November 25, 2012

F1 Update!: 2012 Grand Prix of Brazil

As the field formed up on the grid behind polesitter Shiv Hamilton, the skies above Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace were... confused.  Grey, leaden clouds predominated, umbrellas popping up in the grandstands, while at the same time there were desperate glimpses of blue sky.  Despite the greasy conditions, the entire Thundering Herd was on dry tires for this final race of the season... the race that would decide the World Driver's Championship.  Would Ferrari's HWMNBN come back after leading in the points for much of the season, or would Red Bull's Seb Vettel join elite company with his third consecutive championship?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2012 Grand Prix of Brazil!

*LIGHTS OUT:  When the lights go out on a F1 race, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what's going on.  24 cars, V8 engines screaming at 18000 rpm, all trying to slot themselves into a narrow band of asphalt can occasionally make for action-packed confusion.  And then you have starts like this one.  The two McLarens on the front row got away clean, but both Red Bulls experienced Mark Webber Lousy Start©s, letting both Ferraris do terrible things to them.  Hometown boy Felipe Massa jumped up to second, and title contender HWMNBN got ahead of rival Vettel to take fifth, while Force India's Nico Hulkenberg was a surprise sixth with Vettel on his diffuser as the field headed into Turn 4.  So far, so good... busy, but not too bad. 

*LOOK OUT!!!:  As the bunched-up field of cars began to enter Turn 4, there was a sudden billow of tire smoke as someone discovered that they'd missed their braking point.  That someone was Seb Vettel.  Kimi Raikkonen was forced to dive offtrack to avoid plowing into the back of the wallowing RB8, which then maneuvered into Turn 4.  At the same time, the Williams of Brazilian Bruno Senna, passing two cars in the turn, pulled next to Vettel who appeared not to see the Williams.  The coming-together sent Senna careening into the Sauber of Sergio Perez, ending both drivers' races.  But what of Vettel?  This is the view he had after the contact.

By luck and skilled driving, nobody else slammed into the backwards-rolling leader.  After the remaining cars swept by, Vettel righted his ship and rejoined the race, albeit in 22nd and last place.  The Williams launching itself off his left side managed to damage the RB8's sidepod and floor, doing unrepairable damage.  And then, it began to rain.

*THAT WAS ONE LAP!:   ...and Brazil is a short track, to boot.  By the end of Turn 1 on Lap 2, HWMNBN had jumped to third place, behind Shiv Hamilton and Jenson Button, and was on-pace to win the Driver's Championship.  Of course, there were 70 laps to go, but one got the feeling that back in Maranello, there were people in the belltowers, polishing their clappers to give a perfect tone.

*THE RAIN:  As those things go, the rain wasn't much of a much.  However, it doesn't take much wet to make a F1 car skittish, and what was on the track was just worst type of rain possible: there was enough to make the asphalt slippery, but not enough to consider changing to intermediate tires.  HWMNBN lost third place to Nico Hulkenberg when he slipped off-course, but managed to stay ahead of the closely pursuing Mark Webber.  Two laps later, the Aussie wound up spinning off, just moments after the Lotus of Lettuce Grosjean ended up in the wall, recording a reading of 7.2 g in the process.  Oh, and the McLaren teammates were trading the lead between themselves and Seb Vettel had made it up to 7th place.  Yep, it was going to be that sort of race.  Eventually, teams began to wise up to the fact that the track was begging to have intermediate rain tires on it and drivers began to pile in.

*MEANWHILE:  Not everybody, however.  Jenson Button stayed out, as did Nico Hulkenberg, who moved into second place and was rapidly catching the McLaren up.  One might be excused for thinking that's an odd result, but remember: two years ago in qualifying, in exactly the same conditions as these, Hulkenberg earned an out-of-nowhere pole here at Brazil.  There are certain drivers who like certain tracks in certain conditions, and it appears that Hulkenberg at Brazil in light rain is one of those great combinations.  Throw in a set-up dialed in for these conditions by the team, and suddenly it's not so far-fetched.  The pass for the lead finally happened on Lap 19, and a Force India was legitimately leading a race.

