October 27, 2014

F1 on TV: United States 2014

After a couple of weeks, the F1 Circus has made its way from Sochi on the Black Sea to Austin deep in the heart of Texas.  Along the way, however, two of the teams have gotten lost... more on that later... but for now, we've got the United States Grand Prix!  Let's take a look at the track map.

The Circuit of the Americas has proven to be something of a mixed bag in the two previous races.  The drivers universally love the track, but the races themselves have been a bit less than special.  The circuit itself, much like the English language, has merrily stalked other tracks down back alleys and mugged them for the best bits.  The Turn 03 thru 06 Complex is highly similar to the "Esses" at Japan, for example.  The big arching turn of 16-18, unfortunately known as "Diabolica", is reminiscent of Turkey's Quad-8.  Turn 11 is almost-not-quite similar to Montreal's hairpin.  But then you get the parts that are All-American!  The uphill Turn 01, amusingly known as "Phil Hill", with its steep climb to a blind apex leading to a dropaway to the quick Turn 02, is like nothing else on the calendar.  The long back straight actually has a blind crest roughly where the DRS zone begins, and of course it isn't entirely straight.  The most difficult turn on the track is 19, a slippery, tight right-angled bend after the high speed Diabolica.  It's not easy to get whoa'd up to make the turn without killing a tire or going for a gallop out on the Pecos.  It's a enjoyable circuit, no doubt!  We've just not had good racing on it yet, but I know that's not universal.  A few weeks ago, the FIA World Endurance Championship held a race at CotA, a six hour affair marred by heavy rains, but it was still great.  There can be good racing here.  We just haven't seen it yet in F1.

The Legendary Announce Team is geared up and ready to go for their home race, with a special bonus for us to boot!  Here's the schedule:
FRIDAY
1130a - 1p: Practice 1 live on NBCSN
2p - 4p: Practice 2 live on NBCSN
SATURDAY:
12n - 230p: Practice 3 and Quals live on NBC
SUNDAY:
130p - 4p: 2014 United States Grand Prix live on NBC

That's right, not only do we get all three practices, but P3 and Quals are going to be shown on the Mother Network itself, NBC!  This is undoubtedly because of the huge upswing in viewers/ratings, up 93% from last year, up 39% from Speed's final year in 2012, and the best ratings for F1 in the US since 2002.  Viewership is averaging over 375000 people per race, outstanding numbers considering F1's status in the US.

And in an interesting note, the Missing Man from the Legendary Announce Team, Bob Varsha, will be taking to the airwaves of Austin's "Fringe 105.3 FM" on Saturday and Sunday to provide live commentary during P3, Quals and the race itself.  Even better, it'll be streaming on Fringe FM Austin.  I may just check it out during P3.

And yet, while the sport is celebrating unprecedented success in this country, two teams have gone under in the past two weeks.  It's no surprise that Caterham went down... I predicted that Japan would be their last race... but they've officially gone into Administration.  Essentially the last step before bankruptcy, the court Administrators have taken the team assets and are trying to sell it off piecemeal to pay back creditors.  If that fails, then bankruptcy happens.  What did come as a surprise is that Marussia has joined them in Administration.  Neither team will appear at the USGP, though it's not impossible that they might make it to Abu Dhabi.  Marussia in particular has reason to make that final race, as they are currently 9th in the Constructor's Championship, and only six points behind Lotus for 8th.  With double points on the table for that last tilt, there's a substantial amount of prize money available... rumored at thirty million dollars or more.  Except nobody knows if they're eligible for it anymore now that they've gone into receivership.  Oh, I'm sure the FIA does, and the team itself, but the rules are so opaque that they could be taken any way you want to take them.

So there'll be 18 cars on the grid, the smallest number since... um... the 2005 USGP, when six cars took the lights.  Quals should be pretty interesting is all I've gotta say!

It should go without saying that the F1Update! team will be all over this weekend... see ya then!

