September 28, 2007
As expected, the rain never stopped from P3 (which was actually cancelled, not just postponed as earlier reported), but the fog did lift enough for the medevac helicopter to be able to fly, so Quals were able to take place (though delayed about 10 minutes).
"Rain," as the hoary saying goes, "is the great equalizer." Just because it's hoary, however, doesn't mean it isn't true. Jenson Button got his Honda into Q3, much to everybody's surprise, and he'll be starting 7th. Given his success in Hungary last year, I think it's becoming quite clear that he's one of the best wet-weather drivers on the grid (and given his car this season, maybe THE best rain guy). The real shocker, though, was Sebastian Vettel driving his Toro Rosso into Q3 for the first time in team history. He'll be 9th tomorrow, an impressive performance for such an insipid vehicle.
The big news is that Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate by .110 of a second to take pole. McLaren timed his final push perfectly, and he wound up the last driver on track when the timer hit zero. Combined with the wet-but-drying conditions, he was able to chase the least-wet line around the circuit, and managed to file off the rough spots he had had earlier in the session.
So, an all-McLaren front row. That means we've got an all-Ferrari second row, of course. Once the weather turned damp, it was pretty clear that the Red Team wouldn't be on pole; Ferrari this year has had a lot of problems in the wet... of course, that's relative to McLaren. It's Raikkonen 3, Massa 4, almost a half-second behind the polesitter.
The rest of the grid:
5 Nick Heidfeld BMW
6 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota
7 Jenson Button Honda
8 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault
9 Sebastian Vettel STR-Ferrari
10 Robert Kubica BMW
11 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault
12 Heikki Kovalainen Renault
13 David Coulthard Red Bull-Renault
14 Jarno Trulli Toyota
15 Vitantonio Liuzzi STR-Ferrari
16 Ralf Schumacher Toyota
17 Rubens Barrichello Honda
18 Alexander Wurz Williams-Toyota
19 Anthony Davidson Super Aguri-Honda
20 Adrian Sutil Spyker-Ferrari
21 Takuma Sato Super Aguri-Honda
22 Sakon Yamamoto Spyker-Ferrari
You'll note Ralf Schumacher up there at 16. He actually made it to Q2, but never turned a lap in that session. That's because, after Q1 had ended, he decided to 'pass' Sakon Yamamoto. Actually, he pulled the sort of manuever that earned Takuma "Suicide" Sato his nickname. I've watched his banzai dive repeatedly now, and I STILL can't figure out what he was trying to do. In a race, it would have been foolhardy but bearable. On the cooldown lap after Q1, it was just stupid. The only thing that may mitigate the circumstance is the weird failure of the Toyota's rear wing when the car's FRONT tire hit the Spyker. There may have been a rear suspension failure (that led to the collapse of the rear wing... we've seen that combination before) on the Toyota that prevented Schumacher from being able to whoa up before he embedded himself in the Spyker.
Finally, while I have no numbers to back it up (and with it being 230am as I type this, I'm not going to go search for them), I believe this is the worst qualifying performance for Takuma Sato in Japan ever. He usually seems to find another gear when he gets home... maybe he just really loved Suzuka?
Right. Race tomorrow night, at 11pm central time. I'm not sure when the F1 UPDATE! will be posted, as longtime friend and occasional commenter here at The Pond, Vaucaunson's Duck, will be here to watch along!
That's a 'good-news-bad-news' thing, unfortunately. It's good that he'll be here! It's bad that he's in Duckford, though, because his father, Dr John, had multi-bypass cardiac surgery earlier this week. Vauc and his wife, Geese, are in town to help with Dr John's recovery.
Dr John is a remarkable fellow, and I'm VERY glad he's doing well after the surgery.
More after the race, or as events warrant!
Not so good for helicopters or F1 cars, though. The morning practice was delayed by fog (by FIA rules, if the medevac helicopter can't fly, everything is put on hold until it can), then shortened. They're saying that quals might be held in the wet.
Now THAT'LL be interesting!
More after quals, around about 2am Central time.
September 27, 2007
Fuji ain't no Suzuka.
