October 31, 2017
F1 Update!: Mexico 2017 A perfect day for racing greeted the F1 Fiesta as they sat on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez's grid. A tense atmosphere still hung over the crowd though, as everybody knew they were about to see a showdown that would probably decide the World Driver's Championship. On pole was Ferrari's Seb Vettel, who needed to finish at least 2nd to have any chance of extending the fight to Brazil. Next to him on the front row was the latest wunderkind to take the Formula 1 world by storm, Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen. He had no dog in the hunt for the Championship, but very much wanted a win. And behind them was the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, points leader who only needed to finish fifth or above to clinch his fourth driver's championship... or have Vettel finish below 2nd. These three could honestly be expected to not hold back in the nearly kilometer long run to the first turn... the first car there would have an advantage for the rest of the race on the narrow Mexico City circuit. So what happened? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Mexico!
*LIGHTS OUT: The drag race was exactly as exciting as predicted. The big names were three wide as they piled into the braking zone for the first turn, but as Vettel had the inside line, he held primacy of place... for about twenty feet or so. Coming out of Turn 1, Verstappen pulled alongside the Ferrari, and to the left which put him on the inside for the approaching Turn 2. Vettel was slightly balked by the Red Bull, made very light contact with it, and had to back off the accelerator a touch to avoid anything worse. This loss of momentum opened the door for Hamilton to come charging through, taking second away from the German as they barreled into Turn 3. Then there was carbon fiber flying everywhere and Hamilton's Mercedes was limping. The Ferrari had lost half its front wing, the silver car had a flat right rear tire, and Verstappen could be heard going "ha ha" as he galloped away.
*QUESTIONS QUESTIONS: The aerodynamically impaired Ferrari made it back to the pits well before Hamilton... it could still go fast after all, it just didn't have much in the way of downforce for the turns. A new nose was slapped on, as was the hardest compound of tire on offer for the weekend... clearly Vettel was looking at going the rest of the race on one set of rubber. Mercedes decided to do the same for their car. Both drivers were at the back of the field, with Hamilton in dead last. The question now became very simple: could Vettel fight his way up to second place from the rear of the field? The corollary to that was "could Hamilton do the same thing"? Neither man had a chance to win, of course... or did they? Embryo wasn't known for his... um... stability behind the wheel, after all.
*WHOLE AND BROKEN: Soon enough, the early answers to the questions posed came in... "maybe" and "nope." The driver of the Prancing Horse began to pull himself up the field, slowly but surely, and seeming to have to fight tooth and hoof for every position. His encounter with Massa for 15th place nearly saw them come together in what must have been a terrifying moment for Vettel... to lose a shot at the championship because frickin' MASSA wouldn't get out of his way? Ridiculous! On the other end of the spectrum was Hamilton's Mercedes... stuck in 19th place for so long that Verstappen lapped him on Lap 20. As it turned out, the collision with Vettel caused more damage than was immediately apparent. The Merc's diffuser had been broken, either by the impact or by the flailing tire, in such a way that much of its effectiveness was gone.
*HOW DO YOU SAY 'KABLAMMO' IN FRENCH?: First came Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull, which ate another turbocharger. Then Brendan Hair-tly's Toro Rosso came to a stop on the side of the track, flames issuing from the exhaust pipe. Nico Hulkenberg's Renault died via KERS failure, the team instructing him to exit via the nose of the car and to jump off so as to not ground himself. Carlos Sainz's French car retired from self-inflicted handling issues. This left only Pierre Ghastly's Toro Rosso and Verstappen's Red Bull as cars with Renault power still running... and both pit walls were terrified by what they could see was coming. Hair-tly's failure brought out a Virtual Safety Car on Lap 31. This allowed both Vettel and Hamilton to throw out their one-stopper plans and put on fast tires. Verstappen's lead over second-place Valterri Bottas was some 11 seconds at this point.
*AH THE CONFIDENCE OF YOUTH: Around Lap 40 or so, Red Bull's pit wall instructed Young Master Verstappen to perhaps slow down just a touch so as not to risk angering the engine gods. A lap later came the radio call "Okay Embryo, so that (lap time) was the same as the previous lap." A moment or two of silence, then the Dutch driver responded with "I'm really sorry." For some reason, the obvious laughter in his voice suggested he wasn't very sorry at all.