*HUH?:  Then something really odd happened.  While everybody else was pitting for intermediate tires, Red Bull decided to do something they didn't need to do: gamble with Vettel's tires.  He pitted on Lap 20, rejoining with the dry-weather prime (hard compound) tires on his steed.  The benefits of this choice were not readily apparent to either the F1U! team or the Legendary Announce Team.  Fortunately for him and his title hopes, he wouldn't have to worry about them for very long.

*SAFETY CAR:  On Lap 22, HWMNBN called his pits to report a lot of debris on the track, and he wasn't wrong.  Through various contacts, lost noses, damaged endplates and the like, there was probably enough spare parts on the circuit to build a new car.  Charlie Whiting apparently agreed, and called out Berndt Maylander.  Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button, who had opened a 45 second lead on Shiv Hamilton in third, had to have been beside themselves.  When the Safety Car left the Thundering Herd to its own devices on Lap 30, the order was Nico Hulkenberg, Jenson Button, Shiv Hamilton, HWMNBN, and Seb Vettel, who was under investigation for passing Gandalf Kobayashi under yellow flag conditions back around Lap 16 (he was cleared).  And then the rain stopped and the track began to dry.

*CONFUSED YET?:  Now you know how we here at F1U! feel.

*DRY MEANS... SLOW?:  All week long, Ferrari had been performing rain dances, thinking that was their best chance to get HWMNBN his championship.  Ironically, as things dried out Seb Vettel began to slow down.  The aerodynamic damage from his Lap 1 accident wasn't much of a hindrance in the wet, but as speeds began to build, it proved to make things quite difficult for the young German.  From fifth place, he began to lose contact and drift back, eventually falling down to 10th place after pitting for medium tires on Lap 53.  Meanwhile, the undamaged Ferrari could do nothing against the three cars ahead of him.

:  Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and Shiv Hamilton managed to get past the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg as the returning rain caused Hulkenberg to lose just enough grip to nearly lose it on Lap 49.  The German kept in contact with the Brit, however, and on Lap 55 saw an opportunity to retake the lead as Heikki Kovaleinninninnie's Caterham came into view at Turn 1.  A momentary loss of traction made the Force India fishtail... right into the side of the McLaren.

Hamilton's front suspension folded itself like origami, ending his McLaren career on the spot.  The Force India bounced a couple of times, but suffered no obvious damage and, after recovering from the spin, continued on in second place, having seen Jenson Button get past.  This also had the effect of promoting HWMNBN to third place, the bare minimum he needed to have any chance of winning the driver's championship.

*RAIN FALLS:  Then around Lap 60, the skies opened up.  Nico Hulkenberg, obviously having some ill effects of the Hamilton contact, had slumped to 5th place, with Button leading Massa, HWMNBN (who had pitted for inters), Mark Webber, Slappy Schumacher in 6th place, then Seb Vettel.  Unsurprisingly, HWMNBN got to sweep by his teammate for second, which cut Vettel's championship lead to merely one point. 

*ENDGAME:  Unfortunately, there was nothing that HWMNBN could do against the McLaren ahead of him, so he had to hope for the Red Bull behind him to make a mistake or have a late-race failure.  This was not an impossibility; the sidepod damage that Vettel's RB8 had suffered included a crushed exhaust outlet, which if it cracked open would set the car ablaze.  The young German had also had a radio failure, perhaps the first indication of an electrical failure.  Or maybe Slappy Schumacher, in the last race of his career, would take offense to being passed by a young upstart and hipcheck him to Belo Horizonte.  None of these things occurred... indeed, Slappy was passed by Vettel for 6th on Lap 65.  At this point, Red Bull was on the radio, on the off-chance that their driver could hear them, telling him to "just keep it on the black part."  With darkness falling and the rain coming down even harder, this was becoming more and more difficult to accomplish, until it all became moot.  On Lap 70, Paul di Resta, in the other Force India, lost control and clouted the wall halfway between Turns 13 and 14, then slid all the way up to 14, leaving pieces of the car behind as it went.  A Safety Car was called for, and all positions were locked in.  Jenson Button had won his third race of the year, HWMNBN led his teammate home in second and third, respectively... and Seb Vettel finished in sixth place, winning the World Driver's Championship by 3 points after an extraordinary race.

*AND THEN...:  HWMNBN climbed from his car and... just stood there, seemingly for an hour, all sorts of emotions visible in his eyes.