That being said, our first look at this new track (yes, yes, it's been around for ages, I know, but it's been 30 years, okay?) shows promise. There's some very clever bits to the course, like turns 10 & 11 (they aren't a chicane... they're two alternating turns very close to each other, but they aren't a chicane), which might be one of the trickier combinations in the sport. And while 100R, the big 180-degree righthander, isn't a patch on Suzuka's lamented 130R, it's still pretty keen. And that mile-long front straight is something special, particularly with turn 1, a tight right-hander that's similar to Shanghai's turn 1 (in that it just dives downhill when you get into it) tacked on at the end.
Team McLaren threw down the gauntlet in P2, then kicked anybody who dared to try and pick it up in the head, with Lewis Hamilton leading the way over his teammate, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, by a good .200 of a second. There was almost a half-second gap back to #3. The Ferraris seemed to be having a hard time of it, particularly Phil Massa, who seemed (to use some baseball terminology) to be a bit wild outside. Massa seemed to have some serious understeer going on, as at least twice (possibly more; I'm working from memory here) he found himself going cross-country at what I think was 100R (I could be wrong; I'm just as new to this track as everybody else).
Renault was surprisingly quick, at one point giving the Big Two a run for their money, though fading a bit when Ferrari & McLaren got serious. Still, they outpaced BMW, who is definitely the third-best team on the grid (interesting news from the LAT... since they're locked into 2nd in the Constructor's Championship, BMW has stopped developing their 2007 chassis altogether, and are now concentrating solely on next year's car).
There were a lot of four-wheel skids going on today as well... almost drifting-level slides. Just another example of how close the car-driver combination in F1 is to complete and catastrophic failure at all times. Or it just could be that the track is completely green.
I had high hopes for Fuji going into today (one could say 'mountainous' hopes), and while those epic heights weren't scaled, the track is certainly more than a molehill. Even before the race, I'm prepared to say it's a better track than France, Spain, Hungary and Brazil (of course, the Duckford Speedway and it's 1/5th-mile dirt oval is better than Interlagos). Afterwards, we'll see where it rates for sure.
There's some potential here, that's for sure.
September 25, 2007
That's right, Pole Position jokes all weekend! This year, of course, the Japanese Grand Prix is being held at Fuji International Speedway, home of the very first GP of Japan in 1976. However, 1977 was the last time the F1 circus visited the track in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Toyota purchased the track in 2000, and after three years of renovations and reprofiling, made it into their exclusive test track in 2005 (much like Suzuka is owned by Honda, by the way). For obvious reasons, that means that Toyota is pretty much the only team with any experience at all on the course, meaning that, for once, practices will actually MEAN something... and SPEED will be live with their coverage of practice from 1159pm Thursday night until 130am Friday morning! Finally, something watchable without having to wake up before the milkman!
Because of this lack of tracktime, amongst other reasons, Fuji is stacking up to be very interesting. The remodel did away with the huge sweeping righthander that led back to the straightway (replaced by all the fiddlybits on the left-hand side of the trackmap) that showed the true skill level of the Pole Position player (Wonderduck Sez: I was pretty darn good), one thing that stayed the same is the front straightaway... which is now the longest in F1, at 1.5 kilometers. Should make for some fun numbers in Qualifying, which starts at 1159pm Friday, and goes until 130am Saturday morning.
Break out the Suntory and Kirin Saturday night! At 11pm, the curtain goes up on the 2007 Grand Prix of Japan, and Speed'll have it live and plausibly in-person, Smarmy notwithstanding. For those of you weaklings for whom 11pm is too late, there's a replay at 330pm Sunday afternoon.
By the way, if you're wondering why it's called Fuji International Speedway, here's a clue:
September 15, 2007
I hate to say this, but I was actually cheering for a Spyker today. Q1 ended with a completely ridiculous flurry of activity that started with Adrian Sutil jumping from 22nd to 12th with about a minute left. Generally, that's a safe enough margin from the cutoff line with that little time remaining, but... (say it with me):
This. IS. SPA.
Spa is the longest circuit on the tour, however, taking around 1m48s to do a lap... and there were a LOT of cars on track. Sutil ended up 20th after all the drivers had finished their hot laps, and it seemed like everybody south of 6th place shifted position. Completely crazy, even the L.A.T. couldn't keep up with it all.
In Q2, however, came the most frightening thing if you want a demolishing of Ferrari on Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen turned in the fastest lap of The Swimming Pool ever, a blistering 1:45:007 for an AVERAGE speed of about 145mph. On a course with a 45mph hairpin, no less!
