June 25, 2017

F1 Update!: Azerbaijan 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 11, 2017

F1 Update!: Canada 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 29, 2017

F1 Update!: Monaco 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 14, 2017

F1 Update!: Spain 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 30, 2017

F1 Update!: Russia 2017

A nice day greeted the Thundering Herd as they made their way to the grid.  For the first time since 2008, they were led by a pair of Ferraris as Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had locked out the first row of the grid.  Behind them, though, were the silver arrows of Mercedes.  Vallteri Bottas had managed to stay close to the Ferraris in quals, but oddly Lewis Hamilton was over a half-second behind.  Would he return to his normal pace?  Would Seb Vettel open his lead in the championship standings even farther?  Or would Raikkonen return to the top step of the podium for the first time since the first race of the 2013 season?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Russia!

*BEFORE: When you watch a Formula 1 race on television, there are a few things you are guaranteed to see.  Hordes of Ferrari-flag-waving fans.  Ultra-mega-slow-motion shots of a tire lockup.  A helicopter-based shot of the start.  And a new thing, a McLaren broken down on the side of the track.  During the Formation lap, Indy Alonso called back to his pit wall that he was down on power.  As it turned out, he had an ERS problem that prevented him from using about 150hp.  This, of course, was on top of the Honda power unit being an estimated 50 - 80hp down in comparison to the Mercedes power unit.  While the sight of a F1 car turning laps at speeds just slightly higher than what you can see on I-90E into Chicago may have been interesting, the McLaren had other ideas and expired before Alonso could park it under cover.  Since there were still removal crews on track when the race was ready to begin, another formation lap was indicated and one lap was taken from the race length.

*LIGHTS OUT:  Mercedes knew they only had one real chance to win, and that was to get past the Ferraris quickly.  The Ferraris appear to be better at long runs and at protecting their tires, so letting them dictate the pace would be a disaster for the silver team.  Once the red lights were extinguished, there would be a nearly 1km sprint to Turn 2.  Vettel had a good getaway from pole, but Vallteri Bottas had a better one and got past Raikkonen swiftly.  It then became a drag race between Vettel and Bottas, one where the Mercedes had a leg up; they had about a 3mph advantage over the red cars.  It was a near-run thing, but Bottas managed to get into Turn 2 before everybody else, taking the lead and accomplishing everything Mercedes could have wanted.  Behind him, Lewis Hamilton was boxed in behind Raikkonen and settled in to 4th place

*SAFETY CAR:  Both Haas's Lettuce Grosjean and Renault's Jolyon Palmer had had miserable race weekends.  It made sense, therefore, that the two of them would wreck each other in Turn 2, with Grosjean going for a short and low flight at one point.  Almost instantly Berndt Maylander was awakened from his slumber and the Safety Car sent out while the mess was swept up.

*RESTART:  As it turns out, Vallteri Bottas had never led the field in a safety car restart before.  Behind him, Vettel had plenty of experience in such situations and must have been hungry to make up for the first start.  Once Berndt Maylander returned to his cave in the pit lane, the field was entirely in the hands of Bottas who made the most of it.  He jumped on the gas just as Vettel shuffled his car around, trying to put heat in his tires.  By the time he hit the restart line, he had a full second in hand over the Ferrari.  He then began to pull away, opening a nearly six second lead by Lap 20 or so.

*TIRES:  At that point, it became obvious that the Ferraris were much gentler on their tires than the Mercs as Vettel began to whittle a half-second off the lead each lap for the next six.  Mercedes brought the leader into the pits for new tires on Lap 28.  Vettel stayed out an additional eight laps, but the pit rotation accomplished nothing: once everybody had stopped, the situation was exactly the same: Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton.

*IN THE END:  Bottas had four seconds in hand with 20 laps to go, but as the laps counted down, the fresher tires on the Ferrari began to show.  By Lap 47, with six laps remaining, the lead was down to 1.4 seconds.  It would drop as low as 0.8 seconds, with Vettel filling the mirrors of Bottas at every opportunity.  The two had to negotiate their way through backmarkers, which went well until they came across the Williams of Felipe Massa with two laps remaining.  Now, we aren't saying that Massa gave his former teammate Bottas preferential treatment, but Bottas got past the Williams with no problems while Vettel got hung up.  When the race ended a lap later, Vettel had cut the lead back down to 0.6 seconds and would have the advantage of a long, long DRS zone.  If he had one more lap, it seems likely that a pass would have been in the offing... a lap that was lost when the McLaren of Indy Alonso broke down on the first formation lap.  Instead, Bottas scored his maiden victory in 81 tries, while Raikkonen finished third.  Hamilton, suffering with serious overheating problems for most of the race, could only manage fourth place, nearly 40 seconds back.

*SNOOZE: After the first half of the first lap, there was not a single on-track pass for the rest of the race.  We just thought we should mention that.

Next up, Barcalounger in two weeks!  We'll see ya then!

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April 17, 2017

Mini-F1 Update!: Bahrain 2017

Unsurprisingly, the weather was dry in Bahrain, though strangely cool... a rather un-desert-like 72 degrees F.  Would this comfy weather be a good thing, or would it mean problems getting the tires to work?  And who would benefit?  Would it be the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, pole and second respectively?  Or maybe the Ferrari of Seb Vettel, sitting just behind the silver cars?  Or would Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull get its wings in the windy dunes?  THIS is your mini-F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Bahrain!

*LIGHTS OUT: As you would expect, it was a Mercedes that lead the Thundering Herd into Turn 1.  What you probably wouldn't expect is that it was Bottas, not Hamilton, doing the leading.  In fact, Hamilton wasn't even in second place.  That position was held by Vettel, who won the drag race between the two multiple-times world champions.  Vettel was unable to get past the Finn, despite the Merc's tires having been overpressurized accidentally... so what happened is that we had something of a train a-rollin', the likes of which we had not seen since Jarno (The Engineer) Trulli raced for Toyota.  Woe betide anybody who found themselves stuck in the JarnoTrain, for once there it was a rare soul indeed that could escape.  Understanding that it would be rough sledding to get past Bottas without completely torching their tire strategy, Ferrari took a gamble and called Vettel in on Lap 9.

*GOOD TIMING:  The German rejoined the race in 12th place, and it looked like a long slow slog up the field was in the offing.  And then Embryo Verstappen had "brake failure" and wound up going into the barriers, followed not much later by Pleasant Stroll and Carlos Sainz playing bumpercars and both drivers being out toot sweet.  Out came a Safety Car, into the pits went the field, and into the lead went Vettel... after all, he had just gotten new tires.  His friends in the Mercedes pits were having a bad day however, as malfunctioning tire guns caused Hamilton to have to wait for his teammate to clear the pitbox before work could be done on him.  In the process, it was judged that he had slowed down too much on the way to the pits and impeded Smiley Ricciardo.  A five-second penalty was duly handed down from the Stewards' office.

*THE MIDDLE:  After the race restarted, Vettel had a brief scare from Bottas, but the Finn could not stay with the Ferrari driver.  Meanwhile, Hamilton was unable (or unwilling) to attempt to pass his teammate.  As the two circulated and the audience wondered just why the team hadn't thrown down team orders, Vettel pulled farther and farther ahead.  Eventually Hamilton did get a free pass on Bottas, but he was  a good distance behind Vettel.

*TO THE END:  Vettel's second and final pitstop on Lap 33 promoted Hamilton to the lead, some 14 seconds up the road.  It quickly became apparent that the Brit was in a quandry.  The Ferrari on its fresh rubber was gobbling up huge amounts of time every lap.  By Lap 40, the lead was down to nine seconds, and Hamilton still had that five-second penalty to serve (or have added to his final time).  Yes, he could go to the end on the tires he had on, but given the way the Ferrari was charging, it didn't seem like a good idea.  But pitting would mean having to chase Vettel down... no easy feat.  Having a chance to win, however, was better than not, and Mercedes brought him in.  In the process, he served his five second penalty and rejoined the race in third, almost 16 seconds behind.  A stout push saw him cut the lead to just over six seconds (with the help of the German getting stuck behind some backmarkers), but it got no closer.  Seb Vettel swept across the finish line in first, becoming this season's first two-time winner.  Hamilton was second, Bottas third, and the bells were once again ringing in Maranello.