Eventually, he made his way to the gathered Ferrari mechanics and thanked them, but in a way that made it clear, he wasn't happy at all with the way things had worked out.  Meanwhile, a few yards down the pit lane, a whole different emotion was on display.

Almost as soon as he was out of his RB8, Slappy Schumacher was there to congratulate Seb Vettel, a lad who had grown up idolizing the older man. 

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Jenson Button.  HWMNBN did everything he needed to do to win, but couldn't come close to either McLaren.  Button never put himself in a position where he could be taken out by a poorly-placed Force India, managed his car brilliantly on a wet track with dry tires, and all-in-all owned this race.  Well-deserved.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  They couldn't get their man the championship, but they still brought home a 2-3 finish and locked up second place in the constructor's championship.  Not bad for a car that was pretty much average all year.  Honorable Mention to Caterham for finishing in 11th today and therefore finishing the Constructor's Championship in 10th, therefore taking home a big check and probably bringing back Heikki Kovaleinninninnie in the process.

:  We here at F1U! have a rule against awarding MotR or MooootR to anything that occurs on Lap 1.  Lap 2, however, is fair game, and HWMNBN announced that he wanted this championship badly.  As Lap 1 came to an end, he was in 5th place, behind Webber in 4th and Massa in 3rd.

As they raced down the front straight, HWMNBN slipstreamed behind both cars, then dodged inside.

Obviously Massa wasn't going to be putting up much of a fight, but Webber was a different story.

As they raced into Turn 1, HWMNBN kept the inside line, braked a smidge later and picked up both places in one swoop, despite some serious efforts from the Red Bull driver to prevent it.  Well done, HWMNBN, and while it's no replacement for the championship, it's still something.

:  This was just weird.  On Lap 54, Kimi Raikkonen got bit by the dampening track and wound up going off at Turn 1.  Fortunately for him, there's a lot of run-off area there now... enough that he found himself on an access road behind the grass near Turns 1 and 2.  Instead of cutting across the grass, he followed the road, obviously thinking yes, this will take me back to the track.

Instead, it took him onto the OLD Interlagos circuit, and henceforth to a dead end.  He was obliged to do a U-turn and come back the way he came... one can only imagine a GPS device screaming "recalculating" furiously at him as he tried to figure out where he was.  Thanks, Kimi, for the comedy relief!  Here's your Moooo!



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November 18, 2012

F1 Update!: 2012 United States Grand Prix

They say they do things big in Texas... big country, big cattle, big hats, and now, biggest of all, the big Circuit of the Americas in Austin.  The past few days has confirmed that it's a nice looking track, but how will it race?  Who would win the return of F1 to the US?  And biggest of all, would Seb Vettel and Red Bull take home the two championships: Drivers and Constructors?  Or would HWMNBN and Ferrari manage to stretch them both out to the last race in Brazil?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2012 United States Grand Prix!

*BEFORE:  Things looked bleak for HWMNBN.  He qualified ninth behind Vettel's pole, and when Lotus' Lettuce Grosjean served his five grid-spot penalty, he got bumped up to eighth, but to the dirty side of the track.  The consensus view was that trying to start on the dirty side would be similar to running in the wet: lousy.  Some wags were even saying that being on the even-numbered side would immediately cost a driver four places at the start.  And then Ferrari did something quite sneaky, quite legal, and very, very clever: they snipped the FIA seal on Felipe Massa's gearbox.  You see, once a car begins Quals, it is in parc ferme condition and unable to have any changes done to it beyond the most basic (front wing angle changes, mostly).  Things like engines, gearboxes and the like are sealed by the FIA with a lead... well, seal.  If that seal is broken during parc ferme, there's an immediate penalty.  This morning, Ferrari walked into the stewards' office and dropped the two chunks of seal on the desk.  Of course, there was nothing to be done but give Felipe Massa a penalty... the team didn't even change the gearbox, they just broke the seal.  Massa was dropped down to 11th, and HWMNBN was promoted to 7th place.  On the clean side of the track.  Somewhere, an evil genius is rubbing his hands together, cackling "excellent, excellent!" to himself.  And wearing red.

