November 18, 2018

F1 Backdate: Mexico 2018

Hello, and welcome to the first ever F1 Backdate!  When I'm running stupidly late on coverage of a F1 race, this is going to be the result:  a look back at the most important aspects of the race with benefit of a week's worth of analysis.  Let's get back(date) to it!


*WHAT HAPPENED:  DH Verstappen and False Esteban! had a coming-together on Lap 44.  FE! was in 16th and a lap down on the Dutchman, who was legitimately leading the race and appeared to be cruising to a victory.  However, the Force India driver had only recently emerged from the pits with a brand-new set of tires, while Verstappen was on fairly used rubber.  Thus, False Esteban! was substantially quicker than the Red Bull as they came down the pit straight.  He managed to get alongside the outside of Red Bull, and held that position through Turn 1.  This put him on the inside for Turn 2, and stayed very close to the curb as the two entered the turn.  Verstappen, on the other hand held the normal line.  The result was predictable:
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Not only did Lewis Hamilton, who was trailing Verstappen by a few seconds, take the lead but Verstappen suffered enough damage that he had no chance at all of catching the Mercedes driver.  He still finished second, but his profanity-laced radio calls showed the level of agitation he was suffering.  On the podium, he looked angry enough to spit teeth.  In the interview room, he called the Force India driver "a p*ssy", while Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen had to restrain themselves from laughing out loud.  Verstappen would later get into an altercation with False Esteban! that involved shoving and vituperation.  He would be assigned two days of "public service" by the FIA for that.

*ANALYSIS OR SOMETHING LIKE IT:  So who's to blame for this incident that probably cost Verstappen the victory?  False Esteban! was given a 10-second stop/go penalty during the race, very nearly the stiffest the stewards could hand out, just short of an exclusion.  So no matter what the rules say, the Force India driver was at fault.  That being said, the actual sporting regulations are... contradictory... on this matter.

On one hand, a backmarker is 100% allowed to unlap himself from the leader during a race.  Also, in any passing situation the driver in front must leave at least a one-car gap; clearly Verstappen did not do this, closing down on False Esteban! in Turn 2.  By those rules Verstappen was the cause of the collision.  The rules also say that any pass must be accomplished in a safe and controlled manner, and thus False Esteban! should have backed off and waited, probably making the pass down the back straight with DRS assistance.

But there's also the rules of common sense.  Common sense says that False Esteban! was an idiot to challenge the race leader at that time and place... he was in 16th, for heaven's sake.  What was the point?  He was faster, on fresh tires, and could have waited a couple of turns without costing himself anything... and it's not like the Red Bull wouldn't be passing him again once the Force India's tires wet off.  Common sense also says that DH Verstappen shouldn't have put himself into that position.  He had nothing to gain and everything to lose by futzing about with the backmarker, and should have given him plenty of room.  Think of it like False Esteban! was a drunk fratboy staggering around a party throwing punches.  Anybody with a lick of common sense would move back and avoid the punches.  Verstappen just walked into a punch he could have easily avoided.

I'm inclined to declare this a 'racing incident' and let it go.  False Esteban! was an idiot for trying that move when he did and thus costing the Red Bull driver the win.  DH Verstappen was an idiot for not giving the Force India the room it needed, and thus costing himself the win.  I really want to point at Verstappen and say "you're a fool."  The thing is, could he have really expected the Force India driver to be where he was?  A backmarker isn't supposed to push like that... and that's a failing of the "Blue Flag Mentality" that Formula 1 has.  Slower cars are supposed to get out of the way of the leaders after all.  I don't have an answer for any of that. I'm not sure there is an answer without rewriting the rules.  Both drivers legitimately had a right to be where they were when the accident occurred.

The stewards thought Ocon caused an accident, thus was at fault.  I guess that's the answer we have to go with, but it doesn't overly sit well with me.

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November 05, 2018

F1 Update: Mexico 2018, The Eight Days After Edition

I think doing an actual writeup for the 2018 Grand Prix of Mexico would be somewhat pointless now, so instead let's take a look at the fallout from it, shall we?


*DISPARITY:  For whatever reason, the Mexico track this time around just highlighted the gulf that exists between the Haves and the Have Nots.  Only four cars were on the lead lap at the end: Verstappen, Vettel, Raikkonen and Hamilton, aka Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.  Fifth place was Bottas in the other Mercedes, a lap down.  Then came pretty much everybody else two laps down.  It's been a long time since we've seen that sort of split.  Because it's been such a long time, I'm inclined to not worry too much... things happen like that sometimes.  If it happens again though...

*(THROWS ENERGY DRINK AGAINST WALL):  You'll note that the only driver of the Big Three missing was Smiley Ricciardo.  That's because he DNF'd... again, his eighth of the season, and fourth in the last seven races.  When a clutch problem that began on Lap 5 finally became terminal with 10 laps to go, the Aussie was in second place and under no threat at all from Seb Vettel.  Amusingly, as he walked away from the car, he flipped it off.  It then burst into flames.  Suprisingly, team principal Christian Horner did not burst into flames when Ricciardo later said in an interview that he doesn't "see the point of coming any more, of doing the last two races.  Let Ghastly drive it, I'm done with it."  Of course, he is leaving for Renault next year, and Pierre Ghastly is moving in.  I feel for him, I really do... and also suggest that if Red Bull can get the young Frenchman out of Toro Rosso in time for the next race, they should.  It just seems wrong to have someone that doesn't want to drive in the cockpit... particularly as it won't make any difference: Red Bull is locked into third in the constructor's championship, they cannot gain or lose places.  Neither of their drivers are in any sort of driver's championship points battle, so you may as well put the new kid in the car, get him some practice with the big team.  We love Smiley Ric, but it'd be for the best.

*VERGOIN':  With his win, DH Verstappen became the driver with the most race victories in F1 history never to have gotten a pole position.  He now has five, including Mexico back-to-back years.  I find him to be a sulky brat with a tendency towards self-destruction on the track occasionally, but he's also a talented driver.  And it's not like F1 hasn't seen drivers behaving like children before.  Of course, DH still IS a child, so...

*FIVE: Of course, some guy named Hamilton won his fifth world title with his fourth place finish, joining some fairly exclusive company... St Fangio the Quick and Slappy.  If you're curious, here's the song used in that video.  I don't really have that much to say about Hamilton's championship; he's pretty clearly the best driver in F1 today, he's almost certainly got the best team behind him, and while the car may not be the best on the track anymore, it's not very far behind.  Anybody believe that he couldn't end up with eight Driver's Championships if he feels motivated enough?  It'd be hard to bet against him right now.

*NEXT!:  So what do we have to look forward to in the next two races?  A lot of battles lower down the championship tables, mostly.  Haas shot their chances at being fourth in the constructor's championship in the foot with dual DNFs in Mexico.  They're 30 points behind Renault, while McLaren is 22 points behind them in sixth.  Even if they've only got a third as many points as third place, finishing fourth in the constructor's race in their third year of existence would be quite the thing.  The American team has finished eighth the previous two years.

Brazil is the next race, coming up this weekend... and we all know how much I dearly love Interlagos.  See you soon!

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October 30, 2018

F1 Update: Mexico 2018

Okay, for all of you that have figured out how to be notified when I post something here at The Pond and came looking for what's in the title, I'm sorry.  It ain't here.  I did that just to bring you all here so I can do two things: explain, and apologize.


