May 30, 2010

F1 UPDATE!: Turkey 2010

What an amazing race.  We here at F1U! are still buzzing over today's action from the Istanbul Otodrom, and the implications for the rest of the season might be endless.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the Grand Prix of Turkey!

*ACTION-FILLED NON-ACTION:  As the race approached, the weather was warm and clear, though a rainstorm was visible off in the distance.  The sunny skies made the track very hot, nearly 120° F, and the first casualty was the grid girl of Jenson Button, who passed out from the heat.  Jenson's father took up her duties (becoming the ugliest grid girl of all time) while she was carried away.  Reports are that she's fine.  When the lights went out, and stop us if you've heard this before, the Red Bull of Mark Webber had a rocket start and streaked away from the field.  Except this time, three other cars came with him, Lewis Hamilton, Seb Vettel and Button.  Together, they left the rest of the field in their collective dust.  Unlike the previous races however, Webber just could not open up any sort of lead on the two McLarens and the other Red Bull; no more than a second would cover first to fourth for nearly the first 40 laps.  From fourth to fifth however was a different story altogether as the breakaway was about a second a lap faster than everybody else.

While the two Red Bulls and the two McLarens ran away and hid, Hamilton and Webber began a fascinating duel.  The MP4-25 was faster in sectors 1 and 3, but the RB6 had the advantage in sector 2.  Lewis would close up right onto Webbo's diffuser as they approached Quad-8, but would lose nearly a third of a second going through the classic turn.  He would then make the time up as they went around the track, only to have everything repeat as they went into Quad-8.  With tiny variations, this process went on for the first 16 laps, and the breakaway had opened up a nearly 30-second lead.

*WON AND LOST:  In a tight race like this, pitstops are crucial and when Webber and Hamilton came in on Lap 16, you got the feeling that the driver that got out first would win the race.  Red Bull got their man in and out cleanly, while McLaren had a small hangup on Hamilton's right-rear.  By the time Lewis started moving, he was again behind Webbo.  If it wasn't for that, it looked like the rest of the stop was fast enough that Hamilton should have come out ahead.  In fact, he came out in third, having been leapfrogged by Seb Vettel who pitted on Lap 15.  Suddenly we were looking at another Red Bull 1-2.  The race continued much as it had prior to the pitstops with Webber in the lead, but unable to shake the three drivers behind him, though the challenger directly behind him was now his teammate, who was being harried by Hamilton.  Button was about a second or so behind his teammate, an eternity in comparison to the way things had been going.

*MOOOOOO-OOVE OF THE RACE:  And so it went for another 23 laps.  Hamilton could close up to Vettel, but would lose out on Quad-8 and drop back.  Then he began to lose a tiny bit of time here and there, and while he was still in contention he was no longer an in-your-face (on-your-diffuser?) threat.  Meanwhile, it seemed like Webber had either worn his tires a little bit or had stopped trying to push his accelerator through the firewall, as Vettel was beginning to cast covetous glances towards his teammate's lead.  On Lap 40 Vettel made his move as the two Red Bulls charged down towards Turn 12.  Webber drifted over towards the left, taking them both off the racing line as Vettel pulled alongside.  At this point, it looked unlikely that either Red Bull would be able to make the turn cleanly, but it looked safe.  And then...

Vettel (left), Webber (right)
The second-biggest sin a driver can commit in autoracing is taking out your teammate.  The biggest sin a driver can commit in autoracing is taking out your teammate when you're 1-2, and that's what Seb Vettel ahd just done.  As he pulled alongside his teammate, he seemed to twitch to the right, taking himself into Webber's left sidepod.  Vettel immediately went into a spin that ruined his suspension, taking Webber off-track with him.  Miraculously, the Aussie suffered no damage other than a mangled front wing from the whole event, but both McLarens swept by as the two RB6s untangled themselves.  The reaction from Red Bull's pit wall had to be seen to be believed.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Now it was a McLaren 1-2 as Webber limped to the pits.  The domination of the lead pack became clear when you realize that he dragged his injured car into the pit lane, had a new nose and tires put on, and exited the pits still in third place, still with an eight second lead over fourth place Slappy Schumacher, yet was over 30 seconds behind the leaders.  And suddenly, it was Jenson Button who got a sniff of first place.

Button (near), Hamilton (far)
The 2009 World Champion threw his car inside the 2008 World Champion's, and they ran side by side through the final complex, with Button taking the lead as they came onto the front straight.  Hamilton didn't give up though, as he tucked right behind Button's tail, getting a tow as they charged down to Turn 1.  With a brave move, he flicked himself to the inside of the turn and retook the lead from his teammate while everybody on the McLaren pit wall held their breath.

*FINALLY:  Both McLaren drivers were asked to conserve fuel as the race entered its final laps, which allowed the RB6 of Mark Webber to close up to within 22 seconds of Button, who had slipped to about two seconds behind his teammate after his failed dive for the lead.  And that's the way this amazing race came to an end, with Lewis Hamilton crossing the line for his first victory of 2010.

