October 30, 2011

F1 Update!: India 2011

A hot, smoggy day greeted the F1 Circus as they formed up on the Buddh International Circuit's grid.  Would polesitter Seb Vettel continue his domination of the year, or would he let his teammate by in an attempt to get him second place in the driver's championship?  Or would the Ferraris and McLarens make the question moot?  THIS is your F1U! for the inaugural Grand Prix of India!

*EVERYTHING NEW IS OLD AGAIN: Once the lights went out and the race began, it was exactly like most of the previous races this season.  Seb Vettel got a good start, pulled away and never looked back.  At the end of Lap 1, his lead was 1.3 seconds and nobody ever got any closer.  By the end of Lap 8, it was over 8 seconds.

*BLUNDERING HERD:  The first turn saw a shower of carbon fiber, front wings and bodywork like we haven't seen all season.  Five cars had various degrees of damage as the back half of the field approached the braking zone, and a sixth, the Lotus of Jarno Trulli went for a spin in Turn 3, provoked by a nudge from behind.  We here at F1U! aren't exactly sure just why such carnage occurred today as the first turn is plenty wide, but there it is.  It was entertaining, if nothing else.

*THE TRACK:  In another era, it's clear that the Buddh International Circuit would be another processional circuit.  However, with two DRS zones and KERS, there was some fun racing back in the midpack.  Hermann Tilke got lucky with this one.  As long as the rules stay the way they are, India will be a race to look forward to.  That long long looooooong straightaway looks like it has the ability to kill a powertrain, however.  Two cars suffered failures as they ran down the 4000' length of tarmac: one dead gearbox and one blown engine.  The curbs also reached up and broke Felipe Massa's suspension again, though this time the left front.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Seb Vettel led his 711th lap of the season today.  Not only is that a record, it's also more laps than Jenson Button has led in his entire career... and yes, that includes his 2009 Championship season.  More than that, Vettel today earned himself a rare F1 Grand Slam.  He won from pole position, led every lap, and set fast lap of the race.  In a season of great drives from the young German, this was probably his best.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  McLaren clinched second place in the Constructor's Championship with the combination of Jenson Button's second-place finish and Lewis Hamilton's 7th.  In a year that was so dominated by one team, that's quite the accomplishment for the team from Woking.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Not always do the best moves of a race happen up towards the front of the field, and today was a perfect example of that fact.  On Lap 14, the surging Toro Rosso of DJ Squire was hunting down the hometown Force India of Adrian Sutil.  When the two cars crossed the DRS detection marker before the long straight, DJ Squire was about a half-second back.  Opening the flap on the rear wing let the Toro Rosso pull close, but it didn't really seem like he had the speed to make the pass as they approached the braking zone.

Despite what we thought, DJ Squire pulled his steed to the outside of the Force India and held off on the braking for as long as he could.

Keeping the Toro Rosso under control into the fast sweep, DJ Squire just barely managed to pull ahead of the Force India, forcing Adrian Sutil to back down.

While it was only for 9th place, it was still an impressive move, and without a doubt the best of the day.  It just wasn't as... exciting as some have been.  This isn't a negative.

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  Because "exciting" is exactly what you don't want when you're making a pass at 150mph  On Lap 24, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton had the Ferrari of Felipe Massa right where he wanted it.  That the two of them had made contact five previous times this season probably should have given Hamilton some pause, but heading into Turn 5 he still had some KERS juice remaining while Massa did not.  He used it and tried to get underneath the red car...

...and Massa tried to guillotine the McLaren, which had his front tires in front of the Ferrari's rears.  Massa went for a slide and a spin, Hamilton went to the pits for a new nose.  Massa was later given a drive-through penalty for his rather bovine attempt to keep Hamilton behind him, and his later suspension failure seemed like a case of just desserts.  Congratulations, Felipe, this Mooooooo-ooove's all yours.



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October 17, 2011

F1 Update!: Korea 2011

A low, heavy sky and thin sunlight greeted the Thundering Herd as it formed up on the grid.  Reports were that rain was in the near future.  Would it affect the race for the Constructor's Championship?  Would the McLaren Resurgence continue?  Would we ever hear from Ferrari again?  And now that he had wrapped up the Driver's Championship, whither Vettel?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Korea!

*LIGHTS OUT: It's a very short dash from the front of the grid to the Turn 1 / Turn 2 pairing at Korea, something on the order of 150m.  This favors the driver that can make a clean getaway off the line, as that counts just as much as raw acceleration on a short run.  Despite a fairly aggressive move from Seb Vettel, sitting second on the grid, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton held pride of place into the first turn and down the endless straight to Turn 3.  It wasn't until Turn 4, at the end of the next straightaway, that Vettel managed to take the lead from his rival.  From there, it became just another Seb Vettel sort of race: get clear of the field by at least a second before DRS usage was activated on Lap 3, then run away and hide.  And that's exactly what he did, though the lead in the first part of the race wasn't more than five seconds or so. 

