October 28, 2012

F1 Update!: 2012 Grand Prix of India

Smog filled the air of Greater Noida, lending a hazy aspect to the proceedings as Seb Vettel led the field to the grid.  Behind him, Mark Webber, Shiv Hamilton and HWCBN(UCC) all knew they had to get past the reigning world champion if they were to have a chance in this season.  So did they manage it?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2012 Grand Prix of India!

*LIGHTS OUT, RACE OVER: By now, careful readers know that whenever we ask if someone can reel in Seb Vettel, or if the field can track down Seb Vettel, or if anybody can get past Seb Vettel, it's generally a good bet that the answer is "no, they can't."  And so it was this race.  When the race began, Mark Webber had a great start, perhaps the best start we've seen from him all season.  He was still two car-lengths behind Vettel when they hit the first turn.  By the end of the first lap, Vettel was three seconds up on third place Jenson Button, and 1.2 seconds on Webber. 

*NO, REALLY... RACE OVER
:  Nobody ever even came close to Vettel.  Like most other teams, Red Bull planned a one-stop race for their drivers, and it was up to the drivers to make it work.  Webber did a fantastic job, making his fragile soft tires last 31 laps... over half of the 60 laps scheduled!  Vettel went 34 laps and had enough of a lead that he rejoined the race in first place.  Indeed, for the second straight race he led ever lap... his run is now up to 205 consecutive laps in the lead.

*RELIABILITY PROBLEMS: ...were the only thing that kept Red Bull from another 1-2 finish.  During the final third of the race, Webber's KERS unit gave up the ghost, allowing Ferrari's HWCBN(UCC) to get past for second late.  He was still nearly 10 seconds behind Vettel though.  McLaren's Shiv Hamilton and Jenson Button rounded out the top 5.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  We're seeing a type of dominance from Seb Vettel that hasn't been witnessed in F1 in decades.  Four wins in a row hasn't been pulled off since Slappy Schumacher in 2004.  205 consecutive laps led hasn't been done since 1992.  Three races without anybody but Vettel leading?  Last time that happened was 1989... some guy named Ayrton Senna.  It's certainly a tribute to Adrian Newey, the designer of the RB8, and to Red Bull in general, for keeping his car going... but it's Vettel who has made it happen.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  It's not just the driver's championship, either.  Their 1-3 finish puts Red Bull 91 points up on Ferrari for the Constructor's Championship.  Only a KERS unit failure, mentioned earlier, kept them from sweeping the top two steps of the podium.  Nobody would have been shocked had that occurred, actually.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  There was really only one nice pass, on Lap 16, by Bruno Senna over his distracted teammate Mahamandaleshwar Maldonado, all race.  So instead, we're going to spotlight the Pit Stop of the Year.  Prior to Lap 33, Shiv Hamilton had been reporting intermittent radio communications with the McLaren pit wall and a downshift problem too.  Somehow, they came to the decision that they could fix it during his stop.

5.5 seconds have elapsed since Hamilton crossed the line denoting the entry to the pit lane.  The car has just come to a halt in its box, the tire gunners are already removing the wheelnuts, and Hamilton himself is starting to remove the steering wheel, which is quite uncommon during a pit-stop.  I'm sure the team has practiced it, because that's their job, but probably not very often.

One second has passed since the car stopped.  Hamilton has pulled his steering wheel off and is handing it to a mechanic.  A second mechanic is leaning into the cockpit and has already put the replacement wheel in place.  A moment's more work is all it will take for it to be locked in place.

3.1 seconds since the car stopped.  All four tires have been changed, the car is off the jacks, Hamilton has the car in 1st gear and is about to roll.  According to Timing & Scoring, he was stopped for a total of 3.3 seconds... not the fastest of the race, but certainly the most complex, and the one that had the most possibility of disaster, because when the wheel is removed, in theory the electronics are uncontrolled.  The car could have shut down; it didn't.  A heckuva stop from the Team from Woking!

*MOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  It's probably mean of us to do this.

A brake failure made Pete Rose spin away and into the wall on Lap 45, as opposed to driver error, but it's the worst bit of driving we saw all day.  Sorry HRT, sorry Pete... here's your Moo.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE
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October 15, 2012

F1 Update!: 2012 Grand Prix of Korea

This is going to be a mini-F1U! today, as I'm currently holed up in a lovely hotel in Chicago, and want to relax a bit before the training sessions start on Tuesday.  Besides, the race itself was no great shakes.  So let's get on with it!  THIS is your mF1U! for the 2012 Grand Prix of Korea!