If you've read The Pond for any length of time (and if you haven't, welcome!  Can I get you something to drink?), you know my job has mandatory overtime every week.  10 hours is the norm, but it occasionally occurs that we end up with more for one reason or another.  Well, that didn't happen.  What did happen, however, is that last week I was... unwell.  Among other things, I had insomnia.  Well, no, not really... if you have insomnia, you're not sleeping at all.  Like many things of late, I half-arsed my insomnia: I was getting a couple of hours here and there.  It actually started that weekend, but I stay up pretty late on the weekends anyway.  Anyway.  Monday morning, I went to work and felt like I was a dog that had just been kicked.  At the end of the usual eight hour day, I just went home.  No whittling away at the overtime, just went home.  Tuesday, I felt like I'd been kicked by a dog that had just been kicked.  Still, overtime waits for no man is an island, so I managed to eke out an hour or so before I gave up and returned to Pond Central.  And then Wednesday morning came around.

My head hurt so badly I was actually surprised there wasn't blood fountaining out my nose.  Despite this, I still tried to go to work.  I never made it past "swinging my legs out of bed".  I crawled back under the covers, called the "call-in" number for work, and immediately fell asleep.  Let me repeat that: I FELL ASLEEP.  Let me repeat that in Xhosa: NDIYA NDALALA. When I woke up, it was close to noon, my head didn't hurt anywhere near as badly, and I dragged myself out into the living room.  So, unexpected day off.  Let's recap now, shall we?  No overtime hours put in on Monday, one hour on Tuesday, and the day off counts for two hours (10 hours divided by five days = 2 hours/day).  That means I had three hours in.  Out of 10.  With two days left to go.  I'd have to do 11.50 hours per day to reach the mandatory.

So there I was on Thursday, still a little bleary-eyed, pounding away at my computer, and my boss stops by and chats with me for a bit.  I mention that she should give me that pot pie she has in her hands, because I'm gonna be here late.  I tell her the sob story.  And she quietly says "give me what you can, and make it up next week."  So I did, and now I am.  I have to do a total of 12 hours, give or take, of overtime this week.  Except there's one little thing...

...I hadn't spent any time with my folks in over a month, and when I took that week off a little while ago, they were in Colorado.  Hard to have lunch with somebody when they're on the Durango & Silverton being chased by elk, and you're in Pond Central trying to figure out where to put your new figure of Shigure wearing coveralls and red Chucks, which is the cutest thing ever.  Anyway, every time we've tried to get together, I've had to cancel on them because of exhaustion, sickness, or both.  The company I work for believes in a work/life balance... your life is work.  See?  Balanced!  So I said "screw it" and met them for dinner at Imperialmandarinpalacegarden, our favorite Chinese place... the name comes from a long time ago, when I couldn't remember what the name of it was... I knew it was either Imperial Palace or Mandarin Garden.  So a new name was born.

Right... uhm... where was... Oh!  So I didn't do any overtime on Monday... meaning I have to do 12 hours in four days.  Four 11 hour days.  I did one of them today, and got home at 10pm.  And then I've been typing this. It's now midnight, and I really need to sleep.  So here's the dealy-o.  I don't know if I'm going to get the chance to do the Mexican GP writeup until the weekend.  Or maybe I'll just throw off a quick reaction post.  I dunno.  I'm tired and grumpy right now, not the best frame of mind to make decisions with.  So let's just say "I dunno." and leave it at that.

I'm sorry.  I know there's at least two or three of you who look forward to the F1U!s, and I've been falling down on them this season.  It'll all work out somehow.  Until then, then!

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October 24, 2018

Not F1Update!: United States 2018

Remember when I said that this race deserved more than a casual couple of minutes thrown together off the cuff?  THIS is your F1 Thrown Together Off The Cuff Update for the 2018 United States Grand Prix!


*THE RACE:  The USGP had almost everything you could possibly want.  It had drama, it had redemption, it had fantastic performances, it had horrible performances at the worst possible times, it was exciting... the only thing it really lacked was a wheel-to-wheel fight for the lead.

In this particular case though, that's okay.  What we did have was a bunch of teams who had no idea how their tires were going to act... it had rained during Friday Practice, Quals were run in cool and cloudy conditions, but the sun was out for the race.  Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of this and took the lead from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at the start of the race.  At the same time, Hamilton's rival for the championship Seb Vettel, starting fifth after shooting himself in the foot with an infraction on Friday, spun his Ferrari and found himself 18th... on a day where he desperately needed to beat Hamilton if he was going to have any chance, realistic or no, to win the championship.

Hamilton was never going to go wheel-to-wheel with Raikonnen, not with the championship on the line.  While it would never really happen, there must have been thoughts of Ferrari instructing Kimi to 'accidentally' punch the Mercedes off the road.  When Smiley Ricciardo saw his Red Bull just... stop working again... a virtual safety car period was called.  Mercedes told Hamilton to do the opposite of Raikkonen: pit if he stayed out, stay out if he pit.  Despite an attempt to trick Hamilton that saw Raikkonen twitch towards the pit-in, the Brit stopped for new tires.

As it turned out, this was the deciding moment in the race though nobody quite knew that yet.  Emerging on fresh, faster tires, Lewis should have been had the race in his pocket... hang back, let the Finn wear his rubber out, take the lead when he pitted, and go quickly enough to negate the time gap, thus winning the race.  Except that's not what happened.

Hamilton instead tried to attack Raikkonen.  For 12 laps, the Ferrari driver defended the lead in a crisp and fair manner.  All the while, Hamilton's efforts began killing his new tires.  By the time Kimi pitted on Lap 21, it was looking evident that Merc's call had been a good one, but Raikkonen's skills on defense had gotten the better of them.  One of the announcers later figured that Hamilton had lost some eight seconds during the laps he was stuck behind the Ferrari.  In any case, as the Finn began to close in on the grip-impaired Mercedes, the team brought Hamilton in for a second stop.

When he returned to the track, he was not only behind Raikkonen, but the other Red Bull of DH Verstappen who had begun the race in 15th place due to a suspension failure in Quals.  With Vettel seemingly stuck in fifth place, unable to get past the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas, all Hamilton had to do is get by the young Dutchman and he'd secure the driver's championship.

He couldn't.  While both cars were closing in on the Ferrari, Hamilton put everything into one solid attempt to get by the Red Bull with a couple of laps remaining.  This failed, though not for lack of trying, and in the squabble Raikkonen was able to return a second back to his lead.  That put paid to any hopes to defeat him.

When the Finn crossed the line, it was his first win since the Australian Grand Prix in March of 2013.  It was a popular result... over at Reddit, the discussion thread for the post-race became the highest up-voted thread in the Formula 1 subreddit's history, hit the top of the front page within one hour of the race ending, and the user who submitted it was given "reddit gold" some 460 times, the most ever for one post.

So now the championship fight moves to Mexico City this weekend, where unless Hamilton DNFs, he should be leaving with his fifth championship.  See ya then.

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October 10, 2018

F1 Update: Japan 2018, The "I've Got To Put Something Up" Edition

Okay, we're sorry to be both late and short with this F1U!.  Recent bouts of unhealthiness and long hours at work have conspired against Japan getting the coverage it deserves.  But we'll give it a try anyway: THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Japan!


*SUMMARY:  Once again, a race is heavily influenced by DH Verstappen getting into predicaments with Ferraris.  Very early in the race, he got into a tete-a-tete for Kimi Raikkonen, earning himself a five-second time penalty and letting Seb Vettel past his teammate without needing team orders... see how it's done, Mercedes?  Now Vettel could have waited for Verstappen to serve his penalty and get into third free-and-clear,  But with Lewis Hamilton leading the race and his teammate Valterri Bottas beginning to pull away, Vettel really couldn't wait.  So he tried to get by the young Dutchman, and after a coming together that was declared a "racing incident", Vettel was suddenly last.  And just like that, Ferrari threw in the towel on Vettel ever catching Hamilton for the World Championship.  At the end of the race, Vettel had managed to claw his way back up to sixth and was nearing his teammate, who was having problems with grip on worn tires.  Ferrari could have commanded Raikkonen to let him by and give him two extra championship points... and didn't.

