March 26, 2011

F1 Quals: Australia 2011

The gloves are off.  The field is now level.  We'll finally get to see the true pace of the cars on similar setups: low fuel and soft tires, no-holds barred.  Throw in the stresses of the knockout format and the "new" 107% rule, and we're about to discover who's fast and who's not.  It's 2011's first Quals, and it's for the Grand Prix of Australia.  Let's take a look at the provisional results:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:25.296 1:24.090 1:23.529
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.384 1:24.595 1:24.307
3 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:25.900 1:24.658 1:24.395
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.886 1:24.957 1:24.779
5 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:25.707 1:25.242 1:24.974
6 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:25.543 1:25.582 1:25.247
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:25.856 1:25.606 1:25.421
8 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.031 1:25.611 1:25.599
9 Gandalf Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.717 1:25.405 1:25.626
10 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:26.232 1:25.882 1:27.066
11 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:25.962 1:25.971
12 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:26.620 1:26.103
13 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.812 1:26.108
14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:27.222 1:26.739
15 Father Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:26.298 1:26.768
16 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:26.245 1:31.407
17 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:26.270No Time

18 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:27.239

19 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Renault 1:29.254

20 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:29.342

21 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:29.858

22 Custard d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:30.822

23 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1:32.978

24 Narain Kittylitter HRT-Cosworth 1:34.293

Red Bull's Seb Vettel simply blew away the field in quals, never putting a foot wrong and taking a half-second off his pole time from last year.  This is even more amazing when you consider that the teams had been saying that the new Pirelli tires were trending around two seconds a lap slower than the 2010 Bridgestones.  It becomes flat-out astonishing when you realize that he had a KERS failure and couldn't use the power boost on his fastest lap!  He's nearly a full second faster than McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who will be second on the grid.  He's nearly 1.3 seconds ahead of Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button, who'll be starting fourth.  Australian Mark Webber, also of Red Bull, slotted into third.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa has never been fond of the track at Melbourne, and his discomfort showed quite clearly in Q3, managing only 8th while his teammate, HWMNBN, managed a stout 5th.  Indeed, as he rolled out for his first hot laps with two minutes or so left in the session, he immediately spun coming out of the pits, doing a lovely job of flatspotting all four tires in the process.  While others also had problems with grip, the diminutive Brazilian (try saying that three times fast) looked as if his racing line had been coated with teflon all day.

You'll note that Rubens Barrichello has a "No Time" next to his name in Q2.  Before he could get a timed lap in the books, he got a tire onto the grass, spun out and beached himself in a gravel trap.  Towards the end of the session, Adrian F'n Sutil had the Exciting Moment Of The Dayâ„¢ when he hooked a tire off the pavement on the exit of the final turn.  His Force India immediately snapped hard right, sending him diving for the inside wall of the front straight.  Just as quickly, Sutil gathered the car up in a cloud of tire smoke and got it rotating the other way.  He wound up rotating a couple of times as the car progressed down the straight, but he kept it out of the walls.  As the L.A.T. mentioned, NASCAR announcer Darryl Waltrip calls that "crashing without hitting anything."  Indeed.

You'll also note that the times for the two HRTs of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Kittylitter are in a dark green, as opposed to red.  That means that they've run afoul of the 107% rule and are therefore to be excluded from the race.  The race stewards do have the option of giving one or both cars a dispensation, thereby allowing them to run in the race, but that would probably only happen if the other teams agreed... not likely.  It'd be a shame if they couldn't run, particularly considering their financial troubles and the immense effort the team put in to getting the cars ready to race, but the rules are on the books.

We'll find out soon enough.  The race is early Sunday morning, Pond time.  The F1Update! will be up... sometime on Sunday.  Ph.Duck is returning from two weeks in India sometime around 8am or so, and I'll be picking him up, maybe taking him to breakfast if he has the energy, that sort of thing.  So I'm not sure when I'll write the F1U! but it'll happen Sunday for sure.  See ya then!

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March 25, 2011

F1 Practice: Australia 2011

It's been a long wait, but F1 cars have finally returned to the track to begin the 2011 season!  I think we can officially say "Yay!" now.

As is usual with Practice sessions you can't take any of the times set as gospel, but the usual teams were up at the top and the usual teams were down at the bottom.  The more things change...

