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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.


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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.

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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!

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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!


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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.

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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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July 30, 2017

F1 Update!: Hungary 2017

A sunny summer day, blue skies dotted here and there with the occasional white cotton-ball cloud, greeted the F1 Circus as the performers rolled their cars onto the grid.  For the experienced F1 fan, this boded ill, for there has never been a good race at the Hungaroring without rain being intimately involved.  Would the augurs portend another processional, or would the new, more aerodynamic, cars make a difference this year?  Would we have a Ferrari runaway, seeing how they sat one-two on the grid?  Or would we see the Mercedes grunt their way up from the second row and muscle their way to the front?  Or maybe the Red Bulls would sneak up out of the shadows like quiet assassins and take primacy of position?  And who knows, maybe it could rain?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Hungary.


*LIGHTS OUT:  In something of a shocker, all six of the cars in the front three rows had fabulous starts.  Everybody got away smooth and quickly, giving us the sight of six cars dicing for the lead into Turn 1.  Seb Vettel made it through first, followed by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.  The next four positions were muddled, but quickly sorted themselves out when Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen once again decided that he deserved whatever patch of track he wanted, whenever he wanted.  That the patch he most desired just happened to be where the radiator of teammate's Smiley Ricciardo car was located didn't much seem to concern him.  Smiley suffered a spraying leak which coated the left-rear tire with liquid, causing a spin.  Only something of a miracle kept other drivers from barreling into the stricken Red Bull, which came to rest in the center of the track, perpendicular to the direction of travel.  In his Safety Car, Berndt Maylander's dead eyes worked their way open with a peculiarly audible grinding sound.  His deathly visage thankfully obscured behind darkened helmet faceplate, Maylander brought his silver chariot out onto the circuit for five laps while the grim track workers cleaned up the mess left behind.

*RESTART AND ALL THE REST:  The restart went pretty much as all F1 restarts do: the leader gets the jump on the rest of the pack, then heads off and away.  Externally, all seemed poised for another Hungarian parade.  All was not right, though, in the lead Ferrari's cockpit.  Vettel had a steering issue that required him to have his steering wheel turned to the left to go straight... and as the race went on, it got worse.  This would be important later on.

*ONE STOPPER: For what seemed like the first time in forever, we had a race where the leader actually lost the lead during the pitstops.  When Vettel pitted on Lap 33, he ultimately wound up relinquishing the lead to... Embryo Verstappen.  This was a false lead, of course, for two reasons.  One, he still had to make his required stop, and two, he had been given a 10-second time penalty for his actions with Ricciardo's car.  On Lap 43, Verstappen pitted and rejoined in fifth place.  The lineup was Vettel, Raikkonen about 1.50 seconds behind, the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas in third about three seconds back from there, and Lewis Hamilton in fourth.  As the laps ticked down, it became clear that Bottas could not make up ground on the Ferraris, so on Lap 46 Mercedes told him to move aside and let Hamilton take a stab at it.  If he couldn't do anything, he'd relinquish the position back to Bottas.  Probably.

*PLOTS AND SCHEMES:  Up ahead of the Brit, Vettel's steering complaint was worsening by the lap.  In fact, things were so bad that the team told him to avoid touching the curbs... this on a track where it's routine to crash over the curbs at every turn.  He was clearly holding up his teammate, who was practically begging on the radio to be allowed to pass the German... who also led the championship race.  On another team, this may have been allowed to occur, but not Ferrari.  Instead, Raikkonen was left in second to act as blocker for Vettel.  Soon enough, Hamilton was under a second behind the Finn, who was about two seconds adrift of the leader.

*FIX THIS IMMEDIATELY:  Even as Hamilton eyed the back of Raikkonen's Ferrari, he was on the radio to his pit wall saying that it was difficult to get close to the red car due to the unsettled air coming off it.  This has long been a fault of F1 cars, and really should have been fixed by now.  Instead, we were left with perhaps the best driver in the world forced to sit back and hope for a mistake by the drivers ahead... all because of turbulence.

*THE END:  Ultimately Hamilton's charge failed.  His tires went off and he began dropping back, at which point Mercedes told him to relinquish the position back to Bottas.  The turmoil in his cockpit must have been immense... he'd be giving up three points to Vettel in the driver's championship, after all.  To further complicate matters, Verstappen had caught up to Bottas and was beginning to loom ominously in the silver car's mirrors.  On the final lap, Hamilton let his teammate past, intentionally going wide in a turn... and very nearly was caught by the Red Bull in the process.  Up ahead, Raikkonen's pleas to be allowed to get by his slower teammate fell on deaf ears, and he finished in second place.  Vettel thus won the race and reopened a lead in the world driver's championship.  Team orders are a legal thing in F1, but they can be hard to stomach at times.

*ONE LAST THING: The McLaren of Indy Alonso finished sixth on actual merit today, and he set fast lap in the process.  Once Singapore rolls around, I think we might have a shot at seeing a McLaren on the podium... probably not, but it's not as unimaginable as it was earlier in the year.

