March 31, 2009

F1 On Speed!: Malaysia 2009!

Hot on the heels of the entertaining Australian Grand Prix at God's Slot Car Track, we find ourselves at the first of the Hermann Tilke "Adventure" circuits ("You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike"), the Sepang International Speedway, Kuala Lumpur.

Let's take a look at the track map:

Unlike Australia, Sepang actually has some long straightaways.  These would call for a low downforce setup, but doing so will ruin you on the turny bits.  Generally, you go for a comprimise solution and hope the car won't do you in.

This year, however, it's anybodys guess what the correct setup will be.  New aero rules and the slick tires means that nobody has the faintest idea what to do.  The three practice sessions'll be key, for sure.

Except for one thing: Sepang is legendary and/or notorious for the ever-changing weather.  It's not unheard of for the race to begin in the high 90s F. with bright sunshine and stifiling humidity... until the torrential downpours come halfway through the race.  If that happens, you really can throw every team's plans into a cocked hat.

Oh, and by the way?  The forecast calls for a wet race.  New slippery cars and rain?  This has the potential of being a Force India win: they're not fast enough to have problems in the wet!

On the whole, however, I'd rather be at Spa-Francopants than Sepang.  Like most Tilke tracks (Turkey excepted), it's rather dull, with little jinks thrown in at just the right place to screw up a passing attempt (turn 12, I'm looking at you).  To the circuit's credit, I DO rather like turn 2: it's like a miniature version of The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca (and yes, that IS a F1 car in that link): decending and off-camber at the same time.  That's about the only thing I like about Sepang, though.

STILL!  It's F1, and the good burghers at SPEEDchannel will be bringing us live coverage all weekend, starting with Friday's second practice from 1am to 240am central time.

Unfortunately, that's the last time that coverage will be at a human hour.  Quals comes to us plausibly live on Saturday from 4am to 530am... will we see another Brawn front row lockout, or will a Red Bull or Toyota sneak in?  Please note that the Quals writeup will probably be very late on Saturday, due to a prior engagement that is, to put it mildly, unbreakable.

The live race coverage will be starting even earlier on Sunday, with SPEED going live from 330am to 6am.  A replay will be shown from 1230pm to 3pm for all those people who aren't nocturnal.  Will it be Rubens Barrichello's time to shine?  Vettel?  Trulli?  Glockenspiel?  Or even something really unexpected, like a McLaren or Ferrari?  Sunday will tell the tale!

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March 28, 2009

F1 Quals: Australia 2009!

In 1970, the brand new March racing team, with Jackie Stewart at the wheel, took pole in their first Grand Prix at South Africa.

The last time Rubens Barrichello was on the front row in a grand prix was 2004.

Jenson Button had his last pole in 2006, in Australia.

Today, all of those numbers changed. 

Here's the provisional grid for the 2009 Grand Prix of Australia:

Pos Driver

1 Jenson Button


2 Rubens Barrichello 

1:25.006 1:24.783
3 Sebastian Vettel

1:25.938 1:25.121
4 Robert Kubica

BMW Sauber
1:25.922 1:25.152
5 Nico Rosberg

1:25.846 1:25.123
6 Timo Glockenspiel

1:25.499 1:25.281
7 Felipe Massa

1:25.844 1:25.319
8 Jarno Trulli

1:26.194 1:25.265
9 Kimi Räikkönen

1:25.899 1:25.380
10 Mark Webber

1:25.427 1:25.241
11 Nick Heidfeld

BMW Sauber
1:25.827 1:25.504


1:26.026 1:25.605

13 Kazoo Nakajima

1:26.074 1:25.607

14 Heikki Kovalainen

1:26.184 1:25.726

15 Lewis Hamilton

1:26.454 no time

16 Sebastien Buemi


17 Nelson Piquet Jr


18 Giancarlo Fisichella

Force India-Mercedes


19 Adrian Sutil

Force India-Mercedes

20 SeaBass


A front row lockout for the new Brawn Racing team, as well as fast-lap?  Ferrari 7th and 9th?  McLaren 14th and 15th?  The only thing that seems like last year is Force India down near the bottom.

Understand, Brawn's domination wasn't a fluke.  They were fastest in all three Q sessions.  Barrichello's Q2 time was close to the all-time track record, set with a V10 engine with a couple hundred more horsepower.  The FIA has also revealed that the Brawns had about 7.5 kg more fuel on board than anybody else, so not only are they fast, but they're faster than everybody else while being able to go longer between pitstops.

This is looking really good for the newbies, and really, really bad for everybody else.