In any case, Hamilton now has a nigh-on insurmountable lead, and can actually win the championship at the next race, the US Grand Prix.  And thus a season that started with such promise ends just like last year. 

As we said, sorry this is short... hope to do better come Austin time!

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October 02, 2018

F1 Update: Russia 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 17, 2018

F1 Update: Singapore 2018

It was night, it was hot and humid, and it even rained a little bit.  But how did the race turn out?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Singapore!


*OH GOD MAKE IT STOP:  Look, we'll be honest here.  We here at F1U!, we're Formula 1 fans.  We love watching the races, it's a good way to spend two hours when all around is work.  We look forward to these things.

But good lord, did this race suck.  How badly?  The first six positions on the grid were Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo.  When the race ended roughly two hours after the lights went out, the finishing order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo.  Yes that's right, they finished in the same order they started.  The only time these six were NOT in that order on track was during the pit rotation.

Indeed, if it wasn't for backmarker traffic, there wouldn't have been ANY excitement up at the front after the first few laps.  Late in the race, Verstappen was trailing Hamilton when the leader got caught up in some squabbling backmarkers that didn't immediately react to the blue flags.  This balked the Mercedes driver, allowing Verstappen to close right up behind and even give a vague little thought towards trying a pass for the lead.  But then the leaders got by, and the moment was over.

*WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN US?:  This was all down to the track itself.  Much like Monaco, there are very, very few places to attempt a pass at Singapore.  It's very unlikely it'll ever get better, since as a street circuit, there's a limit to how much they can modify the track.  As a spectacle, Singapore is top of the page.  The cars look amazing under the nearly 2000 light projectors used to illuminate the circuit, the surrounding cityscape is awesome at night, and the Singapore Flyer is a remarkable landmark for the cameras to linger over.  But damn-all if the racing is mostly subpar.   We here at F1U! would still rather watch a race here than Hungary, but our mind is beginning to change on that.

*SO WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?:  Hamilton's win, mixed with Vettel's third, means that with six races remaining the Ferrari driver could win every race, and if the Brit finishes second, he'd still win by a point or two.  The championship isn't over... a few reliability problems or random Red Bull-induced crashes could change things overnight... but Vettel is running out of time very very quickly.  We here at F1U! haven't looked recently, because we do not partake in gambling, but we'd be surprised if the British oddsmakers haven't taken the championship off the board yet.

The next race is at Sochi, Russia.  We tremble with fear at another miserable race at that less-than-exciting circuit.  See you then!

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September 04, 2018

F1 Update: Italy 2018

The tifosi were all a-twitter over the possibilities facing them as the Great F1 Circus pulled onto the grid.  Their beloved Ferrari drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Seb Vettel, were perched on the front row, with the Finn having put in the fastest lap in F1 history to grab pole.  Further, everybody knew they had the best car, having slowly but surely moved past their rivals in silver, Mercedes.  Those two worthies held the second row, but Lewis Hamilton held the lead in the driver's championship.  Behind them, the rest of the field could only look on in disgust at the way this had become a two-tier sport: the big guys, and everybody else.  How did all this work out in the end?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Italy!


*START:  "You cannot win a race on the first lap, but you can lose it."  So it is written in the Gospel of St Fangio the Quick.  And lo, it did come to pass when Seb Vettel, trying to defend against Hamilton in the second chicane, banged into the side of the Mercedes.  The next thing we knew, there was a cloud of smoke and the Ferrari driver was back in 17th, for all intents and purposes out of contention.  Which left Raikonnen in the lead, Hamilton in second, DH Verstappen's Red Bull in third and unable to keep up with the first two, and Valterri Bottas in the other Merc in fourth.

*STRATEGERY:  On Lap 20, Raikonnen pitted from the lead.  Hamilton's pit wall informed him that it was now "Hammer Time."  The idea being that if Hamilton could hammer out a few quick laps, he could close the overall time gap to the actual leader, Raikkonen, enough that he could pit and return to the track in the lead.  This is basic strategy, and it usually succeeds when you're talking about a driver the quality of Lewis Hamilton.  Which of course means that it didn't work.  Mercedes left Hamilton out on track until Lap 28, by which time he had actually lost five seconds to the Ferrari driver.  The Ferrari driver who was in second place.  He was there instead of in the lead because Bottas had been promoted to 1st during the pitstop rotation, though he had yet to stop.  Which was all part of Merc's plan, probably ginned up on a napkin right then and there.

*AGONY:  For the next seven or eight laps, Raikkonen tried to get past his fellow Finn.  For seven or eight laps he failed, and burned his tires in the process.  All the while, the Finn fight had allowed Hamilton to close the gap to the Ferrari driver.  Bottas had obviously been told to slow things down, act as a rollling roadblock while sacrificing any chance to win the race himself.    This he did beautifully, driving a wide car while staying just far enough ahead that the Ferrari driver would almost have to push... it was just right there!  Nothing worked.  When Bottas finally peeled off into the pits on Lap 36, Hamilton had gotten close enough to be a threat.

*TOWARDS A NEW LEADER:  And yet, Hamilton didn't push matters.  He just stayed close, ready to jump if Raikkonen made a mistake, but holding a little bit in reserve.  His pit wall had told him that the race would be won or lost on tires, and his opponent had already savaged his.  So Hamilton bided his time, taking a tenth of a second off the lead here, a little bit more there, lap after lap just stalking the Red Car.  And then on Lap 45, Hamilton breezed by as neatly as you please, and the Finn had no tires left to counterattack with.

*THE END:  It was all a matter of formality then.  Raikkonen had so badly hurt his tires that he was losing over a second per lap to the new leader.  And in some small way, Mercedes' strategy of sacrificing Bottas on the altar of Hamilton actually turned out to be a benefit for Ferrari.  Once Bottas returned to the race after pitting, he was stuck in 4th place behind DH Verstappen's Red Bull.  Bottas of course tried to get past the Dutchman, and twice it looked like he would succeed.  On the first try, Verstappen cut a corner and got away with it.  The second time, he actually swerved stiffly towards the side of the Finn's Merc.  This, he did not get away with, and he was soon handed a five second penalty to be tacked on to his final time.  While Verstappen did cross the finish line third, the penalty meant that he was dropped back to fifth.  Bottas, of course, was in third, but there, within five seconds of Verstappen at the end, was Seb Vettel, who did take fourth.  But because Bottas had been stuck behind the Red Bull, that meant he couldn't take the fight to the gimpy Ferrari for second place.  Still, it seems likely that Mercedes was okay with trading second place for third when it got them the overall victory.

*TIFOSI PFUI:  During the post-race interviews/podium ceremony, the tifosi booed Hamilton, and not for the first time.  This time felt particularly egregious, however.  Indeed, no less a voice than ex-Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo went on record saying that he was "disgusted" by the tifosi's behavior.  Not the best way to end what was a rather exciting race.

Next time we'll be in Singapore!  See ya then.

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August 27, 2018

F1 Update: Belgium 2018

"I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out!"  THIS is your F1U! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Belgium!

