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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July 03, 2016

F1Update!: Austria 2016

The skies above the head of noted film director/producer George Lucas were a uniformly overcast gray as strolled the pit lane of the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg, Austria, the town which gave Steven Spielberg, himself a noted producer/director of films, his name.  There was a faint hint of rain in the air, a hint which caused no end of concern as the cars of the F1 Circus sat on the grid.  Lewis Hamilton sat on pole, his two closest rivals buried back towards the middle of the pack due to penalties, and one could not but think that it would take some miracle to bring the reigning World Champion to head.  A miracle... or rain.  Would either occur?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Austria!

*LIGHTS OUT:  The start of the race was, surprisingly, uneventful.  There were no great comings-together, no massive showers of carbon fiber shards, no mad scrambles to refit front wings or cut tires.  Just the sad sight of Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, originally second on the grid, being swallowed by the ravenous beast that is the F1 grid when he suffered a massive amount of wheelspin at the start.  On the other hand, Hulkenberg's disappointment did give us a look at what some are saying is likely to be the way of things in 2017, as Jenson Button's McLaren tucked itself nicely behind polesitter Hamilton's Mercedes.  This happy state of affairs only lasted a few laps before Button was passed by Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, then seemingly the rest of the field, then half of the cars in the parking lots, but for a moment there McLaren was back.

*EYES TO THE SKIES:  Despite their overwhelming advantage in the various championships this season, Mercedes has proven to have two weaknesses.  The first is reliability... there always seems to be something going wrong with one or both of the cars, and Hamilton is already down to his last sets of engine parts, for example.  The second weakness is a tendency for one team of strategists or the other to overthink themselves.  Almost as soon as the race began, drivers were reporting occasional raindrops.  This lead people to start watching the skies with an intensity seen but rarely in life... and for Hamilton's Mercedes strategists to unshackle the giant throbbing mass of brain tissue they keep in a vat for racing planning purposes and let it figure out the best thing to do.  When Nico Rosberg's tires began to fade on him, he dove in for a new set.  Hamilton's strategists decided to keep him out on track for as long as possible, hoping to go from the first set of tires directly to wets, and thus avoid a pitstop.  Good idea in theory, but when Rosberg began cutting huge swathes of time off Hamilton's lead, it was shown to be wrong in practice.  Eventually the great brain was retinned and put away, and Hamilton came in for new tires... and promptly lost the position to his teammate when the pitstop was slowed by a balky tire change.  As the pit rotation completed, Rosberg led the race.

*SAFETY CAR:  The big question was how well could Rosberg baby his tires, as his teammate now had fresh rubber that would last longer in comparison to the multiple-lap-used tires on Rosberg.  Nobody thought that either driver could stay out long enough to finish the race on one stop; the longer Rosberg could stay out on his worn tires, the less laps he'd have to put on the next set, thus cutting into any advantage Hamilton gained from pitting later... he may have surrendered the lead, after all, but if he could stay close, it could easily come down to which driver had more tire grip remaining at the end.  Whatever calculations Mercedes had figured out went out the window when Seb Vettel's right-rear tire blew out, scattering chunks all along the stop/finish straight and bringing out the Safety Car to allow for cleanup.

This gave Nico Rosberg a chance to mollycoddle his tires for a few laps, thus extending their lifespan.  Things were shaping up for an interesting run to the flag for the two Mercedes teammates.

*SPRINT: Rosberg's advantage never reached two seconds, and most of the time was right around one second.  However, it came as a great surprise when it was Hamilton, not Rosberg, that pitted first on Lap 54 of 71.  Rosberg dove in the next lap and came out ahead, and on super-soft tires to boot in comparison to Hamilton's softs.  It took fewer than 10 laps for Rosberg to pass first Smiley Ricciardo, then Embryo Verstappen, to take the lead; Hamilton got hung up slightly behind Verstappen and wound up 1.5 seconds back of his teammate with eight laps to go.  Quickly enough, the lead was halved, then halved again.  As the final lap began, the Brit was all over the back of the German, who was clearly suffering from brake problems. 

*TAKEDOWN!:  Going into Turn 2, Hamilton tried to go around the outside of his teammate.  However Rosberg, either due to brake problems or sheer bloodymindedness, didn't put much effort into turning in and floated very wide indeed.  The result was predictable.

