July 28, 2013

F1 Update!: Hungary 2013

Hot.  A clear, cloudless sky graced by a flaming sun greeted the F1 Circus as the cars rolled onto the grid.  The ambient air temperature was over 90°, the track surface was well over 120° and everybody was anxiously eying the soft tires to see if they'd melt or just fuse to the asphalt.  Did they?  Did the heat help or hinder polesitter Shiv Hamilton?  Or was bloodthirsty Hannibal Vettel going to be able to do bad things to the rest of the field?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2013 Grand Prix of Hungary!

*AND WE'RE OFF!:  To be honest, we here at F1U! were expecting the usual "Vettel takes the lead, then runs away and hides" race.  And we were wrong.  Today, the Red Bull RB9 looked mortal... worse, it looked human.  In the opening stint, Hamilton led the field from pole, with Vettel around a second back.  However, he couldn't get much closer as he had the Lotus of Lettuce Grosjean stabbing and diving at him for position.  While entertaining enough, it was clear that the soft tires of everybody at the front of the field weren't going to last long... and they didn't.  The instant he felt his rubber going bad on Lap 9, Hamilton pitted, and the race, oddly, hung in the balance.

*ON THE BUTTON:  The Mercedes driver came out behind his former teammate, Jenson Button, in 8th place.  Button had started on the medium tires, which would last some 25 laps.  Hamilton had switched to the mediums as well, and on his fresher tires swept past the McLaren driver at the beginning of the next lap and began to turn fast laps.  Then it was time for Hannibal Vettel to pit.  He too switched to the medium tires, and he too came out of the pits behind Jenson Button.  The difference, however, is that the Mercedes has a top speed of at least six mph faster than the Red Bull, and Vettel simply could not make a move on Button as a result.  It took until Lap 24, when the McLaren's tires finally went, lemming-like, over the cliff, for Vettel to get past the Glare On Wheels.  At the end of the first tire stint, Vettel trailed Hamilton by around 1.5 seconds.  When Vettel finally got around Button, he was over 13 seconds behind, and the race was essentially over.

*GOING FOR SILVER:  Kimi Raikkonen had a different tire plan from everybody else.  Most of the field was on a three-stop strategy, but Raikkonen, driving a Lotus that was historically gentle on its tires, was going for a two-stop.  Late in the race, it looked like it was about to pay off... he was in second place, but on Lap 55, Vettel pitted for the final time and set off in pursuit of the Finn.  It took him approximately four laps to get within DRS range but there it stopped.  Even though the Lotus had significantly worn tires, and Vettel got to use DRS, the speed difference was negligible... the Red Bull could get close, but couldn't do any more.  Then, just as an anticlimax, the pit wall began to instruct Vettel to begin entering fail codes into the steering wheel, and to back off the man in second place for cooling purposes. 

*AS AN ASIDE:  Heat has always been the Achilles heel of Adrian Newey-designed cars.  As perhaps the premiere aerodynamicist in F1 history, his designs are marvels at the esoteric art of bending airflow to the whims of the quest for speed.  As a result, his cars get every gram of aero downforce possible out of the rules, but this often comes at a cost.  First, his cars lack straight-line speed, caused by the drag inherent in downforce.  Second, his designs are sensitive to ambient heat.  The aerodynamic bodywork is so detailed, so sculpted, and so precise that there's usually no extra space to allow for cooling.  During today's race, the team told Vettel to back away from the car ahead two different times: chasing Button and chasing Raikkonen.  The RB9 needed to get clean air into its radiators to keep from overheating in the ridiculously hot Hungarian atmosphere.  This cost the team dearly today.