*LAP 1, TURN 1:  We here at F1U! can completely understand if you thought the race at Spa-Francopants was exciting, because holy frijoles was a first lap!  The race began with the usual charge towards the tightest first turn in Formula 1, La Source.  You come running in at high speed, then immediately slow down to Toyota Camry speeds, turn greater than 90° to the right, then go galloping off towards Eau Rouge.  That's what's supposed to happen, and for the the frontrunners, that's what occurred.  And then you had Nico Hulkenberg.  He was starting 18th because of a power unit change, and decided that he was going to make up all the lost places right away.  At least, that's what we here at F1U! assume happened, because he went careening into La Source with all four tires smoking from locked up brakes after apparently forgetting that there were other cars on track.  The result was... something.
Hulkenberg rammed the back of the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.  This got the McLaren all sorts of wrong, and contact with Charles AMX-30's Sauber sent him airborne.  The car went up and over first the side of, then the front of, the Sauber, dealing a frightful amount of damage to Alonso's chariot.  However, since he came down correct-side up, this was not something that needed to be worried about.  As it turned out, AMX-30 was very nearly decapitated by the front-right wheel of the McLaren when the entire car slid over the Sauber's HALO from right to left.  Indeed, the halo snapped the right-front suspension of the orange and blue car as it went past AMX-30's head. 
The view from the nose of AMX-30's Sauber, looking backwards.
We here at F1U! are not overly fond of the new safety device... it looks all sorts of ugly... but we'll give credit where credit is due: there's an excellent chance it saved a promising young driver's life today.  But that wasn't all that happened, oh heavens no!  See, as Alonso's car began its wild journey towards the sky, it snipped off the rear wing of Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull.  That caused the Aussie's vehicle to contact Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in passing, destroying its right-rear tire.  Both cars limped to the pits, both cars got repaired (you don't often see a rear wing replacement in F1!) and went back out.  Both cars would be forced to retire soon after, meaning Hulkenberg's Wild Ride was responsible for destroying a full quarter of the Belgian Grand Prix field!  That deserves a wow, at least!

*THE STRAIGHT: As one can imagine, a safety car was called out, but not immediately.  This gave us just enough time for the leaders to go charging down the Kemmel Straight, Seb Vettel's Ferrari leading Hamilton's Mercedes leading the two Force Indias.  Except that makes it sound like they were nose to tail... they weren't.  No, as they came to the end of the straight, doing something like 180-190mph, they were four wide.
False Esteban! was on the inside for the approaching right-hand turn, but had to back off since Vettel had the racing line.  Lawsuit Perez on the outside was just beaten into the turn by Hamilton, and wound up third.  Just for the record?  NASCAR doesn't usually go four wide ever: that way lays madness.  Just sayin'.

*SAFETY IN SPEED: The safety car lasted for four or five laps, an eternity around the 7+ km long Spa circuit.  And then came the restart.  Vettel did a fantastic job on snookering Hamilton, leaving him desperately gasping for air once things went green again.  How fantastic?  He had a full second lead on the Mercedes into Turn 1.  That's pretty impressive.  Sadly, it was so impressive Mercedes basically pulled the plug on trying to catch the Ferrari.  Oh, they tried for a while, but once it became clear that Vettel could keep the gap at any amount of time that he wanted they stopped trying.  Gotta protect that engine, don'tchaknow?  And once DH Verstappen made his inevitable way past the two Force India cars (they were a great story, but we knew it was coming, didn't we?), the podium was set... with over half the race to go.  To be sure, there was still a little racing going on... Valterri Bottas, who started 17th in his Mercedes managed to haul himself all the way to 4th... but nothing earthshaking.  In effect, the race was over by the end of the first lap.

*FORCE INDIA Ver. 2.0: With their fifth-sixth place finish today, (Racing Point) Force India scored 18 points in the Constructor's Championship.  They are now in 9th place, ahead of Williams, only one point behind Sauber, and 12 points behind Toro Rosso for 7th.  Amusingly, they are also ahead of (Deadbeat) Force India, in 11th with zero points.  Realistically they could get as high as 6th place... and wouldn't that be a performance with only half-a-season to do it in?

Right, Monza is this coming weekend... prepare for speedspeedspeed!

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July 02, 2018

F1 Update!: Austria 2018

The skies above the Osterreichring A1-Ring Red Bull Ring were clear for the first time all weekend when the Thundering Herd made its way to the grid.  While this made for a pretty view, it also meant that the surface of the track was experiencing something for the first time all weekend: heat.  The asphalt was nearly 120º F under the blazing sun, and the teams were glancing nervously at their tires.  Would the race be affected?  Would the softest compound tires turn into rubber-flavored ice cream?  Who would benefit?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Austria.


*LIGHTS OUT: While the start was frantic, by the end of the first lap it turned out to be a lot of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.  Polesitter Valterri Bottas, who earlier had said that you had to really screw up your start to lose places in the short run to the first turn, proceeded to screw up his start and lose places.  He was shuffled down to fourth, but when Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull's DH Verstappen squabbled amongst themselves for second, Bottas basically said "you guys have fun, I've got a race to win" and took the place for himself.  That he settled in behind his teammate Lewis Hamilton was... ominous, however.  It very much looked like a Mercedes 1-2 snoozefest was in the works.

*OR... NOT!:  We here at F1U! thought the heat would bother more than just tires today, wondering among ourselves if the cars would have problems too.  The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg potentially made us look like geniuses when he pulled over on Lap 10, smoke and flame blowing out the back of his car.  He took care to put it somewhere far off track so there was no safety car needed.  No, that little gift occurred just two laps after Hulkenberg toasted marshmallows, when Bottas' Mercedes rolled to a stop with no hydraulic system to speak of.  Alas, he was unable to be as considerate as the Renault driver and the recovery process required a Virtual Safety Car to be called for.  And therein lies a tale.

*THROW IT AWAY:  The heat of the day had already thrown the strategists into something of a tizzy.  Before race day, a one-stop race was almost certainly in the offing.  Now, however, the starting tires were liquefying on the hot asphalt and nobody was quite sure how long they'd last.  Surprisingly, the calling of the VSC did not solve the problem: Lap 12 of a 71 lap race was too early to be sure of making a one-stopper.  Which didn't make a whit of difference: VSC means "free pitstop", almost as free as an actual safety car.  Everybody piled into the pit lane, Ferrari and Red Bull so eager to get onto new rubber that they double-stacked their cars... the second one had to wait for the first to be worked on before it could make its stop.  Fresh tires all around!  Except... um... well, Mercedes didn't bring in Lewis Hamilton from the lead.  The reason was simple: they took too long to figure out if they needed to.  By the time they made the call, he was already past pit-in.  By the time he made it back around to pit-in, the VSC had ended.  Hamilton still had the lead, clear of the pack by 12 seconds, but he still needed to stop.

*IT TAKES SOUR GRAPES TO MAKE A FINE WHINE: Clearly remembering the debacle of Australia, where Mercedes threw away a Hamilton win due to a VSC-based mistake, the reigning champion was on the radio asking how in the world the pit wall could screw up again.  His complaining got so bad that the team's strategist, James Vowles, got on the radio and said "I threw away the win, but you can still do what you can."  The team pitted their man around Lap 25.  He came out in 4th, just ahead of Seb Vettel's Ferrari, with the hardest compound of rubber on the hubs.

*REALLY?  WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT US TO DO?:  Of course, Hamilton hated the new tires.  He couldn't get any pace with them, they didn't feel right, they were blistering (this one was probably true: we haven't seen that many blisters since the last  time we went to the beach) they were too round, etc etc etc.  Eventually, they brought him in for a new set of supersofts, we suspect as much to get him to shut up as to give him speed.  This time he came back out in 5th place, behind the Red Bull of Smiley Riccardio.  Who promptly pulled over with a gearbox full of metal shavings and neutrals.

*MEANWHILE:  Smiley's teammate, DH Verstappen, was in the lead by a handful of seconds over Kimi Raikkonen.  The Ferrari driver was slowly closing the gap though, as was Vettel to his teammate.Hamilton was a more distant 20 seconds back, but setting fast laps consistently.  Verstappen, though, seemed to be the only driver out there to NOT be having some sort of problem with his tires.

