October 26, 2009

F1 on SPEED!: Abu Dhabi 2009!

And so we come to the end.  The final race of the 2009 season is upon us.  The F1 Circus is packing up its tents for the year.  Unlike the past couple of years, though, there's little to race for at the top of the grid.  The drivers' championship has been clinched and the constructors' championship is decided.  Certainly 2nd place in the DC is up for grabs, with Seb Vettel leading Rubens Barrichello by two points, and the fight between McLaren and Ferrari for third in the constructors title has only a one point difference, but for all intents and purposes the season is over.  In the old days, it wasn't unheard of for a team to skip the final race if they had nothing to gain or lose (Ferrari and Phil Hill in 1961, for example).  Now, however, the teams are contractually obligated to run the whole season.

But there's another reason to run the final race this year, that being the location.  Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit is a brand new track, one the teams have never turned a wheel on.  So what mysteries will the fresh asphalt reveal?  Let's see what we can figure out with the track map for the 5.5km long circuit:

The first thing that leaps out at a casual glance is the long, long back straight from turns 7 to 8.  At 1.2km, it becomes the longest in Formula 1, and after a chicane, is followed by another high-speed stretch.  The next thing one notices is the dual nature of the circuit.  No less a personality than David Coulthard's Chin himself, one of the only F1-experienced drivers ever to run laps on the track, says it feels like both a modern (read 'Hermann Tilke') track and a street circuit. 

The GP2 series ran a weekend's worth of test sessions here this past weekend.  This allowed the FIA to get a sense of how the track runs, and the organizers to stage a dry run for the race weekend.  Both groups came away satisfied.  The GP2 drivers praised the layout, complementing the wide turns and the long straights, saying that they should be quite conductive to on-track passing.  They also suggested that it'll be hard on the brakes.

A closer look at the circuit reveals an odd feature of the pit lane.  The exit appears to cross the track at turn 1... and for once, appearances are NOT deceiving.  The pit lane exit actually runs through a tunnel under the track!  Here, take a look:

...and yes, that IS a two-seater F1 car;  I suspect its the former Minardi 2-seater that the team ran as a funds-raiser, but I don't know for sure.  Just pay X amount, and a driver would take you on a couple of laps at speed around the circuit.  In this video, the driver is Bruno Senna, the soon-to-be F1 driver and nephew of the late Ayrton Senna.

I think the pit exit will be only a minor concern only after the first couple of practices and the drivers get used to it.  It is narrow, for sure, but not unduly so.  It'll sure cut down on pit lane speed violations!  I wonder what'll happen the first time someone breaks their suspension in the tunnel... I also wonder what the lighting is like in there.  After all, this is going to be F1's first day/night race, beginning around 5pm local time.  Like Singapore, there's a high-powered lighting system around the circuit, so the drivers probably won't have any difficulties with visibility, but that tunnel makes me nervous.

Bridgestone is bringing their medium and soft compound tires, so they don't appear to be too concerned about the abrasiveness of the circuit.  They are worried about the track surface temperatures, though, and fully expect the tires to blister during the first practices until the teams get used to the layout.

Initial reactions make it look like a medium downforce circuit, at least for this race.  As usual, it's all a trade-off between the high-speed first half and the low-speed second half.  You can't crank on a lot of wing, otherwise you'll compromise the car down those long, long straights, but if you take off too much wing, you'll be hurt from turn 11 thru 21.  I'm going to guess that most teams'll sacrifice top speed... sometimes you've got to go slow to go fast.

Finally, one may notice that, like Brazil, Abu Dhabi runs counter-clockwise.  There's only a few tracks in F1 that are run that way, so there'll be some extra stress on the driver's necks.  It's expected to be warm, but not excessively so, on race day... maybe 90 degrees F.

All in all, Abu Dhabi seems to be an interesting track to end the season with.  As usual, the good folks at SPEED will be bringing us their usual stellar coverage from their high-tech headquarters in Charlotte, NC.  There, the Legendary Announce Team is waited upon hand and foot in their palatial studios...

(L to R: Matchett, Hobbs, Varsha)

I must admit, I expected something more.  Other than all the TVs, this looks like something you'd find in someone's basement.  Well, no matter, they still do a great job!  Friday's Second Practice comes to us from 8am to 940am, LIVE.  Quals will be from 8am to 930am on Saturday, plausibly live.

