October 12, 2014

Mini-F1Update!: Russia 2014

It was a beautifully sunny day at Sochi as the F1 Circus, missing one member, pulled into their starting slots on the grid.  A win by polesitter Lewis Hamilton would put his teammate and driver's championship rival Nico Rosberg in dire straits indeed.  And what of the upstart Williams of Vallteri Bottas, could he make a difference?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the inaugural Grand Prix of Russia!

*LIGHTS OUT:  We'd come to discover two things about the Sochi Autodrom during practice and qualifying.  First, the track was quite difficult to pass on, and second, it was ridiculously easy on tires.  That meant most cars would be making one pit stop, taking any strategy relating to the pits out of the game. It also meant that Mercedes Nico Rosberg would be desperate to lead his teammate Lewis Hamilton after the first real turn, Turn 2.  When the race began, Rosberg pushed his teammate hard as they ran down the front "straight," and it looked like he might be able to pull off an amazingly important pass.  Then he waited just a little too long and braked a lot too hard, front tires smoking like a Grateful Dead concert without the twenty-minute guitar solo.  He wound up going off-track, rejoining in the lead, but having to give the position up because of the track limit violation.  Almost as soon as his team told him to surrender the lead to Hamilton, Rosberg reported that he had to pit due to massive vibrations.  Entirely unsurprising, considering that he had squared off his front tires.  This he duly did at the end of the first lap, falling all the way down to 20th, ahead of only Felipe Massa, who pitted a few moments later.  As Rosberg waded back into the fray, he asked the pitlane what the tire strategy was going to be.  The reply couldn't have been what he wanted to hear: "We think you need to go the rest of the race on this set, Nico."  Fifty-two laps on a single set of medium tires.

*MEANWHILE:  Up at the front of the pack, Hamilton was dominating the rest of the field with the heartless precision of a scientist pouring molten aluminum into anthills.  Farther and farther ahead he pulled, until he was able to make his only pitstop and not lose first place.  And that's the way things ended up, with Hamilton leading the rest of the field home unchallenged save for the first lap.

*BUT...:  That's not to say that behind him, amazing things weren't occurring.  Rosberg, admittedly in the best car on track, began to haul himself up the field, making the mediums work without visibly stressing them in any way.  At one point, McLaren driver Jenson Button was told that Rosberg was apparently going to go the whole way on one set of tires, and the disbelief in his voice was apparent.  As the pit stops came and went, he jumped farther and farther up the grid, ending up in third behind the Williams Valtteri Bottas as he tried to get his new tires warmed up.  It took a couple of laps for the Merc to dispose of the upstart, but it happened soon enough, putting an exclamation mark on the day's proceedings, if he could keep his tires fresh.

*THE END:  When the entirety of the day's excitement is wondering if someone's tires were going to last 53 laps, you know the race wasn't great.  It wasn't.  Rosberg pulled off the "impossible" task, ending up 15 seconds behind in second with tires that looked liked they could go another ten laps easy.  Bottas was five seconds adrift in third.  Hamilton was handed the winner's trophy by Vladimir Putin, and the day's events came to an end.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Nico Rosberg.  Yes, the problem was one of his own making, but the recovery drive he performed today was pretty darn impressive.  20th to 2nd, making one sent of tires go 52 laps in the process?  Yup, that works.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Mercedes clinched the Constructor's Championship today, barring penalties from nefarious wrongdoings of course.  Yup, that's a good season.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE

That was the race, right there. 

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE
:

"Well.  That was easy, wasn't it?" - Lewis Hamilton

"Shut up." - Nico Rosberg

"I can't believe I shook that guy's friggin' hand." - Valtteri Bottas, Finn

"Well, that wasn't a bad day at all." - Jenson Button (note: real quote)

"It was like a chilled-out Sunday drive." - Kevin Magnussen (note: real quote.  This is not a good way to describe a race)

The Blundering Herd moves on to Austin in two weeks!  Halloween weekend in Texas, y'all!  See ya then!

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October 05, 2014

Mini-F1Update!: Japan 2014

Typhoon Phanfone awaited the Blundering Herd as they made their way to the grid at Suzuka, rain pelting down in great grand buckets that made one wonder if there would be fish waiting at the first turn.  It wasn't a question of if it would affect the race but how much.  THIS is your mini-F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Japan.

