September 25, 2011

F1 Update!: Singapore 2011

It was 92° and humid as the cars formed up on the grid for race start.  Would the heat cool off the red-hot Seb Vettel, who could clinch the World Driver's Championship this race?  Or would the cold-silver McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, lined up next to the polesitter, ruin the party?  Or perhaps the fire-red Ferrari of HWMNBN could start nibbling at Vettel's nigh-on insurmountable lead.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Singapore!

*LIGHTS OUT!:  As the race began, all the usual tropes about the start of F1 races applied.  The Red Bull of Seb Vettel made a good start and immediately began to pull away from the field.  His teammate had another installment of the Mark Webber Lousy Start© series, giving Lewis Hamilton a chance to get past.  When the Australian defended his position by drifting to his left, he left the door open on the right-hand side for both McLaren's Jenson Button and HWMNBN to streak by into second and third respectively.  While it was a blisteringly exciting beginning to the race, from then on it was all Vettel, all the time. 

*DOMINATION: By the end of the second lap, the lead was already 3.5 seconds over Button.  By the end of Lap 6, it was 8.2 seconds.  By Lap 15, Vettel's lead was nearly 12 seconds over the Briton, and nearly 30 seconds over the Force India of Paul di Resta, who was in third place by virtue of not yet having stopped for tires.  When both Vettel and Button pitted for tires on the same lap and Red Bull's crew got their man out in 3.2 seconds, it was clear that the race was over; the only remaining question was "would Vettel clinch the championship today?"

*AS IT TURNS OUT:  Earlier in the week, we here at F1U! said that is Vettel won and HWMNBN finished off the podium, Vettel would eliminate the Spaniard from contention and thereby clinch the championship.  While the first part of the equation was undoubtedly true, it didn't take into account Jenson Button.  While Vettel opened up a 20-second lead on the McLaren driver at one point, as long as Button finished second, the driver's championship could not be clinched.  Appearing to realize that, Mark Webber began to close up the gap to the McLaren, but at no point managed to get closer than five seconds to the Glare on Wheels.

*ENDING: While the race was surely over by the first turn, that doesn't mean there wasn't some glimmers of hope for those who aren't rooting for Sebastian Newmacher Vettel.  With some ten laps to go, the Red Bully's lead over Jenson Button was roughly ten seconds.  With six laps to go, it was 8.6 seconds and dropping rapidly.  At first we here at F1U! thought that Vettel had just "dialed it back" to conserve fuel or to limit wear on the engine... but then we realized that Button had just ripped off the fast lap of the race.  Then he did it again.  Vettel may have slowed, but the British pilot had the bit in his teeth and was pushing hard.  When he was balked by backmarkers with five laps to go, it looked like the game was up; he lost nearly two seconds in the first sector of the track alone.  Once past the slowboys however, Button again gave it the beans and the gap to the leader continued to drop.  While it seemed awfully unlikely that the McLaren would catch the Red Bull, it sure looked like it was going to occur.  Three laps to go, 3.7 seconds... two laps, two seconds... when Seb Vettel swept across the line, Jenson Button was only 1.7 seconds behind.  That's pretty amazing, considering that Vettel had nearly thirty seconds in-hand at one point in the race.  Mark Webber, who apparently ran the tires off his car in his attempt to catch up to the rocket-powered Button, finished a distant third, nearly thirty seconds adrift of the McLaren.  Ferrari's HWMNBN was fourth, some 25 seconds behind the Australian.  Fifth went to Lewis Hamilton over a minute back of the winner.  Sixth went to Force India's Paul di Resta, who, while 111.067 seconds behind Vettel, was the last man unlapped.