*REWHINE: And then Hamilton pulled over with what proved to be a fuel pressure problem.  All around Austria, dogs lifted their heads and looked towards the Red Bull Ring as his complaints became inaudible to human ears.  One can only expect that there's going to be many vacancies at the Mercedes team at Silverstone.

*THE REST OF THE WAY:  Hamilton's retirement had the pleasant side-effect of promoting the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean into 4th place, the best finish in the team's history.  Even better, DP Magnussen, his Haas teammate, was right behind him in 5th.... an amazing result for a team that's had some bad luck this season thus far.  But the race belonged to DH Verstappen, who didn't put a foot wrong the whole afternoon.  The twin Ferraris stayed close, and if the Dutchman had erred they would have been past him in a flash, but it never happened.  Here at F1U!, we're not overly fond of the kid, but credit where credit is due... he won this race on merit, it wasn't handed to him at all.  On an afternoon when everybody had tire problems due to the heat, Verstappen didn't... and he brought Red Bull their first victory at their home track.

*NEXT UP: Stop #3 on the triple-header is Silverstone, this coming weekend.  See ya then! 

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June 25, 2018

F1 Update!: France 2018, The First Person Edition

For this I hurried home from work?  THIS?  This is your F1 Update! for the 2018 Ball Of Dreck Grand Prix of France.


*LIGHTS OUT MEANS RACE OVER:  I had hope.  Sure, Lewis Hamilton was on pole and the Mercedes was looking like the mean machine of old.  But his teammate Valterri Bottas was next to him, and his main rival for the driver's championship, Ferrari's Seb Vettel was right behind.  It shouldn't be a runaway I thought.  Either should be able to challenge Hamilton, either at the start or as the race went on... the Merc isn't that much better than the Ferrari, after all.  And then the race began and as they came into Turn 1, Vettel and Bottas got tangled up with each other.  The Ferrari needed a new nose (and was hit with a five second time penalty for causing an accident), the Merc needed... well, it needed the sort of repairs you can do at a six-hour long World Endurance Championship race, but is hard to pull of in a 90-minute F1 race... so he had to do without, and the car was limping all day because of it. 

Meanwhile, in a frantic bid to escape the carnage DH Verstappen went running off towards Paris on the huge expanse of runoff area that is Circuit Paul Ricard, only to rejoin in second place.  Now I'm no expert on F1 or anything... I'm just a hyperintelligent duck that can type... but I thought if you gained an advantage by going off-track, you're supposed to return the positions.  Verstappen probably shouldn't have been in second at this point, but hey, what do I know?  Another few turns later saw another schmozzle, this time hilariously between False Esteban! and Pierre Ghastly, two Frenchmen in their home race.  Both were out on the spot, mon dieu, and the dark form of Berndt Maylander was summoned to add to his total of more than 700 Formula 1 laps led.

And thus ended the race.

*OH YOU WANT DETAILS?:  Hamilton nailed the restart and thenceforth was never threatened.  What excitement there was came from Seb Vettel's fight from the rear.  He clawed his way up the field, getting as high as third before his tires began to give up the ghost.  A late pitstop saw him end up in fifth, not horrible, but still surrendering a metric ton of points to his Mercedes rival.

Really, the only question was if Smiley Ricciardio would manage to usurp Kimi Raikkonen for third, while DH Verstappen held in an iron grip.  As has been the norm for quite a few years now, the Ferrari Finn managed to get on the podium... for what turned out to be the 25th time without a victory, a new F1 record.  Which makes one wonder, is he still really good?  Or is he okay, and will never win again?  Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen!

Oh, and Verstappen finished in second.  Yay, I guess.

*FRANCE, WHICH IS FRENCH FOR "BAD F1 TRACKS.":  In the... what, 14 or 15 seasons I've been an "adult" Formula 1 fan (as opposed to those years back in the 70s and early 80s when I'd see the Monaco GP on ABC's Wide World Of Sports a few weeks after it actually happened), they've raced on two circuits in France.  The first was Mangy-Curs, the only circuit that I dislike more than Hungary.  They stopped racing there in 2008, and a better decision has never been made.  And now they've returned to France, with Paul Ricard.  Interestingly enough, Paul Ricard was NOT constructed as a racing circuit, but as a test track.  There's something like 170 different configurations available at the place, and there's even sprinklers built in if you want to test in the wet.  But it's an awful, awful place to race... it's DULL.  AND it's owned by Bernie Ecclestone.

That should tell you everything you need to know about the place.

Next up, we go to the Red Bull Ring in Austria.  I'm not sure why.  See ya then!

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June 11, 2018

F1 Update!: Canada 2018

A warm, partly cloudy day greeted the F1 Circus as they pulled up to the starting grid on the Ile Notre-Dame's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  Ferrari's Seb Vettel was on pole, but the Merc of Valterri Bottas and the surprisingly quick Red Bull of DH Verstappen were clearly about to go hard at him from the start, hoping to steal a march on the red car.  So what happened and how did it happen?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Canada!


*THE START WAS INTERESTING: When the red lights extinguished Vettel got away clean, but Bottas had Verstappen all over him for the first few turns.  It took the oomph of the Merc power unit to get the Finn clear, but the Red Bull stuck all over his diffuser.  Until the safety car was called out a few seconds later when Pleasant Stroll got a touch squirrelly and bumped into the Toro Rosso of Brendan Hartley.  

Just for the record, this is not an angle you want to be seeing from this camera.  Unsurprisingly, both cars were out of the race and Berndt Maylander was roused from his ancient slumber to take the safety car for a spin.  He was out for four laps before he was sent back to whence he came.  Seb Vettel handled the restart pretty much flawlessly and the race continued on.

*THE MIDDLE NOT SO MUCH:  Tires.  Everybody was protecting their tires and hoping for another safety car because it's just too damn hard to pass in F1 right now.  You need a massive speed advantage, more than just the DRS, to make a pass and have it work.  So in lieu of that, everybody protects their tires, trying to stretch them as far as possible and hope for a break somewhere.  The drivers hate it, of course, and so do the fans.  This went on for lap after lap after lap, until the race was almost done.

*THE END WAS... INTERESTING: The laps counted down, and Seb Vettel was never challenged.  On Lap 69, he came through the final chicane and onto the pit straight to take the checkered flag.  Which is fine and good, but for one thing: the race is 70 laps long.  As a result of this gaffe, per regulations the standings devolve back two laps, so the 2018 Grand Prix of Canada was actually 68 laps long officially.  Oy.  Vettel led the entire race, and it never looked like he was ever concerned.

*WHAT NEXT?:  What's next is the 2018 24 Hours of LeMans, featuring Fernando Alonso driving for the LMP1 favorite, Toyota.  Gunning for the triple crown (LeMans, Indy 500, Monaco) no doubt.  For the first time ever in the US, the entire race will be shown on ONE channel, Velocity.  Look for it on your satellite feed!  It starts at 9am Central on Saturday.

*NO REALLY... WHAT'S NEXT?:  Still France.  F1 returns to France for the first time since Mangy-Curs went away, heading off to Paul Ricard Circuit.  While it's been a long time, F1 has raced there before and it's often been a testing location as well.  Should be fun, I guess!  See ya then!