*BETTING ON RED: With Verstappen dominating the race, all eyes turned to the Ferrari of Seb Vettel. By Lap 35, the halfway point, he was in 8th place. In most circumstances, this would have been a fantastic finishing position considering the problems at the start... but he may as well have been on the Moon for all it was worth to him. He continued to pull his way up the field, the new fast tires making all the difference in the world. On Lap 57 of 71, he managed to make his way past the Force India of False Esteban! to take fourth position. Far behind him, both in track position and in time, Hamilton had dragged his broken Merc up to 10th.
*OH. OH DEAR.: Vettel was in fourth, but needed desperately to reach second. It was a subdued pit wall that radioed him, letting him know that his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, was in third. Normally, this would be a GOOD thing for the German, because team orders would force the Finn to give the position up. But the pit wall continued, this time with the bad news: he was 24 seconds behind Raikkonen. Left unsaid was the gap from Raikkonen to Bottas: another 27 seconds. Vettel's reply really left nothing more to be said: "Oh mamma mia." Stereotypical Italian comment aside, the German could not relax. He needed to be closer to his teammate so he could realistically be allowed past if Bottas had problems, and of course four Renault-powered cars were already out of the race, three of the retirements power-unit related. For all his dominance on the day, Verstappen could be out in the blink of an eye, and Vettel would have his second place finish.
*WITHER HAMILTON: You know it's a bad day for Mercedes when their lead driver and three-time world champion is fighting Fernando Alonso's McLaren for 9th place, but there they were, throwing haymakers and uppercuts at each other. Alonso later said that he thought the McLaren was "the best chassis on the grid", and he may be right... certainly he was able to hold off a damaged Mercedes for some good clean racing. Probably the best of the day, truth be told. Alonso did eventually come out behind in their little tete a tete, but that meant that he had only managed to climb some nine positions on the day instead of 10. Not too bad for a car with a wind-up engine in it.
*THE END: Vettel managed to get within 15 seconds of his podium-bound teammate, but no closer. Raikkonen was a whopping 33 seconds behind Bottas' second-place Mercedes. But 20 seconds ahead of them all was Embryo Verstappen's Red Bull, taking his second race victory of the season. But nobody really noticed that, because all eyes were on Hamilton who was celebrating his fourth world driver's championship.
The next race is in two weeks in Brazil... see you then!
October 22, 2017
F1 Update!: United States 2017 A perfect day in Austin greeted the crowd as they filed into the Circuit of the Americas. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air, as it was possible we'd be seeing not one but two championships ended today. Polesitter Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes would be trying to make that happen, Seb Vettel and Ferrari would be trying to prevent it. It was, pretty much, just that simple. So, did it happen? Would the winner wear a stetson again? Would they do the toast with Lone Star beer, or would it be Shiner Bock? And was that Bill Clinton? THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 United States Grand Prix!
*LETS GET READY...: The new owners of Formula 1, Liberty Media, is an American company, and this was the first time since the acquisition that the race weekend was in-country. They made sure to not let the chance to let loose get past them. First the drivers' parade, which usually sees the individual drivers in convertibles, instead had the drivers in the back of a Peterbilt. But that wasn't all, oh no, not at all. No less an announcer than Michael Buffer was brought in to do driver introductions, and what introductions they were! Driver nicknames abounded: K-Mag, The Torpedo, The Hulk, El Matador, The Canadian Heartbreaker, The Dutch Lion, "Always Smiling, The Iceman, Kimi Raikkonen", Ricky Rocket... The Honeybadger!... really, you have to watch them to appreciate the effort. Particularly the intro for Ricciardo. Buffer would come back to give the command to start engines in his usual inimitable style. Of course, reactions to the whole spectacle have been... mixed. It generally works out to: Americans don't see a problem, Europeans are disgusted. We here at F1U! see the attempt to relate to American race fans (NASCAR does this every major race, and the Indy 500 too) as fantastic and exactly what Liberty needs to do. Plus it's hilarious that they called Kid Kvyat "The Torpedo".