The safety car giveth, and the safety car taketh away.  Recall that last week in China, it was a safety car that helped Hamilton.  But it was that time penalty that really cooked Hamilton's goose.  After all, without it the lead would have been just over one second, and possibly less... and that would have made for some interesting times.

In two weeks, we'll find ourselves in Sochi for the Grand Prix of All The Mother Russias.  See ya then!

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April 09, 2017

F1 Update!: China 2017

A low and gray sky with a not-insignificant breeze greeted the Thundering Herd as they individually left their pit stalls and rolled out to the grid.  Actually, more often than not they came back through the pit lane for multiple pre-race laps.  There was a good reason for this: it had been raining all morning, and the possibility of rain coming back couldn't be discounted, but at the moment the track was drying.  The decision was clear on tire choice... everybody was on Intermediate rain tires.  Well, almost everybody.  But how would the slick track affect the drivers up front, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel's Ferrari?  Would a new rainmaster rise up?  And what of Embryo Verstappen, starting 16th after car problems in quals?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of China!

*LIGHTS ON: While the Inters were the tire of choice, one man dared venture out on the super-soft dry weather tires... Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz.  A pretty massive gamble, but one that came directly from the driver.  Meanwhile, up at the front of the grid, Seb Vettel had positioned his car somewhat off-center in his grid slot... and by "somewhat", we mean "half out."  He was doing this to be pointing in the right direction to challenge Hamilton right off the start, but the degree he was doing it was a clear rules violation.  The assembled members of F1U!'s editorial board were duly surprised when Charlie Whiting, the long-time race master for F1, let the race start without forcing Vettel to fix the problem.

*LIGHTS OUT
:  It didn't matter all that much, however.  Hamilton had a cracking start and held off both the Ferrari driver and his own teammate Valterri Bottas into Turn 1.  Behind them, Verstappen immediately began hacking his way through the field, ending up an amazing seventh after one lap.  Carlos Sainz, beginning the race on slicks, had a less-than-stellar start but quickly began to recover lost places as his tires showed their superiority over the Inters. 

*VSC, SC: Unfortunately Sainz never got to benefit from his gamble.  The Williams of Pleasant Stroll found himself buried in the kittylitter after a botched pass.  As it wasn't in an immediately dangerous location, Whiting called for a Virtual Safety Car.  This meant that everybody had to slow to a certain speed and, critically, hold position.  This let Lewis Hamilton keep his lead, and indeed, technically increase it when Vettel stopped for dry weather tires.  In a way, though, this meant that Vettel had the advantage: the Mercedes driver would have to change tires to slicks eventually, which would put the Ferrari in the catbird seat.  After all, Vettel changed his tires when everybody was rollin' slow.  Hamilton would have to do it when the race was green. The VSC lasted for a lap or so, then the field went back to racin'.  Until Sauber's Tony Snazzy managed to leave half his car scattered down the front straight after blasting the inside wall.  THAT brought out a real safety car, which gave Hamilton the break he needed to change to slicks.  He didn't even lose the lead while doing so.  Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz had to be wondering why the racing gods hated him.  His gamble deserved to work, and yet due to the failures of others, his advantage lasted a grand total of two racing laps.

*MIDDLE: Once the race resumed, Hamilton was in the lead and... Embryo Verstappen was in second place.  16th to 2nd in eight laps, not shabby.  However, the Red Bull driver could not keep up with the Mercedes.  Behind him, Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull had Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel all over him rear wing.  The Finn was totally unable to effect a pass, and was complaining about his car to boot.  Meanwhile, Vettel was frantically trying to get around his teammate and having a singular lack of success.  This went on for at least 10 laps, while Hamilton opened his lead over Verstappen dramatically.  Eventually, Vettel got past his teammate.  A lap or two later, he blew past Ricciardo and began tracking down the other Red Bull driver.  This chase only last a few laps before Vettel destroyed the youngster.  The difference in pace between the Ferrari and the Red Bull was telling, and he quickly left him in the dust, but the damage had been done: Hamilton had a 10 second lead.  One is forced to wonder why Ferrari didn't tell Raikkonen to let his teammate past... we know they're not afraid to use Team Orders, after all... but it's hard to conclude anything but Ferrari threw away any chance to win the race during the time Vettel spent behind the Finn.

*END: As it turned out, that's exactly what happened.  Hamilton made his last stop for new tires after everybody else, never lost the lead, and cruised to a relatively easy win.  There is reason for optimism down the road, however.  While Hamilton did win handily, he wasn't able to open his lead on Vettel at all, and indeed he lost time here and there.  The Ferrari was actually faster than the Mercedes... but the race was lost during those laps where Vettel couldn't get past his teammate.  Meanwhile, the third step on the podium was claimed by none other than Embryo Verstappen.  From 16th to podium?  That's a useful drive, yep yep!  It's hard to think anything other than we'll be seeing a bunch of those three during the rest of the season.  Carlos Sainz's daring gamble earned him something of a booby prize: he finished seventh.  Points, at least.

*OH, ONE MORE THING...:  Hamilton got himself a Grand Slam today: pole position, fast lap of the race, led every lap, and race win.  That's his third, and only Vettel's four has more among active drivers.  Jim Clark had eight.

So that's it for China, next week we'll be in Bahrain!  See ya there.

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March 26, 2017

F1 Update!: Australia 2017

And we're back!  The last race of 2016, Abu Dhabi, feels like it was just a week or two ago and now we're starting up again!  The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton taken won pole position with his new teammate Valterri Bottas in third.  All was not roses for the silver cars however, as a resugent Ferrari pair sat second and fourth, Seb Vettel ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.  Would Hamilton run away with the season?  Would Vettel have something to say about it?  And Red Bull is always in the mix somewhere.  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Australia!

*LIGHTS OUT... WAIT, HANG ON... OKAY, LIGHTS OUT!: It all started while the cars made their way to the grid before the start.  Local hero Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull came to a halt on the side of the track and needed a lift back to the pit lane.  This on the heels of a crash in Q2 that needed a gearbox change.  As it turned out, the team fixed whatever was wrong after the race started and sent Smiley out for a live-action test session... which lasted about 20 laps before a reported fuel cell problem sent him to the garage for good.  Meanwhile, up at the grid things were going equally as well.  As the cars formed up for the start, a marshal activated a yellow light about halfway down the grid.  Meanwhile, the pink Force India of Sergio Perez had stopped in the wrong box and was awkwardly trying to maneuver himself to the right spot.  Race Central saw both of these things happening and said "well, this isn't gonna work... send 'em around again!"  Aborted start.  The second attempt at a start was much more successful, sending the Thundering Herd charging to Turn 1.  Lewis Hamilton beat Seb Vettel in the sprint and settled into the lead.  Uh-oh.

*WAITAMINNIT:  In the past, seeing a Silver Arrow in the lead was sign that the race was pretty much over.  Oh, in the odd race someone could hang on grimly and mount an ill-fated challenge late, but for the most part the ending would be preordained.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the first pit stops: the Ferrari wasn't dropping back.  Vettel sat just about two seconds behind, clearly able to close the gap but unwilling to burn his tires to do so.  Hamilton, on the other hand, was doing exactly that in an attempt to pull away from the Prancing Horse.  After reporting his Ultra-Soft tires were overheating, Mercedes pulled him into the pits on Lap 17, a lap earlier than planned.  Coming back out on Soft tires indicated a one-stop strategy, and he ripped off the fastest lap of the race thus far immediately afterwards, but then found himself trapped in fifth behind the Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen who had absolutely no interest in letting the Silver car by.  Seb Vettel, also on Ultra-Softs, could be expected to pit shortly afterwards.  He didn't.  In fact, he continued to churn out competitive laps until Lap 23 when he finally came in for Softs.  He rejoined the race in third... ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton.  This meant that he was in the lead when the pit stop rotation was over, and it was time for the Silver Arrow to chase for once.

*THE BELLS OF MARANELLO:  As it turned out, the chase was awfully one-sided.  Slowly, very slowly, the Ferrari started to open the gap back to Hamilton.  On Lap 30, Vettel had a six-second lead.  By Lap 40, it was just over seven seconds.  By Lap 50, it was eight seconds.  The Mercedes had no answer for the Ferrari, between raw pace and needing to keep his tires alive for more laps than Vettel.  Behind him, teammate Bottas was comfortably ahead of Raikkonen, with Verstappen a fair piece behind the Ferrari.  The last man on the lead lap was Felipe Not Retired Massa in his Williams... and that only barely, some 1:23 behind (fast lap for the race was 1:26.5).  When the inevitable occurred and Vettel's Red Car swept across the finish line, it was the first victory for Ferrari since Singapore, 2015.  And in Maranello, Italy, home of Ferrari, the churches rang their bells.

