April 18, 2010

F1 Update!: Grand Prix of China 2010

The F1U! Staff stayed up very late to watch this race live, so we're a little wiped out right now.  However, the show must go on, and THIS is your F1 UPDATE! for the 2010 Grand Prix of China!

*WHOOPS!:  Red Bull sat on the front row and looked like the clear favorites to win the race, but nobody counted on the great equalizer of F1: rain.  As the cars sat on the grid before the recon lap, it began to spit, but nobody seemed particularly concerned.  Indeed, during the pre-race coverage the rain stopped and started a couple of times.  In conditions like that the drivers have to be a bit more aware of the track, but on the whole slick tires can handle it.  Vettel had to be feeling particularly confident; he's considered one of the best rain drivers in F1, along with Lewis Hamilton and Slappy Schumacher, and he had the fastest car... "bring on the rain," he must have been thinking.

*UH-OH:  From the start, it was obvious that this was not going to be a normal F1 race.  When the lights went out, Ferrari's HWMNBN looked like he had the greatest start ever from 3rd, while Vettel seemed to be a little slow getting off the line.  The Red Car's start was so good, in fact, that it was in front of the two Red Bulls and pulling away, even before the thundering herd reached the first turn.  Too good, as a matter of fact: HWMNBN had jumped the lights and was nearly a half-length out of his grid slot before the starting lights were extinguished.  He'd get a drive-through penalty for that infraction, which would normally be the kiss of death for his chances... but this to be was no normal race.

*GEEZ, NOW WHAT?:  Back in the horde, Force India's Vitantonio Liuzzi was having difficulty.  He'd been unable to get much in the way of heat into his tires on the recon lap due to the weather conditions: cloudy and about 70 degrees.  At the start, he managed to pick up a position or two but when it came time to apply the brakes for Turn 4, he locked up his rears altogether.  The car became an uncontrollable object, and he arrowed (backwards!) right into the path of the turning Seb Buemi, collecting Kamui Kobyashi in the process. 

The hulks came to rest just barely off the asphalt which was bad enough, but debris from the crash was scattered all the way across the turn.  It was obvious that the track workers couldn't get the wreckage clear in time, and Charlie Whiting called out the Safety Car... a move that, in retrospect, played hob with almost everybody's plans.

*FACEPALM: As the field perambulated behind the Safety Car the rain began to pick up.  This sent many of the cars, led by HWMNBN and Red Bull's Mark Webber, to the pit lane for Intermediate tires.  Seb Vettel lost out on this exchange, being forced to stack behind his teammate in the pits, and losing a ton of places in the process.  Not all of the cars pitted however, as Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, McLaren's Jenson Button, and both Renaults stayed out, placing those four in the lead as the Safety Car came in on Lap 3.  The question became how long they'd be able to stay out on slicks as the rain continued to come down.  Once the race restarted, it became clear that a little more than half the cars were on Inters and praying for rain, and the rest were hoping it stayed dry... and it only took a lap for the teams to realize that those who stayed on the dry tires had made the right decision.  Slappy Schumacher was the first to come in for a second change of tires, followed by everybody else on lap 5.  The Inters had already been worn smooth, killed in two laps.  All these pit stops had the effect of scrambling the grid, not aided by HWMNBN'd serving his drive-through penalty on top of two stops for tires.  This gave us some fun, if not confusing, racing as the heavy hitters wound their way through those teams less fortunate.  Somewhere around lap 18, race leader Nico Rosberg badly blew a turn, allowing Jenson Button to get past him for the lead.

