November 29, 2010

The Greatest Turn In Motorsport

That's quite the label, isn't it?  "The Greatest Turn In Motorsport."  If you want to start an argument amongst gearheads and racing fans, that's a good way to do it (another is "{insert name here} is the best driver of all time.").

There's a lot of famous bends out there.  The Dunlop Curve at the Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the 24 Hours of LeMans.  The Lowes Hairpin at Monaco.  The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.  The tri-oval at Daytona.  130R at Suzuka.  Parabolica at Monza.  The Kink at Road America.  The Karussell at the Nurburgring.  The list goes on and on.  But only one can be the greatest and in this duck's mind, there can be no other than Spa-Francorchamps' Eau Rouge.

Why?  That's simple... here's what it looks like from the bottom in 1997:

...and here's what it looks like from near the top today:

About 105 feet of elevation change.  Now imagine taking it at 160 mph, knowing that there's another (blind) curve waiting for you just over the hill.  While it's become a little bit easier for F1 cars to take Eau Rouge flat-out these days, thanks to high downforce and grippy tires, one still needs nerves of steel and attachments of brass to stick with it.  Most F1 drivers will praise it to the heavens, and that's good enough for me.

But visually Eau Rouge is a spectacle one doesn't get to see much anymore: part hillclimb, part turn.  Only the Corkscrew on the above list has any elevation change, and while it is steep, it's also short... there's no sense of the grandiose about it.  Eau Rouge?  If it could walk, it would swagger.

So that's my call for the greatest turn in motorsports.  What's yours?

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November 26, 2010

Darth Bernie Mugged

F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone was mugged Wednesday outside the offices of Formula One Holdings, in central London.  The 80-year-old and Fabiana, his Brazilian lawyer-girlfriend (above left) were taken for jewelery and watches to the tune of  £200,000.  Darth Bernie suffered a minor head wound in the assault, which occurred mere weeks after he claimed that the attempted mugging of Jenson Button in Brazil was faked and the streets of London were more dangerous. 

"You have to remember we have a lot of problems in England, Oxford Street and places, and in New York people get mugged," Darth Bernie said of the Brazil incident.  "They look for victims, they look for anyone that looks like a soft touch and not too bright.  The people that look a bit soft and simple, they will always have a go at."

Ecclestone was treated and released from a local hospital, while his girlfriend was reportedly shaken by the whole event.  Police are looking for the four men that attacked them, as well as a getaway driver.  As of Friday, no arrests have been made and no identification has been forthcoming.  The Pond is happy to suggest some potential culprits:

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November 15, 2010


Abu Dhabi:

Lap 1, Vitantonio (Unemployed) Liuzzi and Slappy (Slappy) Schumacher come together.

Post-Race, HWMNBN (right) shows his true colors by berating Vitaly Petrov for not letting him by.  You want to know why the Ferrari driver is called "He Who Must Not Be Named" here on The Pond?  That's it, right there.

Petrov reacts by holding his hands up in a "what did you expect?" motion, which is better than what I'd do.

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November 13, 2010

F1 Quals: Abu Dhabi 2010

So here we are at the final Quals session of the 2010 F1 season, and undoubtedly the the most important of the year.  Four men, all needing the pole to give them the best possible shot at winning the Driver's Championship, but only one can do it.  Can McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, needing a win and a miracle, claim the pole that he needs so desperately?  Could Red Bull's Seb Vettel join the six others who have claimed 10 poles in a season... all of whom went on to win the Driver's Championship?  Would it be Mark Webber, the Red Bull driver who led the Championship until a horrible mistake at Korea snatched it from him?  Or did Ferrari's HWMNBN, the points leader in the Championship, stamp his authority over Sunday's race early?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for Sunday's 2010 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:40.318 1:39.874 1:39.394
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:40.335 1:40.119 1:39.425
3 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:40.170 1:40.311 1:39.792
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:40.877 1:40.014 1:39.823
5 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:40.690 1:40.074 1:39.925
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:40.942 1:40.323 1:40.202
7 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:40.904 1:40.476 1:40.203
8 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:41.222 1:40.452 1:40.516
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:40.231 1:40.060 1:40.589
10 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:41.018 1:40.658 1:40.901
11 Robert Kubica Renault 1:41.336 1:40.780
12 Gandalf Kobayashi BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1:41.045 1:40.783
13 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:41.473 1:40.914
14 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1:41.409 1:41.113
15 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:41.015 1:41.418
16 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:41.681 1:41.642
17 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:41.707 1:41.738
18 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:41.824

