domination by one team or another. Perhaps Liberty Media can pull it off, perhaps they can't. We'll find out in 118 days, in Melbourne. See ya then!
November 13, 2017
F1 Update!: Brazil 2017 A brilliantly sunny day greeted the F1 Circus as they made their way to the grid, led by the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas. The Finn was going to have to carry the banner for the Silver Arrows on this day as his world champion teammate, Lewis Hamilton, was starting from the pit lane after binning his car in Quals. He had his work cut out for him as the two Ferraris were right behind him in second and third, led by Seb Vettel, and the Italian team was desperate for a win. Every team wants to end a season on a high note, true, but Ferrari actually led both championships for a substantial portion of the season before watching Merc run away from them. Face needs must be saved. So what occurred? What transpired? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Brazil!
*SOMEONE SET US UP THE BOMB: After his visit to the barriers during Qualifying, Lewis Hamilton was going to be starting from somewhere around last place on the grid, so the team made the strategic decision to actually start him from the pit lane. Why is this important? Because it allowed changes to be made to the car's setup. The Mercedes has proven to be rather persnickity regarding the weather this season. It isn't fond of cool track temperatures, being unable to get its tires up to operating levels, so the team has to do everything it can to get heat into them. This slows the car down. The weather for Quals was cool and not sunny, so both Mercs were set up for that... and it got Bottas the pole. However, race day came and it was both warm AND sunny; the track temperature was right in the Merc's sweet spot. After the end of Qualifying, however, the cars go into parc ferme and cannot be worked on or adjusted in any way unless there's a safety issue, and even then it's a case of "like for like." The race Powers That Be have to approve the switching of parts, and will watch the change like a hawk. THEN the car goes back into parc ferme. That was Bottas' position. But Hamilton? Since he was already going to be starting from the back, starting from the pit lane would be no great hardship, and it meant that the parc ferme rules did not apply; they could make any changes they desired. And they desired to change the setup for hot weather. Oh, and to replace almost everything on the car, from floor to engine. It would make a substantial difference.
*LIGHTS OUT: Once the five red lights went out, we had the usual drag race to the first turn between Bottas on the outside and Vettel on the inside. Neither driver had great starts, wheelspin being the thing to begin with. It was Vettel who managed to get the power down to the asphalt first and he passed Bottas as they reached the braking zone for Turn 1. One turn later, all became chaos. Smiley Ricciardo spun his Red Bull, and behind him Kevin Magnussen and Stoffelwaffle did Very Bad Things to each other. This would call out the Safety Car, and only instants after the notification came out we had another wreck, this time when Lettuce Grosjean lost his Haas and broke False Esteban! into the kittylitter. This would prove terminal for False Esteban!'s race, bringing to an end a remarkable string: ever since he began racing single-seaters in the 2014 Formula 3 season, he had never retired from a race. Alas, no more.
*SAFETY CAR: As Berndt Maylander was woken from his dark slumber, Lewis Hamilton had to be chortling with glee. Starting from the pit lane had allowed him to totally avoid all the crashing and the wrecking and the glavin! and find himself in 13th. Seven positions in just a couple of laps? Not bad. Many changed tires during the Safety Car, but not the leaders, and not Hamilton, who began the race on the Soft tires (the hardest compound on offer) and looked to be going long in the first stint, and finish up with a sprint on the ultramegawowthesearesoft tires. The Safety Car also had the effect of gathering the field back together. Hamilton may have been in 13th place, but he was only seven seconds behind Vettel.
*READY SET GO: After the restart, Vettel managed to open a two second gap to Bottas, but no farther. However, they began pulling away from the rest of the field; they both wanted the win so badly there was never any thought to playing it safe or protecting the tires. As they ran away and hid, the cameras slid back to where the action was... with another silver-colored car.
*CHAAAARGE!: On Lap 5, when the Safety Car went away, Hamilton was 13th. On Lap 6, he was 12th, having passed Pleasant Stroll. On Lap 7, he was 11th, getting by Sony Ericcson. Lap 8 saw our champion leave Pierre Ghastly behind for 10th. You can be forgiven for thinking that Lap 9 would see him in 9th place. In reality, he was 8th, having passed both Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg. He then began to slack off, taking five laps to pass Sergio Perez for 7th. Now yes, Hamilton was in a much better car than everybody he passed, but that was still some mighty fine driving. And it wasn't over yet... at this point, Hamilton asked his crew a stunning question: "Is Vettel getting away?" In fact, he was only 16 seconds behind the leader at this point.
*PITS: By Lap 29, all the leaders had pitted for fresh tires... and Lewis Hamilton was leading the Brazilian Grand Prix (that's a lot of Grand Prix!). And he would hold that lead for 14 laps until he had to make his one stop for tires. He'd rejoin in 5th place, nine seconds behind Embryo Verstappen's Red Bull.
*NO... HE CAN'T, CAN HE?: On fresh tires, Hamilton immediately began reeling in the youthful Dutchman. On Lap 59, he took 4th place and immediately set off for the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen only two seconds ahead. He would begin hounding the veteran, narrowing the lead to as little as 0.9 seconds. Once Hamilton locked up going into a turn, however, it was clear that his remarkable day had come to an end, his tires cooked and the Merc wobbling.
*THE END: When the race finally ended, the top four finishers, Vettel-Bottas-Raikkonen-Hamilton, were covered by less than 5.50 seconds. There was then a 27 second gap back to Verstappen. In many ways, this 1 - 3 result was exactly what Ferrari needed. But there had to be a dark cloud hanging around, caused by Hamilton's storming drive. It wouldn't have been hard to imagine the champion on the podium... or if he had began the race near his normal grid position, running away and hiding from the rest of the field.
Next race is the last race, Abu Dhabi in two weeks. We'll see ya then for the finish!