At least we got the joy of seeing Alonso spin in Q3, and Massa look like he wasn't going to get a lap in during Q1, when the Ferrari engineers suddenly panic-dove for the rear of his car with 7 minutes to go. In slightly over two minutes, they tore the rear of his car off, fixed whatever wasn't working, replaced the bodywork, and away he went. Dammit.
The rest of the grid:
11. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Renault 1:46.603
12. Ralf Schumacher Germany Toyota 1:46.618
13. David Coulthard Britain Red Bull-Renault 1:46.800
14. Jenson Button Britain Honda 1:46.955
15. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:47.115
16. Alexander Wurz Austria Williams-Toyota 1:47.394
17. Sebastian Vettel Germany Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:47.581
18. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Honda 1:47.954
19. Takuma Sato Japan Super Aguri-Honda 1:47.980
20. Adrian Sutil Germany Spyker-Ferrari 1:48.044
21. Anthony Davidson Britain Super Aguri-Honda 1:48.199
22. Sakon Yamamoto Japan Spyker-Ferrari 1:49.577
See you after the race.
September 14, 2007
But none of the McLaren bigwigs were there to see it, as they were still back in Paris, waiting for one or another of the WMSC guillotines to get free. The hot rumor (brought to us by Peter "Smarmy" Windsor, who, as much as it pains me to say it, is staggeringly well-connected and probably perfect for the job he does) is that Fernando Alonso attempted to blackmail his own team with the Stepneygate e-mails.
His asking price? The clear deliniation of himself as McLaren's number 1 driver (meaning that Hamilton would NOT challenge for wins, and instead back off when in front, a la the Ferrari/Michael Schumacher era), and/or the immediate demotion of Lewis Hamilton to test driver outright.
IF true, and that's a very big if, then two thoughts immediately leap to mind:
1) Fernando Alonso is frickin' insane; and
B) Ron Dennis has the patience of a saint.
Most every team on the planet would can Alonso's @$$ if that's the way it worked out, and more power to them, here, let me hold that torch for you.
The full FIA judgement can be found HERE. The interesting bits begin in section 3.5, when the contents of the e-mails from Pete Rose and Alonso are revealed. Do read the report; from section 3 on, it's actually quite interesting.
My favorite part is Section 8 (that's appropriate, considering the craziness going on):
8.4 McLaren has made detailed submissions indicating that none of the information received enhanced the McLaren car. McLaren has suggested to the WMSC that unless "actual use" and a demonstrated and itemised performance advantage can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e. to a criminal law standard of proof), the WMSC is not permitted at law to impose a penalty.
8.5 The WMSC rejects this suggestion. The WMSC has full jurisdiction to apply Article 151(c) and stresses that it is not necessary for it to demonstrate that any confidential Ferrari information was directly copied by McLaren or put to direct use in the McLaren car to justify a finding that Article 151(c) was breached and/or that a penalty is merited. Nor does the WMSC need to show that any information improperly held led to any specifically identified sporting advantage, or indeed any advantage at all. Rather, the WMSC is entitled to treat possession of another team's information as an offence meriting a penalty on its own if it so chooses. (emphasis mine)
Note that bold line carefully. The WMSC is saying, in effect, that it didn't and couldn't find anything that McLaren took advantage of in the building or running of the MP4-22, but that they didn't have to because they're the WMSC, and shut up and take it.
The McLaren legal team was screaming to high heaven yesterday, saying that the WMSC went into the meeting with a penalty in mind, "now lets figure out how to hit them with it." The truly disturbing part of it all is the early report leaked to a website (that shall remain unlinked) declaring that McLaren was to be totally excluded from 2007 AND 2008. That report apparantly came from a WMSC member, DURING DELIBERATIONS.
That's the same as a jury member saying "he's guilty, and we're gonna hang him" before all the evidence is revealed... which in an US court of law would at LEAST get the juror kicked off, and more likely would cause a mistrial.
By the way, did you wonder where the $100million is going? Here's a hint: it's probably not going to charity.
More after quals.
September 11, 2007
Last week, of course, was Monza, the Magic Track. This time around, though, we come to the small town of Francorchamps for the Grand Prix of Belgium... or, as it's more commonly known around these parts, Spa-Francopants and the Swimming Pool.