19 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:43.516

20 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Cosworth 1:43.712

21 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:44.095

22 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:44.510

23 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:45.085

24 Zoroastrian Klien HRT-Cosworth 1:45.296

All of the men in the first three slots have reason to be happy.  Vettel, obviously because he's on pole.  Hamilton because he now has a legit shot at winning the race, and HWMNBN because he didn't need much more than to be ahead of at least one Red Bull to have an excellent chance to win his third Driver's Championship.  Only Mark Webber, stranded down in fifth, should be feeling the grim hand of death on his championship hopes.

But there's reason for concern amongst those three as well.  Vettel because the McLarens clearly are for real around this fast track, and he's got one of them right next door.  Hamilton because he needs to win and with Vettel ahead of him, he's got to beat perhaps the best car/driver combination in motorsports right now.  HWMNBN's problems stem from knowing that he needs to finish second to make the whole matter moot, but he's surrounded by cars that can eat his lunch.  Conversely, Webber can take heart from... um... hang on... er... there must be a reason here somewhere.

Of course, the race is 55 laps long and anything could happen in that time.  As one would expect however, Webber isn't conceding anything: "The championship hasn’t been decided today but it would have been nice to be further up. You could be more confident but at the end of the day we’re still in the hunt, that’s the main thing." 

And nobody really knows what Vettel will do if he's leading late in the race with his teammate right behind him and HWMNBN in third.  In that circumstance, nothing the young German could do would win him the championship... but if Webber got past for the win, he'd win it.  In any other team in the pit lane, there'd be no question what would happen: the team would tell Vettel to let the Australian by.  Red Bull on the other hand is leaving it in the hands of their drivers... and there's surely some unhappiness between them. 

It's surely shaping up to be a tension-packed race on Sunday, and of course the F1U! crew will be all over it... just as soon as they wake up.  See you then and there!

Lewis Hamilton, about to kill a very short cameraman in Q3

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November 12, 2010

F1 Practice: Abu Dhabi 2010


That's how the timesheet read at the end of Friday's Second Practice.  Fitting as those are the four men still in the running for the Driver's Championship at this, the last race of the 2010 F1 season.  Of course, there's nothing to be read into these results as it's practically impossible to figure out what each team was trying to do. The only thing we can figure is that the teams were running full fuel at the end of the session, trying to figure out how the extra 300lbs would affect the tires and brakes around the circuit as night fell.

Another thing that can be figured out is that the McLaren of Hamilton is running a variant of its Japanese GP rear wing, one that sure seems to have increased the car's pace.  His teammate Jenson Button, wasn't running the same wing, as his was held up in transport somewhere, and was over a second slower as a result.  Now, whether or not it'll be enough for Hamilton to win the race is another question.

And he must do so if he wants any chance at all of winning the Championship.  Even with that, he needs the biggest of miracles.  For a quick rundown on who needs to do what, go to this post over at F1fanatic.  Intriguingly, this is the first time F1 has had four drivers still in contention in the last race of the year.  Even more intriguingly, it's possible that we could have three drivers all end up with the same number of points!  If Vettel wins, Webber comes in second, and HWMNBN finishes in 5th, all three will have 256 points.  In that case, Seb Vettel would win the Driver's Championship.  He'd have the same number of wins, 2nd and 3rd place finishes as HWMNBN, but one more 4th.  Amazing, and not all that unlikely.  Still, it's all in the hands of the Ferrari driver.  If he wins or finishes 2nd, he's the Champion no matter what anybody else does.

