March 30, 2014

F1 Update!: Malaysia 2014

A hot and humid day greeted the assembled F1 Circus as they formed up on the grid in Kuala Lumpur, with a low, dark sky overhead threatening to dump rain at any time.  In short, just another day in Malaysia!  Would polesitter Shiv Hamilton lead his Mercedes home for the win?  Would his teammate Nico Rosberg make it two in a row?  Or would the slightly surprising Hannibal Vettel get the first win of his title defense?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Malaysia!

*GO!:  Unlike last race, they only needed one try to get under way, and what a start it was for Mercedes.  Shiv Hamilton rocketed off the line, clearly untouchable, while Vettel's car seemingly infected by the dreaded Mark Webber Lousy Start© disease, was completely unable to hold back a charging Rosberg.  Nor could he keep his own teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, from jumping in front, something we never thought we'd see here at the F1U! Palatial Studios.  It would take a few laps for 4Time Vettel to take the position back from the junior member of the team, by which point it was clearly academic: unless there was a Mercedes breakdown, there was no stopping the Silver Arrows today.

*GOOD TO BAD TO WORSE TO ARE YOU KIDDING ME?:  For Ricciardo, the day was shaping up to be continued proof that he could hang with his more highly decorated teammate.  While he'd surrendered third place to 4Time, the Australian had hung on his tail, right up until the final round of pitstops.  It was on Lap 41, though, that everything went south.  Ricciardo stopped for tires, an evolution that went as smoothly as always until he was released back into the pit lane... it seems that the man on the front-left tire had not yet finished bolting it onto the car when the Aussie drove away.  While he was quickly told to stop, he had managed to make it a good distance down the lane... and while there are hundreds of ways to be penalized during a race, there are really very few that will get you disqualified from a race.  One of those, though, is reversing in the pit lane.  So he had to sit there until the Red Bull mechanics could run down to where he was, then push him back to the pit stall, complete the act of bolting on the tire, then let him go again.  In the process, he was lapped.  From 4th place to nowhere in a heartbreaking minute.  And then it got worse.  A lap after the fiasco, one of the mounting pylons on his front wing broke, dropping the wing to the ground and causing one of the endplates to begin digging a groove trench in the tire.  Right back into the pits he went for new tires and a new nose, exiting some two or three laps down.  Then, as if all of that wasn't enough, a lap later he got the news that he had been given a 10 second stop/go penalty for the earlier unsafe release into the pits.  By the time THAT had been served, he was four laps down and would retire the car a few laps later.  Not the luckiest of racers, our boy Daniel.  Oh, and then the FIA handed him a 10-grid spot penalty for the next race as well.

*RACE END:  Hamilton was dominating the race so totally that Mercedes was actually telling him to "preserve the engine" around the half-way point.  This meant that the lead to his teammate was only 17 seconds when the Grand Prix ended.  Similarly, Rosberg had been able to dial his settings back as well, and still beat Vettel to the line by a good seven seconds.  What's more telling, however, is the fact that only eight cars were on the lead lap when the race ended.  That's a disturbing statistic, and one that could suggest a huge gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" is brewing.  For now, however, the new F1 is proving to be quite refreshing: it wasn't the most fabulous of races, but at no time were you bored.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Lewis Hamilton.  The Shiv recovered nicely from his car failure at Australia, didn't he? At this point, we want to note that the average driver loses roughly 7lbs during a race at Malaysia, yet Hamilton was bouncing around like he'd just driven down to the corner shop after the race.  Amazing.

: The first Mercedes 1-2 finish since 1955, and they're now leading the Constructor's Championship with 68 points.  Red Bull has 15.  Yes, we relished saying that.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:  For most of his career, Felipe Massa has been told to pull aside and let his teammate pass.  It came to a head a couple of years ago when he was told "Fernando is faster than you."  Immediately afterwards, it seemed like the "fighting spirit" had gone out of him, and he was never the same driver again.  Signing with Williams this year, it seemed unlikely that he'd be put into a similar situation again.  That lasted all of two races.  Late in the race, he'd been dueling with the McLaren of Jenson Button for 6th place, never quite seeming to be able to close up to really challenge the Brit.  Meanwhile, Valterri Bottas, his Williams teammate, had fresher tires and was looking a bit racier on the day.  The inevitable occurred, and the Williams pit wall called out "Felipe, Valterri is faster than you."  They even used the same sentence.  And Massa refused to pull over.  A second call went out, explaining the tire situation.  One could imagine the diminutive Brazilian replying with a "come get some" hand gesture.  To his credit, he did keep Bottas behind for the rest of the race, but at what price his standing with the team?  This could prove to be very important down the road...



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March 16, 2014

F1 Update!: Australia 2014

While there were clouds overhead at Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, there was nothing but blue sky and sunshine in the hearts of F1 fans everywhere.  As the purring herd formed up on the grid, one got the feeling that something exciting, something big, was about to happen at this, the first race of the new season.  Did it?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Australia!

*AND THEY'RE OFF... NOT SO FAST!:  The way a F1 race begins is relatively simple.  The cars perform a recon lap around the circuit and then takes their places on the starting grid.  When the last of the 22 cars comes to a halt and the field is deemed ready, race director Charlie Whiting presses a button on his console which begins an automated process: five red lights come on, one after another.  Once all five are illuminated, a computer-selected random amount of time passes before the lights go out.  When the lights wink off, the race begins.  Today, however, this didn't happen.  Instead, the cars formed up, and just as the first red light began to illuminate, a track marshal began frantically waving a yellow flag towards the back of the grid.  After a moment, Whiting pressed one of the other buttons on his console.