*THE END:  Hamilton got his first win as a Mercedes driver, finishing some 11 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.  Vettel finished some three seconds back from the Lotus, followed by his teammate Mark Webber.  Ferrari's HWMNBN was 5th, over half-a-minute behind the leader.  Lettuce Grosjean, who had a penalty-filled race, finished in 6th, 52 seconds back.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  To be honest, nobody truly distinguished themselves today.  Hamilton won, clearly, and that's quite nice, but he wasn't particularly challenged at any time.  So instead of giving it to him, or Kimi, or Vettel, or anybody like that, we're giving it to Táltos Maldonado.  The Williams driver finished the race in 10th place, thus earning the legendary team their first point in the championship standings for 2013.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  They finished third and fourth, further solidifying their grasp on the Constructor's Championship.  On a day when nobody stood head-and-shoulders above the field, that's got to count for something.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 31, Jenson Button was behind the Ferrari of Felipe Massa.  He'd been behind for a bit, and was threatening to make a move on the Brazilian, but nothing was obviously going to happen anytime soon.  Then, as the pair headed towards the chicane-like Turn 6/7 complex, the McLaren driver decided he'd had enough.

A small bobble by the Ferrari driver opened the door for Button, who decided that he didn't have to brake for the upcoming turns.

Somehow keeping the car from flying off into the Hungarian wilderness, Button managed to make the turns and just steal 7th place from Massa.  It wasn't a flashy pass, but it was very well done indeed, and impressed us enough to win the MotR. 

*MOOOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 24, Jenson Button was heading a train of cars, with Hannibal Vettel, Lettuce Grosjean and HWMNBN all stacked behind him.  Unfortunately, his tires had fallen off the cliff, and it was clearly just a matter of time before the field swallowed him up.  Vettel went by, and then Grosjean thought he'd have a go.  First, he got most of the way past the McLaren, then tried to get back on the racing line.

Then he decided that he didn't really need to follow the layout of the track.

As is usually the case, the stewards took a dim view of these actions, hitting him with a 20-second time penalty after the race.  It had no effect on his place in the standings, but it did show that last year's goofball is still lurking somewhere.  Here's your Mooooo, Lettuce.



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July 07, 2013

F1 Update!: Germany 2013

A brilliant blue sky welcomed the assembled masses as the Thundering Herd formed up on the grid at the Nurburgring's F1 circuit.  Mercedes' Shiv Hamilton was on pole, with hometown boy Hannibal Vettel next to him. Vettel's Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was directly behind Hamilton, in what could be considered a precarious situation for the Mercedes driver.  Still, the Silver Arrow has proven to be the equal of the RB9 as late; would the status quo be upheld?  Or would the other status quo, that of Vettel running away and hiding, gain preeminence?  Or would the Ferraris, lurking two rows behind, make their gamble on the harder tires pay off?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2013 Grand Prix of Germany.

*LIGHTS OUT!:  The start of any F1 race is always a frantic scramble for position... either improving it, defending it, or losing it.  Polesitter Hamilton, obviously concerned about the Red Bull of Vettel, immediately cut across the circuit when the lights went out to begin the race.  The young German was having none of it, however, and stood his ground as he quickly came alongside the Mercedes driver.  All of this had the effect of opening a clear path for the other Red Bull driver, Mark Webber.  Normally, this wouldn't be an issue... Webber is the only person on the grid with his own named starting technique, after all (the legendary "Mark Webber Lousy Start©").  For once, however, the Australian had a clean, nearly perfect getaway from third... and found nothing but empty asphalt ahead of him.

The Red Bull wave quickly swamped Hamilton, relegating him to third by the time they reached Turn 1, the two Lotus drivers hovering just behind him.  Meanwhile, Ferrari's HWMNBN and his medium tires tried grimly to hang on to the cars with the faster soft tires.  This proved to be easier said than done, as he was 10 seconds behind by Lap 7... and he was having to drive the rubber off of them to manage even that much.  Instead of the 20-25 laps he expected to do, he only managed 13, pitting before the Lotus of Lettuce Grosjean on softs.

*SAFETY CAR... HUH?:  On Lap 24, the proceedings were interrupted when the Marussia of Jules Bianchi blew its engine in a massive volume of smoke, followed by an impressive amount of flame.