*AND THEN...:  As the cars came around on their cool-down lap, the crowd stormed the track.  While nobody was struck, the cars were forced into a very narrow gap by the mass of people just an armreach away.  It appears that there was a communications mistake about when the crowd could be let go.  Lucky there wasn't an incident!  Well, a worse incident anyway.

And so Australia is in the mirrors, Ferrari leads the World Championship... the first time a non-Mercedes team or driver leads the championship since the start of the V6 era... and while it's dumb to try and prognosticate from one race, it's hard not to be at least slightly enthused.  Could we really have a fight on our hands?  The next race is two weeks away in China... we'll find out more then, and we'll see you there!

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November 27, 2016

F1 Update!: Abu Dhabi 2016

Say what you want to about the Yas Marina circuit, the chances of having anything other than perfect weather for a race there are vanishingly slim.  In was in this atmosphere that polesitter Lewis Hamilton led the rest of the F1 Circus to the grid.  Next to him, teammate and championship points leader Nico Rosberg had plenty of reason to be confident.  He didn't need to win the race to be Driver's Champion after it was all over... he just needed to be close to Hamilton, and he'd win on points.  Hamilton needed help from other drivers... would he get it?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi!

*LIGHTS OUT: Though it pains those of us at F1U! to say it, when Lewis Hamilton is motivated, focused, and on his game, there is nobody in the field that can beat him.  And thus it was today, when he rocketed off the line without a care towards his teammate, winning the race to the first turn and jumping into the lead.  But instead of rocketing off over the horizon as has happened in way too many races over the past few years, he did not pull all that far away.  It was pretty clear that Hamilton was controlling his pace to allow the field to stick close and threaten Rosberg.  He couldn't do it for long, as his ultra-soft tires weren't going to last forever... or even 10 laps.  On Lap 7, the leader pitted, and could only hope that his delaying tactics would pay off during the pit rotation.  As it turned out, they nearly did.  After Rosberg pitted, he rejoined behind Hamilton, but just barely ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.  As it turned out, the Finn was the slowest of the "big six".  Being stuck behind him, even for a short while, could have done serious damage to Rosberg's race.  Bullet dodged, the race continued.

*THE MIDDLE: Let's be honest here... this was not an exciting race, save for the way it was deciding the Driver's Championship.  The middle thirty-odd laps were dreadfully boring, with the leaders just grinding out the laps one after the other on a visually uninteresting circuit.  The F1U! crew wound up dozing off twice during this stretch, that's how dull it was.

*THE END:  As the race reached approximately Lap 50,  Lewis Hamilton still led the race ahead of Nico Rosberg, Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen, and Ferrari's Seb Vettel, all of whom were covered by less than three seconds.  Smiley Ricciardo in the second Red Bull was just a couple of seconds behind the front pack as well.  Vettel, however, had the freshest tires and had been tearing huge chunks of time out of the leaders, passing Verstappen on Lap 50.  And then Hamilton began to slow.  Not because of a technical problem, but because his best chance to win the driver's championship was if he could push his teammate into the clutches of Vettel and Verstappen.  Hamilton would saunter through the twisty third and first sectors, driving a wide car and staying just far enough ahead to make a pass attempt unwise.  Meanwhile, in the fast second sector, he'd go as fast as he could to keep Rosberg from getting by in the DRS zones.  The strategy was working, too.  Rosberg was furious, calling the pit wall and telling them to get Hamilton moving.  The Mercedes honchos agreed: Hamilton wasn't just jeopardizing Rosberg's position, but entering a not-trivial chance of losing the lead altogether into the equation.  Twice Paddy Lowe, the Mercedes technical director and race boss got on the radio to Hamilton, telling him to pick up the pace.  The second time, he specifically said "Lewis, this is an instruction."  No chance of a misunderstanding there!  Hamilton's response was "I'm leading the race, I'm perfectly comfortable."  Vettel actually got close enough to Rosberg to launch two attacks, neither of which were particularly hard to fend off, and the race ended with less than a second covering the podium drivers, Hamilton leading Rosberg by .3 seconds, and Vettel a half-second behind him. 

*AFTER:

Rosberg joins his father, Keke Rosberg (1982), as Driver's Champion.  The pair becomes the second father-son set of Champions, joining Graham and Damon Hill.

We here at F1U! are somewhat disgusted with Hamilton, as he was rather ungracious after the race was over.  During post-race interviews, he flat-out said his car "had a lot of problems this year, and that's why we're here now."  If he ever congratulated Nico Rosberg, we must have missed it.  Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has already stated that the team is greatly annoyed with Lewis Hamilton for disobeying team orders, too. 

So that's the 2016 season wrapped.  In 2017, we'll be seeing a new set of tech regs that'll change a lot of how the car looks... and a return of wide tires, too.  Next year is right around the corner...

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November 13, 2016

F1 Update!: Brazil 2016

Rain.  Rain and Formula 1 go together like pasta and tomato sauce.  It levels the playing field between cars and makes driver skill paramount.  But just like anything else that's good, too much rain is a bad thing.  The dividing line between "good" and "bad" can be razor thin, and both the track and the tires have a lot to do with where the line can be found.  It often rains in Brazil.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Brazil.

*UH-OH:  It had been raining and drizzling all day.  As the cars rolled out for their pre-race recon laps, the decision had already been made to delay the start by 10 minutes, apparently expecting a break in the weather.  The wisdom of that unusual decision was underscored a few moments later when the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean lost traction on one side of the car and smacked into the outside wall of the last turn going backwards.  The driver was unharmed, but the car could not say the same and was out of the race before the race even began.  This may have influenced the decision that came down a few minutes later to begin the race behind the Safety Car.

*AW, JEEZ:  Because of the Safety Car start, everybody was required to begin on the full wet tires.  Pirelli likes to trumpet that the full wet tires "pump 65 liters of water off the track every second at full speed".  That's great, sounds really impressive, but there are two problems with that.  First, with the cars behind the Safety Car they aren't going at full speed, and second, according to both the drivers and the teams, the full wet tires don't work well in the rain.  They aquaplane too easily when they are cold, and the track temperature today was 68°F... and crawling behind the Safety Car doesn't give them enough energy to warm them up.  The amount of spray from the cars was amazing... even polesitter Lewis Hamilton was unable to see from the rooster tail thrown up by the Safety Car.  Somehow, the field survived seven laps of this before Berndt Maylander took the Mercedes-AMG GT-S into the pit lane and the race began in earnest.

*REALLY?  REALLY?:  Immediately we saw cars diving for the pit lane, desperate to get off the full wets and onto the Intermediate rain tires.  This seeming case of mass idiocy lasted for all of six laps until Sony Ericsson, one of the first drivers to put on the Inters, slipped off the track in much the same place as Lettuce Grosjean.  Instead of ending up against the outside wall though, Ericsson's Sauber ended up in the middle of the pit-lane entry.  The FIA quickly threw up the "Pit Lane Closed" warning, which didn't prevent the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo from swerving around the Sauber to put on Inters.  He would later be penalized for that, by the way.  Because of the debris strewn across the circuit, the Safety Car was again summoned... with all the problems that would cause to the tires.

*OHFERTHELUVVA...
:  At this point, half the cars were on Inters, the other half on the full wets, and there was no real indication which was better for the conditions.  The Safety Car came in after four laps and the race once again restarted.  Lewis Hamilton got a great jump over his teammate, who was followed by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen... for a few moments.  While accelerating in a straight line down the front straight, the Ferrari snapped hard to the right, slammed into the outside wall, then pirouetted back across the circuit to the inside wall.  In the process, he nearly collected the fourth place Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen, who managed to avoid the car, but did hit the damaged front wing left lying on the track.  As Raikkonen extricated himself from the cockpit of his shattered Ferrari, Berndt Maylander was again summoned... and moments later, the Red Flag was thrown.