*LIGHTS OUT: Once the wackiness was over, it was time to settle in for the main attraction... the actual race. The highly anticipated start did not disappoint. Seb Vettel did what he had to do, which was get in front of Lewis Hamilton as soon as possible. He had a better break off the lights than the Mercedes driver, gave a little twitch to his right to push Hamilton a little farther out, and jumped into the lead before they got through Turn 1. More importantly, he held it. By the end of the first lap, Vettel had already gotten far enough ahead to prevent the use of DRS by Hamilton. Behind them, Max "The Dutch Lion" Verstappen began to hack his way up the field after being forced to start 16th due to engine penalties. By the end of Lap 2, he had already made it up to 11th and we suddenly realized that he might actually be racing for a podium spot. Sure, he'd have to pass his teammate and probably a Ferrari and a Mercedes to get there, but we've gotten to the point where we're no longer surprised by the result when one of the top cars starts at the back. Anything was possible.
*STILL HE RISES: Vettel's lead held firm for five laps, but Hamilton knew he had nothing to worry about. The Ferrari was pushing its tires hard, but couldn't leave the Merc behind. On Lap 6, with the advantage of DRS helping down the straight, the championship leader became the race leader with only the slightest of defense attempts from Vettel. Behind them, the expiration of The Honey Badger's power unit made The Dutch Lion's job easier down the road, removing one of the podium contenders from the field. Indeed, Ricciardo would probably have been the toughest car to pass, just because of team orders. No need to worry about that anymore.
*OH SO CLOSE: Unable to run down the polesitter and his tires beginning to blister, Vettel made his pitstop on Lap 17. Once he returned to the race, he began ripping off hot lap after hot lap while Mercedes kept Hamilton on for as long as they could. When Vettel had headed for the pits, Hamilton was 4.4 seconds ahead of the Ferrari. Hamilton stopped on Lap 21, and returned to the race only just barely ahead of the Red Car. The radio calls from the two drivers told the story: Vettel was apologetic, saying that he had blown it, while Hamilton chided his team, asking why it had been so nearly a disaster? While a fair question, that may not have been the best time to pose it. Just sayin'. Oh, and just a note: when the field began to make their stops, Verstappen suddenly found himself leading the race. It wouldn't last of course... he still needed to stop after all... but that still had to bode well for his podium hopes.
*PLAN B: Having held the lead through the pit rotation, Hamilton once again began to pull away from the Ferrari. By Lap 35 his lead was approaching seven seconds, and Vettel was asking his pit wall to consider Plan B. "Plan B" consisted of a second pit stop, with the Ferrari being put onto a gently used set of Super-Soft tires. This seemed a curious move, as he now not only had to pass Hamilton, but rejoining the race in fourth he also had to pass the other Mercedes of Valterri Bottas. If he managed that trick, he'd then need to pass the Always Smiling Finn. This wouldn't be a problem... Ferrari would just tell Raikkonen to let him past. A complicating factor appeared on the scene fairly quickly, in the form of Red Bull's Verstappen, now up to fifth and closing fast.
*TO THE BITTER END: On Lap 40, Vettel was approximately 15 seconds adrift of 3rd place, which was actually his teammate at that moment. Raikkonen would pass Bottas a couple of laps later. Ten laps cut the gap to under a second, but Bottas made it difficult for Vettel. The Ferrari could get close using DRS, but couldn't quite overcome the power advantage the Merc engine provided. So Vettel went for guts and driving skill instead. Running down the front straight behind Bottas, the Ferrari driver went around the outside of Turn 1. At this point, all Bottas would have needed to do is drift wide on the exit of the turn which would either push Vettel off-track or force him to back off. Except the lapped McLaren of Stoffelwaffle was there already, and Bottas stayed inside. This left a gap just a bit wider than a F1 car for Vettel to slip through, which he did. With the momentum advantage, he easily passed the Mercedes and began running away. The next lap saw Vettel go by his teammate, to nobody's surprise. What was surprising was that Verstappen got by Bottas with only a small amount of trouble for fourth.