It's looking like the biggest factor in Sunday's race may not be the cars, nor the drivers, but the tires.  Both the Powers That Be in F1 and the teams asked new tire manufacturer Pirelli to create a larger difference in tire wear between compounds of rubber.  This shortens the life of the tire, making for more pit stops.  Well, be careful what you ask for, because Pirelli has come through in spades.   Using the soft tires as an example, reports are that it wears in a predictable fashion... until it completely drops off the table at a completely unpredictable point.  Once it does that, the tire is totally worthless.  You might get 10 or 12 laps of performance out of the rubber, but that's it.  Last year, you'd go for 12 laps, then if you took care of your tires, get another 20 laps of decent performance out of them.  Not now... now when the tires go off, a car can expect to lose five or six seconds per lap or even more.  If you're lucky, the tire hits that point when you're near the pit-in.  If you're not....  Even better, and I say that completely unsarcastically, the boffins on the pit wall won't be able to tell the drivers when that fail point is coming.  The driver will have to feel it themselves, and make the call on the fly.  THAT's good for the sport.

What isn't so good is that the new Pirellis appear to be somewhat fragile.  I don't mean in the way it wears, but in the base construction of the tire altogether.  Take a look at this:

This tire was the front-left of Seb Vettel's Red Bull.  All he did was run over a curb and it ripped a big chunk off the surface, revealing the canvas backing underneath.  Before you say something like "this must be an isolated case," one of the Virgin drivers had the same problem... on the back-right, and he didn't run over anything.  They're saying that these things shed rubber like a longhaired cat sheds fur in the summertime.  Something to watch for, that.

Speaking of Virgin, they and HRT seem to be in serious jeopardy of not qualifying for the race due to the return of the 107% rule.  Virgin was setting times fourteen seconds off the pace of the leaders.  HRT didn't get a car on track until there was around 1m45s left in the 90 minute second practice session.  They were too busy putting the car together in the garage and getting it into running shape to even hope to get a timed lap in.  They weren't even thinking about getting the second car into Practice 2, and everybody in the garage, from team principal Colin Kolles to the guy who sweeps up, looked exhausted.  According to SPEED's pit-lane reporter, the mechanics had been working on the car around the clock since Tuesday, and by the looks on the faces of the team members, he wasn't exaggerating.  I suspect that we'll be looking at a 20-car race on Sunday, maybe 22.  We almost certainly won't be seeing HRT. 

Qualifying early Saturday morning.

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March 23, 2011

The Greatest F1 Picture... EVER. And This Time I Mean It.

Earlier today, I was trying to figure out what I was going to post upon tonight.  Really, I had no idea...I was all set to just say "eh" and leave it at that.  Then the Official First Friend of The Pond, Vaucaunson's Duck, saw a comment from reader Dkallen99 and e-mailed me.

The contents of the letter were, essentially, "I dunno, I see the duck."

MUCH better.

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March 22, 2011

The Greatest F1 Picture... EVER.

Earlier today, I was trying to figure out what I was going to post upon tonight.  Really, I had no idea... nothing is going on as everybody gets ready for the first F1 race of the year, or more correctly, nothing interesting is going on.  Rio Rainbow Gate! episode 12 hasn't appeared on the intertubes yet.  I don't have a burning passion to post on a WWII vessel or plane at the moment.  I was all set to just say "eh" and leave it at that.

Then I found The Greatest F1 Picture... EVER.

Short of everything being on fire, there is no possible way to improve upon the perfection of this shot.  Really. 

In case anybody is wondering, that's Jenson Button driving the 2008 McLaren around the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst, Australia.  And a helicopter.  I'm assuming that corner is Skyline.

Bathurst is a circuit that's pretty much unknown to US audiences.  That's a shame, because it's truly amazing. Take a look:

 Almost 200 meters of elevation change.  Crikey.  You go up the mountain, run around the top, then come down again.  The two V8 Supercars races here are a 1000km event... and a 12 hour endurance race.  I've seen a couple of the 1000s, and it's like nothing here.  Hopefully SPEED will pick up the 2011 race... I don't see why they wouldn't, they're showing the V8S series anyway.

Ah, but if F1 cars were to race there... we can but dream.

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March 21, 2011

F1 on SPEED!: Australia 2011

The cars have been delivered.

The crew are busy setting up the track.