October 31, 2017
F1 Update!: Mexico 2017 A perfect day for racing greeted the F1 Fiesta as they sat on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez's grid. A tense atmosphere still hung over the crowd though, as everybody knew they were about to see a showdown that would probably decide the World Driver's Championship. On pole was Ferrari's Seb Vettel, who needed to finish at least 2nd to have any chance of extending the fight to Brazil. Next to him on the front row was the latest wunderkind to take the Formula 1 world by storm, Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen. He had no dog in the hunt for the Championship, but very much wanted a win. And behind them was the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, points leader who only needed to finish fifth or above to clinch his fourth driver's championship... or have Vettel finish below 2nd. These three could honestly be expected to not hold back in the nearly kilometer long run to the first turn... the first car there would have an advantage for the rest of the race on the narrow Mexico City circuit. So what happened? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Mexico!
*LIGHTS OUT: The drag race was exactly as exciting as predicted. The big names were three wide as they piled into the braking zone for the first turn, but as Vettel had the inside line, he held primacy of place... for about twenty feet or so. Coming out of Turn 1, Verstappen pulled alongside the Ferrari, and to the left which put him on the inside for the approaching Turn 2. Vettel was slightly balked by the Red Bull, made very light contact with it, and had to back off the accelerator a touch to avoid anything worse. This loss of momentum opened the door for Hamilton to come charging through, taking second away from the German as they barreled into Turn 3. Then there was carbon fiber flying everywhere and Hamilton's Mercedes was limping. The Ferrari had lost half its front wing, the silver car had a flat right rear tire, and Verstappen could be heard going "ha ha" as he galloped away.
*QUESTIONS QUESTIONS: The aerodynamically impaired Ferrari made it back to the pits well before Hamilton... it could still go fast after all, it just didn't have much in the way of downforce for the turns. A new nose was slapped on, as was the hardest compound of tire on offer for the weekend... clearly Vettel was looking at going the rest of the race on one set of rubber. Mercedes decided to do the same for their car. Both drivers were at the back of the field, with Hamilton in dead last. The question now became very simple: could Vettel fight his way up to second place from the rear of the field? The corollary to that was "could Hamilton do the same thing"? Neither man had a chance to win, of course... or did they? Embryo wasn't known for his... um... stability behind the wheel, after all.
*WHOLE AND BROKEN: Soon enough, the early answers to the questions posed came in... "maybe" and "nope." The driver of the Prancing Horse began to pull himself up the field, slowly but surely, and seeming to have to fight tooth and hoof for every position. His encounter with Massa for 15th place nearly saw them come together in what must have been a terrifying moment for Vettel... to lose a shot at the championship because frickin' MASSA wouldn't get out of his way? Ridiculous! On the other end of the spectrum was Hamilton's Mercedes... stuck in 19th place for so long that Verstappen lapped him on Lap 20. As it turned out, the collision with Vettel caused more damage than was immediately apparent. The Merc's diffuser had been broken, either by the impact or by the flailing tire, in such a way that much of its effectiveness was gone.
*HOW DO YOU SAY 'KABLAMMO' IN FRENCH?: First came Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull, which ate another turbocharger. Then Brendan Hair-tly's Toro Rosso came to a stop on the side of the track, flames issuing from the exhaust pipe. Nico Hulkenberg's Renault died via KERS failure, the team instructing him to exit via the nose of the car and to jump off so as to not ground himself. Carlos Sainz's French car retired from self-inflicted handling issues. This left only Pierre Ghastly's Toro Rosso and Verstappen's Red Bull as cars with Renault power still running... and both pit walls were terrified by what they could see was coming. Hair-tly's failure brought out a Virtual Safety Car on Lap 31. This allowed both Vettel and Hamilton to throw out their one-stopper plans and put on fast tires. Verstappen's lead over second-place Valterri Bottas was some 11 seconds at this point.
*AH THE CONFIDENCE OF YOUTH: Around Lap 40 or so, Red Bull's pit wall instructed Young Master Verstappen to perhaps slow down just a touch so as not to risk angering the engine gods. A lap later came the radio call "Okay Embryo, so that (lap time) was the same as the previous lap." A moment or two of silence, then the Dutch driver responded with "I'm really sorry." For some reason, the obvious laughter in his voice suggested he wasn't very sorry at all.
*BETTING ON RED: With Verstappen dominating the race, all eyes turned to the Ferrari of Seb Vettel. By Lap 35, the halfway point, he was in 8th place. In most circumstances, this would have been a fantastic finishing position considering the problems at the start... but he may as well have been on the Moon for all it was worth to him. He continued to pull his way up the field, the new fast tires making all the difference in the world. On Lap 57 of 71, he managed to make his way past the Force India of False Esteban! to take fourth position. Far behind him, both in track position and in time, Hamilton had dragged his broken Merc up to 10th.
*OH. OH DEAR.: Vettel was in fourth, but needed desperately to reach second. It was a subdued pit wall that radioed him, letting him know that his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, was in third. Normally, this would be a GOOD thing for the German, because team orders would force the Finn to give the position up. But the pit wall continued, this time with the bad news: he was 24 seconds behind Raikkonen. Left unsaid was the gap from Raikkonen to Bottas: another 27 seconds. Vettel's reply really left nothing more to be said: "Oh mamma mia." Stereotypical Italian comment aside, the German could not relax. He needed to be closer to his teammate so he could realistically be allowed past if Bottas had problems, and of course four Renault-powered cars were already out of the race, three of the retirements power-unit related. For all his dominance on the day, Verstappen could be out in the blink of an eye, and Vettel would have his second place finish.
*WITHER HAMILTON: You know it's a bad day for Mercedes when their lead driver and three-time world champion is fighting Fernando Alonso's McLaren for 9th place, but there they were, throwing haymakers and uppercuts at each other. Alonso later said that he thought the McLaren was "the best chassis on the grid", and he may be right... certainly he was able to hold off a damaged Mercedes for some good clean racing. Probably the best of the day, truth be told. Alonso did eventually come out behind in their little tete a tete, but that meant that he had only managed to climb some nine positions on the day instead of 10. Not too bad for a car with a wind-up engine in it.