*LIGHTS... UM... ER...:  The circuit was so wet that the race began behind the Safety Car, the field rolling off in grid order... and that's the way they stayed for two laps, save for Marcus Ericsson spinning his Caterham off at the end of the first lap.  He resumed at the back of the field.  At the end of the second orbit of the track, the expected Red Flag was thrown, bringing the proceedings to a halt.  Unexpectedly, the field lined up behind the Safety Car in the pit lane instead of the grid, sending pundits everywhere scrambling for the FIA rulesbook.  It turns out there are circumstances where this can be a thing, the teams brought out the gazebos and umbrellas, and we settled in for the latest installment of Rain Delay Theatre.  It became a guessing game, wondering if the FIA Weather Llama, Pedro, had figured what the typhoon was doing.

There's nothing deadlier than an enraged gazebo.
*RESTART AND SAFETY CAR:  After 25 minutes, it became clear that Pedro knew his stuff.  The rain had... not stopped, exactly, but was very much reduced.  The field was sent back out behind the Safety Car, their mandatory full-wet tires pumping 65 liters of water off the track per second... except when the cars hit rivulets deeper than the tire treads.  Then things could become exciting.  Halfway through the resumed third lap, the Ferrari of HWMNBN came to a silent halt at Turn 7, water having had an adverse reaction with the car's electronics.

"I wonder if I can go to McLaren tomorrow..."
The recovery vehicle stationed at Turn 7 trundled out and hooked up the car, and all progressed as normal.  By the end of Lap 4, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was on the radio saying that the track was fine, let's go racing.  By the end of Lap 8, teams and drivers are discussing shifting to Intermediate tires, so well was the track drying.  Finally, on Lap 9 the Safety Car came in and we got our first racing of the day.

*BOTH OF YOU, RACE LIKE YOU WANT TO WIN!:  As has been the routine this season, the two Mercedes drivers, polesitter Nico Rosberg and Hamilton in 2nd, decided they wanted to be alone and immediately drove away from the rest of the field.  Indeed, at one point they were going faster on full wet tires than the rest of the field, most of whom had switched to Inters as soon as possible.  By Lap 25, the two were about 18 seconds ahead of then-third place Jenson Button.  Finally, on Lap 29, Hamilton made his move, passing Rosberg on the outside of Turn 1 in a lovely example of car control and knowing exactly where the limits of traction were.

*RUN TO THE END
:  After both drivers put on new Inters, Hamilton began to pull away, creating a seven second gap back to his teammate, which is where it basically stayed.  However, ominous signs were in the air.  On Lap 40, the pit wall called out to both their drivers, warning them that the rain was coming.  Hamilton pointed out that it was already here, particularly in the first turn.  A couple of laps later, Jenson Button stopped for full wet tires, an indication of how bad it was getting out there.

*GRIM REMINDER:  If you've read The Pond since Saturday, you know what happened next.  Adrian Sutil aquaplaned off at Turn 7, the same turn that HWMNBN had his Ferrari die.  A hard shunt ended the Sauber driver's day, and the recovery vehicle trundled out to extract the broken car from the tire wall.  A lap later, the Marussia of Jules Bianchi aquaplaned off in the exact same spot as Sutil, jumped the curb, flew mostly over the gravel trap, and went under the recovery vehicle.

The Safety Car was called out , and was immediately passed on-track by the Medical Car.  After the field was picked up by Berndt Maylander, another red flag was thrown, and as the rain continued to pelt down, the sun dipped closer to the horizon, and an ambulance took to the cirucit, the race was halted.  Hamilton led Rosberg, Seb Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Jenson Button, Valterri Bottas, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg, Jules Vergne, and Sergio Perez across the metaphorical line.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Lewis Hamilton.  In a season where the Mercedes has been the dominant car, Hamilton actually had to drive in today's bad-then-okay-then-bad conditions, and served notice that Rosberg is going to have to beat him for the championship.  After today, one gets the feeling that that isn't going to happen.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  An honorable mention to McLaren, who made all the right calls today and, if the race hadn't've been red flagged, could have had a podium.  But the team of the race goes to Mercedes.  Another 1-2 finish, tough but fair driving on track, and the realization that there's no reason to wreck each other.  A good change from earlier in the season.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:  Considering the pall it put over the rest of the event, Bianchi's crash gets the nod.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTE OF THE RACE:

"Everything that happened with the racing on track is secondary today, one of us is in a bad shape and we don't yet know how he is. Jules had a bad accident and we hope to have some very good news, very soon. Not knowing what's going on feels terrible, I think all the drivers really feel with him, as we know how difficult and slippery it was today; we hope for the very best." - Sebastian Vettel, speaking for all of us.

Next weekend, the F1 Circus moves to Sochi for the inaugural Grand Prix of Russia.  We'll see you then.

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