November 20, 2010

F1 Update!: 2010 Awards

Now that the 2010 season has been over a couple of weeks, it's time to take a look at the best and worst events of the year!  THIS is your F1 Update! 2010 Awards post!

*RACE OF THE YEAR:  Sometimes a race is made great by the spectacle it provides, like the inaugural Korean Grand Prix.  But this award should be given because of the actual racing involved, and on that grounds there was no better, no more exciting, race than the 2010 Grand Prix of Turkey.  For forty laps Mark Webber, Seb Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were locked in a duel that saw the four of them separated by no more than a second.  None of them could break away, but likewise neither could they close too much on their rivals,  This resulted in a remarkably tense race that made even experienced fans like those of us here at F1U! wonder just who would crack first: the young hotshot, the older and wiser teammate, or the two world champions?  When it turned out to be the young hotshot, nobody was overly surprised, but when he took out his wiser teammate in the process, the race took the leap from "pretty darn good" to "best of the year."  A repudiation of the Red Bull incident a few laps later as the McLaren teammates showed how to race each other without scattering carbon fiber all over the place was just the icing on the cake.  Want to show someone one race from 2010?  This should be it.  An honorable mention should go to the Chinese Grand Prix for reasons that'll become clear later on.

*MOVE OF THE YEAR:  This award is open to any pass for any position during any race of the 2010 season, excluding any event on Lap 1.  It doesn't have to have any dramatic implications, like for the lead or to win the Driver's Championship or anything like that: a Lotus passing a Virgin for 19th is just as eligible as a Ferrari passing a McLaren for 1st.  This year's MotY goes to Lewis Hamilton for his fantastic pass of both Mark Webber and Adrian Sutil at the Grand Prix of China.  The three drivers came down the back straight more or less evenly matched, weaving to defend their positions or get into clean air as they went.

As they approached the turn, Webber locked up slightly and went outside, Sutil took the normal line in the normal way, but Hamilton slowed late and hard, going to the inside of both.

He then got on the gas with more force than he really should have been capable of and powered by.

That Webber then tried to follow Hamilton past Sutil but was denied by the Force India driver in the next turn just made it all the better.  Honorable mention goes to Rubens Barrichello's pass of Slappy Schumacher at Hungary, made all the more impressive as Slappy was trying to murder the Brazilian at the time.

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE YEAR:  Everybody makes mistakes in racing.  It just comes with the territory.  When one of the best drivers or teams in the world does it in front of an estimated 600 million viewers, it gets magnified.  When it is particularly egregious, it goes from a fact of life to something more special... it becomes a "Mooooooooo-ooove."  The MooootY therefore needs to be more than just something dumb.  It needs to be epically stupid, above and beyond the merely ridiculous.  Fortunately for us there were three brand new teams of varying quality in the field this year, and one of them provided us with what may be the greatest Moooooooo-ooove of all time.  Fittingly, it too came at the Grand Prix of China.  The cars were lined up on the grid, surrounded by mechanics doing last minute adjustments before the recon lap.  The humans left, and the cars rolled off... all but one.  As we stated back then, it's not uncommon for cars to stall on the grid, but the reason Timo Glockenspiel's Virgin wasn't moving was something much, much stupider.

The team had left it jacked up, like Detroit street punks had been interrupted in the midst of stealing the wheels off the VR-1.  To this day an adequate explanation has yet to be forthcoming.

*CRASH OF THE YEAR:  Again, this category rules out incidents on the first lap (unless they're really really cool because, hey, cool crash!), but even with that restriction there were a surprising number of violent wrecks that qualified, like the Red Bull Incident at Turkey, the Vettel/Button accident at Spa, the Webber/Rosberg crash at Korea (is anybody seeing a theme here?), but none of these holds a candle to the winner of the CotY.  But first, an honorable mention to Lotus's Jarno Trulli and HRT's Karun Chandhok, for their low-speed wreck at the Grand Prix of Monaco.

As impressive as that is, and the camera shot from Chandhok's T-bar was impressive to say the least, it's a distant second to the "winner" of CotY.  Of course, there was never any doubt on this one: Mark Webber's creation of Red Bull Airlines at the European Grand Prix @ Valencia

Not the sort of view one expects to see from a F1 car...
That Webber almost immediately jumped out of the car, obviously unhurt, once it stopped bouncing was one of the greatest reliefs we here at F1U! had ever experienced. 

