July 26, 2015

F1 Update: Hungary 2015

A beautiful summer day greeted the assembled masses at the circuit located just outside of Budapest.  A breeze was blowing, the sun was shining, the sky a brilliant blue.  Yet down on the starting grid, a completely different feel was being experienced by the men and women that make up the F1 Circus.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Hungary!

*JULES:  In the 11 seasons we've been covering Formula 1 for The Pond, the F1U! crew has seen members of the F1 Community participate in two moments of silence.  The first was in 2005, a tribute to the recently-passed Prince Rainier III, the long-time benefactor of the Monaco Grand Prix.  The second was a few months later at Silverstone, just three days after the 7/7 bombings in London.  In the first, the drivers were respectful and well-behaved.  In the second, the drivers were... to be charitable, boorish.  Jenson Button was smiling and laughing, and most of the rest of the F1 bunch were clearly not feelin' it.

But this time was different.  This time it was for one of their own.  Jules Bianchi passed away last weekend, nine months after his terrible crash in Japan last year.  Today, the drivers and teams said goodbye.  The drivers placed their helmets on the ground and formed an incomplete circle... a gap which was filled by Bianchi's parents and family, who placed their son's helmet in the center of the amassed helmets.  The team principles stood just outside the circle, while the rest of the team members stopped their labors on the grid as well.  Understated, yet very very effective.  And then it was past, the drivers decamped for their cars, and we'd like to think that Bianchi's helmet was the last one left.

*START:  Right from the beginning we had signs that this was not going to be the usual race at Hungary.  We don't often have blown starts, for example, but when Williams' Felipe Not Nasr Massa was unable to place his car in his starting box, the amber and green lights started flashing and the field perambulated around the circuit once again.  Massa was given a penalty, the Blundering Herd took its places on the grid once more, and when the red lights finally went out, chaos reigned.  Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo had a miserable start from fourth on the grid, then made contact with the Williams of Valterri Bottas and wound up somewhere near the Carpathians.  His self-removal from the front pack allowed the Ferraris of Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to just swarm over and around the front-row Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  By the end of Turn 2, both Ferraris were ahead of both Mercs, with polesitter Hamilton shockingly in fourth.  It would get worse for the reigning World Champion when he dropped a wheel on to the grass outside the Turn 6/7 chicane and went off into the kittylitter.  Though he was able to extract himself, by the time he returned to the racing surface he was in 10th place.  At the end of the first lap, Vettel led his teammate by over a second, and was nearly four seconds up on third-place Nico Rosberg.

*AND THEN:  Things settled down a bit after that.  By Lap 25, Vettel had six seconds in hand over Raikkonen, who was 10 seconds ahead of Rosberg.  Ricciardo and Hamilton were both 30-odd seconds behind the leader, both driving well and quickly.  The fact of the matter was, though, that the Ferraris were looking crazy fast today and seemed unlikely to be caught without external forces coming to play.

*EXTERNAL FORCES: Force India had been having a not-so-great weekend.  They had brought their B-spec car to the Hungaroring, and were expecting big things.  They certainly got them.  On Friday, the rear suspension on Sergio Perez's chassis failed, sending him into a bouncing, tumbling wreck that came to a halt upside down.  During Quals, neither car could make it into Q3.  Earlier in the race Perez was mugged by Pastor Maldonado's Lotus, punting him off-track, airborne, and into a spin.  While he could continue, one could not be faulted for thinking "what else could go wrong?"  And then on Lap 42, Nico Hulkenberg's front wing fell off as he headed down the straight into the braking zone for Turn 1.  While it went right under the front tires, it did not tarry long, emerging from behind the Force India in a shower of carbon fiber shreds.  Hulkenberg speared directly into the tire barrier outside the run-off zone for the first turn, though with much speed scrubbed off... thankfully, the front wing did not keep the brakes from working for long.  Hulkenberg emerged unscathed, though shaken somewhat.  First a virtual safety car was called out while recovery efforts began, then the slumbering Berndt Maylander was awoken and sent out in the real safety car as cleanup of the huge amount of carbon fiber took place.  Indeed, the field was led through the pit lane as the front straight may as well have been covered in razor blades and caltrops.  But the arrival of the safety car meant that Vettel's lead, now up to 25 seconds over third-place Rosberg, was now gone.  However, with Raikkonen between Vettel and Rosberg, it didn't seem like there'd be much chance for a threat, even with a reborn Lewis Hamilton in fourth.