*THE END: Vettel managed to get within 15 seconds of his podium-bound teammate, but no closer. Raikkonen was a whopping 33 seconds behind Bottas' second-place Mercedes. But 20 seconds ahead of them all was Embryo Verstappen's Red Bull, taking his second race victory of the season. But nobody really noticed that, because all eyes were on Hamilton who was celebrating his fourth world driver's championship.
The next race is in two weeks in Brazil... see you then!
October 22, 2017
F1 Update!: United States 2017 A perfect day in Austin greeted the crowd as they filed into the Circuit of the Americas. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air, as it was possible we'd be seeing not one but two championships ended today. Polesitter Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes would be trying to make that happen, Seb Vettel and Ferrari would be trying to prevent it. It was, pretty much, just that simple. So, did it happen? Would the winner wear a stetson again? Would they do the toast with Lone Star beer, or would it be Shiner Bock? And was that Bill Clinton? THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 United States Grand Prix!
*LETS GET READY...: The new owners of Formula 1, Liberty Media, is an American company, and this was the first time since the acquisition that the race weekend was in-country. They made sure to not let the chance to let loose get past them. First the drivers' parade, which usually sees the individual drivers in convertibles, instead had the drivers in the back of a Peterbilt. But that wasn't all, oh no, not at all. No less an announcer than Michael Buffer was brought in to do driver introductions, and what introductions they were! Driver nicknames abounded: K-Mag, The Torpedo, The Hulk, El Matador, The Canadian Heartbreaker, The Dutch Lion, "Always Smiling, The Iceman, Kimi Raikkonen", Ricky Rocket... The Honeybadger!... really, you have to watch them to appreciate the effort. Particularly the intro for Ricciardo. Buffer would come back to give the command to start engines in his usual inimitable style. Of course, reactions to the whole spectacle have been... mixed. It generally works out to: Americans don't see a problem, Europeans are disgusted. We here at F1U! see the attempt to relate to American race fans (NASCAR does this every major race, and the Indy 500 too) as fantastic and exactly what Liberty needs to do. Plus it's hilarious that they called Kid Kvyat "The Torpedo".
*LIGHTS OUT: Once the wackiness was over, it was time to settle in for the main attraction... the actual race. The highly anticipated start did not disappoint. Seb Vettel did what he had to do, which was get in front of Lewis Hamilton as soon as possible. He had a better break off the lights than the Mercedes driver, gave a little twitch to his right to push Hamilton a little farther out, and jumped into the lead before they got through Turn 1. More importantly, he held it. By the end of the first lap, Vettel had already gotten far enough ahead to prevent the use of DRS by Hamilton. Behind them, Max "The Dutch Lion" Verstappen began to hack his way up the field after being forced to start 16th due to engine penalties. By the end of Lap 2, he had already made it up to 11th and we suddenly realized that he might actually be racing for a podium spot. Sure, he'd have to pass his teammate and probably a Ferrari and a Mercedes to get there, but we've gotten to the point where we're no longer surprised by the result when one of the top cars starts at the back. Anything was possible.
*STILL HE RISES: Vettel's lead held firm for five laps, but Hamilton knew he had nothing to worry about. The Ferrari was pushing its tires hard, but couldn't leave the Merc behind. On Lap 6, with the advantage of DRS helping down the straight, the championship leader became the race leader with only the slightest of defense attempts from Vettel. Behind them, the expiration of The Honey Badger's power unit made The Dutch Lion's job easier down the road, removing one of the podium contenders from the field. Indeed, Ricciardo would probably have been the toughest car to pass, just because of team orders. No need to worry about that anymore.
*OH SO CLOSE: Unable to run down the polesitter and his tires beginning to blister, Vettel made his pitstop on Lap 17. Once he returned to the race, he began ripping off hot lap after hot lap while Mercedes kept Hamilton on for as long as they could. When Vettel had headed for the pits, Hamilton was 4.4 seconds ahead of the Ferrari. Hamilton stopped on Lap 21, and returned to the race only just barely ahead of the Red Car. The radio calls from the two drivers told the story: Vettel was apologetic, saying that he had blown it, while Hamilton chided his team, asking why it had been so nearly a disaster? While a fair question, that may not have been the best time to pose it. Just sayin'. Oh, and just a note: when the field began to make their stops, Verstappen suddenly found himself leading the race. It wouldn't last of course... he still needed to stop after all... but that still had to bode well for his podium hopes.
*PLAN B: Having held the lead through the pit rotation, Hamilton once again began to pull away from the Ferrari. By Lap 35 his lead was approaching seven seconds, and Vettel was asking his pit wall to consider Plan B. "Plan B" consisted of a second pit stop, with the Ferrari being put onto a gently used set of Super-Soft tires. This seemed a curious move, as he now not only had to pass Hamilton, but rejoining the race in fourth he also had to pass the other Mercedes of Valterri Bottas. If he managed that trick, he'd then need to pass the Always Smiling Finn. This wouldn't be a problem... Ferrari would just tell Raikkonen to let him past. A complicating factor appeared on the scene fairly quickly, in the form of Red Bull's Verstappen, now up to fifth and closing fast.
*TO THE BITTER END: On Lap 40, Vettel was approximately 15 seconds adrift of 3rd place, which was actually his teammate at that moment. Raikkonen would pass Bottas a couple of laps later. Ten laps cut the gap to under a second, but Bottas made it difficult for Vettel. The Ferrari could get close using DRS, but couldn't quite overcome the power advantage the Merc engine provided. So Vettel went for guts and driving skill instead. Running down the front straight behind Bottas, the Ferrari driver went around the outside of Turn 1. At this point, all Bottas would have needed to do is drift wide on the exit of the turn which would either push Vettel off-track or force him to back off. Except the lapped McLaren of Stoffelwaffle was there already, and Bottas stayed inside. This left a gap just a bit wider than a F1 car for Vettel to slip through, which he did. With the momentum advantage, he easily passed the Mercedes and began running away. The next lap saw Vettel go by his teammate, to nobody's surprise. What was surprising was that Verstappen got by Bottas with only a small amount of trouble for fourth.
