October 31, 2015

F1 Quals: Mexico 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, we have one helluva circuit here in Mexico City.  This is a beast, and a lot of that is due to altitude.  Mexico City is over 7300 feet above sea level, meaning there's about 20% less air up there.  Less air means less drag on a F1 car, as seen by the Williams of Felipe Massa tripping the speed trap's sensors at 226.2mph during Q1 today.  Please note that the fastest a F1 car has gone during a race was 233mph at Monza, and that during the V10 era when engines were routinely putting out 1000hp.  However, there is a drawback as well.  20% less air also means less downforce, meaning less grip.  As a result, combined with a track that only completed having its asphalt laid a few weeks ago, cars are driving like they're on ice.  F1ast and F1urious: Mexico Drift!  We're seeing low-speed spins like the drivers have never touched a car before, high-speed spins that look like the cars have become frisbees, just less aerodynamic.  Paradoxically, the teams are all running Monaco-style front and rear wings, gigantic barn door-sized things in an attempt to claw back some of the missing downforce.  All this slipping and sliding is playing hob with the tires.  We've seen some gigantic lockups and the resulting epic flatspots over the past few days.  Oh, by the way, less air also means less cooling.  Nico Rosberg had a brake fire in Practice on Friday because there wasn't enough air getting into the brake ducts.  Kimi Raikkonen had what looked to be an engine fire during Practice 3 today, probably from overheating.  Some of this will be mitigated by all the rubber being laid down over the weekend (F1 tires love nothing more than to grip onto F1 tire rubber... if they made a track surface out of F1 tire rubber, we'd see driver's heads being torn off by the G forces), but did I mention that it's supposed to rain Sunday afternoon? 

With that daunting prospect in mind, let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Mexico:

Pos. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.436 1:20.053 1:19.480
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.808 1:19.829 1:19.668
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:20.503 1:20.045 1:19.850
4 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:20.826 1:20.490 1:20.398
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:21.166 1:20.783 1:20.399
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:20.817 1:20.458 1:20.448
7 Felipe Not Nasr Massa Williams 1:21.379 1:20.642 1:20.567
8 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:20.995 1:20.894 1:20.710
9 Casachico Perez Force India 1:20.966 1:20.669 1:20.716
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:21.315 1:20.935 1:20.788
11 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:20.960 1:20.942
12 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:21.577 1:21.038
13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:21.520 1:21.261
14 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:21.299 1:21.544
15 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:21.422 1:22.494
16 HWIOAKAFernando Alonso McLaren 1:21.779

17 Felipe Not Massa Nasr Sauber 1:21.788

18 American Rossi Marussia 1:24.136

19 Will Stevens Marussia 1:24.386

Note: Jenson Button suffered a technical fault before Quals and did not appear in qualifying.  He therefore races at the whims of the stewards. 

Nothing too out of the ordinary, save for Raikkonen being 15th; on top of his engine fire earlier, in Q2 he had brake problems.  This is the fourth pole in a row for Rosberg, fat lot of good it's done him.  It was quite the fight between the two Merc drivers... Hamilton would throw down a time, Rosberg would better it, Hamilton would improve it, then Rosberg would go even faster.  Pretty fun stuff.  Throw in the upcoming rain, and Sunday's race is looking pretty darn great.

In other news from the weekend, American team HaasF1 named their second driver on Friday.  Partnering Lettuce Grosjean will be current Ferrari test driver (and former Sauber race driver racer) Esteban!  Not a bad choice, though hardly an inspired one, and probably "forced" upon them as part of the team's engine/technical deal with the team from Maranello.  Fair trade, I think.

Also, if you're a fan of Force India, enjoy these last three races as much as you can because in 2016 they're going to have a different name.  Vijay Mallya has reached a partnership that will see the team rebranded as Aston Martin, the legendary British car maker.  It's a pity... while I haven't rooted for a team since Minardi and SuperAguri left the grid, Force India came the closest.  And while I'd kill to see a F1 car in this livery:

...it's not going to happen.  A pity, as the Gulf Orange and Powder Blue scheme is, to me at least, the "Warbonnet" of auto racing.  On the other hand, having a title sponsor like Aston Martin might provide them the funding to take that step from midpack to racewinner.  Only time will tell, but it won't happen as Force India, mores the pity.

Remember, the race is on NBC at a decent time for the US... here's your chance to see a "debut" track in front of a flat-out ridiculously enthusiastic Mexican crowd.  The noise when they see Mexico City's very own Sergio Perez needs to be heard to be believed.  F1U! will be along sometime afterwards... see ya then!