*AFTERSHOCKS:  The two Red Bull teammates were pointing fingers at each other for the crash that cost the team the 1-2 finish.  It's no secret that Vettel has been complaining about how his car has been having problems while Webber's has been solid.  Webber, on the other hand, has been chafing under the thought that Vettel was the #1 driver for the team.  Could the acrimony tear the team apart they way McLaren was shredded in 2007 by the HWMNBN/Hamilton fight.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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May 16, 2010

F1 Update!: Monaco 2010

A beautiful day over The Principality, absolutely perfect for a little racing fun!  Would the drivers provide?  THIS is your F1U! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Monaco!

*TWOFER:  After squeaking out the pole from the Pole, Red Bull's Mark Webber had to have been feeling awfully confident as the lights went out.  And as it turns out he was right to be, screaming away from the rest of the field as if they were standing still.  It seemed that the only thing that could keep him from lapping the world was the four safety cars that came out during the race.  That he spent the entire race waaaaay in front of his younger, supposedly more talented, teammate Seb Vettel had to make it all that much sweeter.  Throw in the fact that he's now led every lap for the past two races and the Aussie has got to be livin' large right now.

*OHFER:  On the other hand, Virgin, Lotus, HRT, Williams and BK-Sauber have to be wondering which racing god they've pissed off.  All five teams failed to get either of their cars to the finish line.  This can't be what Peter Sauber was thinking when he got back into F1...

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: Well, duh, Mark Webber.  He didn't quite have enough of a lead to stop and have a drink at the bistro at Rascasse during the race, but it sure seemed like it at times... and I'm sure he would have done so if he could.  Honorable Mention goes to Robert Kubica for bringing his Renault home in third.  While he lost 2nd place to Vettel right off the line with a mediocre start, he kept the pressure on the younger of the two Red Bull drivers for nearly the entire race.  If the Renault was a slightly better car he could have done more than just hang grimly on the RB6's rear wing, but you make do with what you've got, and Kubica did more than anybody could have honestly expected.  

*TEAM OF THE RACE: Red Bull.  This season has all the signs of becoming a laugher if the RB6 can stay in one piece.  When they do, you get the sort of result we saw in Spain and today in Monaco: runaways.  Don't let the 1.6-second gap from Webber to Kubica fool you, that was only because of the safety car that came out with just a few laps remaining; it should have been closer to 10-15 seconds.  The team has the best car, two of the best drivers (and arguably the best young driver in Vettel), the best aerodynamicist, tons of money to throw at any problem... it could get ugly for the rest of the field.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: Take your pick between any of the four passes HWMNBN put in at the Chicane.  Yes, they were all against the backmarkers, but only Jarno Trulli really got out of his way.  All the others were actual fights for position, and all of them were impressive feats of car control and cojones.  Honorable mention goes to Slappy Schumacher for his (not seen in the US) pass at Rascasse against HWMNBN... on the last lap, under safety car conditions.  For the record: you can't do that.  Almost got away with it, too.  Instead, he was handed a 20 second penalty and dropped down to 12th... but it was audacious, I'll give him that.

*MOOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  We here at F1U! love Monaco, simply because there's always a clear-cut Mooooooo here.  Except for this year.  This year, we've got three excellent contenders for the trophy!  The first would go to the McLaren crewman who neglected to remove the blank from Jenson Button's left sidepod radiator inlet as he made his way to the grid.  Of course, this turned his engine into a steaming pile of slag that let go on Lap 2 while behind the first safety car.  Bravo, that!

The second candidate is Mr Maturity himself, Rubens Barrichello.  After something broke at the rear of his Williams on Lap 31, he went spinning and bouncing down the track at Massanet, coming to rest facing the wrong way.  Understandably frustrated and angry at being sent into the barriers at around 150mph, he did something that he of all people should know was stupid and dangerous.

See what that arrow is pointing at there?  It's his steering wheel, which Rubens threw out of the cockpit in his frustration.  Now, after a spring came out the back of his car last year, nearly killing Felipe Massa, you'd think he'd know better.  See that blur there?  That's Karun Chandhok's HRT.

Where's the steering wheel?  That's right, it's somewhere under the HRT... $20000 worth of steering wheel being dragged along by (or imbedded into) a F1 car: not cool, Rubens, not cool at all.

But there can be only one winner, and the Mooooooo-ooove for the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix goes to a prior winner of this race, Jarno Trulli.  With a scant seven laps remaining, Trulli's Lotus was behind the HRT of Karun Chandhok, and while he was slightly faster than the Indian, he could not get past at all.  Finally, he thought he saw an opening and lept into the breach.  Unfortunately, he tried this at Rascasse, one of the narrowest and slowest corners on the circuit and a place where nobody tries to pass... ever.  The result was both predictable and horrifying.

