June 26, 2011

F1 Update!: Valencia 2011

The weather in Valencia was gorgeous as the 24 cars took to the grid, but would the sun shine on the polesitter Seb Vettel?  Or would someone show him the greyness of loss?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Europe @ Valencia!

*NOPE:  As the lights went out, Red Bull's Seb Vettel leaped from his slot on the grid and headed for the hills.  By the end of the first lap, he was well over a second ahead of his teammate Mark Webber, who was being hounded by Ferrari's HWMNBN.  From there, it was just a pleasant Sunday drive for the reigning World Champion, who went on to win with a grand total drama amount of zero.  10 seconds behind him was HWMNBN, who was 17 seconds ahead of Mark Webber's ailing RB7.  Nearly 20 seconds later, Lewis Hamilton's McLaren sauntered across the lane, followed five seconds later by Ferrari's Felipe Massa.  The man currently second in the world championship race, Jenson Button, finished the race in 6th place, exactly one full minute behind Vettel.

*THE BAD OLD DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN:  It wasn't all that long ago that we'd go entire races without seeing anything other than red hot pitstop action!!!  We've gotten spoiled, what with all this newfangled passing and excitement and on-track racing for position that we've had this season.  It took the efforts of a Valencia street circuit to show us what F1 used to be: mostly unexciting.  We here at F1U! are dyed-in-the-firesuit traditionalists, always have been, but we can do without a return to the past in this particular case.  F1, get rid of this miserable excuse for a track, please.

*FIRST EVER: F1 has been around for over 60 years.  It's seen some amazingly dominant drivers (Schumacher, Senna, St Fangio the Quick), but never before have we seen a run like the one Seb Vettel is on.  We're eight races in, and in those he's not finished lower than 2nd in any of them.  That's never been done before.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: NKOTT.  The Toro Rosso driver started 18th on the grid and finished 8th.  He must have done something right.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  In a race that was entirely decided in the pits, Red Bull consistently took tires off and replaced them in amazingly quick times.  Late in the race, where a mistake in the pits means lost time that could cost a driver a position or two, they got their men in and out in 3.2 seconds each.  Everybody else were around 3.4 or 3.5 seconds.  Yes, that's the sort of action we had today... red hot pit stop action!

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  When we're watching a race, the F1U! cohort is positioned with notebook in hand, ready to record anything of importance that occurs for easy reference later.  For Canada, there were six pages of notes, some with clarifying notations on the back of the previous page.  For Monaco, there were four pages.  For this race, there were two.  Not two pages, two notes.  Total.  One of them is for the DRS-assisted pass of Webber by HWMNBN on Lap 21 for 2nd place.  The other one is for Slappy Schumacher's pass of Adrian Sutil on Lap 15.  Neither was particularly exciting, dramatic, or even all that important.  Slappy gets the nod because he did his with his front wing dragging on the ground after he ran into The Red Menace as he exited the pits at the beginning of the lap.  Yay?

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  Other than Slappy taking his own nose off on Lap 15 (see above), there really weren't any stupid driver tricks today.  So instead, here's Adrian Sutil with a pair of gag glasses.


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June 12, 2011

F1 Update!: Montreal 2011

Rain.  We've wanted rain to make an appearance in the F1 season.  Rain makes every race better.  But what happens when you get too much rain?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Canada!