The track ran well today, billiard-table smooth and still as Tilkeish as ever.  Amazingly, there was a huge downpour before P1 today, which washed what little rubber the GP2 guys laid down away.  Still, by P2 it was back to being bone dry, but hot and humid.  That could take a toll on the cars and their worn engines, to say the least.  Supposedly the big four are all to use low-mileage engines, but that's what they said about Vettel's engine at Korea and we all know how that ended up.  And to be honest, it might be the most beautiful layout in Formula 1 when the sun starts going down.

As we learned last year, there's not many overtaking opportunities around the Yas Marina Circuit, so qualifying will be of paramount importance.  Quals is Saturday morning, and I'll have a writeup as soon after I wake up as possible.  See you then!

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November 08, 2010

F1 on SPEED!: Abu Dhabi 2010

And so it comes to this, the final race of the season.  In many ways, this is the way it should be.  While we're unlikely to have the championship come down to the final turn of the final lap like it did in 2008, one race for all the marbles just feels right.

And the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi will be the venue.  Let's take a look at the track map:

 Dominated by two long straights and a third of not-insignificant length, you'd think the McLarens with their high top-end speed would own this place, and it may in fact work out that way, but I'd not bet on it.  Most of the turns are low-gear, low-speed, which would play into the Red Bulls' hands, but I'd not bet on that, either.  No, the easy way to wager would be on the Ferrari, just because of its balance between handling and grunt.  Since that's the easy way, however, I'm not going to take it: HRT will own the victory after a hideous blimp accident clears the way for them.

Bridgestone is bringing their super-soft and medium compounds, just like last year.  Drivers say it combines the best of modern circuits with the best of Monaco-style street circuits, which sounds like Korea's mission statement actually.  If we have a race like Korea this weekend, I'll be happy... not expecting it, though.  The main excitement last year was provided by rookie Kamui Kobayashi passing Driver's World Champion Jenson Button into Turn 8, then the processional began and the race turned dull.  The most interesting part of the circuit is the pitlane, which goes through a tunnel under Turn 1 as it rejoins the track.  It didn't cause any problems last year, but more than a couple of cars got squirrely there.  One bump into the wall and we've got major headaches.

Well, we'll be seeing it all unveil live on SPEED!, beginning with Friday's 2nd Practice from 6am to 740am.  Quals is Saturday from 6am to 730am.  Then, finally, we see the second-ever Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi on Sunday, from 530am to 8am.  There'll be a replay from 230pm to 5pm that afternoon.  And then we're done for the year... and I have to admit to some relief.

In a completely unrelated topic, I'm going to toot my own horn here for a second.  During last year's F1U! for the GP of Abu Dhabi, I said this:

:  It's hard to think that Red Bull won't be favored to win the 2010 championship.  They probably have the best car on the grid, one of the best drivers in Seb Vettel (and teammate Mark Webber ain't exactly chopped liver, either), came in second in the constructor's championship (and Vettel finished second in the driver's championship), and had their fourth 1-2 finish of the season today.  Not bad for a team that hadn't won a race before this year!

Perhaps not a prediction that went particularly far out on a limb, but there you go.

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November 06, 2010

F1 Quals: Brazil 2010

Pundits always say that rain is the great equalizer in Formula 1.  Guess what the weather was doing at the Autodromo Juan Carlos Pace during Qualifying today?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for Sunday's Grand Prix of Brazil:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:20.050 1:19.144 1:14.470
2 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:19.160 1:18.691 1:15.519
3 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:19.025 1:18.516 1:15.637
4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.931 1:18.921 1:15.747
5 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:18.987 1:19.010 1:15.989
6 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:19.799 1:18.925 1:16.203
7 Robert Kubica Renault 1:19.249 1:18.877 1:16.552
8 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:19.879 1:18.923 1:16.925
9 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:19.778 1:19.200 1:17.101
10 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:20.189 1:19.153 1:17.656
11 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.905 1:19.288
12 Gandalf Kobayashi BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1:19.741 1:19.385
13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:20.153 1:19.486
14 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:20.158 1:19.581
15 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:20.096 1:19.847
16 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1:20.174 1:19.899
17 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:20.592 1:20.357
18 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:20.830