Bianchi brought the car to a halt, then under instructions from the pit lane, triggered the fire extinguisher and headed for the hills.  A track worker approached with a portable extinguisher, as did a tractor to carry the stricken car behind the barriers.  We then discovered another way in which F1 cars are unlike road cars: no parking brake.

Gravity: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.  Parked on a rise, the empty Marussia began to roll backwards and across the circuit, not coming to a halt until it made it to the other side where it was brought to a halt by an advertising sign.  Fortunately, this occurred with no other cars around, though not by much: that's Vettel's Red Bull at the top of the screencap there.  The Safety Car was summoned as the wild Marussia was brought to heel.  At this point, the order was Vettel, Grosjean, Raikkonen, HWMNBN and Jenson Button, having a great drive for McLaren.

*FINALLY:  The safety car stayed out for five laps, then racing resumed.  For the most part, the order remained as above for the next 20-odd laps, until the final pitstops.  There, Kimi Raikkonen pitted with 10 laps to go for a set of used soft tires, reemerging in third, a mere 3.5 seconds behind Vettel, with teammate Grosjean between them.  As the laps ticked down, Raikkonen narrowed the gap, his medium-shod teammate being told to get out of his way on Lap 55, with 2.5 seconds between him and the Red Bull.  Every lap, the Finn shaved off a little more of the gap, trying desperately to bring it down to less than a second so he could use the DRS and pick up that extra speed advantage over the Red Bull.  Finally, going into the last lap of the race, he did it: 1.0 second exactly.  He could get no closer than 7/10th of a second, however, and Vettel took the win, followed by Kimi and Grosjean.  HWMNBN crossed the line in 4th, then came to a halt on track by turn 1.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Mark Webber.  He started third, nearly got the lead at the beginning, and was a serious contender for second place today, until a pit screwup (see below) put him dead last and a lap down.  He then got the free pass from the safety car, putting him back on the lead lap, then fought his way up the field to finish 7th.  Pretty good result, all things considered.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Lotus.  They may be second-guessing the need to bring Raikkonen in for that set of soft tires on Lap 50, but he probably wouldn't've had the speed to bring Vettel to heel otherwise.  And a 2-3 finish is pretty sweet anyway.  Good job.

*MOVE OF THE RACE: On the final lap, Shiv Hamilton came up behind the McLaren of his ex-teammate Jenson Button, suffering on old tires.  A try at Turn 1 didn't work, so Shiv decided to give a run around the outside of the long Turn 2 a go.

Much to everybody's surprise, including perhaps Hamilton himself, his less-than-stellar tires held traction well enough to let him power past Button.  He then remembered to leave Button racing room in the next turn as well, instead of cutting across his nose.  A fine job of driving from both Brits, and our favorite Move of the Race.

*MOOOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  On Lap 9, Mark Webber brought his Red Bull in for his first stop.  The team had problems with the right rear wheel, however, and were not able to get it fastened onto the stub axle.  Maybe it was a tire gun problem, maybe the nut wouldn't engage, whatever, the upshot was that the Lollypop man let the car go without the tire being attached.  It stayed on the car long enough to allow him to get some speed up before it fell off and went careening down the pit lane.

The Lotus pit crew had just finished servicing one of their cars and were in the pit lane when the tire assembly tore through them; fortunately they were all able to avoid the missile.  Unfortunately, FOM cameraman Paul Allen, who had his camera focused on the Lotus driving away, had no idea that the rubber-and-metal beast was coming for him.

It caught him on the shoulder, sending him face-first to the ground.  He apparently suffered a broken collarbone in the incident, which is about as lucky as you could possibly get.  A video of the incident is here.  The team ran down, collected Webber's car, pushed it back to their pitbox, put another set of tires on, and sent him on his way... a lap down, but still in the race.  To everybody involved on the Red Bull pit crew, congratulations, here's your Mooooooo.



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