Rosberg would later say that he had the the right of the driving line and the contact was Hamilton's fault.  Anybody who actually saw the incident, however, had to be asking him what line was he taking, the white one that shows the outside of the track limits?  As a result of the contact, Rosberg's front wing got stuck under his car before eventually shattering in a shower of sparks; he would eventually finish fourth and be penalized for unsafe driving.  Hamilton, on the other hand, got away mostly unscathed and wound up taking the win in one of the more interesting races we've seen this year.

*TO THE MANOR BORN: Pascal's Wager Wehrlein had himeself an interesting little race in his Manor.  First, he pulled into the wrong starting slot and wound up having to reverse into the correct one on the grid.  While there were people wondering why he didn't get penalized for that, it's because it's perfectly legal to reverse on-track; it's only in the pit lane one cannot reverse.  From there, Wehrlein managed to get as high as sixth before having some bad luck with Vettel's safety car... he had just stopped, and wound up last as everybody else got the free pit stop.  Yet he made a one-stop strategy work, worked his way back up the standings, and when the Force India of Sergio Perez was retired for brake issues, he found himself in 10th place... the position he would complete the race in, earning his first point and the team's first point since 2014.


No driver comments this week, as this F1U! is late enough as it is.  Next week we're to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix... see ya then!

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June 19, 2016

F1 Update!: Europe 2016

It was sunny and warm in Baku, Azerbaijan as the F1 Circus lined up on the grid for the inaugural race in that old, old city.  Nico Rosberg was on pole with his teammate Lewis Hamilton back in tenth... in between were all the realistic challengers both for the win and for the driver's championship.  So what happened?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Europe!

*LIGHTS OUT: ...we can't do this.  Not this way.  Not after this.

In a way, it's our fault.  We here at F1U! were excited for this race.  The track was terrifying and fascinating in equal measure, the result of Quals made for a slightly jumbled Top 10, and since it was the first time F1 had raced at Baku, nobody was sure how the track would really race.

We should have known better.  Formula 1 is good for many, many things, but the one thing that F1 does not handle well is doubt.  The teams handle the unknown very poorly... potentially exciting unknowns cause F1 teams to drool on themselves in the night, gibbering madly in the darkness of their motorhomes.

And so it came to pass that today's race at Baku was easily the most boring race this season.  There were no risks taken, nothing that could have been considered bold (moves, strategies, tire choices), even the first turn didn't cause much in the way of bumps and bruises.  By the end of the first lap, Nico Rosberg was already out of DRS Zone range, and by the time DRS was enabled on Lap 3, he was two seconds clear of the field.  Next time over the start/finish line, the lead was four seconds because the tires on Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull had given up the ghost.  Ferrari's Seb Vettel got past him by the next lap, but the damage was already done.  The Merc driver had an incredible 14 second lead by the end of Lap 10.

It was pretty clear that the only people with a chance to catch up to Rosberg were his teammate Lewis Hamilton, and maybe Valterri Bottas, the Williams driver that managed to hit 235 mph down the long, long straight in Quals.  As it turned out, Bottas wound up holding Hamilton back during a critical point in the race.  His immense speed made a DRS pass practically impossible, so that when it did finally occur, he was a half-minute behind his teammate and in fifth place.

Hamilton then spent 15 laps trying to figure out a problem caused by the engine settings on his steering wheel.  Please note that the exact same problem arose on Rosberg's car, and he figured out how to fix it in less than one lap.  So that put paid to any chance he might have had to catch the leader, slim as it would have been.

Nobody else had anything to show the leader, and nobody pushed the limits of the circuit.  The four DNFs were for mechanical problems, not accidents.  Nobody even came close to the walls, and almost all the passes today involved the DRS.  Rosberg led from flag-to-flag, ended up winning over Seb Vettel's Ferrari by 16 seconds.

Vettel was 10 seconds ahead of Force India's Sergio Perez in third, who in turn was eight seconds up on Kimi Raikkonen.  Hamilton finished 23 seconds behind the Ferrari Finn, nearly one full minute behind Rosberg.

This race, simply put, was a massive disappointment.  We're glad everybody came out safely, but that was the only high point of the day.

Next race is two weeks from now in Austria. 

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June 12, 2016

F1 Update!: Canada 2016

Above the beautiful man-made island in the St Lawrence River called Ile Notre-Dame in Montreal, the skies were gray and random, spitting rain here, there, nowhere, then everywhere.  Even as the F1 Circus performers lined up on the grid, nobody was quite sure how long slick tires would be on the cars.  Make no mistake, the track was dry... now, at least... but a glance at the radar screen made it clear that rain sometime during the race was a 50/50 and pick 'em bet.  Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes sat on pole, but his teammate and current championship points leader Nico Rosberg was right next to him... and the revived Ferrari of Seb Vettel was directly behind.  Would the rains be the deciding factor?  Or would speed and control carry the day?  And if so, from whom?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Canada!