*LIGHTS OUT: There is a 200meter run from the starting line to the first turn at the Korea International Circuit.  That's a very short run in comparison to pretty much every other circuit on the calendar.  Yet that short distance is all it took for the race to end.  Pole-sitter Mark Webber had one of his patented Mark Webber Lousy Starts©, and that's all his teammate Seb Vettel needed.  By the time they entered Turn 1, they were side-by-side, and at Korea, the polesitter is positioned on the outside, meaning that Vettel had the best line.  Though there was a drag race down the long long straight from Turn 2 to 3, the reigning world champion held the lead... and never let it go for the rest of the race.  In fact, he was never even challenged, and only a tire that was on the verge of failing on the last couple of laps kept Sebby from winning by 20 seconds, instead of the 8.2 he led Webber across the line by.

*IN OTHER ACTION: Last week, Gandalf Kobayashi was the toast of Japan for his podium finish at his home race.  That sure didn't last long.  Heading into Turn 3 on the very first lap, he wound up playing pinball, bouncing off first Nico Rosberg, then Jenson Button.  The McLaren's front suspension was snapped like a twig, the Mercedes lasted for another lap before the damage put paid to Rosberg's race.  Gandalf himself lasted for 17 laps before having to give up and park it. 

*MEANWHILE: Shiv Hamilton had both a completely miserable day, and what may very well have been the best drive to 10th place ever.  Shortly after his first pitstop, he began to complain about how his car was handling: it wasn't.  The pit box replied that they knew what was going on, and it was a "mechanical balance change."  That's technicalese for a broken roll bar.  A roll bar keeps the car flat in the turns, instead of leaning.  It's also important in keeping the over- or under-steer controlled.  The upshot of this for Hamilton was that his car was safe to drive, but it had roughly a quarter of the grip it would normally have.  This contributed to his tires being shredded much faster than normal and a noted difficulty of keeping it on-circuit.  Which contributed to this spectacle late in the race:

If you're wondering just what that is, it's a piece of astroturf that got peeled up from the run-out of a turn.  Other cars had run over it and torn little pieces up earlier, it's just that Shiv got "lucky" and peeled up a piece that was about six feet long that got caught on some of the bodywork.  In two laps he went from seven seconds ahead of Sergio Perez to less than a half-second.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Vettel had a great race, but we're giving the award to Felipe Massa for the second straight race.  He finished in fourth behind his teammate HWMNBN, but only because Ferrari ordered him to back off.  If they hadn't, he easily would have finished third, and probably would have passed Mark Webber for second.  A month ago, we here at F1U! didn't give a plugged nickle for his chances to be driving for Ferrari next year.  Now we'd be surprised if he isn't driving for them in 2014, too.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  Well, their lead driver is now back in the lead of the driver's championship after winning his third race in a row, leading the last 145 laps, and generally looking like he did all last season.  His teammate ain't lookin' too bad, either, and the team is looking like it's a shoe-in for constructor's championship... again.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: Nico Hulkenberg passed both Shiv Hamilton and Lettuce Grosjean at the same time on Lap 40.  To be sure, Shiv was dealing with a car that couldn't corner, and Lettuce was dealing with bad tires and just being generally insane, but it was still a tidy piece of driving for the Force India driver.

*MOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE SPORT:  F1 leaving SPEED here in the US for a cable channel that nobody has.  Great, just great.  Hope it was worth it, Bernie.

There won't be any quotes of the race this time around, but thank you for reading this mini-F1U!  We'll be back in two weeks for the Grand Prix of India!  See you then, and here's the newest episode of McLaren's Tooned!

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October 07, 2012

F1 Update!: 2012 Grand Prix of Japan

The afternoon sky was a brilliant blue as the field took their places on the grid.  Seb Vettel's Red Bull took pride of place on pole while points leader HWMNBN was back in 6th... could the Ferrari driver catch the young German?  Could anybody?  Would Vettel take another chunk out out of the Spaniard's lead?  Or would someone like Gandalf Kobayashi, driving in his home race, make a major statement?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2012 Grand Prix of Japan!

*RED LIGHTS GOING OUT / THE FIELD SITS ON THE GRID / SOON THERE WILL BE WRECKS:  As expected, Seb Vettel got a clean start and began to head for the hills.  A surprise, however, was that Sauber driver Gandalf Kobayashi got a brilliant getaway and was ahead of Mark Webber within 10 car lengths.  To say that the fanatical Japanese crowd was going crazy would be an understatement.  Behind them, however, disaster lurked.

*TURN ONE APPROACHES / GROSJEAN HITS MARK WEBBER'S CAR / JEEZ, THIS SH*T AGAIN?:  As the field piled into the first turn, three separate incidents completely changed the complexion of the race.  First, Kimi Raikkonen grazed HWMNBN'd left-rear tire, flattening it and sending the Ferrari into a spin that terminated right on the racing line as the back half of the field came thundering in.  Then Lettuce Grosjean, giving the lie to his claims that he's learned how to race, tore his front wing off in the process of running into Mark Webber, who spins and suffered damaged tires.  As if that wasn't enough carnage, Nico Rosberg slowed up to avoid that incident and got creamed by Bruno Senna.  Webber was able to limp back to the pits, but Rosberg was out on the spot.  HWMNBN should have been able to continue, but his engine died in the spin.  Because of where the dead cars were located, Berndt Maylander and the Safety Car had to be called out.