*THE AFOREMENTIONED BITTER END: Vettel had no chance of catching Hamilton, being some 10 seconds back, but finishing in second minimized the damage to his championship chances. Still, it wasn't the end he was looking for. Behind him, drama was occurring. On the last lap, Verstappen had closed in on Raikkonen. Into the Turn 16-17-18 complex the Red Bull driver made his move to the inside. The Ferrari driver, who later said he had no idea the Dutchman was there, strayed a little off the racing line which forced Verstappen to take to the curbs to avoid an accident. He didn't lift though, and managed to power past the Red Car to take third, a podium finish, after starting 16th. A marvelous performance from the young phenom.
*OH DEAR: It was during the cooldown lap that the notification came down from on high... the race stewards were investigating Verstappen's pass on Raikkonen. The Dutch Lion had parked his car and made his way into the podium green room, where he was relaxing before the ceremony, when the stewards decision came down. They judged him to have left the track limits with all four tires and gained a competitive advantage from doing so. During the race, they'd require him to relinquish the position. With the race over, all they could do is give Verstappen a five second time penalty. This had the effect of dropping him from third to fourth, and giving third back to Raikkonen. In something of a bad deal, Ferrari was informed before anybody could let Verstappen know. Indeed, the first that the youngster knew of the stewards even looking at the pass was when Raikkonen walked into the green room. He was told a few moments later, and left with an... odd look on his face. Sort of a cross between "what's going on" and "I'm going to kill someone soon". On the podium, Hamilton was presented with the winner's trophy by Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States. One wonders why either of the Bush Presidents, Texas natives, weren't there instead, but that matters not. An impressive race all around, and one that clinched the Manufacturer's Championship for Mercedes for the 4th season in a row.
*WHAT THE...?: Late in the race, during a shot of Turn 1, we saw this:
Now THAT'S a damn big bird! Or a CG overlay, one of the two. It seems likely it was CG... it seems too unlikely that an eagle would fly across the race track just as a Haas car, the American team, approached the turn... particularly one THAT size. A very weird moment from FOM, that.
So there ya go, the US Grand Prix! Next race is the Grand Prix of Mexico next weekend! See ya then!
October 08, 2017
F1 Update!: Japan 2017 The nicest day of the weekend greeted the Herd as they made their way up to the grid. Unlike Friday Practice, which had buckets o' rain coming down when it wasn't falling in sheets, or Saturday Quals, which was gray and dreary, the sky was blue and the sun was bright as racetime approached. Lewis Hamilton sat on pole... again... with a new track record... again... and looked ready to win... again. Normally having your rival next to you on the grid isn't the most comfortable feeling. The Ferrari of Seb Vettel sat in the second spot, but his team had removed the engine cover on his car with just minutes to go and were working feverishly. They got him buttoned up in time, but the German couldn't have been happy. So how did all that work out? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Japan!
*LIGHTS OUT: Hamilton didn't have the best of starts once the race finally began, but that turned out not to be a big deal because none of the cars around him did either. Behind him, last week's race winner, Embryo Verstappen, got past Vettel's Ferrari in a slick little move at just about the same time that Carlos Sainz, in his last race with Toro Rosso before he moves to Renault, buried himself in the tire barriers sideways. The accident was stiff and the car was out of the race, but because of its location the marshals had to bring out heavy machinery to carry it off. We here at F1U! would be lying if we said that we didn't have flashbacks to the tragic 2015 Grand Prix of Japan at this moment. Fortunately for everybody's sanity, a Safety Car was immediately summoned as Lap 2 began.
*HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND: It became obvious that whatever it was that Ferrari had been working on in Vettel's engine before the race, they hadn't gotten it repaired. Once the race restarted, he was almost instantly swarmed over by three cars. The Ferrari was clearly down on power... we later found out he was over 20mph in the hole... and the team soon told him to return to the pits and retire the car. The culprit that crippled this high-tech marvel, this paragon of racing? A spark plug. We can only assume it had only been made with a core of Californium, instead of the usual metal smelted from asteroids. In the garage, Vettel clearly realized that any chance he had of winning the driver's championship was realistically gone.
*THE REST: Hamilton opened his lead over Verstappen's Red Bull to around five seconds or so, but couldn't quite get away from the Dutchman. Every time he would look to be pulling away, someone else would wreck and a Virtual Safety Car would be called out. The last one, called out when Pleasant Stroll had a wheel rim failure, let Verstappen be in position to narrow things down to less than a second after the restart.
*CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR: For a couple of laps right at the end, it looked like we actually had a race on our hands. Verstappen actually appeared to be faster over the entire lap, but getting past another car on the fairly narrow Suzuka circuit is difficult at the best of times. When your target is Lewis Hamilton and his closest rival is in the pits? Unlikely, to say the least. Throw in hitting traffic at just the wrong time, and Verstappen never had a chance. He'd follow Hamilton home in second place, just over a second behind. It was an easy drive for the Mercedes driver, but he had to drive a clean race... one mistake and the Red Bull would have been past him. That mistake never occurred. The other Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo finished third, almost 10 seconds back.
Not the best race of the season. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it dull, the final few laps notwithstanding. It is probably going to be the most important race of the year though, as Hamilton now has a 54 point lead over Vettel with four races to go. Indeed, if he wins the next race and Vettel finishes sixth or below, the championship ends right there.
And that next race? We return to Austin Texas for the US Grand Prix in two weeks! See ya then!
October 02, 2017
F1 Update!: Malaysia 2017 A gray, gloomy sky over Kuala Lumpur greeted the Thundering Herd as it made its way to the starting grid. Polesitter Lewis Hamilton had to be experiencing mixed feelings as his Mercedes sat in its prime spot. On one hand, he was on pole having put in a great lap during qualifying. On the other, his Mercedes was acting like a temperamental diva. The team couldn't dial it in for long stints and little technical gremlins were running around the insides of the power unit. On the whole, though, it was a good position to be in, particularly considering his main rival, Ferrari's Seb Vettel, was dead last after a technical failure in quals. Just behind Hamilton sat birthday boy Embryo Verstappen's Red Bull. The Dutchman had celebrated his 20th birthday the previous day and the Red Bulls were feeling particularly racy the whole weekend. So what happened next? THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Malaysia!