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October 11, 2014

F1 Quals: Russia 2014

SO close... so close indeed.  Here's the provisional grid for the 2014 Grand Prix of All The Russias:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.759 1:38.338 1:38.513
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:39.076 1:38.606 1:38.713
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:39.125 1:38.971 1:38.920
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.560 1:39.381 1:39.121
5 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:40.074 1:39.296 1:39.277
6 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.735 1:39.022 1:39.629
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.519 1:39.666 1:39.635
8 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:40.255 1:39.786 1:39.709
9 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:40.098 1:39.838 1:39.771
10 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:40.354 1:39.929 1:40.020
11 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.382 1:40.052
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:40.273 1:40.058
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:40.723 1:40.163
14 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:41.159 1:40.536
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:40.766 1:40.984
16 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:42.526 1:41.397
17 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:42.648

18 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:43.064

19 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:43.166

20 Crashtor Maldozer Lotus-Renault 1:43.205

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:43.649


Yesterday, I said that "I fully expect that Mercedes will be the class of the field (as usual), but it'll be whichever one of them that's running last that'll get the pole."  That's exactly what happened, but I didn't say "whoever is on track last will have a shot."  Because that, too, is exactly what happened as Valtteri Bottas went purple (aka "fastest of the session") in the first two sectors.  Only a lockup going into Turn 17 and a fuzzy exit from the last turn cost him pole. 

His teammate, Felipe Massa, had a fuel feed problem and couldn't make it out of Q1.  Expect to see quite the melee going into the first real turn as it's quite possible that Bottas, who has started very well this year, could insert himself into the argument for the lead.

Race in the morning... might be boring, might not!  We'll find out together!

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October 10, 2014

F1 Practice: Russia 2014

Silly computer seems to think that this is the first F1 Practice report I've done since Monaco, something like 10 races ago!  Hm.  Well, we've actually got something to talk about this time: the debut of a new track!

The Sochi Autodrom, home of the Grand Prix of All the Russias, has proven my predictions both wrong and right.  I suggested earlier that it was going to be similar to the old circuit at Valencia, and in many ways I was proven correct.  The track is quite wide in most places, and despite being run through and around the Olympic Park, the visual setting is usually quite boring... all concrete barriers and catch fencing. 

Usually.  The amusement park in the background is caught on camera a number of times per lap, lending an almost surreal air to the proceedings.  Getting back to the track itself, the pit lane entry is obnoxiously narrow.  It looks like it's one car width plus one foot on either side, then barriers.  Probably won't be a problem unless there's a breakdown which prevents a car from making it in.  Then there'll be a Safety Car / Red flag immediately.  Zero tolerance for risk this race, not after last weekend.

In other track news, apparently it's proving to be easy on tires, but hard on fuel consumption.  Makes sense; for a street circuit, an astonishing large percentage of it is spent at full throttle.  It's the "easy on tires" part that nobody was expecting.  New track surfaces are usually quite green and slippery, but at least for now, that's not the case.  The truth of the matter is that the surface will evolve all weekend as more and more tire rubber is laid down; F1 tires love running on F1 tire rubber.  If they could make a track out of Pirelli rubber, you'd have drivers ripping their own heads off from the gees in the turns.  I fully expect that Mercedes will be the class of the field (as usual), but it'll be whichever one of them that's running last that'll get the pole.  Rubber on the track makes that much difference.

Finally, Marussia has decided to run only one car on Sunday.  They got to the circuit, built up both Max Chilton's and Jules Bianchi's chassis, then submitted them both to scrutineering for approval.  Both were approved, and it was assumed that young American driver Alexander Rossi would be in Bianchi's car for the race, but no.  Instead, the team went to the Delegates and formally withdrew the car.  This is quite the gesture.  It takes time to put a car together "from scratch" as it were, like they would have to do for Bianchi's chassis.  The intention is to keep the car in the garage on jackstands with the door open, as if they're just waiting for Bianchi to walk in and jump in.

Every driver and car are emblazoned with stickers of support for the critically injured French driver, reading either "Tours avec Jules", "#JB17" or "#ForzaJules".  Many of the GP2 drivers and teams are doing the same; he was third in that series in 2010 and 2011, and is apparently quite popular with them still.

Qualifying in the morning.  We'll see you then.

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October 07, 2014

Bianchi Update II

We've gotten more information on Jules Bianchi's condition via the medical center in Japan.  He is still unconscious, he is indeed on a ventilator, and he suffered a "diffuse axonal injury."  According to Dr Gary Hartstein, who was part of F1's traveling medical team until 2012, this type of injury is radically different from what Michael Schumacher suffered.  In this case, "diffuse" means that there isn't a specific point-source of damage a hematoma, for example; in effect the entire brain is injured somehow because there's no obvious injury anywhere.  "Axonal" means it hurt the axon cells that actually conduct information around the brain.  He's listed as being in critical but stable condition.

