May 27, 2012

F1 Update!: Monaco 2012

An absolutely perfect day in the Principality of Monaco greeted the F1 Circus as they pulled their steeds onto the starting grid.  Would we see our sixth winner in six races today?  Or would there be our first repeater?  And would those clouds hovering off the Cote d'Azur make their way over the circuit?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2012 Grand Prix of Monaco!

*GOOD LUCK... YOU'LL NEED IT!:  When the lights went out to start the race, polesitter Mark Webber got a clean start with the man who shared the front row with him, Nico Rosberg, shuffling in directly behind.  It stayed that way as the rumbling horde charged down towards Sainte Devote. We've gotten pretty lucky over the past few years, in that there hasn't been one of those legendary first-turn disasters that take out a quarter of the field.  However, in the few seconds it took to send the 24-car field towards the first turn, the educated fan got an inkling that something was about to happen; we don't usually go four cars wide, after all.

*TOTAL CARNAGE: Slappy Schumacher was probably in a bad mood.  He had been the fastest qualifier for the race, but was punted down to sixth due to a penalty earned at the Grand Prix of Spain.  He is also something of a Monaco specialist, having won here five times.  When the lights went out, he had a great start and went to the left of the Lotus of Lettuce Grosjean.  Over on the other side of Grosjean, the Ferrari of Felipe Massa drifted towards the right side of the Lotus, trying to slip onto the racing line for Sainte Devote.  Lettuce, knowing that while one can't win the Grand Prix of Monaco on the first lap, you sure as heck can lose it, moved to the left, towards Slappy.  It didn't go well.

Grosjean, his rear suspension gone, staggered to the right, stretching across the circuit at the narrowest point on the front straightaway.  Slappy got away clean, though he would retire with a fuel problem 65 laps later.  With Lettuce blocking the circuit and the thundering herd bearing down on him, something bad was sure to occur.
Half the field dove inside the curbing to avoid the spinning Lotus.  The other half squeezed as far outside as possible.  And then, there was Gandalf Kobayashi.  Trapped in a place where he could do neither, he wound up going over the rear tire of Lettuce.  While his Sauber seemed to survive the landing, he wound up pitting twice by Lap 6 and retiring the car.

*SAFETY CAR:  Amongst the many things that makes Monaco unique on the F1 calendar, one of the less-obvious is the incredible skill of the track workers.  Made up out of the elite of the pool of European race track workers, they can make a wreck disappear nearly before the carbon fiber shards stop moving.  As the HRTs swept past the broken Lotus, the track workers swarmed over the car... and discovered they had a problem.  The nearest crane had been pre-positioned a little farther down the track and would take a minute or two to get to them.  To exacerbate the problem, the Lotus was stuck in gear, and no amount of pushing of the "emergency neutral" button would allow them to shove the car around.  As the track workers ganged up on the ruined car and began to shove it off the racing line by brute force, the thundering herd rocketed around the shortest track on the F1 calendar.  Almost before anybody realized what was happening, the first lap was over and the Red Bull of Mark Webber, followed by the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, was barreling down towards Sainte Devote... and there were track workers just inside the curb.  A Safety Car had to be called out, and a near-disaster was only averted by the thinnest of margins.   

*DEEP BREATH:  Once the Safety Car went away and everything started over again, the race settled down.  Oh, there was some drama early as rain was expected, but never materialized.  When everybody made their first pitstops by around Lap 25 or thereabouts, the lead devolved to Seb Vettel, who didn't stop on the hard tires, and kept increasing his lead.  At the end of the first stops, he had a 12 second lead.  It got all the way up to 17 seconds as Lap 40 approached... and the "pit delta," or the time it took to enter the pits, get serviced, and leave the pits, was 20 seconds.  And then Red Bull's strategy became clear as rainclouds began to move back over the circuit.  But would any rain actually fall, and would it fall before Vettel burned the tires off his car?  If it did and everybody needed to pit for Inters, he would win the race.  If it didn't, he'd drop back into the pack, but Mark Webber, sitting in second, would win.  Eventually, the tires could take no more and Vettel was forced to pit on Lap 46.