Two solid green lights and three flashing yellows designate an aborted start.  Everybody went around for another lap while the second Marussia of the day was rolled off the track to start from the pit lane (the first Marussia didn't start before the first recon lap).  So now we had to do it all over again.  Little did we know that trouble was brewing.

*AND THEY'RE OFF... WAIT, HOLD UP...:  This time, the red lights came on, stayed on for a decent amount of time, then extinguished, starting the 2014 F1 season with a loud-ish growl from 19 V6 turbo-powered engines, and a purr from the three cars starting from the pit lane.  In the run down to Turn 1, McLaren's rookie Kevin Magnussen had a good start, diving from the inside of the track to the outside in a calm, controlled fashion... or at least, that was the plan.  Instead, he wound up like this:

Amazingly, he didn't hit the wall, nor did the Ferrari of HWMNBN impale itself into the side of the McLaren.  Instead, he gathered the car up and was threatening Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes by the time they reached the first turn.  Further back in the field, though, F1U! favorite Gandalf Kobayashi was discovering that he had a problem.  It wasn't that he was driving a Caterham, having turned down an offer from Ferrari to drive sports cars for them, but that his Caterham had no brakes.  One can imagine how much of a disadvantage this could be for a F1 driver.  Fortunately, there were convenient methods of slowing down right in front of him... a Ferrari and the Willams of Felipe Massa.

Both Gandalf and Massa were out as soon as they stopped bouncing.  Up at the front of the race, though, things were proceeding apace... except that both Shiv Hamilton and Hannibal Vettel were complaining about their cars.  Hamilton's Mercedes just sounded wrong, and was being passed with ease.  Vettel's Red Bull didn't sound particularly unwell, but he was saying that he had "no K", meaning the new KERS-style hybrid system.  Unlike the old KERS unit, the new one can't be simply switched off; it's an integral part of the Power Unit.  The first lap ended with Nico Rosberg leading Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, Magnussen, a fading Hamilton, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, and HWMNBN.

*...AND THEN:  Two different radio calls left the F1U!'s coverage team stunned.  Both Mercedes and Red Bull called in their lead drivers (Hamilton and Vettel, respectively), telling them their races were over.  Hamilton was only running on five cylinders; Vettel was running on not much of anything at all.  Both expected-to-be contenders for the World Championship were out of the race by Lap 5.

*SAFETY CAR:  The race continued mostly as expected until around Lap 10, when the surviving Williams of Valteri Bottas, in a struggle for fifth with HWMNBN, gave the outside wall a nice stiff tap with the right-rear.  A few moments later, a massive stroke of luck befell the Finn.

Yes, luck indeed.  The whap broke the tire rim, allowing the failed tire to fall off altogether, as opposed to the more common "shred-and-flail" method of failure that tears up any nearby bodywork and often means the end of the victim's race.  While in this case Bottas lost nigh on 10 positions, he was at least able to continue with no obvious damage.  When the safety car was summoned so the tire carcass and associated debris could be recovered, the field was bunched back up, meaning it would be easier for the Williams to make an impact on the race.

*BACK TO WORK: To be honest, the rest of the run was something of an anticlimax.  Nico Rosberg owned this race from Turn 1, and after the restart he was putting a second per lap onto his lead over Ricciardo, who was only a second or two ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who had decent gap back to his teammate, Jenson Button.  The driver to watch, though, was definitely Bottas who quickly began to work his way back up the field.  by Lap 35, he was up to 5th place, though a pit stop dropped him back to eighth.  By the end of the race, though, he had managed to get back to 6th, the best finish for Williams since the 2012 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi.  Nearly a half-minute up the road, however, Rosberg had finished first, followed by Ricciardo, Magnussen, Button, and HWMNBN.  An easy and, really, an expected, victory for Mercedes, though a surprising result for Red Bull who just a few days ago were saying that they considered just finishing the race to be their goal.

*AND THEN: A few hours later came the news.  Daniel Ricciardo's RB10 had been found to be running a fuel flow sensor that had been brought before the FIA and found to be giving invalid results.  The FIA had told the team they couldn't use it and Red Bull used it anyway.  They were then warned before the race not to use it and were allowed to change it... and they used it anyway.  After the race, Ricciardo was duly excluded from the results, having his 2nd place finish stripped and promoting Button up to the third step of the podium.  Red Bull is appealing the decision.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Nico Rosberg should probably be given this, considering his lights-to-flag win, but instead we'll give it to Valteri Bottas for his gritty drive.  What would have happened if he hadn't've clonked the wall?

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  McLaren.  Last year was their worst season since 1980, with zero podiums and, indeed, never even looking like a threat for a podium.  Today?  A 2-3 finish, with their rookie driver on the higher step.  That's gotta bode well for the team from Woking.

:  This new category won't necessarily be the most important moment, or the most dramatic, or even the most obvious, moment of a particular race, but the one that sticks in the head of the F1U! Team.  Today's moment is brought to you by the front jackman / Mohel for Team McLaren's pit crew.

Ladies and gentlemen, the first circumcised F1 car.



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