March 28, 2010

F1 Update!: Grand Prix of Australia 2010!

Rain was spritzing down as the cars came to the grid.  Would it make a difference?  Let's find out... this is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Australian Grand Prix!

*LIGHTS OUT:  To say that the start of the race was frantic might be understating the case.  Mark Webber, who has never had much luck at his home race, had a miserable start from the second spot on the grid, somehow managing to stay in third as the likes of HWMNBN and Jenson Button were breathing down his neck while scrapping with each other.  Meanwhile, Felipe Massa looked like he had a rocket strapped to the back of his Ferrari as he leapfrogged to the rear wing of polesitter Seb Vettel as they closed in on Turn 1.  It was there that the scrap between Button and HWMNBN was joined by Slappy Schumacher.  Button was inside of the Ferrari, and Slappy tried to go around the outside of the two just as HWMNBN attempted to close the door on the reigning World Champion.  Unfortunately, he attempted this despite Button's nose being equal with the Ferrari's cockpit.  HWMNBN got punted into a spin, which also collected Slappy, breaking the Mercedes' nose in the process.  As the Ferrari pirouetted gracefully down the track, the field immediately jammed up behind him as they tried to pick their way around the red car.  Renault's Robert Kubica found the narrowest hole it was possible to sneak through and jumped up to 4th from 9th on the grid in the process. 

*AND THEN:  In the run down to Turn 6, the Sauber of Kamui Kobyashi shed its front wing for no reason that anybody could say.  He wasn't tangled up in the mess at Turn 1, and came through the start cleanly.  Still, the wing came off unbidden and went right under his front tires.  The car reacted by getting slightly airborne, which had a detrimental effect on the Sauber's traction and steering ability.  It then whipped into the inside wall at high speed, at which point it continued following the wall until the barrier made the turn.  Unfortunately, Kobyashi's car, most of its right side gone, couldn't even steer, let alone turn.  Bouncing over the curb at Turn 6, it plowed directly into the side of Nico Hulkenberg's Williams, climbing overtop of it in the process.  Both cars ended up dead in the kittylitter on the outside of 6, Hulkenberg looking rather surprised to be there.  Seb Buemi's Toro Rosso was also involved, ending his race there as well.  The Safety Car was called out immediately, bringing an end to a rather crazy first lap.


*CHANGING SHOES:  Early in the five lap Safety Car period, the drizzle ended and the guessing game began.  What team would bring their men in for slick tires first, and would it be the right choice?  There was still weather in the area and any moment could see the rain return, but a rapidly drying race line would render the Intermediate tires useless in short order.  On Lap 6, the first hot lap after the safety car pulled in, Jenson Button felt his tires going off and quickly came in for soft tires on his own hook.  Returning to the track, it looked like he made the wrong call as he immediately did some agricultural racing, but by Lap 9, he had set fast lap of the race.  That was enough for all the other teams, and the call went out: pit for new rubber.  Everybody but the Red Bulls and Button piled into the pitlane, with Vettel going in on Lap 10.  When he came out on the softs, he remained in the lead, with Webber and Button behind him.  Webber pitted on Lap 11, losing 5 places in the process, from which deficit he would never recover.  At this point, the standings were Vettel, Button, Kubica, Nico Rosberg, Massa, Lewis Hamilton,  Rubens Barrichello, Pete Rose, and HWMNBN, with Vettel pulling away rapidly.

*NOT AGAIN:  The lead was up to five seconds when, on Lap 25, Vettel saw sparks shooting up from his left-front brakes.  Too late to pull into the pits, he continued on while informing his crew of the problem.  There were also increasingly heavy vibrations in the car under braking, never a good sign.  And then, it happened.  Touching the brakes for Turn 13, something important broke and the Red Bull was thrown headlong into the kittylitter, beached and out of the race.  Button, gifted first place, swept by, Kubica and Hamilton following.