*SWIMMING POOL:  An hour before the start of the race, the skies opened up and dropped half the Atlantic Ocean on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  As the field made its way to the grid, the decision was made to start the race behind the Safety Car.  This meant that, by rule, everybody had to start the race on the Full Wet tires, and that every lap turned behind Bernd Maylander would count against the 70-lap total.  For five laps, the field perambulated behind the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the full wet tires creating an obviously dryer line on the track surface.  As the thundering herd approached the Hairpin on Lap 3, Maylander turned off the lights on the Safety Car and opened up the 6.2L V-8 engine to pull away while polesitter Seb Vettel slowed down, both to let the the SC get far enough away that the Red Bull would have a clear track for the start, and so he could decide when to step on the gas and gain an advantage over the two Ferraris following.  Except two-time World Driver's Champion HWMNBN had a different idea, staying glued to the young German's rear wing in an astonishing display of car control.  Everything Vettel did, the Ferrari driver matched for that half of a lap, never getting more than a car length behind yet never in danger of passing the Red Bull, which is a violation of Safety Car rules.  Indeed, he did such a good job of anticipating Vettel's tricks that as the two swept down the front straight, HWMNBN's nose was positioned just ahead of the Red Bull's rear tires... probably the best "restart" from behind the Safety Car we've ever seen.

*GREEN FLAG RACING:  It didn't last.  HWMNBN had to slot in behind Vettel as the two swept through Turns 1 and 2, giving the Red Bull pilot the ability to do what he does best: rocket away into the distance.  Behind him, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton bumps into Vettel's teammate Mark Webber in the first turn, sending the Red Bull into a graceful pirouette.  No damage to either car, but the Australian dropped to 15th place before he could rejoin the race.  For the next few laps, nothing happened as everybody tiptoed around the soggy track, trying to figure out what they could and could not get away with on the Pirelli galoshes.  At one point, Hamilton tried to go offline to pass the Mercedes of Slappy Schumacher through the Hairpin, the slowest point of the circuit, and still wound up staggering around like a drunkard.  On the next lap, Vettel, despite having nobody in front of him and therefore with no spray from other cars in his face, completely blew his braking into Turn 7 and had to cut across the grass, just pointing out how messy the track was.  Despite this, he still had a clear four-second lead over the the second place Ferrari of HWMNBN, and looked like he wasn't ever going to be caught.  But this is Canada, birthplace of the Safety Car... surely something would happen to bring Bernd Maylander back out.

*THE NUMBER ONE RULE OF RACING...:  "Don't wreck your teammate."  That's what everybody says is the first rule of racing.  You can wreck yourself, you can punt other cars into the next country over, but if you so much as breathe funny on your teammate, you're opening yourself up to a world of criticism.  So it should come as no surprise that Lewis Hamilton, frustrated by Seb Vettel's utter domination of the 2011 season to date and recently voted "Most Likely To Drive Like His Hair Is On Fire, If He Had Any Hair, Which He Doesn't", would do something dumb.  On Lap 8, as the McLarens driven by Jenson Button and Hamilton swept down the front straight, Hamilton tried to get by his teammate to the inside.  Button moved over to make it a challenge, and instead of playing it cool, Hamilton decided to barge on through.  As Hamilton drove onto the grass, the two McLarens touched.  Button drove on, screaming into his radio "...what is he, crazy?!??!".  On the other hand, his teammate's car smacked into the inside wall, sending the various team's signboard holders scrambling for cover as he scraped by them.  His left rear wheel deranged, he tried to make it around back around to the pits, but only made it a few turns before he had to stop on track.  Out came the Safety Car for the second time.

*GREEN AGAIN:  This time, Bernd Maylander led the race for five laps as the marshals disposed of the broken McLaren.  Behind him, Seb Vettel led HWMNBN, and Felipe Massa, while Jenson Button came around and into the pits for a quick checkover and to become the first to switch to Intermediate tires.  Once the Safety Car came in, the leading three blast away from the rest of the pack, while Vettel once again shows that he's got the better car, putting 1.5 seconds between him and the Ferraris in one lap.  Button, on the other hand, begins to rip off laps nearly two seconds faster than anybody on the full wets but is hit with a drive-through penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car.  Whoops.  He serves the penalty and rejoins in 15th.  There's a mass exodus to the pit lane as teams decide it's safe to put on Intermediate tires.  By Lap 18 however, Vettel leads Massa by nearly seven seconds.  Gandalf Kobayashi follows the Ferrari, but is still on the full wet tires.  Mark Webber and HWMNBN round out the top five.