*LIGHTS OUT
:  It is not uncommon for cars of great overall ability to have a small weakness here or there.  Like a slightly misshapen nose on a supermodel, that flaw tends to emphasize, rather than detract from, the beauty.  So it is with the Mercedes F1 W07, the 2016 entry for that team.  It has the unerring ability to screw up any start, under any conditions, from any position on the grid, at any time.  And so it was that when the five red illuminated beacons were extinguished from the starters tower, both Hamilton and Rosberg seemed to have been sitting in wet concrete.  As Vettel roared past Hamilton's left to take a multiple car-length lead before the first turn, both Mercs staggered drunkenly off the line.  When the two of them bumped wheel rims in Turn 1, Rosberg had to leave the track; upon his return, he was quickly swallowed by the field and deposited in 10th place.  Hamilton was in slightly better shape, staying in second, but Vettel was proving to be in no mood to be trifled with.  Only a blown chicane kept him from opening a three or four second lead in just a couple of laps.  It was obvious that Ferrari wanted this win, and badly.

*STRATEGERY:  When Jenson Button's McLaren blew its Honda engine on Lap 10, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car, Vettel stopped to get off the ultrasoft tires and onto the supersofts.  This immediately made clear Ferrari's plan for a two-stop strategy for the race, as tire manufacturer Pirelli had gone on record that they expected one-stop strategies galore today... start on the ultra or supersofts, then switch to the hardest compound (ironically, the Softs) and go the rest of the way on those.  A two-stop strategy was aggressive to say the least, leaning hard on the ability of the driver to make up the lost time while having new rubber.  The question became, what would Mercedes do?

*ANSWER:  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  While Vettel quickly climbed back up to second from the fourth place he dropped to during his pitstop, it still meant that he had relinquished the lead to Hamilton.  On Lap 24, Vettel turned in what was then the fast lap of the race, cutting the gap to the Merc driver to five seconds.  It was clear that the leader would have to pit, and soon... but what would he come out on?  Would the German team go with the Soft tires and try to go the rest of the way?  Or would they mirror Ferrari and come out on one of the softer compounds?

*SURPRISE:  Pitting on Lap 25, Hamilton rejoined the race wearing soft tires... meaning he would have to go 45 laps on them to make the strategy work.  While Vettel had a 13 second lead, that wouldn't be enough to stay in front when he made his second stop.  Either he'd have to open that gap dramatically, or he'd have to make up the time during his final stint.

*PUSH, SON, PUSH:  Vettel pitted on Lap 37 for soft tires, rejoining in second place some eight seconds behind Hamilton.  However, the Merc was on tires 12 laps older.  Could Vettel make up the time with that advantage in pocket?  He began to whittle away at the lead, getting it down to under four seconds on Lap 50.  An interesting finish looked to be in store.

*THE END:  There's always one drawback to a strategy like the one Ferrari tried, and that's tire wear.  When you're pushing hard to go fast, you use up your tires more quickly.  It's just a fact of life in motorsports: the faster you go, the faster your tires go.  And today, in Montreal, was no exception.  Vettel began to make little mistakes... a small lockup here, a slightly blown turn there, and the gap to Hamilton began to open again.  Meanwhile, the leader marched around the circuit as if on rails, never putting a tire wrong, even turning in some fast laps on what had to have been well-worn rubber.  He would finish the race some five seconds ahead of Vettel, the two of them some forty seconds clear of the third place Williams of Valterri Bottas.

*SELECTED DRIVERS QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"God, I love Canada." - Lewis Hamilton

"Welp, that didn't work.  Oh well, maybe next time." - Seb Vettel

"Our first podium of the year.  Oh, and by the way?  Lewis and I were the only drivers in the Top 10 to use a one-stop strategy.  Take that for what it's worth." - Valterri Bottas

"That was mostly fun!" - Embryo Verstappen

"Yeah, I'm kinda pissed at my teammate... again." - Nico Rosberg

"mrmrmbl mrmrmrbrrb mrmrbrrlrm mmrmrbrrbrrlrrl." - Kimi Raikkonen

Next race is next week!  We'll be in Baku, Azerbaijan for the return of the Grand Prix of Europe and the debut of what looks to be a very promising street circuit.  We'll see you then!