That can mean only one thing... Formula 1 is back!  And if F1 is back, that too can only mean one thing... F1Update! is back!  Welcome to the first installment of F1 on SPEED! for the 2011 season.  I'm your host and resident fanatic, Wonderduck, and it'll be my pleasure to guide you through this 18-possibly-19-race year with the usual amount of humor, aplomb and maybe even a pinch of knowledge along the way. 

As you know if you've been reading the off-season reports here at The Pond, the first race of the year was supposed to have been held at Bahrain two weekends ago.  The Bahrainian people had something to say about that (and a few other things too), and the race was postponed and probably canceled.  That means that Australia, long the traditional first race of the year and only recently displaced by oil money, really will be the first race of the season, and there's no better place for it in my opinion. 

Let's take a look at the trackmap for the Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne:

Running around a man-made lake in the center of Albert Park, the course is made up primarily by public roads.  Technically this makes it a street circuit, but it doesn't much have the feel of one.  It's best to think of Melbourne as a purpose-built course that just happens to have street cars drive on it every day. 

It's generally considered a fast track, but the shortage of traditional straightaways does make it something of a challenge to pass on.  The drivers generally like the course, often saying that it's neither challenging or boring to drive.  Except when it rains; then it becomes something of a nightmare.  The painted lines on the asphalt that designate lanes during the rest of the year (and earned the circuit the nickname "God's Slotcar Track") become quite slippery in the wet, a hazard not experienced anywhere else save Monte Carlo. 

You can barely see the joins between track pieces.
Combined with the rather close armco barriers, it becomes quite easy to break your car with a moment's lapse in concentration.  Last season the circuit was pretty much smooth, though some ripples were beginning to form in some braking zones.  No surprise really, as the last resurfacing was nearly 15 years ago. 

As with everything else at this place, the asphalt is neither particularly abrasive or easy on tires.  Pirelli is probably very happy with this being the first race of the year; it'll give them a great baseline to work from for the rest of the season. 

All in all, it's great to have F1 back.  As usual, the good folks at SPEED will be bringing us their usual sterling coverage... with some bonuses!

Coverage begins online at on Thursday evening from 830pm to 10pm, with a streaming feed of 1st Practice.  Practice 2 will be broadcast live on SPEED early Friday morning, from 1230am to 210am.  That'll be the first time the Legendary Announce Team will be providing commentary, by the way... all streaming events are strictly ambient sound.  3rd Practice will be streaming from 10pm to 11pm on Friday.

The all-important Qualifying session is plausibly live early Saturday morning, from 1am to 230am.  It'll be interesting to see if HRT, the only team not to have turned any off-season testing laps, will be caught by the "new" 107% rule, and the only place to see it will be on SPEED.

Finally, the first race of the 2011 season, the Grand Prix of Australia, will be televised LIVE early Sunday morning, from 1230am to 3am.  For those of you whose circadian rhythms don't work that way, there will be a replay on Monday, from 12noon to 230pm as well.

Of course, the first F1Update! of the year will go up sometime Sunday!  We'll see you then, we'll see you here!

UPDATE: Of course, all times are Pond Central.  If you're in Oregon, subtract two hours.  Denver, subtract an hour.  If you're in New York, move.  If you're in London, watch the BBC.

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March 18, 2011

Last F1 News 'n' Notes For The 2011 Preseason

As we head into the last weekend before the F1 Circus gets going in earnest, let us take a final look at the preseason goings-on, shall we?

First up, good news coming from the doctors of Robert Kubica!  They're saying that he'll be up and around on crutches within a few weeks.  While the worst damage the Pole suffered was to his right hand and arm, his right leg and foot were also badly injured in his rally car crash some weeks ago.  Eric Bouiller, team principal for Renault, told reporters today that "(Kubica) is ahead of schedule on all the forecasts, whether to do with rehabilitation or recovery.  He is proving to be an example to the hospital.  He is extremely motivated, he has the morale, even if it's not rosy every day overall he is maintaining exceptional spirits."  Still no word on if he'll ever be able to drive a F1 car again, but that's of little consequence in the grand scheme of things; picking up a fork looked like it may very well have been beyond him after the crash.  Obviously we here at F1Update! wish him the best of luck.

Next, anybody who's watched a Formula 1 race will be able to testify to the difficulty of figuring out just exactly what tires any particular car was running at any given time during a race.  The softer tire had a green stripe on the sidewall, the harder tire had nothing, and the only way to tell the difference between the intermediate and wet weather tires was the tread pattern... difficult to spot when a car is moving at 140mph.  Pirelli, the new tire manufacturer for F1, has figured out a way to get rid of that problem, and unveiled it today.