We here in the US go back to Standard Time early Sunday morning, so don't forget to set your clocks back an hour!  You'll mess up your recording times otherwise, and with the race coming to us LIVE from 630am to 9am, you'll probably want to set the VCR.  If you mess up, there's a replay from 330pm to 6pm Sunday afternoon, too.

Of course, F1U! will be here with all the usual coverage.  Don't miss it!

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October 18, 2009

F1 UPDATE!: Brazil 2009!

The rain held off, but could Button hold off Barrichello and Vettel?  THIS is your F1 UPDATE! for the 2009 Grand Prix of Brazil!


Congratulations to Jenson Button, the 2009 FIA Formula 1 Driver's Championship winner.  His fifth-place finish clinched the title; Seb Vettel managed to finish fourth, Rubens Barrichello a sad eighth after a late tire puncture.

*OH, THE REST OF THE RACE: A few more races, and Red Bull might have caught BrawnGP for the Constructors' Championship.  They certainly gave it their best shot, with Mark Webber winning his second race of the season and Vettel turning in an excellent fourth after starting 15th, but it was not to be. 

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: Lewis Hamilton started 17th after the confused and delayed Quals on Saturday.  The confusion of the first lap brought out a safety car, which allowed Hamilton to get into the pits, get off the bad supersoft tires and load up with gas without losing much time, switching on the fly to an early-stopping one-stop strategy.  He then managed to drive a fine race, ending up with a VERY impressive third-place podium finish.  Ohbytheway, with the six points he earned, McLaren has moved into third place in the Constructor's Championship, just ahead of Ferrari.

*TEAM OF THE RACE: BrawnGP.  Under a year ago, the team known as Honda was dead.  Purchased by Ross Brawn with barely enough time to get any testing done, they dominated the first half of the season.  While the other teams caught up with rookies in the second half, they had enough of a lead to make it a mere formality.  A formality that was confirmed today when BrawnGP clinched the 2009 FIA Formula 1 Constructor's Championship.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  There were a ton of good on-track passes today, but the one that lept out at us here at F1U! was on lap 6.  Jenson Button, knowing that he had to score points if he wanted to win the Driver's Championship today, found himself behind Kazoo Nakajima's Williams heading down into turn 1 just after the restart.  He held off on braking as long as he could, then slipped nicely inside Kazoo, who did try to slam the door on the Brawn.  Realizing that by doing so he'd wreck them both, Nakajima quickly gave up on that plan and tried to outdrag Button through the Senna Esses, but couldn't make it happen.  Button pulled away, a clean pass for sixth, another standing point, extra pressure on Vettel and Barrichello, and a declaration that he wanted the Driver's Championship over.  Gutsy move, and an important one, to boot.

*MOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE: While Jarno Trulli's dumb attempt at a pass on Adrian Sutil, and his subsequent playground-class temper-tantrum, was a solid contender for today's Mooooo-ooove, today we're giving the award to the McLaren lollypop man.  When Heikki Kovaleinninninnie came in for fuel and tires during the safety car period caused by Trulli's Mooo-contender, the Lollypop Man was more concerned with getting him out ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who had also stopped.  When Lollypop Man saw Ferrari release Kimi, he lifted the lollypop... and Heikki, as he was trained to do, hit the gas and left the pit... knocking two mechanics to the ground and pulling the hose off the refuelling rig.  That's bad enough, but what happened next was worse:

Fortunately there were no injuries, but I suspect Kimi might have had to change his fire-resistant underwear.  Nice job Lollypop Man!  A Moooo is you!



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Brazil 2009 Pandemonium on the First Lap!

Button is up to P9 after the most wild opening lap I've ever seen!  Sutil, Trulli and HWMNBN were all involved in a wild accident that saw Trulli try a suicidal pass of Sutil and fail, taking them both out.  Trulli's Toyota went left into the wall, Sutil went right onto the grass and, skidding out of control, gathered the Renault when his car re-entered the racing line.

Meanwhile, both McLarens needed to hit the pits for tires or a new nose, as did Kimi Raikkonen who tried a little too hard to get past Sutil at the start.  He succeeded, but wound up with a flat and a broken nose.  And that's when the SECOND incident began.

Kovaleininninnie pulled out of his pit stall too early, ripping the fuel hose out and dragging it down the pit lane, fuel spilling out everywhere... just as Kimi pulled out.  The Ferrari drove right into the fuel spray, which hit the hot exhaust pipes.  FWOOM, fireball.  It did no damage, but was frightening to say the least.