*BEFORE: After a qualifying session that saw him take second spot on the grid, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was asked what his goal was for the race. "I'd like to get more than 100 meters," replied the Finn, a reference to the race in Singapore two weeks prior. He didn't. Some engine glitch kept him in the garage until the very last moment, then the team sent him to take his place in the starting lineup. Once there, the mechanics began working on the car again, taking the rear bodywork off so they could tinker with the power unit. Ultimately this proved fruitless, the team pushing the car back to the pits to work on it while the rest of the cars went on their way to take the start. In the end, Ferrari would retire the car. We can only assume Raikkonen got himself some ice cream.
*LIGHTS OUT: The run down to Turn 1 in Malaysia is one of the longest on the calendar, plenty of time for mischief to be perpetrated by those desperate or unaware. Throw in Embryo Verstappen, not known for his love of carbon fiber (unless it's in tiny pieces), being up at the front and Hamilton had to be wondering if HE'd make it through the first turn in one piece. The weather played a part in the start, despite there not being a drop of rain in the sky. Earlier in the day, it had rained and the grid was damp... or, to be correct, half the grid was damp. It seems that half of the track had been resurfaced some time in the past. The two surface materials used, left and right, were not the same. As a result, the even-numbered side of the grid was visibly wetter than the odd side. Once the race began, the cars starting on the right side of the grid all made better starts than the ones on the left. It didn't matter much in the long run, but there you are. For a wonder, the entire field made it through the first set of turns without too much damage... or indeed, any at all that we could see. By the end of Lap 1, Hamilton led Verstappen, who led Valterri Bottas in third. Remember that Seb Vettel guy, starting back in 20th? By the end of Lap 1, he was 13th, and quickly moved up to 12th.
*AND THEN...: At the beginning of Lap 4, DRS was enabled, and the Red Bull in second place was within the one-second zone of the leader, though only just. The rear wing slot popped open, and voila! 12mph bonus to Verstappen's speed down the straight. He made up the gap to Hamilton quickly enough, but looked to be too far back to make any sort of move. Wrong. The Dutchman decided that he didn't need to brake until it was almost too late, zipped past the Mercedes on the inside, and made the move stick out of the twisty complex at the end of the front straight. As it turned out, the Mercs were having problems with their KERS systems not recharging fast enough, and Hamilton had been caught with his battery boost not able to produce as much power as it should. If it had been, there may have been more of a defense made. Or perhaps not; Hamilton is leading the Driver's Championship, and with Vettel far, far behind on track, there was no need for the Brit to tempt fate by dueling with the birthday boy.
*MEANWHILE: Vettel's Ferrari was making steady progress on-track. The man he picked off for 12th, Nico Hulkenberg, was having some difficulty with his car so he pitted earlier than expected. Concerned that he would undercut them in the pits, four other drivers pitted for new tires, promoting Vettel into sixth place. He would take care of Sergio Perez for fifth place on Lap 19. Fifteen places in 19 laps... pretty good work, that.
*UP FRONT: Verstappen was doing to Lewis Hamilton what Hamilton had regularly done to any car that wasn't a Mercedes for much of the past four years: he was driving away. The lead would reach nine seconds and stay right around that amount for a very long time indeed. Meanwhile, behind those two worthies we find the other Red Bull, that of Smiley Ricciardo camped out in third, but nervously glancing in his mirrors all the time. That's because Vettel, after having a nice little scrap with Bottas, had moved into fourth position. Worst still for Ricciardo, Vettel was on fresher, faster tires and was turning laps a full second faster than anybody else on track. All of that had to be sitting in the back of the German's head... if only his car had worked on Saturday, this clearly would have been his race.
*CATCH AND RELEASE: The Ferrari steadily closed in on the Australian, filling the Red Bull's mirrors like a T-Rex chasing a Land Rover. Then, as Lap 48 turned into Lap 49, with the Ferrari pit wall telling him to "attack now", Vettel made his move... which Ricciardo smoothly blocked as they approached the braking zone for Turn 1. The Ferrari driver backed down, and shortly thereafter began to lose time to the Australian. He had raced his tires off, and he was unable to challenge again.
*THE END: For a wonder, Red Bull's Max Verstappen cruised home with a lead that was nigh on 13 seconds over Hamilton's Mercedes. Ten seconds behind him came Ricciardo, who's gap over Vettel for the final podium spot had opened up to 15 seconds... a marvelous display of damage containment by the Ferrari driver. It had looked like Hamilton would have buried his nearest challenger. Instead, he barely managed to buy the shovel he would need to start digging. Throw in the temperamental state of the W08 recently, and Hamilton had to have some concerns.
*...THE HELL?: As the drivers were on their cooldown lap, we were treated to camera shots of Verstappen being happy in cockpit, with lots of yelling over the radio. He had become the youngest driver in F1 history to win a race, breaking Seb Vettel's record by over a year... or he would have, if he didn't already hold the record, having won his first race in 2016 at the age of 18 and change. And then the cameras frantically cut away to show us this:
Vettel had been behind the Williams of Pleasant Stroll as they were on their cooldown laps, with the Ferrari moving somewhat faster. When they approached the next turn, the Ferrari driver went past Stroll. There was a coming together and the Ferrari ended up a shambles. The Williams, on the other hand wasn't even scuffed. Both drivers blamed the other. It is the opinion of F1U! that Vettel probably should never have put himself in that position in the first place... he's got a championship to fight for, and while this happened after the race, suspension damage often causes collateral damage to the engine or gearbox. Changing those would give a penalty for the next race. Reports are that the gearbox is undamaged, but those reports weren't coming from Ferrari. Very, very bizarre, and not the first time this season that Vettel has done something stupid.