Color-coding!  Brilliant!  The color/tire combinations are as follows: 

Orange: Full Wet   Blue: Intermediates   Red: Super-softs  
Yellow: Softs   White: Medium  Silver: Hard
The tires are proving to be somewhere between one and two seconds slower than last year's Bridgestones.  They're also much less sturdy.  We won't be seeing someone going almost the entire race on a single set of tires, like Seb Vettel did at Monza last year.  In fact, Pirelli is thinking three stops for tires per race.  This isn't a bug, it's a feature, a feature the FIA asked for.  Forget about KERS or the movable rear wing, tires are going to be the biggest technical change this year.

Finally, Sauber's Gandalf Kobayashi spoke to the press today about the terrible earthquake and tsunami that his his homeland of Japan a week ago. "Of course I was very worried about my country and so went to Japan after the Barcelona test. I must say the situation is really, really bad," said Gandalf, whose family lives in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.  "I am worried the whole country could disappear – it is just too awful. Since the earthquake and the tsunami news is getting worse every day, there is nothing positive to look forward to at the moment."  Continuing on, Kobayashi said "I feel I have to do something, I want to help – but in fact there is nothing I can do by myself. I think at least for the time being what I can do is to be focused and fully concentrate on the season’s opening race in Melbourne. Originally I was looking forward to this with great joy. Now what I really want to do is my very best to achieve a good result, which perhaps can at least give the people in Japan a little bit of hope and positive news."

HRT will race in Australia with the flag of Japan on their cars in tribute.  Meanwhile, Swiss team Sauber will have the following banner on their cars:

The translation reads "May our prayers reach the people in Japan."  A nice gesture.

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March 10, 2011

McLaren MP4-26: Srs Bidnez

Sleek.  Graceful.  Streamlined.  Sculpted, molded, polished.  All of these words and more can be used to describe that most high-tech of all racing vehicles, the Formula 1 car.  Able to slice through the air at 200mph or more, stop on a dime, or pull 5-G turns, all while its eight-cylinder engine is turning at at a mind-numbing 18000rpm.  Tolerances are so tight that fluids have to be pre-heated to a viscosity very similar to that of water before a F1 engine can be run.  The car as a whole is made of nigh-futuristic carbon fiber, aluminum, dozens of composites, beryllium, titanium, and many other, more esoteric, materials.  Something as small as a front wingtip being slightly out of position (due to an accident, for example) can slow a F1 car dramatically, ruin its aerodynamics, compromise the grip levels in a turn, and cause brake failure and engine overheating.  As much sculpture as machine, every inch of a F1 car is painstakingly designed to be just so.

And then McLaren rolled their 2011 challenger, the MP4-26, onto the track during the pre-season testing session at Barcelona yesterday.

D'awwwwwwwwww, isn't that cute?  The car is obviously going through puberty... it got its first pimple!

Aerodynamics?  Who needs 'em! 

While it looks like the bracing wires on a Sopwith Camel, in actuality it's a testing rig designed to measure the stresses on the front wing.  At least, that's what they claim.  We here at F1Update! think that McLaren's Chief Aerodynamicist Doug McKiernan is taking his styling cues from something in nature:

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March 09, 2011

Yet Even Still More F1 News 'n' Notes

We're now two days into the final preseason test at Barcalounger, Spain, and we've got some information coming out. 

First off, HRT has finally named the driver for the second seat.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Vitantonio Liuzzi completes the field for the 2011 season, teaming up with Narain Kittylitter.  Of course last season he drove for Force India so this is certainly a step down for Liuzzi, but then again, he's still driving in F1.  That's gotta count for something, right?

Next, we're going to stick with HRT as they've announced that they'll be debuting their new chassis on Friday.  Prior to this, they've been running last year's car to get tire data on the new Pirellis.  You may remember that they were the last team to bring out their car for the 2010 season as well.  Last year's hold-up was financial, and it's likely that money is the problem this time around as well.  I'm beginning to wonder if they'll even finish the season at this rate... but then, I said the same thing last year.

