April 20, 2014

F1 Update!: China 2014

A grey day greeted the F1 Circus as they settled in on the grid.  It was grey not because of clouds or a chance of rain, but the ever-present layer of smog wafting in from Shanghai, for this was China, and THIS is your F1Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of China!

*LIGHTS OUT:  Other than mechanical failure or driver error, there was really only one chance for anybody to beat the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton today, and that was to catch him and pin him down quickly.  The problem was, the driver most likely to manage that feat, Nico Rosberg, was sitting in fourth place.  In between the two Mercedes teammates were the two Red Bull pilots, 4Time Vettel in second and Daniel Ricciardo in third.  Neither were particularly inclined to move over, but the RB10's Renault engine simply doesn't have the grunt to keep up with the Merc W05.  However, it's more than powerful enough to keep a car behind them.  A good getaway would be essential for Rosberg... and that's exactly what he didn't get.  The telemetry on his car failed just as the lights began to stage, so the team couldn't tell him exactly what would be the right settings for a good getaway.  He bogged down, dropped down to seventh, then was clubbed by the Williams of Valterri Bottas that surprisingly didn't damage either car.  A couple of years ago would have seen one or both out with shattered suspensions; apparently the teams are making their carbon fiber with a special Wheaties layer.  In any case, it would take Rosberg some 14 laps (and one pit stop) to make it back up to fourth place, and any chance he had to catch his teammate was long, long gone.

*MEANWHILE:  Felipe Massa seems to have a job for himself in drag racing after his F1 career is over.  For the second race in a row, the Williams driver had the greatest reaction of all time off the line.  He swung to the right to get around the wallowing Rosberg, then cut back towards the center of the track to avoid a blocking 4Time Vettel.  He was balked by Ricciardo directly in front of him, and then the Ferrari of HWMNBN bumped into him.  And by "bumped", we mean "uppercut to the chin."  Again, neither car was obviously damaged, though in the time it took Massa to return from Low Earth Orbit, he had lost most of the places he'd gained with his magic start.

*OH, AND...:  By the end of the first lap, Hamilton had a 1.5 second lead over Vettel.  By the end of Lap 6, it was four seconds.  By Lap 9, it was nine seconds and growing by over a second per lap.

:  Despite his short visit to the ISS, Massa looked like things were still going well.  He was in 8th place, holding back the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, and was looking racy.  All looked normal when he swung into the pits for his first tire change, but things were anything but.  At first it looked like the Williams mechanics were putting the rear tires on the wrong sides (right on left, left on right), but then it became obvious that they had the wrong compound of tires!  Then it became clear that there had been some subtle damage in his encounter with HWMNBN... the left-rear wheel nut refused to come off the tire.  By the time everything was sorted out, what should have been a three-second pit stop had turned into a one-minute-plus nightmare.  Massa would return to the race in 18th, never to be seen again.

*AND THEN...:  Eventually, Rosberg managed to pull himself up the field, disposing of the Red Bulls with ease, then HWMNBN late to take 2nd place.  In the last 10 laps, the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo began to take huge chunks of time off of HWMNBN, looking like he might have had a shot at catching him.  In the end, his tires gave up and he ended the race some four seconds behind the Ferrari.  Remember this, for it will be come important later on.  The Spaniard was some six seconds in arrears to Rosberg.  Rosberg was a distant 18 seconds behind Hamilton, and it seemed like it could have been more if the polesitter had wanted to push the matter.  That makes three wins in a row for Shiv Hamilton, the third time Mercedes has finished 1-2 this season, and the team has won all four races this season so far.  This is disturbing in so many ways, we can't even begin to start.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  HWMNBN.  The Ferrari F14T just isn't that good of a car.  Oh, it's perfectly okay, but it isn't really a podium contender.  UNLESS the driver is HWMNBN, who can take a less-than-stellar chassis and make it good.  Right now, the best anybody that isn't in a Mercedes can do is third, and that's exactly where HWMNBN brought his Ferrari this race, when by all rights it should be somewhere around sixth or seventh.  THAT'S a drive.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Mercedes.  The first time since 2004 that a team has had three 1-2 finishes in a row, and that car, Ferrari's F2004, is probably on the short list of best F1 car ever.  Completely dominant.

:  On Lap 23, Rosberg passed 4Time Vettel for 3rd place, but it wasn't easy.  Vettel fought the pass tooth-and-nail, but couldn't quite keep the Mercedes back... and the struggle allowed Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo to close up tight to the back of Vettel.  The two were on different strategies, and Ricciardo had fresher tires to boot.  As they crossed the start/finish line for Lap 24, Ricciardo was a mere .230 seconds behind.  Half a lap later, the call came from the pit wall: "4Time, let Daniel (Ricciardo) through, please.  Let him through."  Ominously, Vettel didn't respond.  Finally, Vettel asked "What tires is he on?"  "Primes, same as you."  Vettel, in defiance of team orders, came back with "Tough luck."   It took another lap or so, but Ricciardo managed to force the issue and get past.  In the two or three laps involved, however, Nico Rosberg had managed to run away and hide to the tune of nearly six seconds.  How much time did he lose behind Vettel just because 4Time threw a little temper tantrum?  Certainly enough to have made a difference at the end of the race... he may not have been able to get past HWMNBN, but it wouldn't have been a four second gap.  Good job, 4Time!