More than any other track on the calendar, Spa-Francoamerican is synonymous with 'rain'. It's quite common for one part of the track to be sunny and dry, and another to be in the middle of a torrential downpour. As you can guess, this causes no small amount of angst to the drivers, who are unanimous in their praise for the track anyway.
But no mention of the Swimming Pool would be complete without mentioning that it's the home of one of F1's legendary turns: Eau Rouge. In the past, it took guts and nerves of steel to go into the twisty, climbing, blind-exit turn flat-out and keep the accelerator nailed to the floor... in fact, that was the best way to take Eau Rouge, because it kept the downforce on.
Today, it's slightly less gutwrenching due to the natural downforce created by all the swoopy bits on today's F1 cars, but it's still the sign of a brave driver to nail his foot to the floor going through Eau Rouge. In 1999, Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta, BAR-Honda teammates, had amazing wrecks in qualifying, showing the danger inherent in the corner... and bringing rise to the legend that the BAR-Honda team principal told Zonta "Jacques is the best there is at Eau Rouge, just do what he does."
Of course, Spa-Francoplatz was off the calendar last year due to renovations to the pit lane that were not completed in time. As a result of the pit lane work, the front straight is now longer, with the last turn being moved back, and the first turn being moved forward. Should make for a great sprint at the start this year!
Of course, Spa was not always the track it is now. Back in the old days, Spa was a 10-mile long triangular beast that blasted down public roads. It was also a most dangerous creature that often resulted in spectator deaths. In 1966, Jackie Stewart's car ended up in some poor sod's basement. During the 24 Hours of Spa in 1973, three drivers were killed, and Hans-Joachim Stuck shouted to his co-driver Jochen Mass during a pitstop that he should "look out for body parts at the Masta Kink". Mass arrived there expecting to see bits of car all over the road but was appalled to discover it was in fact bits of a marshal. This is the Spa track shown in the movie Grand Prix, by the way.
So SPEED's coverage of the 2007 Belgian Grand Prix begins on Friday morning, from 7am to 830am, with Practice Two live!
Saturday brings us the Quals live from 7am to 830am.
The Race is Sunday, with live coverage from 630am to 9am.
This is one of those races that Ferrari should be able to run away with... but we said the same about Monza, so who really knows? McLaren may very well dominate... but there's the awful spectre of Thursday's meeting dangling above our heads. McLaren may not be allowed to show up.
September 08, 2007
According to FIA regulations, the undertray of a F1 car must be flat from side to side and between the axles, save for the FIA legality plank. In the picture above, you can see the plank in the middle of the tray.
Steven asks: "I'm surprised to see that it's very flat, though I probably should not be. That's to limit the amount of turbulence drag under the car as it drives, right?"
Partially! Yes, it does cut down on the drag, but it's also to prevent the rebirth of ground-effect tunnels. Back in the heady days of the aerodynamic revolution, some clever designers came up with the idea of using ground effect skirts and tunnels to increase grip. They succeeded so well that if it hadn't've been banned, we'd be seeing F1 cars taking whole tracks flat-out (except for the sharpest turns and chicanes). So the flat undertray does not allow for the ground effect tunnels (though the whole flexible floor kerfluffle from the beginning of the season makes me wonder). There IS some downforce created by the undertray. However more of it is generated, not by the undertray, but by the diffuser at the back of the car. more...
Yes, after Alonso, Hamilton and Massa, Grizzly Nick got his BMW-Sauber in P4, followed by Kimi, the BMW of Robert Kubica, Heikki's Renault, Nico Rosberg in a Williams, and Jarno Trulli's Toyota.
WARNING: HONDA SIGHTING!
That's right, Jensen Button got his Honda into Q3... the first time, I think, all season that the Factory team has gotten that far in quals (of course, SuperAguri has done it a couple of times).
The rest of the grid:
11. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1:23.166
12. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Honda 1:23.176
13. Alexander Wurz Austria Williams-Toyota 1:23.209
14. Anthony Davidson Britain Super Aguri-Honda 1:23.274
15. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Renault 1:23.325
16. Sebastian Vettel Germany Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:23.351
17. Takuma Sato Japan Super Aguri-Honda 1:23.749
18. Ralf Schumacher Germany Toyota 1:23.787
19. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:23.886
20. David Coulthard's Chin Britain Red Bull-Renault 1:24.019
21. Adrian Sutil Germany Spyker-Ferrari 1:24.699
22. Sakon Yamamoto Japan Spyker-Ferrari 1:25.084
Oh look! The B-Spec Spyker is... um... 21st and 22nd. Yeah, nice improvement to the car there, guys. Maybe if you'd concentrated less on flower arranging ability and making it able to direct a Broadway musical, and more on making it go fast, you'd've improved it a tad. Instead, you're over a half-second behind someone who crashed. Good jorb!
