April 29, 2018
F1 Update!: Azerbaijan 2018, The Ruminations Edition A windy day greeted the Thundering Herd as they waited for the crimson illumination to extinguish. Gusts of up to 30mph, they said. Seb Vettel, on pole in his Ferrari, surely didn't seem worried, either of the wind or of his opponent, Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, right along side. And why should he have been? He was leading the Championship, the Ferrari had proven to be the fastest on track this season, it all looked bright and shiny for him.
*MOST OF THE RACE: Taken in the macro, most of the 2018 GP of Azerbaijan wasn't overly exciting. Yes, in the micro you had drama, but it didn't look like it was going to amount to anything, not really. It was brought to us by the two Red Bull teammates, Smiley Ricciardio and DH Verstappen. The two of them decided that they had to go at each other hammer and tongs all day, no matter what it meant to their personal chances for the race or the benefit lost to the team. Four or five times they clashed, bumping at least twice and once hard enough to draw smoke from their tires, in a race-long fight that had to be causing team boss Christian Horner to lose his cool.
It's good this was going on, because up at the front we had all the makings of a complete runaway. Seb Vettel had a two second lead after the end of the first lap. While an early safety car would kill that lead, the restart saw the Ferrari driver leave Hamilton in the dust. A flat spot on the Mercedes made it even harder for the Brit to make up time, and a pit stop put him behind his teammate Valterri Bottas. Vettel stopped 10 laps later, coming out behind Bottas who had yet to stop, and ahead of Hamilton. It all looked bright and shiny for Vettel; the gap to Bottas would go away when the Finn stopped for new tires, yet Bottas would probably return to the race ahead of Hamilton... perfect!
And then those wacky Red Bull guys showed up again.
*RACECHANGER: Ricciardio had slipped behind Verstappen, falling into fifth, but had DRS enabled as they came down the 2km long front stretch and was closing fast. Approaching Turn 1, he faked to the right (which Verstappen fell for, moving to block) then went to the left.
And so did Verstappen.
Suddenly, the gap Ricciardio had been aiming for was gone and the rate of closure was so fast that there was nothing he could do. The resulting nose-to-tail collision knocked both cars out of the race, caused Christian Horner to shoot blood out his ears, and Red Bull owner Dr Helmut Marco to say something fierce in German. Of course, everything sounds fierce in German so that's not saying much. Both drivers would be reprimanded by the FIA, and Horner made it perfectly clear that both would be apologizing to the team... possibly by being flayed alive.
Out came the safety car on Lap 40 of 51
*SPRINT: With the appearance of the safety car, the entire texture of the race changed. Instead of being Vettel's to lose, it suddenly became Bottas' to win as he could make his stop for tires without any loss of time. Now he had the lead, a fresh set of ultra-soft tires (as did the rest of his challengers), and an ever-shortening number of laps to deal with. It wasn't until Lap 47 that the safety car period ended, extended thanks to Lettuce Grosjean binning his Haas whilst trying to warm his tires.
Bottas handled the restart about as well as you can, getting an early jump on Vettel, et al. On any other circuit, this would have worked a treat, but at Baku it just means you're giving your opponents a tow down't the long, long front straight. A tow that Vettel, Hamilton AND Raikkonen tried to exploit. Vettel made a daring attempt at a pass going into Turn 1, locked up his front brakes, and simply skidded right past Bottas. While he attempted to recover, Hamilton and Raikkonen both passed him, sending Vettel down to fourth, and with a massive flatspot to boot. He would later lose another position to the Force India of Sergio Perez.
Then, at the end of the lap/beginning of Lap 48, Bottas ran over a chunk of debris and had his right-rear tire dissolve... just past the entry to the pit lane. He did, eventually, get the car parked safely, but his race was over thanks to a piece of metal nobody saw. FROM THE LEAD.
This promoted Hamilton to the lead, a position he would not relinquish. Kimi Raikkonen finished second, just ahead of an ecstatic Sergio Perez and Force India pit crew. Vettel finished fourth.
So a vaguely dull race saved by the final 10 laps or so. Not bad! Next race is Spain in two weeks... see ya there!
April 11, 2018
F1 Update!: Bahrain 2018, The Thoughts And Statements Version Hello everybody! As we here at F1U! are clearly not able to work on deadlines, we decided to actually talk about the race instead of do a formal writeup.. Cool? Cool. THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Bahrain!
*QUICK OVERVIEW: If you were raised on oval racing like you see in NASCAR or at the Indianapolis 500, you'd've watched this race and gone "what the hell was that?" There wasn't all that much passing and a lot of "gap racing", where drivers were just sort of out in the woods alone. It may have even happened that you'd've turned the race off after one of the teams so badly screwed up a pit stop that they only changed three wheels. Not to mention another team having both of their cars die in the space of a couple of laps. You would have been very, very wrong to do so... this was one of the most exciting races we've seen in a long time if you knew what you were watching.
