September 26, 2010

F1 Update!: Singapore 2010

Dark clouds overhead but a brightly lighted track below, with the five points leaders sitting in the first five slots on the grid.  Sounds like a perfect setup for a great race, but is that what we got?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Singapore!

*LIGHTS OUT:  For once, the entire field made it away and through the first couple of turns without serious incident.  Felipe Massa made a fantastic start from his grid position in Palembang, catching up with the rest of the field very quickly.  However, all was not well amongst the thundering herd.  Vitantonio Liuzzi earned himself a Mooooooo-oove of the Race nomination by managing to run into both ends of Grizzly Nick Heidfeld's Sauber on one pass.  Heidfeld had to limp around to the pits, while Liuzzi's Force India struggled to complete the first lap, so it came as quite the surprise when he blew right past the pit entrance.  However, Felipe Massa didn't, intentionally.  He came right in at the end of the first lap and changed from the soft tires to the harder compound, gambling on a risky strategy.  And why not?  It's not like he'd fall any further behind.  But Ferrari didn't account for the incompetence of Vitantonio Liuzzi. 

*SAFETY CAR:  Liuzzi zipped past the pit lane and began Lap 2.  He never completed it.  His suspension, showing obvious signs of damage from his mugging of Heidfeld, gave out and he came to a halt out on track... at a point on the circuit where there weren't any cranes.  Out came the Safety Car, and out the window went everybody's strategy.  The back half of the herd pitted immediately, with the top 10 staying out... except for Mark Webber.  Webber rolled the dice and pitted, potentially putting himself in an excellent position.  If he could stay in contact with the leaders, when THEY stopped later in the race the Red Bull would leap high up the standings, potentially as high as first.

*RUNAWAY:  It quickly became clear that Webber was going to be racing for third.  Polesitter HWMNBN and Red Bull's Seb Vettel rapidly pulled away from the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton.  By Lap 20, the two had a nearly 15 second lead over the 2008 Champion and over 20 seconds over fourth place Jenson Button.  The lead kept widening as the two frontrunners took turns setting fast lap of the race as they tried to open up a big enough gap to pit and stay ahead of Webber.  Hamilton blinked first, coming in on Lap 29 after he had run his tires into the ground.  Mark Webber swept past as Hamilton crawled down the pitlane to return to the race.  On Lap 30, HWMNBN, Vettel and Jenson Button in third pulled in for new tires.  The Ferrari driver came out first, despite Vettel having a faster pitstop... until the Red Bull driver tried to exit his pitbox in 2nd Gear.  Once again, the young speedster choked under pressure, with a chance to take the lead in the balance. 

*BUT THEN:  If F1 fans didn't love Gandalf Kobyashi before today, when he hip-checked Slappy Schumacher into the next neighborhood they had to begin feeling all tingly.  A rookie asserting himself on the Great Schumi?  That's just beautiful.  However, a lap later saw Gandalf fishtail himself into the wall but hard, coming to a stop on the racing line just out of sight from cars coming down on him.  The HRT of Bruno Senna, the first car to come across the broken Sauber, arrowed right into the side of Gandalf.  Felipe Massa, showing the sort of reflexes that one expects from frightened cats, barely avoided adding to the carnage.  Another Safety Car comes out as the track marshals try to figure out how to untangle the wrecks.  The restart came on Lap 36, with the standings reading HWMNBN, Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, and Button.

*SAY GOODBYE TO A CHAMPIONSHIP:  While HWMNBN and Vettel had clear track in front of them, somehow the Virgin VR-1s of Lucas DiGrassi and Timo Glock had gotten gathered up by the Safety Car so he was sitting directly in front of Webber... and this is one of the few places that F1 could take lessons from NASCAR.  In NASCAR safety car situations, the field is lined up in order of standing for all intents and purposes.  In F1, the field bunches up in whatever order they get to the Safety Car.  Webber and Hamilton got past Glock, but DiGrassi balked the Australian quite badly.  Hamilton, taking advantage, pulled right tight behind the Red Bull then swept past on the outside.  Everything was to the advantage of the McLaren as they approached the next turn: he had the racing line AND he was clearly in front of the Red Bull.  Webber, however, saw an opening that truly wasn't there and smashed hard into Hamilton, deranging the MP4-25's suspension while the RB-6 continued on merrily.  Hamilton made it into a run-off area and, furiously throwing his steering wheel into the night, retired from the race for the second time in a row.  Unlike at Monza however, this time wasn't his fault.  While the stewards declared it a "racing incident," replays pretty clearly showed that Webber wouldn't have made the turn if he hadn't hit the McLaren.  The Red Bull did sustain some damage, picking up what was later described as a nasty vibration, but Hamilton's chances for a second Driver's Championship suddenly look grim indeed.