*DRIVE OF THE YEAR:  This award goes to the driver who puts in an incredible performance over the course of a single race.  This year, there is nobody who deserves it as much as Ferrari's HWMNBN for his run at the Grand Prix of Malaysia.  On the formation lap before the race had even begun, he had a little problem with his clutch: it didn't work.  For the entire race, he had to shift by stamping on the accelerator and holding the downshift paddle, hoping that the gearbox would eventually find a lower ratio.  Mind you, he did all of this while braking at the same time, usually a sure recipe for disaster as F1 cars tend not to like such things while cornering.  That he managed to get as high as eighth, setting fast lap of the race twice along the way, and dueling with Jenson Button for seventh, is nothing short of miraculous.  It actually came as quite the sad surprise, then, when his engine finally let go on him with two laps remaining.  We actually felt badly for HWMNBN, an emotion we never expected to feel towards the Spaniard.

*FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:  Also from the European Grand Prix @ Valencia, we saw a young driver become a folk hero over the course of some 40 laps.  Kamui Kobayashi was a rookie who had showed that he had no fear during the last two races of the 2009 season, but was off to something of a lackluster start with Sauber in 2010... until Mark Webber's attempt at low earth orbit.  To steal from the F1U! for that race:
"When the Safety Car caused by Webber's crash was called out, he stayed out on track, jumping from the back of the pack all the way to third.  Of course, he'd still need to pit to change his tires, but who was to say there wouldn't be another Safety Car?  When the safety car period ended, Kobayashi suddenly became Gandalf the Grey in the Mines of Moria, bellowing 'YOU SHALL NOT PASS!' at the silver, blue and yellow Balrogs that were Jensen Button, Rubens Barrichello and Robert Kubica.  For thirty-nine laps!  It was only when he was dragged into the fiery pits on Lap 53 for his mandatory tire change that he relinquished third place... but he would re-emerge as Gandalf the White, in 9th place but on brand new soft tires with three laps to go.  He emerged from the pits reborn on fresh soft tires while everybody ahead of him were on well-used rubber.  Two cars, the Ferrari of HWMNBN and the Toro Rosso of Seb Buemi, were within striking distance.  Seemingly from the moment he rejoined the race, he was all over the back of the former World Champion, hassling him in every turn to the point that the Spaniard, who had been trying to overpower the Toro Rosso, had to let him off the hook and drive defensively.  The Ferrari just couldn't cope with the Sauber, however, and in Turn 20 of the penultimate lap Kobayashi did everything right and slipped by HWMNBN with no fuss whatsoever.  He then set his sights on the Toro Rosso, some five or six lengths ahead.  The chase would prove to take the entire lap, with the Sauber slowly reeling Buemi in.  Then, finally, going into the final turn, Kobayashi came from three or four car lengths back, seemingly without touching his brakes, leaped to the inside of Buemi and rolled past in a daring and bold move."
It was the sort of performance that nobody expected from the rookie in a mediocre car, and easily became our favorite moment of the season.

*DRIVER OF THE YEAR:  We suppose that we need to give this to Seb Vettel.  After all, he won five races, took pole 10 times, and won the Driver's Championship.  He made some awfully stupid mistakes along the way though, enough to make this difficult to swallow.  In our hearts, we think HWMNBN should be given the trophy... but we're giving it to Vettel.

*TEAM OF THE YEAR:  No question about this one: Red Bull.  Far and away the best car on track all year, 15 pole positions, and both the Driver's and, more importantly, Constructor's Championships.  That the strife between their two drivers didn't cause the team to disintegrate, despite it partially being caused by the team itself, just makes it all the sweeter.  For a team only in its sixth year in the sport (assuming you don't count the time as Jaguar) boggles the mind.  Adrian Newey, the car designer and chief aerodynamics engineer, truly is a miracle worker.

And so the 2010 F1 season goes into the record books as perhaps the best of all time.  We're glad to have had you along for the ride for all 19 races, and look forward to being there for all 20 in 2011!  See you when the teams start bringing out their cars! 

...and you thought we'd never do one of these.