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May 29, 2016

F1 Update!: Monaco 2016

The beautiful blue skies of the Côte d'Azur stretched from horizon to horizon far above the Principality of Monaco, clear and serene.  Somewhat lower in altitude, however, was an unbroken swath of clouds, and they were in the process of dropping a measurable percentage of the Mediterranean Sea over the one-time quaint French fishing village.  Normally, this is hardly a concern: perhaps the ultra-wealthy residents of may be limited in their helicopter usage, but they could always use their megayachts instead, or just have another bottle of champagne in the Casino.  Today, though, the streets of the second-smallest sovereign nation in the world were in the hands of the Formula 1 circus, and the rain meant very very different things to them.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix!

*LIGHTS OUT... WELLLL...:  The rain, which had been torrential in the hours leading up to the start of the race, was merely steady and constant when Race Director Charlie Whiting extinguished the lights.  Instead of the usual mad scramble to get into Ste Devote before disaster occurs, this time the field set off behind the Safety Car, driven by birthday boy Bernd Maylander.  The problem wasn't the rain that was falling, but the rain that had already come down.  Monaco is, of course, a street circuit in the purest sense of the term, and drainage is not to the levels of purpose-built circuits.  Remember, last year's US Grand Prix weekend was run in biblical amounts of rain, to the point that the area around the circuit was under flood warnings.  Yet come race day the track was perfectly serviceable.  Not so Monaco: some portions of the city streets had puddles of standing water that would be perfectly manageable in an everyday car, yet would send a F1 machine hieing off into the barriers or beyond in a moment.  So as the rain tapered off, the increasingly disgruntled field trundled around town in the world's most expensive car parade.  Finally, on Lap 7, Maylander brought the Safety Car into the pits and the race began in earnest.

*AND THEY'RE OFF... WAIT, NOT SO FAST!
:  It took no time at all for the still-wet track to claim a victim.  Renault's Jolyon Palmer made it as far as the approach to Ste Devote before his car swerved left into the armco barriers in what was a surprisingly hard impact.  Not only was his nose assembly destroyed, there was some visible damage to the chassis behind the nose crash structure as well.  Immediately, a portion of the 280 marshals used for the race, all of whom are considered the best in the world, descended upon the accident site to begin cleanup, and a Virtual Safety Car was implemented.  This state of affairs lasted for two more laps, until Lap 9.

*AND THEY'RE OFF... WAIT FOR IT... YES, WE'RE GOOD:  Free of all constraints and on the full-wet tires, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo went galloping off over the horizon while the Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton fought among themselves for second.  He had a three second lead over the two after one lap, and had opened a 13 second gap after five more.  It wasn't so much that the Red Bull was dominating, as it appeared that Rosberg was having difficulties.  Apparently suffering from brake overheating, he just couldn't keep up with the Red Bull driver... but he could keep everybody behind him easily enough: Monaco is famous for being nigh-on impossible to pass upon.  Until, finally, Mercedes told him to let Hamilton by.  Immediately the gap to the leader began to drop.

*ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, I DECLARE A TIRE WAR:  Tire choice in F1 is always a huge component of race strategy, but in wet but drying conditions they can make or break a race.  As early as Lap 7, some drivers thought that Intermediate tires were sufficient for the track.  As more and more cars pitted, more and more Inters became the norm... but the two leaders were still pelting around the circuit on the Full Wets.  On Lap 23, Ricciardo pitted for fresh Inters, giving Hamilton the race lead.  Within seven laps, the Australian was nipping at the Brit's heels, the Full Wets clearly not the right choice anymore... but more and more, it was becoming clear that neither were the Inters.  An obviously visible dry line had formed on the circuit and it was only a matter of time before someone made the move to dry weather Slick tires in one of the three available compounds.  Hamilton's strategy became clear: run on the Full Wets until he could make the jump right to the slicks.  If he could manage to keep his speeds up in the process, he'd make one less pit stop than his rivals, all of whom had gone to Inters, and thereby save about 20 seconds or so in the process.  On Lap 30, Sony Erickson made the move to the new Ultrasoft tires and appeared to have no difficulties with them.  On the next lap, Hamilton made the move to ultrasofts as well.

