September 27, 2015

F1 Update: Japan 2015

A blue sky welcomed the F1 Circus as polesitter Nico Rosberg led the field to the grid, but ominous looking clouds in the horizon echoed the memories of the accident a year ago that eventually took the life of Jules Bianchi.  Rosberg's teammate and Championship rival Lewis Hamilton was next to him in 2nd, with a Williams and a Ferrari on each of the next two rows.  Would Rosberg be able to capitalize on his good fortune and take the championship fight to Hamilton?  Or would Hamilton curbstomp the field?  Or would Seb Vettel take his second win in a row?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Japan.

*START:  The start fell into a category best called "sloppy".  At the front, the two Mercedes drivers got away well enough and went into Turn 1 side-by-side... at which point Hamilton decided to muscle up and start shoving his teammate the the outside of the turn.  At this point, Rosberg had two choices: 1) hold his ground and make his teammate decide whether or not to run into him; or 2) run offtrack, potentially compromising his race, but keeping the car in one piece.  He made his choice, getting pushed into the runoff area and losing a couple of positions in the process.  Further back, Daniel Ricciardo got a marginally better start than Felipe Not Nasr Massa and slid to the center of the front straight to get past him... into an opening that he thought would open up but didn't.  Both drivers suffered punctured tires just past the start/finish line.  It would be very long laps for the pair, and neither would ever factor into the race again.  Sergio Perez, attempting to avoid the kerfluffle, bounced off Carlos Sainz and spun out in Turn 1.  While mostly unscathed, he lost all the time in the world and would actively lobby for a safety car the rest of the race.  By the end of the first lap, Hamilton had a 1.7 second lead on Seb Vettel's Ferrari, and that was the last we'd see of the Silver Arrows.

*NO, REALLY:  According to MercedesF1, their cars were on screen for a total of six minutes during the race.  That total includes the cool-down lap and the start.  At one point the only time we saw Hamilton was during a pit stop, and only after it was over and he pulled out on track.  For one of the front runners, we'll normally get the entire stop, from the final bit of roll into the pitbox to the exit of the box.  There is a theory out there that this is Bernie Ecclestone turning up the pressure on Mercedes in an attempt to force them to provide engines to Red Bull next season.  We here at F1U! believe that there wasn't much reason to actually show the Mercedes this race, since for most of it they were alone and unmolested.

*MCLAREN FRUSTRATION:  Let's face it, thus far this season the McLaren/Honda combination has been a dog and nothing but.  Today, the frustration of the drivers boiled over.  Jenson Button seems more and more likely to retire rather than finish his contract with the team, and Fernando Alonso... well.  After being totally embarrassed by Sony Ericcson, who had screwed up the final corner yet was still able to blow past the Spaniard with contemptuous ease down the front straight, he got on the radio to his pit wall.  "GP2 Engine.  GP2.  ARRGH!"  Though to be fair, we here at F1U! thought Alonso had sneezed, not angrily grunted.  Coming as it did at the circuit Honda owns, with Honda's president in attendance, this was not an off-the-cuff comment by an annoyed driver. 

*WHAT ELSE?:  Honestly?  It'd be difficult to make the rest of this race feel exciting.  Up at the front it shook out rather quickly, farther back it was a case of the lower-midfield squabbling over a point here or there.  If Friend of The Pond Vaucaunson's Duck hadn't been texting us as he watched the race from San Francisco, we may have called it an early night.  Hamilton won by 19 seconds over his teammate, who was three seconds ahead of Ferrari's Seb Vettel.  Behind them, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas were some 15 seconds behind, and then there was almost a half-minute to the next car.  The two Lotuses were over 73 seconds behind the leader in 7th and 8th, and the two Toro Rossos were 95 seconds and over a full lap behind to round out the top 10. 

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"...and that (snaps fingers) for Singapore!" - Lewis Hamilton

"Next time, we wreck or he backs off.  Oh, who am I kidding, I'll back off again." - Nico Rosberg

"'Two seconds to Nico is plenty, Seb' my butt." - Seb Vettel, after losing second place to a stupid pit call.