*STANDINGS (AND FALLINGS):  Seb Vettel has eliminated everybody from contention from the Driver's Championship... save for Jenson Button, holding on by the proverbial skin of his teeth.  With five races remaining in the 2011 season, there are a maximum 125 standing points available.  Seb Vettel's lead... is 124 points.  If Button wins every race from here on out, and Vettel finished lower than 10th in every race, Button will win the championship.  If anything else occurs, if the Red Bull driver manages to come in 10th in one of the next five races, the season is over.  So while we can't quite hose down Seb Vettel with champagne yet, the bottles are standing by.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Seb Vettel led from lights to flag today, yet he's not getting the DotR award.  Jenson Button was in second place by the first turn and stayed there the rest of the race, in the process showing his teammate just who's in charge at McLaren... and he's not getting the DotR either.  No, today's Driver of the Race is going to Force India's Paul di Resta, who drove the hell out of his steed and finished a brilliant sixth after losing fifth place to a pissed-off Lewis Hamilton on Lap 55 (of 61).  Good tire strategy, mixed with a shedload of pace and a Button-like ability to protect his tires from excess abuse, kept him on the first screen of the SPEED leaderboard all day long.  The rookie has been impressive all season, but today he did it towards the front of the field and got to show his skills to the world.  DotR material for sure.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  We here at F1U! so want to give this to Force India.  This was the first time all season both of their cars were in the points (6th and 8th), and as just mentioned, di Resta's drive was helped along by the team's excellent tire strategy.  But we just can't do it.  Red Bull gets it with their 1st-3rd result, a pit crew that's second to none, the perfect chassis, you name it, they got it.  FIndia gets an honorable mention though.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 10, Mark Webber blew the doors off of HWMNBN for third place in a pass that we here at F1U! were sure would be the MotR.  We were wrong, because 24 laps later he again passed the Ferrari driver for third place.  Except this time, it was even more amazing because of how and where he did it.  The field was jumbled by the Safety Car that had just gone in as Lap 34 began.  HWMNBN was just ahead of Webber as they came through Turn 9, but a mess of slower cars were in front of the two as they approached the tricky Turn 10, the "Singapore Sling" left-right-left corner best known for being Gandalf Kobayashi's launching pad both in practice and in Quals.  As they approached the braking zone for the turn, Webber slipped to the inside of the Ferrari and decided that he didn't need to actually brake.

The Spaniard, apparently caught by surprise by Webber's decision to forgo the clampers, made no immediate attempt to make life hard for the Aussie.

As they got to the point of no return, Webber threw out the anchor, dragged his feet, did everything but put the RB7 into reverse, to slow down... and did it all without a puff of tire smoke.  HWMNBN, his jaw bouncing off his lap, could only watch in amazement.

But it would all go to naught if the Red Bull overextended himself into the turn and got too much curb at Gandalf's Launching Pad.  Didn't happen.  Webber looked like he was on rails as he went through the most dangerous point on the track, completing the pass with style and finesse... and earning the MotR in the process.

*MOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  At the end of the race, we were going to give the Moo to Slappy Schumacher for his use of Sauber driver Sergio Perez' car as a take-off ramp.

No.  Instead, we're giving this to the driver who is rapidly becoming one of the most clumsy in the field: 2008 World Driver's Champion Lewis Hamilton.  In today's incident, he was harrying Felipe Massa for position on Lap 13.  Either because he misjudged where his front wing was, or out of sheer cussedness, Hamilton wound up applying a liberal dose of carbon fiber to the Ferrari's rear tire in a maneuver that was completely unneeded.  He was faster than Massa and could have passed him at nearly any point on the circuit the next lap.

The result?  A punctured right rear for Massa, which disintegrated on his way back to the pits.  This dropped him down to 16th, never to be seen again.

On the other hand, Hamilton lost the entire left-side element of his front wing.  Despite this, he stayed out for another lap in a car with a distinct lean to the right.

He also earned himself a drive-through penalty and some after-race sarcasm from Massa.  He wound up finishing fifth.  Just think what might have happened if he had controlled himself a little better... a podium?  Second?  For ruining both Massa's race and your own, Lewis, here's your Mooooooooo. 

*SELECTED DRIVER'S QUOTES OF THE RACE:
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September 11, 2011

F1 Update!: Italy 2011

A bright, beautiful sunshiny day met the F1 Circus as they formed up on the grid at Monza.  The Red Bull of Seb Vettel sat on pole for the 10th time this season, but seemed to be down on speed.  Would either of the two McLarens be able to disrupt his plans, or would he run away and hide on the fastest track of them all?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Italy!

*LIGHTS OUT:  At the front of the field, the leaders had perfectly acceptable starts, but things were different down towards the back of the grid.  HRT's Daniel Ricciardo went into anti-stall, jammed in 3rd gear, then stalled anyway.  Since he was starting 23rd, there was nobody to run into the back of him other than his teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi, who managed to get past easily.  We'll come back to Liuzzi in a moment.  Back up with the leaders, Seb Vettel was passed heading into the first turn.  The surprise came from who did the passing.  Ferrari's HWMNBN, the hopes and dreams of Italy propelling him forward, sneaked by the Red Bull on the inside and led the Thundering Herd into the first turn.  Just for a moment, the cheers of the partisan crowd drowned out the screaming of 23 V8 engines turning at 18000rpm.