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May 29, 2018

F1 Update!: Monaco 2018

Unlike the previous days of the race weekend, the skies above the world's second-smallest sovereign nation were kinda not great.  A small chance of rain proved to be naught but a tease... we were to be treated to a dry race.  Which should have been a good thing!  This was the first time we were to see Pirelli's new Hypersoft tires... imagine a fresh Krispy Kreme cake donut... which promised to be as close to a "qualifying tire" as we're likely to ever see.  For those unaware, back in the "old" days, qualifying used to be a one-car-one-lap affair, as opposed to the much superior knock-out qualifying we have today.  A qualifying tire was specifically designed to last one, maybe two hot laps, before completely failing.  But the grip!  They would hold the road with all the tenacity of a T-Rex locking onto the neck of a hamburgerosaurus.  Combine that with qualifying engines that would generate 1200hp or more, but would grenade themselves after only a couple of hotlaps, and qualifying was quite the spectacle.  But we digress.  The field today was led by Smiley Ricciardo, who had the 2016 Monaco grand prix victor stolen from him by a failed pit stop.  Would he cash in this time?  THIS is your F1U! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Monaco! 


*ZZZZZZZZZZZZ: Monaco is always a spectacle.  Fast cars whizzing down narrow city streets at ridiculous speeds while spectators hang out on patios drinking glamourous beverages, there's seriously nothing like it in the world.  Watching the Thundering Herd charging down to Ste Devote in one massive pack is one of the great moments in a Formula 1 season.  Unfortunately, it was probably the highlight of this year's race too.  Ricciardo kept the lead through the first turn, opened up a 1.2 second lead over Ferrari's Seb Vettel with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton behind him.  It became apparent quite quickly that the Red Bull was the chassis of choice for the tight confines of Monaco, as once we reached the first pitstops there had been no challenge posed to him.

*ACTION!  DRAMA!  SUSPENSE!  TIRES!!!:  All of the top runners had qualified on the hypersoft tires.  When the pitstops were over, everybody save for Merc's Valterri Bottas had gone onto the ultrasoft.  Bottas went onto the supersoft rubber... which actually turned out to be the better choice for the day.  The ultrasofts turned out to be stupid-sensitive, graining at the drop of a hat, so the first four runners (Ricciardo, Vettel, Hamilton, and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen) went into tire management mode.  Gone were the thrilling high-speed dives and dashes and swerves around the narrow racetrack, replaced by what appeared to be elderly ladies terrified by the gas pedal.  The only drama now was to see who could keep their ultrasofts alive until the end of the race, or was Bottas going to win when the tires fell off the other four?

*ALMOST DRAMATIC:  Around one-third of the way through the race, Ricciardo reported a drop in power.  A few minutes later, the pit wall got back to him, saying in effect that they knew what the problem was.  "Is it going to get better" asked the driver.  "...no." came the response.  It turned out the MGU-K in his engine had failed... that's the part that harvests energy from braking and channels it into the batteries worth about 125hp.  In other words, he was going to be down about 1/4th his power for the rest of the race.  Sounds bad... and it would be at any other circuit but Monaco.  Here, though, it's already the slowest track and the most difficult to pass on.  If you're going to lose power, this is the place to do it.

*NOPE:  Vettel kept pressure on the Red Bull all day, but couldn't come anywhere near close enough to make a move.  And everybody's tires held together for the 60 laps since the pit stops... because nobody was pushing.  The result?  A dull processional that saw the top six qualifiers finish in exactly the same position they started.  Yeesh.  Even the devoted F1U! crew couldn't stay awake for the whole thing.

At least the next race should be a little more interesting as we head to Canada!  See ya then!

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April 29, 2018

F1 Update!: Azerbaijan 2018, The Ruminations Edition

A windy day greeted the Thundering Herd as they waited for the crimson illumination to extinguish.  Gusts of up to 30mph, they said.  Seb Vettel, on pole in his Ferrari, surely didn't seem worried, either of the wind or of his opponent, Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, right along side.  And why should he have been?  He was leading the Championship, the Ferrari had proven to be the fastest on track this season, it all looked bright and shiny for him.


*MOST OF THE RACE: Taken in the macro, most of the 2018 GP of Azerbaijan wasn't overly exciting.  Yes, in the micro you had drama, but it didn't look like it was going to amount to anything, not really.  It was brought to us by the two Red Bull teammates, Smiley Ricciardio and DH Verstappen.  The two of them decided that they had to go at each other hammer and tongs all day, no matter what it meant to their personal chances for the race or the benefit lost to the team.  Four or five times they clashed, bumping at least twice and once hard enough to draw smoke from their tires, in a race-long fight that had to be causing team boss Christian Horner to lose his cool.

It's good this was going on, because up at the front we had all the makings of a complete runaway.  Seb Vettel had a two second lead after the end of the first lap.  While an early safety car would kill that lead, the restart saw the Ferrari driver leave Hamilton in the dust.  A flat spot on the Mercedes made it even harder for the Brit to make up time, and a pit stop put him behind his teammate Valterri Bottas.  Vettel stopped 10 laps later, coming out behind Bottas who had yet to stop, and ahead of Hamilton.  It all looked bright and shiny for Vettel; the gap to Bottas would go away when the Finn stopped for new tires, yet Bottas would probably return to the race ahead of Hamilton... perfect!

And then those wacky Red Bull guys showed up again.

*RACECHANGER:  Ricciardio had slipped behind Verstappen, falling into fifth, but had DRS enabled as they came down the 2km long front stretch and was closing fast.  Approaching Turn 1, he faked to the right (which Verstappen fell for, moving to block) then went to the left.  

And so did Verstappen.

Suddenly, the gap Ricciardio had been aiming for was gone and the rate of closure was so fast that there was nothing he could do.  The resulting nose-to-tail collision knocked both cars out of the race, caused Christian Horner to shoot blood out his ears, and Red Bull owner Dr Helmut Marco to say something fierce in German.  Of course, everything sounds fierce in German so that's not saying much.  Both drivers would be reprimanded by the FIA, and Horner made it perfectly clear that both would be apologizing to the team... possibly by being flayed alive.

Out came the safety car on Lap 40 of 51

*SPRINT:  With the appearance of the safety car, the entire texture of the race changed.  Instead of being Vettel's to lose, it suddenly became Bottas' to win as he could make his stop for tires without any loss of time.  Now he had the lead, a fresh set of ultra-soft tires (as did the rest of his challengers), and an ever-shortening number of laps to deal with.  It wasn't until Lap 47 that the safety car period ended, extended thanks to Lettuce Grosjean binning his Haas whilst trying to warm his tires.

Bottas handled the restart about as well as you can, getting an early jump on Vettel, et al.  On any other circuit, this would have worked a treat, but at Baku it just means you're giving your opponents a tow down't the long, long front straight. A tow that Vettel, Hamilton AND Raikkonen tried to exploit.  Vettel made a daring attempt at a pass going into Turn 1, locked up his front brakes, and simply skidded right past Bottas.  While he attempted to recover, Hamilton and Raikkonen both passed him, sending Vettel down to fourth, and with a massive flatspot to boot.  He would later lose another position to the Force India of Sergio Perez.

Then, at the end of the lap/beginning of Lap 48, Bottas ran over a chunk of debris and had his right-rear tire dissolve... just past the entry to the pit lane.  He did, eventually, get the car parked safely, but his race was over thanks to a piece of metal nobody saw.  FROM THE LEAD.

This promoted Hamilton to the lead, a position he would not relinquish.  Kimi Raikkonen finished second, just ahead of an ecstatic Sergio Perez and Force India pit crew.  Vettel finished fourth.

So a vaguely dull race saved by the final 10 laps or so.  Not bad!  Next race is Spain in two weeks... see ya there!

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April 11, 2018

F1 Update!: Bahrain 2018, The Thoughts And Statements Version

Hello everybody!  As we here at F1U! are clearly not able to work on deadlines, we decided to actually talk about the race instead of do a formal writeup..  Cool?  Cool.  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Bahrain!