In other news from around F1, Suzuka will be back on the calendar! Starting next year, the Grand Prix of Japan will alternate between Fuji and Suzuka, with Fuji getting the race in '08, Suzuka in '09, and so forth. This pleases me to no end, since Suzuka's my favorite track (though Turkey is moving quickly through the ranks...).
While they've always said that Imola required a special aeropackage, so as to emphasize high speed/low drag rather than downforce, for some reason this year the difference seems much more pronounced than in the past. Take a look at the rear wing on the Toyota at Montreal (L) and Imola (R):
Pretty dramatic difference, and you'd think the cars would be practically undriveable, but young Townsend Bell pointed out that they STILL make three or four THOUSAND pounds of downforce, even with reduced wings. Simply amazing stuff, these cars.
Oh, and finally, Kimi Raikkonen had a pretty nice wreck in the Saturday practice. It certainly looked like something broke from the way the car snapped hard-right just as he entered a braking zone, but Kimi claimed it was "driver error." Uh-huh, sure, Kimi. Whichever it is, the accident DID give me fodder for something I've always wanted to make:
September 07, 2007
Yep, McLaren is being dragged back in front ("back in front"? -ed.) of the WMSC because of new information being discovered that may succeed in proving that McLaren took advantage of the Stepneygate information.
The very fact that this is happening is a VERY bad sign for McLaren... and for us fans. If, indeed, they are found to have taken advantage of the 700+ pages of Ferrari documentation, then at the very least, McLaren will almost certainly be excluded from the results of this season. The great races for both championships? Gone completely.
And it gets worse: McLaren could easily be excluded from NEXT year's F1 season as well.
The meeting is Thursday. We'll know then.
Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, for those of us watching on SPEED, things got even worse with the news that David Hobbes, the driver part of the Legendary Announce Team, will not be part of the coverage this weekend, due to the death of his sister earlier this week. San Francisco (Hi, Vauc! -ed.) native Townsend Bell is filling in, and while he seems to be a nice enough guy, he doesn't have anywhere near the 'stage presence' of Hobbes. Might make for a lonnnnnnng weekend.
All of us at The Pond wish David Hobbes and his family well through this sad time.
September 05, 2007
...and it's all this weekend on SPEED!
Friday, practice is shown live from 7a to 830a. See the public debut of Spyker's new B-spec car, which they say is hot enough to lift them from last on the grid to the midpack. They also say that it can cure cancer and solve world hunger, too, but I'm skeptical.
Saturday brings us the 90-minute Quals session, beginning at 7am. See the new B-spec Spyker write a symphony and bake a souffle, just in time for it to fail to get out of Q1!
But Sunday... ah, Sunday, the glory that is Monza will be totally revealed at the cars take the grid for the 58th running of the Italian Grand Prix, beginning at 630am LIVE. See the new B-spec Spyker compose a sonnet, rescue a cat from a tree, and only last 12 laps, all while Peter (Smarmy) Windsor asks it what it thinks of Michael Schumacher retiring!
And this week, SPEED will even give us a replay of the race, beginning at 230pm! They're so good to us.
All times central, with a five cent deposit required in MI, VA, and CA.
September 02, 2007
Both grandprix.com and Planet-F1.com are reporting that the financially (and racing-ly) troubled Dutch team has been sold to Indian beer magnate Vijay Mallya for somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million.
The new team may very well be named 'Kingfisher F1', after the beer. This might cause some small problems for Toyota, as their team is sponsored by Kingfisher at the moment (there's a small logo on the sidepod). Kingfisher has a long history in F1, of course sponsoring Benetton in the '90s.
I wonder if this indicates the return of Narain Kittylitter, the first Indian F1 driver, to a race seat?
Look for the name and livery change to occur within the next 30 days or so, perhaps as soon as the race at the swimming pool at Spa-Francopants.
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