May 26, 2014

F1 Update!: Monaco 2014

The blue skies over the Cote de Azur belied the chance of rain as the field formed up on Boulevard Albert 1er.  All eyes were on the two silver Mercedes up at the front of the grid; comments had been exchanged between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg after the debacle that was Qualifying, leading many to believe that there would be serious bumping and grinding at Turn 1.  Did that happen?  Did we actually have a race where some car other than a Mercedes had a chance to win?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Monaco!

*LIGHTS OUT!:  Of course not.  Twenty or thirty years ago, Formula 1 was different and Hamilton could have punted Rosberg into the harbor without much in the way of repercussions.  Now, however?  There was no way Hamilton was going to do anything more than crowd his teammate as much as possible without touching him.  As it turned out, he wasn't even able to do that as Rosberg got off the line very well.  All the Brit could do was fall into trail behind him as they went through Turn 1.  Just as it looked like we were going to have a repeat of... well, every race this season thus far... a Force India was tipped into the Armco barriers in a location on the track with no fast way to get it off.  Berndt Maylander was duly summoned and a Safety Car period begun.  Two laps later, the restart put paid to any hope the rest of the field had.

*BANG ZOOM!:  By the top of the hill, in Casino Square, the two Silver Arrows had opened up a lead of at least a second, if not more, while Red Bull driver 4Time Vettel suddenly slowed.  First his turbo unit appeared to fail, then his RB10 seemed to get stuck in gear.  The team retired him a lap later.  As it turned out, it hardly mattered.  There were two races going on in Monaco: Rosberg vs Hamilton, and everybody else racing for third.

*MOST OF THE RACE
:  Hamilton hung on the rear wing of Rosberg's Mercedes like he was attached by a rubber band.  The lead would stretch out a bit, then snap back to under a second, then stretch out a bit... repeat as desired.  Until Lap 25.

*LAST CHANCE:  When Adrian Sutil dropped it coming out of the Tunnel, scattering a vast amount of debris across the Nouvelle Chicane, it was clear a Safety Car was going to have to be summoned.  This gave Hamilton a chance to make a strategic call that could win the race... or not.  If he pitted before the SC came out, he might "pass in the pits", so to speak.  Instead, he didn't, and Mercedes called both drivers in on the same lap once the SC was on the track.  Hamilton immediately went into full-blown whinybaby mode.  "I can't believe you didn't call me in a lap earlier", he radioed to the pits, assuming that they could see the accident coming.  The race was, for all intents and purposes, over at that point.

*MEANWHILE:  Something strange was happening down the field.  The Marussia of Jules Bianchi was sitting in 13th position and looking kinda racy.  Not racy enough to actually pass anybody on merit, it must be noted, but racy.  And then, the Racing Gods grinned.  Jules Vergne suffered exhaust failure.  Valtteri Bottas had an engine failure.  Esteban! clipped the wall and retired with a broken suspension.  Then came the big one: McLaren's Kevin Magnussen lost power.  Jenson Button went past him in the hairpin, but Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, in an attempt to follow Button through, overcooked it and pushed both himself and Magnussen into the outside of the turn.  And when Bianchi cruised past the two of them, he was in 8th place.

*THE END:  Hamilton was making movements at Rosberg, who was being forced to conserve fuel.  At any other circuit, this would have meant he'd be passed in no time, but this was Monaco.  Narrow city streets with no grip and identical cars is no way to try and pass someone.  With 12 laps to go, he was all over his young German teammate... and then inexplicably dropped back!  In the space of a lap, he lost nearly four seconds.  The call came over the radio: "I can't see anything out of my left eye.  There's something in it.  It's impossible."  Whatever it was cleared up soon enough, but Hamilton nearly fell into the clutches of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in the process.  Nearly.  In the end, it was another Mercedes 1-2, with a nine-second gap between the two teammates, and less than a half-second separating Hamilton and Ricciardo.  What was even bigger, though, was the gulf that had opened between the two teammates who were long-time friends.  Hamilton didn't congratulate Rosberg, not even a perfunctory handshake or pat on the helmet, as is normal.  On the podium, Hamilton barely acknowledged his teammate.  This has the potential of coming to a bad end.

*MEANWHILE, PT 2:   Bianchi was still in 8th place, but, alas, when he crossed the finish line he was only four seconds ahead of Lettuce Grosjean.  You see, earlier in the race, Bianchi had been given a five-second stop-and-go penalty, which he duly served... under a Safety Car period, a no-no.  So he was given another five-second penalty, which the team decided he would NOT serve, instead having the penalty applied to his final time.  This was done, dropping him down to 9th place.  This was the first time Marussia had earned points in their career.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE
: Jules Bianchi.  Seriously.  In a below-average car on a circuit just waiting to rip your wheels off, he managed to legitimately finish 8th.  Sometimes Monaco coughs up a big surprise, and while people generally only notice when it's up at the front of the grid, when it's something like this, F1U! will notice.  Congrats, Jules!