*TOTAL CARNAGE:  Vitantonio Liuzzi either had God's Own Start or a RATO unit stuffed up the tailpipe of his HRT, for he had passed five cars right off the bat and was heading to the inside of victim number six with a big head of steam.  Then two things happened: first, the RATO unit ran out of oomph.  Second, victim number six decided that he didn't want to be passed by a HRT, even one with an Italian driver at Monza, and moved over enough that the opening up the inside was no longer there.  Liuzzi, being a hot-blooded son of Italy, decided to try and pass anyway and wound up with his right wheels on the grass.  The car immediately snapped to the left.  Now at this point, a great driver would gather the car up and continue on with maybe a slightly elevated pulse rate.  A good driver would save the car, maybe spin, and rejoin the field at the back of the pack, wiser and still racing.  But this was Vitantonio Liuzzi.  He immediately overcorrected and found himself sideways on the grass, moving around 150mph and not slowing down in the least... just as the Thundering Herd filtered through the first chicane.

Nico Rosberg had to be feeling pretty good about his chances today.  He had a car that had shown a good turn of speed through the weekend.  Further, he was on an alternate tire strategy from everybody else in the top ten.  He had started the race on the prime tire (medium rubber), and if he could manage to stay in contact with the leaders, he'd be able to attack on the option rubber when everybody else switched to the prime late in the race.  Meanwhile, Renault's The Red Menace looked like a definite contender for points today as well.  As the two of them guided their steeds through the chicane side-by-side, neither of them saw what was bearing down on them from the right side.

Liuzzi slammed into the side of the Renault, which was then driven into the side of the Mercedes.  All three cars were ruined and came to a halt in a pile of carbon fiber in the center of the track.  Rubens Barrichello's Williams had nowhere to go, but he somehow managed to get whoa'd up in time to avoid becoming the fourth victim of the wreck.  He came to a stop completely blocked by the pileup, but he was able to eventually continue.  Liuzzi was hit with a five-spot grid penalty for the next race for being a dumbarse causing an accident with his lousy driving.  Berndt Maylander was duly summoned to the track, and a three-lap Safety Car period commenced while the Italian track marshals went on strike broomed the carbon fiber off the track.

*GAME ON, RACE OVER:  When Maylander pulled over and the race resumed, HWMNBN and Vettel jumped away from the rest of the field, led by Lewis Hamilton.  Hamilton has shown that he has no idea how to react on restarts in the past, and he hasn't improved a jot since.  Vettel was all over the back of the Ferrari for one lap, during which time the two McLarens and the sole remaining Mercedes managed to close the gap.  Then going into Second Lesmos the inevitable happened and the Red Bull passed HWMNBN.  By the end of the lap Vettel had over a second on the Ferrari.  By the end of three more laps, he had a 10 second lead and the race was functionally over.  The only hope the rest of the field had was that the Red Bull pit crew would make a mistake.  They didn't, despite the psychic attacks of F1 fans the world over (minus Germany and Austria).  The remaining 30-odd laps were merely formalities to discern who would finish second.  That honor went to Jenson Button, nearly 10 seconds back after Vettel went into cruise mode with five laps remaining.  HWMNBN finished third with Lewis Hamilton all over the back of him.  Slappy Schumacher finished fifth.

*THREE INTERESTING STATS:  If Seb Vettel wins the next race, he will clinch the Driver's Championship with four races left to go.  Sometime during this race, Vettel led his 500th lap of the season.  Nobody else has led as many as 100 laps.  Finally, the first five finishers were all past World Driver's Champions, with 12 trophies between them (Slappy 7, HWMNBN 2, and one each for Lewis, Jenson and Sebby).