So, the good news is that it appears Bianchi's helmet wasn't penetrated during the wreck.  The unfortunate news is that, as a result, nobody knows just what's wrong, exactly.  Prognosis for DAI is usually quite bad... however, readers of this blog actually are familiar with at least one person who have recovered from from this same type of injury: Richard Hammond, "Hamster", one of the presenters from Top Gear.  When he rolled the jet dragster and wound up with his head dragging along at 230mph, he suffered a DAI as well.  He woke up after five days, and had a complete recovery except for a new taste for celery.

Now, for the elephant in the room.  Very late Sunday night/early Monday morning, amateur video of Bianchi's wreck surfaced.  Shot from across the track with a pretty decent zoom lens, it shows nearly everything one could possibly want to see except for how the accident began.  Under normal circumstances, I would embed the video and leave it at that, but this is a special situation; it's graphic and unsettling and I wouldn't want anybody to watch it who didn't make the decision to do so themselves.  So instead, I'm going to link to the video at liveleak, and a very good quality gif.  Watch either one, but do understand that they should probably be considered NSFL.  I know my stomach got really tight when I first saw it, but I made the decision to do so for the readers of my F1U!s.  I was also struck by the irony that the thing that likely kept Bianchi alive was that the recovery vehicle had Sutil's Sauber "on the hook", thus moving the center of gravity forward and allowing for some amount of swivel when the Marussia hit.  Of course, if Sutil hadn't've wrecked, the recovery vehicle wouldn't have been where it was, but that's beside the point.  As it is, he had quite a bit of speed going at impact (someone over at reddit calculated it at around 95mph), so if he hit the tire barrier instead it would have been a nasty accident anyway... but not as bad as what we ended up with.

The teams have moved on to Sochi.  More news as it becomes available.

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October 06, 2014

F1 on NBCSN: Russia 2014

This should be a week where excitement is high and interest in the upcoming F1 race is keen.  Any time you visit a new circuit, there's supposed to be a whiff of anticipation in the air.  The events at the end of this past weekend's Grand Prix of Japan, however, have cast a pall over the anticipated proceedings.  It's difficult to imagine how the drivers and teams feel... I'm sure it's a mix of "it can't happen to me" and "holy crap."  But if they can sit in the cockpits of their high-tech-high-speed cars, I can suck it up and guide you on a tour of the new Sochi Autodrom, home of the 2014 Grand Prix of Russia.

There's a distinct whiff of Valencia here, in that it's a "street circuit" that winds through the Olympic Village, but without any of the drama of an actual street circuit like Monaco or even Singapore.  This video makes it fairly clear that it's a Hermann Tilke design, full of flow-killing right-angle turns.  To the circuit's credit, Turns 01, 11 and 12 seem like they'll be more suggestions than actual turns, at least in a F1 car.  The big horseshoe left-hander promises to be a real neck-stretcher, though how good it'll be for racing is another question.  Turn 02 will probably be the big passing zone, with 06 and 13 earning marks in that category as well... at least, just by looking at the map. 

It's a wide track, though not so immense as Valencia, where you could put four cars side by side and have room left over.  With concrete barriers right up against the track, one wanders offline at one's peril.  The guess is that the asphalt will be smooth and slick, which is why Pirelli is bringing the Soft and Medium compounds for tire choices; it'll give good performance without being too conservative... unless the surface was secretly made out of ground glass and razor blades. 

Basically the circuit will come down to how hard the right-angle turns are on the actual racing.  Fortunately for us, the good zeks of the Legendary Announce Team will be bringing us their usual sterling commentary on the following schedule:
FRIDAY
Practice 2: 5am - 630am live
SATURDAY
Quals: 6am - 730am live
SUNDAY
Grand Prix of Russia: 530am - 8am live

One interesting bit of news regarding the race... teams are not going to be allowed to bring in any upgrades.  Not by FIA regulations, but because of the ongoing embargo against Russia regarding the ongoing mess in Ukraine.  The teams can bring their stuff from Japan, but spare parts from, say, Woking, are banned.  We'll see how that works out.  See you this weekend!