*CUE THE RAIN:  The men on the pit walls had a few anxious moments as the windows for the first pit stops began to open, as the sky began to spit rain here and there around the circuit.  Do you gamble on intermediate rubber, or stay on slicks and hope that the rain goes away?  Everybody rolled the dice to stay on slicks, and the rain, never more than a sprinkling around Turn 4, disappeared as quickly as it came.  Didn't stop the F1U! crew from cackling evilly though, as we hoped a good frogswallower would develop.

*SAFETY DANCE CAR:  When Renault's Red Menace decided that braking was for wimps on Lap 16, turning the rear of Slappy Schumacher's Mercedes into so much oatmeal in the process (see "Mooooo-oooove of the Race", below), a Safety Car was called out to allow the track workers to remove the debris.  After the restart on Lap 21, it looked like we were going to have a race again.  Vettel stayed ahead of Hamilton, but the lead was just a touch over a second... and the McLaren began to (agonizingly) slowly reel the Red Bull in.  However, Vettel's teammate Mark Webber also began to reel in the two of them.

*HELLO, GOODBYE:  On Lap 33, Webber went all furious koala on Hamilton, hanging onto back of the McLaren driver all the way around the circuit.  The two put on a tremendous exhibition of wheel-to-wheel racing from Turn 3, ending only when they came to the technical section around Turn 7.  However, this tete-a-tete let Vettel drive off into the distance, adding three seconds to his lead in one lap.  After the second round of pitstops, the Driver's Champion's lead had ballooned to 10 seconds and the race was, for all intents and purposes, over.  Hamilton and Webber pitted together, came out together, and their battle continued on Lap 34 (see "Move of the Race", below).  Vettel was unchallenged for the remaining 20 laps and took his 10th win of the season, followed by Hamilton, Webber, Button and HWMNBN.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: Seb Vettel has already won the 2011 Driver's Championship, but it's clear that he isn't content to rest on his laurels.  All he did was take the lead in Turn 4 and then keep a fast Lewis Hamilton behind him until the safety car came out.  After the safety car period ended, he ran away and hid to blow the rest of the field off the track.  Pretty much the perfect race for the two-time champ.

*TEAM OF THE RACE: Red Bull.  Both drivers on the podium with a 1-3 finish, and clinching their second Constructor's Championship?  Yeah, not bad.  The only thing that kept this from being a perfect day for the team was a dumb strategy call to bring Mark Webber in at the same time as Lewis Hamilton that may have cost them a 1-2.  Still and all, if that's the worst thing that happened to Red Bull today, they'll probably live with it.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Mark Webber had themselves an epic duel today, one that lasted from the Safety Car period to the end of the race.  On Lap 33 the two pitted nose-to-tail and came out the same way to begin Lap 34.  Surprisingly, the Red Bull couldn't get close enough to pass at the end of the DRS zone, and it looked like that was that for this lap... until Hamilton locked up his brakes heading into Turn 5, and the furious koala pounced.He took the inside line away from the McLaren into Turn 6, and again, it all looked over.  Surely the furious koala would pull away and set sail after his teammate.But no!  The McLaren dangled a piece of bamboo in front of the koala and squeezed him over into the next turn, retaking second place. A simply exquisite piece of racing from both men, an exchange that earns them a rare shared MotR!

*MOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  Slappy Schumacher was cruising towards a solid points-paying finish.  To be sure, he had a hard-charging HWMNBN behind him, and Renault's Red Menace was looking awfully racy, but as the race neared the half-way point Slappy had to be feeling pretty good about the way his day was going.  Heading down to Turn 4, The Red Menace and HWMNBN were dueling hard, with the Ferrari driver apparently not planning on braking until he reached Pyongyang.  The Red Menace held off on braking as long as he could, then stomped hard on the slow-down pedal.  The brakes did their job well enough to lock up the front tires and the Renault was suddenly uncontrollable... with Slappy right in his way.

Both cars were taken out of the race, and The Red Menace nearly collected HWMNBN in the process.  Nicely done, Red!  Here's another Mooooooo-oooove for your collection!



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October 09, 2011

F1 Update!: Japan 2011

A sunny afternoon greeted the F1 Circus as the cars made their way to the grid.  Would Jenson Button be able to extend the fight for the Driver's Championship for another race?  Or would polesitter Seb Vettel score the single point he needed to lock it up today?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Japan!

*THE RACE:  Over the years, Suzuka International Race Course has given us some great races, including quite a few that have decided championships.  While we here at F1U! wouldn't classify the 2011 entry as a "great race," it certainly had its share of moments.  When the lights went out, Red Bull's Vettel made a clean getaway from the first spot on the grid... but McLaren's Jenson Button had a better one, pulling nearly even with the reigning Driver's Champion before the cars had gone more than twenty meters.  It then became a drag race down to the first turn, a drag race that Vettel seemed to think he was going to lose, as he began to squeeze the Glare with Wheels closer and closer to the grass on the inside of the straight.  Eventually the Brit was shoved so far over that he raised a big cloud of dirt when his right-side wheels left the tarmac, a maneuver that let his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, sneak past for second place as the Thundering Herd entered the first turn.  Unlike the rest of the season to date however, Vettel did not go flying off into the distance, leaving the competition fighting for second place.  Instead the two McLaren drivers hung grimly onto his rear wing, Hamilton just out of DRS activation range of the leader and Button a couple of seconds behind Hamilton. 