So there you have it.  Hungary done and dusted for another year.  The teams now go on mandatory holiday for two weeks; the factories are closed and team personnel are forbidden to do any work on the car of any sort.  Then there's another two weeks after that before we come to the next race.  So see you at the end of August for the race at Spa-Francopants!

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July 16, 2017

F1 Update!: Britain 2017

A low, ominous sky squatted just a few miles away from the Silverstone circuit, while directly above was a hardly better overcast, reminding us that rain was an everpresent possibility here in this chunk of Albion.  Would it grace the F1 Circus with its presence, or would the upcoming race be left to its own devices?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Britain!  


*JUST BEFORE:  We here at F1U! were left with a smile upon our collective faces when the legendary Zsolt Baumgartner was both mentioned by name and seen on our television screen during pre-race coverage.  He's part of "F1 Experience", an expensive way to enjoy a race weekend... but does include a few laps of the circuit in the old Minardi two-seater F1 car, and that has to be driven by someone!  Oh, and on the parade lap, Jolyon Palmer's Renault blew its hydraulics and died on track.  The start of the race was delayed for one lap as a result.

*LIGHTS OUT:  When the race finally began, polesitter Lewis Hamilton made a clean start and led the field into the first turn with no muss, no fuss.  Trailing behind was the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, followed by a dust-up between Seb Vettel's Ferrari and the Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen.  The two exchanged passes before settling down with Verstappen in third.  Vettel was clearly having none of it, and we may have been in line for something spectacular had the two Toro Rosso drivers not decided that their little internecine squabbles were more important than the actual race.  Carlos Sainz and Kid Kyvat did Very Bad Things to each other, with Sainz's car dead, Kvyat limping around to the pit lane, and Herelein Wehrlein, an innocent bystander, damaged as well.  The amount of carbon fiber scattered across the circuit made a Safety Car unavoidable, and Berndt Maylander was awoken from his dark slumber to guide the field for four laps.

*RESTART: ...and this is what's wrong with Formula 1 today.  Asking Lewis Hamilton to lead a flying restart is like giving a velociraptor open access to an old folks' home.  He took control and headed out over the horizon, a grimly determined Raikkonen trailing farther and farther behind.  When the Mercedes driver finally pitted on Lap 26, one lap after the Ferrari, it was no trouble at all for him to rejoin in the lead.

*ALMOST THERE:  As the laps ran down, Mercedes' Valterri Bottas managed to wrest third place from Vettel, and then turned his sights on Raikkonen some five seconds up the road.  Try as he might, however, he could not reel him in enough to legitimately attempt a pass.  And then it happened.  The front left tire on Raikkonen's Ferrari suddenly deflated sending him skittering around the circuit desperately trying to control his car.  It took no time at all for Bottas to move past him for second, followed eventually by Vettel.  Once the Prancing Horse of the Finn had been reshod, he returned to the track with two laps to go in fourth place.  And then Seb Vettel's Ferrari suffered a slightly more violent deflation of his front left tire in almost the same place on track as Raikkonen's.  The Finn was thus promoted back up to third place, while Vettel eventually ended up in seventh.

*OH, HIM?: It may seem like we here at F1U! haven't mentioned what was going on with Hamilton up in the lead of the race.  There's a very good reason for that: we never saw him.  Except during his single pitstop, it seemed like the cameras stayed very far away from the local hero.  To be fair, his was a non-exciting race, alone up front with nothing interesting going on.  In fact, he had himself another Grand Slam: pole, win, led every lap, fast lap of the race.  Not quite as dominant on the timesheet as some of his races the last few years when he'd win by two minutes, and that after stopping for a danish and a cup of coffee... but still and all, unstoppable today.  With the way things wrung out, he now trails Seb Vettel in the championship fight by only one point.

If this seems short to you, that's because it is.  Other than the two Ferrari tire failures, there wasn't much in the way of action after the few few laps... a singularly uninspiring race indeed.  Next time around though... we're in Hungary!  See ya in two weeks!

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July 10, 2017

F1 Update!: Austria 2017

There are F1 races that are tightly-fought, tense affairs.  They draw you in, focus your attention, rivet your gaze firmly upon the events transpiring before you.  Where random circumstance changes the entire complexion of the race.  Where an incredible performance makes you acknowledge, once again, that drivers in the Formula 1 world championship are the best in the world at what they do.  As the 20 cars made their way to the starting grid at Spielberg's Red Bull Ring, all and sundry were eagerly anticipating what was to come.  Would the feud brewing between Ferrari's Seb Vettel and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton come to a head?  How would the tires fare on the abrasive circuit?  Who would blink first?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Austria!