*1-2-3-4, I DECLARE A TIRE WAR: This race was all about tires. Ferrari's Seb Vettel, the polesitter, began the race on the super-soft compound, as did Mercedes' Valterri Bottas, starting from third. Qualifying in fourth but dropped to ninth due to a penalty, the Merc of Lewis Hamilton was clearly going for the obvious one-stopper as he had on the soft tires. Pirelli had said that the expected life of the super-softs was 25 laps, the softs could go 30, and the medium tires 40 of the 57 lap race. We here at F1U! expected both Vettel and Bottas to go supersoft-soft-supersoft, or maybe flip the last two. Meanwhile, Hamilton would probably go soft-medium, as there was evidence that the hardest compound available for the race was fairly good around the track.
Vettel made his first stop on Lap 18, going to the soft tire as predicted. Mercedes, however, had watched the McLaren of LeMans Alonso very closely when he put on the mediums during his Lap 14 stop. When that worthy had managed to make good time, and having failed to bring Bottas in before Vettel for the undercut and attempt to pass him in the pits, the team changed plans on the fly and put the Finn on medium tires during his Lap 20 stop. Hamilton put on the mediums on Lap 27. This left Vettel and Ferrari in an unenviable position. While he held the lead, he wasn't able to open up a big enough gap to Bottas to be able to make a second stop and not lose the place... and probably drop to third behind Hamilton as well. While he'd be on the softest tire, and thus faster, he'd still have to fight for the win from behind. Getting past Hamilton would be doable, though with effort... but could Vettel then chase down Bottas and get past him to take the lead? Dubious. So Ferrari did the only thing they really could do:
They left their man out there, hoping that the soft tires would last nine laps longer than Pirelli said they would.
*EPIC RUN: Vettel had the grip advantage, but couldn't use it without killing his tires. Mercedes could use their tires to the fullest, but would the slower rubber be fast enough? For Hamilton, who earlier had passed three cars at one time, the answer was no. He wound up in third, about seven seconds back. For Bottas though, the question was still in doubt. With seven laps to go the Finn was five seconds back. Then it was four. Three. Two. As Vettel and Bottas began the final lap, they were within one second of each other, and Bottas could use DRS... and still couldn't get past. The Merc driver had one last chance going into the final turn. A daring driver like Smiley Ricciardo, who has made a living out of being the last of the great late brakers, would have had a go. Bottas made a token effort and backed off, ceding the win to Ferrari. Vettel later said that the last 10 laps had seen his tires turn into bagels, barely able to grip the tarmac, but he'd made them work for a nicely won race.
*FERRARI FAILURE FRACTURES FRANCESCO'S FIBULA: The keen-eyed reader might have noticed a disturbing lack of Kimi Raikkonen, who started the race in second for Ferrari, during the above race report. That's because Ferrari had an awful pitstop for the ages on Lap 35. Raikkonen did his job, stopping the car in exactly the right spot, the mechanics fell to work, getting three tires changed... but the left-rear tire never came off the car. Despite this minor detail, the car was released to return to the race... despite mechanics still working on the left-rear tire. Francesco Cigarini, who is the mechanic that fits the new tire to the car, was in his position waiting for the old tire to come off when the Ferrari pulled away. The tire snapped his lower left leg in what can only be described as "an ugly way." Raikkonen made it a few car lengths away before the team told him to stop... nobody knew what sort of state the left-rear tire was in, was it locked down or loose, that sort of thing. Cigarini underwent emergency surgery shortly after the incident, and his instagram account showed him up and walking with crutches and a medical person for support within 24 hours of the incident.
While nobody is entirely sure what happened, the prevailing theory is that Ferrari's automated pit release system is based on two factors: is the car off the jacks, and are the four tire nuts on the tire. Usually this means "have all four tires been removed, new ones put in place and secured?" This time, though, the conditions were met without the left-rear tire being removed... hey, the nut was on after all! The FIA fined Ferrari €50000 and an investigation is ongoing.
*RED BULL... REALLY, WHAT THE HELL?: The team sponsored by the Austrian drink maker went into the race on Sunday feeling pretty good about their chances. Smiley Ricciardo was to begin in fifth, while it was assumed that Embryo Verstappen, starting in 15th due to an accident in quals, would be able to get up among the leaders quickly enough. Instead, Ricciardo's car just... turned itself off after one lap, forcing him to pull over and retire the car. At very nearly the same time, Verstappen bumped into Lewis Hamilton, resulting in a puncture. As he limped his way through almost a full lap, the vibrations from the imbalanced tire assembly were transmitted into the gearbox, which soon went all wonky-doodle. Both Red Bulls were out within three laps of the race start. Team boss Christian Horner later described this as "extremely disappointing."
*GHASTLY NEWS: Toro Rosso was over the moon by the end of the race, as their man Pierre Ghastly brought the Honda-powered car home in fourth place. The surprising thing is that nobody on the team knew where the speed came from. We here at F1U! know that we've never heard a team say "we'll have to examine the data to see why we were so fast" before.
Next race is in China this coming Sunday! See you then.
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