Particularly Lewis Hamilton.  You'll note that he barely made it into Q2, at which point he stayed in his pit box and didn't get a lap in.  That's because he had a gearbox failure that, eventually, required a complete change.  Because of that, he has to take a five-spot penalty and moves to the back of the grid.  Except for one thing...

In breaking news, both Toyotas have been excluded from the qualy results, and therefore will be starting from the back.  A FIA technical delegate noticed some questionable flexing of the rear wing and notified the stewards.  The stewards tested the rear wing elements, found that they broke article 3.15 of the Tech Regs, and stripped the team of their times, and rightfully so.  Now the question becomes, will the team be allowed to fix the problem with their cars in parc ferme, or will they have to do the work during the parade and recon laps?

We'll know more tomorrow!

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March 27, 2009

F1 Practice: Australia 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Bizarro F1!  Where up is down, left is right, dogs and cats are living together, and the best the reigning driver's champ could do is 18th.  We are living in weird and wonderful times, my friends, weird and wonderful times.

Now I usually admonish anybody from drawing conclusions from times run in practice, but these practice sessions are very different than normal.  Testing in the off-season has been limited, and from here on out, it is banned entirely.  No longer are Friday practices just for checking fuel mileage and tire wear... now it's the only chance you get to give "fixes" a trial run, or to get used to the car at all.  Everything is a long-distance speed run, practically at race pace.  It has to be, because you can't rely on the third driver to put 500 laps on the T-Car (archaic term, I know) while the engineers change the angle of a fin from 14.22372o to 14.22375o.  So at least for the Australian practice sessions, you really can start to make legit predictions about how the cars are going to perform in the race.

And, to be blunt, it ain't lookin' good for the two teams that won championships last year.  Ferrari ended up with the 10th- and 11th-fastest times, over a second behind the leader's pace.  McLaren was 17th and 18th, over 1-3/4 seconds behind, and in the cases of both teams, it didn't look like flukey... they looked slow.

Particularly the Glare With Wheels.  Who knows exactly what's wrong, but only once did either McLaren look racey... and that was when Lewis Hamilton was pushing the car waaaaaaay beyond what it could safely manage.  That he managed to get most of a lap in at that pace before the rear end stepped out on him says loads about his ability... and that he was able to gather the car back up after the Glare tried to kill him also points out how good he is.  However, the fact that he had to fight the car tooth-and-nail just to stay alive points out how bad the McLaren is.

Ferrari looked, and was, faster out there, but having said that, they're still not good.  Massa and Kimi went off countless times, and Massa in particular had one moment where... well, the rear of the car had gone so far out that it looked like it was trying to emulate an old Dead Or Alive song.  And HE saved it, too... how is entirely a matter of conjecture.

So who looked fast?  The Diffuser Three.  Williams' Nico Rosberg set a time of 1:26.053 for fast lap, but it wasn't just a one-off... he was consistently around that time all day.  Second was Rubens Barrichello in the Brawn F1, only 1/10th of a second behind.  Third was Jarno Trulli in the Toyota, about .200 behind Rubens.  Mark Webber's Red Bull snuck into fourth quickest, but then came the rest of the Diffuser Three: Jensen (Overrated?) Button (Brawn), Timo Glockenspiel (Toyota), and Kazoo Nakajima (Williams).

The best HWMNBN could manage was 12th, with the two BMW-Saubers right behind Giancarlo Fisichella's 13th-placed Force India.  Adrian Sutil's FIndia was on top of the timesheet for a good chunk of the day before declining to 9th.

The day belonged to the three rebel teams... now to see if they can do it in Quals on Saturday!

In other questions answered on Friday, Avatar's query about lighting with a 5pm start turns out to be excellent.  The 2nd Practice on Friday began at 430pm local time, and by the end of the day, the sun was right in the drivers' eyes as they came down the front straight, and shadows were ugly all the way around the circuit.  It'll be a definite concern.

Another question that was posed by Steven about KERS and can it be charged at the beginning of the race, or what?  Turns out it CAN be charged before the race, even before it leaves the pits.  The bad news is that it takes about two hours.  The worse news is that it's such a sensitive process that if it's done just the teensiest bit wrong, it could burn out the batteries used in two-and-a-half of the teams.  Williams is using a flywheel system, so no batteries there. 

Yes, two-and-a-half teams.  McLaren, Ferrari and one of the BMW-Sauber cars.  The other BMW, the one driven by Robert Kubica, will not have KERS installed.  Turns out theres an excellent reason for that: Kubica (fatso that he is), weighs more than his teammate, Grizzly Nick Heidfeld, and the extra weight of the KERS system PLUS Kubica's lardbutt would counteract any advantage it might give.  Let's take a look at the Big Guy, shall we?