19 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:22.130

20 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:22.250

21 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Cosworth 1:22.378

22 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:22.810

23 Zoroastrian Klien HRT-Cosworth 1:23.083

24 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:23.796

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, that really is Nico "The Incredible" Hulkenberg on pole.  That's Williams' first pole position in 100 races, the 2005 European Grand Prix.  It's Cosworth's first pole since 1999. 

The rain was pelting down in Q1, stopped just after the beginning of Q2, and a dry line emerged with only a few minutes left in Q3.  The first hotlaps in Q3 were done on the Intermediate tires, with the final run for pole being the land of the super-softs and the incredibly brave.

If you take the lap of Hulkenberg's life off the board, his second-fastest lap still would have had him on pole.  He and the team just got it absolutely right... which doesn't mean that he's going to have a fast race tomorrow.  See, the weather was crappy today but the forecast for tomorrow is for clear skies and dry tracks.  The teams had to decide if they were going to go for a wet setup to help them qualify but which would hurt them in the race, or sacrifice qualifying pace and go for the race.  Because of the changing conditions today though, it's hard to judge how everybody is set-up.  My guess is that the Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton split the difference, HWMNBN has a mostly dry setup... and as great a story as Hulkenberg is, he's essentially irrelevant to tomorrow.  The Williams just doesn't have the grunt to be a contender for a podium slot in the race.

But darn, it's cool to see someone in a car that isn't red, silver or dark blue up at the top of the time-sheet!  Rain changes everything.

See you tomorrow for the Brazilian Grand Prix F1U!

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November 05, 2010

F1 Practice: Brazil 2010

Friday's second practice was pretty much what you'd expect: Red Bulls up front and everybody else wondering if they could mount James Bond-like gadgets to their cars, and trying to figure out how much pace they'd lose with a couple of Sidewinder launch rails attached to their sidepods.

HWMNBN and Felipe Massa both showed good speeds, though both had their troubles.  The points leader had his engine die in P1, and the Brazilian had a clutch failure in P2.  Neither should suffer a penalty for their breakdowns however since they came on Friday.  Indeed, the team claimed that they weren't at all surprised by HWMNBN's breakdown as it was a well-worn race engine that they expected to have go boom.  That actually makes good sense... why put any more miles on the engine they intend to use on Sunday than they have to? 

On the other hand, McLaren may as well not bother to show up at Abu Dhabi next week; both Hamilton and Button were a second or more off the pace.  If they wind up with that sort of pace at Quals, they'll probably be DOA on Sunday, and both drivers need to win to have any chance for a comeback in the championship.

All is not wine and roses in the Red Bull camp, though.  As predicted some races ago, the tension between Mark Webber and Seb Vettel is showing through at a particularly ugly time.  Mark Webber said on Thursday that he believed that the team thought his drive for a championship was "an inconvenience.  I wasn't supposed to be in the chase at all."  His body language was reportedly that of someone under a ton of stress, full of slumping and sighs.  He did get a dig in though: "For different reasons here and there, Seb's never led the Championship and I have."  Vettel in a later interview with a German TV channel said "if Mark needs help then he should take the medical car."    

Not good news for the Austrian team.  It's clear that neither driver is willing to help the other if and when it comes down to that.  Indeed, Webber was asked what he'd do if things broke poorly for him this race and suddenly Vettel had a better chance to win the Championship.  His response, after a long pause, was telling: "I'd need to think a lot further about that."