*MORE EXTERNAL FORCES:  Then the radio call came in from the Finnish Ferrari driver... there was a weird sound in the cockpit and he was down on power.  All too soon the reply came back: his MGU-K unit, previously known as KERS, had packed up and gone home.  This would leave the second-place Ferrari down about 150hp.  The stage was now set for an interesting run to the finish.

*NO MORE SAFETY CAR:  Raikkonen's job was now to hold up the silver cars as long as he could.  This wound up being about five seconds in the case of Rosberg, who blew the metaphorical doors off the Ferrari nearly as soon as the race restarted.  Behind them, however, chaos reigned again.  Ricciardo forced his way past Hamilton with the two making contact.  The Red Bull lost some bodywork, the Merc had a front wing so badly damaged that it needed to be replaced, and quickly.  Hamilton would also be given a penalty for sloppy driving for this.  In the meantime, the other Red Bull, driven by Kid Kvyat, also got past Hamilton, while Valterri Bottas took a Toro Rosso wing to the rear tire, leaving him with a slow puncture that got worse just as he tried passing the stricken Hamilton.  While there was no harm done as a result, it got dicey for a moment or two.

*TO THE END:  On Lap 51, both Ricciardo and Kvyat passed Raikkonen, who would retire his car shortly thereafter.  The two Red Bulls then set off after Rosberg, who had a windscreen full of Ferrari ahead of him.  Ricciardo's attempt to pass the Merc cleanly almost worked.  In what the stewards termed a "racing incident", the Red Bull gave Rosberg a flat tire at the cost of a nose.  In one of the stupider things we've ever heard, Rosberg after the race said that he had expected Ricciardo to give him space, despite the two of them fighting for position.  It doesn't work like that, Nico.  Both drivers had to pit for replacements of their damaged parts, and Kvyat moved into second place with five laps to go.  After his nose change, Ricciardo managed to haul himself up to third, while Rosberg had somehow contrived to fall back behind his teammate and rival.

*THE END:  When Seb Vettel finally made it across the finish line, he led Kvyat by five seconds (increased to 15 with the addition of a 10sec penalty), and Ricciardo by 25.  Fourth place was taken by the 17-year-old Toro Rosso driver, Embryo Verstappen.  And in a miracle comparable only to those of Saint Alexander Hergensheimer the Dishwasher, the newly renamed Fernando Alonso brought his McLaren home in fifth place.  Hamilton, Lettuce Grosjean, Rosberg, Jenson Button, and Sony Ericsson rounded out the top 10.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTE OF THE RACE:

"This hasn't been an easy weekend for anybody in Formula 1... the minute's silence for Jules was very emotional, and it was very tough to get in the cockpit straight afterwards.  But, today, we respected Jules and we respected the sport." - Fernando Alonso (note: real quote)

And now the F1 Horde goes on its mandatory Summer Break.  The next race will be August 23rd, in a little town in the Ardennes Forest.  We'll see you in one month at Spa-Francopants!

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July 06, 2015

F1 Update: Great Britain 2015

The sky above Silverstone was a clear, clean blue, playfully dotted with little tiny white clouds.  A beautiful summer English day had greeted the Thundering Herd as they pulled onto the grid.  140000 fans roared their approval as Lewis Hamilton took his pole slot, his teammate Nico Rosberg beside him.  Behind them were the two Williams of Felipe Not Nasr Massa and Valterri Bottas, a marvelous performance for the legendary British team.  Arrayed behind them were 15 other cars; Felipe Not Massa Nasr's Sauber was wheeled off, dead before the recon lap began.  It looked to be perfect conditions for a Formula 1 race.  Would the reigning World Champion run off with it, the way he has so many times before?  Or would it be his surging teammate, winner of three of the last four races, that would take the win?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Great Britain!

