November 27, 2016

F1 Update!: Abu Dhabi 2016

Say what you want to about the Yas Marina circuit, the chances of having anything other than perfect weather for a race there are vanishingly slim.  In was in this atmosphere that polesitter Lewis Hamilton led the rest of the F1 Circus to the grid.  Next to him, teammate and championship points leader Nico Rosberg had plenty of reason to be confident.  He didn't need to win the race to be Driver's Champion after it was all over... he just needed to be close to Hamilton, and he'd win on points.  Hamilton needed help from other drivers... would he get it?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi!

*LIGHTS OUT: Though it pains those of us at F1U! to say it, when Lewis Hamilton is motivated, focused, and on his game, there is nobody in the field that can beat him.  And thus it was today, when he rocketed off the line without a care towards his teammate, winning the race to the first turn and jumping into the lead.  But instead of rocketing off over the horizon as has happened in way too many races over the past few years, he did not pull all that far away.  It was pretty clear that Hamilton was controlling his pace to allow the field to stick close and threaten Rosberg.  He couldn't do it for long, as his ultra-soft tires weren't going to last forever... or even 10 laps.  On Lap 7, the leader pitted, and could only hope that his delaying tactics would pay off during the pit rotation.  As it turned out, they nearly did.  After Rosberg pitted, he rejoined behind Hamilton, but just barely ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.  As it turned out, the Finn was the slowest of the "big six".  Being stuck behind him, even for a short while, could have done serious damage to Rosberg's race.  Bullet dodged, the race continued.

*THE MIDDLE: Let's be honest here... this was not an exciting race, save for the way it was deciding the Driver's Championship.  The middle thirty-odd laps were dreadfully boring, with the leaders just grinding out the laps one after the other on a visually uninteresting circuit.  The F1U! crew wound up dozing off twice during this stretch, that's how dull it was.

*THE END:  As the race reached approximately Lap 50,  Lewis Hamilton still led the race ahead of Nico Rosberg, Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen, and Ferrari's Seb Vettel, all of whom were covered by less than three seconds.  Smiley Ricciardo in the second Red Bull was just a couple of seconds behind the front pack as well.  Vettel, however, had the freshest tires and had been tearing huge chunks of time out of the leaders, passing Verstappen on Lap 50.  And then Hamilton began to slow.  Not because of a technical problem, but because his best chance to win the driver's championship was if he could push his teammate into the clutches of Vettel and Verstappen.  Hamilton would saunter through the twisty third and first sectors, driving a wide car and staying just far enough ahead to make a pass attempt unwise.  Meanwhile, in the fast second sector, he'd go as fast as he could to keep Rosberg from getting by in the DRS zones.  The strategy was working, too.  Rosberg was furious, calling the pit wall and telling them to get Hamilton moving.  The Mercedes honchos agreed: Hamilton wasn't just jeopardizing Rosberg's position, but entering a not-trivial chance of losing the lead altogether into the equation.  Twice Paddy Lowe, the Mercedes technical director and race boss got on the radio to Hamilton, telling him to pick up the pace.  The second time, he specifically said "Lewis, this is an instruction."  No chance of a misunderstanding there!  Hamilton's response was "I'm leading the race, I'm perfectly comfortable."  Vettel actually got close enough to Rosberg to launch two attacks, neither of which were particularly hard to fend off, and the race ended with less than a second covering the podium drivers, Hamilton leading Rosberg by .3 seconds, and Vettel a half-second behind him. 

*AFTER:

Rosberg joins his father, Keke Rosberg (1982), as Driver's Champion.  The pair becomes the second father-son set of Champions, joining Graham and Damon Hill.

We here at F1U! are somewhat disgusted with Hamilton, as he was rather ungracious after the race was over.  During post-race interviews, he flat-out said his car "had a lot of problems this year, and that's why we're here now."  If he ever congratulated Nico Rosberg, we must have missed it.  Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has already stated that the team is greatly annoyed with Lewis Hamilton for disobeying team orders, too. 

So that's the 2016 season wrapped.  In 2017, we'll be seeing a new set of tech regs that'll change a lot of how the car looks... and a return of wide tires, too.  Next year is right around the corner...

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:42 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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November 13, 2016

F1 Update!: Brazil 2016

Rain.  Rain and Formula 1 go together like pasta and tomato sauce.  It levels the playing field between cars and makes driver skill paramount.  But just like anything else that's good, too much rain is a bad thing.  The dividing line between "good" and "bad" can be razor thin, and both the track and the tires have a lot to do with where the line can be found.  It often rains in Brazil.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Brazil.

*UH-OH:  It had been raining and drizzling all day.  As the cars rolled out for their pre-race recon laps, the decision had already been made to delay the start by 10 minutes, apparently expecting a break in the weather.  The wisdom of that unusual decision was underscored a few moments later when the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean lost traction on one side of the car and smacked into the outside wall of the last turn going backwards.  The driver was unharmed, but the car could not say the same and was out of the race before the race even began.  This may have influenced the decision that came down a few minutes later to begin the race behind the Safety Car.

*AW, JEEZ:  Because of the Safety Car start, everybody was required to begin on the full wet tires.  Pirelli likes to trumpet that the full wet tires "pump 65 liters of water off the track every second at full speed".  That's great, sounds really impressive, but there are two problems with that.  First, with the cars behind the Safety Car they aren't going at full speed, and second, according to both the drivers and the teams, the full wet tires don't work well in the rain.  They aquaplane too easily when they are cold, and the track temperature today was 68°F... and crawling behind the Safety Car doesn't give them enough energy to warm them up.  The amount of spray from the cars was amazing... even polesitter Lewis Hamilton was unable to see from the rooster tail thrown up by the Safety Car.  Somehow, the field survived seven laps of this before Berndt Maylander took the Mercedes-AMG GT-S into the pit lane and the race began in earnest.

