September 18, 2017

F1 Update!: Singapore 2017

Sometimes we hate it when we're right.  

THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Singapore!

*BEFORE: While it always rains in Singapore in the afternoon, there's never actually been rain during the race.  And up until about 20 minutes before race start, it looked like that was going to stay the case.  But the clouds above the city-state suddenly began to flash with sheet lightning and the strategy wonks in the pit lane all started to cry in unison.  The rain came shortly thereafter, building in intensity until the gazebos began to sprout on the pit straight.  Teams waiting until the very last moment before they bolted on tires.  It worked out about 50-50 between Intermediates and Wets, with all the serious runners on the lesser of the rain rubber.  The recon lap showed that the front straight was the driest past of the circuit, with some parts looking like pontoons were needed more than tires.  Worse still were the huge clouds of spray coming up from all the cars: only polesitter Seb Vettel had an unobstructed view.  Everybody else could see between "almost nothing" and "completely blind." 

*LIGHTS OUT: When the race finally began, both the Ferrari of Vettel and the Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen made... um... meh starts.  Not good, not bad, just there.  As they charged down to the first turn, Vettel began to move to his left, squeezing in on the young Netherlander.  Verstappen held his ground until the last moment, then drifted away from Vettel....  Behind those two, Kimi Raikkonen, the driver of the other Ferrari, had a better launch than either of them.  This was something of a wonder, as the Finn hasn't been doing much of anything well of late.  Today though... today he came charging up the left of Verstappen with plenty of room.  Except that was the exact moment that the Red Bull driver began to evade Vettel's Ferrari....  Meanwhile, if Raikkonen had a good start, the McLaren of Fernando Alonso took off like it had rockets strapped to the sides.  Starting in eighth, he found heading towards the outside of Turn 1... but ahead of him, Bad Things were about to occur.

*BAD THINGS:  Events occurred very quickly now.  Verstappen, moving away from Vettel,clearly never saw Raikkonen coming up on his other side.  Firm contact was made, snapping the right-rear suspension on the Ferrari like a twig, and causing the red car to swing across the Dutchman's nose.  Raikkonen then speared into the left sidepod of Vettel with a lot of oomph (technical term).  The situation looked something like this:

Vettel would continue on through Turn 1, while Raikkonen began waffling around the left side of the straight, out of control but slowing... but not quickly enough.  Verstappen, for a wonder, appeared to be completely undamaged at this point, and was accelerating into Turn 1.  Around the outside of Turn 1, Alonso's demon start continued.  Raikkonen, still out of control, never turned at all.  His slide took him directly into the side of Verstappen as he began to make Turn 1. The two cars, embraced in a mutual death dance, careened across Turn 1, slamming into Fernando Alonso, a victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The McLaren would actually get airborne for a moment, but continued on, undoubtedly with a driver asking what the hell just happened.  Raikkonen and Verstappen were out of the race.

*IT GETS WORSE: A few moments later, we saw the OTHER Ferrari rolling backwards down the run from Turn 3 to Turn 5, missing its nose all the way back to the suspension mounts.  It took a few minutes for what had happened to be revealed.  Raikkonen had hit hard enough to punch a hole through a radiator, which promptly began dumping coolant... all over the rear tires. Soon enough traction was lost, and the Ferrari's control went away.  It then hit the wall with the nose, and found itself coasting backwards.

*OH, BY THE WAY:  Before the race, Lewis Hamilton had said that it was going to take a miracle for him to make the podium, let alone win.  When Vettel spun out, Hamilton's Mercedes was suddenly just handed the lead.  It seems the racing gods were listening.  Not only did he lead the race, but his closest challenger in the Driver's Championship had been knocked out of the race.  It had to be a jubilant Brit in the Mercedes cockpit as the field circulated behind the Safety Car.  The race was not over, though.  Usually the Mercedes will dominate any race, but there was a reason Hamilton had been starting fifth.  This car, on this track, with this team, just could not appear to take the fight to either the Ferraris or the Red Bulls.  But at a single stroke, three of the four cars he had to be concerned about were out of the race, and the fourth, Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull, was behind him, not in front... on a circuit that is nearly as hard to pass on as Monaco.