"mrmrmrmmmbrlbr mmrmrlrrbrllrlrlr mmmmmmrbrbrbrlr" - Kimi Raikkonen

"What he said." - Valtteri Bottas

"I was a lonely traveler today.  Was there a race going on?" - Nico Hulkenberg, who was alone on track most of the day.

"AIEEEEEEEEEEEE!" - American Alexander Rossi after barely missing teammate Will Stevens car, hidden in a cloud of tire smoke after spinning in 130R.

Sochi Russia in two weeks time.  An announcement may be coming before then, stay tuned!

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September 21, 2015

F1 Update: Singapore 2015

A clear night, with no hint of the expected smoke from burning Jakarta forests greeted the F1 Circus as they lined up on the grid... and a scrambled grid it was, with the dominant Mercedes cars on the third row, Ferrari and Red Bull splitting the first two rows between them, and an American in a F1 race for the first time in far too long.  So what happened when the lights went out?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Singapore!

*THE RACE:  The car was red instead of silver, but otherwise the opening stages of the race looked exactly like most of the rest of the season: the polesitter running away and hiding from the very beginning.  Indeed, Ferrari polesitter Seb Vettel opened up a full three seconds' lead over Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in the very first lap.  While he never opened up the scary huge gap that the Silver Arrows are known for, it was very clear indeed that it was going to take a mistake from Vettel to give anybody else a chance.  And Seb Vettel didn't become a four-time World Driver Champion by making casual mistakes from the lead.

*AT THE BACK:  American Alexander Rossi sat in the 20th slot on the grid, his Manor purring in the way that only a F1 car can.  The culmination of his life's work was about to occur: he was about to participate in a Formula 1 race and become part of a club more exclusive than the number of people ever to go to space.  That he had practically zero chance of winning didn't matter in the least... at the age of 24, he had reached his dream.  When the race began, his teammate Will Stevens, alongside in 19th, had a less-than-stellar start and Rossi immediately passed him and began hunting 18th.

*CONTINUING:  Vettel had opened up a nearly seven second lead when Felipe Massa exited the pits after a disastrous stop.  A problem getting a tire on had taken too many seconds to fix, and the little Brazilian was undoubtedly annoyed.  He would get even moreso in a moment, for as he pulled out onto the circuit Nico Hulkenberg came steaming into view, determined to take the racing line through Turn 3.  Unfortunately, that's exactly where the white Williams was located, and it wasn't like Massa could teleport somewhere else. 

Hulkenberg meshed tires with Massa, launching himself into a short, eventful flight ending in a broken suspension and much shattered carbon fiber as Massa gestured angrily.  A Virtual Safety Car quickly gave way to the appearance of Berndt Maylander in the real Safety Car, wiping away Seb Vettel's lead.

*AND THEN...:  Daniel Ricciardo knew he had been handed a chance he couldn't throw away.  If he wanted to win this race, he would have to glue himself to Vettel's rear wing on the restart and refuse to let him get away.  Then, and only then, could he make a move to take the lead at Turn 1.  While it seemed the Red Bull was still quicker in the turns than the Ferrari, it wasn't enough to overcome the straight-line speed advantage the red cars had over the purple, but Riccardo knew that if he was ahead, he could pretty much prevent Vettel from getting by.  It was only when the Safety Car pulled off and the Ferrari driver somehow faked the Australian out of his firesuit that Ricciardo realized that he needed to pay more attention to the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in third place than the Ferrari in front of him.  However, he would soon be handed another chance.

*WHAT THE HELL?:  On Lap 37, frantically waving double-yellow flags told the story: be careful, slow way down and be prepared to stop if necessary.  Almost instantly thereafter, the Safety Car came out again.  And what catastrophe had occurred to cause this flurry of safety activity?