*REALLY?  REALLY?:  Immediately we saw cars diving for the pit lane, desperate to get off the full wets and onto the Intermediate rain tires.  This seeming case of mass idiocy lasted for all of six laps until Sony Ericsson, one of the first drivers to put on the Inters, slipped off the track in much the same place as Lettuce Grosjean.  Instead of ending up against the outside wall though, Ericsson's Sauber ended up in the middle of the pit-lane entry.  The FIA quickly threw up the "Pit Lane Closed" warning, which didn't prevent the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo from swerving around the Sauber to put on Inters.  He would later be penalized for that, by the way.  Because of the debris strewn across the circuit, the Safety Car was again summoned... with all the problems that would cause to the tires.

*OHFERTHELUVVA...
:  At this point, half the cars were on Inters, the other half on the full wets, and there was no real indication which was better for the conditions.  The Safety Car came in after four laps and the race once again restarted.  Lewis Hamilton got a great jump over his teammate, who was followed by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen... for a few moments.  While accelerating in a straight line down the front straight, the Ferrari snapped hard to the right, slammed into the outside wall, then pirouetted back across the circuit to the inside wall.  In the process, he nearly collected the fourth place Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen, who managed to avoid the car, but did hit the damaged front wing left lying on the track.  As Raikkonen extricated himself from the cockpit of his shattered Ferrari, Berndt Maylander was again summoned... and moments later, the Red Flag was thrown.

*RIDICULOUS.  STUPID.:  A half-hour stoppage was followed by a Safety Car restart just as the rain, which had slowed down a bit, came back heavier than we'd seen all race.  After five laps trundling along behind the GT-S, we had seen the Renault of Jolyon Palmer run into the side of Kid Kyvat's Toro Rosso, invisible in the spray, and a Force India having to pit for a flat tire, and Seb Vettel reporting that it was "quite bad."  Another lap, and The Powers That Be said "nope."  Red Flag II: Electric Boogaloo was displayed, and the Brazilian fans (that's a lot of fans!) began to boo.  Leader Hamilton reported that "it isn't even that bad, it isn't wet at all."  As the cars stopped in the pit lane once again and the gazebos re-erected, the rain began coming down harder than ever.  One was forced to wonder if the race would ever restart.

*RACE ON:  15 minutes later, the cars were back on track.  Two laps later, on Lap 31, the Safety Car ducked in and we were racing again... and very quickly, Embryo Verstappen passed Nico Rosberg around the outside of Turn 1 for second place.  For the championship leader, this was horrible... not only was his rival leading, but now he was losing even more of his point gap to boot.  On the other hand, it looked like Verstappen was ready to challenge for the lead soon enough.

*SPIN SPIN SPIN:  The Red Bull driver managed to get to about two seconds behind the leader (and eight seconds ahead of Rosberg) when his car attempted to emulate the actions of Raikkonen's Ferrari by throwing itself at the inside wall.  The young driver not only managed to keep that from happening, but he didn't even lose the place to the trailing Mercedes!  A remarkable bit of handling, that.  A few laps later, after the Red Bull had pitted for new tires, Rosberg's Mercedes went squirrely in the same place Grosjean and Ericsson had, but he too managed to save it.  But then the saddest moment of the day occurred, when Brazilian Felipe Massa, participating in the final home race of his long career, spun and crashed heavily, losing it roughly where Grosjean, Ericsson and Rosberg had. 

*HAT TIP:  But Brazil wasn't finished with Felipe Massa quite yet.  As he walked back to the Williams pit box, the crowd cheered their hero loudly and energetically.  Despite the rain, he was clearly crying from the emotion of the moment, tears that became more prominent when his wife and son met him in a strong embrace.  After a while, he restarted his walk to his pit box.  This took him past the Mercedes box, where the entire compliment of their team had turned out to applaud.  A nice gesture from a team he had raced against.  But a few yards beyond Mercedes was the Ferrari pit box, and they too turned out... and Massa raced for them for eight years, 11 victories, and, for 25 seconds, a World Driver's Championship... and many of the people on the team had been there when Massa was.  All in all, a wonderful scene, and a nice tribute to a long-time driver.

*SWIM TO THE END:  The Safety Car stayed out for eight laps and saw Verstappen brought in for full wet tires.  He would rejoin in 16th place on Lap 55, the same lap the SC came in.  As Hamilton and Rosberg pulled away from the rest of the field, the Red Bull driver was going nuts.  By Lap 60, he passed his teammate for 10th.  Four more laps saw Verstappen in 6th place with 11 laps to go.  It took two laps and a physical (but clean) move to get past Seb Vettel, but only two more turns to pass Carlos Sainz for fourth.  By Lap 69, he got by the struggling Force India of Sergio Perez for third.  To review: in 14 laps, Max Verstappen gained 13 positions.  Alas, by this time second was out of reach, and the race ended with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg by nearly 12 seconds, who was 10 seconds up on Verstappen.

And that does it for Brazil.  The final race of the year is Abu Dhabi in two weeks, with the driver's championship up for grabs.  We'll see you then for the grand finale!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:51 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
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