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October 27, 2015

F1 on TV: Mexico 2015

Señors y señoras, hola!  Bienvenido a El Estanque!  That's pretty much used up my supply of Spanish, but it hopefully got you in the mood for this week's race, the "debut" of the Grand Prix of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.  I put debut in quotes since there's been plenty of GPs of Mexico in the past, but it's been a while and never on this version of the track.  Let's take a look at the map, shall we?

A laps of the 2.76 mile-long circuit is expected to take around 75 seconds.  Alas, said lap won't be ending in the classic Peraltada corner, a massively fast 180° arc that used to run from Turn 12 to what is now Turn 16... Turn 17 is roughly half of it, though the banking is gone.  Instead, the layout now runs through a baseball stadium... on the aerial maps I've seen, it looks like Turn 12 enters the stadium somewhere near the right-field corner, and Turn 16 exits it somewhere up the third base line, but short of third base itself, through a gap in the stands.  It's hard to tell, as there is no outfield wall, and clearly the infield can be picked up.

That front straight is no slouch, by the way... indeed, at 1.2km, it becomes one of the longest on the F1 calendar.  That should make for some interesting pileups on the first lap.  We don't really know anything about how it'll race, per se, since F1 hasn't been there in 20 years or so.  Should be fast though, and my guess is about USGP level of tire wear.  That could be really wrong, however, so don't hold it against me if it turns out differently.  Definitely give me credit if I'm right, because I'm just that sort of duck.

The Tres Amigos plus Will Buxton will be providing their usual commentary, but NOT at the usual time and days.  Let's take a look:
Saturday
Quals:  1p - 230p  live on CNBC
Sunday
Grand Prix of Mexico:  1230p - 330p live on NBC

Yup, there's no mistype there: we're not getting coverage of Friday Practice except online.  For that matter, the coverage won't be on NBCSN, either!  How passing strange is this?

Well, we'll watch what's being shown... and we'll see you afterwards, yes?  Yes?

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October 25, 2015

F1 Quals: United States 2015 Liveblog

Welcome to Sunday morning!  We don't do this very often, but the crappy weather the past coupel of days has moved Quals to this weird time and day... and it hasn't gotten much better, to be honest.  Let's start live-ish coverage!

Q1: Teams are under orders to use Full Wet tires and nothing else.  Which is good, because it's crap out there.  It's still raining, it's dark, it's wet, the spray is awful, and traction is less than optimal.  And oh boy! The folks on the pit wall are saying the first half of the session will be the GOOD weather.  It'll start getting worse after that... and we've got a Red Flag.

Carlos Sainz Jr lost it on the curbs at the start of the Esses (back where that other car is) and slid all the way into the TecPro barriers at the next turn... and it looked like he never slowed down in the process.  The session has restarted, but it's probably not going to matter... the rain is coming.

Okay, Q1 is over, and the rain never got worse.  Times actually improved, but that's all relative; it's hard to improve from 2:20.500, y'know?  That being said, wow, that was fun to watch.  The drivers had to have their hearts in their mouths, and the cars were slipping and sliding all over the place, but they were pushing hard because nobody knows if there'll be a Q2.    If there isn't, Daniel Ricciardo will be on pole, ahead of Hamilton, Rosberg and Kvyat: Red Bull Merc Merc Red Bull.

Q2:  Nope, we've got a Q2!  It's just started, it's still not looking great out there, and we're waiting for the next disaster.  Vettel kissed the wall late in Q1, but didn't appear to damage anything as he's on track right now.

Turn 10 is going to kill someone.  It's off-camber downhill, and everybody is winding up sideways...  yeesh.  American Alexander Rossi just came up with the understatement of the weekend: "It was a little sketchy out there."

Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton have both fallen victim to Turn 10 as well.  Raikkonen just called back to the pit wall "mrmrmmrmrr rm rmrmrmr rmrmrbrrlrl."  He didn't sound happy.

Kvyat just called in: "It's really dangerous out here."  I'm starting to think this is a bad idea.  So does Seb Vettel: "These are Red Flag conditions."

Q2 just ended... let's see if there's a Q3.  If not, Rosberg, Hamilton, Riccardio and Kvyat are your first four.

Heh from the Williams Twitter account: "By a show of hands, who hasn't had a moment at T10?"

Between sessions, Berndt Maylander is out on track in the Safety Car, checking conditions.

Q3: Q3 is being postponed for 10 minutes.  Here's the current standings:

There was just a broadcast from Jenson Button earlier, saying in effect that it's dangerous and bad out there.