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October 05, 2014

Jules Bianchi Update

As of around 6am Pond Central Time, the reports on Marussia driver Jules Bianchi are... mixed.  The FIA confirmed that he suffered a serious head injury from the accident.  What happened is that Adrian Sutil aquaplaned off in the Dunlop Curve and went into the tire barrier.  Waved double-yellow flags, indicating that drivers must reduce speed significantly, were deployed as a vehicle resembling a front-end loader came out to carry Sutil's Sauber off-track.  One lap later, Bianchi aquaplaned off in the exact same place of the circuit, hit a curb, flew over most of the gravel runoff, and slid into and under the front-end loader.  This was all witnessed and confirmed by Sutil, who was still on site and saw the entire thing.

There was no on-screen footage of the accident shown.  The first inkling that there was any problem was when the Safety Car was called out.  What the Legendary Announce Team (as did SKY and BBC's teams) missed was that as the Safety Car pulled out, it was closely followed, and rapidly passed by, the Medical Car.  Bianchi's car was seriously damaged, showing a lot of deformity around the cockpit; a few inches worth of the airbox/roll hoop behind the driver's head were missing.  It's unsure if it was removed by the extraction team or by the impact.  Either way, the left-side sidepod was crushed, and Bianchi suffered exactly the type of accident we've all feared... one that apparently defeated the crash structure of the car.  For those who might want to see the situation, I have included a photo behind the SPOILER tag.  There is no gore, but it is still somewhat disturbing.  Your call.


Bianchi was taken to the Suzuka medical center, then to Mie General Hospital via ambulance.  While the usual routine is to use the medical helicopter, it appears that the size of the ambulance, allowing more medical personnel to attend to the stricken driver, caused the change in procedure.  Once at the hospital, a CT scan showed the extent of the severe head injury and surgery took place immediately.  As of roughly 12noon Sunday, Pond Central Time, Bianchi is out of surgery and taken to ICU, where he is reportedly breathing on his own (note: there are now reports saying that he is intubated).  Some of the drivers were at the hospital waiting for news.

The F1U! crew asks our readers to send happy thoughts in the direction of Japan today.  It may not do any good, but it won't hurt either.

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2014 GP Of Japan, As It Happens.

1:14am Pond Central Time: The field started behind the Safety Car, did two laps, the red flag came out, and the entire field formed up in order in the pit lane.  We're now waiting it out.

The race organizers, Honda (yes, that Honda... they own the track), really dropped the ball on this one.  They were given the opportunity twice to start the race earlier, as much as four hours earlier... and turned it down.  For once, the FIA and Bernie E are blameless. 

Gazebos covering the cars.  Fans are wet and sad looking, despite the rainbow of ponchos.

More as info comes.  Race will restart at 1:25am PCT

1:25am PCT:  And we're off again, still behind the Safety Car.  The teams are saying that there's going to be about 20 minutes without rain.  HWMNBN just died on track, he looked immensely peeved with the world as he stalked off-track.  Looks like water got into the electronics, maybe.

1:30am PCT:  Both Mercs are having problems.  Rosberg's telemetry is intermittent, Hamilton's brakes are acting up.

1:45am PCT: At the end of Lap 9, the Safety Car is coming in and the race is (finally) under way.  Back if anything happens!

3:13am PCT: The race is red flagged and called off on Lap 44.  Marussia's Jules Bianchi was involved in a huge accident at Turn 15 07.  Adrian Sutil was involved somehow as well.  We never saw it exactly; the BBC says that Sutil slid off in the rain, then when his car was being recovered by a front-end loader, Bianchi crashed at high speed into the loader.  Many grim faces, no celebrating on the podium, no champagne.  This one I think is really bad.  I mean really bad.  More info as known or in the morning.  Later in the morning, I mean.

3:36am PCT: Jules Bianchi was taken from the circuit by ambulance in an unconscious state.  The helicopter couldn't fly due to conditions, but the regs say if an ambulance can get to the nearest hospital in 20 minutes or so, the race can still go on.  The hospital in Nagoya is 30 minutes away, apparently, but Bianchi's ambulance has a police escort. 

More info in the morning, I've got to pack it in.

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October 04, 2014

Runup To 2014 Grand Prix of Japan

Less than a half-hour from racetime, and Will Buxton just did a drop-in from the grid.  It's raining, it's wet, but it's looking like AT THE MOMENT that it can be raced in.  The typhoon hasn't actually hit yet, it looks like it'll bullseye Tokyo after the race is over... but pass by Suzuka a lot sooner.  I saw one report saying that around one hour into the race, the winds will pick up to about 45mph.  That'll throw a huge wrench into the cars... they kinda aren't built for that.