*ABRASIVENESS:  As had become clear during the first two days of the race weekend, the tires Pirelli had brought to the track (medium and soft compounds) were proving to be terribly vulnerable to the abrasive surface of the Suzuka Circuit.  The prime tire was lasting around 20 laps, the options about half that, depending on the driver.  Lewis Hamilton, who's never been thought to have a smooth flowing driving style, drove the rubber right off his options in eight laps, earning a slow leak on his right-rear tire in the process.  With his car becoming less and less controllable, he backed off the throttle and let his teammate into second, five seconds behind the leader.  He'd pit and come back out in sixth place, never to be involved in the outcome again.  This began a general run into the pits by the field.  While Vettel continued to hold the lead after the first pit cycle, it may have been significant that Button, the generally acknowledged master of tire conservation, stayed out for a lap longer than the Red Bull driver.  When Button came back out, the lead had dropped to 2.5 seconds.

*AND THEN...:  Seb Vettel stayed out in front for another 10 laps until his second set of soft tires quietly sighed and gave up the ghost.  He brought his RB7 in for his second stop on Lap 20, secure in the knowledge that his mechanics were the most consistent in F1, always getting him in-and-out in about 3.4 seconds.  Except not this time.  It's not like the Red Bull driver's stop was a bad one, right around four seconds.  Most other teams would be perfectly content with taking four seconds to change four tires.  Jenson Button swept into the pitlane on the next lap.  When his McLaren came back onto the circuit, he was a couple of car-lengths ahead of Vettel, leapfrogging the Red Bull driver on the pit rotation.

A half-second doesn't seem like much, but in F1, it's all the time in the world.

*CHECKERED FLAG:  From then on, the question became "would Vettel even try to pass for the lead?"  Quickly enough, the question became moot as Button slowly pulled away from the Red Bull driver, opening up a two-second lead.  When Vettel pitted on Lap 34 for his run to the end on the medium rubber, he lost another place on the pit rotation, this time to Ferrari's HWMNBN.  Coming up quickly behind Vettel was his Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, but there was no way the team was going to let them do anything stupid.  A quick radio call from the pit wall to both Red Bull drivers on Lap 47, in effect telling them both not to take any risks, made it clear that they wanted Vettel on the podium.  But could HWMNBN catch Button?  At one point he got the lead down to 1.1 seconds, but Button had simply been conserving fuel.  The moment there was any sign of a threat, on Lap 51, he ripped off the fast lap of the race and then took the checkered flag.  HWMNBN finished 1.1 seconds behind, with Vettel a second behind him.  Jenson Button had won the race, but by virtue of  his third place finish, Vettel had won the 2011 Driver's Championship.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Jenson Button may not have had a car that was faster than the Red Bull, but it was just as quick.  In effect, this turned the race into a straight battle between drivers, one that Button won.  He took better care of his tires while keeping his speed high, drove a flawless race, and took a well-deserved win.  That it wasn't enough to keep the championship alive wasn't his fault.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  One championship down, one to go.  Neither driver made any particular errors.  Heck, we didn't even  get to see a Mark Webber Lousy Start©. The pit stop that may have cost Vettel the victory was good enough for just about any other situation... just not this one at this time. 

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  The least likely place to pass at Suzuka is the infamous 130R.  To try a move on the fastest point of the circuit while you're entering a flat-out sweeper requires either massive attachments or massive brain damage.  Mark Webber pulled it off early in the race, but his victim (HWMNBN) was on old tires while the Aussie was on brand new rubber... hardly a fair fight.  On Lap 46 though, Adrian F'n Sutil was fighting Gandalf Kobayashi for 9th place.  Both were on similarly worn tires, both cars were solid midpackers, and both drivers have more-or-less equal skills.  When Sutil made his attempt on Gandalf by going to the inside (and getting squeezed in the process), our first thought was "brain damage."

Full throttle onto the dirty side of the track at 185mph into a fast left-handed sweeper next to an insane Japanese driver on his home soil.  This is not the recipe for a long and happy life.

Nevertheless, Sutil took his Force India into the turn and kept it firmly planted in place despite not being on the optimal racing line through 130R.  He took the position and we here at F1U! immediately awarded him the MotR award.  We still think it's an example of "brain damage," though.

*MOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  For the most part, this was a cleanly driven race.  Yes there was contact between Webber and Slappy Schumacher... and (wow, what a shock) Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa (again), but neither of those incidents were particularly egregious.  So instead, we're giving it to the front-right tire changer for Toro Rosso.

I suppose it's not a great feeling when your tire just rolls off the hub in the middle of the race... but it did earn the airgunner a Mooooo!  That's a fair trade, right?



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