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April 07, 2014

F1 Update!: Bahrain 2014

The sun was sinking in the west as the Mumbling Herd pulled up on the front straight.  Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg sat on pole, his teammate Shiv Hamilton poised next to him.  This was normal.  Behind them, however, the goofy side of F1 had reared its head: the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez's Force India made up the second row, and nowhere to be seen were the Red Bull duo.  But would it last?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Bahrain.

*LIGHTS OUT:  To say the first lap of this race was exciting would be understating the case.  When the lights were extinguished, all manner of hoo-hah (technical F1 term) broke loose.  For example, Felipe Massa got the jump of a lifetime from seventh and found himself in third by the first turn, while Hamilton managed to take first from his teammate, but only after the two of them went hammer-and-tongs with each other.  Up and down the field, you saw ridiculously successful moves, enough tire smoke to eliminate malaria from the Earth, all of it accompanied by showers of sparks caused by the dragging of legality planks, a sight we don't see that often during the day.  Even when Jules Vergne's Toro Rosso crawled into the pits with a rear tire shredded, we had excitement as he got on the radio saying that he had been hit by "...the crazy Lotus guy.  I don't know who it is.  Absolutely mental!"  (Mr Maldonado, please pick up the red courtesy phone.)  The F1U! analysis team just sort of fell about the place at that one.  Little did we know...

*MIDRACE: Things more or less settled down after three or four laps, which allowed everybody to catch their breath and notice that the two Mercedes cars had opened up a three-second gap to third-place Felipe Massa.  A gap that, ominously, continued to grow: nine seconds after eight laps, nearly 14 seconds after 13 laps.  Rosberg continued to bird-dog Hamilton, bouncing back and forth between a half-second behind and over a full second.  It was obvious that, barring incident, the race was firmly in the hands of the Silver Arrows.  Things got really weird on Lap 16 when the Red Bull pit wall got on the radio to 4Time Vettel... and told him to pull over and let his teammate Daniel Ricciardo go by, as he was faster and stood a better chance to catching the lead pack. 

*SAFETY CAR:  That's pretty much the way it stayed for most of the race... Shiv Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg, with everybody else fighting for third.  We also got the wonderful image of Luca di Montezemelo, Chairman of Ferrari, turning away in disgust as HWMNBN was blown away by a Force India.  And then the entire race changed as a Safety Car was called out (see "Moment of the Race", below), bunching the entire field back up and giving the field hope that, this time perhaps they could keep the Mercedes duo in the same area code.  The long, long Safety Car period saw pit walls up and down the paddock rubbing their hands together in anticipation: plenty of fuel for the final 10-lap dash to the checkered flag.  Even the F1U! historian, dozing on the lounge after the completion of his massage, roused himself for this one.

*GO FAST:  The restart proved to be anticlimactic in one way: the Silver Arrows went screaming off into the night, opening a four second lead in a single lap.  Part of that was simply because the two Mercedes were just faster than everybody else.  The other part, though, is that positions three through nine were held by five Mercedes-powered cars and the two Red Bulls.  They were so busy attacking and defending against each other, sometimes at the same time, that nobody had the time to try and drive perfectly and thus catch up to the top two.  This melee caused the TV Director no end of headaches as once again, Hamilton and Rosberg were once again going tooth-and-nail with each other.  Indeed, it was getting so tight that Paddy Lowe, Merc Tech Director, got on the radio to both his drivers to point out that it'd be best to get both cars to the finish, as opposed to one or both in the fence or as scattered pieces of carbon fiber.  It's good that he reminded them of this, because it was only a few laps later that the two of them had their tires overlapped... just think what would have happened if they weren't told to be careful.  The two of them would continue to race until the end, with Hamilton leading Rosberg across the line by just under a second... and 24 seconds ahead of third place.

*BUT:  Back in third place, Force India's Sergio Perez had opened a tiny gap between himself and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, but it was quickly fading with but a few laps left.  Meanwhile, in fifth place, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg had 4Time Vettel staring at his rear wing, just begging for a single mistake that his fading RB10 could exploit.  It never came, though.  Just ahead of them, Ricciardo was doing everything he could think of to get past Perez on the last lap.  The F1U! crew admits to rooting for Force India in ways usually reserved for the Chicago Cubs.  The wishes and hopes of us (and most of the rest of the world, it must be admitted) guided Perez across the finish line 4/10th of a second ahead of Ricciardo.  The two Williams drivers crossed the line behind Vettel, at least close enough to see him.  Third through 10th places were covered by nine seconds, bringing a great race to a close.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  As much as we wish to give this to Sergio Perez, Shiv Hamilton deserves it more.  While he led all but three laps, his teammate Nico Rosberg was always right there, grimly hanging onto his rear wing, looking for any chance to mug him for first place.  It never came.  When Rosberg forced the issue, Hamilton wasn't afraid to hip-check him into the Persian Gulf if need be.  It looked easy, it was anything but.

:  Nope, not Mercedes.  Force India got their first podium since 2009 and their best two-car finish ever.  Break open those Kingfishers, guys, you deserve 'em!

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:  On Lap 41, Candy Maldonado swung into the pits for his final tire change.  Upon exiting, he managed to drive directly into the side of the Sauber of Esteban!  The weird twin-tusk of the Lotus went right under the side of the Sauber, with the effect that you might think:

After the Sauber stopped flipping, flopping and flooping, Esteban! managed to key his radio to plaintively ask "What was that?!?"  THAT was the Maldozer, Esteban!.   The accident brought out the Safety Car, which gave us the exciting race end, thereby earning the Moment of the Race!



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