*LIGHTS OUT:  While being on the clean side of the track did not, in fact, immediately convey a four-spot advantage to those fortunate enough to reside there, it certainly helped HWMNBN.  By the time he maneuvered his way up Phil Hill and Turn 1, he was in fourth.  Meanwhile, McLaren's Shiv Hamilton, starting second on the dirty side of the grid, lost a place to Vettel's teammate Mark Webber... and at this point, we here at F1U! want to point out the greatest visual we've ever seen in Formula 1:

We've been expecting this ever since we saw the elevation map for the Circuit of the Americas, and we're glad the F1 camera team caught it.  Now, Vettel and Webber in front set up the worst nightmare of the fan hoping for an exciting race: two Red Bulls galloping off into the sunset, and of course Seb Vettel began to pull away from his teammate.  But Hamilton, knowing that he couldn't let the German get away if he wanted to win this race, pushed Webber hard.

*NOW IT'S A RACE!:  It only took four laps for Hamilton to get past the Australian, and he immediately set off after the leader.  There was about three seconds between the two, and for once, it was clear that the combination of Vettel and RB8 chassis wasn't, in fact, the best car/driver combo on the track.  No, today it seemed that Hamilton and the McLaren MP4/27 was the class of the field, for he began to rip off fast lap after fast lap in his pursuit of the reigning world champion.  By Lap 10, the lead was cut in half, to 1.5 seconds, with Webber 4.5 seconds behind Hamilton, and HWMNBN a further three seconds adrift and not making any headway on the Australian.  However, nobody else could hold a candle to him as Nico Hulkenberg was nine seconds behind in fifth and fading.

:  Considering that everybody was predicting a one-stop strategy, seeing cars beginning to make their way into the pits on Lap 14 had to be a surprise.  What wasn't really surprising was the radio call to Mark Webber on Lap 16: "KERS has failed, KERS has failed."  How many times have we heard Red Bull say that this year?  Ferrari certainly began to get excited about that, and only got moreso when, a moment later, the Aussie pulled to the side of the circuit with a cascading electronics failure.  This promoted HWMNBN into third place... but it was still early.  Hamilton and the Ferrari pilot pitted on Lap 21, with Vettel doing the same on 22.  Unsurprisingly, he kept his lead during his stop and when the rotation was over, everything remained the same: Vettel, Hamilton and farther back, HWMNBN.

*NO WAY!:  While Hamilton kept on coming, it looked like he could get close, but couldn't make the move on the leader.  The McLaren's advantage in top speed and parity in the twisty bits began to tell, so that by Lap 40, the gap between the two was down to 0.6 seconds, well within the DRS activation range.  On Lap 42, the two encountered the HRT of Narain Kittylitter in the 'esses' and Vettel had some trouble getting around the backmarker, allowing Hamilton to close up even more.  At this point, Vettel was complaining on the radio about Kittylitter slowing him up, none of which made any difference.  As the leaders entered the DRS activation zone, the McLaren had a huge advantage in speed.  Vettel made it difficult, maybe even stretching the rules as he kinda-sorta weaved a little bit as Hamilton closed in, but it made no difference: the RB8 was passed for the lead, and Maranello was suddenly going crazy.

*THE END:  Hamilton quickly opened a 1.5 second lead over Vettel, who was over a half-minute ahead of HWMNBN, and for all intents and purposes, that's how the race ended.  On the final lap, Vettel cut the lead to under a second, but couldn't get any closer and Shiv Hamilton, winner of the last US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, became the first winner of the US Grand Prix at Austin.  Vettel came home in second place, with HWMNBN in third, minimizing the damage to his championship hopes to only three standing points.  The German now has a 13 point lead over the Ferrari driver as they head into the last race of the season in Brazil.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Shiv Hamilton.  He's been saying that he wanted one more win with McLaren before he leaves the team.  He's been saying that he really wanted this one.  He got it with a sterling drive, taking advantage of every and any opening given him by Seb Vettel, few they may have been.  Nearly perfect.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  They only had one car finish the race, and they somehow lost the lead in the process, but Red Bull locked up the Constructor's Championship here at the United States Grand Prix.  It's their third year running for the championship, and there's little doubt they really have joined the big names of the sport for good... or at least until Adrian Newey, designer of the Red Bull chassis, retires.  And Seb Vettel has still got to be the favorite for the driver's championship.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  It may not have been the best pass of the weekend, but it was certainly the most important.  On Lap 42, Lewis Hamilton had been reeling in Seb Vettel for nigh on 20 laps and finally had the opportunity to pass the Red Bull for the lead.