*RACING:  Once Berndt Maylander returned to his dark slumber, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Hamilton would gallop away into the... um... sunrise?  It's a night race, so we can't say "gallop into the sunset".  Anyway.  He did nothing of the sort, at best opening up a five second lead over Ricciardo... until Lap 11, when the Toro Rosso of Kid Kvyat buried itself in the Tecpro barriers.  Maylander was awoken from his eternal sleep and the field once again bunched up behind him.  

*TIRE WHERE?: This far into the race, with the rain easing off, it only made sense to pit for new Intermediates.  The track was still wet, but drying nicely (if slowly: Singapore's high humidity saw to that), so Red Bull brought Smiley in for fresh Inters.  Surprisingly, Mercedes did not, much to Hamilton's chagrin.  When he began to complain about the call, the pit wall pointed out that Ricciardo likely would have done the opposite of Hamilton in any case.  If the Merc came in, Smiley would have stayed out and taken the position boost.  This would not be the last time this race that Lewis would complain incorrectly.  Once the race restarted, he found himself at a point in his tire life that was absolutely golden.  His worn Inters had enough tread to deal with the drying surface, but not enough to be damaged by overheating in the drier sections.  By Lap 24, Hamilton had opened a 10 second lead on the curiously slower than expected Red Bull.

*TIRE THERE!:  Some of the backmarkers had decided to go for slicks by now, and as long as they didn't get too far off the (now nearly dry) racing line, they were working to an extent.  Smiley took the plunge, on Lap 28 and took a massive amount of time out of Hamilton's lead in just the one lap he had before Mercedes brought in their guy.  It didn't last, however.  Once the silver car was on slicks, he again began to pull away from the Red Bull.

*...HOW IN THE WORLD?:  One could be forgiven for not being surprised when Berndt Maylander was summoned for a third time ("Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Maylander Pitlane wgah'nagl fhtagn"?).  What was surprising was exactly why.  Sony Ericcson dropped his Sauber as he passed over the Andersen Bridge between Turns 12 and 13, coming to rest pointing backwards at the narrowest point of the circuit.  Worse yet, the location on the bridge meant that a mobile lifter had to be brought on circuit to recover the stricken Sauber.  Hamilton immediately began complaining that the situation could have been handled with a Virtual Safety Car instead of throwing away his lead.

He changed his mind when he actually came across the accident site behind the Safety Car for the first time and was able to get a good look.

*THE END:  Once Maylander was allowed to return to his rest, the race continued much as it had before.  But now, with an eye cocked to the skies and another expecting another wreck, the Merc pit wall had a strange request for the race leader.  Specifically, they told him to slow down the pace and close up the field.  The thinking was that if Hamilton got too far ahead, Ricciardo would get a "free" pit stop in the event of another safety car.  See, it'd be quite possible that the SC would be called out after Hamilton had passed pit-in.  With a big enough lead on the Red Bull, Smiley could possibly pit before Hamilton, who would have to trundle around the circuit slowly while the Red Bull was stopping for fresh tires.  Hamilton would then have to pit himself while Ricciardo was right behind him, bunched behind Maylander.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lewis came back on the radio and said "I'm not comfortable driving like this," to which the pit wall said "do what you want, then."  He kept himself comfortably in the lead until the two-hour time limit was reached and the race ended three laps early, finishing 4.5 seconds ahead of the Red Bull, who was ahead of the other Mercedes of Valterri Bottas.

*OH THAT?:  Remember how we mentioned it seemed like the Red Bull was oddly slower than expected?  It turned out that Ricciardo's gearbox was not working correctly and there was fear that it wouldn't make the finish line.  While the driver has said that it hadn't made a difference, one suspects that he's not entirely telling the truth.

Next race, two weeks from now in Malaysia!  See you then.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 08:34 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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September 04, 2017

F1 Update!: Italy 2017

The weather had made a stunning recovery after Saturday's deluge, the skies bright and clear as the F1 Circus took its positions on the grid.  The combination of rain and engine penalties left the starting lineup a jumbled mess, which had to make polesitter Lewis Hamilton feel quite confident.  His teammate, Valterri Bottas was fourth, while championship points leader Seb Vettel was starting from sixth.  Even the Red Bulls had been shuffled backwards, with Embryo Verstappen in 13th, and Smiley Ricciardo lounging in 16th.  So would the youngest driver ever to be on the first row of the grid, Pleasant Stroll, be able to challenge Hamilton?  Or would False Esteban! be able to throw his Force India into the mix from third?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Italy!