*RIDICULOUS.  STUPID.:  A half-hour stoppage was followed by a Safety Car restart just as the rain, which had slowed down a bit, came back heavier than we'd seen all race.  After five laps trundling along behind the GT-S, we had seen the Renault of Jolyon Palmer run into the side of Kid Kyvat's Toro Rosso, invisible in the spray, and a Force India having to pit for a flat tire, and Seb Vettel reporting that it was "quite bad."  Another lap, and The Powers That Be said "nope."  Red Flag II: Electric Boogaloo was displayed, and the Brazilian fans (that's a lot of fans!) began to boo.  Leader Hamilton reported that "it isn't even that bad, it isn't wet at all."  As the cars stopped in the pit lane once again and the gazebos re-erected, the rain began coming down harder than ever.  One was forced to wonder if the race would ever restart.

*RACE ON:  15 minutes later, the cars were back on track.  Two laps later, on Lap 31, the Safety Car ducked in and we were racing again... and very quickly, Embryo Verstappen passed Nico Rosberg around the outside of Turn 1 for second place.  For the championship leader, this was horrible... not only was his rival leading, but now he was losing even more of his point gap to boot.  On the other hand, it looked like Verstappen was ready to challenge for the lead soon enough.

*SPIN SPIN SPIN:  The Red Bull driver managed to get to about two seconds behind the leader (and eight seconds ahead of Rosberg) when his car attempted to emulate the actions of Raikkonen's Ferrari by throwing itself at the inside wall.  The young driver not only managed to keep that from happening, but he didn't even lose the place to the trailing Mercedes!  A remarkable bit of handling, that.  A few laps later, after the Red Bull had pitted for new tires, Rosberg's Mercedes went squirrely in the same place Grosjean and Ericsson had, but he too managed to save it.  But then the saddest moment of the day occurred, when Brazilian Felipe Massa, participating in the final home race of his long career, spun and crashed heavily, losing it roughly where Grosjean, Ericsson and Rosberg had. 

*HAT TIP:  But Brazil wasn't finished with Felipe Massa quite yet.  As he walked back to the Williams pit box, the crowd cheered their hero loudly and energetically.  Despite the rain, he was clearly crying from the emotion of the moment, tears that became more prominent when his wife and son met him in a strong embrace.  After a while, he restarted his walk to his pit box.  This took him past the Mercedes box, where the entire compliment of their team had turned out to applaud.  A nice gesture from a team he had raced against.  But a few yards beyond Mercedes was the Ferrari pit box, and they too turned out... and Massa raced for them for eight years, 11 victories, and, for 25 seconds, a World Driver's Championship... and many of the people on the team had been there when Massa was.  All in all, a wonderful scene, and a nice tribute to a long-time driver.

*SWIM TO THE END:  The Safety Car stayed out for eight laps and saw Verstappen brought in for full wet tires.  He would rejoin in 16th place on Lap 55, the same lap the SC came in.  As Hamilton and Rosberg pulled away from the rest of the field, the Red Bull driver was going nuts.  By Lap 60, he passed his teammate for 10th.  Four more laps saw Verstappen in 6th place with 11 laps to go.  It took two laps and a physical (but clean) move to get past Seb Vettel, but only two more turns to pass Carlos Sainz for fourth.  By Lap 69, he got by the struggling Force India of Sergio Perez for third.  To review: in 14 laps, Max Verstappen gained 13 positions.  Alas, by this time second was out of reach, and the race ended with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg by nearly 12 seconds, who was 10 seconds up on Verstappen.

And that does it for Brazil.  The final race of the year is Abu Dhabi in two weeks, with the driver's championship up for grabs.  We'll see you then for the grand finale!

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October 30, 2016

F1 Update!: Mexico 2016

The weather at Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was basically perfect for a F1 race.  Mix in the drama of a last-gasp championship fight between teammates, and you should have a recipe for a tense, dramatic race.   What we got was an example of everything wrong with Formula 1.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Mexico!

*CAVALCADE OF ERRORS:  The confusion began right at the beginning of the race.  Polesitter Lewis Hamilton won the drag race to the first turn, mostly because his teammate Nico Rosberg was having to defend against the Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen.  To do so, he wound up bumping wheels with the Dutchman and having to take evasive action.  But that little action was overshadowed by the more obvious faux pas made by Hamilton.  He locked up a tire trying to make the first turn... and failed.  Instead of attempting to regain the track, he went ahead and kept right on going.

This is known in most circles as "blowing the turn."  In some others, it's called "agricultural racing."  In a tiny amount, it's known as "Susan", for reasons we do not wish to contemplate.  In any case, when one blows a turn that dramatically, a driver is usually instructed to give up any advantage gained.  For example, if by Susaning you actually pass an opponent, you have to give up the position.  In this case, Hamilton was told no such thing.  While he was in the lead approaching Turn 1, and thus gained no positions by his offroading, he did open quite the gap to second.  Indeed, he didn't slow down until a Virtual Safety Car was called out for an unrelated incident.  No penalty given, nor even considered.

*ERRORS (CONTINUED):  The race settled down to the usual Mercedes - Mercedes - Red Bull format, in this case Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, with Seb Vettel in fourth.  Indeed, Hamilton was never in danger of being caught at any time and would go on to win the race with nary a worry.  However, Rosberg, Verstappen, Vettel, and Smiley Ricciardo would not be quite so fortunate.  At one point, Verstappen took advantage of traffic up ahead to make a move for second on Rosberg, but blew the turn and Rosberg took the position back.  In effect, this allowed the Ferrari of Vettel to close the gap so he could attack Verstappen.  Behind them, Ricciardo was in position to take advantage of any mistake, but not quite close enough to force a move.  After the Ferrari driver had lined up Verstappen, he made a strong effort to take third as they raced down to Turn 1 with only a couple of laps to go.  It looked like he had pulled it off when the Red Bull locked up and carried straight on. 

Verstappen just kept on going, rejoining the track ahead of Vettel and keeping third place.  Remember what we said about "relinquishing the position"?  This was a textbook case of that principle, about as clear-cut as it could possibly be.  A furious Vettel would take to the radio waves, screaming that he had to give up the spot.  In fact, it went so far that the German took to swearing at Race Director Charlie Whiting via radio after the race was over.  But that was still a couple of laps in the future. 

*ERRORS (YUP ONE MORE):  Only a few moments later Smiley Ricciardo tried his luck at passing Vettel.  On one hand, both stayed on track.  On the other hand, Vettel did some rather dodgy moving around in the braking zone, eventually interweaving tires with the Red Bull.

Mind you, this was after the two bumped wheel hubs.  How one or the other didn't wind up launching into low-earth orbit through this sequence was beyond us.  In the end, Vettel held the spot, Smiley backed off, probably in fear of his life, and the race ended Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo.

*HOLD IT RIGHT THERE:  But we're not finished yet!  As the three podium drivers gathered in the green room before the ceremonies, a camera caught sight of Seb Vettel jogging from the garages to the podium area.  Meanwhile, a FIA official said something in Verstappen's ear and led him from the room as the two McLaren drivers watched.  Sure enough, Vettel ended up taking the third step on the podium.  It turned out that Verstappen was given a five-second time penalty for not relinquishing the position after cutting Turn 1.  This dropped him from third to fifth, behind Ricciardo.  But wait, we're not done!  Immediately after, both Vettel and Ricciardo were summoned to the steward's office to discuss their incident.  Shortly thereafter, the FIA released a statement giving Vettel a 10-second time penalty for his less-than-kosher activities defending against the Red Bull driver.  After the penalty was applied, RICCIARDO moved into third place, Verstappen to fourth, and Vettel ended up in fifth.

*AWFUL:  So why was Verstappen penalized for doing the same thing Hamilton did?  The general response has been "because Hamilton did it on the first lap."  To be sure, first laps are hectic... back when F1U! did "Move of the Race", anything done on the first lap was not considered... but rules should be applied evenly.  But there is one quick and easy solution to this sort of problem.  Bring back gravel traps.  Make going off-track actually cost something for the drivers.  It won't happen, particularly after Alonso's wild ride back in Australia, but it'd solve everything.

Next race is Brazil, where a victory means that Rosberg clinches the championship.  That'll be in two weeks!  See ya then.

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October 23, 2016

F1 Update!: United States 2016

The clear blue sky was a far sight from what greeted the F1 Circus last year as they pulled onto the grid of Circuit of the Americas.  As usual, Lewis Hamilton led the field, with his teammate Nico Rosberg right beside him.  Behind them, the surging Red Bulls lurked.  Could they derail the championship fight going on between the two Mercedes drivers?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 United States Grand Prix!

