November 26, 2017

F1 Update!: Abu Dhabi 2017, The Season's Over Edition

So with that, the 2017 season drives off into the sunset... literally, considering the sun went down during the course of the race today.  The championships had been sewn up for weeks.  It was theoretically possible for Mercedes' Valterri Bottas to take 2nd in the Driver's Championship, but he'd have to win and Ferrari's Seb Vettel would have to finish... um... 9th or below, it looks like.  Half of the staff of F1Update! called in today, too busy spending the holiday weekend with family or friends or both.  So it was a depleted crew that gathered in the F1U! Media Center And Snack Bar as the F1 Circus waited for the lights to go out.  What sort of show did we see?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi! 

*LIGHTS OUT:  We're changing our mind.  We're not going to do bullet points tonight.  The conversation, it flows through us.  Because whooo-boy, this was a big race full o' nuthin'.  Right from the start, Bottas took the lead from teammate/world champion Lewis Hamilton and would essentially not relinquish it for the rest of the day.  However, almost immediately we here in the F1U! Media Center And Pizza Joint became incredibly suspicious.  Hamilton didn't exactly attack the first turn the way he normally does... not that Bottas gave him much in the way of opportunity to do so.  

And thus it came to pass that when the first lap ended, the top 12 cars on the starting grid... were still in the same position they started in.  This did not come without some tomfoolery, though, as Nico Hulkenberg's Renault had been passed by the Force India of Sergio Perez.  Hulkenberg, aware that the drab and boring Top 12 thing was resting fully on his shoulders, decided to take the place back by the simple expedient of ignoring Turn 12 altogether.  He would eventually be given a five second time penalty, which he served during his only pitstop.  It made no difference however, as he was able to open enough of a gap on Perez to come out ahead on the whole thing.  Makes us here at the F1U! Media Center And Ball Pit wonder when someone is going to do it intentionally and win a race by doing so...

Anyway.  Bottas and Hamilton began to open a lead on Vettel in third, while Bottas stayed around two seconds, give or take, ahead of his teammate.  It is true that Yas Marina Circuit is difficult to pass at, but we suspect that if there had been anything to gain, Hamilton would have been giving it a bit more effort.  Kind of like this writeup, come to that.  When the two Mercs made their respective pitstops, Hamilton tried... he put in some quick times in the laps between Bottas' stop and his own, and the stop itself was faster than the Finn's... but it was to no avail.  It was going to take a Safety Car situation to close them up.  There were two opportunities for Berndt Maylander to wake from his eternal slumber and make an appearance.  The first was when Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo was told to retire the car due to a hydraulics failure.  He found the biggest patch of grass in Dubai and nearly managed to roll it behind the wall for the track workers.  The second time was later in the race when Renault let Carlos Sainz leave the pits without ever actually tightening the left-front wheel nut.  Yup, the gunner never bothered.  While this sounds like something that would happen at the F1U! Media Center And Lube Rack, it probably shouldn't during a F1 race.  Just saying, y'know?

As the laps ticked down, the race settled into the processional we here at the F1U! Media Center And Parade Organizational Facility had expected all along.  Late it looked like we could possibly have some action when Bottas locked up a wheel.  That allowed Hamilton to close into possible attack range, but the Finn was able to fend off the World Champ easily enough.  After this, it was clear that the Brit said "okay, you win".  From spending the entire race within two seconds or so, he was suddenly four seconds back.  And that's the way it stayed, the two Mercs finishing 1-2, with the Ferrari of Seb Vettel a distant 15 seconds behind Hamilton.  After that, it was nearly a half-minute of waiting before the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line, Embryo Verstappen nipping at his diffuser as he did.  There was then another wait of 40 seconds before Hulkenberg finished.  

After the race, the two Mercedes drivers pulled onto the pit straight and proceeded to do donuts for the crowd, with the World Champion showing that one skill he doesn't have is doing donuts in a F1 car.  Here's Bottas, carving perfect circles of rubber onto the track surface as befits the android he is, then there's Hamilton, flooping around like he's hooked up to a spirograph.  We here at the F1U! Media Center And Etch-A-Sketch Art Gallery could only roll our eyes and groan.  Which we then did, loudly and with feeling, when the Williams of Felipe Massa slowly edged its way into the picture.  Yes, we know it's your last race, Felipe.  No, we don't care, you had your moment in Brazil.  The staff of the F1U! Media Center and Etiquette Facility tut-tutted savagely.  We figure he thought he'd be the only one out there and by the time he realized the Mercs were, y'know, celebrating their season-long accomplishments, it was too late to turn back to the pits.  Even Massa's long-time chief mechanic, Rob Smedley, asked "are you sure you're supposed to be there?"  No, Rob, he wasn't.  Thanks for asking, though.

In the end, the only change this race presented was Renault passing Toro Rosso for sixth in the Constructor's Championship.  That went Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso, Haas, McLaren, and Sauber disappointingly brought up the rear.  With a whimper, the 2017 Season came to a close, leaving the members of the F1U! Media Center and Prognostication Division to wonder: "wither the sport?"  Things need to be fixed, from penalties for parts changes to constant domination by one team or another.  Perhaps Liberty Media can pull it off, perhaps they can't.  We'll find out in 118 days, in Melbourne.  See ya then!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:28 PM | Comments (10) | Add Comment
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November 13, 2017

F1 Update!: Brazil 2017

A brilliantly sunny day greeted the F1 Circus as they made their way to the grid, led by the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas.  The Finn was going to have to carry the banner for the Silver Arrows on this day as his world champion teammate, Lewis Hamilton, was starting from the pit lane after binning his car in Quals.  He had his work cut out for him as the two Ferraris were right behind him in second and third, led by Seb Vettel, and the Italian team was desperate for a win.  Every team wants to end a season on a high note, true, but Ferrari actually led both championships for a substantial portion of the season before watching Merc run away from them.  Face needs must be saved.  So what occurred?  What transpired?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Brazil!