Q3 has been called.  There will be NO Q3.  Rosberg takes pole.  Vettel and Raikkonen are dropped 10 places due to engine changes, so the first six are Rosberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Perez and Hulkenberg!  Two FIs on the third row, hooray!

The race is this afternoon, see ya then!

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October 24, 2015

F1 Saturday: USGP 2015 P3 + Quals

P3 ran with a completely empty house, as COTA didn't actually open to spectators until 12noon local time.  And by "ran", I mean "swam".  It started out damp and raining, and after 20 minutes or so it was sodden and bucketing.  By the 30 minute point, the teams had given up, parked their cars, and endeavored to keep everything dry.  An impossible task, as the rain just kept coming down harder and harder.  By the time the fans were let into the circuit, the weather was Biblical.

At best, the wind and rain was heavy.  Every so often, the weather would get much much worse, then calm back down to "heavy".  The start of the session was delayed a half-hour even before the Legendary Announce Team came on the air.  Not very long after that, it was pushed back another half-hour, to a 2pm local time start.

And then came the weirdness.  It started with a sighting in the Force India pits of this:

Yes, that's a paper boat.  That was merely the beginning.  In an attempt to give the hearty and brave fans that managed to get to the Circuit of the America's Cup any sort of show they could, the pit lane began to go insane.

Dancing Red Bull drivers, doing what was obviously a well-practiced pas de deux.  The cheers from the crowd drove the pit lane to new heights.

Still faster than McLaren/Honda.
The Williams pit crew forms... well, the Williams rowing crew.  The crowd enthusiastically rhythmically chanted "Row!  Row!  Row!" with every stroke.

Sauber got into the act with their kayak impersonation, being towed at fairly high speed behind two runners.  Not to be outdone...

... Force India broke out the bobsled.  At least they've got helmets.

And the breakdancer.  He even got a slow-motion replay on the world TV feed.

Quals soon got pushed back to 3pm.  Then 330p, at which point NBCSN gave up, went to NASCAR quals at Taladega, and sent F1 to their website.  Just a few moments ago, we got the news that if there isn't a break in the weather by 4p, everything is going to be scrubbed today and Quals will be rescheduled for 9am Sunday.  Maybe.  Force India has just challenged the other teams to an origami contest

Best.  Qualifying.  Session.  EVER.

Just as I was about to wrap this up, the word came down: Quals is cancelled, and rescheduled for 9am Sunday.  The last time this occurred (Japan, 2006?  2007?)  we didn't get video coverage here in the States, who knows what'll happen this time?  If I find out anything, I'll let you know, and I'll certainly post Quals results when they become available.  It'll still be wet, but there shouldn't be any arks about.  Race in the afternoon.

UPDATE: Quals will be live on CNBC at 9am Sunday morning!

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F1 Saturday: USGP 2015 Pre-Event Stuff

Okay, this is not good.  But first, a moment of levity from Legendary Announce Team member and author of three wonderful books Steve Matchett's twitter account.

"Good Morning from Austin!  Time to throw open those eagerly waiting bedroom curtains and see exactly what this new Texas day has to offer."

"Oh.  Plan B: Coffee and Palestrina."

Please note the picture was posted by COTA around 8am or so, not Matchett, but the point still remains: it's ugly out there.  It turns out that P3 actually began at 10am and NBCSN's coverage, which begins at 1130am, is on delay.  But it's somewhat amazing that P3 is running at all... all teams are required to run Full Wet tires and nothing else is allowed.  Meanwhile, Circuit of the America's Cup is not opening its gates until noon.  Why?

The weather continued apace last night, flooding is beginning to become widespread, and the storms are forecast to keep on keepin' on.  P3 is still going on, just without fans in the stands.  While that sounds weird, in a way it makes sense.  Consider: the FIA is responsible for the track and what occurs on it during a F1 weekend, but COTA is responsible for the circuit.  If the FIA needs to stop the running, they throw a red flag and everything is halted within two minutes or so as the last cars come into the pit lane... everybody safe.  If the same happens to COTA (lightning, for example), it's responsible for tens of thousands of people, and evacuating them to safety would be no small feat.

Avatar, I hope you didn't decide to attend the weekend. 

Practice 3 and Quals coverage coming after it's over... or sooner, if weather causes something.

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October 23, 2015

F1 Friday Practices: USGP 2015


The F1 Circus has made it to Austin, TX, site of the 2015 United States Grand Prix, and... well, so far things are NOT going to any sort of plan any sane person could have hoped for.