*LIGHTS OUT: This was not one of those races that draw you in, focus your attention, rivet your gaze firmly upon the events transpiring before you.  The majority of the action and drama was over by the first turn, beginning with the actions of polesitter Valterri Bottas.  As the race officially began, the Finn's Mercedes had a blinder of a start, looking as if it were shot from a gun.  It was so good in fact that both Seb Vettel and Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo immediately said to their respective pitwalls that he had jumped the start altogether.  Indeed, replays later showed that he had started moving before the red lights were extinguished.  This alone, however, does not constitute a jumped start!  A driver can begin to move like that legally (it's thought that the car moves because the clutch slipped... or whatever), as long as they're not accelerating within 200 milliseconds of the lights going out, that being the FIA-mandated limit of human reaction time.  Timing and scoring officially has telemetry showing that he had a reaction time of 201 milliseconds.  The race to the first turn was anticlimactic, Bottas getting there with time to spare.  

*THE RACE:  The predicted rain never came.  Indeed, the predicted tire wear never came either: Pirelli expected the ultra-softs to last about 18 laps.  Bottas stopped for new shoes on Lap 41.  Felipe Not Retired Massa made it to Lap 47 on his.  So much for tire degradation playing a vital role in the strategies for this race.  Even with Lewis Hamilton's incessant whining that his tires felt awful, his tires weren't gripping, his tires were actually onion bagels with cream cheese and lox, so on and so forth, couldn't disguise the fact that he had moved up to fourth place and (eventually) set fast lap of the race.  What was particularly odd was that everywhere we looked, we saw evidence of the tires suffering wear... more than once we here at F1U! were shocked, shocked we say, at the thick black wear lines appearing on the inside shoulders of whatever rubber a car was clad in.  Yet at no time did anybody suffer any particular indignities from excessive tire wear.  This pretty much guaranteed that we at home could walk down to the local parade and see more action (those shriners with their teeny cars, ha!).  Until something peculiar began to occur.

*"GET YOUR ELBOWS OUT, LAD.":  With four or so laps remaining, suddenly it seemed like everybody trailing someone caught up to them.  Hamilton had run down Ricciardo (which prompted this section's title when the Red Bull pitwall said that to him), Vettel had caught up Bottas, even a sad little struggle for 10th place between Pleasant Stroll, Jolyon Palmer, and Stoffelwaffle.  The last two laps were all frantic to-ing and fro-ing as Hamilton tried to use his superior straight-line speed to mug the Red Bull, and Vettel tried to take advantage of the one sign of tire wear on the day, as Bottas dealt with a blister that did Bad Things to his handling.  In the end, however, both Vettel and Ricciardo kept their respective challengers behind, but it was a near-run thing for both.  Bottas won by 6/10th of a second, and while Smiley was over a second ahead of Hamilton, it was only because Hamilton's final shot took him out of a closer position.  the final two laps gave the race the illusion of having been action-packed, when in fact it was nothing of the sort.

*HOW ABOUT A THREESOME?:  With Bottas winning his second race on the year, he moves into third place in the driver's championship, with 136 points.  Ahead of him is his teammate with 151 and Seb Vettel sits atop the leaderboard with 171 points.  We might seriously have three contenders for the championship... if Mercedes lets their men race.  We shall see in just a few days, as the next race is this Sunday at the so-called Home of F1: Silverstone!  We'll see ya there!

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July 09, 2017

2017 Austria F1U! Delayed

As I woke up from a nap a short while ago, I came to a remarkable conclusion: I don't wanna do this tonight.  So instead of doing a worse job than I usually do, I'm not going to do it at all tonight.  Instead, I'm just gonna play one of the half-dozen games I picked up in the Steam Summer Sale, then go back to bed.


The F1U! will be tomorrow night instead.

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June 25, 2017

F1 Update!: Azerbaijan 2017

A sunny, warm, slightly breezy day greeted the F1 circus as it sat on the starting grid in downtown Baku.  Last year's race was remarkable for its lack of anything remarkable... indeed, it was pretty much the worst race of the 2016 season... but that seemed to be because nobody had the slightest idea how to race Baku then.  Now that the teams had a year's worth of data, everybody expected something a little more exciting.  The best part was that the two title contenders, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Seb Vettel, were again up towards the front of the grid and looked set for a day-long fight.  So was 2017 better than 2016?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan!


*LIGHTS OUT... HOLD ON!:  Upon the extinguishment of the pentuple cardinal illuminations, thus signifying the commencement of proceedings, the assembled vehicles began their charge towards the first turn.  A very short charge, as the run to Turn 1 is very literally the shortest on the F1 calendar.  As they approached the corner, Hamilton led his teammate Valterri Bottas, who was followed closely by fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, and Vettel was behind him.  By the time Vettel completed the second turn, he was in second.  Bottas and Raikkonen had had a coming together, one that saw the Mercedes have to limp around the entire 3.7 mile long track with a ruined tire and the other Finn drop to fifth after surviving an almighty thumping, being bounced from Merc to wall.  By the time Bottas made it back to the pits, he was already a lap down and out of contention for the day.  Meanwhile, Toro Rosso's Kid Kvyat went off at the outside of Turn 1 and rejoined... right where his teammate Carlos Sainz was located.  Sainz chose the better part of valor and jerked his car hard to the left, putting it into a self-inflicted spin.  Meanwhile, somewhere along the way Embryo Verstappen had called the pit wall, saying that he had some damage.  And thus ended a rather frantic first lap.

*THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG AT ALL:  On Lap 6, Smiley Ricciardo brought his Red Bull in for a tire change... and, as it turned out, a brake problem.  He had somehow managed to suck up some debris into a cooling duct, sending brake temps rocketing into the stratosphere.  He would rejoin the race in 17th position, out of contention for the day.  And then we saw the image of Kid Kvyat pulling to the side of the circuit, the electronics on his Toro Rosso having completely packed up and gone on holiday.  At Monaco, this wouldn't have been much of a much at all... just hook it up to a crane and lift it out of the way. The topography of the Baku circuit, however, doesn't allow for cranes to be presited around the circuit... or indeed, located anywhere near the track.  A Safety Car had to be called so the track workers could recover the broken vehicle.  And this is where the trouble began...

*BUCKLE UP, TROUBLE'S A-BREWIN'!:  This Safety Car period lasted for six laps, an eternity in F1 terms, particularly when you take into account the 3.7 mile length of the circuit.  After about one lap, leader Lewis Hamilton began to complain about the driver of the Safety Car going too slowly.  This was causing the tires and brakes to lose their heat and thus function poorly... and as we know from past races, the Pirelli tires are notoriously hard to bring up to race temperatures.  Meanwhile, the Mercedes pit wall reminded Hamilton that he had to stay a certain distance behind Berndt Maylander at all times, as he had been coming rather close to the rear of the car while trying to heat up the tires and get extra cooling air into his radiators.  And then it happened... the moment that defined the race, and perhaps the entire 2017 season.

*SAFETY CARS CAUSE SAFETY CARS: Eventually, the Safety Car returned to its nest on pit lane and the race restarted.  For aa single lap everything seemed okay... until one realized that there was still a crapload of debris located on the circuit from various incidents... and most of it located right where a car would collect it.  A second Safety Car was called for so the track workers could get debris off the circuit.  To be fair, there was a lot of junk out there... you probably could have glued it together and come up with a Sauber, which is, I think, how the team made their cars this year... and a SC was warranted.  And then it happened... the moment that defined the race, and perhaps the entire 2017 season.

*RUBBIN' AIN'T RACIN', NOT IN F1 IT AIN'T:  Seb Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton as they came out of a turn. While telemetry has shown that Hamilton had not slowed down any more than he had been, Vettel began screaming on the radio that the Mercedes driver had brake-checked him. The Ferrari suffered some damage to its front wing, the Merc some damage to its rear diffuser. Appropriately enough, the "red mist" came over Vettel and he surged alongside Hamilton to express his displeasure with some heated gesticulations involving both hands, perhaps an elbow, and some harsh words. He then banged wheels with the Merc before settling back into his following position, leading everybody watching to wonder if they really had just seen what had happened.  Shortly thereafter, the SC made its way back to the pit lane so Maylander could go back to sleep and the race resumed.

*RED FLAG: Then the two Force India drivers, never great pals to begin with, had a coming together in Turn 2. False Esteban! attempted a... let's call it "aggressive"... pass, which worked in that he moved ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez. In doing so, however, he suffered a cut rear tire and Perez lost a front wing and some other damage from being shoved into the wall. At the time this occurred, the two pink cars were in fourth and fifth and Perez in particular was making a great showing. He had been hanging with the two leaders and occasionally threatening Vettel's hold on second. Just keep that in mind as you read the rest of this F1U!.  Then Kimi Raikkonen ran over something that simply killed his right-rear tire.  As he made his way back to the pits, the carcass began flailing away at the rear of his car, eventually destroying the right endplate of his rear wing altogether.  At this point, race control threw up its hands, said "screw it", and threw the red flag, stopping the race entirely.

*GOINGS ON:  The red flag period lasted for some 25 minutes.  During this time, both Ferrari and Force India brought their damaged cars into the pit boxes to do repairs, while the rest of the cars formed up in the pit lane itself.  Hamilton got out of his car to examine the damage he had suffered when Vettel bonked him in the rear, Vettel got a new nose, everybody else got whatever minor damage they could get fixed fixed, and unsurprisingly it was announced that the Stewards were looking into the Hamilton/Vettel incident.  Once the red flag period was over, the cars took to the circuit once again.  Hamilton was in first, followed by Vettel, then the two Williams' of Felipe Not Retired Massa and Pleasant Stroll, then in something of a surprise, Smiley Ricciardo, apparently back from the dead.  The two safety car periods had been something of a blessing for him, as he just stayed out on track... he had already stopped for tires back on Lap 6 when he had his brake cooling problem.... and thus got free place after free place as other drivers pitted under the safety car.  Further down, Valterri Bottas was in 13th place and on the lead lap again, thanks to some arcane rules involving the Safety Car.