The race has restarted, and Button has passed TWO cars in one lap; he's up to 7th! 

This looks like a fun one, folks!

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October 04, 2009

F1 UPDATE!: Japan 2009!

Sunny skies over Suzuka today, but will everything stay bright for Red Bull?  THIS is your F1 UPDATE! for the 2009 Grand Prix of Japan!

*VETTEL VICTORIOUS: Starting from pole, Red Bull's Seb Vettel simply blew the the rest of the field off the track today.  By the end of the second lap, he had a three-second lead.  At one point late in the race, he had a 15 second lead... and set fast lap to boot (his teammate Mark Webber took it away a few laps later).  Only a late safety car pulled him back to the field, but when the race restarted, away he went again.  Much needed for the team as well, for not only did Vettel keep himself alive in the Driver's Championship, but he kept Red Bull alive for the Constructor's Championship as well.

*BRAWN BOTHERED: The team could have won the Constructor's Championship with four points today.  Jenson Button could have kicked out Seb Vettel from the Driver's Championship with six points.  Neither happened.  Button finished eighth, and teammate Rubens Barrichello came in seventh, for a total of three points.  Not even when the safety car came out, bunching the field together, could either driver make a move to pass BMW's Grizzly Nick Heidfeld for that last point.  They're still likely to win the Constructor's in Saõ Paolo, but the team's gotta be kicking themselves for letting this chance slip by.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  With his teammate starting from the pit lane and pitting three times in the first four laps for modifications to his newly built car, the last hopes for Red Bull rested solely on Sebastian Vettel's shoulders.  Many young drivers would have been crushed by the pressure but, as we've learned, Vettel is no ordinary young driver.  Instead, he ran a mostly perfect race, marred only by his desire to go very fast when he didn't need to and thereby stressing his final race engine unduly.  It didn't bite him today, but those spent revs could come back to haunt him.  But for today, Vettel was easily the class of the field and well-deserving of the DotR.  Honorable mention goes to Jarno Trulli's second-place finish.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  With the team perhaps facing the budget axe, Toyota really needed a good result at their "home" race.  Unfortunately, with Timo Glock out, it all came down to Jarno Trulli.  Amazingly, he pulled out his best start of the season, settling into third place behind Lewis Hamilton.  He the proceeded to stay about three seconds behind Hamilton until the final pitstops, at which point the team mechanics pulled out the most meaningful stop of Toyota F1's life.  The team managed to get Trulli in and out so quickly that Trulli leapfrogged Hamilton for second place, the team's second in a row.  Hopefully, that'll be enough to keep them in the sport as more than an engine supplier.  If not, however, it's a pretty decent result to go out on.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  This was a fun one.  On lap 39, Heikki Kovaleinninninnie and Giancarlo Fisichella came into the pits together.  Their stops were nearly identical in length, and as they exited pit lane, Fisi had about a car's length lead over the McLaren.  The instant they crossed the speed limit line, both drivers stepped on the gas, with Heikki on the inside.  For some reason, Fisi drifted towards the center of the track.  Realizing his error, he tried to slam the door on the silver car, but it was too late: Heikki had gotten inside the Ferrari.  Even being pushed (slightly) onto the grass wouldn't stop the Floundering Finn:

..and he made this most unique Move of the Race stick; unique because it all started in the flippin' pit lane!

*MOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:   Adrian Sutil's Force India was looking quite racy early on.  He was in 9th place and harrying Heikki Kovaleinninninnie, in 8th, quite hard.  For three or four laps, Sutil would get right up behind the McLaren in 130R, but Heikki wouldn't give him an opening into the Casio Triangle.  Must have been frustrating, I'm sure.  Still, on lap 13, Sutil saw a glimmer of light to the inside and jumped at the chance.  Through the first part of the chicane, he got his nose out in front of the McLaren.  You could almost hear his thought process: "I'm in the lead, therefore I can take whatever driving line I want!"  Except it doesn't work that way, of course.  He tried to go the the inside of the next turn in the chicane... and Heikki was there.  The two touched, spinning Sutil from 9th to 12th.  All it would have taken is a desire to hold your frickin' line and he would have had the pass made.  Instead, he earns his second MoootR in a row.  In some ways, we here at F1U! really hope he gets into a good car next year, so he can really show what he can do.  In other ways, though, we dread the thought of Adrian Sutil at the front of the grid...



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