*AND THEN...:  On Lap 20, the skies decide to drop the other half of the Atlantic Ocean on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  Once again, Bernd Maylander brought out the Safety Car, leading to yet another mad scramble for the pits and full wet tires.  Vettel manages to get in and out while remaining in the lead, but Massa loses 2nd to Gandalf, who doesn't need to pit; he's still on the rubber he started with.  Then, much to everybody's surprise, the rain got even harder.  Even though he was the leader and therefore had nobody but Maylander in front of him, Seb Vettel radios in that he can't see a darn thing, while Jenson Button complains that he's aquaplaning down the track.  On Lap 25, some bright spark realizes that the track is undriveable and throws the red flag, halting the race.

*IT FELL, AND FELL, AND FELL SOME MORE...:  The field came to a halt on the front straight, with everybody supposed to stop in the grid spot that equated to their position: First place in the first grid slot, second in the second slot, and so on.  Felipe Massa, apparently unable to count to "three", just sort of stopped where he felt like, leading Rob Smedley, his head engineer, to call to him over the radio: "...is it so hard, Felipe?"  Cue peals of laughter amongst the Legendary Announce Team.  And with that began the longest red flag period in Formula 1 history.  For two hours and 14 minutes, the field sat on the grid, umbrellas over the cockpits and tarps over the backs of the cars as the rain continued to pelt down.  After a couple of recaps of what had gone on so far, the Legendary Announce Team was reduced to showing clips of past races, praising Montreal to the heavens, and making shadow puppets.  Oh, and Rhianna visited the McLaren pits.  Cue plenty of "Umbrella ella ella ella" jokes.  What F1 needs for rain delays is what baseball has: players sliding headlong into big puddles.  We here are F1U! would pay good money to see Slappy bellyflop like that.

*FINALLY:  After two hours of watching Canadians with brooms trying to push water off the track, they finally decided to restart the race behind the Safety Car.  Once again, we were treated to the sight of Bernd Maylander leading the 23 most expensive, technically advanced race cars in the world... in a street-legal car you could, in theory, walk into a Mercedes dealer and buy.  For ten laps we get this pleasure, full wet tires pumping the rain off the racing line and accomplishing more in a few minutes than the Squeegee Patrol managed in two hours.  But all good things come to an end, and on Lap 35 the SLS AMG turned off its lights and let Seb Vettel take over the field.  Immediately, a quarter of the field dove into the pits to make the switch to Inters.  On Lap 36, Jenson Button pits to do the same, his fourth stop of the day if you include his earlier drive-through penalty.  He rejoins just behind HWMNBN, and is obviously faster than the Ferrari driver. 

*OH COME ON:  On Lap 37, Seb Vettel is still on the full wet tires, still cranking out quick laps, but he's intentionally driving off the racing line, trying to keep the rubber wet and cool.  It's obvious that he's going to need to pit soon, which would throw the entire field into a cocked hat.  And then Button tried to pass HWMNBN in the first chicane.  The two cars collide, sending the Ferrari into a spin that ends up with the Spaniard high-centered on the curb.  And once again, Bernd Maylander takes to the track!  Button limps around to the pits, is pronounced fit to continue, but rejoins dead last on the grid.  Meanwhile, Seb Vettel took advantage of the Safety Car to change to Inters and rejoin without losing first place.  This time, the SC comes in on Lap 41, with Vettel still leading Gandalf and Massa.

*RACING, WHAT A CONCEPT:  Surprisingly, we go for 13 laps before anything weird happens.  The racing line was dry enough for people to try slicks, and they worked well: nearly three seconds a lap faster than either of the two types of galoshes.  It was on these that Button began working his way up the field, taking 10th place on Lap 49, and coming on like a freight train.  On Lap 54, Felipe Massa found his way blocked by the HRT of Narain Kittylitter as he chased after Gandalf and Sebby.  Going off the dry line to get past, the Ferrari snapped viciously into the wall on the right side of the track, sending the car's front wing off into the forest and actually damaging the nosecone in the process.  He'd continue, but would be out of the running.  Button makes yet another pitstop for tires, his sixth of the day.