*RESTART, RELAX... REALLY?:  Once the race restarted, Ricciardo jumped both Williams drivers into Turn 1 in a truly impressive display of late braking and car control, taking third place.  A couple of laps later, Massa retired with a damper broken in an unrelated incident, promoting Pleasant Stroll to fourth.  Up in first place, though, things were not going well.  It became clear that Hamilton was having problems with the cockpit headrest.  As he raced along the long long straight that finishes a lap at Baku, the foam U-shaped headrest that lines the side and back of the cockpit began to lift up.  Hamilton could push it back down, sort of , but it would immediately begin to rise again as he accelerated.  The team was forced to call him into the pits to get that fixed before Race Director Charlie Whiting black-flagged him.  It appears that when Hamilton returned to his car after the red flag period, the team neglected to fasten the headrest.  In doing so, they probably cost themselves a win.  The stop took a little over 10 seconds, and he rejoined the race in ninth.

*OH, YOU KNOW:  A few laps later, the Stewards decision about the Vettel/Hamilton incident was announced: the Ferrari driver would be given a 10-second stop/go penalty for unsafe driving, to be served immediately.  On the radio, Vettel was incredulous: "when did I do dangerous driving???"  Around the world, millions upon millions of viewers scoffed and rolled their eyes as one.  Still, Vettel complied, giving up the lead.  He returned to the race in seventh, one position ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who immediately called race control to complain that "a 10-second penalty isn't enough for what (Vettel) did."

*TO THE END:  Thus on Lap 40 we had a top three of Smiley Ricciardo in the lead (having been in 17th place earlier in the race), followed five seconds later by Pleasant Stroll (who is 18 years, 8 months old... we here at F1U! have shoes and jackets older than Stroll), then came Bottas (who was at one time a lap down) 12 seconds behind Stroll for third.  This is the way the race went until the final lap, though Bottas was slowly reeling in the Williams.  It seemed unlikely, however, that the Finn could make the leap to second.

*LAST LAP:  For much of the final lap, that prediction was pretty clearly correct.  Bottas was still managing to make a little bit of headway here and there, but nowhere near enough.  Entering the final stretch, Bottas was about one second adrift of Stroll and his Mercedes-powered Williams... and this is when Bottas flipped a switch that engaged "qualifying mode" in his power unit.  You can't go a whole race in qualifying mode, the p.u. would die a horrible death within a dozen laps.  However, with a little over a mile to go?  No problem.  Bottas began to close the gap to Stroll, but he'd still have to pass the teenager... and then came the DRS detection zone.  Bottas was within one second of Stroll... who was eight seconds behind Ricciardo.  Oops.  A few hundred feet later, the DRS slot opened in Bottas' rear wing and the gap to the Williams dropped appallingly fast... and then the Mercedes was past, taking second place by about a car length.  And thus ended quite the remarkable race.

*OH, BTW...:  The Force Indias were faster than the Red Bull and the Williams today.  When Perez and False Esteban! had their coming together, both were ahead of Smiley Ricciardo.  We're not sayin', but we're just sayin'.

*APRES-RACE:  In post-race interviews, Hamilton refused to spare anybody's feelings, calling Vettel a "disgrace.  He also said that if the German had a problem with him, the two should "settle it like men, face-to-face."  For his part, Vettel refused to acknowledge that he did anything wrong, blaming the incident entirely on Hamilton's "brake-checking".  Mark our words: this is not the end of the situation, not by a long shot.

The next race is in two weeks, at the RedBull-Ring in Austria.  See ya there!!!

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June 11, 2017

F1 Update!: Canada 2017

A warm, sunny, and very very windy day greeted the Thundering Herd as they rolled onto the grid at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  Indeed, it was so windy that a few laps into the race drivers were reporting that they couldn't get to 8th gear coming down the back straight where they had a 30mph breeze in their faces.  While dramatic, it didn't seem to have any obvious effect otherwise.  Lewis Hamilton, second in the driver's championship, was on pole but his rival Seb Vettel was next to him, but ahead in the points.  Their teammates were directly behind them, and then the rest of the field, but one got the feeling that this race was going to be 70 laps of racing between those two for the win, and everybody else was fighting for third.  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Canada!


*LIGHTS OUT:  What we actually got was a race that lasted exactly one corner.  The leaders all made good starts, but Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen made an excellent one from sixth... in drag racing terms, he had the hole shot... and immediately was fighting with Vettel and Bottas for second.  Bottas went inside, Vettel followed the line in the center of the circuit... and then Verstappen went around the outside and cut across the Ferrari's nose.  The result of this was Embryo in second, Vettel in fourth, and a completely ruined front-right nosewing on the red car.  This did not have any obvious immediate effect however, as the race went under a safety car a couple of turns later.  Carlos Sainz Jr made an unwise move that took him across the nose of Lettuce Grosjean's Haas and tipped himself into a lurid spin on the thin strip of grass short of Turn 3.  Unfortunately, grass is terrible for braking and it seemed like his Toro Rosso hadn't slowed at all when it shot through Turn 3 backwards, collecting Felipe Not Retired Massa as he did.  This incident brought out the safety car.