Meanwhile over in the Ferrari camp, Felipe Massa has stated that he'll do whatever he can do to help HWMNBN win the championship.  HWMNBN, on the other hand, has said that he'd be perfectly happy to have his teammate win at his home race.  "It'll take 25 points off the guys following me," which is just as good as a win for the Spaniard.  Of course, the specter of Massa pulling over to let his teammate by looms over the team, to the point where a Brazilian official has said that Massa lets HWMNBN by, he'll have Massa arrested for violating sportsmanship laws.  Must be election time in Saõ Paolo.

Quals late Saturday morning, with the report coming sometime after that.

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November 01, 2010

F1 on SPEED!: Brazil 2010

From the new track at Korea, we find ourselves hurled over 11000 miles to Saõ Paulo, Brazil, home of the Brazilian Grand Prix... and let's get it out of the way now: that's a lot of Grand Prix.

Let's get something else out of the way: I do not like this track.  Let's look at the map...

I admit that my dislike of the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace rather sets me apart from many fans and most of the drivers, but I have never been fond of the site of the Grand Prix of Brazil.  Indeed, now that the French Grand Prix has gone by the wayside (and good riddance to bad rubbish), only the nightmare of boredom that is Hungary is higher on my antipathy list. 

Which is strange, because the Brazilian Grand Prix has coughed up some stunning races in recent years.  Consider 2007, when Lewis Hamilton lost the Driver's Championship to Kimi Raikkonen by throwing his car off-track trying to make a pass he didn't need.  Or perhaps 2008, when Hamilton redeemed himself on the last turn of the last lap, passing Timo Glockenspiel's Toyota to win the Driver's Championship by one point over hometown favorite Felipe Massa, who had won the race.  Or even 2009, which had the longest quals session in F1 history due to torrential rains (and coincidentally saw the arrival of Racey the Owl) and the dual championships for rookie team BrawnGP and Jenson Button, with Massa, recovering from his horrible accident, waving the checkered flag.

Despite all this, I despise this circuit.  More commonly known by the name Interlagos, meaning "Between The Lakes" in Portugese, the course is built, well, between two man-made lakes that provide water to the sprawling metropolis that is Saõ Paulo.  These lakes have caused the circuit to wrinkle over the years, to the point where even after a resurfacing in 2007, it was easily the bumpiest track in F1.  I don't like that.  The pit-in is positioned so that the racing line through Turn 15 goes through it, and it always looks like cars are going to smash head-on into the pit wall at 160mph.  I don't like that.  I don't like the pit lane itself, the longest in F1.  But most of all, I don't like the whole atmosphere of Interlagos.  Even on the sunniest days it feels dull and gray.  Watching the race often feels like a chore because of this.  The whole layout seems uninspired to my eyes as well.

As mentioned before though, most of the drivers love Interlagos.  The elevation change (down, from Turn 2 to the exit of Turn 3, then up, from around Turn 13 to the slightly banked Turn 15) gives them a sense of going somewhere, the fast parts are fast without being dangerously so, and the twisty bits are challenging without being ridiculous.  So they say.  I just hate it all.  It's a visceral, emotional hate, with no logic behind it.  I admit it, and can't help it.

That all being said, it's looking like Brazil is going to serve up another whopper of a race this Sunday.  HWMNBN could in theory wrap up the Driver's Championship.  Red Bull could lock down the Constructor's Championship.  Or everything could go the way of Korea and we'll have a scenario where we'll have four or five drivers all within range of the Championship going into Abu Dhabi.  No matter how you look at it, or how much you like (or dislike) the track, the GP of Brazil will almost certainly be the most important race of the year.

And SPEED will be there!  Live coverage of Friday's Second Practice goes from 11am to 1240pm.  Quals, on the other hand, are Saturday from 11am to 1230pm.

The Grand Prix of Brazil will come to us LIVE on Sunday, with coverage beginning at 830am, and the checkered flag dropping somewhere around 11am.  As usual, all times are Pond Central, and don't forget that you need to set your clocks back an hour when (if?) you go to bed on Saturday night as the US reverts to Standard Time.

Also as usual, the F1U! crew will be all over the race like an odd-toed ungulate on a blade of grass.  See you then!

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