*AS IF THAT WASN'T ENOUGH: On lap 20, it began to rain again, and again it was decision time.  Webber and Slappy came in for Inters first, followed by the two Ferraris who were running together.  In a bizarre incident, HWMNBN intentionally forced his teammate into Hamilton Beach, overtaking Massa in the entry to the pit lane.  Button and Rosberg came in together a lap later for rain tires.  Then the Gods of Racing played a practical joke on NKOTT, breaking his front wing pylons.  He barely made it into the pit lane before they let go altogether, sending the wing under the car and throwing carbon fiber shards all over the pit entry.  As a result, another Safety Car was called out (for reasons that are unclear).  This was a gift for those in the field that had goofed to begin with, as Button, Rosberg and Renault's Robert Kubica had opened up a nearly-50-second lead, which was now cut to nothing.  The Safety Car came in on lap 25, and weirdness ensued.  The SC leaves the track early at Shanghai, allowing the leader to control the pace leading up to the start/finish line, and Button drove as slow as a 90-year-old grandma in a Chevy Land Cruiser, causing the field to bunch up like rush-hour in Chicago.  At one point, the accordion effect had the field four cars wide as everybody tried to whoa up and not pass accidentally. 

*TAKE A DEEP BREATH: On Lap 35, the leaders came in for their second stops for fresh Inters (contrast this to everybody else, who were on their fifth or sixth stops).  Button stayed in the lead, but Rosberg couldn't hold of Lewis Hamilton, who passed him for second place and set off after his McLaren teammate.  While he closed up the gap, it became clear that he had killed his tires in doing so, and Button opened the lead back up to nearly 15 seconds in just a few laps, seemingly guaranteeing himself the easy win.

*GACK:  And then Button threw his McLaren off the road.  In that one move, he lost half his lead over Hamilton, and by the way his car was twitching and squirming it was obvious that his tires had gone off as well.  Hamilton managed to claw his way back up, eating up big chunks of time and making everybody wonder what would happen when he began to pressure Button.

*FINALLY:  While Hamilton got within 1.5 seconds of Button, he could get no closer as they began the final lap.  The reigning world champion kept his McLaren on the island for the entire lap despite his tires, and brought it home to become the first driver to win two races this year.  Just an epically confusing, epically enjoyable race!

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Jenson Button made the right decisions on what tires to be on, and when.  His teammate did not.  However, Hamilton managed to overcome his mistakes and drove an incredible race, forcing his way up the field, and getting within two seconds of Button's car when it was all over.  Along the way, he passed just about every big name on the grid (including an epic duel with Slappy Schumacher) with relative ease.  Great drive for Lewis.

*TEAM OF THE RACE: McLaren earned their first 1-2 finish since 2008 in a confusing scramble of a race.  Renault earns an honorable mention; while they ended up 5-7, for most of the race they were third and fourth and hanging onto Button and Rosberg.  A nice result for a team under pressure from the upstart Force India team.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: There were a lot to choose from, but on Lap 12, Lewis Hamilton was trailing behind Adrian Sutil and Mark Webber as the three of them diced for position coming down the long back straight, the three of them weaving and dekeing as they raced down at 200mph.

Sutil was dueling with Webber, the two of them holding off on braking as late as possible; the first to blink would lose the battle.  Hamilton, on the other hand, slowed a touch before the others.

As the other two swung wide, Lewis took the inside line and got on the gas a touch faster, powering past and picking up two places in one outstanding manuever.

Webber added a bit of drama by making a move on Sutil while trying to keep up with the McLaren, but Sutil managed to keep him back.  Just an great bit of racing by all three in iffy conditions and close quarters.

*MOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  I don't care that they're a new team, Virgin did something so embarassing that I still can't believe it occurred.  As the cars rolled off on the recon lap, it became clear that Timo Glockenspiel wasn't moving.  It's not uncommon to have a car stall on the grid, of course.  Why Glockenspiel wasn't rolling off was something much, much stupider.

They left his front end jacked up when the personnel left the grid.  How in the world did nobody notice that???  Congratulations, Virgin, you've just won the stupidest Moooooooooo-oooove of all time.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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April 04, 2010

F1 Update!: Grand Prix of Malaysia 2010!

It always rains in the afternoon in Malaysia in April.  Always.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Malaysia!