As they came down the long back straight, the McLaren driver had three advantages: first, he had a lovely tow from the Red Bull.  Second, he had a higher top speed, and finally, he got to use his DRS.

None of this was going to make Seb Vettel just allow the Brit by; he gave a quick juke to the right before backing down... Vettel knew he had more important things to deal with than just this race, after all.

Still, if Vettel could have kept the McLaren in hand, he could have used the DRS trick on the next lap.  He couldn't; by the time the detection zone came around on Lap 43, the lead was over a second and the McLaren was in the clear.  This one pass cost Vettel seven championship points... if he loses the championship next week, you can point to this Move of the Race as the reason why.

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  There really weren't any.  Everybody did a fine job except for Jules Vergne breaking his suspension on a curb.  So instead, I'm going to give this award to a pair of people... two fans who were very happy that Lewis Hamilton passed Seb Vettel.  Two fans with absolutely no coordination whatsoever. 

On world-wide television, with maybe 300 million people watching, you completely whiffed a high-five.  Excellent.  Have a Moo!



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November 04, 2012

F1 Update!: 2012 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi

The sun was beginning to set over the Yas Marina Circuit as 22 cars took to the grid, and two took to the end of the pit lane, in preparation for today's race.  A sense of excitement was nearly palpable amongst the fans, both at home and the 40000 in the stands, thanks to the demotion of Seb Vettel... this race was wide open, and everybody knew it.  As a result, the Driver's Championship standings were also up for grabs again.  But how did everything shake out in the end?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2012 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi.

*LIGHTS OUT:  It's a long run to the first, left-handed, corner at Abu Dhabi, which gives plenty of time for... things, both good and bad, to occur as the Thundering Herd makes its way there, and we had plenty of both today.  To begin with, Mark Webber, starting 2nd, had one of his patented Mark Webber Lousy Start©s to the race, allowing both Hakham Maldonado and Kimi Raikkonen to quickly get past, and Jenson Button to slip by moments later.  Indeed, Raikkonen took the opportunity to also get by the Williams of Maldonado to take second place and begin to race after polesitter Lewis Hamilton.  Further back, four midpackers tried to side-by-side through Turn 1, a trick which never works in any form of motorsports.  Nico Hulkenberg's Force India wound up being craned off, Lettuce Grosjean had a puncture, and Bruno Senna's Williams... suffered nothing visible from a rather hard clout.  Back up at the front of the field, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, racing for his Driver's Championship chances, outraced Webber for fourth place down the second back straight.  When the field crossed the line for the first time, the order was Hamilton, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Alonso, Webber, and Button.  Further back, Red Bull's Seb Vettel was 20th with a damaged front wing and beginning his long climb up the field.

:  After an action-packed first lap, everything settled down, at least up front.  To be sure, there was jockeying as Alonso hounded Maldonado for third, but nothing up front changed.  There had to be a portion of everybody minds, however, that was curious what the Drivers' Championship leader was doing.  "Working his way through the field" is what he was doing.  By Lap 4 he was 16th.  Lap 7 saw him claw his way up to 14th, and by the end of Lap 8 he was 13th.  All was not wine and roses, though.  The front wing damage was severe enough that Adrian Newey, designer of the RB8 and member of the Red Bull pit wall, was seen inspecting a spare nose, obviously checking to see what sort of structural stability the damaged wing had left... and not looking all that happy with what his mental tallies came up with.

:  Nico Rosberg had to be cursing his luck.  He had started seventh, but broke his front wing against Lettuce Grosjean's Lotus and needed to pit at the end of the first lap.  Now he was working his way back up the field and closing fast on the HRT of Narain Kittylitter as they worked their way through the twiddlybits of Sector Three.  As the two came down the sole fast patch in the Sector through the dog-leg Turn 15, the Mercedes was well-positioned close behind the HRT to outbrake it into 17, or overpower it through 16.  A thin wisp of smoke was seen issuing from Kittylitter's car, though, and the Indian suddenly slowed at a dramatic clip.  Surprised, there was nothing Rosberg could do. 