A young man had exited an open marshal's gate, jogged across the circuit, and then took to strolling down the track against the flow of traffic.  Fortunately he did not come close to any car, nor did he hurt himself or others.  Last reports were that he was taken into custody and jailed... in Singapore, a place not well-known for its legal leniency.  For some reason, I can't find it in myself to feel sorry for him.

*OH, HIM?  I SUPPOSE...:  Everybody and their mothers were expecting Lewis Hamilton to bring his Mercedes off the mat and make some sort of try for a podium finish.  After all, that's the way its worked of late.  It never happened.  Oh, he showed good pace, equaling or even bettering Vettel at times, but something wasn't clicking.  Or maybe there was a lot of clicking, as Hamilton retired his car early with a throttle problem.

*ENDINGS:  The second restart went no better for Daniel Ricciardo than the first, and was forced to watch from behind as the Ferrari of Seb Vettel swept across the finish line.  Kimi Raikkonen finished third, putting both Ferrari drivers on a podium for the first time in a very long time indeed.  Nico Rosberg, teammate of Lewis Hamilton and championship rival, finished in fourth, a result that caused little harm to Hamilton's chances of a repeat.

*OH, AND...:  American Alexander Rossi finished in 14th position and ahead of his Manor teammate.  Surviving the Singapore Grand Prix, undoubtedly the toughest on the calendar, and beating your teammate in your first ever F1 race?  It's not exactly the top step of the podium, but it's pretty darn good otherwise.

*SELECTED QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"Damn, but I'm good.  How ya like me now, Italy?" - Seb Vettel

"If I had an engine, instead of this stupid Renault thing behind me, I coulda taken him." - Daniel Riccardio

"Mrmrmbemememlbl mrmrlrrbrkrlllmlr brmrlrlrrbrbrbrlrmrr." - Kimi Raikkonen

"Well, the tires sucked, the track sucks, the weather sucks, the lights suck, and Singapore sucks.  But Hamilton didn't finish.  It's been a good weekend." - Nico Rosberg

"wellitwasreallyexcitingandivebeenlookingforwardtothisallmylifeanditwaseverythingicouldhave hopedforreallyandidliketothanktheteamforputtingtogethersuchagreatwelcomeandforfixingmycar
afteriwreckeditinp1andimsoexcitedthatimstillshakingalittlebitholycrapimaf1drivernowhowsthat
forapickuplinenowifonlyihadanattractivehaircutandidgetallthegirlsicouldeverwantandicantstop
talkingpleasedeargodmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopicantbreathe" - American Alexander Rossi

Next up, we head to the Land of the Rising Sun and Suzuka International Circuit!  Should we mention that there's a typhoon coming, just like last year?  Maybe we'll get the Great Suzuka Boat Races again!  See you next week.

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September 06, 2015

F1 Update: Italy 2015

A bright sunny day greeted the F1 Circus as they made their way to the grid, accompanied by the fevered howls of thousands of tifosi.  Would either of the Ferraris be able to deny polesitter Lewis Hamilton's this win?  Would his new engine handle the stress of the fastest circuit on the calendar?  Will there be any pasta jokes in this writeup?  THIS is your F1 Update for the 2015 Grand Prix of Italy!

*THE START... CRINGE!:  The worst thing you can possibly see during a Formula 1 broadcast is a trackworker making the "X" symbol with his arms, indicating that there's been an injury after an accident.  The second worst thing you can possibly see is a car stalled on the grid when the lights go out.  That occurred today, as Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, starting second, apparently forgot how to engage a clutch.  His car sat there like a red chicane as he frantically played with the flappypaddles trying to engage a gear... any gear.  Behind him, Nico Rosberg, starting from fourth, missed him cleanly, but it took a bit of quick dodging on the part of Valtteri Bottas' Williams to not plow at full acceleration into the Finn's backside.  With some wicked shuffling, the entire field got past, but Raikkonen was 20th and last before he started moving.  He hadn't stalled, the revs never dropped... he was like he was a 15 year old being taught how to use a manual gearbox for the first time in the parking lot of a K-Mart (for our British readers, substitute "Tesco's" for K-Mart.  For our other overseas readers, we're afraid you're on your own for this one).