They can't even keep him away from the buffet long enough to take a photo of him... just horribly disgraceful.  How can he look at himself in the mirror?

Oh, it's gonna be a FUN season!

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March 25, 2009

Australia is right around the corner (UPDATED)

...and if F1 is right around the corner, so is controversy.  Depending on how things go during Thursday's practices, it's expected that Toyota, Williams and Brawn will be racing with the spectre of eventual DQ over their heads.

Y'see, it appears that those three teams may have found a loophole in the rules regarding the rear diffuser.  Nothing illegal, mind you, just perhaps maybe not in the exact spirit of the technical regulations.  Or, maybe, the other teams are just upset that they didn't think of it first.

Toyota's diffuser

McLaren's diffuser
The diffuser is the black bit directly under the warning light, below the level of the rear axle.  Its purpose is to slow the air moving underneath the car as it flows behind the chassis, which increases downforce.  It also cleans the air up by minimizing eddys and vortices, thereby reducing drag.

The main difference between the two designs is minor, but telling:  McLaren's runs straight across, but Toyota's center section (immediately beneath the light, obscured somewhat by the glow) is arched, thereby violating the maximum height allowed.

But it really doesn't, because the arched bit is NOT part of the diffuser, but of the rear crash structure.  It just LOOKS like part of the diffuser... and acts like part of the diffuser, too.  The other two "diffuser teams" have similar (though slightly different) designs.

The other seven teams followed the rules literally, as evidenced by the straight-across version demonstrated by the McLaren design.  And so, chances are good that there will be a protest levied against the "Diffuser Three".  Because it doesn't violate the rules, it will be upheld by the track stewards.  There will then be an appeal to the FIA, which won't be reviewed for at least three or four weeks.  Until that time, whatever results the teams gain will basically be provisional, with the possibility of being negated by the FIA.

Can we just have a race without any complaining?  Please?

UPDATE: Four teams protested the diffuser design.  The stewards and the FIA deliberated for six hours, then decided the design was okay.  So step one is in the books, and next will be the more formal appeal to the FIA.

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March 24, 2009

A Lap of Australia

...or at least the track at Melbourne.

2007, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari.
Voices by the Legendary Announce Team.

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March 23, 2009

F1 On Speed!: Australia 2009

You have no idea how good it was to type that title.  Finally, all the blathering, all the complaining, all the bickering that is the F1 offseason is about to end.  Finally, all that matters is horsepower, downforce, speed and skill... because the 2009 F1 season is, finally, about to begin.

And where better than the quasi-traditional starting point for the season, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, or as I like to call it, "God's Slot-car Track."  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we?

In some ways, Melbourne is the "perfect" F1 track.  It's fast, but has some nice turns that require good low-speed performance.  Yet many turns are high-speed and challenging (#5 and #11 in particular), where a brave driver can keep his foot in all the way through.  It's a temporary circuit with some sections that are permanent as well.  Smooth, but some bumpy areas (but not too bumpy) in the braking zones to challenge the suspension.  It's a great track for the drivers to get used to racing again (not like they haven't been driving all winter), easy but not too easy.

Having said all that, last year's race saw 14 cars break down or crash out, leaving only seven competitors to take the checkered flag (there was one DQ as well).  Ambient air temps around 100oF had something to do with that, of course, but reliablilty will be an issue in this race as well, what with the new rules and all.  This year's race will be starting at 5pm local time instead of 1pm, so the temps may be lower... or not.  It's weather, who knows?

Either way, the good folks at SPEEDchannel will be bringing us their usual excellent coverage all weekend long!  First off, we'll get LIVE coverage of Friday's second practice session from 1230am to 2am.  That's followed with (plausibly) LIVE coverage of the season's first Quals on Saturday from 1am to 230am.

But then it's time for the real deal: the Australian Grand Prix LIVE Sunday morning from 1230am to 3am.  There's also a replay from 330pm to 6pm on Sunday afternoon.  As usual, all times are Central.  East coasties, add one hour, y'all on the west coast take two hours away, and those of you in Guam, well, you're on your own for this one.

And F1 UPDATE! will be here with all the news as the 2009 F1 season gets under way! 

It's about bloody time.

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March 20, 2009

Remember That New Format For The Driver's Championship? (UPDATED), not so much, apparently.  Earlier today, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) filed an official protest with the FIA, saying in effect "we all really hate this idea, and you've got lugnuts for brains if you think we're going to stand for it."

The FIA, showing how much backbone they have, immediately caved in, saying "...if, for any reason, the Formula One teams do not now agree with the new system, its implementation will be deferred until 2010."