The Mercedes climbed right overtop of the HRT, its right-rear corner not taking Kittylitter's head off by only a few inches.  After clearing the remains of the backmarker, the Mercedes flew a few more yards before settling back to the track with quite a bit of violence.

Rosberg would slide into the TecPro barriers at a speed seemingly unreduced from before the impact.  Fortunately, both drivers would exit their cars unaided and with some speed.  Neither were obviously injured, though Rosberg will probably be sore in the morning.  Nearly before the Mercedes stopped moving, the Safety Car was called out and Berndt Maylander began to do his thing.

*SAFETY?  CAR:  During a Safety Car period, you usually see a rush of cars heading for the pit lane.  Today, not so much.  In fact, the top 10 runners stayed firmly on circuit, fearing the loss of track position would be impossible to make up as Yas Marina is notoriously hard to pass on.  Even Seb Vettel, now in 12th place but with a damaged front wing, seemed loath to come in... until the decision was made for him.  As he horked the car left and right to keep his tires and brakes warm, the Toro Rosso in front of him did the same, but out of sequence with the Red Bull driver.  In effect, when Vettel was accelerating, the Toro Rosso was braking.  On Lap 13, the asynchronicity proved to be too much and Vettel had to take evasive action... at a part of the track where he was not alone.

Fortunately, the trackside DRS notifier is made out of styrofoam for just this reason, but the RB8 was going fast enough that the impact broke off another chunk of the already-damaged front wing.  The team immediately told him to pit, and suddenly Vettel was back in 21st place.

*GREEN GREEN GREEN:  At the end of the lap, the Safety Car came back in, and Vettel spent the next five laps climbing his way back up to 14th place while the top five was Hamilton, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Alonso and Webber.  While back in the backfield there was some action (see Move of the Race), up front it looked like Hamilton had the race solidly in hand.  Raikkonen couldn't close on him, and nobody could close on the Lotus driver.  The only question was how much damage control Vettel could execute for his Drivers Championship chances.

:  And then Lewis Hamilton was seen coasting to a stop in the grass.

The team later said it was a fuel pressure problem and Hamilton said it just happened instantly... first it was going great guns, then the engine was completely cold and quiet.  In any case, the leader had just withdrawn from the race, ceding first place to the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen.  A half-lap later, Fernando Alonso passed Maldonado for second place and sent his Ferrari off in pursuit of the 2007 World Driving Champion.  With Hamilton's retirement from the race, he was also eliminated from the 2012 chase for the Championship as well.  At the end of Lap 26, Kimi Raikkonen led Fernando Alonso by 6.5 seconds, followed by Jenson Button, Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa, Mark Webber... and Sebastian Vettel.

*LET THE PITSTOPS BEGIN:  The Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi is a 55-lap race.  Despite starting on the soft Option tires, which theoretically shouldn't be able to last very long, the first of the heavy hitters (Vettel excepted, but his was a special case) still hadn't stopped by Lap 28.  To be sure, there'd been a long Safety Car period, but even given that, the tires had to have been going off soon.  On Lap 29, Fernando Alonso made the first move, pitting from second and shifting onto the medium-compound Prime tires, obviously going for a one-stop strategy.  The team knew that the race was still up for grabs and they wanted to give their man the best chance possible to win it: Alonso was stopped for only 2.7 seconds.  Over the next couple of laps everybody but Raikkonen and Vettel stopped for tires, giving us the incredible standings of Raikkonen, Vettel, Alonso, Button and Senna.  Vettel had picked up 22 places in 31 laps, and if Lotus didn't service their man cleanly, had a chance to be in the lead!  Kimi came in on Lap 32 with a nearly 23-second lead.

He came out in first, but not by a whole heckuvalot.  The thought amongst the F1U! team was that Vettel would have to pit again, that 40 laps would be too far for the Prime tires to go, even with Vettel driving... which brings up an interesting strategy dilemma.  If the RB8 pitted, he'd throw away any chance, small though it may be, for a race victory, but on fresh Option tires, he could make up a lot of time and positions quickly.   OR, he could push the old Prime tires for the remaining 23 laps and have a shot at winning... or dropping down the field if the tires fell off the cliff.  An interesting dilemma, and earlier in the season the decision would be an awfully tough one to make.  In Race 18, with Vettel not needing a victory, however, the choice was easy.  Red Bull brought in their man on Lap 38, and he fell to 4th place, behind Raikkonen, Alonso, and Button.  He then got some help.