*DAGNABBIT!:  On Lap 32, Daniel Ricciardo brought his Red Bull into the pits to change onto slicks as well.  As he pulled to a stop, he was stunned to see his old tires come off... and nothing get put on in their place.  The team strategists, seeing Hamilton on the ultras, changed plans on the fly, wanting instead to put their man on the more durable Supersofts.  In theory, he could run the rest of the way on them, while Hamilton would probably have to stop one more time.  Great idea, one that would nullify the Mercedes driver's advantage gained by going from Full Wets to Slicks... except that it occurred at the last moment, and the supersofts were at the back of the garage.  As Ricciardo pulled into his pit stall, the tires were only just being pulled off the rack by the mechanics.  Instead of just being slapped on as the old ones came off, they had to be brought out to the car. The pitstop dragged on and on, every second ticking by bringing Hamilton closer and closer to the front straight.  When Ricciardo finally pulled off pit lane and back on track, what had been a sure 10 second lead had turned into an one second deficit.

*FRUSTRATION:  Which didn't mean that the Aussie had given up... far from it.  He was all over the back of the Silver Arrow for lap after lap, aided in part by three Virtual Safety Car sessions.  The first came out when Red Bull teammate Embryo Verstappen  plonked the wall for the third time during race weekend.  From race winner to race failure in one race... still, not so bad for an 18 year old.  The second was for debris on the track, the third for, unbelievably, a tarp on the circuit.  Each time the VSC was called, Ricciardo was able to pull back the gap to Hamilton (never very large in any case), and the race would be back on.

*FINALLY:  The tires on both Hamilton and Ricciardo's cars were looking ragged indeed as the final laps ticked down.  Neither driver, of course, ever thought of stopping again, as that would not only throw away the race win, but probably drop them down to fourth.  Behind the two leaders, the surprising Force India of Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Seb Vettel were locked in a similar duel, and only 10 seconds back.  Eventually, and not a little surprisingly, it was the supposedly more durable supersofts on the Red Bull that gave up the ghost first, dropping Ricciardo farther and farther behind Hamilton.  The reigning World Champion took the checkered flag some seven seconds ahead of the crushed polesitter.  Behind those two, Force India racked up their fourth ever podium, with Sergio Perez finishing only a couple of seconds ahead of Vettel.  McLaren's Fernando Alonso finished fifth, and the other Force India, this of Nico Hulkenberg, passed a struggling Nico Rosberg at the last possible instant for sixth.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"It didn't feel lucky to me.  Hang on, I gotta say hi to Justin Bieber over there." - Lewis Hamilton

"I just want to get the hell out of here, to be honest." - Daniel Ricciardo (note: real quote)

"Holy crap, I don't even care that there isn't an actual podium here in Monaco, I'm on the podium at Monaco!" - Sergio Perez

"Not only didn't I get a podium, but a friggin' Force India beat me to it?  Sunuva..." - Seb Vettel

"Monaco: it's a magical place." - Fernando Alonso

"Never give up, never surrender!" - Nico Hulkenberg

"Oh bite me, fanboy." - Nico Rosberg

In two weeks, we'll be on the third stop of the European calendar: Montreal?  Wha?  See ya then!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:12 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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May 15, 2016

F1 Update: Spain 2016

Another perfect day greeted the Thundering Herd as they approached the grid at Barcalounger.  Reigning Champion Lewis Hamilton, desperate for a win, led the field, but his Mercedes teammate and current points leader Nico Rosberg was right next to him on the grid.  It looked like another Merc one-two was in the offing, particularly since Ferrari had managed to relinquish the second row to Red Bull somehow.  So what happened?  Who's speed reigned supreme?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Spain!

*LIGHTS OUT:  Hamilton had a flawless start and led his hard-charging teammate into Turn 1, a lead that lasted no longer than that.  Rosberg, on the grippy side of the track, managed to keep his speed higher through the turn and passed the Brit.  And then it happened.  Rosberg, his engine apparently in the wrong power setting, dumped power as it began to harvest power for the batteries.  Hamilton suddenly had a 10mph advantage over the leader and dove to the right.  Rosberg moved that way as well in a legal block, but Hamilton, committed continued onwards... and onto the grass.

Traction totally lost, Hamilton went sideways in an uncontrolled slide.  More importantly, he lost almost no speed in this skid, while Rosberg slowed to make the upcoming turn.

Hamilton's car, completely nonresponsive to anything the driver did, collected Rosberg.  Now both Mercedes were sideways, damaged, and headed for the kittylitter.

The two dominant cars of the 2016 season were out of the race.

