April 26, 2009

F1 Update!: Bahrain 2009!

For the diehard F1 fan, this was an interesting race.  For the casual fan, it would have been dull as dishwater.  For the F1 writer, it was a practically-impossible-to-write-about race.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the Grand Prix of Bahrain!

*RIGHT ON THE BUTTON:  On a day where his pit wall was imploring him to baby the engine due to the intense heat, dialing back the revs and finding clean air whenever possible, Jenson Button still managed to blow the rest of the field off the track, winning by 7.1 seconds over the RB5 of Sebastian Vettel.  That gap halved from nearly 15 seconds over the last few laps, not because Vettel was driving so much better than the BrawnGP car, but because Button knew he had the race locked up unless he had a breakdown, so he dialed it back even farther.  After the first handful of laps, however, there was very little drama to be found in Button's win.  At a race where everybody expected the KERS-enhanced cars to be dominant, Jenson made it three wins out of four.

*LEFT AT THE STATION:  Toyota had at least a passing chance for their maiden victory today, both cars starting on the front row and the TF109 looking quick all weekend.  Things would have to break their way, yes, particularly when it was announced that they were running light on fuel, but the capability was there.  To give the team credit, they tried an interesting strategy, using the less-capable medium compound tire in the middle stint while everybody else was using the supersofts.  While the harder tire was about a second per lap slower, they'd be able to use the softer tire at the end when everybody else was on the worse rubber and make up the time.  Except it didn't work out that way.  Timo Glock couldn't pass anybody, finishing seventh, and Jarno Trulli couldn't catch up to the Big Two on his way to a third-place podium finish.  Certainly not a horrible end result, but it could have been so much better...

*UP, UP, AND AWAY:  Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth, 42 seconds behind the winner.  Why this is being mentioned is because the three points earned were Ferrari's first of the season.  The tifosi must be partying in the streets of Maranello tonight.

*DOWN ON THE CORNER:  Kazoo Nakajima retired from the race on lap 48 with problems with his oil pressure.  That was the only car the BMW-Sauber tandem of Robert Kubica (18th) and Grizzly Nick Heidfeld (19th) beat today.  What has happened with this team?  From legitimate contenders to red-headed stepchildren in one off-season... simply unbelievable.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Other than having to worry about his car failing him, Jenson Button drove a completely worry-free race.  It was worry-free because he also drove what could be called a perfect race, never a wheel wrong.  It made for dull viewing, but it was quite deserving of the DotR award.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  While we're giving this one to BrawnGP for their 1st/5th outcome, it's with the caveat that switching Rubens Barrichello from a two-stop to a three-stop strategy in the middle of the race may have cost him a couple of places at the end.  While doing so got him out of traffic and got him into an empty section of track where he could rip off some blistering laps, one gets the feeling that it was the first time they've shown a lack of confidence all season, either in the car or the driver.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  At the start of the race, Lewis Hamilton served notice that in his hands, the McLaren was going to be a force to be reckoned with the rest of the season by moving from fifth on the grid to third and challenging Jarno Trulli for second.  While that gamble didn't succeed, it left him in a position to decide exactly what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it.  It also left Jenson Button behind a decidedly slower car that was equipped with the ultimate pass defense mechanism (KERS) and driven by a world champion that really hates being passed for any reason.  Button didn't have a whole bunch of time before the two Toyotas would rocket off into the desert, leaving him stuck behind the Glare With Wheels.  Just as lap 1 ended, Button was tucked behind Hamilton and stayed there until the two reached the braking zone for Turn 1, when he zipped inside, held off on braking as late as he could, then seemingly threw an anchor out of the cockpit.  He practically slammed to a halt, made the turn cleanly, then accelerated off after the Toyotas, leaving a stunned Hamilton behind like he was driving a Minardi, not a McLaren.  Button may very well have won the race right there, making this the clear MotR.

*MOOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  Instead of going to a driver this week, the Moooooooo-ooove will be going to a team.  Toyota decided to go all-in on their gamble with tire strategy, sending both cars out on their second stints on the harder, slower, rubber.  Both cars immediately tumbled down the running order as teams on the softer tires ran away and hid from them, an outcome that was as unfortunate as it was predictable.  Would it have been SO hard, Toyota, to put one car on Hards and the other on Softs, thereby keeping one of them in touch with the frontrunners?  You might have thrown a win away with that move... but, in consolation, you did earn a Moooooooooo-ooove!



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April 19, 2009

F1 Update!: China 2009!

We shouldn't be surprised that it was raining in Shanghai today.  After all, this is Bizarro Season, and the forecast was for sunny skies: of course it was raining!  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2009 Grand Prix of China!

*CLICHE TIME:  "Rain is the great equalizer."  Cliches get to be cliches because they're usually true.  In F1, this particular cliche really is true.  Throw in the new aero rules and nobody knows just what's going to happen when it rains... and that goes double for the newly-dominant BrawnGP team.  After all, they only had a month's worth of testing before Australia, and none of it was in the wet. Oh, don't get us wrong, a good car is still going to be better than Farce India's entries, but the gap between the two is going to be very much reduced, and a driver's skill level becomes the main factor in where the two will end up in the final standings (which explains why FA's Adrian Sutil was running in sixth place until very late in the race: he's good in the wet).

So when the skies opened up above the Shanghai International Circuit sometime before the tv cameras were turned on, two things became very clear: 1) it was going to be an interesting race, and 2) polesitter Sebastian Vettel was the happiest man in the world.  Last year, he had a dominant win from pole at Monza in the wet, laying claim to the title of "Der Regenmeister" in the process.

Today, Vettel repeated his Monza performance with a twist: he was even more dominant.  At one point, he was over five seconds a lap faster than Jenson Button.  He finished nearly 45 seconds ahead of the Brawn driver, and it would have been a lot more if his team hadn't have reined him in.

*GIVES YOU WIINS:  Today's win by Vettel was the very first for Red Bull, a team now in its fifth season.  Last year, he also earned Toro Rosso, Red Bull's unofficial junior team, their first win at Monza, also in the wet.  Vettel is no longer a future star... he's a star now

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Should be obvious by now, shouldn't it?  Sebastian Vettel not only blew the rest of the field off the track today, he made it look ridiculously easy in the process.  At one point, he came out of the pits, with a full tank of fuel and green tires, some seconds behind the previously unassailable Jenson Button, who was low on fuel and therefore should have been faster.  He caught up to the Brawn racer in no time flat, then blew his doors off.  After that, he wasn't ever challenged.  Probably the most dominant performance we're likely to see this season... unless it rains again.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Again, should be obvious by now.  Red Bull not only got their maiden victory today, but Mark Webber, their other driver, finished second, 30 seconds ahead of his nearest competition.  When everything is going right, you get results like this.  Now to see them do it in the dry....  Honorable mention goes to McLaren for their fifth-sixth finish.. with Lewis Hamilton, their best runner in the rain, following Heikki Kovaleininninnie, who had yet to finish a lap this season.  Baby steps, baby steps.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: On lap 31, Mark Webber goofed on the final turn (like many, many drivers did today), letting Jenson Button go by for 2nd place in the process.  Seven turns later, on a slippery track, Webbo went around the outside of the Brawn and made it stick hard.  The way the day had gone, the Red Bull driver probably could have passed Button later if he had waited, but it was still a gutsy move, earning a well-deserved MotR.

Honorable mention goes to the Toyota crewmember that came up with the idea of the "nose trolly," a device to make a nose cone change go quicker:

Previously, a nose change required two people to position the new nose, then a third to fasten the quickclips, and usually took about 15 seconds or so to perform.  Toyota's new cart, though, took the place of two people, and took about 10 seconds off the process.  Brilliant!

*MOOO-OOVE OF THE RACE:   When the best drivers in the world get stupid, they sometimes look like cows on the field... and thus, the Moooo-oove was born.  Toyota's Jarno Trulli was not having a good day.  From the moment the safety car left the grid and racing really began, he had been slipping farther and farther down the grid, looking like he'd never driven in the rain before.  Maybe the car just isn't good in the wet, maybe he's not good in the wet, whatever.  BMW's Robert Kubica wasn't having much better of a day, but he was, at least, competitive.  It was on lap 18 that the two of them conspired to turn both of their days miserable.  Trulli slowed down precipitously into the final turn, and Kubica, storming down the short straightaway either didn't see him due to the rain and spray, or couldn't get whoa'd up in time.  The result?