So that's it for Malaysia. Next race is next week, at F1U!'s official favorite circuit, Suzuka in Japan. See ya then!
October 01, 2017
Malaysia 2017 Delayed! Sorry everybody, I got started on the F1U! much too late for me to get it done Sunday. It'll be up Monday night.
September 18, 2017
F1 Update!: Singapore 2017 Sometimes we hate it when we're right.
THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Singapore!
*BEFORE: While it always rains in Singapore in the afternoon, there's never actually been rain during the race. And up until about 20 minutes before race start, it looked like that was going to stay the case. But the clouds above the city-state suddenly began to flash with sheet lightning and the strategy wonks in the pit lane all started to cry in unison. The rain came shortly thereafter, building in intensity until the gazebos began to sprout on the pit straight. Teams waiting until the very last moment before they bolted on tires. It worked out about 50-50 between Intermediates and Wets, with all the serious runners on the lesser of the rain rubber. The recon lap showed that the front straight was the driest past of the circuit, with some parts looking like pontoons were needed more than tires. Worse still were the huge clouds of spray coming up from all the cars: only polesitter Seb Vettel had an unobstructed view. Everybody else could see between "almost nothing" and "completely blind."
*LIGHTS OUT: When the race finally began, both the Ferrari of Vettel and the Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen made... um... meh starts. Not good, not bad, just there. As they charged down to the first turn, Vettel began to move to his left, squeezing in on the young Netherlander. Verstappen held his ground until the last moment, then drifted away from Vettel.... Behind those two, Kimi Raikkonen, the driver of the other Ferrari, had a better launch than either of them. This was something of a wonder, as the Finn hasn't been doing much of anything well of late. Today though... today he came charging up the left of Verstappen with plenty of room. Except that was the exact moment that the Red Bull driver began to evade Vettel's Ferrari.... Meanwhile, if Raikkonen had a good start, the McLaren of Fernando Alonso took off like it had rockets strapped to the sides. Starting in eighth, he found heading towards the outside of Turn 1... but ahead of him, Bad Things were about to occur.
*BAD THINGS: Events occurred very quickly now. Verstappen, moving away from Vettel,clearly never saw Raikkonen coming up on his other side. Firm contact was made, snapping the right-rear suspension on the Ferrari like a twig, and causing the red car to swing across the Dutchman's nose. Raikkonen then speared into the left sidepod of Vettel with a lot of oomph (technical term). The situation looked something like this:
Vettel would continue on through Turn 1, while Raikkonen began waffling around the left side of the straight, out of control but slowing... but not quickly enough. Verstappen, for a wonder, appeared to be completely undamaged at this point, and was accelerating into Turn 1. Around the outside of Turn 1, Alonso's demon start continued. Raikkonen, still out of control, never turned at all. His slide took him directly into the side of Verstappen as he began to make Turn 1. The two cars, embraced in a mutual death dance, careened across Turn 1, slamming into Fernando Alonso, a victim in the wrong place at the wrong time. The McLaren would actually get airborne for a moment, but continued on, undoubtedly with a driver asking what the hell just happened. Raikkonen and Verstappen were out of the race.
*IT GETS WORSE: A few moments later, we saw the OTHER Ferrari rolling backwards down the run from Turn 3 to Turn 5, missing its nose all the way back to the suspension mounts. It took a few minutes for what had happened to be revealed. Raikkonen had hit hard enough to punch a hole through a radiator, which promptly began dumping coolant... all over the rear tires. Soon enough traction was lost, and the Ferrari's control went away. It then hit the wall with the nose, and found itself coasting backwards.
*OH, BY THE WAY: Before the race, Lewis Hamilton had said that it was going to take a miracle for him to make the podium, let alone win. When Vettel spun out, Hamilton's Mercedes was suddenly just handed the lead. It seems the racing gods were listening. Not only did he lead the race, but his closest challenger in the Driver's Championship had been knocked out of the race. It had to be a jubilant Brit in the Mercedes cockpit as the field circulated behind the Safety Car. The race was not over, though. Usually the Mercedes will dominate any race, but there was a reason Hamilton had been starting fifth. This car, on this track, with this team, just could not appear to take the fight to either the Ferraris or the Red Bulls. But at a single stroke, three of the four cars he had to be concerned about were out of the race, and the fourth, Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull, was behind him, not in front... on a circuit that is nearly as hard to pass on as Monaco.
*RACING: Once Berndt Maylander returned to his dark slumber, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Hamilton would gallop away into the... um... sunrise? It's a night race, so we can't say "gallop into the sunset". Anyway. He did nothing of the sort, at best opening up a five second lead over Ricciardo... until Lap 11, when the Toro Rosso of Kid Kvyat buried itself in the Tecpro barriers. Maylander was awoken from his eternal sleep and the field once again bunched up behind him.
*TIRE WHERE?: This far into the race, with the rain easing off, it only made sense to pit for new Intermediates. The track was still wet, but drying nicely (if slowly: Singapore's high humidity saw to that), so Red Bull brought Smiley in for fresh Inters. Surprisingly, Mercedes did not, much to Hamilton's chagrin. When he began to complain about the call, the pit wall pointed out that Ricciardo likely would have done the opposite of Hamilton in any case. If the Merc came in, Smiley would have stayed out and taken the position boost. This would not be the last time this race that Lewis would complain incorrectly. Once the race restarted, he found himself at a point in his tire life that was absolutely golden. His worn Inters had enough tread to deal with the drying surface, but not enough to be damaged by overheating in the drier sections. By Lap 24, Hamilton had opened a 10 second lead on the curiously slower than expected Red Bull.
*TIRE THERE!: Some of the backmarkers had decided to go for slicks by now, and as long as they didn't get too far off the (now nearly dry) racing line, they were working to an extent. Smiley took the plunge, on Lap 28 and took a massive amount of time out of Hamilton's lead in just the one lap he had before Mercedes brought in their guy. It didn't last, however. Once the silver car was on slicks, he again began to pull away from the Red Bull.