*LIGHTS OUT... THE HELL?:  As is usual, once the race began both Mercedes jumped off the line, Hamilton leading Rosberg.  We've seen this picture a hundred times: they'll get themselves sorted by the end of the first turn, then it'll be a case of the Silver Arrows rocketing away while everybody else fights for third.  And indeed, that's exactly what occurred... for two car lengths or so.  Felipe Not Nasr Massa got a blinding jump off the line, zipped right between the two Mercs and had a clear lead going into the first turn.  At the same time, Bottas decided he wanted him some of that too and followed the diminutive Brazilian through the same gap.  He wound up only getting past Rosberg, though he did put a scare or two into Hamilton for a few turns.  Behind them, the two Lotuses of Pastor Maldonado and Lettuce Grosjean had a coming together in Turn 1, with Lettuce ending up beached in the kittylitter.  In a desperate attempt to avoid the Lotii, McLaren's HWMNBN dodged to his right, lost the rear of his car, and speared directly into the side of HIS teammate, Jenson Button.  The Brit, who has never had a podium in his home race in 16 tries (not even in his world championship season!), was out on the spot.  HWMNBN had to pit for a broken nose, a change that took nigh on a minute to effect.  Maldonado lasted a few more turns before his damaged Lotus gave up the ghost, and a Berndt Maylander was awoken from his slumber to bring the Safety Car out on track.  Thus, the first lap ended with Massa leading Hamilton, Bottas, and Rosberg.  Incidentally, this was the first time this season that anybody other than a Merc or Ferrari had led a lap.

*LET US RESUME:  When Berndt Maylander returned to his place of eternal slumber, Hamilton was the very picture of "aggressive" behind Massa, who hadn't led the field into a restart since... well, before he took a spring to the helmet in 2009.  As a result, the Merc driver did everything he could to get past the Williams... and more besides.  He locked up a tire, slid off-track, and Valterri Bottas took his Williams into second.  Instead of mounting a furious counterattack, the British driver was forced to defend against HIS teammate, which allowed the two White cars a modicum of breathing space.  So from Lap 3 to Lap 19, we were treated to the mind-boggling sight of the two Williams leading the two ridiculously dominant Mercedes.  Together, these four cars pulled away from the rest of the field, but couldn't get away from each other, less than two seconds covering them.

*TEAM ORDERS:  At one point during this bit of racing, Bottas was clearly the faster of the two Williams.  The team called to both their drivers that there was to be "no racing", and they should work together to get away from the silver cars.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bottas made his case over the radio quite clear: "I have more pace, I have more pace."  Still, he was told to stay back.  A lap or two later, the team reversed course, telling the Finn that if he does pass, it had to be clean.  Pointedly, they didn't tell Massa to let him go.  While Bottas tried to get past Massa, the time had passed: his tires had gone from golden to iron pyrite, or Massa's had come back to life, or something... the Finn could get close, but couldn't quite get past.  Some are saying that Williams, in their attempt to "play fair", actually threw away the race win at this point... if Bottas had been let past, he stood a great chance of being able to gallop away, so the argument goes.  We here at F1U! are less than convinced of this, but it's not impossible.

*THE PITS:  The leader's pitstops began on Lap 19.  Hamilton dove in first, followed by Massa and Rosberg the next lap (resulting in a little duel down the pitlane as the two exited side-by-side) and Bottas on Lap 21.  The fastest stop of the four gave Hamilton the advantage, and once the stops were complete, he had the lead over Massa, who was ahead of his teammate, who in turn was ahead of Rosberg.

*DOLDRUMS:  After this, the race became something a little more familiar.  Hamilton began to open up a lead on the two Williams, peaking around six seconds ahead on Lap 32.  The other three had a couple of seconds between them, though, and it looked like Rosberg was unlikely to be on the podium this race.