*CHOICES, CHOICES:  Suddenly, the question stopped being "will anybody catch Vettel" and became "does anybody dare to do the whole race on one set of soft tires?"  The requirement of using both compounds of dry tires was removed with the use of the Intermediates, so nobody had to stop.  But could the soft tires last 50 laps, or 52 in Button's case?  Only time would tell, but nobody felt confident about it.  Slappy was the first to stop for a second set of soft tires, and immediately turned in fast lap of the race.  That was enough for pretty much everybody to swing in... everybody but Button, Kubica and the two Ferraris.  The standings at this point was Button, Kubica, Massa, HWMNBN, Hamilton, Webber, Rosberg, and Vitantonio Liuzzi.  Suddenly, McLaren looked to be in the catbird seat.  They had the leader of the cars that were trying to go with one stop in Button, as well as the leader of the two-stoppers in Hamilton.  If the tires of the one-stoppers failed completely, Hamilton looked to be perfectly positioned for the win.  As the laps counted down however, it began to look more and more likely that Hamilton, who had been driving an absolutely brilliant race, had been scuppered by the decision to get new tires.  On Lap 56, unable to get past the defense-minded HWMNBN, his frustrations boiled as he keyed the mic: "Whose idea was it to bring me in?  It was a horrible idea."  Then it all became moot as Mark Webber missed his braking point and plowed into the back of the McLaren, sending them both into the kittylitter.  Both were able to continue, but Hamilton was dropped to 6th as his teammate cruised across the start/finish line with a 12 second lead over Kubica, having made his soft tires last a seemingly-impossible 52 laps. 

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Jenson Button has always been called a smooth driver, easy on his tires and his car in general.  With this race he showed exactly how smooth he was, keeping his soft tires intact for basically the entire race without costing himself much in speed.  That his teammate Lewis Hamilton was complaining that his second set of tires had gone off after 16 laps points out the skill involved in protecting the rubber.  An amazing drive, with a wonderful dose of driver-inspired strategy on top of it to boot.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Ferrari showed that they've got to be considered the favorites for the Constructor's Championship by finishing 3-4 in a race that HWMNBN was truly lucky not to finish sixth or seventh.  That both drivers were able to go the whole race on one set of softs will not be lost on the rest of the pit lane, either, particularly in that neither driver is known as being gentle on their tires.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: Lewis Hamilton had already passed his teammate, Mark Webber, Rubens Barrichello, and Felipe Massa at one point or another during the race, and he was staring at the back end of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes, sitting in 4th place.  The two silver cars are pretty much evenly matched, with very little to choose between them on the whole.  That fact made what happened next even more impressive, as Hamilton charged around Rosberg on the outside of Turn 11, a place where nobody ever passes.  He had the inside line for Turn 12 and made the pass stick, ending an amazing move in 4th place.  Pity it was all for naught in the end.  Honorable Mention goes to Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton (again) and Felipe Massa for their Lap 16 shenanigans:  Webber passes Massa at Turns 1 and 2.  An opportunistic Hamilton follows Webber past the Ferrari, then powers past the Red Bull driver.  Going into Turn 3, Webber is overoptimistic and blows the turn, taking Hamilton with him off-track (though with no damage to either), and Massa drives past them both to reclaim 5th place.  Just a  fun sequence.

*MOOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  Red Bull's Mark Webber was having a terrible race, all told.  On Lap 57, it just got worse.  Desperate to get past the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, he made the sort of rookie error that even Yuji Ide would have cringed at.  As he approached the braking zone for Turn 12, Webber was apparently distracted by something bright and sparkly and forgot to apply pressure to the left pedal until it was much, much too late.  The Red Bull plowed right into the rear of Hamilton's McLaren, punting them both into the kittylitter with all the grace of a monster truck on ice skates.  Hamilton was able to return to the track with no visible damage, though a place lower than he had been, but Webber left his front wing in the gravel.  He wound up finishing 9th, and lucky to do so.  Good job, mate!  Here's your Moooooooo-ooove!

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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March 14, 2010

F1 Update!: Grand Prix of Bahrain 2010!

All the effort in the offseason is done.  The long hours spent designing, fabricating, assembly, testing, retesting, redesigning, and re-retesting are over.  Now it's all for real, and which team, which driver, which car is the best... all the questions are about to begin to be answered.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the first race of the 2010 season, the Grand Prix of Bahrain!