*WHO HERE IS SURPRISED, RAISE YOUR HAND:  A lap later, Grizzly Nick Heidfeld bangs into the back of Gandalf.  The Renault's front wing detaches, slips under the front tires, and virtually explodes as the uncontrollable car plows into the wall.  And once again, the Safety Car is summoned, this time because of all the carbon fiber debris scattered across the track.  The standings at this point are Vettel, Slappy Schumacher, Mark Webber... and Jenson Button, having the drive of his life at this point.  The Safety Car stays on the track until Lap 61, but not without incident.  On Lap 59, before the entire field had been gathered up by the Mighty Maylander, track marshals ran out to start picking up debris from Heidfeld's front wing.  One of the marshals, apparently wearing super-soft shoes or unfamiliar with the concept of gravity, took a header... right in front of the fast-approaching Sauber of Gandalf Kobayashi.

Only fast braking and a quick swerve saved us from a Montreal Marshal Massacre. 

*THIS TIME FOR SURE: With nine laps to go, the race restarted.  Webber and Slappy immediately begin fighting each other tooth and nail for second place, letting Vettel fly away unfettered.  Jenson Button is right there behind the two, looking for an opening.  On Lap 65, the Red Bull driver, under pressure from the McLaren, blows the final chicane and lets Button past.  A lap later, Button barely notices when he go by the Mercedes and into second, so great is his advantage.  However, he's a few seconds behind Vettel.

*AND THEN...:  On Lap 67, Button turns the fastest lap of the race at 1:17.5, a full second-and-a-half faster than Vettel.  On Lap 68, he does it again.  And again on Lap 69.  Just like that, it's the final lap and Button is less than a second behind the reigning World Driver's Champion.  Suddenly, it's Monaco all over again: Vettel has the lead, Button has fresher tires.  Button is driving as if he's on rails, while the Red Bull is slipping all over the place.  Into Turn 7, the inevitable happens and Sebby slides juuuuuust a bit wide, his tires giving up altogether.  He gets into the wet part of the track, and suddenly he's fighting to keep from spinning while Button sweeps past, taking the lead for the first time today.  From dead last on Lap 50.  A few turns later, the McLaren takes the checkered flag a full two seconds ahead of Vettel, winning in four hours, 14 minutes, 39 seconds: the longest race in F1 history.  Seb comes in second, followed by Webber, Slappy, and the Red Menace.  Behind the Renault, Felipe Massa and Gandalf are sprinting for the finish line, with the Ferrari beating the Sauber for 6th place by five-hundreds of a second, ending the drama of a fantastic race.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Jenson Button.  SIX pit stops, one drive-through penalty, and still going from last to first in 20 laps?  Oh yeah, driver of the race, right there.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  Okay, they didn't win, but second-third is still a pretty good result, particularly when your closest rival only has one car finish, further solidifying your position in the Constructor's Championship. 

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 51, Slappy Schumacher was in 4th place, behind a dueling Gandalf and Felipe Massa.  Coming out of a turn, Schumi began a pass on Massa just as the Sauber driver slid a bit wide.  Massa took advantage by passing Gandalf while being passed by the Mercedes driver, a brilliant bit of opportunistic driving by the seven-time World Champion, and a small example of his past talents.  It drew a "Holy Sh*t!" from the F1U! team, a jaded bunch of plonkers, that's how good it was.

*MOOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE: (please see "The Number One Rule of Racing..." above)

Good jorb, Lewis.  Still, you got to hang out with Rhianna... that's gotta count for something.  Here's your Mooooooooo-oooove.


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