*AND THEN IT ALL WENT INTO A COCKED HAT:  Almost from the beginning of the race, a wall of black clouds in the distance had been a reminder that Silverstone was one of the best examples of the concept of "microclimate" anywhere in the world.  Built on top of the highest point in the area, what is happening below it weather-wise often has nothing in common with what's going on on top.  On Lap 32, the rain that had been skulking in the distance decided to come a-callin'.  The back half of the circuit was getting dampened and slippery, while the other end was bone dry... and it was in the slippery parts where Rosberg got past Bottas for third.  A couple of laps later, he pulled the same trick on Massa, just as the rain died out.  However, an ominous call from the Merc pit wall made the F1U! crew giddy with anticipation: "expect more rain in five minutes."

*MEANWHILE:  Behind the action up front, we had an attrition fest.  Cars were dying like flies, with a full seven pushing up the daisies by the end of the race.  With the Manors holding up the final two slots, that left only 11 cars racing for 10 points-paying positions... and HWMNBN'd McLaren was one of them, dueling the Sauber of Sony Ericsson for 10th.

*SPLOOSH:  On Lap 43, Lewis Hamilton came into the pits for a new set of tires.  As he came to a stop in his pit box and the team began to bolt Intermediate tires onto his chassis, the black skies above decided to dump much of the Atlantic Ocean upon Silverstone.  As he regained the circuit, it became obvious just how prescient (or lucky) the choice had been.  Behind him, Seb Vettel's Ferrari came into the pits for Inters as well.  Rosberg pitted a lap later, as did the two Williams, but by then the damage had been done.  Hamilton strengthened his lead, of course, but Vettel leapfrogged both fading Williams for third, a position he'd never had even the remotest chance of gaining before this.

*ANTICLIMAX: And that's how it ended, with Hamilton leading Rosberg leading Vettel, Massa and Bottas.  A bog-standard finish, but an extraordinary race to get to that point, and probably the best of the season to date.

*THE REDEMPTION OF THE SPANIARD:  Somewhere during the rainy part of the race, HWMNBN got his McLaren past Sony Ericsson and into 10th place, the position he held when the race came to an end.  In doing so, he earned his first point for his "new" team, and the team's first point of the season.  Because of this, the F1U! team has decided that He Who Must Not Be Named has been cleansed of his sins and will henceforth be known once again as Fernando Alonso.  In some ways this is a sad moment, as he's held the HWMNBN'd moniker for nigh on eight years; it'll be hard to retrain our fingers to type "Alonso" again.

*SELECTED DRIVERS QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"That was about the best tire call I've ever seen." - Lewis Hamilton

"Only one of the two Mercedes drivers passed anybody on track today." - Nico Rosberg

"I don't know what I'm doing up here, or how it happened.  I'm just glad it did." - Seb Vettel

"It's a damn good thing the pit wall didn't say 'Felipe, Valterri is faster than you, do you understand?'  There would have been blood.  BLOOD, I tell ya." - Felipe Massa

"Oh, there will be harsh words in the race debrief, that's for sure." - Valterri Bottas

"I'm going to have to get my superlicense reprinted!" - Fernando Alonso.

So that's really it from Silverstone.  The next race is in a couple of weeks, at Hungary.  I can barely withhold my joy.  See you then!

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July 05, 2015

F1 Update: The Updatening!

It's 9pm on this Sunday evening of the 2015 Grand Prix of Great Britain.  By this point of the day, either the F1U! is up and posted, or the busy F1U! team is scrivenering away, desperate to get said the update complete and ready for the world to see.  As it is, however, the crew hasn't even finished watching the race.  A combination of factors, including a fever-inducing ick that pretty much turned the entire weekend into an uncomfortable, painful little mess, just ruined every plan there was.  With any luck, we'll finish up the race tonight and we'll have a writeup on Monday.

We apologize for the delay... it's been a while since we missed a Sunday deadline, and, well, crepe.  Particularly this week, of all weeks... the reason for THAT comment will be coming on Wednesday.

Thank you for your patience.

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