*THE ENDS:  Ahead of the carnage, HWMNBN and Vettel pulled away again, continuing to exchange fast lap between the two of them for the rest of the race.  While the Ferrari held the lead, the Red Bull wasn't letting it get away in the least.  Eventually, they swept across the finish line only 0.2 seconds apart, one of the closest finishes in recent memory.  All wasn't calm behind them, though.  Robert Kubica had managed to get himself to 7th place, but drove the tires off his Renault... literally.  On Lap 46, he had to pit for new rubber, his right-rear tire showing the canvas backing in some places.  He dropped to 13th by the time he returned to the track... and thus began one of the better drives we've seen in a while.  On Lap 52, he passed Buemi for 11th and his Renault teammate Petrov for 10th, and pulled up to Massa, whom he passed on Lap 53.  On Lap 55, Kubica passed Force India's Adrian Sutil for 7th, regaining the position he relinquished when he pitted.  Just awesome driving from the Pole.  And then there's the Heikki Kovaleinninninnie story.  On Lap 59, the Finn and Seb Buemi bump, with the Lotus ending up pointing the wrong direction but able to continue.  Unknown to the Finnish driver, the contact caused a small fuel leak in his Lotus.  By the time he made it to the front straight, his engine was fully aflame:

Understandably unwilling to bring a blazing car into the pitlane, Heikki instead pulled to a stop just short of the start/finish line.  Once the Lotus stopped, the rear of the car went up like a molotov cocktail had been thrown at it.  Unfortunately, the pitlane fire crew wasn't near his stopping point.  However, Heikki himself grabbed a fire extinguisher and began to fight the blaze.

The Lotus was pretty much toast by the time HWMNBN and Seb Vettel ended the race, the smoldering car a dramatic counterpoint to the victors.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  HWMNBN and Seb Vettel both deserve this award as the two of them drove flawless races.  The Ferrari driver, however, pulled off the rare F1 Grand Slam: pole, win, fast lap, and he led every lap of the race.  Yeah, that's pretty dominant. 

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  2nd and 3rd, retaking the lead in the constructor's championship, and one of your men leading the driver's championship?  Yeah, pretty good race for the team.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  As previously mentioned, Robert Kubica pitted from 7th late in the race and then fought his way back up to regain the position relinquished.  What was really impressive was the pass on Adrian Sutil to complete his quest, passing the Force India driver on the outside of the 90-degree Turn 7 at the end of the longest straight on the track.  Well done for the Pole, and maybe enough to earn him a drive for Ferrari next year... or so the rumors say, anyway.

*MOOOOOOOOOO-OOVE OF THE RACE: Grizzly Nick Heidfeld was happy.  He was finally back in a F1 car for real, and had proven that he hadn't lost anything in the meantime.  The first lap had gone swimmingly, and things looked good for the rest of the race... maybe even points!  And then Vitantonio Liuzzi came along and did bad things.  First the Force India driver slammed into the rear of the Sauber.  In one swift mooooo-oove, Liuzzi went past the damaged Sauber, then cut back across Heidfeld's nose, sending pieces of it flying off into the night.  That's right, Liuzzi somehow figured out how to damage both ends of the Sauber in one move, without sending it into the wall.  Pretty impressive, and quite the Moooooooo-oove!  Heidfeld, his downforce compromised, ended up in the walls around Lap 30 or so.  Liuzzi, in a case of just desserts, retired his car on Lap 3.



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September 12, 2010

F1 Update!: Italy 2010

For the tifosi of the team of the Prancing Horse, this was the dream setup.  Ferrari on the pole, at their ancestral home of La Pista Magica, with their lead driver in combat for the driver's championship.  But would the church bells be ringing in Maranello, or would the dream end up a nightmare of epic proportions?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2010 Grand Prix of Italy!

*BAD DREAM: When the lights went out to begin the race, the McLaren of Jenson Button lept off the starting line, just slightly faster than the Ferrari of HWMNBN.  As the two drivers sprinted down to the ridiculously tight first chicane, the Spaniard tried to intimidate the Brit by sliding down on him.  When the defending Driver's Champion didn't budge, it became a simple drag race.  The problem arose when it became clear that by dodging across the track, HWMNBN had lost a small amount of forward momentum.  It might have been just a handful of feet, but it was enough.  As they entered the chicane, the silver McLaren had the advantage, the racing line, and by the end of the chicane, the lead.  A small bump from the nose of the Ferrari took off a small piece of the McLaren's rear end, but neither car seemed particularly affected.  Just as in Quals, Button's car was substantially faster in the turn-heavy (well, as turn-heavy as any part of Monza can be) second sector of the circuit, while losing time to the Ferrari on the long straights.   The upshot of it all was that Button opened up a 6/10th of a second lead over the red car... and there it stayed.  It would fluctuate a tenth here or there, but for all intents and purposes neither man could get away from the other.