Surprisingly, Kubica only needed a new nose (as opposed to the new suspension it looked like he should have needed), and was able to go right into the pits to get it.  Trulli, though, was knocked away from the pit entry and had to do a lap like this:

Looks almost naked, doesn't it?  We just wish we could figure out which one of these two worthies to give the award to... so we'll give it to both of 'em.  Nice job, boys.



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April 05, 2009

F1 Update!: Malaysia 2009!

An unique race to say the least!  THIS is your F1 Update! for the Malaysian Grand Prix!

*A DAY AT THE (SWIM) RACES:  If anybody at the FIA had bothered to ask a local, they would have been informed that, in Kuala Lumpur, every afternoon around 6pm there is usually a heavy downpour that lasts for some time.  They also would have been informed that the sun tends to set around the time the race would be coming to an end.

The FIA asked neither of these questions and started the race at 5pm local time, so as to give the European audience a chance to wake up at a half-way decent time and still be able to watch live.  So what happened?

The heavens opened up, the rains bucketed down, and the track began to flood.  As reader The Wondering Brit said, "There's rain, and then there's rain."

You'll note the red circle in the picture above.  That circle is highlighting the Rain Light of the car in front of the Brawn, which might give you an idea of how hard it was coming down.  Here's another example:

Note the way the water is spewing up around the sides of the car.  On lap 31, the Race Directors called out the safety car, and one lap later they red-flagged the race.  They then sat for about an hour, hoping for the weather to break.  Instead, it just got worse, and for the first time since 1991, a Formula 1 race was stopped due to inclement weather.

As the race did not reach the 75% lap mark, all points scored are halved.  Therefore, first place was worth 5, instead of 10, points, second is worth 4, third is worth 3, fourth is worth 2.5 points, fifth is 2, sixth is worth 1.5 points, seventh is worth 1, and 8th is worth one-half of one point.  The full results list is here.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Jenson Button.  He's just won his second race in a row behind the safety car, but it's not like either was lucky.  Today, Button had to make four pitstops for tires as the weather vacillated between good, awful, and frogswallower.  Meanwhile, 2nd place finisher Nick Heidfeld only stopped once.  Despite that, Button was still 22 seconds in front at the end of the last completed lap.

*TEAM OF THE RACE: Toyota.  Third and fourth place, and if there had been another lap finished it would have been second and fourth.  Great job for a team that needs results now.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: On lap 13, Renault's HWMNBN and Red Bull's Mark Webber engaged in an amazing duel that lasted nearly two entire circuits of the track.  The Renault was heavy on fuel but had KERS.  The Red Bull was lighter, but had no boost button.  The result was a back-and-forth battle where Webber would pass HWMNBN in one turn, and in the next the Renault would catch the Red Bull.  It was only when the heavy Renault staggered wide under braking that Webber finally finished off one of the best fights in recent memory.

*MOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  While a bovine lurks just under the surface of every driver in F1, this week they all get a pass: while everybody was sliding, spinning and generally pirouetting their high-tech cars around the circuit, the track conditions were more to blame.  No, today's Mooooo-ooove goes to Team Ferrari for bringing Kimi Raikkonen in for full-wet tires five laps too early.  By the time the rain DID start, he had already shredded his monsoons, even though Kimi was a full 30 seconds a lap slower than everybody else as he tried to keep some tread on them.  To be fair, this was a calculated gamble by a team that had nothing to lose, and we don't disagree with the call... we just had to give it to someone, and this gamble is the only "mistake" bad enough to be remembered.

There's only one Driver Quote Of The Race, yet it encapsulates the entire Malaysian Grand Prix:
"What a crazy race!" - Jenson Button (note: real quote)

That's it for the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix.  Two weeks from now we'll be in Shanghai, China... see you then!

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