October 24, 2010

F1 Update!: Korea 2010

Many people suspected that the new track at Korea would be a true wild card in the race for the Driver's Championship.  A new circuit always puts a cat amongst the pigeons; nobody has an idea what to expect, so you've got as many guesses as there are teams and drivers.  The one thing we'd not seen during the three practice sessions and the qualifying periods was rain, which on a brand new track puts an ostrich amongst the kittens.  But would weather matter, or would we get a straight-out race for the Championship?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the inaugural Grand Prix of Korea!

*SPLISH:  During the recon laps before the race, cars were skidding off-track like they were driving on ice.  The rain, which had been falling all day, washed away all the rubber laid down on the track surface.  Throw in the new-style asphalt with a high oil content, thus preventing the water from permeating the surface and draining away, and we had a situation to rival the worst of the Swimming Pool at Spa-Francorchamps.  The closer it got to the scheduled race start time, the heavier the rain came down.  The start was delayed ten minutes by Race Director Charlie Whiting, then the decision was made to begin behind the Safety Car.  Two laps like that was enough for everybody; the radio freqs were buzzing with calls from the drivers saying they couldn't see the car in front of them.  Renault's Robert Kubica, buried near the middle of the trundling herd and thus deluged by the rooster tails of nearly half the field, reported that he couldn't even see his own front tires.  And so the race was Red Flagged, hoping for the weather to clear up.

*SPLASH:  After nearly an hour with the cars sitting on the grid, Charlie Whiting made the call for everybody to raise anchor and get under way, again behind the Safety Car... and for 17 more laps, Bernd Maylander led the cars around.  For the last five or six of those, the track was more than safe enough to race on, making everybody wonder if Whiting had fallen asleep.  Eventually, the safety car came in and green flag racing had finally come to the Korea International Circuit.

*CRASH:  Almost immediately, Red Bull's Seb Vettel jumped away from his teammate, championship points leader Mark Webber.  As the only driver with a clear view of the track, unobscured by spray, he had a much easier time of it.  Indeed, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who had been agitating to get the race started, was passed very quickly by Nico Rosberg's Mercedes for fourth place... a pass that, strangely, may have kept Hamilton in the hunt for the Driver's Championship.  For on Lap 20, as he went through the technical section, Mark Webber got a tire over a curb, spun and slid down the track.  Ferrari's HWMNBN got past cleanly, but Rosberg was speared by the crippled Red Bull, wrecking both cars.  The leader of the Driver's Championship was out of the race, but he didn't collect Hamilton.

*BLAST:  What followed was a rash of Safety Car periods, called out as one car or another ended up slipping off-track, occasionally taking someone else with them.  In the end, nine cars would retire from the race, seven from accidents.  Surprisingly the most violent of them all, when Vitaly Petrov's Renault wound up leaving the track at high speed and spearing into the wall protecting the pit lane entry, did not bring out Bernd Maylander.  Race leader Seb Vettel probably wished for the Safety Car, as he had started to call to the pit lane that it was becoming difficult to see braking points due to the gathering darkness... or perhaps he had an ulterior motive.  You see, a few laps later HWMNBN drove past a rapidly slowing Vettel in Turn 1, who then had a total and comprehensive engine failure.  Smoke, sparks, engine parts and, eventually, a small amount of fire, issued from the rear of the Red Bull, making it very clear that Vettel's day was done. 