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Mercedes.  The cracks are beginning to show, though... cracks that could cost them the season sweep they're now aiming for.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:

It's hard not to be happy for Marussia.  We here at F1U! are managing it, as we expected Caterham to break through first, but it's hard.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

more...

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May 25, 2014

F1U Monaco Coming Monday

I'm trying, but nothing's happening!  I keep getting distracted from writing, either by the Coca-Cola 600 or by the incredible pull of Civilization 5... I'm playing Japan on a Huge Earth map, and I've managed to colonize everything to the East of 90°E down to Australia, up to the Arctic circle.  There's also a small but growing corner of the Empire in what would be called Chile.  Problem is, the Iroquois had no other competition on North America, and they're spoiling for a fight.

Get it together, Wonderduck!

So, um, yeah, tomorrow!  Good stuff in Monaco!  Look forward to it!

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May 14, 2014

F1 Update!: Spain 2014

(We're back!  Thanks to Pixy for fixing the servers!)

An overcast sky from overnight rains greeted the masses as they congregated at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcalounger.  As the F1 Circus rolled onto the starting grid, their tasks-at-hand was quite simple.  For the two Mercedes drivers, sitting 1-2 at the top of the field, it was "beat your teammate."  One, Nico Rosberg, won the first race of the season, finished second in the other three, and held the Driver's Championship points lead.  The other, Lewis Hamilton, had won the last three races and sat on pole.  For the other 20 drivers, the job was "beat Mercedes."  Could anybody manage that task today?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Spain!

*LIGHTS OUT:  That last question was answered shortly after the race began: "no."  Hamilton  got away cleanly while Rosberg had a mediocre start, allowing the 2008 World Champion to open up a couple of seconds worth of lead.  It never got much larger than that, promising an interesting struggle between the two in the long run.  Behind them, however, the rest of the field could only gasp in full-blown horror as the Silver Arrows disappeared into the distance at a rate of a second per lap.  It became pretty obvious that we were looking at a race that was likely to be won in the pit lane, not on track.  And then the entire F1U! analysis team dozed off in their comfy chairs.

*RED HOT PIT ACTION:  We were woken up (see "Moment of the Race", below) just in time for the first round of pit stops... where nothing really happened.  Of the Merc drivers, Hamilton pitted first on Lap 18, relinquishing the lead to Rosberg.  Surprisingly, the robotic Mercedes pit crew coughed up a four-second pit stop for the Brit.  Not horrible, surely, but not what they usually manage either.  His teammate stopped on Lap 20 after cranking out a fast lap, had a three-second long pitstop... and wound up only 3.8 seconds behind his Hamilton.

*WASH RINSE REPEAT:  The rest of the race was exactly the same until the final round of pitstops around Lap 40.  The two Merc drivers were on different tire strategies, with Hamilton starting on Mediums, putting on another set of Mediums at the first stop, and having to put on a set of Hard tires during the last stint.  Meanwhile, Rosberg's strategy was Medium-Hard-Medium, hoping to take advantage of the softer compound to chase down his teammate.  This was clearly a concern for the British driver, as he was constantly asking his pit wall how far behind his teammate was, where was he picking up time, etc etc etc.  The lead began to drop.

*DRAMATIC FINISH?  HA HA NO.:  While Rosberg was whittling away at Hamilton's lead, one never got the feeling that he could really catch his teammate.  He got close, finishing just over a half-second behind as the race ended.  After the race, he suggested that if he just had another lap or two, he could have attacked the leader.  But he didn't have those two laps, and thus is now second in the Driver's Championship.

*EEEK!: The rest of the field could only watch in awe and terror.  The two Mercedes lapped everybody up to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, in 7th place, and was very close to lapping HWMNBN in 6th at the end, finishing 87 seconds ahead on a circuit where the fast lap was 88.  The third place finisher, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, was nearly 50 seconds in arrears.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  It annoys us to have to do this, but Red Bull's Seb Vettel began the race in 15th after a gearbox failure in Quals.  He managed to work his way up the field to end up in 4th, behind his teammate Ricciardo.  Okay, yes, he was 20-some seconds behind his podium-standing teammate, but still.  Ugh.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Mercedes.  They're so dominant it's frightening.  At least Red Bull looked like they could be caught, occasionally, but this?  Yeesh.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:  The knock on the door just in time for the first pit stops, heralding the arrival of tasty tasty pizza from Maciano's.  The F1U! analysis crew are big fans of the double-dough pizza with sausage and extra cheese, which was on the menu today.  Their stuffed pizza is tasty and recommended.  Strangely, we're not fans of their Chicago-style deep dish pizza, which uses a different, sweeter, sauce.  That the knock on the door woke the assembled scribblers from a collective sleep should tell you everything you need to know about the action level of the 2014 Grand Prix of Spain.

*SELECTED DRIVER'S QUOTES OF THE RACE:

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