*SOMEONE SET US UP THE BOMB:  After his visit to the barriers during Qualifying, Lewis Hamilton was going to be starting from somewhere around last place on the grid, so the team made the strategic decision to actually start him from the pit lane.  Why is this important?  Because it allowed changes to be made to the car's setup.  The Mercedes has proven to be rather persnickity regarding the weather this season.  It isn't fond of cool track temperatures, being unable to get its tires up to operating levels, so the team has to do everything it can to get heat into them.  This slows the car down.  The weather for Quals was cool and not sunny, so both Mercs were set up for that... and it got Bottas the pole.  However, race day came and it was both warm AND sunny; the track temperature was right in the Merc's sweet spot.  After the end of Qualifying, however, the cars go into parc ferme and cannot be worked on or adjusted in any way unless there's a safety issue, and even then it's a case of "like for like."  The race Powers That Be have to approve the switching of parts, and will watch the change like a hawk.  THEN the car goes back into parc ferme.  That was Bottas' position.  But Hamilton?  Since he was already going to be starting from the back, starting from the pit lane would be no great hardship, and it meant that the parc ferme rules did not apply; they could make any changes they desired.  And they desired to change the setup for hot weather.  Oh, and to replace almost everything on the car, from floor to engine.  It would make a substantial difference.

*LIGHTS OUT:  Once the five red lights went out, we had the usual drag race to the first turn between Bottas on the outside and Vettel on the inside.  Neither driver had great starts, wheelspin being the thing to begin with.  It was Vettel who managed to get the power down to the asphalt first and he passed Bottas as they reached the braking zone for Turn 1.  One turn later, all became chaos.  Smiley Ricciardo spun his Red Bull, and behind him Kevin Magnussen and Stoffelwaffle did Very Bad Things to each other.  This would call out the Safety Car, and only instants after the notification came out we had another wreck, this time when Lettuce Grosjean lost his Haas and broke False Esteban! into the kittylitter.  This would prove terminal for False Esteban!'s race, bringing to an end a remarkable string: ever since he began racing single-seaters in the 2014 Formula 3 season, he had never retired from a race.  Alas, no more.

*SAFETY CAR:  As Berndt Maylander was woken from his dark slumber, Lewis Hamilton had to be chortling with glee.  Starting from the pit lane had allowed him to totally avoid all the crashing and the wrecking and the glavin! and find himself in 13th.  Seven positions in just a couple of laps?  Not bad.  Many changed tires during the Safety Car, but not the leaders, and not Hamilton, who began the race on the Soft tires (the hardest compound on offer) and looked to be going long in the first stint, and finish up with a sprint on the ultramegawowthesearesoft tires.  The Safety Car also had the effect of gathering the field back together.  Hamilton may have been in 13th place, but he was only seven seconds behind Vettel.

*READY SET GO:  After the restart, Vettel managed to open a two second gap to Bottas, but no farther.  However, they began pulling away from the rest of the field; they both wanted the win so badly there was never any thought to playing it safe or protecting the tires.  As they ran away and hid, the cameras slid back to where the action was... with another silver-colored car.

*CHAAAARGE!:  On Lap 5, when the Safety Car went away, Hamilton was 13th.  On Lap 6, he was 12th, having passed Pleasant Stroll.  On Lap 7, he was 11th, getting by Sony Ericcson.  Lap 8 saw our champion leave Pierre Ghastly behind for 10th.  You can be forgiven for thinking that Lap 9 would see him in 9th place.  In reality, he was 8th, having passed both Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg.  He then began to slack off, taking five laps to pass Sergio Perez for 7th.  Now yes, Hamilton was in a much better car than everybody he passed, but that was still some mighty fine driving.  And it wasn't over yet... at this point, Hamilton asked his crew a stunning question: "Is Vettel getting away?"  In fact, he was only 16 seconds behind the leader at this point.

*PITS: By Lap 29, all the leaders had pitted for fresh tires... and Lewis Hamilton was leading the Brazilian Grand Prix (that's a lot of Grand Prix!).  And he would hold that lead for 14 laps until he had to make his one stop for tires.  He'd rejoin in 5th place, nine seconds behind Embryo Verstappen's Red Bull.

*NO... HE CAN'T, CAN HE?:  On fresh tires, Hamilton immediately began reeling in the youthful Dutchman.  On Lap 59, he took 4th place and immediately set off for the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen only two seconds ahead.  He would begin hounding the veteran, narrowing the lead to as little as 0.9 seconds.  Once Hamilton locked up going into a turn, however, it was clear that his remarkable day had come to an end, his tires cooked and the Merc wobbling.

*THE END:  When the race finally ended, the top four finishers, Vettel-Bottas-Raikkonen-Hamilton, were covered by less than 5.50 seconds.  There was then a 27 second gap back to Verstappen.  In many ways, this 1 - 3 result was exactly what Ferrari needed.  But there had to be a dark cloud hanging around, caused by Hamilton's storming drive.  It wouldn't have been hard to imagine the champion on the podium... or if he had began the race near his normal grid position, running away and hiding from the rest of the field.

Next race is the last race, Abu Dhabi in two weeks.  We'll see ya then for the finish!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:43 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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