Commentators have said that the rollbar in the HRT's airbox did its job by protecting Chandhok from taking the rear of the Lotus in the face, and I suppose that's true.  However, the tire mark on the HRT driver's helmet tells a slightly different story... a couple inches lower Trulli would have neatly decapitated the rookie.  However, since he didn't, he earns the Moooooooo-oooove of the Race for the worst passing attempt at the worst place imaginable.  Way to go, Jarno!

*SELECTED DRIVER COMMENTS OF THE RACE:

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May 09, 2010

F1 Update!: Spain 2010!

A beautiful if breezy day in Barcelona today, which boded well for Red Bull and ill for everybody else.  But did it work out that way?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Spain!

*YUP...:  When the lights went out, Red Bull's Mark Webber outran his teammate and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton to the first turn, fought off passing attempts through the turn, then disappeared over the horizon.  Along the way to his first win of the season, he managed to lap everybody up to 9th place, and was only 10 seconds from the battle for 7th.  If one race can answer the question "who's got the best car on the grid," this race emphatically answered "Red Bull."

*...AND NOPE:  Except for one thing.  The other RB6, driven by Seb Vettel, showed the other side of the Red Bull, the fragile side.  Somewhere in the back third of the race, the electric motor that controlled the adjustable wing on the left side of the nose failed with the flap in the "up" position.  This blocked airflow to the cooling duct for the front-left brakes, and with 15 laps to go they gently failed.  While he was able to continue on, his car was crippled.  Braking was accomplished using the rear brakes only and early (and dramatic) downshifting.  Even with all that, he had problems negotiating some turns.  Vettel ended up on the podium, but on the third step after his crippled car was passed by HWMNBN... and only because of a catastrophic failure on Lewis Hamilton's car.  While it's become clear that the RB6 is somewhat more fragile than the average F1 car, Webber's lack of breakdowns makes one think that perhaps Vettel puts added stress on his chassis because of his (successful!) driving style.

*UNLUCKY:  When Vettel's car broke, Lewis Hamilton had it made.  He'd held second place since the first round of pitstops around lap 15, but was nowhere close to Webber.  The other Red Bull had grimly hung onto the McLaren's rear wing, ready to pounce if he made an error, but the brake failure took even that threat away.  Thus, Hamilton had 2nd place sewn up... all he had to do is make it to the finish line.  During this very race in 2008, Hamilton's teammate Heikki Kovaleinninninnie picked up a bit of gravel that got stuck in the left-front wheel rim and machined through the suspension, causing a terrifically violent accident.  Today, Hamilton had something similar occur with two laps to go.

That screenshot is the exact moment the failure occurred, but if you go back and watch the video you can see the tire moving around on the rim a few seconds before everything went south.

While it looks dramatic, the resulting accident was nowhere near as bad as Heikki's.  Instead of going straight into the tire barrier, Hamilton had enough control to continue turning.  As a result, he hit the barrier at an angle and skimmed off.  No question it was a hard ride, but in the end it was nothing extraordinary.  Except that it cost him 2nd while gifting HWMNBN the place.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  When you don't see the leader in the time between his last pitstop around lap 16 and the final lap, you know he's had an easy day of it, and that's exactly what happened today.  Mark Webber won by 24 seconds over Ferrari's HWMNBN, and it really wasn't even that close... the Red Bull driver dialed down his engine with 10 laps to go.  Basically the perfect race for the Aussie, and one that's got to make everybody up and down the field nervous... including his teammate.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  Even though they lost the 1-2 finish when Vettel broke, they still finished with both drivers on the podium.  The team coached Seb home with his crippled car, though it seemed like he didn't always listen to the pit wall.  Still, as grim as Vettel's situation was, Webber's was the complete opposite.  A solid day for a team that needed it.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  There was only one of any note.  An unlucky Nico Rosberg, who suffered a horrible pit stop and thus was dropped to the rear of the pack, got caught behind Nico Hulkenberg for nearly 10 laps.  Finally, either in frustration or anger, Rosberg slipped inside the Hulk going into La Caxcia, not a normal place to pass someone.  That's it.  Here's your MotR, Nico.  Maybe next week we'll have more to choose from.

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  Today was the first race of the year where the backmarkers really caused problems on the track.  In particular, HRT's Karun Chandhok proved to be rolling trouble.  First he couldn't (or wouldn't) give Felipe Massa enough room to get past, claiming a front wing element off the Ferrari in the process.  Then a few laps later, Toro Rosso's NKOTT, racing for points, tried to go around the outside of the slow n00b.  The result?

A spin for the Toro Rosso, a lost nose and a broken suspension for the HRT.  Not pretty, and well-deserving of the Moooo. 

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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F1 Update!: SPAIN 2010! is delayed

It's still coming, but it'll be later tonight, maybe 10pm Pond Standard Time or so?  Don't miss it!

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