June 19, 2016

F1 Update!: Europe 2016

It was sunny and warm in Baku, Azerbaijan as the F1 Circus lined up on the grid for the inaugural race in that old, old city.  Nico Rosberg was on pole with his teammate Lewis Hamilton back in tenth... in between were all the realistic challengers both for the win and for the driver's championship.  So what happened?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Europe!

*LIGHTS OUT: ...we can't do this.  Not this way.  Not after this.

In a way, it's our fault.  We here at F1U! were excited for this race.  The track was terrifying and fascinating in equal measure, the result of Quals made for a slightly jumbled Top 10, and since it was the first time F1 had raced at Baku, nobody was sure how the track would really race.

We should have known better.  Formula 1 is good for many, many things, but the one thing that F1 does not handle well is doubt.  The teams handle the unknown very poorly... potentially exciting unknowns cause F1 teams to drool on themselves in the night, gibbering madly in the darkness of their motorhomes.

And so it came to pass that today's race at Baku was easily the most boring race this season.  There were no risks taken, nothing that could have been considered bold (moves, strategies, tire choices), even the first turn didn't cause much in the way of bumps and bruises.  By the end of the first lap, Nico Rosberg was already out of DRS Zone range, and by the time DRS was enabled on Lap 3, he was two seconds clear of the field.  Next time over the start/finish line, the lead was four seconds because the tires on Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull had given up the ghost.  Ferrari's Seb Vettel got past him by the next lap, but the damage was already done.  The Merc driver had an incredible 14 second lead by the end of Lap 10.

It was pretty clear that the only people with a chance to catch up to Rosberg were his teammate Lewis Hamilton, and maybe Valterri Bottas, the Williams driver that managed to hit 235 mph down the long, long straight in Quals.  As it turned out, Bottas wound up holding Hamilton back during a critical point in the race.  His immense speed made a DRS pass practically impossible, so that when it did finally occur, he was a half-minute behind his teammate and in fifth place.

Hamilton then spent 15 laps trying to figure out a problem caused by the engine settings on his steering wheel.  Please note that the exact same problem arose on Rosberg's car, and he figured out how to fix it in less than one lap.  So that put paid to any chance he might have had to catch the leader, slim as it would have been.

Nobody else had anything to show the leader, and nobody pushed the limits of the circuit.  The four DNFs were for mechanical problems, not accidents.  Nobody even came close to the walls, and almost all the passes today involved the DRS.  Rosberg led from flag-to-flag, ended up winning over Seb Vettel's Ferrari by 16 seconds.

Vettel was 10 seconds ahead of Force India's Sergio Perez in third, who in turn was eight seconds up on Kimi Raikkonen.  Hamilton finished 23 seconds behind the Ferrari Finn, nearly one full minute behind Rosberg.

This race, simply put, was a massive disappointment.  We're glad everybody came out safely, but that was the only high point of the day.

Next race is two weeks from now in Austria. 

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:33 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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June 12, 2016

F1 Update!: Canada 2016

Above the beautiful man-made island in the St Lawrence River called Ile Notre-Dame in Montreal, the skies were gray and random, spitting rain here, there, nowhere, then everywhere.  Even as the F1 Circus performers lined up on the grid, nobody was quite sure how long slick tires would be on the cars.  Make no mistake, the track was dry... now, at least... but a glance at the radar screen made it clear that rain sometime during the race was a 50/50 and pick 'em bet.  Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes sat on pole, but his teammate and current championship points leader Nico Rosberg was right next to him... and the revived Ferrari of Seb Vettel was directly behind.  Would the rains be the deciding factor?  Or would speed and control carry the day?  And if so, from whom?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Canada!