*NIGHT:  Then it became a race to see if the entire race length would be run, or if Charlie Whiting would call it early because of nightfall.  Oddly enough, around the time of Petrov's accident the radio calls that the FIA had been liberally playing throughout the race strangely went silent.  The last one we heard was Vettel's call of darkness.  One suspects that the radios were burning up from the drivers' calls saying it was too dark to drive, but still Whiting left them out there.  By the time HWMNBN swept across the finish line 14.9 seconds ahead of Hamilton, they were running in the dark, but running they were.  The most eventful race of the 2010 season had come to an end, and the entire landscape of the Driver's Championship had changed.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  We think Bernd Maylander deserves this for his flawless drive in the 571-horsepower Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Safety Car.  It has less effective wet-weather tires than the F1 cars, less downforce, and yet he had to power around in conditions that were ugly at best at speeds that would keep the F1 cars healthy... somewhere between 80 and 120mph.  It obviously wasn't easy, as the F1 cars were sliding off even at those low speeds, yet Maylander kept the Safety Car planted like a rock.  We would love to give it to him, but we can't, even though he led the most laps today.  No, we have to give the award to one of the actual racers, and today the honors go to HWMNBN.  While he was given 1st place by the failure of both Red Bulls, he was very much the fastest car on the track for much of the race, despite appalling conditions.  Indeed, he was closing in on Vettel even before that driver's engine problems, and probably would have caught up with him with five laps or so left... and you know he would have tried the pass.  As it was he left Lewis Hamilton, not a shabby rain driver himself, in his metaphorical dust, finishing nearly 15 seconds ahead of the McLaren driver.  An excellent drive from HWMNBN indeed.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Ferrari.  A win, a third-place, and a sudden resurgence in the Constructor's Championship?  Oh yeah, they got it right this week.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 27 Slappy Schumacher was in 6th with the reigning Driver's Champion Jenson Button just ahead as they went through Turn 2... and Schumi had the fastest car through the speed-traps all weekend.  The rain, though, took that advantage away as the two silver cars went down the longest straight on the circuit.  Back in the old days Schumacher had been known as "The Rainmaster," and he showed, at least for this moment, that he hadn't lost that touch.  As the two reached The Elephant, Schumacher stayed off the brakes almost suicidally too long, then put just the right amount of force into the pedal.  Button, taken a little aback by the sudden appearance of the petwer Mercedes next to him, didn't slam the door, and the two went through the turn in lockstep.  Schumi put in just the right amount of throttle for his rear tires to grip and powered away from Button, who spun his tires just a bit.  A really sweet piece of driving in horrid conditions, and one well-worth the Move of the Race!

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 47, Force India's Adrian Sutil had lined up the Sauber of Gandalf Kobayashi as they ran down to Turn 4, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to do anything about it.  His brakes were giving him fits, and the track was still sopping wet.  Still, no guts no glory, right?  He went to the inside of the white car, stomped on the brakes, turned the wheel... and quickly peeled the front-right wheel off his car as he slammed into Gandalf.  Surprisingly the Sauber kept on going on while the Force India ended up sliding off into the wilderness.  Congratulations, Adrian Sutil, you won the stupidest move award in a race filled with worthy contenders.  You also get a honorable mention for admitting to the race stewards that you knew you had brake problems, yet went ahead and tried the pass anyway!  You've earned yourself a five-spot penalty for Brazil AND a $10K fine too.  Good Job, a winner is you!



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October 10, 2010

F1 Update!: Japan 2010

Sunny skies on Sunday replaced the torrential rain from Saturday, but on whom would the sun shine the brightest?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the Grand Prix of Japan!

*RUMBLINGS:  The first indication that the hijinks of the Great Suzuka Pit Lane Boat Races had infected Sunday came as the cars were coming to the grid for the first time when from out of nowhere we saw a car spearing into the outside barrier at 130R.

Virgin Racing's Lucas di Grassi said he "felt something break" in the rear of the car just before it went spinning off into the wall.  It isn't exactly common to have a car crash on the recon lap, but it isn't unheard of either.  Everybody took a deep breath, muttered "rookies" to themselves, and carried on.  Until the lights went out.

*TOTAL CHAOS: Everything up front was about as we've come to expect.  Seb Vettel led the thundering horde into Turn 1, but Mark Webber had another patented Red Bull Lousy Startâ„¢, letting Renault's Robert Kubica slip by into second.  But farther back in the pack everything was going straight to hell.  Nico Hulkenberg's Williams had a slow-ish start, sending cars on the left side of the grid behind him scrambling to avoid him.  Vitaly Petrov, charging hard from his grid slot, tried to thread the needle between Hulkenberg's car and someone else... and failed.  The results weren't pretty.