*LIGHTS OUT:  To be honest, the race was decided at the very beginning.  Once the race started, Hamilton galloped away, but Rosberg got swamped by the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo.  He fell to third, and nearly fourth as Embryo Verstappen threatened his position as well.  And that's the way it stayed for nearly half the race.

*SCREWUP:  On Lap 25, Ricciardo pitted from second for a new set of tires.  Nothing out of the ordinary there.  On the next lap, though, Verstappen drove into the pit lane... and there was nobody there for him.  The team recovered quickly, swarming into the Red Bull pit box just as he approached the spot, but they were essentially unprepared for the young driver.  The stop took nearly 10 seconds to complete, which sounds fast, but when 2.50 seconds is the norm... well.  As he pulled back onto the track he was on the radio: "I'm sorry, I thought you told me to box (pit)."  Simple driver error deep-sixed his race.  A few laps later, he unintentionally deep-sixed his teammate's race as well.

*BLOWUP:  On Lap 30, Verstappen's Red Bull was spotted going very slowly down the long back straight.  A cut to the onboard camera made the problem quite clear: a loud thumping sound was coming from the engine.  "I have an engine problem or something" was the radio call.  In fact, it was his gearbox turning itself into a bunch of neutrals.  In fact, first gear was the only one remaining, and he could not get into the actual neutral.  As this is required for trackworkers to get the car behind the walls, even though Verstappen had stopped just in front of an access point Race Control had to issue a Virtual Safety Car so marshals could deal with the recalcitrant vehicle.  Not a big deal normally... but neither Mercedes had stopped for tires yet.  In effect, they got a free stop, allowing Rosberg to easily jump Ricciardo on the rotation.  After that, it was all over but the shouting.

*THE SHOUTING
:  While there was still half the race distance to complete, nothing of any importance happened up front.  Lewis Hamilton won his 50th Grand Prix, his seventh victory of the year, and his fourth out of five races at COTA.  However, Nico Rosberg finished second, five seconds behind, limiting his teammate's point gain in the Championship.  He still has a 26-point lead with three races to go... and you get 25 points for first, 18 for second.  Essentially, Hamilton needs Rosberg to have a breakdown to have a chance of repeating as Driver's Champion.  Smiley Ricciardo finished a distant third, Ferrari's Seb Vettel was fourth over a half-lap back of the leader, and Fernando Alonso's McLaren was fifth even though he could probably see Hamilton's Merc in his side mirrors when the race ended.  And in the feelgood story of the race, American team HaasF1 scored a point at their home race when Lettuce Grosjean came home in 10th.

So that's it from a lackluster USGP.  Next weekend is the second running of the reborn Grand Prix of Mexico.  We'll see you then.

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October 09, 2016

F1 Update!: Japan 2016

A gray, overcast day greeted the F1 Circus as they pulled up to the starting grid on Suzuka's front straight.  It had rained earlier in the day, and while most of the track was dry, there were still patches here and there that were discolored and slightly damp.  Most of these were on the inside of the front straight, the side that Lewis Hamilton would be starting the race from.  That's because his teammate Nico Rosberg was on pole.  Would that make a difference to Hamilton's start in this, a nearly must-win situation if he wanted to challenge for the Driver's Championship?  Or would he jump to the early lead?  Or would one of the resurgent Red Bulls, poised and ready on the second row, have something to say about the matter?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Japan!

*LIGHTS OUT
: After the race, Lewis Hamilton said that the slightly damp track made no difference to his start.  That's unfortunate, for it means that he completely peed it down the leg of his firesuit on his own.  As Rosberg made a perfectly nice getaway, his teammate bogged down so hard it was like he was starting from the Goshikinuma Swamps.  Speaking of swamp, that's exactly what the field did to Hamilton, sending him plummeting to eighth place before Turn 1.  While he would soon begin the long process of digging himself out of the hole he had buried himself in, it looked like he would be lucky to be on the podium, let alone win.  Meanwhile, Rosberg took off into the distance ahead of Embryo Verstappen.  By Lap 4, he had a three second lead.

*THE MIDDLE:  And then the race settled down.  Most passing up at the front took place when people made their pit stops.  Indeed, most of the front runners had the lead at one time or another as their opponents stopped before them.  Even Hamilton had the lead for a lap at one point.  It was the final round of stops that proved to be the most important.

*TO THE END:  Thanks to a fast in-lap and a quick pit stop, Mercedes managed to get Hamilton back out onto track in fourth, just ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.  A couple of laps later, Seb Vettel pitted from the lead and rejoined the race... in fourth, just behind Hamilton.  Suddenly the situation looked promising for the reigning Driver's Champion.  With 13 laps to go, he was on a fresh set of Hard tires, in third, and three seconds ahead was the second-place Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen.  He too was on Hard tires, but importantly they were some five laps older than Hamilton's.  The Mercedes driver was pushing like every lap was a qualifying lap, burning through his tires at a furious rate, all the while knowing that his target had to do the same thing to defend... and his tires were going to last longer.  With four laps to go, the strategy had paid off: he was a half-second behind the young Dutchman.

*THE END:  Hamilton needed to be glued to the gearbox of the Red Bull to have a shot at passing him down the front straight.  For a handful of laps, he would be in position at the start of the Casio Triangle chicane, but by the end he had lost enough ground that he couldn't quite make the move.  On the penultimate lap, he decided to force the matter.  Coming to the chicane, he feinted to the inside.  Verstappen duly placed himself so as to cover the move, and Hamilton made his real pass attempt to the outside... at which point, he went straight on, taking the run-off road through the chicane, rejoining quite a distance behind the youngster.  "He moved under braking" was the radio call from Hamilton immediately after.  After watching the replays more than a few times, it's pretty clear that the Red Bull driver did nothing of the sort.  Mercedes filed a protest with the Stewards, but later pulled it after Hamilton disagreed with it.  Apparently he watched the replays as well.

*THE VERY END:  Six seconds up the road from Verstappen cruised Nico Rosberg.  He had, essentially, led the race from beginning to end (pesky pit stop rotation excluded) with no threats past the first hundred meters of the race.  The win, combined with his teammate's third place finish, puts him 33 points up in the Driver's Championship with four races to go.  Even if Hamilton sweeps the rest of the season, if Rosberg finishes second he'll still win.  Meanwhile, their team, Mercedes, clinched their third Constructor's Championship on the trot.  True dominance.

When we next meet, we'll need our Stetsons and spurs, 'cause we'll be in Austin Texas for a Taylor Swift concert!  Oh, and the US Grand Prix, too... see ya then!

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October 02, 2016

F1 Update!: Malaysia 2016

A slightly cloudy day greeted the assembled F1 Circus as they rolled into their positions on the starting grid.  It had even cooled off somewhat, all the way down to 91° with high humidity!  That was the ambient air temperature, though... the track surface, which radiates its heat like nobody's business, was 131°.  It was so hot that there were concerns that the tires would work very well, but degrade at an increased rate.  Polesitter Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Nico Rosberg, the current Driver's Championship points leader, were side-by-side, staring down at the first turn.  Which would seize the early advantage and be the first through it?  And would the twin Red Bulls, directly behind them, have anything to say about the matter?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Malaysia!

*LIGHTS... OUT?:  Before the race began, the heat was causing problems.  The Williams of Retired Massa stalled on the grid as the field went off on their recon lap and was pushed to the pit lane.  The team would get him restarted, but he would be forced to start from there.  That was probably for the best, because the start itself was a shambles.  First came a very long pause before the starting lights began to illuminate.  When the field is judged to be correctly positioned on the grid in preparation for the start, the Race Director presses a button.  That button triggers the start sequence, which includes a random amount of time from press to first light.  On this occasion, the random amount of time was the longest we've ever seen, somewhere between five and 10 seconds perhaps.  It was long enough that the Legendary Announce Team was assuming the start had been aborted for some reason.  When the five lights finally illuminated then extinguished, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both made good getaways, the two Red Bulls slightly less so.  But the Ferrari of Seb Vettel, starting fifth, made a stormer and charged up the inside approaching the first turn.  The problem was, he didn't have the brakes to do what needed to be done and wound up running directly into the side of Rosberg as he began the turn.  The Mercedes wound up facing the wrong way and dead last, the Ferrari's front left suspension was turned to mashed potatoes, and Lewis Hamilton had to be thinking that he would be leading the championship in a couple of hours.