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November 14, 2010

F1 Update!: Abu Dhabi 2010

The past week has seen fans all around the world trying to figure out who would, at the end of the race, be the World Driver's Champion.  After Qualifying, the wondering got louder and louder.  But today all the questions would be answered, for today was the last race of the season and four men were still in the running for the Championship.  Would it be the Spanish matador in his red car?  Would it be one of the two Bulls, one old veteran, one young hotheaded charger?  Or would it be the swashbuckling longshot and his flashing silver rapier?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi!

*PRERACE:  There was no question that the four men still in the running for the Championship and their teams were feeling the pressure.  As HWMNBN brought his car up to the grid, his mechanics swarmed around to push him into his slot, forming a phalanx of bodies and flying elbows to prevent anybody from accidentally touching the car.  They even shoved the Legendary Announce Team's gridwalker out of the way.  The Spaniard got out of the car and disappeared from the grid, not to be seen again until just before the parade lap.  Polesitter Seb Vettel, driving for Red Bull, did the same instead of hanging out by the track wall as he usually does.  McLaren's Lewis Hamilton got to his slot and stayed in the car with his helmet on the entire time.  Only Australian Mark Webber stayed available to the pointing cameras and microphones, but he looked even more drawn and wan than he normally does.  When the LAT's gridwalker got an interview with the man in second place in the Championship, Webber actually sounded depressed.  But those not directly involved in the high-level fight were somewhat more relaxed; one Sauber mechanic was seen wearing a bushy wig, while the Mercedes braintrust was joking and laughing with nearby dignitaries.  But eventually the grid cleared and the cars rolled off onto the parade lap.  And then, at last, the time had come.

*LIGHTS OUT:  When the five red lights were extinguished, it looked very much like all the frontrunners had clean getaways.  However one driver, McLaren's Jenson Button, had a great start and jumped ahead of HWMNBN for fourth place going into Turn 1.  Just ahead of them, Hamilton and Vettel dueled going into the first turn, but the Red Bull held off the McLaren and surprisingly began to pull away.  The rest of the Thundering Herd made it through the always dangerous beginning turn and everybody breathed a sigh of relief.  Until Slappy Schumacher, making his first visit to the Yas Marina Circuit, got on the gas a little too early coming out of Turn 5 and wound up stopped and facing the wrong way with more than half of the field staring him in the face at 130mph.  The first few drivers managed to avoid the stopped Mercedes, but Vitantonio Liuzzi, sandwiched by racers on either side of him, had nowhere to go.

The Force India ran directly up the nose of Slappy's Mercedes, Liuzzi's front wing aimed directly at the head of the German.  In slow-motion, you can see Schumacher ducking down as low as he could and the left element of the wing pass just over the top of his helmet.  The Force India ended up stopped on top of the Mercedes, and the Safety Car was called out almost immediately.  While the Mercedes pitwall was visibly pale, neither driver was hurt and they were seen minutes later laughing and patting each other on the back.

*SAFETY CAR:  The field trundled around for five laps as the debris was broomed off the track.  Six cars, Nico Rosberg's Mercedes the highest in the order amongst them, took advantage of the Safety Car to change from the soft to the hard tires.  While that felt early, none of the drivers had anything to lose.  As the restart approached, Lewis Hamilton did everything he could to stay close to Seb Vettel, not wanting him to get a jump when the Safety Car left the track.  Unfortunately, he failed badly as he nearly passed the leader two turns too early and had to slam on the brakes.  At that point, the Red Bull driver jumped on the gas and left the McLaren wallowing off-track. 

*RACING AGAIN:  Strung out behind the Safety Car, the field ran peacefully for a few laps.  Then Championship contender Mark Webber swung a little too wide coming out of a turn and brushed the armco with his back-right tire.

