April 30, 2017

F1 Update!: Russia 2017

A nice day greeted the Thundering Herd as they made their way to the grid.  For the first time since 2008, they were led by a pair of Ferraris as Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had locked out the first row of the grid.  Behind them, though, were the silver arrows of Mercedes.  Vallteri Bottas had managed to stay close to the Ferraris in quals, but oddly Lewis Hamilton was over a half-second behind.  Would he return to his normal pace?  Would Seb Vettel open his lead in the championship standings even farther?  Or would Raikkonen return to the top step of the podium for the first time since the first race of the 2013 season?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Russia!

*BEFORE: When you watch a Formula 1 race on television, there are a few things you are guaranteed to see.  Hordes of Ferrari-flag-waving fans.  Ultra-mega-slow-motion shots of a tire lockup.  A helicopter-based shot of the start.  And a new thing, a McLaren broken down on the side of the track.  During the Formation lap, Indy Alonso called back to his pit wall that he was down on power.  As it turned out, he had an ERS problem that prevented him from using about 150hp.  This, of course, was on top of the Honda power unit being an estimated 50 - 80hp down in comparison to the Mercedes power unit.  While the sight of a F1 car turning laps at speeds just slightly higher than what you can see on I-90E into Chicago may have been interesting, the McLaren had other ideas and expired before Alonso could park it under cover.  Since there were still removal crews on track when the race was ready to begin, another formation lap was indicated and one lap was taken from the race length.

*LIGHTS OUT:  Mercedes knew they only had one real chance to win, and that was to get past the Ferraris quickly.  The Ferraris appear to be better at long runs and at protecting their tires, so letting them dictate the pace would be a disaster for the silver team.  Once the red lights were extinguished, there would be a nearly 1km sprint to Turn 2.  Vettel had a good getaway from pole, but Vallteri Bottas had a better one and got past Raikkonen swiftly.  It then became a drag race between Vettel and Bottas, one where the Mercedes had a leg up; they had about a 3mph advantage over the red cars.  It was a near-run thing, but Bottas managed to get into Turn 2 before everybody else, taking the lead and accomplishing everything Mercedes could have wanted.  Behind him, Lewis Hamilton was boxed in behind Raikkonen and settled in to 4th place

*SAFETY CAR:  Both Haas's Lettuce Grosjean and Renault's Jolyon Palmer had had miserable race weekends.  It made sense, therefore, that the two of them would wreck each other in Turn 2, with Grosjean going for a short and low flight at one point.  Almost instantly Berndt Maylander was awakened from his slumber and the Safety Car sent out while the mess was swept up.

*RESTART:  As it turns out, Vallteri Bottas had never led the field in a safety car restart before.  Behind him, Vettel had plenty of experience in such situations and must have been hungry to make up for the first start.  Once Berndt Maylander returned to his cave in the pit lane, the field was entirely in the hands of Bottas who made the most of it.  He jumped on the gas just as Vettel shuffled his car around, trying to put heat in his tires.  By the time he hit the restart line, he had a full second in hand over the Ferrari.  He then began to pull away, opening a nearly six second lead by Lap 20 or so.

*TIRES:  At that point, it became obvious that the Ferraris were much gentler on their tires than the Mercs as Vettel began to whittle a half-second off the lead each lap for the next six.  Mercedes brought the leader into the pits for new tires on Lap 28.  Vettel stayed out an additional eight laps, but the pit rotation accomplished nothing: once everybody had stopped, the situation was exactly the same: Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton.

*IN THE END:  Bottas had four seconds in hand with 20 laps to go, but as the laps counted down, the fresher tires on the Ferrari began to show.  By Lap 47, with six laps remaining, the lead was down to 1.4 seconds.  It would drop as low as 0.8 seconds, with Vettel filling the mirrors of Bottas at every opportunity.  The two had to negotiate their way through backmarkers, which went well until they came across the Williams of Felipe Massa with two laps remaining.  Now, we aren't saying that Massa gave his former teammate Bottas preferential treatment, but Bottas got past the Williams with no problems while Vettel got hung up.  When the race ended a lap later, Vettel had cut the lead back down to 0.6 seconds and would have the advantage of a long, long DRS zone.  If he had one more lap, it seems likely that a pass would have been in the offing... a lap that was lost when the McLaren of Indy Alonso broke down on the first formation lap.  Instead, Bottas scored his maiden victory in 81 tries, while Raikkonen finished third.  Hamilton, suffering with serious overheating problems for most of the race, could only manage fourth place, nearly 40 seconds back.