*QUICK OVERVIEW: If you were raised on oval racing like you see in NASCAR or at the Indianapolis 500, you'd've watched this race and gone "what the hell was that?"  There wasn't all that much passing and a lot of "gap racing", where drivers were just sort of out in the woods alone.  It may have even happened that you'd've turned the race off after one of the teams so badly screwed up a pit stop that they only changed three wheels.  Not to mention another team having both of their cars die in the space of a couple of laps.  You would have been very, very wrong to do so... this was one of the most exciting races we've seen in a long time if you knew what you were watching.

*1-2-3-4, I DECLARE A TIRE WAR: This race was all about tires.  Ferrari's Seb Vettel, the polesitter, began the race on the super-soft compound, as did Mercedes' Valterri Bottas, starting from third.  Qualifying in fourth but dropped to ninth due to a penalty, the Merc of Lewis Hamilton was clearly going for the obvious one-stopper as he had on the soft tires.  Pirelli had said that the expected life of the super-softs was 25 laps, the softs could go 30, and the medium tires 40 of the 57 lap race.  We here at F1U! expected both Vettel and Bottas to go supersoft-soft-supersoft, or maybe flip the last two.  Meanwhile, Hamilton would probably go soft-medium, as there was evidence that the hardest compound available for the race was fairly good around the track.

Vettel made his first stop on Lap 18, going to the soft tire as predicted.  Mercedes, however, had watched the McLaren of LeMans Alonso very closely when he put on the mediums during his Lap 14 stop.  When that worthy had managed to make good time, and having failed to bring Bottas in before Vettel for the undercut and attempt to pass him in the pits, the team changed plans on the fly and put the Finn on medium tires during his Lap 20 stop.  Hamilton put on the mediums on Lap 27.  This left Vettel and Ferrari in an unenviable position.  While he held the lead, he wasn't able to open up a big enough gap to Bottas to be able to make a second stop and not lose the place... and probably drop to third behind Hamilton as well.  While he'd be on the softest tire, and thus faster, he'd still have to fight for the win from behind.  Getting past Hamilton would be doable, though with effort... but could Vettel then chase down Bottas and get past him to take the lead?  Dubious.  So Ferrari did the only thing they really could do:

They left their man out there, hoping that the soft tires would last nine laps longer than Pirelli said they would.

*EPIC RUN: Vettel had the grip advantage, but couldn't use it without killing his tires.  Mercedes could use their tires to the fullest, but would the slower rubber be fast enough?  For Hamilton, who earlier had passed three cars at one time, the answer was no.  He wound up in third, about seven seconds back.  For Bottas though, the question was still in doubt.  With seven laps to go the Finn was five seconds back. Then it was four.  Three.  Two. As Vettel and Bottas began the final lap, they were within one second of each other, and Bottas could use DRS... and still couldn't get past.  The Merc driver had one last chance going into the final turn.  A daring driver like Smiley Ricciardo, who has made a living out of being the last of the great late brakers, would have had a go.  Bottas made a token effort and backed off, ceding the win to Ferrari.  Vettel later said that the last 10 laps had seen his tires turn into bagels, barely able to grip the tarmac, but he'd made them work for a nicely won race.

*FERRARI FAILURE FRACTURES FRANCESCO'S FIBULA:  The keen-eyed reader might have noticed a disturbing lack of Kimi Raikkonen, who started the race in second for Ferrari, during the above race report.  That's because Ferrari had an awful pitstop for the ages on Lap 35.  Raikkonen did his job, stopping the car in exactly the right spot, the mechanics fell to work, getting three tires changed... but the left-rear tire never came off the car.  Despite this minor detail, the car was released to return to the race... despite mechanics still working on the left-rear tire.  Francesco Cigarini, who is the mechanic that fits the new tire to the car, was in his position waiting for the old tire to come off when the Ferrari pulled away.  The tire snapped his lower left leg in what can only be described as "an ugly way."  Raikkonen made it a few car lengths away before the team told him to stop... nobody knew what sort of state the left-rear tire was in, was it locked down or loose, that sort of thing.  Cigarini underwent emergency surgery shortly after the incident, and his instagram account showed him up and walking with crutches and a medical person for support within 24 hours of the incident.  

While nobody is entirely sure what happened, the prevailing theory is that Ferrari's automated pit release system is based on two factors: is the car off the jacks, and are the four tire nuts on the tire.  Usually this means "have all four tires been removed, new ones put in place and secured?"  This time, though, the conditions were met without the left-rear tire being removed... hey, the nut was on after all!  The FIA fined Ferrari €50000 and an investigation is ongoing.

*RED BULL... REALLY, WHAT THE HELL?:  The team sponsored by the Austrian drink maker went into the race on Sunday feeling pretty good about their chances. Smiley Ricciardo was to begin in fifth, while it was assumed that Embryo Verstappen, starting in 15th due to an accident in quals, would be able to get up among the leaders quickly enough.  Instead, Ricciardo's car just... turned itself off after one lap, forcing him to pull over and retire the car.  At very nearly the same time, Verstappen bumped into Lewis Hamilton, resulting in a puncture.  As he limped his way through almost a full lap, the vibrations from the imbalanced tire assembly were transmitted into the gearbox, which soon went all wonky-doodle.  Both Red Bulls were out within three laps of the race start.  Team boss Christian Horner later described this as "extremely disappointing."

*GHASTLY NEWS:  Toro Rosso was over the moon by the end of the race, as their man Pierre Ghastly brought the Honda-powered car home in fourth place.  The surprising thing is that nobody on the team knew where the speed came from.  We here at F1U! know that we've never heard a team say "we'll have to examine the data to see why we were so fast" before.

Next race is in China this coming Sunday!  See you then.

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March 26, 2018

F1 Update!: Australia 2018

The weather was sunny and comfy down in Melbourne as the F1 horde made its way to the starting grid for the first race of the year.  Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes sat on the pole, but the two Ferraris hovered ominously over his shoulders, looming menacingly behind him.  A little farther back, the ever-present Red Bulls stalked the leaders looking for the opportunity to charge.  The American team, Haas, was a pleasant surprise right behind them and gunning for their first podium.  So what happened during the race?  Who did what?  It's a new season, full of hope and wonderment... it's the 2018 Grand Prix of Australia, and THIS is your F1 Update! for it!


*EARLY DAYS:  Once the lights went out, the start went much as you would expect... at least for the first three grid spots.  Hamilton held the lead, just ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel, but Embryo Verstappen did... something... at the start and was quickly gobbled up by the Haas of K-Mag for fourth.  Only an impending turn kept Lettuce Grosjean's Haas from relegating Dutchboy to fifth... but only for a few laps, as Verstappen pushed a bit too hard going into Turn 1 and went into a lovely pirouette.  And away went Grosjean, promoted to fifth.

*STRATEGERY:  And none of it mattered.  Hamilton was pretty much untouchable out in front, despite the noticeably quick Ferraris behind it.  That's no real surprise... the surprise was that it was Kimi Raikkonen and not Seb Vettel that was clearly the faster of the two Red Cars.  That was quite uncommon in 2017, and there was nothing to indicate going into the new season that anything was going to change.  Instead, the Finn had nearly a five second lead on his teammate when Ferrari did the sensible thing, strategy-wise.  They tried to undercut Hamilton by bringing Raikkonen into the pits first, and hope that he could put in a hot lap or two to jump Hamilton when Mercedes brought him in.  It didn't work; Hamilton pitted one lap later, and returned to the track in second place, ahead of Raikkonen.  Both were now some 13 seconds behind Vettel, but as the pit delta was somewhere around 22 seconds or so, unless the German did some real fancy driving, he was going to end up back in third when he pitted.  Ferrari left him out in the lead, doing the other half of the high-low strategy... in theory, they had Mercedes cornered.  Problem is, they had Lewis Hamilton cornered, and he was not one to sit idly by as the walls close in around him.  Sometimes you can have the best strategy ever, and your opponent still trounces you.