*TRYING AGAIN:  After the safety car returned to the pit lane, Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo led his new teammate, former Toro Rosso driver Embryo Verstappen, a hot-starting Carlos Sainz, Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen back to racing.  Within a few laps, Sainz would be passed by both Vettel and Raikkonen, leaving the race to boil down to Ferrari vs Red Bull.

*STRATEGERY:  Soon enough it became apparent that the two teams were evenly matched.  The Red Bulls led, the Ferraris followed, but neither could really gain an advantage on the other.  With the cars and drivers equal, it was going to be a true Team vs Team race: the guys in the pit lanes were going to make a difference, maybe a race-winning one.  The first round of stops went smoothly, but something small occurred on Lap 24 that changed everything.

*TO THE MANOR BORN:  Rio Rainbow Gate! was Manoring his way around the circuit some handful of seconds slower than the leaders, believing himself to be a true F1 driver instead of one that has a seat by dint of Indonesian national funding.  As he pedaled his way through the lap, Smiley Ricciardo had caught up to him.  The problem was, he couldn't get past.  Turbulence from the Manor kept washing out the Red Bull's grip in the turns, and down the long straights, the Mercedes engine gave the backmarker a 7mph speed advantage.  By the time Rio Rainbow Gate! let Ricciardo past, Embryo Verstappen and Seb Vettel had both taken a second off of the leader.  Now all three were covered by less than two seconds, with Raikkonen a bit further back.

*C-C-C-CHANGES
:  At this point, Red Bull made a pit-wall decision, one that had long-reaching consequences for the race: they split the pit stop strategies on the fly.  They moved the leader to a three-stop strategy, counting on fresher tires to allow their man to make up the time lost in the extra stop.  Meanwhile, they kept Embryo Verstappen, in second place, on a two-stop strategy.  The tires needed to pull this off would be slower, but with one fewer stop to make... well.  Ferrari, reacting to Red Bull's move, pitted third-place Seb Vettel early to cover.  The question now became: which strategy would be faster at the finish line?  Two stops or three?

*FOOLED YA:  Vettel only stayed out for eight laps on the soft tires he had put on to mirror Ricciardo.  By pitting early, he managed to undercut the Red Bull driver; by the time Smiley would pit, Vettel had managed to use the pit lane to get past for third.  Ricciardo had gone from the lead to fourth, thanks to a strategy he had no call on.

*ON THE OTHER HAND: Verstappen and Raikkonen, on the two-stop strategies, were now out in front of their teammates... and it quickly became clear that the Ferraris were just a bit quicker than the Red Bulls.  The problem was, as it often is, turbulence.  The Finn couldn't quite get close enough to make a move on the leader, and Vettel was able to keep his Australian rival behind him, though doing so required quite a bit of effort.  And so the four sat, Verstappen - Raikkonen - 10 second gap - Vettel - Ricciardo, for lap after lap.  One error by anybody would allow the others to capitalize instantly... and as the fifth place driver was nearly 40 seconds adrift of Smiley, they were the only ones who would benefit from a mistake.

*IN THE END
:  The error ended up being nobody's fault... and made the least amount of difference possible.  Ricciardo picked up some debris and his left-rear tire let go.  He was able to nurse his car around the last third of the track, make the pits, and return to the race still in fourth, but Vettel was no longer in danger.  Ahead of them, Raikkonen had hovered less than a second behind Embryo Verstappen for lap after lap, trying to pressure the youngest driver in F1 history into a mistake or an opening... and being unable to do so.  Verstappen was flawless, never locking a tire, never missing a line through the turns, never giving the Finn the opening he so desperately needed.  When he took the checkered flag, some .600 seconds ahead of the Ferrari driver, he became the first Dutchman to win a F1 race and the youngest driver ever to win (taking that title from Seb Vettel).  Not bad for someone who had never even driven his F1 car before Friday's practice due to being promoted from Toro Rosso a week earlier.

*OH, THAT:  So what of the man Verstappen had traded teams with, Kid Kvyat?  He finished in 10th, but he did something no Toro Rosso driver had ever done: he turned fast lap of the race.  In other bits and pieces of interest, Haas F1's Esteban! finished his first race of the season, ending up in 11th.  Lettuce Grosjean, the other Haas driver, had to retire with brake failure.

*AFTER-ACTION:  The FIA stewards judged the Mercedes accident to be a racing incident, no penalties to be handed out.  And Embryo Verstappen... well:


We'll leave the writeup with that.

Next race is in two weeks, at the spiritual home of Formula 1: MONACO.  See ya then!

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