While it looked dramatic, there didn't seem to be any obvious damage immediately.  Four laps later, on Lap 12, the Aussie called into the pit lane: "I'm losing the right rear."  He made it in and out of the pits cleanly, but rejoined the race in 16th place, just behind NKOTT.  Although he had to get past the Toro Rosso driver as fast as possible, for one entire lap he just couldn't do it, losing time on track in the process.  Webber's stop seemed to pull the cork for the rest of the field, many of whom made their stops over the next couple of laps.  When HWMNBN came in on Lap 16, Ferrari got him back out blisteringly fast and he rejoined in 12th, about a second ahead of Mark Webber.  That was a little less than the amount of time Webber lost on his one lap stuck behind the Toro Rosso.  At that point, the Aussie made a desultory charge at the red car, failed, and dropped back, never to be a threat again.  Hamilton pitted on Lap 24.  Vettel came in on the next lap, and his pit crew got him back out in 3.5 seconds.  This was hugely important as the young German came out just barely ahead of Gandalf Kobayashi and Robert Kubica, both obviously running long, and both nearly impossible to pass.  Gandalf tried very hard to get past the Red Bull but couldn't manage it, losing a place to the Polish driver in the process.  Farther back in the field, HWMNBN was also tangling with a Renault driver, in his case Vitaly Petrov.  As desperately as he needed to get past the yellow car, the Ferrari pilot just couldn't seem to make it happen.  For lap after lap he'd get close, but for lap after lap he would fail to get close enough.  Indeed, he would try so hard that he'd throw the car off-track, letting Webber close up behind him.  But not enough, never enough.

*STRESS RELIEF:  On Lap 32, Hamilton's radio crackled to life.  "My left front tire is bad, I need to pit."  The reply from the pit wall was restrained, but could be boiled down to three words: "Aw, hell no!"  The F1U! team just sort of fell about the place with laughter.

*FINALLY:  On Lap 48 of 55 the last of the long-runners, Adrian Sutil, came into the pits.  The standings at this point were Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Kubica, Petrov, HWMNBN, Webber.  The Ferrari driver's job was clear: if he wanted to win the Driver's Championship, he needed to pass three cars in seven laps.  The magnitude of this task was clear: Rosberg was nearly 10 seconds ahead, and not only did HWMNBN still have to get past Petrov, he had to get past the other Renault driver as well.  THEN he'd have to pass the Mercedes driver to boot.  There was no chance of that happening, and seven laps later Vettel swept across the finish line, 10.1 seconds ahead of 2008 Driver's Champion Lewis Hamilton, who was less than a second ahead of 2009 Driver's Champion Jenson Button.  With that, the Red Bull driver became the youngest F1 Driver's Champion ever. 

*STANDINGS AND NOTES:  Vettel had ended up with 256 points, followed by HWMNBN's 252.  Webber was third with 242, and the longshot Hamilton, who drove a fine race, finished in fourth with 240.  Amazingly, the only time the Red Bull driver led the Championship standings the entire year was today.  After the race was over and his crew had told him that he had won the championship, Vettel obviously didn't know how to react.  One second, he was obviously crying and choked with emotion, the next he'd be screaming at the top of his lungs.  During the podium ceremony, you could see his face go from tears to exhilaration back to tears in the course of a handful of seconds.  It turns out that his race engineer would not tell him where he stood in the Driver's Championship until the final lap had begun.  After the race, HWMNBN looked stunned, like he wasn't entirely sure how it all got away.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  While Vettel drove a flawless race under a lot of pressure, he did it from the front and, other than the first turn and the Safety Car restart, never had to worry overmuch about being passed.  While he (obviously!) deserves the DotR, we here at F1U! are instead going to give it to someone farther down in the field.  Vitaly Petrov has had an up-and-down rookie season, one race showing some talent, the next looking like the second coming of "Fast" Yuji Ide.  Today however, he had a desperate HWMNBN all over his gearbox for nearly 30 laps, and not only did the Russian not flinch, he drove better than the two-time world champion, despite having the lesser car.  There surely was no reason for him to pull aside for the Spaniard, as some think he should have done, for it was a points-bearing position.  He fought with HWMNBN, showed that he can go toe-to-toe with the best, and in the process may have earned himself a seat with a decent team next year.  Good job, that.  Vettel probably doesn't mind not getting the award, all things considered.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  McLaren.  Two podium positions and second in the constructor's championship?  All in all, that's a pretty good day, and a lot better than that of Red Bull (1- , Mercedes (4-dnf) or Ferrari (7-10).  They nearly did everything right.

*MOVE OF THE RACE and MOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  For once, it's impossible to give either of these awards.  There were no passes worth speaking about, except for Button's pass of HWMNBN off the start, but we don't give MotR honors for anything on the first lap.  Conversely, nobody drove like a cow today.  While Slappy Schumacher didn't exactly cover himself with glory with his groundloop on Lap 1, F1 cars are notoriously difficult to drive, and it's not impossible that his teammate Nico Rosberg gave him a light touch; video is inconclusive.  Likewise, Liuzzi is not to blame in that accident; he had nowhere to go and his reaction on the brakes may have saved Slappy's life.  So neither award goes out today.  Pity, that.