*...HOW IN THE WORLD?: One could be forgiven for not being surprised when Berndt Maylander was summoned for a third time ("Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Maylander Pitlane wgah'nagl fhtagn"?). What was surprising was exactly why. Sony Ericcson dropped his Sauber as he passed over the Andersen Bridge between Turns 12 and 13, coming to rest pointing backwards at the narrowest point of the circuit. Worse yet, the location on the bridge meant that a mobile lifter had to be brought on circuit to recover the stricken Sauber. Hamilton immediately began complaining that the situation could have been handled with a Virtual Safety Car instead of throwing away his lead.
He changed his mind when he actually came across the accident site behind the Safety Car for the first time and was able to get a good look.
*THE END: Once Maylander was allowed to return to his rest, the race continued much as it had before. But now, with an eye cocked to the skies and another expecting another wreck, the Merc pit wall had a strange request for the race leader. Specifically, they told him to slow down the pace and close up the field. The thinking was that if Hamilton got too far ahead, Ricciardo would get a "free" pit stop in the event of another safety car. See, it'd be quite possible that the SC would be called out after Hamilton had passed pit-in. With a big enough lead on the Red Bull, Smiley could possibly pit before Hamilton, who would have to trundle around the circuit slowly while the Red Bull was stopping for fresh tires. Hamilton would then have to pit himself while Ricciardo was right behind him, bunched behind Maylander. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lewis came back on the radio and said "I'm not comfortable driving like this," to which the pit wall said "do what you want, then." He kept himself comfortably in the lead until the two-hour time limit was reached and the race ended three laps early, finishing 4.5 seconds ahead of the Red Bull, who was ahead of the other Mercedes of Valterri Bottas.
*OH THAT?: Remember how we mentioned it seemed like the Red Bull was oddly slower than expected? It turned out that Ricciardo's gearbox was not working correctly and there was fear that it wouldn't make the finish line. While the driver has said that it hadn't made a difference, one suspects that he's not entirely telling the truth.
Next race, two weeks from now in Malaysia! See you then.
September 04, 2017
F1 Update!: Italy 2017 The weather had made a stunning recovery after Saturday's deluge, the skies bright and clear as the F1 Circus took its positions on the grid. The combination of rain and engine penalties left the starting lineup a jumbled mess, which had to make polesitter Lewis Hamilton feel quite confident. His teammate, Valterri Bottas was fourth, while championship points leader Seb Vettel was starting from sixth. Even the Red Bulls had been shuffled backwards, with Embryo Verstappen in 13th, and Smiley Ricciardo lounging in 16th. So would the youngest driver ever to be on the first row of the grid, Pleasant Stroll, be able to challenge Hamilton? Or would False Esteban! be able to throw his Force India into the mix from third? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Italy!
*LIGHTS OUT: Hamilton's getaway wasn't the greatest of all time, but it was good enough to keep in front of the two kids as they went into the stupidly tight chicane at the end of the front straight. It's common enough to see huge clouds of smoke billowing from tortured tires at this point, and one could only imagine the youthful aggression of Stroll and False Esteban! taking over as they tried to get through first. As it was, pretty much the entire field made it through with only a small amount of carbon fiber flying. For much of the first lap, the two young'uns were able to hang with the Mercedes on this, the fastest track on the calendar, but it was just a matter of time before the superior vehicle would step up. This it did, with Hamilton opening his lead and Bottas moving into second by the end of Lap 3. Behind that, Vettel moved past both kids and into third by the end of Lap 5. After that, it became a simple question: could the Ferrari race with the Mercedes on the track that most favored the silver cars? Pretty quickly we knew the answer: no.
*KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON: By Lap 10, Hamilton's lead over Vettel was up to 10 seconds, and the gap would just continue to scroll upwards. By Lap 20, it was 17 seconds, and people began to wonder if the silver car would be able to open up a big enough lead that he could pit and come out ahead of the red one. We never found out, though on Lap 30 Vettel was 23 seconds behind, and the pit delta was... 23 seconds. Ferrari pitted their man shortly after that, with Hamilton coming in three laps later. He would be clear of Vettel, and indeed, when Bottas pitted the lap after Hamilton, he too was able to keep his position ahead of Vettel. At that point, it was just a matter of keeping the Mercs running and on the racing surface. On Lap 40, the gap back to Vettel was 31 seconds.
*SMILE AND THE WORLD SMILES WITH YOU: Back at the back of the horde, Smiley Ricciardo knew he had an interesting day ahead of him. He had a good car in his hands, he was at the back of the grid only because of power unit changes, and a lot of mediocre carbon fiber lined up ahead of him. Once the lights went out and the race began, he immediately started working his way up the field. Starting on the hardest compound available for the weekend, the Soft rubber, Smiley cajoled, weaved, and jogged his way around traffic for 37 laps (of 53!), pulling himself all the way up to fifth spot before his only pit stop. Rejoining the race on the Supersoft tires, he found himself closing in on the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in fourth place. A couple of tours around the circuit later, he managed to get to within a second of the Finn as they reached the second DRS detection zones... meaning that he'd get the speed boost provided by the drag reduction system down the ridiculously fast pit straight. More importantly, Raikkonen, who had nobody immediately in front of him, wouldn't. And then it happened. Smiley came from roughly two miles back as Raikkonen began to slow for the chicane and just blew right by the Ferrari in what may very well be the pass of the season so far.