*THE MUDDLE IN THE MIDDLE:  While Hamilton cruised at the front of the field, the two Red Bull drivers were engaged in a knife fight for second that lasted most of the race.  First Smiley Ricciardo, then Embryo Verstappen, then Ricciardo again, held second place, while the other driver tried to figure out a way to get by without pissing off the pit wall.  At one point, the two of them were side-by-side going through the complex of twisty turns at the start of a lap at Sepang, but the Australian managed to hold on to second place at the end of it.  Meanwhile, the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen was lurking behind them.  Soon enough, however, Nico Rosberg was back and hounding the Ferrari driver for the spot.

*TEN SECONDS:  The two played fox and hound for a good while.  Rosberg, realizing his chances of a podium and trying to keep pace with his obviously-winning teammate in the championship, made a move on Lap 38.  He dove to the inside of a left-hand turn, hip-checked the Ferrari out of the way, and took the position.  The race stewards took a dim view of the physicality involved with the move and handed the Mercedes driver a 10 second penalty... meaning that amount of time would be added to his final amount.  If Raikkonen could finish within 10 seconds of him, he'd get fourth place, not Rosberg.  The Merc began to pull away, but slowly.

*KABLAMMO:  And then something occurred that changed everything

On Lap 40, a radio call came in from Lewis Hamilton: "Oh no, no, no, no!"  His engine lost power, a stream of smoke come from the rear, which was soon joined by a burst of flame, probably as the turbocharger grenaded itself.  His lead over second place was over 12 seconds at the time.  Suddenly the little tiff the two Red Bulls had had a few laps earlier was looking very important indeed, and the Rosberg/Raikkonen dust-up was for the the final step of the podium.

*THE END: Lap after lap, Verstappen lurked close behind Ricciardo, at one point even closing down to DRS range.  But either he couldn't make a move, or was told not to, because he eventually dropped back and finished the race a couple of seconds back.  Behind them, Kimi Raikkonen gave it a good effort, but eventually the advantages of the Mercedes took their toll and Rosberg opened his lead over the Ferrari to over 12 seconds and thus finished third.

*AFTERMATH:  "I can't believe that there's eight Mercedes-powered cars and only my engines have gone," Hamilton said afterwards.  "Something doesn't feel right.  But it's just odd.  There's been 43 engines for Mercedes and only mine have gone.  Someone has to give me answers, and it is not acceptable.  Something or someone doesn't want me to win this year."  Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a conspiracy theory!  Hamilton now trails Rosberg by 23 points with five races remaining and a maximum 125 points left to play for.  This is only the second race this season won by someone other than the Mercedes drivers, and both of those wins were by Red Bull. 

Next week, we're going to be in Japan, and you'd best believe that Hamilton is pissed.  We'll see you down the road!

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September 18, 2016

F1 Not-Update: Singapore 2016

As feared, my DVR didn't record the race.  I got about 30 seconds of the intro, then the message "recording is missing data" popped up and the image froze forever.  So there's that wrapped.

I will download the race from my secure source, but they won't have it up until much later.  Once it appears, I'll watch it and give some sort of writeup afterwards... probably Monday, I'm afraid.

Looks like it was, at least, an interesting race.  Of course.  The one race I can't watch is the one that I'd most want to watch.  Life has a funny way of being that way, doesn't it?

So.  Yeah.  Sorry folks.  I'll try and make it up later tonight with something fun.

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September 04, 2016

F1 Update!: Italy 2016

A beautiful day in Northern Italy greeted the huge throng of racing fans and truly rabid Ferrari supporters known as the tifosi as they did what tifosi do best: be enthusiastic.  The sight of anything red sent them into paroxysms of enthusiasm loud enough to drown out even the loudest of race engines.  The enthusiasm was contagious: with the only living son and heir to Enzo Ferrari, Piero Lardi Ferrari, and Sergio Marchionne, the Chairman and CEO of Ferrari and Fiat-Chrysler, watching from the VIP area of the pit box, Seb Vettel said that the spirit of the crowd alone could will the Red cars to victory.  Such enthusiasm, while admirable, also masked the unease that must have been present in the team's hearts, following Marchionne's pronunciation earlier this week that the 2016 season was "a failure".  When the Aermacchi MB-339s of the Frecce Tricolori swept low over the the Autodromo Nazionale Monza trailing their streams of red, white, and green smoke, clearly it was time.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Italy!

*LIGHTS OUT:  When the Thundering Herd took the lights to start the race, it came as no surprise that a silver car was leading the field into the ridiculously tight first chicane.  What was a surprise was that it was Nico Rosberg, not polesitter Lewis Hamilton, doing the leading.  Hamilton, as he's done multiple times this season, borked the start and was swallowed by the field, falling all the way to sixth in the blink of an eye.  He was not alone in this: Embryo Verstappen saw his Red Bull slip into anti-stall and lose a handful of places, and Esteban!'s HaasF1 had the worst of the bunch, plummeting to dead last as the backmarkers scrambled to avoid him.  The upshot of all this was to give Ferrari a tiny opening that the tifosi could pour all their hopes and dreams into in an attempt to ring the church bells in Maranello.

*TIRE WAR:  After Quals, it was clear that the race had already been decided... the question was, which way would it go?  Mercedes had set their fastest time in Q2 on the Soft compound tires, while Ferrari's drivers were both on the Super-soft.  At least in theory, the Softs would be slower, but last longer, than the Super-soft tires.  With Monza being relatively easy on tires, if Mercedes was careful they could do the race with only one pitstop and a switch to the hardest tire available on the weekend, the Mediums.  Meanwhile, Ferrari would have to make two stops.  Any time disadvantage from making a second run down pit lane would nominally be erased by the faster laps the softer tires would provide.  In fact, the entire field other than Mercedes was on the two-stop strategy.  The problem was that the Silver Arrows were just as fast on the Softs as the rest of the field was on Super-softs, at least in Quals.  Which strategy would work best proved to be the only real drama in the race.

*KISS 'EM GOODBYE:  Hamilton's opening gaffe had handed Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's teammate and rival for the Driver's Championship, a gigantic present delicately wrapped and delivered by a squadron of cherubs on the wing.  He was in the lead and in clean air, while his teammate would have to fight his way past the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo, the Mercedes-powered Williams of Valtteri Bottas, and the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Seb Vettel before he could even think about attacking for the lead...and Rosberg wasn't one to turn from such a present.  While Hamilton got past the Red Bull in one lap, it took 10 more to put Bottas behind him.  In the process, he had fallen eleven seconds behind the leader and trashed his rear tires to boot.  A handful of laps later found him in second place as the two Ferraris each duly headed into the pits for their fresh rubber, but by now Rosberg was over 15 seconds ahead.  Nico pitted on Lap 24 and came back out still in the lead.  Hamilton pitted on Lap 25, and rejoined the race in fourth, behind the two Ferrari drivers.  While this meant that the Brit was functionally in second in the race since the Red cars would have to stop once more, in real life he still had them and their downforce-disturbing dirty air in front of him.  And he had to make up some 12 seconds of time to boot.

*IT WAS EVER THUS:  While Hamilton took fractions of a second off the leader each lap, aided by Rosberg catching up with, and working his way through, the backmarkers, he had to be careful with his tires.  If he pushed them too much too early, not only would he not catch his teammate, he could even lose the advantages of the one stop strategy if he damaged them enough, either by having to slow down or actually making a second stop.  And Rosberg kept on grinding away, free of disturbances or threats. 

*THE END: Ferrari's drivers made their stops, rejoining the festivities in third for Vettel and fourth for Raikkonen.  Even with the fresh rubber, it was clear that they couldn't catch Hamilton... and even more clear was that Hamilton would never catch Rosberg.  A lockup and jump over the curbs in the first chicane late in the race simply guaranteed the one-time polesitter couldn't work any magic.  Rosberg was some 15 seconds ahead of his teammate at the end of the day, while Vettel was only five seconds away in third.  Raikkonen came in fourth.  Smiley Riccardio pulled off the pass of the race late, taking fifth off Bottas in a daring move into the first chicane.  But during the podium ceremony, the tifosi only had eyes for the man in red, their cheers audible in Rome when he was handed the third-place trophy.

not pictured: the rest of Italy covering the front straight.
*THE SURPRISE:  Frustrated by an awful race and an extra pitstop, Fernando Alonso gave McLaren a shock fastest lap.  It was the team's first since 2013, and the first for a Honda-powered car in 24 years, when Ayrton Senna pulled the trick in Portugal, 1992.  It doesn't mean anything, of course, but it's quite the change from what we saw in 2015, when the team had problems even finishing a race.