The Renault clipped the rear corner of Hulkenberg, then pirouetted across the Williams' nose on it's way into the Armco barrier.  Petrov was unhurt, but both cars were dead on the spot.  Meanwhile, Felipe Massa's Ferrari was in a jam... literally.  He was squeezed over onto the grass as he approached Turn 1.  The loss of traction sent him sprawling across the track, collecting the Force India of Vitantonio Liuzzi in the process.

Five cars out of the race before the first turn was completed?  That's impressive, even for the naked confusion of a F1 start.  The Safety Car was called out and everybody took a deep breath.  "Well, that's over with, let's get on with it."  Except they were wrong.  While stacked behind the Safety Car on Lap 2, Robert Kubica suddenly pulled offtrack and came to a stop.  A look at the Renault mechanics showed nothing but confusion on their faces, but the Pole's body language simply radiated aggravation.

And for good reason.  His right-rear wheel had worked itself free from the axle and gone off into the Japanese countryside, ending his day and making everybody else wonder "what's coming next?"

*NOTHING AMAZING:  From there on out, the rest of the race was rather pedestrian.  McLaren's Jenson Button was running a strategy race rather than raw pace.  The only of the top 10 cars to have qualified on the hard tires, he needed to stay close to his teammate Lewis Hamilton, the two Red Bulls, and the Ferrari of HWMNBN.  When they pitted, he'd still have halfway decent tires to try and open a lead, then capitalize when he changed to the soft tires.  While he stayed close, he couldn't really stretch his lead enough to make a difference.  After he pitted, he rejoined in 5th, later taking passing his teammate for 4th when Hamilton's new gearbox lost third gear.  Up front, Vettel led Mark Webber across the line for the win, HWMNBN closing in fast for third. 

*DRAMA:  Behind those first five though, there was enough excitement for any two races.  Gandalf Kobayashi started 14th and progressed through the field to end up 7th, making four or five passes in the Hairpin along the way.  The two Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Slappy Schumacher, raced each other hard for most of the second half of the contest making everybody wonder if there was going to be a pile of pewter-colored carbon fiber in our future.  Adrian Sutil blew one side of his engine going into 130R late in the race, put down a smoke-screen, spinning when oil from his car got onto his rear tires, recovered, blew the other side of his engine, put down another smoke-screen that any WWII-era destroyer would have been proud of, then coasted into the pitlane.

When Nico Rosberg's left-rear wheel flew off into the blue sky, it barely elicited a comment from the F1U! crew: "Eh, seen it already."  Quite the event-filled race, actually.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: Gandalf Kobayashi hadn't driven on Suzuka Circuit in seven years, yet he had the most impressive performance of the day, picking up seven places in the process.  At one point, he was as high as 5th place and was holding up the much faster Lewis Hamilton in the process.  While 7th isn't all that impressive in the grand scheme of things, he beat his more experienced teammate Grizzly Nick Heidfeld, put on a great show, and may have solidified his hold on his race-seat for next year in the process.  Sometimes the Bantamweights outperform the Heavyweights.  Seb Vettel won the race, but Gandalf was more impressive.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull started 1-2, finished 1-2, got the fast lap of the race, led all but a handful of laps, and looked like they could dominate the rest of the season with one hand tied behind their back.  Yeah, that's a good result.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 45, Gandalf Kobayashi was 11th, but stalking Toro Rosso's NKOTT for 10th.  As they approached the Hairpin, NKOTT moved to the inside; Gandalf had used that line two other times to make passes and the Toro Rosso driver wasn't going to just give it to him again... which was exactly what the Wizard wanted.  Holding off on braking as long as humanly possible, and perhaps another instant longer, Kobayashi went around the outside of NKOTT.  The two cars touched once, then once more, both times due to the Toro Rosso pilot trying everything to hold the Sauber back, but Kobayashi made the pass work.  NKOTT ended up with a broken front wing, while Mr Wizard had a piece of flappy bodywork, but it wouldn't hold him back when he chased down Rubens Barrichello.  The best move in a race full of them from Gandalf.

*MOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  You would think after seeing Renault's Robert Kubica lose an entire wheel assembly on Lap 2 of the race, all the tire changers would concentrate on getting everything done correctly, wouldn't you?

Apparently not.  Congratulations Mr Mercedes Mechanic, you just won the Moooooo-ooove of the Race!



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