*LIGHTS OUT
:  It is not uncommon for cars of great overall ability to have a small weakness here or there.  Like a slightly misshapen nose on a supermodel, that flaw tends to emphasize, rather than detract from, the beauty.  So it is with the Mercedes F1 W07, the 2016 entry for that team.  It has the unerring ability to screw up any start, under any conditions, from any position on the grid, at any time.  And so it was that when the five red illuminated beacons were extinguished from the starters tower, both Hamilton and Rosberg seemed to have been sitting in wet concrete.  As Vettel roared past Hamilton's left to take a multiple car-length lead before the first turn, both Mercs staggered drunkenly off the line.  When the two of them bumped wheel rims in Turn 1, Rosberg had to leave the track; upon his return, he was quickly swallowed by the field and deposited in 10th place.  Hamilton was in slightly better shape, staying in second, but Vettel was proving to be in no mood to be trifled with.  Only a blown chicane kept him from opening a three or four second lead in just a couple of laps.  It was obvious that Ferrari wanted this win, and badly.

*STRATEGERY:  When Jenson Button's McLaren blew its Honda engine on Lap 10, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car, Vettel stopped to get off the ultrasoft tires and onto the supersofts.  This immediately made clear Ferrari's plan for a two-stop strategy for the race, as tire manufacturer Pirelli had gone on record that they expected one-stop strategies galore today... start on the ultra or supersofts, then switch to the hardest compound (ironically, the Softs) and go the rest of the way on those.  A two-stop strategy was aggressive to say the least, leaning hard on the ability of the driver to make up the lost time while having new rubber.  The question became, what would Mercedes do?

*ANSWER:  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  While Vettel quickly climbed back up to second from the fourth place he dropped to during his pitstop, it still meant that he had relinquished the lead to Hamilton.  On Lap 24, Vettel turned in what was then the fast lap of the race, cutting the gap to the Merc driver to five seconds.  It was clear that the leader would have to pit, and soon... but what would he come out on?  Would the German team go with the Soft tires and try to go the rest of the way?  Or would they mirror Ferrari and come out on one of the softer compounds?

*SURPRISE:  Pitting on Lap 25, Hamilton rejoined the race wearing soft tires... meaning he would have to go 45 laps on them to make the strategy work.  While Vettel had a 13 second lead, that wouldn't be enough to stay in front when he made his second stop.  Either he'd have to open that gap dramatically, or he'd have to make up the time during his final stint.

*PUSH, SON, PUSH:  Vettel pitted on Lap 37 for soft tires, rejoining in second place some eight seconds behind Hamilton.  However, the Merc was on tires 12 laps older.  Could Vettel make up the time with that advantage in pocket?  He began to whittle away at the lead, getting it down to under four seconds on Lap 50.  An interesting finish looked to be in store.

*THE END:  There's always one drawback to a strategy like the one Ferrari tried, and that's tire wear.  When you're pushing hard to go fast, you use up your tires more quickly.  It's just a fact of life in motorsports: the faster you go, the faster your tires go.  And today, in Montreal, was no exception.  Vettel began to make little mistakes... a small lockup here, a slightly blown turn there, and the gap to Hamilton began to open again.  Meanwhile, the leader marched around the circuit as if on rails, never putting a tire wrong, even turning in some fast laps on what had to have been well-worn rubber.  He would finish the race some five seconds ahead of Vettel, the two of them some forty seconds clear of the third place Williams of Valterri Bottas.

*SELECTED DRIVERS QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"God, I love Canada." - Lewis Hamilton

"Welp, that didn't work.  Oh well, maybe next time." - Seb Vettel

"Our first podium of the year.  Oh, and by the way?  Lewis and I were the only drivers in the Top 10 to use a one-stop strategy.  Take that for what it's worth." - Valterri Bottas

"That was mostly fun!" - Embryo Verstappen

"Yeah, I'm kinda pissed at my teammate... again." - Nico Rosberg

"mrmrmbl mrmrmrbrrb mrmrbrrlrm mmrmrbrrbrrlrrl." - Kimi Raikkonen

Next race is next week!  We'll be in Baku, Azerbaijan for the return of the Grand Prix of Europe and the debut of what looks to be a very promising street circuit.  We'll see you then!


Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:31 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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