*THE AFOREMENTIONED BITTER END: Vettel had no chance of catching Hamilton, being some 10 seconds back, but finishing in second minimized the damage to his championship chances. Still, it wasn't the end he was looking for. Behind him, drama was occurring. On the last lap, Verstappen had closed in on Raikkonen. Into the Turn 16-17-18 complex the Red Bull driver made his move to the inside. The Ferrari driver, who later said he had no idea the Dutchman was there, strayed a little off the racing line which forced Verstappen to take to the curbs to avoid an accident. He didn't lift though, and managed to power past the Red Car to take third, a podium finish, after starting 16th. A marvelous performance from the young phenom.
*OH DEAR: It was during the cooldown lap that the notification came down from on high... the race stewards were investigating Verstappen's pass on Raikkonen. The Dutch Lion had parked his car and made his way into the podium green room, where he was relaxing before the ceremony, when the stewards decision came down. They judged him to have left the track limits with all four tires and gained a competitive advantage from doing so. During the race, they'd require him to relinquish the position. With the race over, all they could do is give Verstappen a five second time penalty. This had the effect of dropping him from third to fourth, and giving third back to Raikkonen. In something of a bad deal, Ferrari was informed before anybody could let Verstappen know. Indeed, the first that the youngster knew of the stewards even looking at the pass was when Raikkonen walked into the green room. He was told a few moments later, and left with an... odd look on his face. Sort of a cross between "what's going on" and "I'm going to kill someone soon". On the podium, Hamilton was presented with the winner's trophy by Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States. One wonders why either of the Bush Presidents, Texas natives, weren't there instead, but that matters not. An impressive race all around, and one that clinched the Manufacturer's Championship for Mercedes for the 4th season in a row.
*WHAT THE...?: Late in the race, during a shot of Turn 1, we saw this:
Now THAT'S a damn big bird! Or a CG overlay, one of the two. It seems likely it was CG... it seems too unlikely that an eagle would fly across the race track just as a Haas car, the American team, approached the turn... particularly one THAT size. A very weird moment from FOM, that.
So there ya go, the US Grand Prix! Next race is the Grand Prix of Mexico next weekend! See ya then!
October 08, 2017
F1 Update!: Japan 2017 The nicest day of the weekend greeted the Herd as they made their way up to the grid. Unlike Friday Practice, which had buckets o' rain coming down when it wasn't falling in sheets, or Saturday Quals, which was gray and dreary, the sky was blue and the sun was bright as racetime approached. Lewis Hamilton sat on pole... again... with a new track record... again... and looked ready to win... again. Normally having your rival next to you on the grid isn't the most comfortable feeling. The Ferrari of Seb Vettel sat in the second spot, but his team had removed the engine cover on his car with just minutes to go and were working feverishly. They got him buttoned up in time, but the German couldn't have been happy. So how did all that work out? THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Japan!
*LIGHTS OUT: Hamilton didn't have the best of starts once the race finally began, but that turned out not to be a big deal because none of the cars around him did either. Behind him, last week's race winner, Embryo Verstappen, got past Vettel's Ferrari in a slick little move at just about the same time that Carlos Sainz, in his last race with Toro Rosso before he moves to Renault, buried himself in the tire barriers sideways. The accident was stiff and the car was out of the race, but because of its location the marshals had to bring out heavy machinery to carry it off. We here at F1U! would be lying if we said that we didn't have flashbacks to the tragic 2015 Grand Prix of Japan at this moment. Fortunately for everybody's sanity, a Safety Car was immediately summoned as Lap 2 began.
*HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND: It became obvious that whatever it was that Ferrari had been working on in Vettel's engine before the race, they hadn't gotten it repaired. Once the race restarted, he was almost instantly swarmed over by three cars. The Ferrari was clearly down on power... we later found out he was over 20mph in the hole... and the team soon told him to return to the pits and retire the car. The culprit that crippled this high-tech marvel, this paragon of racing? A spark plug. We can only assume it had only been made with a core of Californium, instead of the usual metal smelted from asteroids. In the garage, Vettel clearly realized that any chance he had of winning the driver's championship was realistically gone.