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: Seb Vettel.  There's no question that Vettel is a good driver, but one knock on him is that he can't race in a crowd.  Well, he put the lie to that when he passed HWMNBN for the lead.  The best car + one of the best drivers = pure gold.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  McLaren.  Even though they made a fundamental error in car setup, running too much rear wing and therefore hamstringing their top speed on the fastest track in F1, the team made it work.  The drivers compensated, and the pit crew performed amazingly.  At one point, they got Hamilton in-and-out in three seconds flat.  Red Bull has claimed that they've done a sub-3.0 second stop in practice, but that's not under race conditions.  Three seconds is probably the best you'll see all year.  A second/fourth finish is about as good as anybody could hope for these days.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Seb Vettel saw his race strategy ("Get in the lead, get over a second ahead, cruise to victory") blowing up in his face.  One of the toughest drivers to pass, HWMNBN, was in front of him and three drooling silver cars were snapping at his heels.  If he didn't get ahead of the Ferrari, he was going to be in trouble fast.  So for a lap and change after the Safety Car came in, he harried the Spaniard like there would be no tomorrow.  Then going into the Second Lesmos, he saw a narrow opportunity and jumped on it.  Difficulty: it was to the outside of the Ferrari.  Probably muttering "In God and Adrian Newey I trust," Vettel steered himself into the gap.

Even the incredible amount of downforce generated by the body of the Red Bull couldn't keep Vettel from sliding wide as he pulled alongside the Ferrari, and he put two wheels into the grass.

Remember what happened to Liuzzi back at the start?  Vettel simply gathered up the car and continued on as if nothing happened.  Then it simply became a drag race down to the Variante Ascari... and Vettel was on the inside.

After this pass for the lead, the race was over.  A helluva nice move with a fine example of car control thrown in... yeah, that's a Move of the Race!

*MOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  Since Lap 1 incidents are not eligible for either MotR or Mooo-otR awards, Liuzzi's attempted shortcut across the first chicane can't win this.  Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed the complete absence of Seb Vettel's teammate Mark Webber from this F1U!.  That's because he took himself out of the race early.  At the same time that Vettel was working on HWMNBN, Webber was trying to get past Felipe Massa's Ferrari.  Unfortunately, the Australian tried to pass Massa in the first chicane.  He was on the outside of the first bend, which would put him to the inside of the second bend, but Massa had the racing line and squeezed Webber hard.  Instead of backing out, Webber tried to make it work anyway.  He hopped the curb and plonked right into the side of the Ferrari.  Massa spun, and Webber's nose went bye-bye.

Keep an eye on that wing endplate marked "Total".  Webber continued on, hoping to make it back to the pits to get a new nose.  Perfectly logical, the car was still moving and tires didn't seem to be cut... and hey, around Monza not having a nose wing probably helps on the straights!  Unfortunately, there are some turns around this circuit, and heading into Parabolica, Webber got a little carried away.

Oh look, there's that endplate again!  It was jammed under the chassis, taking even more downforce off the car.  Steaming into Parabolica, Webber couldn't get slowed up at all and drove right off the track, through the kittylitter and into the tire barrier.  Congrats, Mark Webber, you earned yourself the Mooooo-oooove of the Race by self-inflicted stupidity!

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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F1 Update!: Italy 2011 ARRRRRGGHHHHH!!!!

Because my right thumb touched a button on my new wireless mouse, I just lost my F1U! for Monza.  It was nearly done, too, after three hours of work.  Excuse me while I nip off and shoot myself.

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September 04, 2011

(Not Quite A) F1 Update!: Belgium 2011

So, some thoughts and notes about the 2011 Grand Prix of Belgium, from the vantage point of a week later.

*For the first time this season, we actually saw Seb Vettel win a race where he had to fight for it.  To be sure, he led for much of the day, but it was never one of his "thirty seconds and a cloud of dust" wins.  He had tire troubles, probably because he was set up for a wet race and had excessive camber on the fronts. (JARGON ALERT: Camber is when a tire is tilted in or out when you look at it from head-on.  Streetcars generally have no camber whatsoever.  F1 cars usually have some positive negative camber, where the tops are tilted in just a tad.  This helps get heat into the inside edge of the tires in exchange for lowering the amount of tire making contact with the road.  Negative Positive camber is just be weird and would probably result in a serious accident within one turn.  Apparently it makes turning effort easier, so if there wasn't power steering it might be useful.  Or something.)
For whatever reason, Vettel suffered from severe blistering of his front tires, something that practically never happens.  You'll see it on the rears, sure, but it's strange to see it on the fronts... and quickly, too.  The problem actually started during his pole lap in Quals and Red Bull petitioned the FIA's tech director, Charlie Whiting, to allow him to start on a fresh set of soft tires.  Whiting, quite correctly, told Red Bull to get lost.  You start on what you qualified on, unless it's completely unsafe... and if it's unsafe, why is it the RB7 is having problems and nobody else is, hmmm?  Vettel actually had to pit for a new set of tires on Lap 6 (of 44).  He wound up being out of pit sequence of everybody else, which has its good points and bad.  Good, obviously, is that you're on fresh tires when everybody else is running on old rubber.  The bad is that when everybody else pits, suddenly you're the one on old rubber.  The Safety Car brought out by Hamilton's wreck solved that, and Vettel pretty much led from there... but not in the usual dominating fashion. 