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November 07, 2010

F1 Update!: Brazil 2010

Sunny skies over the penultimate race of the F1 calendar, but will it be the final one in the Driver's Championship?  Would surprise polesitting rookie upstart Nico Hulkenberg's delusions of grandeur transfer over once the lights went out?  Would we have a tense, tightly fought contest?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Brazil!

*NOPE:  As anybody could have predicted, once the lights went out, Red Bull's Seb Vettel immediately took the lead from Hulkenberg.  By the end of the fourth turn, Mark Webber had gotten by the pilot of the Williams... and then the two blue cars streaked off into the distance.  It took Ferrari's HWMNBN seven laps to get past Hulkenberg, by which time the Bulls had opened up an eight second lead... which would continue to grow by nearly a half-second a lap.  Suddenly the only questions remaining was if Red Bull would let Webber pass Vettel, and if so, how'd they arrange it.  Not even the late Safety Car made the race any closer, and that's how it ended: Vettel, Webber, with HWMNBN a distant third and Lewis Hamilton even farther back in fourth.

*HOPE?  OR DOPES?:  Perversely, Vettel's win may very well have prevented him from winning the Driver's Championship, and made it much harder for his teammate as well.  Consider the championship standings after today's race:
HWMNBN      246
02 Mark Webber 238
03 Sebastian Vettel 231
04 Lewis Hamilton 222
First place gives you 25 points, second 18, third gets 15 and 12 points are earned for finishing fourth.  Fifth earns 10 points. If Webber had won today he would have 245 points, and Vettel 224.  Vettel would be in third, and realistically would need a miracle to win.  But now, he's in third, needs to win, and beat HWMNBN by 15 points... then it would come down to tiebreakers, and lord knows how that'd work out.  In other words, he still needs a miracle, just one that's not quite so big.  Instead of a race in Abu Dhabi that would have come down to a straight fight between Webber and HWMNBN, higher finisher wins the Driver's Championship, now Webber needs to win and hope that the Ferrari finishes in third.  That's hardly impossible of course, but now the Australian needs help from someone else.  And yes, we here at F1U! are quite aware that we're being hypocritical here, advocating for team orders when we decried Ferrari's use of them at the German Grand Prix.  If you remember though, we weren't screaming about the team orders themselves, as we're realists and know that they're used in F1, but in the flagrant way Ferrari broke the rules.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  We aren't particularly chuffed about any of the drives put in today, so we should probably give it to Seb Vettel for winning when he needed to.  But we're not excited about it.


But then, all they did was finish 1-2 in the race and clinch the Constructor's Championship.  Pretty good day when all is said and done.  Shame they practically handed HWMNBN the Driver's Championship in the process, but you can't have everything.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 12 McLaren's Jenson Button was the first driver to pit for new tires.  He came in from 10th and rejoined in 18th.  The next lap, hometown hero Felipe Massa pitted from 9th and came back out on track in 17th, just ahead of the McLaren and with a decent amount of space between them.  He should have been perfectly safe, but Button had other ideas.  Running down to Turn 4, the reigning World Driver's Champion basically depantsed the Brazilian by using his slight speed advantage and taking advantage of the Ferrari driver's complacency, popping by so quickly that the red car didn't maneuver to block.   For this surprise pass, we're happy to give the MotR to Button!

*MOOOOOOO-OOVE OF THE RACE:  There can be only one.  Late in the race Force India's Vitantonio Liuzzi, reportedly driving for his career in F1, was all alone on track, nobody pressuring him from behind, and nobody distracting him to the front.  So what does he do?  Crashes in one of the more unlikely places on the track, Turn 2.

In the wet Turn 2 is horrible, near the bottom of a hill and often swept by torrential rivers of water.  But in the dry, it's about as benign as it's possible for a F1 turn to be.  So for wrecking your car, for bringing out the safety car, and for throwing what little chance you had to be in F1 next year away, Vitantonio Liuzzi, you've won the Mooooooooo-oove!  Good luck in your next career, and watch out for those deep-fryers, they tend to throw grease.



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