So that's it from Monza and the European leg of the calendar.  Next up in two weeks, we'll be in Singapore.  See ya then!

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August 28, 2016

F1 Update!: Belgium 2016

A surprisingly pretty day greeted the F1 Circus as they took their spots on the starting grid.  It was more than 15°F cooler than it had been all weekend, giving hope that the supersoft tires could last longer than a lap, and that the softs wouldn't develop the spontaneous blisters that'd been forming during the practice sessions.  Polesitter Nico Rosberg had to feel confident that he'd rack up a huge score and close the gap to his rival and teammate Lewis Hamilton, starting last on the grid.  But would the two Ferraris on the second row be able to threaten the Mercedes driver, or could wunderkind Embryo Verstappen, sitting alongside Rosberg, score a surprise?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Belgium!

*LIGHTS OUT:  As the race began, Rosberg made a good start and was clear of his challengers as the Thundering Herd charged into Turn 1, the La Source hairpin.  The same could not be said of the Red Bull of Verstappen, victim of a less-than-swell start.  He was swallowed up by the twin Ferraris of Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.  With the blinding optimism of youth on his side, the 18-year-old Dutch driver decided to try and win the race in the first turn.  Raikkonen was on the inside of Vettel at the apex of La Source, and Verstappen tried to fit himself into the gap between the Finn and the inside barrier.  The resulting kerfluffle saw Vettel sideways in the path of traffic, Raikkonen with damage, and Verstappen needing a new nose.  Bodywork continued to fly from incidental contact throughout the field going into Eau Rouge, with a huge amount of sparks coming from underneath Raikkonen's car from a tire going down.  At the top of the hill,  Jenson Button saw his suspension turned into flinders when rammed from behind by the Manor of Pascal's Wager.  That mostly ended the first lap shenanigans, unless you count Kimi's pitstop where the undertray of the Ferrari caught fire from dragging around the track.

*SAFETY CAR OR RED FLAG?  WHY NOT BOTH!:  The next lap saw Carlos Sainz suffer a puncture and subsequent failure of his right-rear tire.  Unfortunately for his Toro Rosso, the carcass of the tire did not come free.  Instead, it sort of peeled back while part of it stayed attached to the shoulder of the tire.  It immediately began flailing away at the rear bodywork and wing, first bending, then snapping, the wing's upright.

Fortunately for him, the tire blew just after he got through Eau Rouge, otherwise the resulting wreck could have been calamitous.  The same luck could not be applied to the Renault of Kevin Magnussen.  He got a little sideways at the top of the hill and wound up going into the barriers at high speed backwards, ending up nose-first in a tire barrier. 

The Renault was comprehensively destroyed.  The chassis actually twisted along the length of the car, popping the removable cockpit bolster free.  A testament to the safety of a F1 car, Magnussen extracted himself from the remains quickly, showing only a small limp.  After a visit to the track's medical center, he was taken to a nearby hospital for observation and treatment of a cut on his ankle.  To allow the track workers to remove the remains of the car, a Safety Car was summoned.  Much of the field took this opportunity to change tires, getting off the destructing supersofts.  There were, however, a few drivers that stayed out.  Notable among them was the McLaren of Fernando Alonso and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.  These two drivers, with five world championships between them, had formed the final row of the grid due to engine penalties.  They now found themselves fourth and fifth, behind only Rosberg, Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo, and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.  After a lap or two behind the safety car, the race was red flagged; Magnussen's impact had damaged the tire barrier to the point that an extensive repair was required.  This stoppage of the race allowed the five drivers that hadn't stopped to change tires essentially for free.

*RESTART TO THE END: The red flag period lasted for 20 minutes, and the free tire change proved to be a godsend for all five drivers.  After Hamilton managed to pass both Alonso and Hulkenberg, within eight laps of the restart, the race settled down into just ticking off the laps.  Ricciardo couldn't close on Rosberg, but neither could Hamilton run down the Red Bull.  Behind them, the Ferraris struggled to regain positions lost during their accident and repair, with Vettel finishing in sixth.  With the third "power team" out of the running, Force India, which has always had good results in Belgium, was able to pull themselves into fourth and fifth.  This unexpected but welcome development pulled them up into fourth in the Constructor's championship, ahead of Williams but behind Ferrari.  So the final result saw Rosberg winning, with Ricciardo, Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Vettel, and Alonso rounding out the top seven.

*THOUGHTS
:  A great track with a promising starting grid should have led to a fun race.  Instead, we actually ended up with a dull tilt, the only excitement coming in the first few laps from the contact and accidents.  This is not why we watch here at F1Update!, either the accidents or seeing the result preordained by the red flag.  Pity.

Next weekend we get the fastest track of the season: Monza and the Grand Prix of Italy.  See you there.

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July 31, 2016

F1Update!: Germany 2016

Okay, let's get this over with.  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Germany.

*LIGHTS OUT
:  If our opening sentence suggests to you a lack of enthusiasm for this race, you would be quite perceptive.  At the start of the race, second-place starting Lewis Hamilton had a good start, but his teammate and primary threat Nico Rosberg did not.  In fact, Rosberg's start was awful.  The announcers said he had wheel spin off the line, and that's true... in the same way that a top fuel dragster has wheel spin on a burnout.  That's right, Rosberg actually laid rubber for maybe 100 feet while the rest of the field stared in awe.  We can't imagine that did good things for the tires, and he immediately fell to fourth behind the two Red Bulls.

*RACE OVER
:  That was all Hamilton needed.  By the end of the first lap, he had a 1.5 second lead over Max Verstappen.  By Lap 10, it was five seconds, and by Lap 15 it was six.  At various points during the race, that lead would grow to 11 seconds but Hamilton would dial his engine back to protect it... he was never in any danger of being challenged.

*GUN, SHOOT FOOT:  For all that, Rosberg in theory could have challenged his teammate, if only he could get clear of the Red Bulls.  On Lap 28, he stopped for tires, and the following lap Verstappen did as well.  The Red Bull driver came out just ahead of the Merc, but the already-warm tires on the German's car meant that he'd have the advantage under braking.  In the hairpin, Rosberg made his move, diving inside of Verstappen... and then not bothering to turn until there was no more space available.  The Red Bull pilot was forced to leave the track, ere he turn directly into the Mercedes.  The track stewards took a dim view of these shenanigans and hit the German with a five second stop-and-go penalty; in this case, Rosberg would pit for new tires on Lap 45 and serve the penalty at the same time.  So he came in, hit his spot perfectly... and the pit crew waited five seconds before doing the tire change.  Except they didn't... they waited just over EIGHT seconds.  It seems the pit wall neglected to start the stopwatch app on their iPhone.  No, we're not kidding. 

*RANT:  This is friggin' ridiculous.  Formula 1 has always been a case of one team dominating the rest, and what's going on is nothing out of the ordinary... except coming as it was on top of four dominating Red Bull seasons, three more Mercedes years have been agony.  A return to 2009 would be welcome: BrawnGP's Jenson Button won six of the first seven races, but from then on five drivers split the remaining 10 wins... and none of them were named "Jenson Button"!  Instead, we get a death march of inevitability, knowing another Mercedes win is just ahead.  What's the darn point?

*SUMMER BREAK
:  The next race is August 28th, at Spa-Francopants.  For two weeks, the teams are on complete shutdown: no work in the factories, no sim work, nothing at all.  Drivers will go to far-flung locations around the planet, far far away from the races.  And we here at F1U! envy and hate them for it.  See you in a month, folks!

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July 24, 2016

F1Update!: Hungary 2016, The Truncated Version

Here's the story.  Its been ridiculously hot in Duckford the past few days, mid-to-high 90s with heat indexes at or above 110 thanks to a humidity level usually encountered only in indoor swimming pools or Florida.  For us here at F1U!, it's always the humidity that kills us... hard to breathe when you're essentially underwater, don'tchaknow?  Anyway, here in the Midwest, the one thing that always accompanies long-term hot and humid weather, other than sunburns, is thunderstorms.  Big thunderstorms.  Massive storms that last for extended periods of time.  Storms that make the apocalypse seem small and quiet and mundane.  Storms that knock out both power and media connections so one has neither internet or satellite.