*ONE LAP SAFETY CAR / VETTEL THE BEST RESTARTER / THEN HE RUNS AWAY: We've seen this scene before: once the brief safety car period ended, Seb Vettel stole a march on Kobayashi, leaving him in the dust and, for all intents and purposes, ending the race.  The only drama left was to see if the Red Bull would hold together or if there'd be another catastrophic failure that would cost him the race.  By lap 6, he had a three second lead over the Japanese driver, who was being stalked by Jenson Button, who had Felipe Massa hanging onto his rear wing.  By lap 10, the lead was six seconds; a text message from Honorary F1U! Staffer Vaucaunson's Duck suggested that the race needed "some sort of bizarre seagull accident".  We countered with everybody's favorite flying turtle: GAMERA!  Alas, no such luck.

*STOPPING FOR TIRES / WHAT'S THE SIGN OF A DULL RACE? / PASSING IN THE PITS!:  While Felipe Massa hung onto the rear of the McLaren, he couldn't do anything to actually threaten Button's position.  So when that happens, what does a team do?  They work strategy, is what they do.  On Lap 14, Jenson Button came into the pits, followed by Gandalf the next lap.  On the other hand, Ferrari kept their man out on track, telling him to run the tires off the car and push Push PUSH.  It worked.  When Massa finally stopped on Lap 18, he came out in second place, having leapfrogged both of the men he could realistically reach. 

*THE RACE IS OVER / VETTEL IS GETTING SCARY / JUST FOUR POINTS BEHIND:
And that's the way it stayed for the remaining 33 laps.  Vettel dominated the race, earning his second grand slam (pole, win, lead every lap, set fast lap) in the process.  Second place went to Massa who was nearly 21 seconds back.  Gandalf Kobayashi earned his first career podium, ending up some four seconds behind and hotly pursued by Button's McLaren.  The Brit was only a half-second back, after having taken some five seconds off the Sauber's lead in the final few laps.  Jenson Button's teammate, Shiv Hamilton, was fifth, some twenty second in arrears.  With the win, Vettel is only four points behind the stumbling HWMNBN in the race for the Driver's Championship, and looks head-and-shoulders the favorite for the rest of the season.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  In front of his countrymen, Gandalf Kobayashi drove a great race, from his fantastic start to his "none shall pass" defense of third during the last couple of laps.  In the process, he may have secured his seat with Sauber for next year.  As an aside, hearing the Japanese crowd chanting Kobayashi's name after the race was something special.

*TEAM OF THE RACE: There's nobody to give it to other than Red Bull.  They solidified their lead in the Constructor's Championship, apparently have instituted a technical change that's given their car a huge boost of speed (a double-DRS, in fact), and look set to dominate the rest of the season. 

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 6, Sauber's Sergio Perez had been sitting behind McLaren's sixth-place Shiv Hamilton for a few laps, not quite able to close the gap to the Brit, but also unable to be shaken.  Coming out of Turn 10 and heading into the Hairpin, the man who will be taking Hamilton's seat was a few car lengths back and seemingly no danger whatsoever.

Which is exactly what the Mexican driver wanted Hamilton to think.  As Hamilton slowed for the Hairpin, the man called "Checo" decided not to bother with the brake pedal and dove really low to the inside.  Tires smoking, he finally stood on the brakes, but there was no way he was going to get whoa'd up in time.

Until he did.  Using the curb to help arrest his skid, he not only made the turn, but stayed in front of the McLaren which was on the better racing line.

He didn't so much pass Hamilton as de-pants him in front of millions of viewers.  You don't think he was trying to show the McLaren management that they made the right choice, do you?  Congratulations, Checo, here's your MotR award!

*MOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE
:  On Lap 19, Sauber's Checo Perez was sitting behind McLaren's sixth-place Shiv Hamilton.  Coming out of Turn 10 and heading into the Hairpin, the man who will be taking Hamilton's seat was a few car lengths back and seemingly no danger whatsoever right behind Hamilton and was threatening the position. 

As Hamilton slowed for the Hairpin, the man called "Checo" decided not to bother with the brake pedal.  This time, however, Shiv Hamilton, remembering the move the Mexican native had made 12 laps earlier, protected the inside line.  So Perez decided to head for the outside... but something went wrong.  The car began to wobble, and instead of smoothly slipping past the McLaren, it smoothly slipped off-track.

The Sauber smoothly slipped into a spin and ended up in the kittylitter protecting Turn 11, stalled and out of the race.  We're not sure, but we here at F1U! believe this is the first time we've given both the MotR and the MoooootR to the same driver as he attempted to pass the same victim in the same race.  Well done, Checo!  Here's your Mooooo!

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE
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