*EXCEPT TODAY:  One would think the weather gods did it just to spite us, but other than an ominously dark sky seemingly just outside the gates to the Sepang International Circuit, the track was as dry as the Mojave Desert... and seemingly just as hot, though much more humid.  They say in conditions like this a driver can lose up to 15 pounds, and it's murder on the cars as well.  That's probably why Pete Rose's Sauber died on the recon lap, and why five other cars had mechanical failures to boot.

*DRY TRACK: ...but not a dry race.  With Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and HWMNBN starting from the nether regions of the grid, you would expect a lot of excitement as they weaved their way past the backmarkers, and you'd be absolutely right.  Hamilton was up to 10th by the end of the fourth lap, with the two Ferraris not far behind.  What happened at that point was that we wound up getting a lot of coverage of the mid-pack cars that we don't normally see.  Jaime Alguersuari aka NKOTT in particular has come alive after his 20-some-odd lap tussle with Slappy Schumacher in Australia, and spent a good portion of the race dicing with other big names.  That his Toro Rosso isn't fast enough to keep the likes of McLaren and Ferrari permanently behind shouldn't be a knock on the New Kid.

*UP FRONT:  The big question for this race (other than "where the hell is the rain?") was "will the Red Bulls hold together?"  It's clear that they're the class of the field, just a touch ahead of Ferrari.  With the red cars buried in the backfield, it was obvious that this was Vettel and Webber's race to win... which they did, in that order.  Vettel made a slightly better start from 3rd than Webber from pole, got past his teammate going into Turn 1, and then the two never looked back.  They cruised home with Vettel five seconds ahead of Webber, who in turn was nearly 11 seconds up on Nico Rosberg.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  There's very little question but that Ferrari's HWMNBN is probably the best driver in F1 right now, and his race today in Malaysia proved it.  On the formation lap before the race even began, he had a little problem with his clutch: it didn't work.  For the entire race, he had to downshift by stamping on the accelerator and holding the downshift paddle, and 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 surprise, then, when his engine finally let go on him with two laps remaining.

We'll admit it: we were actually saddened when the smoke began pouring out of HWMNBNs engine.  He ended up placed in 13th, out of the points... a fate he really didn't deserve today.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  The sigh of relief emanating from Austria was strong enough to blow trees around here at Pond Central.  Everything was aligned so that Red Bull could score an easy 1-2 today, as long the cars didn't break or the drivers didn't screw up as they had in the previous two meets.  Today, finally, everything went right.  That Ferrari and McLaren had shot themselves in the foot was merely icing on the cake.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Early on, Jenson Button was sandwiched between the two Ferraris, Massa ahead, HWMNBN behind.  The McLaren was on the softer tires (a choice he'd later call "a mistake"), the two Ferraris on the harder, so Button would be faster if he could just get past Massa.  When Massa got a bit out of shape into Turn 10, Button thought he had his opening and made his move... just a moment too late.  While he got under Massa, he couldn't quite get more than halfway up the length of the red car.  In the process, he too got a little wide in the corner... opening the door for HWMNBN, who immediately leaped through with a flourish and a jaunty 'tah-dah!'  In the process, he managed to squeeze Button into a place where he couldn't fight back AND he couldn't threaten Massa anymore, without risking pronging his car.  He dropped back, HWMNBN slipped into line behind his teammate, and the two sauntered off, thumbing their noses at the World Champion as they did.  Rather spiffy driving from the two-time World Champion.

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  While the new teams are permanently stuck in the backfield, many of the drivers in those cars are experienced and knowledgeable in the ways of auto racing.  All of which makes Timo Glockenspiel's spin on a straightaway for no reason whatsoever completely stunning.

Seriously.  He didn't touch Jarno Trulli's Lotus before the spin, he wasn't even particularly close to the other car.  He just... lost it.  On a straightaway.  Incredible, simply incredible!  BRAVO, Timo... here's your Moooooooo-ooove.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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