*SNOOZE: After the first half of the first lap, there was not a single on-track pass for the rest of the race.  We just thought we should mention that.

Next up, Barcalounger in two weeks!  We'll see ya then!

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April 17, 2017

Mini-F1 Update!: Bahrain 2017

Unsurprisingly, the weather was dry in Bahrain, though strangely cool... a rather un-desert-like 72 degrees F.  Would this comfy weather be a good thing, or would it mean problems getting the tires to work?  And who would benefit?  Would it be the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, pole and second respectively?  Or maybe the Ferrari of Seb Vettel, sitting just behind the silver cars?  Or would Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull get its wings in the windy dunes?  THIS is your mini-F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Bahrain!

*LIGHTS OUT: As you would expect, it was a Mercedes that lead the Thundering Herd into Turn 1.  What you probably wouldn't expect is that it was Bottas, not Hamilton, doing the leading.  In fact, Hamilton wasn't even in second place.  That position was held by Vettel, who won the drag race between the two multiple-times world champions.  Vettel was unable to get past the Finn, despite the Merc's tires having been overpressurized accidentally... so what happened is that we had something of a train a-rollin', the likes of which we had not seen since Jarno (The Engineer) Trulli raced for Toyota.  Woe betide anybody who found themselves stuck in the JarnoTrain, for once there it was a rare soul indeed that could escape.  Understanding that it would be rough sledding to get past Bottas without completely torching their tire strategy, Ferrari took a gamble and called Vettel in on Lap 9.

*GOOD TIMING:  The German rejoined the race in 12th place, and it looked like a long slow slog up the field was in the offing.  And then Embryo Verstappen had "brake failure" and wound up going into the barriers, followed not much later by Pleasant Stroll and Carlos Sainz playing bumpercars and both drivers being out toot sweet.  Out came a Safety Car, into the pits went the field, and into the lead went Vettel... after all, he had just gotten new tires.  His friends in the Mercedes pits were having a bad day however, as malfunctioning tire guns caused Hamilton to have to wait for his teammate to clear the pitbox before work could be done on him.  In the process, it was judged that he had slowed down too much on the way to the pits and impeded Smiley Ricciardo.  A five-second penalty was duly handed down from the Stewards' office.

*THE MIDDLE:  After the race restarted, Vettel had a brief scare from Bottas, but the Finn could not stay with the Ferrari driver.  Meanwhile, Hamilton was unable (or unwilling) to attempt to pass his teammate.  As the two circulated and the audience wondered just why the team hadn't thrown down team orders, Vettel pulled farther and farther ahead.  Eventually Hamilton did get a free pass on Bottas, but he was  a good distance behind Vettel.

*TO THE END:  Vettel's second and final pitstop on Lap 33 promoted Hamilton to the lead, some 14 seconds up the road.  It quickly became apparent that the Brit was in a quandry.  The Ferrari on its fresh rubber was gobbling up huge amounts of time every lap.  By Lap 40, the lead was down to nine seconds, and Hamilton still had that five-second penalty to serve (or have added to his final time).  Yes, he could go to the end on the tires he had on, but given the way the Ferrari was charging, it didn't seem like a good idea.  But pitting would mean having to chase Vettel down... no easy feat.  Having a chance to win, however, was better than not, and Mercedes brought him in.  In the process, he served his five second penalty and rejoined the race in third, almost 16 seconds behind.  A stout push saw him cut the lead to just over six seconds (with the help of the German getting stuck behind some backmarkers), but it got no closer.  Seb Vettel swept across the finish line in first, becoming this season's first two-time winner.  Hamilton was second, Bottas third, and the bells were once again ringing in Maranello.

The safety car giveth, and the safety car taketh away.  Recall that last week in China, it was a safety car that helped Hamilton.  But it was that time penalty that really cooked Hamilton's goose.  After all, without it the lead would have been just over one second, and possibly less... and that would have made for some interesting times.

In two weeks, we'll find ourselves in Sochi for the Grand Prix of All The Mother Russias.  See ya then!

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April 09, 2017

F1 Update!: China 2017

A low and gray sky with a not-insignificant breeze greeted the Thundering Herd as they individually left their pit stalls and rolled out to the grid.  Actually, more often than not they came back through the pit lane for multiple pre-race laps.  There was a good reason for this: it had been raining all morning, and the possibility of rain coming back couldn't be discounted, but at the moment the track was drying.  The decision was clear on tire choice... everybody was on Intermediate rain tires.  Well, almost everybody.  But how would the slick track affect the drivers up front, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel's Ferrari?  Would a new rainmaster rise up?  And what of Embryo Verstappen, starting 16th after car problems in quals?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of China!