*THE RACE... CRINGE!:  The new spec engine that Mercedes fitted into their cars for this race weekend performed as well as could be expected for Lewis Hamilton.  Teammate Nico Rosberg, if you remember from Quals, was running an old engine because of what turned out to be a coolant leak.  A "legacy part" from the 2015 spec layout failed in the 2016 engine, allowing coolant to get into parts of the power unit you don't want coolant to get into, rendering it useless until it gets thoroughly cleaned.  In any case, that the engine works well is bad news... for everybody that isn't Mercedes.  Hamilton galloped over the horizon and never looked back, turning this from "race" to "farce" very quickly.  By the time the first (and only) round of pitstops concluded, he had a 20 second lead over Seb Vettel, and it would only continue to grow.  See, Mercedes actually told Hamilton before the race not to take it easy on the new power unit... they need data on how it'll run in race conditions, after all.  Where in the closing stages he might dial the power down a touch and coast home, here at Monza that never happened.

*BUT... WHY?:  With some three or four laps remaining and with a 23 second lead, a most curious radio call was heard from the Merc pit wall to Lewis Hamilton: "we need to (increase the) gap, don't ask questions, just execute."  For a wonder, a Formula 1 driver didn't ask questions, at least over the radio: he just drove.  By the time he finished the race, he had over 25 seconds in hand on Vettel's Ferrari, and almost 48 seconds on the Williams pair, Felipe Not Nasr Massa and Valtteri Bottas.  Nobody else was within a minute of the leader when the race finished.

*LUMP GO BOOM:  We used to use this "bullet point" all the time when F1U! was just starting out.  Those first five, maybe six years would see a massive engine failure nearly every race it seemed.  These days though?  Reliable, nearly bulletproof power units mean that "Lump Go Boom" is mainly relegated to the filing cabinet of headlines, rarely seen and practically never used.  That we can dust it off and shine the light of day upon our old friend in a way that makes sense is a lovely moment for us.  And it is exactly what we said when Nico Rosberg's Mercedes belched smoke and rolled to a stop, a desultory fire licking from the exhaust, with two laps left.  That he lost a third-place finish was forgotten when one thought that maybe it had something to do with the imperative Hamilton had been given.  Maybe the team was thinking that something similar could happen to him and it was a race between engine failure and victory.  Either way, the booming of Rosberg's lump was the first mechanical failure of a Mercedes car this season.

*OH.  YEAH?  HEH. :  After the race we found out just what was going on.  Due to the tire failures at Spa-Francopants, the FIA came right out and said that tire manufacturer Pirelli would issue minimum required tire pressures for each race.  Any car found with tires below these levels could be penalized, up to and including exclusion from the event.  Four cars were tested mere minutes before the final recon lap: the Mercs and the Ferraris.  The red cars passed easily.  The two Mercs, however, did not.  While Rosberg's penalty became moot when he killed off all the mosquitoes at Monza, Hamilton's victory was suddenly in serious doubt.  Lower pressure means a softer tire, meaning more grip at the price of more wear.  That only one rear tire was found to be .3psi too low didn't matter: an exclusion was a real possibility.  As it turns out, the Stewards decided that the loss of pressure was caused by the cooling of tire after the heating blankets were removed, and Hamilton was allowed to keep his victory.

*DOMINATING: In the world of F1, a "grand chelem" is the unofficial award for a driver winning the race, leading every lap, and setting fastest lap of the race.  So what is it when a driver is fastest in every session of Practice, every session of Quals, has the fastest lap in the race, wins from pole, and leads every lap to boot?  Whatever it's called, Lewis Hamilton had it. 

Next up, we find ourselves in Singapore in two weeks!  See you then, allegedly!

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