*Vettel's teammate Mark Webber really needs to learn how to keep revs in his engine when the lights go out.  He really upped his game this time around, abandoning his usual patented Lousy Start©s for a variation: the Hideously Awful Start®.  He sat third on the grid, but was somewhere around 15th by the time the thundering herd reached La Source.  It looked like he was a tiny fish being engulfed by a horde of much larger, faster fish.  Only some of the dumbest driving I've ever seen in a first turn prevented him from falling farther back.  To call the first turn "total mayhem" would be overstating things a bit, but it wasn't exactly tidy. 

Everybody was bouncing off of everybody else, the Lotuses spun each other, NKOTT went out with self-inflicted damage, and Jenson Button suffered damage to his rear wing when Tim O'Glockenspiel forgot how to use the brake pedal.  He ALSO suffered damage when debris from someone else "went through (his) front wing and sliced off (his) right mirror." 

*In contrast to Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg had one of the best starts of the year.  This is odd, because while the cars were sitting on the grid, his Mercedes looked like it was fogging for mosquitoes, what with all the smoke it was putting out.  It's not uncommon to see a little bit of smoke come from a F1 car on the grid, but this was something else... more like a destroyer screening a battleship.  Still and all, he jumped from fifth on the grid to second by the end of the first turn, then easily blew past Vettel down the Kemmel Straight.  It didn't last long, as he was passed by Vettel for the lead on Lap 3 then was swallowed up by the rest of the heavy hitters shortly thereafter, but it was a glorious moment in a lackluster year for the Mercedes team.

*There would be two contenders for the Driver of the Race.  Jenson Button had a miserable Quals and started the race from 13th... and ended up third, behind Vettel and Webber, and given a few more laps he could have made a go at 2nd.  The other contender would be Mr 20th Anniversary himself, Slappy Schumacher.  He started dead last... and ended up fifth.  In the end, I'd give it to Button, but more because he had to pass HWMNBN for 3rd place towards the end of the race, no easy task.  Schumi had to pass his teammate, who had to conserve fuel, for 5th.  Still, great runs for both of them, and if you said that Slappy had a better race, I wouldn't argue.

*The Move of the Race... well, look: in F1, there are many truths.  Cars go fast at Monza, slow at Monaco, Hungary is dull unless it rains, so on and so forth.  One unspoken truth is that you can't go side-by-side through Eau Rouge.  It's too narrow, the compression does odd things to the handling, you stand a great chance of finding yourself in hospital, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  So when Mark Webber had a go at HWMNBN in Eau Rouge on Lap 9, you could hear sphincters slamming shut all around the world.  They got kinda close to each other.

Now to be fair, HWMNBN had just come out of the pits and was on cold tires, so it's not like there wasn't a big speed differential between the two.  In fact, if it were anywhere else, it would have been merely a pass, no big deal.  But this was Eau Rouge.

I can only assume that HWMNBN believes he has something left to live for, and Webber does not.  Honorable mention goes to the BBC announce team, for they were classic during this pass.  David Coulthard's Chin had to be coaxed back to the microphone after, in his words, "having to turn away, I was sure there was to be an almighty coming together."  Martin Brundle replied with "Let's watch the replay, maybe from behind a pillow..."

*The Moooooo-ooove of the Race belongs to Lewis Hamilton.  He had a serious chance at winning this race, and by not checking his mirrors at the end of the Kemmel Straight, he threw it all away.

He had dispatched Gandalf Kobayashi just prior to Eau Rouge, but down the straight the Sauber got an almighty tow from the McLaren.  That, combined with some serious late braking, put Gandalf on the racing line for the turn while Hamilton was just to the inside, not having retaken the line after the pass.  Hamilton, obviously not checking to see if it was safe, began to move over to the racing line and ran into Kobayashi.  This sent the McLaren pivoting away into the barriers.

It also sent whatever hopes Hamilton had for catching Vettel in the world championship race into the wastebin.

So, that's it from Spa.  We've got Monza next week, the standard F1U! format should be back at that time.  See ya then!

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