At which point, the FIA will try to screw the sport up again, and with any luck they won't have bribed Ferrari to accept the format by then... but for now, it's back to the points system.

Which is the right way to do it, of course.  You can discuss how much a win is worth, and how much second is worth, and so forth (FOTA suggested 12-9-6-5-4-3-2-1 earlier, instead of 10-8-6-etc etc, which I'm fine with), but it's clear that the points system works.  Why screw with it?

Oh, right... to let Ferrari win.

UPDATE: It turns out the FIA was violating their own rules by imposing their "solution"!  Article 199 of the International Sporting Regulations reads:
"Changes to sporting rules and to all regulations other than those referred to in b) above are published at least 20 days prior to the opening date for entry applications for the championship concerned, but never later than 30 November each year."

So nearly four months late.  And THIS is the organization in charge?

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March 17, 2009

New F1 Driver's Championship Format!

In a surprise move, the FIA decided to change the format for the Driver's Championship.  Instead of the driver with the most points winning the championship, now it'll be the driver with the most wins (in the event of a tie, points will be the tiebreaker).

Under this system, Felipe Massa would have won the 2008 championship over Lewis Hamilton, six wins to five.

Other than the champion, points will decide all the other positions.  In theory, this could mean that the champion could have fewer points than drivers behind him. 

Consider this possibility:
Driver A has eight wins but the rest of his races are DNFs, for 80 points.
Driver B has zero wins, but 18 third-place finishes... for 108 points.
Driver C has seven wins, and eleven seconds... for 158 points.

Under this new system, Driver A is the champion, even though Driver C had a much better season, and Driver B's season would be one for the history books as well. 

Funny, didn't we hear something like this plan from Ferrari at the end of 2008?

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March 13, 2009

Giddiness at Barcelona

"We can't match their pace.  And I think nobody can." - Felipe Massa

"That they should be so quick just isn't normal." - HWMNBN

" is faster over the race distance than the Ferrari!" - James Allen, F1 broadcaster

What are these rather knowledgeable people talking about?  Why, none other than Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in the Brawn Racing car.  Over the past few days of testing at the track at Barcelona, Brawn Racing not only had the quickest lap times but also turned more laps per car per day, showing a substantial level of reliablity to boot.

Just to make it even more impressive, the laps turned were pretty consistent throughout the runs, meaning that the BGP001 is gentle on the tires.  All of this combines to make the new team's performance somewhat legit.

In one way, this shouldn't be surprising.  One of the reasons that Honda's racer was so horrendous last season was that the team gave up on it early (some say as early as 2007) to concentrate on the 2009 new-spec car.  That would give them a head-start on everybody else, even though they're also behind in practice time with it.  That would also explain why their nose looks so different from everybody else's... perhaps they found something the others haven't.

I think it's a little early to predict a win in Australia like some have done, but it'd certainly be quite the story, wouldn't it?

In other testing news, McLaren has come right out and said that their car is currently too slow to compete for wins.  Speculation is that the chassis is having a problem with rear-end aero (much smaller rear wing), meaning that the drive wheels don't stick to the ground, and that means slow acceleration (lots of wheelspin is bad).  Of course, it's a long season... if McLaren is bad and Brawn is good at Australia, there's a pretty decent chance that those positions will reverse by the end of the year.  McLaren has a lot of money and engineering talent that it can throw around to be bad for very long.

Still, this is already shaping up to be a potential doozy of a F1 season... two weeks to go!

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March 05, 2009

Honda To Make The Grid In Australia! (UPDATED)

Well, actually, not "Honda" but an entity called "Brawn Racing".  Readers of The Pond may remember that Honda withdrew from the F1 grid for financial reasons, and vowed to spend the month of December looking for a buyer.  When that deadline passed, it seemed a lost cause.

Recently, however, a team of Honda F1 management led by team principal Ross Brawn seems to have purchased the racing team.  An official announcement will be coming on Monday, along with the first test of their 2009-spec car at Barcelona. 

A non-official announcement from Nick Fry, former team supervisor and also part of the purchasing group, indicated that the former Honda Racing team will be on the grid for the GP of Australia, and that the drivers will be Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello.

Which makes sense.  Both are pretty good drivers, though that hasn't shown in the results, and more importantly, both are experienced.  Considering the extreme lack of practice and setup time for the new-spec car, having two drivers who can give solid feedback to the engineers will be a must.

It's a stretch to imagine them being anything other than backmarkers for the season, though with the new rules, who knows?

Still, it means a grid of 20 cars, and even those who don't cheer for Honda will have to be happy to see them show up.  A full grid is always better than a short one.

More details to come!

UPDATE 3/6/09: It's official!  Brawn Racing will be on the grid come Melbourne.

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