*LIGHTS ON: While the Inters were the tire of choice, one man dared venture out on the super-soft dry weather tires... Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz.  A pretty massive gamble, but one that came directly from the driver.  Meanwhile, up at the front of the grid, Seb Vettel had positioned his car somewhat off-center in his grid slot... and by "somewhat", we mean "half out."  He was doing this to be pointing in the right direction to challenge Hamilton right off the start, but the degree he was doing it was a clear rules violation.  The assembled members of F1U!'s editorial board were duly surprised when Charlie Whiting, the long-time race master for F1, let the race start without forcing Vettel to fix the problem.

*LIGHTS OUT
:  It didn't matter all that much, however.  Hamilton had a cracking start and held off both the Ferrari driver and his own teammate Valterri Bottas into Turn 1.  Behind them, Verstappen immediately began hacking his way through the field, ending up an amazing seventh after one lap.  Carlos Sainz, beginning the race on slicks, had a less-than-stellar start but quickly began to recover lost places as his tires showed their superiority over the Inters. 

*VSC, SC: Unfortunately Sainz never got to benefit from his gamble.  The Williams of Pleasant Stroll found himself buried in the kittylitter after a botched pass.  As it wasn't in an immediately dangerous location, Whiting called for a Virtual Safety Car.  This meant that everybody had to slow to a certain speed and, critically, hold position.  This let Lewis Hamilton keep his lead, and indeed, technically increase it when Vettel stopped for dry weather tires.  In a way, though, this meant that Vettel had the advantage: the Mercedes driver would have to change tires to slicks eventually, which would put the Ferrari in the catbird seat.  After all, Vettel changed his tires when everybody was rollin' slow.  Hamilton would have to do it when the race was green. The VSC lasted for a lap or so, then the field went back to racin'.  Until Sauber's Tony Snazzy managed to leave half his car scattered down the front straight after blasting the inside wall.  THAT brought out a real safety car, which gave Hamilton the break he needed to change to slicks.  He didn't even lose the lead while doing so.  Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz had to be wondering why the racing gods hated him.  His gamble deserved to work, and yet due to the failures of others, his advantage lasted a grand total of two racing laps.

*MIDDLE: Once the race resumed, Hamilton was in the lead and... Embryo Verstappen was in second place.  16th to 2nd in eight laps, not shabby.  However, the Red Bull driver could not keep up with the Mercedes.  Behind him, Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull had Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel all over him rear wing.  The Finn was totally unable to effect a pass, and was complaining about his car to boot.  Meanwhile, Vettel was frantically trying to get around his teammate and having a singular lack of success.  This went on for at least 10 laps, while Hamilton opened his lead over Verstappen dramatically.  Eventually, Vettel got past his teammate.  A lap or two later, he blew past Ricciardo and began tracking down the other Red Bull driver.  This chase only last a few laps before Vettel destroyed the youngster.  The difference in pace between the Ferrari and the Red Bull was telling, and he quickly left him in the dust, but the damage had been done: Hamilton had a 10 second lead.  One is forced to wonder why Ferrari didn't tell Raikkonen to let his teammate past... we know they're not afraid to use Team Orders, after all... but it's hard to conclude anything but Ferrari threw away any chance to win the race during the time Vettel spent behind the Finn.

*END: As it turned out, that's exactly what happened.  Hamilton made his last stop for new tires after everybody else, never lost the lead, and cruised to a relatively easy win.  There is reason for optimism down the road, however.  While Hamilton did win handily, he wasn't able to open his lead on Vettel at all, and indeed he lost time here and there.  The Ferrari was actually faster than the Mercedes... but the race was lost during those laps where Vettel couldn't get past his teammate.  Meanwhile, the third step on the podium was claimed by none other than Embryo Verstappen.  From 16th to podium?  That's a useful drive, yep yep!  It's hard to think anything other than we'll be seeing a bunch of those three during the rest of the season.  Carlos Sainz's daring gamble earned him something of a booby prize: he finished seventh.  Points, at least.

*OH, ONE MORE THING...:  Hamilton got himself a Grand Slam today: pole position, fast lap of the race, led every lap, and race win.  That's his third, and only Vettel's four has more among active drivers.  Jim Clark had eight.

So that's it for China, next week we'll be in Bahrain!  See ya there.

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