*THE REST: Hamilton opened his lead over Verstappen's Red Bull to around five seconds or so, but couldn't quite get away from the Dutchman. Every time he would look to be pulling away, someone else would wreck and a Virtual Safety Car would be called out. The last one, called out when Pleasant Stroll had a wheel rim failure, let Verstappen be in position to narrow things down to less than a second after the restart.
*CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR: For a couple of laps right at the end, it looked like we actually had a race on our hands. Verstappen actually appeared to be faster over the entire lap, but getting past another car on the fairly narrow Suzuka circuit is difficult at the best of times. When your target is Lewis Hamilton and his closest rival is in the pits? Unlikely, to say the least. Throw in hitting traffic at just the wrong time, and Verstappen never had a chance. He'd follow Hamilton home in second place, just over a second behind. It was an easy drive for the Mercedes driver, but he had to drive a clean race... one mistake and the Red Bull would have been past him. That mistake never occurred. The other Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo finished third, almost 10 seconds back.
Not the best race of the season. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it dull, the final few laps notwithstanding. It is probably going to be the most important race of the year though, as Hamilton now has a 54 point lead over Vettel with four races to go. Indeed, if he wins the next race and Vettel finishes sixth or below, the championship ends right there.
And that next race? We return to Austin Texas for the US Grand Prix in two weeks! See ya then!
October 02, 2017
F1 Update!: Malaysia 2017 A gray, gloomy sky over Kuala Lumpur greeted the Thundering Herd as it made its way to the starting grid. Polesitter Lewis Hamilton had to be experiencing mixed feelings as his Mercedes sat in its prime spot. On one hand, he was on pole having put in a great lap during qualifying. On the other, his Mercedes was acting like a temperamental diva. The team couldn't dial it in for long stints and little technical gremlins were running around the insides of the power unit. On the whole, though, it was a good position to be in, particularly considering his main rival, Ferrari's Seb Vettel, was dead last after a technical failure in quals. Just behind Hamilton sat birthday boy Embryo Verstappen's Red Bull. The Dutchman had celebrated his 20th birthday the previous day and the Red Bulls were feeling particularly racy the whole weekend. So what happened next? THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Malaysia!
*BEFORE: After a qualifying session that saw him take second spot on the grid, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was asked what his goal was for the race. "I'd like to get more than 100 meters," replied the Finn, a reference to the race in Singapore two weeks prior. He didn't. Some engine glitch kept him in the garage until the very last moment, then the team sent him to take his place in the starting lineup. Once there, the mechanics began working on the car again, taking the rear bodywork off so they could tinker with the power unit. Ultimately this proved fruitless, the team pushing the car back to the pits to work on it while the rest of the cars went on their way to take the start. In the end, Ferrari would retire the car. We can only assume Raikkonen got himself some ice cream.
*LIGHTS OUT: The run down to Turn 1 in Malaysia is one of the longest on the calendar, plenty of time for mischief to be perpetrated by those desperate or unaware. Throw in Embryo Verstappen, not known for his love of carbon fiber (unless it's in tiny pieces), being up at the front and Hamilton had to be wondering if HE'd make it through the first turn in one piece. The weather played a part in the start, despite there not being a drop of rain in the sky. Earlier in the day, it had rained and the grid was damp... or, to be correct, half the grid was damp. It seems that half of the track had been resurfaced some time in the past. The two surface materials used, left and right, were not the same. As a result, the even-numbered side of the grid was visibly wetter than the odd side. Once the race began, the cars starting on the right side of the grid all made better starts than the ones on the left. It didn't matter much in the long run, but there you are. For a wonder, the entire field made it through the first set of turns without too much damage... or indeed, any at all that we could see. By the end of Lap 1, Hamilton led Verstappen, who led Valterri Bottas in third. Remember that Seb Vettel guy, starting back in 20th? By the end of Lap 1, he was 13th, and quickly moved up to 12th.