*LIGHTS OUT:  Hamilton's getaway wasn't the greatest of all time, but it was good enough to keep in front of the two kids as they went into the stupidly tight chicane at the end of the front straight.  It's common enough to see huge clouds of smoke billowing from tortured tires at this point, and one could only imagine the youthful aggression of Stroll and False Esteban! taking over as they tried to get through first.  As it was, pretty much the entire field made it through with only a small amount of carbon fiber flying.  For much of the first lap, the two young'uns were able to hang with the Mercedes on this, the fastest track on the calendar, but it was just a matter of time before the superior vehicle would step up.  This it did, with Hamilton opening his lead and Bottas moving into second by the end of Lap 3.  Behind that, Vettel moved past both kids and into third by the end of Lap 5.  After that, it became a simple question: could the Ferrari race with the Mercedes on the track that most favored the silver cars?  Pretty quickly we knew the answer: no.

*KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON:  By Lap 10, Hamilton's lead over Vettel was up to 10 seconds, and the gap would just continue to scroll upwards.  By Lap 20, it was 17 seconds, and people began to wonder if the silver car would be able to open up a big enough lead that he could pit and come out ahead of the red one.  We never found out, though on Lap 30 Vettel was 23 seconds behind, and the pit delta was... 23 seconds.  Ferrari pitted their man shortly after that, with Hamilton coming in three laps later.  He would be clear of Vettel, and indeed, when Bottas pitted the lap after Hamilton, he too was able to keep his position ahead of Vettel.  At that point, it was just a matter of keeping the Mercs running and on the racing surface.  On Lap 40, the gap back to Vettel was 31 seconds.

*SMILE AND THE WORLD SMILES WITH YOU:  Back at the back of the horde, Smiley Ricciardo knew he had an interesting day ahead of him.  He had a good car in his hands, he was at the back of the grid only because of power unit changes, and a lot of mediocre carbon fiber lined up ahead of him.  Once the lights went out and the race began, he immediately started working his way up the field.  Starting on the hardest compound available for the weekend, the Soft rubber, Smiley cajoled, weaved, and jogged his way around traffic for 37 laps (of 53!), pulling himself all the way up to fifth spot before his only pit stop.  Rejoining the race on the Supersoft tires, he found himself closing in on the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in fourth place.  A couple of tours around the circuit later, he managed to get to within a second of the Finn as they reached the second DRS detection zones... meaning that he'd get the speed boost provided by the drag reduction system down the ridiculously fast pit straight.  More importantly, Raikkonen, who had nobody immediately in front of him, wouldn't.  And then it happened.  Smiley came from roughly two miles back as Raikkonen began to slow for the chicane and just blew right by the Ferrari in what may very well be the pass of the season so far.

*THIS IS THE END:  At about the same time that the Australian Red Bull driver was making the Finnish Ferrari driver look silly, the German Ferrari driver had something go wonky on his car.  Vettel missed the first chicane on Lap 40 and damaged something during his excursion through the sleeping policemen.  After the race, he said that from then on the car's steering was pulling to one side, particularly under braking.  This had the dual effect of giving him zero chance of catching up to the Mercedes duo... to be fair, he had as close to zero chance before that as makes no difference... while giving Smiley Ricciardo a target that was, comparatively, limping around Monza.  After passing Raikkonen, he was almost 12 seconds back from Vettel.  For the next 13 laps, the Aussie reeled him in at well over a half-second per lap.  With four seconds separating them, Vettel managed to get home ahead of the Red Bull... while being over thirty seconds behind Hamilton and Bottas.  It was a fantastic drive for Riccardio, a disappointing one for Vettel, and a casual Sunday drive for the two Mercedes boys who looked like they didn't break a sweat as they stood on the final podium.

*OH, AND...:  With his victory and Vettel's third place, Hamilton takes the lead in the championship race with seven to go.  The next one is the night race in Singapore in two weeks... we'll see you there!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 08:58 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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F1U: Italy 2017 Delayed!

Yeah, um... like, I fell asleep around 6pm Sunday evening and didn't, y'know, wake up again until a little after Midnight.  So... um... I'll do the writeup Monday.  Twice in a row I've missed the race night update.  Woo!  Go me!

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