*NIGHTMARE: Away from the leaders, Hispania's DJ DNF was having communications problems.  His radio malfunctioning, on Lap 24 he came into the pits for his tire change and a radio technician practically jumped into the cockpit with him to work on the electronics.  The pit stop went cleanly with the new rubber being slapped on smartly, and the lollypop man quickly cleared DJ DNF to pull back into the race.  Except there was one problem: the radio tech was still leaning over the cockpit.

(The FIA removed the video after one day)
Very quickly, an ambulance was summoned into the pits, closing access to the pit lane while the race continued on.  He was taken to the infield hospital with minor injuries... a case where looks really do deceive because if you base your opinion on the video, the guy is dead.  (UPDATE: I included the video here simply because the F1 cameras never showed the incident.  If the Legendary Announce Team hadn't have mentioned it, we never would have known.)

*DREAM ON:  With the pitlane closed, everybody was forced to keep circulating.  Up front, the two leaders may as well have been connected to each other with a bungee cord; the lead would increase, then contract, then boing back up again, but never more than 6/10th of a second.  It became obvious that barring incident, the pit crews would decide this race.  On Lap 37 Button came in.  It took the McLaren mechanics 4.2 seconds to slap on the new tires and get their man back out on track, rejoining the race in third.  The next lap, it was the turn of HWMNBN.  He was stopped for only 3.6 seconds, the fastest pit stop of the race, and came out of the pits just barely ahead of the silver car.  Button tried to get past in the first chicane but couldn't quite pull it off.  When Massa came in on Lap 39, HWMNBN took over first place, a position he would never relinquish, eventually winning by a scant 2.9 seconds over Button, with Massa crossing the line just over a second later.  One begins to wonder if the small amount of damage that Button suffered in the first chicane back on Lap 1 made any difference to the aerodynamics of the car.  It didn't have to be much, just about a tenth of a second total over the first hour or so, for that might have been the difference between the two when HWMNBN came out of the pits.

*MEANWHILE:  One Red Bull driver was having a bad day.  Mark Webber had another patented Red Bull Lousy Startâ„¢, dropping from 4th on the grid to 9th in a heartbeat.  He eventually climbed back up to 6th, but had to be frustrated.  Seb Vettel, on the other hand, slogged around and around, driving as hard as he could without doing anything stupid or stunning.  Car after car ahead of him pitted while he kept going and going.  Eventually, he found himself in 4th place with a nearly 20 second lead over Nico Rosberg's Mercedes... but it was Lap 52 of 54, he hadn't made his mandatory pitstop yet, and the pit "bogey time", or the total time it takes to drive into the pitlane, stop, make the tire change, then get back out onto the track was right about 20 seconds.  On Lap 53, he dove in fast, smoking his tires as he slammed on the brakes to make the pit lane speed limit, made his stop and re-entered the track... just ahead of Rosberg.  He ended up a surprising 4th in a car that really wasn't that good on this track.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  For perhaps the first time, this award is going to go to two drivers.  Both HWMNBN and Jenson Button drove their hearts out today, getting absolutely the best out of their vehicles.  That the two cars were set up to specialize in different parts of the course, yet ended up less than a second apart for the first 40 laps, just highlights the skill both showed.  Without a doubt, both deserve the award, and for providing an incredibly tense race both get it.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Ferrari.  First and third on the podium, and the race won by the mechanics?  That's a team victory, and there's no way any other team deserves this award more than the boys from Maranello.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  There were surprisingly few passes on track today, so without a doubt this has to go to the Ferrari pitcrew.  When McLaren got their man in and out in 4.2 seconds, they knew that they had a chance to decide this one.  Everything went like clockwork, and they gained their car about 150 feet of track distance over their competitors.  It couldn't have gone better, and made all the difference in the world.

*MOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  While we here at F1U! are not fond of giving the Mooooooo-oove to something that occurs during the chaotic events of any Grand Prix's first lap, we're making an exception today.  Lewis Hamilton qualified 5th and jumped to 4th by default when Mark Webber had another in a long line of Red Bull Lousy Startâ„¢s.  Heading into the first chicane, the two Ferraris were side-by-side into the narrow first turn, yet Hamilton thought he could get himself some of that action.  He got his front wing alongside Felipe Massa's cockpit, and his front-right tire just in front of Massa's left-rear, but only just.  When Massa either accelerated slightly, or Hamilton slowed a touch, there was contact; the impact pushed the McLaren's suspension forward.  Now, carbon fiber is a ridiculously strong material, but it has an odd property... it's only strong in the direction that it's woven to be strong in, unlike a steel rod which would have the same amount of strength no matter which way forces are applied to it.  The result was predictable.

His front suspension broken, the man leading the Driver's Championship was out of the race before he reached the second turn.  Now he's behind Mark Webber.  A questionable decision to knock yourself out of the championship lead?  Good job, Lewis, here's your Moooooooo-oove!



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