In other words, the type of storm that hit Duckford Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week.  Sunday, on the other hand, has seen nothing of the sort.  Oh, it's still morale-crushingly hot and humid (it's 915pm as this sentence is being typed, and it's still 84 degrees outside with 85% humidity), but there's been nothing as far as inclement weather all day.

So exactly why the satellite and internet went dead for the entire Pond Central complex on Lap 49 of today's Hungarian Grand Prix, shortly after Renault's Jolyon Palmer harmlessly spun his car on fresh tires, will remain forever a mystery.  As the Hungarian Grand Prix is 70 laps long, this did leave something of a gap in our knowledge of the race.  After reading up on the results, it turns out that we did not miss anything unexpected... so THIS is your truncated version of the F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Hungary!

*LIGHTS OUT, RACE OVER
:  The start of the race is usually one of desperate scrambling for position, trying to take advantage of any little mistake made by the driver in front of you... the grid is never closer together than it is when the lights go out, after all, and it's easier to make big gains in small spaces.  All five of the top starters... Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Smiley Ricciardo, Embryo Verstappen, and Seb Vettel... had quick getaways, but it was Ricciardo who proved the most adventurous.  His gamboling and cavorting actually saw him in the lead for a brief moment around the long Turn 1, but it was Lewis Hamilton that wound up ahead out of Turn 2.  When Nico Rosberg took second place from the Red Bull driver, the last shift in podium position that we would see all day took place.  For all that there was another 100 minutes remaining in the race, more or less, the contest was essentially completed there.

*THAT'S THE JOKE:  So what we ended up with was, in effect, a processional.  The only drama involved was when leader Hamilton decided to slow down a bit after the first pit stop, saying that he couldn't make the new tires work.  In doing so, he also managed to slow down Rosberg, who was unable to pass Hamilton... and thus gave Daniel Ricciardo time to cut the gap to second from something like 10 seconds to 4 seconds in just a few laps time.  When the team told him to to pick up the pace or they'd give Rosberg the opportunity to pit first (a decided advantage), suddenly Hamilton's tires worked swell!  Huh, funny how that happens, ain't it?

*O THE DRAMA:  Such was the boredom levels of the race that suddenly the impending loss of satellite feed became the sole source of drama on the day.  We at F1U! knew that we didn't get the entire recording... what we didn't know is when the cut would occur.  On Lap 42 we got the first indication that it was coming... a "part of your recording has been lost" signal flickered on the screen for a moment and was gone.  Usually this is caused by things like lightning or heavy snowfall, but this morning had been clear and warm.  Then it happened: Lap 49, *blip*, recording over.  As our internet connection was still down, we at F1U! didn't immediately scramble for the computer.  Instead, we leisurely shook hands for a job well done, cleaned up the deli meats and cheese tray, picked up the empty bottles of bloody mary mix, Smirnoffs, and horseradish jars, paid the go-go dancers and had the limo drivers take them to the airport.  After a final set of handshakes, most of the F1U! team departed Pond Central in their high-end sportscars... the official timekeeper of the team just picked up a new Maserati Grand Turismo which sounds like God himself is clearing his throat in the tailpipes... and headed off to Parts Unknown until the next time they are Assembled.  I, on the other hand, shook my head at their shenanigans and took a nap, completely unconcerned about such mundane matters such as "who won".

*DUH:  Because of course Lewis Hamilton won, as we found out after the interwebs came back up sometime after 6pm.  Rosberg finished second, Ricciardo was third.  In winning, Hamilton also took over the points lead in the driver's championship for the first time this season.  It was also his fifth win at the Hungaroring, making him the most successful driver ever at the least interesting circuit on the calendar.

We head from Hungary to Germany next weekend.  Traditionally a favorite race for Rosberg, how he performs there might give us an idea of how the rest of the season will go: dogfight or dog's breakfast?   See ya then!

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July 10, 2016

F1 Update!: Great Britain 2016

The infamous Silverstone Microclimate struck again as the cars sat on the grid waiting for the start of the race.  Fifteen minutes before the lights were scheduled to go out, much of the Muir Eireann found itself deposited upon the front straight, sending drivers to cower under umbrellas, gridwalking announcers to bemoan their fates, and mechanics to scramble for wet-weather tires.  Considering the size of the downpour, it came as no great surprise when Race Control threw up the "changeable conditions" sign, which meant two things: first, everybody could change from the tires they qualified on to full wets; and second, Berndt Maylander would lead the first few laps in the Safety Car.  But what would this do to the strategies of Polesitter Lewis Hamilton and those of his nearest rivals?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Great Britain!

*LIGHTS OUT... KINDA SORTA: As mentioned, the race began behind the Safety Car, despite the rain having stopped and the track already beginning to dry, courtesy of the constant 20mph wind howling across the circuit.  After the first lap, we reached that awkward point where the F1 cars with their full wet tires were better equipped to handle the track conditions than the safety car was.  It was slipping and sliding all over the place, despite the driving prowess of Berndt Maylander.  Indeed, at one point it looked for all the world like the safety car was bound for a spin.  It didn't help that Hamilton was crowding Maylander in an attempt to get him to go faster... we here at F1U! are still wondering how there wasn't contact between them.  Still and all, the safety car pulled off just before Lap 5 began... and nearly half the field followed him into the pitlane for intermediate tires. 

*RACE ON... WAIT A MOMENT!
:  That half of the field got kicked in the teeth moments later when Pascal's Wager aquaplaned off at Turn 1 and went sailing deep into the kittylitter, there to be beached and out of the race.  A Virtual Safety Car was virtually summoned, and dutifully the other half of the field went in for intermediate tires; since everybody was mandated to go at reduced speed, they got an advantage over those who pitted under green.  Though occurring early in the race, this confluence of events doomed Smiley Ricciardo to be forever behind his teammate Embryo Verstappen.

*WHAT ABOUT THE REST?:  Unsurprisingly, Lewis Hamilton went galloping off over the horizon, more or less.  Surprisingly the Red Bull of Verstappen passed Hamilton's teammate Nico Rosberg for second early on, and it took the Merc driver some 30 laps to regain the place.  Everything seemed set for a Mercedes 1-2, followed by a Red Bull 3-4.  And then the pesky rulesbook got in the way.

*SR 27.1:  "The Driver must drive the car alone and unaided."  That's the full text of Article 27.1 of the Sporting Regulations, and it is designed to disallow radio messages from the pit wall coaching the driver.  On the whole, this is a good thing: at its worst, we were hearing messages telling the driver where and when to brake, or what gear to be in, or whatever, for nearly every turn... during a race.  It does also mean that when there's a technical problem, the driver needs to figure it out on his own.  For example, at Baku both Mercedes had the identical problem with their engine electronics.  Rosberg was able to figure out the fix (or stumble across it) much, much faster than Hamilton did... to the point that Hamilton was begging for help, and couldn't get it.  Today, however, something different happened.  At one point, Rosberg called in with "gearbox problems."  Mercedes immediately told him exactly what he needed to do to fix it, no hesitation at all.  Within a couple of laps came the notification: Rosberg and Mercedes were under investigation by the race stewards and a decision would come post-race.

*THE END:   As it turned out, nobody could catch Hamilton at his home race.  While he was only six or seven seconds ahead of his teammate, that's only because he was protecting his engine for much of the final 20 laps.  Rosberg was in second, closely hounded by Embryo Verstappen, less than a second behind.  Ricciardo was about 30 seconds adrift, with the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonnen nearly 40 seconds behind him.

*POST-RACE:  After talking to both Rosberg and the Mercedes pit wall honchos, it turned out that the transmission on Rosberg's car had completely lost seventh gear.  Since much of a lap at Silverstone is turned in 7th and 8th gear, this could prove a bother.  Indeed, Rosberg was stuck in this non-existent gear for a short while, which is what prompted the call to the pit wall that started the whole avalanche falling.  The Merc powers-that-be came to the conclusion that the problem was a terminal one: if it wasn't fixed immediately, Rosberg's gearbox would grenade itself.  Knowing that, the team decided to break the rules... a penalty being preferable than the car dead on the side of the track.  The stewards delivered on the penalty, adding 10 seconds to Rosberg's time, thereby dropping him to third in the standings.  The team has already announced they plan to appeal and have some four days to do so, so we're actually not sure who finished second and third quite yet.

SO that's it from Silverstone.  In two weeks, you may see F1U! become permanently broken, for we are to be in Hungary, our favoritest track ever!  See ya then!

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