*...THE HELL?:  The race stayed under the guidance of Berndt Maylander for three laps.  Those laps would have been a perfect opportunity to bring Vettel in for a replacement nose, for Verstappen had well and truly borked the original.  The endplate on the right side was essentially missing, and the 37 (estimated) vertical elements were all askew and adrift, practically flapping in the breeze.  This is not a good arrangement for downforce.  When the race restarted, the front wing began to shed pieces and Vettel lost an immense amount of time to the leaders in just a lap or two.  Ferrari finally brought him in on Lap 6, five laps later than they should have.  When he rejoined the race, he was 18th out of the 18 running cars and Mercedes where writing a check to Verstappen for handing them the race giftwrapped on a silver platter.  A handful of laps later, the Red Bull driver's day came to an end when his engine just... stopped working.  It was later revealed that his battery had failed, but for whatever reason it was, Lewis Hamilton's only realistic challenger (no matter how unlikely) had just been removed from the field.

*IN THE MIDDLE:  As the race progressed, it became more and more obvious that Hamilton was going to win barring car failure.  The only question was by how much?  His teammate, Valterri Bottas pitted for tires on Lap 22, passing second place over to the Force India of False Esteban!, then some 18 seconds behind the leader.  The reigning World Champion finally pitted on Lap 32, rejoining the race still in the lead as False Esteban! followed him into the pits for his own tire change.  The Force India had lost 10 seconds in those 10 laps.  Meanwhile Seb Vettel had made it all the way up to seventh place, though mostly because he was off the pit rotation having stopped early.  Things settled down for the next 20 laps or so.

*TOWARDS THE END:  Around about Lap 52 or so, Hamilton led his teammate by about 12 seconds, and he was 14 seconds ahead of Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo and the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and False Esteban!.  There was about a second covering third, fourth and fifth, and the two pink cars looked to be hungry for a podium.  Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was 10 seconds behind them, with Vettel a few seconds back of his teammate and charging hard.  It came as no surprise when Raikkonen came down with a sudden "brake problem" that allowed Sebby to go past and begin hunting down the fight for third.

*THE FIGHT FOR THIRD:  Smiley Ricciardo has never been particularly known for driving a wide car, so if the Force Indias could close up they had a great chance to pass him for a podium position.  False Esteban! was on substantially fresher tires than his teammate, and logically had a better chance to accomplish the task.  However, for lap after lap Sergio Perez stayed in front of his teammate, unable to pass the Red Bull.  The Legendary Announce Team began to criticize the team for not invoking team orders to get False Esteban! into position... but they had.  The team told Sergio Perez to let his teammate by and if False Esteban! couldn't make the pass, Perez would be allowed to take the position back... and Perez said no.  The battle was coming up on traffic, and he surely would be able to take the Red Bull then.  Various attempts by both Force Indias to make passes let Vettel catch up and we had four cars fighting for third place.  Eventually, False Esteban! tried a desperate lunge past his teammate and wound up adrift and floundering.  Not only did he let Perez take the position back, he let Vettel go by him too.  It took only another lap or so for Vettel to dispose of Perez and take fourth.  Considering that he was dead last early, this was an astounding performance for Vettel.

*ALONSO AGONY:  It's no news that McLaren is having a horrible year.  With a Honda power unit that's so down on horsepower that their two cars were literally 10mph slower down the back straight than the leaders, it's been dismal... or it would be, if their engines didn't keep failing on them.  Today, though, things looked different.  Indy Alonso, fresh off his Honda engine failure at the Indianapolis 500 two weeks ago, was in 10th place with five laps to go.  Now, 10th is hardly anything to write home about, but this would be the team's first point of the season.  There's no question that Alonso is working miracles with this car to get it even that high in the standings.  Which made it doubly painful when, on Lap 69 of 70, we saw his McLaren roll to a stop with a radio call of "no engine, the engine turned off."  Agonizingly, the power unit had failed Alonso again.  In a moment that could symbolize the new attitude F1 has towards its fans, Alonso left his car and went up into the grandstands to hang out and give his gloves away.

*FINALLY:  Even though Vettel had cleared the two Force Indias for fourth place, there was no time left for him to challenge Smiley for third.  He finished just under a second behind the Australian driver in a marvelous example of damage limitation.  Lewis Hamilton led his teammate home by nearly 20 seconds, and he was 19 seconds ahead of Smiley.  An easy race for the Mercedes guys, and one that might terrify Ferrari just a little bit.

In two weeks, we meet again in Baku for the second Grand Prix of Azerbaijan.  We'll see you there!

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May 29, 2017

F1 Update!: Monaco 2017

A brilliantly perfect day in the Principality greeted the Circus as they made their way through the streets of a small French fishing village, heading to the starting grid of Formula 1's premiere event.  Ferrari hadn't won here in an unbelievable sixteen years but had a front row lockout today, Kimi Raikkonen over Seb Vettel.  Behind them were the Red Bulls of Embryo Verstappen and Smiley Ricciardo, separated from the two cars from Maranello by the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas.  Would church bells be ringing in Italy?  Would energy drinks be spilled in Austria?  Would slide rules be set down for a moment in Germany?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Monaco!