*THIS IS THE END: At about the same time that the Australian Red Bull driver was making the Finnish Ferrari driver look silly, the German Ferrari driver had something go wonky on his car. Vettel missed the first chicane on Lap 40 and damaged something during his excursion through the sleeping policemen. After the race, he said that from then on the car's steering was pulling to one side, particularly under braking. This had the dual effect of giving him zero chance of catching up to the Mercedes duo... to be fair, he had as close to zero chance before that as makes no difference... while giving Smiley Ricciardo a target that was, comparatively, limping around Monza. After passing Raikkonen, he was almost 12 seconds back from Vettel. For the next 13 laps, the Aussie reeled him in at well over a half-second per lap. With four seconds separating them, Vettel managed to get home ahead of the Red Bull... while being over thirty seconds behind Hamilton and Bottas. It was a fantastic drive for Riccardio, a disappointing one for Vettel, and a casual Sunday drive for the two Mercedes boys who looked like they didn't break a sweat as they stood on the final podium.
*OH, AND...: With his victory and Vettel's third place, Hamilton takes the lead in the championship race with seven to go. The next one is the night race in Singapore in two weeks... we'll see you there!
F1U: Italy 2017 Delayed! Yeah, um... like, I fell asleep around 6pm Sunday evening and didn't, y'know, wake up again until a little after Midnight. So... um... I'll do the writeup Monday. Twice in a row I've missed the race night update. Woo! Go me!
August 28, 2017
Quick 'n' DIrty F1Update!: Belgium 2017 Beautiful weather over Spa-Francopants, damn the luck. Everything was looking like it was playing directly into polesitter Lewis Hamilton's hands... if he could make it into La Source first, one could almost consider the race over. The question was, "could he"? Right along side him was the Ferrari of Seb Vettel who was out for blood, honor, and more points in the standings. And behind them were 18 ravenous beasts, screaming for better grid positions. So what happened? THIS is your Quick 'n Dirty F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Belgium!
*THE START, or A Sign Of Things To Come: Hamilton did indeed make it into the first turn with the lead, but Vettel wasn't making it easy for the Brit, hanging on to his rear wing like there was a grappling hook between them. But behind them, all was not swell. While dodging an impending Renault, Sergio Perez managed to bounce his Force India tire-to-tire with his own teammate, False Esteban!... as they ran into Eau Rouge, perhaps the one place on any circuit you don't want to do that. Up at the front of the pack, Vettel was trying his best to get past Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight, only just barely failing to succeed. Things would be different, however in a few laps.
*THE LAST, BEST, CHANCE: On Lap 12, Mercedes brought their leader in for new tires. As he stopped, Vettel pounded out a couple of sweet laps before he, too, came in for fresh rubber. Then came the moment he and the pitcrew had worked so hard for... he pulled out of the pits ahead of Hamilton's Mercedes. He stayed there, too... until the two cars reached the Kemmel Straight, at which point the Merc just out-powered the Ferrari to regain position. And that's the way it stayed for another 18 laps: Hamilton leading a Ferrari that refused to go away.
*FORCE INDIA GOES KABLOOEY: On Lap 30, those two wacky Force India drivers, Sergio Perez and False Esteban!, were being stupid again, like they have been all season. Once again they were racing each other for position heading down from La Source to Eau Rouge where, as you may remember us saying, you don't want to do something like touch tires or anything. So when False Esteban! decided to make a move on the right-hand side of Perez, you expected one of two things to occur: either Perez would leave his teammate room, or False Esteban! would back out as he saw the space closing up. In fact, neither of these two things occurred, and the right-rear of Perez made rather impressive contact with the left-front wing of False Esteban!. A sizable chunk of the nose wing came free, flew all the way across the track, bounced off the catch fencing in front of the stands, then landed back on the circuit. Meanwhile, Perez's tire deflated as he was go up Eau Rouge and shed its carcass on the straight. Along the way, though, chunks of rubber and carbon fiber were strewn hither and yon as the Force India struggled around the track for the pits. Dangerous stuff, and he probably should have parked it for safety reasons. Because of all the debris, someone poked Berndt Maylander with a very long stick and the Safety Car was deployed.
*THE LAST LAST, BEST, CHANCE: Both Hamilton and Vettel pitted behind the Safety Car for new tires with around 13 laps to go... and as they came out, one could not help but notice that the Mercedes was on the hardest tire compound available (the Soft rubber), while the Ferrari was on the softest (the Ultra-Softs). Here at the F1U! media center, quizzical looks were exchanged: "did we just see that?" After backing up the DVR a few times, and one time managing to restart the entire race video, we were indeed sure that we had seen what we thought we saw. The Merc was on the slowest tire, the Ferrari on the fastest... and while the Ultra-Softs would give up the ghose before the Softs, both should be expected to last until the end of the race. Advantage: Ferrari.
*TO THE END: On the restart, Hamilton managed to keep Vettel behind, but that didn't stop the German from crawling all over the rear wing of the Mercedes. Hamilton managed to position his car perfectly in defense all lap long, forcing Vettel to regroup, try again, and try to force the Brit into a mistake. Amazingly, despite having the better tires and being at least as quick as the Merc all day, Vettel could not improve on that restart lap's efforts and finished just a bit over a second behind Hamilton. Behind them, Smiley Ricciardo proved that he has either nerves of steel or attachments of brass when he went three-wide with Mercedes' Valterri Bottas and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to take third place off both drivers, then keep it, thus bringing a podium to a close.
*AFTERMATH: False Esteban! has tweeted that his teammate was trying to kill him. Force India is, apparently, laying down team orders to prevent this from happening again... and if it does, owner Vijay Mallya has said that race suspensions are a real possibility. Ugly.
Next race is next week... when we'll be at Monza! See ya there.
August 27, 2017
Belgian F1U! Delayed (UPDATED) This weekend has been totally messed up from the beginning, culminating in the fiasco that was Sunday. From waking up at 11am to falling asleep during the race then getting sucked into a re-re-re-re-watch of the first John Wick film to taking a nap that wound up lasting four hours and just waking up, it's really just been a day where I've gotten even less accomplished than I normally do.
So it's 1130pm on Sunday night and there's no way I'm going to get the F1U! up tonight. Thus, instead of killing myself trying, I'm just going to throw a yellow flag and push it back a day. Sorry 'bout that, folks.
Update: Here, while you wait, enjoy this...
I can't stop laughing.
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