*IN THE END:  It never did rain.  While things got tighter and tighter as the tires on the cars wore at different rates, Webber stayed in front ahead of Rosberg, HWMNBN and Vettel... though it did look impressively close at the end.

The Aussie became our sixth winner in six races.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Mark Webber.  He did everything right today, up to and including perhaps slowing the field down a touch so Vettel could extend his lead in case it rained.  Fortunately for him, it didn't rain, he won the race fair and square, and did so impressively.  Good job!

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  This one was theirs no matter how the weather played out, it was just a question of which driver would get the winner's trophy.  Brilliant strategy, and with a little bit of luck (a problem on a pit stop by Ferrari or Mercedes), they could have had both drivers on the (non-existent) Monaco podium.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 35, we had a tidy little race going between the Sauber of Sergio Perez, the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.  All three were tucked behind the car in front, looking for any opportunity to try a pass on the tight streets of Monaco.  As the three went into the desperately slow Rascasse, Kimi got his nose under Perez.

It wasn't so much that he was trying a pass, as he was maybe angling for a slight advantage somewhere down the line.  Except there was a little problem... that the Sauber was actually heading for the pit lane.  Instead of accelerating out of Rascasse like most drivers would, he just sort of ambled towards the entry.  This forced Raikkonen to jump on the brakes and scramble to the outside to avoid the Sauber that had suddenly come to a virtual halt in front of him.

As the Sauber slid into the pit lane and the Lotus floundered around, Nico Hulkenberg undoubtedly could not believe his good fortune.  He just drove around the outside of the World Driver's Champion, opportunistically picking up two places at once.  It wasn't a masterpiece of technical driving, to be sure, but it was my favorite move of the race... even if the Sauber later got a penalty for "late entry" into the pit lane.

*MOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  When your car isn't performing the way it really should be, a driver may be tempted to feel frustration and annoyance.  When the driver is a former World Driving Champion and is a member of the McLaren F1 team running in the most important race on the calendar, they have good reason to feel that way.  When Jenson Button found himself racing with the Caterham of Heikki Kovaleinninninnie for 13th place, having been stuck behind him for a dozen laps or more, his frustration was palpable.  And then he tried to pass him in the Chicane...

...which was a dumb thing to try, particularly when you screw it up so badly that you wind up 1) spinning and 2) being unable to continue with seven laps to go.  Good jorb, Jenson!  Here's your Moooooo!



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May 13, 2012

F1 Update!: Spain 2012

Though there had been a threat of rain, the weather at Barcalounger was perfect, as is usual.  In the 21 year history of this track, the winner of a non-rain F1 race has been the pole-itter every time save one... and that one rogue win came from 2nd on the grid.  So when Williams' Primate Maldonado led the field to the grid, he had to be feeling pretty confident.  Was that confidence misplaced, or would it prove to be well-founded?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2012 Grand Prix of Spain!

*LIGHTS OUT:  The run from the starting line to the first turn at the Circuit de Catalunya is one of the longest in F1.  There's always something of a mad sprint to the first corner at the start of any F1 race, but in Spain it's even more frantic than usual.  Maldonado decided that he really wanted to cut Ferrari's HWMNBN, #2 on the grid, off at the pass, such as it was, so right off the bat he began to drift over to driver's right.  The Ferrari driver was having none of it and drove straight ahead, letting the Williams take the (slightly) longer route to the first turn.  When they reached the right-hander, HWMNBN had the inside line, a miniscule lead, and position: in short, he had taken the lead.  A lead he would not relinquish during the first stint.  Indeed, it looked like a Ferrari runaway was in store as the Spaniard, buoyed by the screams of his home fans, pulled away to a two second lead and more.