*AND A ONE AND A TWO: On Lap 23, K-Mag brought his Haas into the pits; he was still in 4th place, his teammate just a couple of seconds behind.  Things were looking quite rosy for the American team... even if they didn't finish 4-5 because the Red Bulls got by them, 6-7 is nothing to sneeze at either.  In came K-Mag, out went K-Mag... and shortly thereafter came a radio call: "The suspension is broken!"  He brought his car to a stop on the side of the track with what turned out to be a cross-threaded and unengaged wheel nut.  Though everything looked and more importantly felt fine to the man on the tire gun, the Haas essentially went back on track with one of its wheels totally loose.  The quick camera shot of the Haas pit crew was more than a little sad.  But at least they still had Lettuce Grosjean looking equally racy!  A lap after K-Mag's day came to an end, the Frenchman was summoned into the pits for fresh rubber... and shortly thereafter pulled his car over to the side of the road with a loose wheel.  Again with the cross-threaded wheel nut.  If the first look at the Haas pit crew was sad, the next one was heartbreaking... stunned looks, and one mechanic clearly going "backstage", as it were, helmet still on so nobody could see his face, clearly distraught.  Though not confirmed, it's easy to assume that that was the wheelgunner.  However the nightmare occurred, it left us with two cars stranded just off the track on a circuit with very little space to spare.  A Virtual Safety Car was announced.

*VIRTUAL LESSON TIME:  To understand what happened next, one must understand exactly what occurs in Virtual Safety Car conditions.  First, since there is no physical safety car, drivers stay separated out on track.  If Car 1 is 100 yards ahead of Car 2, that gap will stay roughly the same throughout the VSC period.  With a real safety car, the entire field gathers behind Berndt Maylander.  Second, cars are required to drive to a certain time in each of the three sectors of a lap on track.  We'll be making numbers up for this next bit, but while the numbers may be wrong, the idea is correct.  Okay, the VSC is called, and Vettel immediately dives into the pits.  Remember, the pit delta time was 22 seconds... that's 22 seconds to drive to your pit box, change tires, leave the pit box, drive to the end of the pit lane, and regain the track.  At the time of the VSC, Vettel's lead was 13 seconds, more or less... substantially less than the pit delta.  But under the VSC, everybody slows to the same speed, thus keeping the gaps on track the same.  But!  That 13 second lead that Vettel had was at full race pace, not the substantially slower VSC pace.  If the VSC pace slows the cars down to half the speed they'd normally go, that means that it takes double the amount of time to go any distance.  Now normally under the VSC, nobody cares about that since everybody is going the same speed.  Here though, it made all the difference in the world.  The 13 second gap between Vettel and Hamilton suddenly became a 26 second gap as it would take the trailing car twice as much time at half-speed to cover the distance between the cars.  

*BETTER LUCKY THAN FASTER: When the Virtual Safety Car was announced, Vettel was 13 seconds ahead of Hamilton, and Ferrari immediately called him into the pits for his tire change.  As he entered and exited the pit lane, he actually sped up as "pit in" and "pit out" are NOT considered to be "on track."  He just had to get himself slowed down to pit lane limiter speed (on the way in) and VSC speed (on the way out) before he crossed the timing lines used to delineate the limits.  That gave him an extra little bit of time to work with... not much, but some.  Ferrari changed his tires quickly and with no trouble, and the time he spent in the pits was essentially that of the delta: 22 seconds.  He returned to the track with a four-second lead over Hamilton, who had taken 26 seconds to cover what under normal racing conditions would have taken 13 seconds.  Hamilton was soon heard on the radio asking what went wrong, did he make a mistake or what?  Post-race, Mercedes seemed to be leaning towards a flaw in their strategy software... while details are sketchy, it seems that it wasn't calculating gap times correctly.  The team had Hamilton driving a bit slower than he was capable of, to preserve his tires, save fuel, and to be easier on the engine, because their software was telling them that they had a big enough gap to be safe if a VSC occurred.  And thus did Mercedes relinquish the lead to Ferrari.

*TO THE BITTER END: The race wasn't over, not by a long shot.  There were nearly 30 laps left to go at this point, and Hamilton spent most of the remaining laps within DRS range of Vettel.  There were two problems to be dealt with by the Merc driver.  First, Albert Park Circuit is considered by some to be the most difficult track on the calendar to pass on, save for Monaco.  It's relatively narrow, and there's no one turn that says "aha, here's a good place to pass."  And second, his engine (well, his "power unit") was overheating, and the team was telling him to lift-and-coast into turns to keep things cooler.  Since each car only gets three full power units this season, it's imperative to keep them going for as long as possible.  It wasn't until just a handful of laps remained that the team let him off the leash... and by then, his tires were shot, and Vettel's were some seven laps fresher.  The Ferrari would finish the race some five seconds ahead of Hamilton, who was a second ahead of a hard-pushing Raikkonen.  Another second behind the Finn came the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo.  Back in fifth, some 20 second behind the Aussie, came a sight unseen in quite a while: the McLaren of LeMans Alonso.  Fifth was a better finishing position for the new McLaren/Renault pairing than the team had in three years with Honda.

*FINAL THOUGHTS: It's hard to judge just exactly what the relative pace is between Ferrari and Mercedes right now.  The Merc was faster up front in clean air, but when it was in second it was a whole different story, very twitchy indeed.  The Ferrari is clearly slower than the Merc, but just how much slower is still a mystery.  Yet they still won the race.  We here at F1U! are loathe to make predictions, particularly after just one race, but... we're leaning towards a relatively easy Mercedes championship.  The lucky VSC isn't going to happen again, and neither Raikkonen nor Vettel was going to catch Hamilton on-track.  We do reserve the right to change our minds.

Next race is in two weeks at Bahrain!  See ya then!

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March 25, 2018

F1 Update!: Australia 2018, the ESPN edition

The weather was sunny and comfy down in Melbourne as the F1 horde made its way to the starting grid for the first race of the year.  Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes sat on the pole, but the two Ferraris hovered ominously over his shoulders, looming menacingly behind him.  A little farther back, the ever-present Red Bulls stalked the leaders looking for the opportunity to charge.  The American team, Haas, was a pleasant surprise right behind them and gunning for their first podium.  So what happened during the race?  Who did what?  


We here at F1U! don't have the slightest damn idea.  We watched the ESPN broadcast, and it was the worst steaming pile we've ever experienced for an F1 race.  Even worse than the disastrous CBS broadcast of the 2006 San Marino Grand Prix, and that was so bad I still use "crashing over the curbs" as a catch phrase for something particularly awful in the real world.

Commercial breaks came in the middle of sentences.  They occurred during the restart after the Virtual Safety Car period.  If we went by the ESPN coverage of the race only, we'd still have no idea why Lettuce Grosjean's car came to a stop.  Important moments during the race took place during commercial breaks, and since they were only using the International Feed, we got no replays other than what was broadcast... NBCSN could generate their own, and often did.  Not ESPN, oh no.  My guess is that they had no producer on the show, and thus the breaks were all pre-programmed and would occur no matter what.  I know Formula 1 is a nothing for ESPN; that's why the race was on ESPN2, the secondary channel, on a night when there was nothing else going on at the time and would have fit nicely on the main channel.  I get that.  But F1 fans here in the US are... um... vocal, and they're yelling to high heaven.  ESPN has apologized, but who knows what that means.  For now, it means that the first race of the year was butchered.

We here at F1U! are going to have to watch a yarrrrrr'd version of the race to intelligently (shaddap!) talk about it.  Sorry folks.

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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!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:25 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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