*AND THEN...: At the beginning of Lap 4, DRS was enabled, and the Red Bull in second place was within the one-second zone of the leader, though only just. The rear wing slot popped open, and voila! 12mph bonus to Verstappen's speed down the straight. He made up the gap to Hamilton quickly enough, but looked to be too far back to make any sort of move. Wrong. The Dutchman decided that he didn't need to brake until it was almost too late, zipped past the Mercedes on the inside, and made the move stick out of the twisty complex at the end of the front straight. As it turned out, the Mercs were having problems with their KERS systems not recharging fast enough, and Hamilton had been caught with his battery boost not able to produce as much power as it should. If it had been, there may have been more of a defense made. Or perhaps not; Hamilton is leading the Driver's Championship, and with Vettel far, far behind on track, there was no need for the Brit to tempt fate by dueling with the birthday boy.
*MEANWHILE: Vettel's Ferrari was making steady progress on-track. The man he picked off for 12th, Nico Hulkenberg, was having some difficulty with his car so he pitted earlier than expected. Concerned that he would undercut them in the pits, four other drivers pitted for new tires, promoting Vettel into sixth place. He would take care of Sergio Perez for fifth place on Lap 19. Fifteen places in 19 laps... pretty good work, that.
*UP FRONT: Verstappen was doing to Lewis Hamilton what Hamilton had regularly done to any car that wasn't a Mercedes for much of the past four years: he was driving away. The lead would reach nine seconds and stay right around that amount for a very long time indeed. Meanwhile, behind those two worthies we find the other Red Bull, that of Smiley Ricciardo camped out in third, but nervously glancing in his mirrors all the time. That's because Vettel, after having a nice little scrap with Bottas, had moved into fourth position. Worst still for Ricciardo, Vettel was on fresher, faster tires and was turning laps a full second faster than anybody else on track. All of that had to be sitting in the back of the German's head... if only his car had worked on Saturday, this clearly would have been his race.
*CATCH AND RELEASE: The Ferrari steadily closed in on the Australian, filling the Red Bull's mirrors like a T-Rex chasing a Land Rover. Then, as Lap 48 turned into Lap 49, with the Ferrari pit wall telling him to "attack now", Vettel made his move... which Ricciardo smoothly blocked as they approached the braking zone for Turn 1. The Ferrari driver backed down, and shortly thereafter began to lose time to the Australian. He had raced his tires off, and he was unable to challenge again.
*THE END: For a wonder, Red Bull's Max Verstappen cruised home with a lead that was nigh on 13 seconds over Hamilton's Mercedes. Ten seconds behind him came Ricciardo, who's gap over Vettel for the final podium spot had opened up to 15 seconds... a marvelous display of damage containment by the Ferrari driver. It had looked like Hamilton would have buried his nearest challenger. Instead, he barely managed to buy the shovel he would need to start digging. Throw in the temperamental state of the W08 recently, and Hamilton had to have some concerns.
*...THE HELL?: As the drivers were on their cooldown lap, we were treated to camera shots of Verstappen being happy in cockpit, with lots of yelling over the radio. He had become the youngest driver in F1 history to win a race, breaking Seb Vettel's record by over a year... or he would have, if he didn't already hold the record, having won his first race in 2016 at the age of 18 and change. And then the cameras frantically cut away to show us this:
Vettel had been behind the Williams of Pleasant Stroll as they were on their cooldown laps, with the Ferrari moving somewhat faster. When they approached the next turn, the Ferrari driver went past Stroll. There was a coming together and the Ferrari ended up a shambles. The Williams, on the other hand wasn't even scuffed. Both drivers blamed the other. It is the opinion of F1U! that Vettel probably should never have put himself in that position in the first place... he's got a championship to fight for, and while this happened after the race, suspension damage often causes collateral damage to the engine or gearbox. Changing those would give a penalty for the next race. Reports are that the gearbox is undamaged, but those reports weren't coming from Ferrari. Very, very bizarre, and not the first time this season that Vettel has done something stupid.
So that's it for Malaysia. Next race is next week, at F1U!'s official favorite circuit, Suzuka in Japan. See ya then!
October 01, 2017
Malaysia 2017 Delayed! Sorry everybody, I got started on the F1U! much too late for me to get it done Sunday. It'll be up Monday night.
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