*THEN:  The first round of pitstops came early, beginning on Lap 8 as the soft tires, used in Quals the previous day, began to go off very quickly.  HWMNBN came in on Lap 11 for hard tires, as did Maldonado the following lap.  On Lap 13, however, something with impossible-to-forsee consequences occurred when Mercedes' Slappy Schumacher, looking to get past Maldonado's teammate at Williams, Bruno Senna, instead drove directly into the rear of the car.

Both cars then went directly into the kittylitter and were out of the race.  While the immense amount of debris on track seemed to beg for a safety car to be deployed, nothing of the sort happened.  Schumacher's radio call of "...what an idiot!" indicated who he thought caused the incident, but Slappy was the one penalized five grid places for the next race.

*FURTHERMORE: On Lap 24, Maldonado, unable to close with the Ferrari, dove into the pits for a new set of hard tires and emerged in third, behind HWMNBN and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonnen.  With a relatively clear track ahead of him, he rips off two fast laps in a row.  At the same time, HWMNBN was struggling to get through traffic before he pitted from the lead on Lap 26.

After a clean stop by Ferrari, as HWMNBN was making his way back to the racing surface, he was passed by Primate Maldonado for second place... effectively, the lead, as Raikkonnen still needed to pit, which he did on Lap 28.

*CONTINUING:  And that's how it stayed until late in the race: Maldonado in the lead, HWMNBN as many as seven seconds behind.  Then the Ferrari began to slowly claw back some time on the Williams, cutting the lead down to just under two seconds with four laps to go.  However, Raikkonen was on the charge as well, taking over a second a lap off of HWMNBN at the same time.  It quickly became apparent that the two-time World Champion, in his attempt to track down the Williams driver, had burned his tires off the car.  Gone were hopes of winning the race; all that was left was holding onto second position.  On the penultimate lap, the Lotus driver hacked two full seconds off of the gap to 2nd place and looked ready to do the same on Lap 66.  In the end, HWMNBN managed to keep Mumbles seven-tenths of a second behind.  But four seconds ahead of the two, Primate Maldonado had become the fifth winner in five races this season, the first Venezuelan to ever win a F1 race, and had led Williams F1 to victory for the first time since 2004... all of which occurred the day after Sir Frank Williams, team owner, turned 70.

:  As is usual in F1, a team victory photo was taken, made extra-special by it being a first victory for the driver and the first win by the team after such a long time of mediocrity or worse.

As Sir Frank Williams addressed the team, thanking them for their efforts, there was an orange flash of light from the team pit box. 

Immediately, thick black smoke began to pour out of the garage as flames billowed up.  Mechanics hurriedly dove for fire extinguishers while non-essential personnel  cleared the area.  Emergency fire hoses were brought into play from both sides of the garage area.

Mechanics from the entire pitlane were involved in assisting with the fire fighting efforts.  Some 31 people were treated by the circuit medical staff, with seven people from three teams being sent to local hospitals for their injuries.  The worst we here at F1U! have heard of so far is a broken wrist (as twittered by Heikki Kovaleinninninnie) suffered by a Caterham mechanic. 

The chassis of Bruno Senna's car, brought in after being run over by Slappy Schumacher, was in the garage and looked... well, pretty good, actually.  The garage itself, on the other hand, is going to be something of a total writeoff, most likely, mostly from water damage.  One shudders to think how a relatively small team like WilliamsF1 will be able to replace it all, though there are reports of the other teams already being willing to donate equipment.  Initial reports suggested a KERS-induced fire, though this was later changed to a fuel blaze.  We'll keep you updated as more comes out.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE: Pastor Maldonado.  Like there was any doubt?  He didn't panic after being passed at the beginning, kept his tires fresher than HWMNBN, never put a wheel wrong... well-deserved.  One might ask whether he would have won if Hamilton had been on pole, but that didn't happen. 

*TEAM OF THE RACE: Williams, despite the fire. 

*MOVE OF THE RACE: Maldonado passing HWMNBN, Lap 26/27.  (see above)
*MOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE: Slappy Schumacher running into Bruno Senna. (see above)



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