*THINGS LOOK THE SAME:  When the lights went out and the grid began to move, Red Bull's Sebastien Vettel pulled away from his spot on pole and immediately began to assert his dominance over the rest of the thundering herd.  While HWMNBN got past his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa going into Turn 1, neither Red Car was able to hang with the Red Bull driver.  Within a couple of laps the lead was up to two seconds and showed no sign of decreasing anytime soon.  Ominously however, Vettel's teammate Mark Webber showed signs of a mechanical problem going into Turn 2:

Webber (left) pretends to be a WWII destroyer.
Webber's smokescreen caused a kerfluffle that sent both Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil into spins that ruined each drivers' race.  Sutil in particular was in good shape when the lights went out: his was the only car in the Top 10 on hard tires, and if things went the way they had in Practice and Quals, everybody else would find their soft tires failing quickly, leaving Sutil the way clear for a potential podium position.  The spin dropped him down to 18th and killed his tires.  Webber, however, showed no signs of performance loss from whatever it was that caused the smoke.

*FARTHER BACK: Almost as interesting a question as "who's going to win" was "how are the new teams going to do?"  Well, if you had Lap 1 in the "When will one of the new cars fail" pool, you're a winner.  HRT's Karun Chandhok, with only a few laps in the car under his belt, discovered that the new section of the Bahrain International Circuit has some serious bumps hiding in the turns.  Hitting one of those sent him onto a curb, and henceforth into a wall.  The good news for the team was that it wasn't a mechanical failure that ended his day.  The next casualty from the new guys was Virgin's Lucas di Grassi who had to retire with a hydraulics problem on Lap 2.  His teammate, Timo Glockenspiel, followed him into the garage 14 laps later with a bad gearbox.  The other HRT driver, Bruno Senna, lasted 17 laps before something peacefully broke at the rear of the car.  If one considers the Sauber team as "new," you can count them amongst the New Casualties as well, with both cars dying from hydraulic failures by Lap 28.  The last of the new teams, Lotus, had both cars make it to the finish one of their cars finish the race, though two laps down.  The other one broke something in the hydraulic system on Lap 46... so close!

*...AND THEN:  Seb Vettel's lead settled down around five seconds going into the pitstops.  Ferrari had told HWMNBN to push as hard as he possibly could however, and the lead started to drop.  By Lap 32, it was down to 1.2 seconds.  A radio transmission from Red Bull to their driver told the true story, though: "Just keep the gap intact.  He'll burn his tires off."  Everybody seemed confident, and Vettel had surely shown that he could easily keep HWMNBN behind him.  And then Vettel's car broke.  The engine note changed, dropping from a high-pitched scream to a throaty growl, and immediately both Ferraris swept past him with the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton doing the same a couple of laps later.  For the next ten laps, the question was how many other cars would get past him.  While Nico Rosberg, Slappy Schumacher and Jenson Button closed right down on Vettel, with Rosberg being only a second behind, none of them were able to get past the crippled car.  Up ahead, HWMNBN and Massa brought home a Ferrari 1-2 with Hamilton joining them on the podium.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: HWMNBN.  He got past his teammate at the start, drove a solid race, put pressure on Vettel and stayed close enough to the Red Bull to take advantage of its exhaust header failure spark plug failure when it occurred.  He eventually won by 16 seconds.  Yep, that's a pretty good run.

*TEAM OF THE RACE: Ferrari.  In 2009, the Prancing Horse suffered one of their worst seasons ever.  They only had one win (Spa), one of their drivers nearly died, and they had the nightmare of Luca Badoer qualifying and finishing dead last three races in a row.  So a 1-2 finish must be something of a redemption for them, and there is already muttering up and down the paddock that we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the coming months.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  We'll think of one eventually, but right now it looks like the changed rules might have actually made it more difficult to pass.  If so, this is not good.

*MOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  Nico Hulkenberg was having fun early in the race.  Other than having to take evasive action due to the usual first turn hijinks and thus losing a few spots, he was racing with a Toro Rosso and a Sauber for position.  On Lap 3, however, he just flat-out lost the car.  The rear snapped one way, then the other, and then the car just went sliding completely out of control, cutting across two sets of curbs. 

It's just a good thing the Toro Rosso guys wear brown pants.  Welcome to F1, Nico Hulkenberg!  For your unforced error, you're the first 2010 winner of the Moooo-ooOTR!

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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