*LIGHTS OUT:  Ste. Devote, the first turn at Monaco, is rather notorious for its ability to cause havoc at the start of a race.  It's quite common to see one or more cars crash out of the race there, nose buried deep into the pillow-covered armco, while the rest of the field scrambles to get out of the way.  Not this year: everybody made it through the first lap clean and clear, with no position changes anywhere.  It took nearly ten laps for much of the field to start to spread out, with the two Ferrari drivers opening up a six-second gap to Bottas.

*EXCITING AND TENSE:  Those two words do not apply to what was going on in Monaco today.  It's notoriously difficult to pass on the narrow streets of the Principality, but now that the cars were 8" wider with wider tires and greater grip, it was proving to be nigh-on impossible.  Thus we were treated to nothing less than a high-speed parade.

*IT'S THE PITS, MAN:  It is an immutable fact of Formula 1 that, in a team, the car ahead will pit first, before the car behind.  This is usually an advantage for the leader for different reasons.  For both Ferrari and Red Bull, that's how it worked today: Verstappen hit the pits on Lap 32 for his only stop, Raikkonen on Lap 33, Ricciardo on Lap 38, and finally Vettel on Lap 39.  In both cases however, the second car came out ahead of the first car.  Raikkonen went from a two second lead to being a second behind after the pit rotation, Verstappen wound up in fifth, shuffled back behind Bottas while his Australian teammate ended up in third.  When the Legendary Announce Team said that "the conspiracy theorists will be saying that Ferrari engineered the position change," they were only saying what everybody was thinking.  That's the way it's done in F1.

*WHOOPS:   Jenson Button was having what could only be considered a successful race in his borrowed McLaren.  Taking over Fernando Alonso's seat while the Spaniard was racing in the Indianapolis 500m, Button was within range of a points-paying finish.  All he had to do was get past Pascal Wehrlein and he'd be a cinch to eventually end up in 10th.  The problem was, Wehrlein had no interest in letting the Brit go traipsing past.  The cameras cut away to watch something else.  A few laps later, we were treated to this view:

It was quickly realized that this was Wehrlein's Sauber, leaning up against the barriers at Portiers.  The good news is that this is a very slow speed corner, the bad news is that F1 cars never end up on their sides so the marshals had not the first idea of what exactly to do, there's no procedures for that.  At least, that's the way it felt as it took seemingly forever to get the Sauber back on its wheels and Wehrlein out.  The German took a ride in the Medical Car as a safety car period was called, but this was mostly a formality: he was fine.  It took only a moment or two for people to wonder where Button was.  It turned out that he was in the run-off area passed the exit of the tunnel.  He had made what could charitably be termed an "optimistic" move to the inside of Wehrlein and interweaved tires with him.  Wehrlein ended up heading for the harbor, while Button suffered a broken suspension.  Amusingly, he was handed a three grid spot penalty for the next race and two points on his Superlicense.  Of course, this was a one-off race for (now most likely) permanently retired Button.

*TO THE END:   The safety car bunched the field back up, of course, but the restart went the way they usually do: the leader got away scot clean.  This was, shall we say, rather unsurprising, given Ferrari's suspected tinkering with the standing earlier.  The field stayed the way it had been for a while: Vettel over Raikkonen, Ricciardo over Bottas over Verstappen.

*POST-RACE:  Somebody is not happy at Ferrari.

Reports are that Raikkonen's engineer was throwing a serious fit in the garage after the race.  On the podium, Kimi's face looked very much like he had just been handed a three-week dead ferret.  It's clear that he has his opinions as to what happened out there.

*OH YEAH:  Over in Monaco's sister city of Indianapolis, Fernando Alonso made a great showing at the Indy 500.  He spent the entire race in the top 10, led a good number of laps, and was in contention to win when his Honda engine let go.  That was the second Honda-powered car to retire with a bum engine, which makes it clear that it isn't just their F1 engines that have reliability problems.  As previously mentioned, Takuma Sato went on to win, much to F1U!'s pleasure.

The next race will be at Montreal in two weeks!  See ya then, eh?

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May 14, 2017

F1 Update!: Spain 2017

Another breezy but nice day greeted the assembled F1 field as they made their way to the grid today at Barcalounger.  The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton was on pole, having beaten rival Seb Vettel to that position by .051 seconds during Quals.  Behind them we found their teammates; Valtteri Bottas was coming off the first race victory of his career, and Kimi Raikkonen, is apparently loved by children everywhere.  Back behind them were the Red Bulls of last year's winner Embryo Verstappen, and Smiley Riccardio who was on record saying that the team could win this race "...if the Mercedes and Ferraris crash."  Optimism, you've gotta love it!  But how would it all work out in the end?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Spain!