Good news from Japan, as Suzuka was confirmed for the 2012 season, ending speculation as to whether it would be dropped from the calendar after the track's current deal expired this year.  While the Great Suzuka Boat Races would be missed, I think the track would be missed even more if it was gone.  It's probably my third-favorite course on the calendar, behind Spa-Francopants and Silverstone, and Japan has a rich history in F1.  I'm glad it's sticking around, is what I'm saying.

Of course, one can't really judge anything from pre-season testing, but evidence is building that Red Bull is still the fastest car out there, followed by Ferrari.  After that, things get muddled, but one thing that's becoming clear is that both Mercedes and McLaren are in serious trouble, at least as the first race of the year goes.  Mercedes has been trending almost a second per lap slower than the leaders, while McLaren has had problems with both pace and reliability.  After today's test session ended, Lewis Hamilton was interviewed by reporters. "Do I believe I have a car to win the world championship at the moment? I don't. No," said Hamilton.  "But that doesn't mean it won't become a world championship-winning car."  Where everybody else were turning in 100-lap runs, McLaren had two major malfunctions that limited Hamilton to just over 50 laps today.  Teammate Jenson Button was equally pessimistic.  "I will be surprised if we can match the Red Bull or Ferrari when we get to Melbourne, that’s a big ask considering the mileage we’ve had compared to them and the pace from the last test. It’s going to be tricky but never say never.

Finally, in an e-mail to Ph.Duck regarding the upcoming Grand Prix of India, I mentioned that I'd seen a line drawing of the circuit's layout.  It looked pretty decent, but I had no idea if there were to be any elevation change involved.  Ph.Duck, who is going to India for two weeks on Friday, then went searching the interwebs for more information on the new JayPee circuit.  What he found was much, much better than a simple map.

Sure it's a promotional piece, and therefore open to speculation as to just how much of it is truth and how much fiction, but it at least seems promising.  Gotta love the elephants.

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March 01, 2011

Even Still More F1 News 'n' Notes

We're heading into the fourth and final pre-season test session this weekend... and then the tension starts as we bite our nails (ducks have nails?) waiting for the first race of the year.  Until then though, there's a little bit of news floating around the 'net.

First up, Timo Glockenspiel probably won't be participating in this test session as he's currently in hospital.  The Virgin driver suffered a sudden attack of appendicitis and had that vestigial organ removed in a Swiss hospital yesterday.  He should be released on Wednesday, but to speed his recovery along, he'll likely be sitting out the four-day session.  Jerome D'Ambrosio will be doing all the laps for the team in Timo's absence.  Get well soon, Timo!

Next, it's sounding more and more like the Grand Prix of Bahrain just won't die this year.  Birdy Ecclestone has found a date for the race, and it won't conflict with any of the existing races... sounds great, right?  Well, not so much: it's during the F1 Circus' summer break, in August.  In Bahrain.  A hot country, in the hot season, on a hot surface.  IN THE FRICKIN' DESERT!  Never mind the cars overheating, I'm frightened that the drivers will die in the cockpit.  It's not like there's air conditioning in these cars...

On the news of that bombshell, work has begun in Austin, TX on the new USGP track there.  Earth has been moved for the past couple of weeks, according to the Austin Statesman newspaper/website, and is going on roughly 12 hours a day, six days a week.  More importantly, the promoters have been told to expect a June 2012 race date.  Pretty much what I expected; it only makes sense to have the US race either just before or just after the Canadian GP.  Yes, the teams want to be in the USA, but not enough to make two trips to North America in a season...

Finally, Jackie Stewart has never been one to keep his mouth shut when he thinks there's a problem, and a couple of days ago he said what a lot of us F1 fans have been yowling about for years.  "My belief is that the major reason for the lack of overtaking in modern grand prix racing is down to the modern tracks, nearly all of which have been designed by the same man, the German architect Hermann Tilke," said Stewart.  "Racetracks have changed since my day and thank God for that. Back then a driver who raced for five years had a two in three chance of being killed.  But we have now gone too far the other way. Circuits should not permit liberties to be abused without a penalty that can be instantly recognised by spectators or TV viewers. Safety is one thing; abuse of privilege is another.  Unless circuits are modified, spectators and television viewers might have to live with a lack of overtaking for some time."  Perhaps surprisingly, the chief pilot of Red Bull Airways, Mark Webber, agreed with Stewart.  He then went on to damn with faint praise by saying that Tilke's best track was the Sepang International Raceway in Malaysia... which is kind of like being the smallest miniature giant space hamster. 

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