*AGAIN WITH THE SAFETY CAR:   When you get a number of cars gathered together that all have roughly the same performance, things can get a little dicey if the drivers aren't all of superb skill levels.  On Lap 38, Paul Di Resta, Sergio Perez and Lettuce Grosjean were all dicing for fifth place, with Mark Webber hovering closely behind the three.  Di Resta attacked Grosjean, which gave Perez a chance to try passing around the outside of Turn 11.  However, the Force India cut the corner of Turn 13, sending the Sauber into the run-off area on the outside.  When he returned to the track, he found the Lotus of Grosjean there and the two made sharp contact.  Perez was tipped into a spin, Lettuce's front suspension was shattered, and his car staggered across the track.

The Red Bull of Mark Webber had no place to go.  His right rear wheel was ripped clean off, taking the rear wing with it.  While he skidded to a halt in the grass off-track, and Perez was able to limp to the pits, Lettuce's Lotus died on the racing line.  Berndt Maylander was duly summoned, and suddenly any lead Raikkonen had over Alonso, Button and yes, Vettel, was gone.

*ENDGAME:  When the Safety Car period ended, the standings were Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Vettel, Maldonado, Gandalf Kobayashi, Massa, Senna, Jules Vergne, and Paul diResta.  Kimi had a great restart and began to pull away from the Ferrari, by Lap 50 opening a 2.129 second lead.  But Alonso, aware that Button was probably going to fall to Vettel, began to push Kimi hard.  The lead began to drop lap by lap.  On Lap 53, Vettel got past Button, and Alonso had cut the lead to 1.384 seconds.  As the Finn and the Spaniard crossed the start/finish line on Lap 54, the lead was less than a second, but somehow opened to 1.090 seconds when they crossed the DRS line... just a smidge too far apart to allow the use of the speed-boosting device.  Finally, on the last lap, the Ferrari got to use the DRS, but was too far back to make it really count.  Alonso was driving his car on the limit, almost drifting through the final few turns in his last desperate attempts to catch up to the leader.  To no avail.  Kimi Raikkonen brought his Lotus across the finish line for his first win since he unretired, just .805 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was four seconds ahead of a hard-charging Seb Vettel in third, completing a remarkable drive, and bringing the Race of the Year to an end.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Any other race, Kimi Raikkonen would be the obvious choice.  Retired for three years and earning a win in his first season back?  Yeah, that'd be enough for a Driver of the Race award... usually.  Not today.  Seb Vettel started from the pit lane, worked his way up the field, fell back to 20th, then worked his way up the field again to finish on the podium, just behind his main competition for the Drivers Championship.  He limited the damage to his lead to just three points, earning 15 to Alonso's 18.  The possibility existed that he'd lose it all today... that he didn't can only be credited to great driving and good luck.  Drive of the race for sure.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Lotus.  Finally

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  This was a wild one.  On Lap 16, the order was Charles ToothPic in 17th, then Grosjean, Vettel and Di Resta in 20th as they came down the long long back straight.  Everybody but ToothPic could use the DRS, and Lettuce and Vettel decided to make their moves at the same time.

As one would expect, the Lotus and the Red Bull made it past the Marussia, though it did require some late braking on the part of Vettel going into the chicane to the second long straight.

It then became a straight drag race to Turn 11.

Vettel managed to outrun Lettuce, while Di Resta caught and passed ToothPic, and nearly the Lotus as well.  All four of them get to share in the MotR for making it happen without wrecking.  Good job everybody!

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:  We still don't know just what happened between Mark Webber and Felipe Massa on Lap 26.  It looked like Webber passed Massa, the two touched, Webber left the track and when he returned, it spooked the Brazilian.

It seems ridiculous, but that's all I can come up with, because Massa just spun completely unbidden.  The Red Bull wasn't even close to him.  Whatever it was, congratulations Felipe, you just won a Moo!



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