More as events warrant.

Less than 20 minutes to racetime, cars are making their way to the grid with huge rooster tails.  Buxton is saying the rain is letting up slightly.  I now understand why weather forecasters tend to drink a lot.

10 minutes to go, and Lotus is confirming that we'll be starting behind the safety car.  That means no formation lap, once they leave, the race starts.  Reminder: two laps and half-points are awarded.  If they call the race at that point, Nico Rosberg will have a 1/2-point lead in the championship.  Cor blimey.

Okay, it looks like it's about that time.  I'm going to join the F1U! Analysis Team around the television, but if anything big occurs, I'll be back!

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Cloud Cover At Suzuka

So there's some cloud cover at Suzuka at the moment.

Just a little bit, yeah.

UPDATE: But all is not clouds!

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F1 Quals: Japan 2014

As Typhoon Phanfone turned into the equivalent of a Category 5 Hurricane, the F1 Circus took to the track to see who got to be the first behind the Safety Car for tomorrow's Grand Prix of Japan.  Here's a look at the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:33.671 1:32.950 1:32.506
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.611 1:32.982 1:32.703
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:34.301 1:33.443 1:33.128
4 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:34.483 1:33.551 1:33.527
5 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:34.497 1:33.675 1:33.740
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:35.593 1:34.466 1:34.075
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:34.930 1:34.229 1:34.242
8 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.150 1:34.648 1:34.317
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:35.517 1:34.784 1:34.432
10 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:34.984 1:34.771 1:34.548
11 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:35.155 1:34.984
12 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:35.439 1:35.089
13 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:35.210 1:35.092
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:35.000 1:35.099
15 Adrian F'n Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:35.736 1:35.364
16 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:35.308 1:35.681
17 Crashtor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 1:35.917

18 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:35.984

19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:36.813

20 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 1:36.943

21 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:37.015

22 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:37.481


This has the potential to be just an ugly race.  For example, let's say it doesn't rain (unlikely though that may be)... polesitter Rosberg is a full second ahead of fourth place.  If it does rain, the Merc has proven to be fast that way as well.  However, no car is fast when the water level on-track is above the level of the front wing.

Much of the concern about the race up until recently hasn't been about the race itself, but about the next one.  The way F1 schedules work, teams usually box everything up and are on air-freight Monday headed to the next destination.  Problem is, the next destination is Sochi, home of the inaugural Grand Prix of the Soviets Russia next Sunday.  With 150mph winds and a storm track that's looking more and more like it'll pass close aboard, air travel is likely to be delayed until Tuesday optimistically.  Still, the FIA/Bernie Ecclestone has made the decision: both races will begin at their scheduled times.  As Will Buxton, the Legendary Announce Team's voice from the pit lane put it, however, "there's every chance there won't be a race tomorrow."

Which will give us plenty of time to hear about the real bombshell that dropped out of the blue around 4pm Pond Central time.  To whit, four-time world driver's champion Sebastian Vettel is leaving Red Bull Racing at the end of the 2014 season.  According to team boss Christian Horner, Vettel will be going to Scuderia Ferrari.  We're still waiting for confirmation from the Red Team about this, but Vettel confirmed it after Quals today, as well.  To take Vettel's place at Red Bull, Kid Kyvat will be promoted from Toro Rosso next year.

HWMNBN is almost certainly leaving Ferrari, and dear god, all signs point to him moving back to McLaren.  As you remember, Honda is coming back into F1 in 2015 as the engine manufacturer for McLaren, and they reportedly have zero interest in the current McLaren driver lineup; Button is almost certainly gone.  Of course, it's with McLaren that The Spaniard earned his "HWMNBN" monicker, after all.  The mind simply boggles at the unlikeliness  of that turn of events.

More to come as things shake out.  Race is at Midnight, Pond Central time, see ya there!  Bring a poncho and umbrella.

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October 03, 2014

BIG F1 News Coming, Stay Tuned To Quals Report

Holy mackerel, did a lot of stuff shake free in the past few hours.  Stay tuned to the Quals report, I'll cover it all there.

Some of the news might even have to do with the race!

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