*START AND HEARTBREAK
:  When the lights went out the two Mercedes, equipped with what they were calling "new starting procedures (wink wink)" got off the line much quicker than they've done of late.  This did not stop Vettel from getting the lead on Hamilton into Turn 1, but behind them all was chaos.  Bottas went down the inside of the turn with Raikkonen directly outside and just ahead of him and Verstappen coming up on the outside of him.  We here at F1U! are somewhat divided on what happened next, but the upshot was that the Ferrari and the Mercedes bumped.  Whether it was because the older Finn squeezed the younger Finn, or if Bottas was being a little optimistic is open to interpretation.  After the bump, Raikkonen's car jerked a bit to the left, where it immediately made contact with Verstappen.  The two went off, with the Ferrari's left front tire pointed to the right and nearly perpendicular to the direction of travel.  The amount of smoke it was generating as The Iceman tried to nurse it back to the pits was dramatic to say the least.  Verstappen looked okay for the most part, except for a spray of sparks issuing from underneath the front of the car.  Both drivers would retire very soon after.  Behind them the McLaren of Indy Alonso, who qualified a miraculous seventh, was boinked by the Williams of Felipe Not Retired Massa, forcing him through the gravel of the next turn.  The McLaren was undamaged but lost quite a few places and could never challenge for points as a result.  Meanwhile, up in the stands, a young Ferrari fan was distraught by the retirement of one of his heroes.


*MOTORING ON:  Vettel had the lead, it is true, but he could not manage to do much with it.  After getting a 2.50 second lead on the Merc, it held steady there.  However, it was that way solely because of Hamilton's efforts.  Around Lap 7 or so, he radioed in that it wasn't easy to keep pace with the German, and the effort involved in doing so was clearly audible in his voice.  Things looked interesting for the rest of the race.

*MIDWAY
:  Vettel pitted on Lap 14, opting to put on another set of soft tires and coming out in fourth (quickly turning to third after passing Ricciardo) some 11+ seconds behind Bottas in second.  Hamilton stretched his softs out to Lap 21, by which point he was losing great gobs of time to the fresh-rubbered Ferrari.  Crucially, Mercedes put him onto the medium tires.  He rejoined in third... at which point, Mercedes made the decision to have Bottas take one for the team.  It took Vettel a few laps to catch up to the Finn, but it took him three full laps to get by the defensive-driving Bottas.  The next lap, Hamilton breezed past his teammate with a thank-you thumbs-up, only some four seconds behind the Ferrari.  Bottas would pit on Lap 25, rejoining in third, but so far back he would never see the other two again.  The gap between Vettel and Hamilton would open to 6.1 seconds.

*TURNING POINT:  Some 10 laps later, the McLaren of Stoffelwaffle would be knocked out of the race by Massa, who apparently hates McLaren.  As the orange car was dragged out of the kittylitter, a Virtual Safety Car period was triggered.  Hamilton would pit at the very end of it, rejoining on Lap 37 in second place, and back on soft tires.  The next lap saw Vettel come in for the rules-mandated switch to medium tires.  Meanwhile, the Merc driver blazed around the circuit on cold tires trying to take advantage of his opponent's idleness.  It worked beyond anybody's wildest dreams.  Vettel returned to the circuit just as Hamilton was about to go past.  The two dragraced down to Turn 1, Vettel on the inside.  In the turn, the red car went wide, basically hipchecking his rival off-track in a legal but decidedly stiff move.  Hamilton would return to the track less than a second behind the Ferrari.  The chase was on.  Vettel, like Bottas before him, drove a very wide car indeed, never giving the Brit a chance.  Until, that is, Lap 44, when Hamilton got a perfect exit from the final turn and used the DRS advantage down the front straight to steam past Vettel.  Behind them, Bottas' engine, four races old, gave up the ghost with a sound like the turbo had ingested a ferret.  It was now a straight one-on-one fight, Mercedes vs Ferrari, lead driver vs lead driver.

*TO THE END:  While we here at F1U! like to be overly dramatic every now and again, it turned out that the race was over at that point.  Hamilton would open a three-second gap over Vettel, thanks to the soft tires on his car.  The Ferrari would not go away, though, and the Merc driver had to continue to drive as hard as he could.  All it would have taken was a single mistake for Vettel to regain the lead, but it was not to come.  Lewis Hamilton would cross the line about three seconds ahead of Seb Vettel.  Meanwhile, Smiley Riccardio would finish third for his first podium of the year.  The distance between the top two teams and everybody else was clear, however, as the Red Bull was over 65 seconds behind the leader.  The rest of the field had been lapped by the Hamilton/Vettel battle.

*A HAPPY ENDING:  Back in the middle of the race, Ferrari team members contacted the production team from FOM, asking if they could give them some information.  Soon after, we got to see one of the coolest F1 moments ever:

The team had found the crying kid and brought him and his family down to the Ferrari hospitality trailer and he got to meet Kimi Raikkonen, have pictures taken with the Finn, got his hat, the works.  It was a ridiculously sweet moment in a sport and team that has in the past often been quite standoffish.  The boy, who's name is Thomas, would also meet fellow Frenchman Lettuce Grosjean as well as getting to visit team Renault and Nico Hulkenberg.   I think we all know who's winning Show & Tell next time.

Next time, we are in Monaco for the crown jewel of F1... oh, and some oval race in the States, too.  See ya then!

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