See, it's kinda raining down cats and dogs and hippopotami and blue whales and any other type of creature you care to name.  In the runup to Practice 1 it poured a good deal, but it stopped just before the session began.  The circuit was wet enough for the Full Wet tires to begin with, but long before the session ended everybody was on Intermediates.  The usual suspects did the usual things, nobody broke anything, and all was okay.  But in the gap between P1 and P2, Very Bad Things occurred.

Just as the Legendary Announce Team came on the air for P2, heavy rain and high winds hit COTA (and much of Texas in general).  As it hasn't rained in Texas since 2003, the water isn't soaking in.  Flash Flood Warnings have been released, and apparently Austin could get up to a FOOT of rain by Sunday night.  P2 had actually been delayed before TV coverage began because of the rain and, more importantly, lightning.  The track workers and camera crews were unable to take their positions around the circuit, most of which are protected... by steel and aluminum structures.  Zap.  After about maybe an hour or so the FIA announced that the medical helicopter wouldn't be able to fly for at least another two hours, at which point the sun would be rapidly setting.  Even without the storms, things would have been sketchy for P2 anyway, so the session was scrubbed altogether.  Good call, that... here's an amateur video of what it was like on the front straight.  The weather forecast for Saturday is for rain and more rain... indeed, it's quite possible that it'll be worse conditions than today.  If Quals gets cancelled, the FIA has three choices: 1) run Quals on Sunday; 2) have P1's times set the grid; 3) set the grid via the Driver's Championship standings.  #1 has practically no chance of happening, there's every chance the rain will still be coming down.  #3 is probably the most likely, as #2 seems too random to me.  But all of this is of secondary consideration, really, because of this:

Hurricane Patricia officially made landfall in Mexico just as I started writing up this post (around 7pm Pond Central Time).  While the wind speed was merely 165mph (down from the 200+ mph measured a couple of hours earlier), it was still a Category 5 hurricane, and heading dead for Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico and the hometown of Force India's Sergio Perez.  There's some five million people in the Guadalajara metro area.  Patricia is being reported as the most powerful hurricane to hit North America in recorded history... and it can't be helping the weather in Texas.  And ohbytheway, it's about 340 miles from Mexico City, home of next week's GP of Mexico.  Given what could possibly occur, there's already talk about that race being affected.  Let's just cross our fingers and hope for the best, both for the race and more importantly for the people about to be hit by a massive hurricane.

Hopefully, we'll have info tomorrow!

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October 18, 2015

F1 on TV: United States 2015

I admit it: when it comes to Formula 1 these days, I am very tired and extremely jaded.  It's very hard to get excited race after race when the ending is pretty much preordained. "Oh look, it's a Mercedes on pole.  Oh look, a Mercedes is winning.  Oh look, a Mercedes won."  For the past six years, its been this way, just replace "Mercedes" with "Red Bull" for 2010-2013.  The politics of F1, often just as interesting (or more!) as the racing now just bores me.  Oh, Red Bull is threatening to pull out if they don't get Ferrari or Mercedes engines in 2016?  Whatever.  People wanting Honda to fire the guy in charge of the F1 engine program because it isn't winning races?  Yeah, good luck with that.  Bernie threatening yet another classic track (this time Monza) while Azerbaijan gets a race in 2016?  It's been done.   But there is one way to get me interested again... let's head to Austin TX for a big ol' race, American style!  Let's take a look at the track map for the 2015 United States Grand Prix:

Still the same place it's been 2012, but that's good because this is one helluva circuit.  Much the same way that English doesn't so much borrow words from other languages as much as it pursues other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary, the Circuit of the Americas did the same to the great racetracks of the world.  Turns 3-4-5?  Look to Silverstone's Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex.  6-7-8?  If you squint a little, they look similar to the S-Curves in Japan.  The big horseshoe (16-1 is surely a hat tip to Turkey's Quad-8.  But COTA's party piece is undoubtedly the runup to Turn 1, a roughly 140ft climb from the start/finish line to the top of "Phil Hill".

Doesn't look like so much from that angle, does it?  Don't worry, it gets better.  I've never heard a racer say anything bad about the track, nor any of the teams, and not even the tire supplier or fans grumble too much about it.  That pretty much makes it unique among new tracks.

Also unique is the coverage we're going to get from the Legendary Announce Team this weekend!  Here, take a look:
FRIDAY
Practice 1: 10a - 1130a  Live on NBCSN
Practice 2: 2p - 330p  Live on NBCSN
SATURDAY
Practice 3 & Quals: 1130a - 3p  Live on NBCSN
SUNDAY
2015 United States Grand Prix: 130p - 5p  Live on NBC (includes pre- and post-race coverage)
We just don't get that type of coverage for any other race on the calendar, and it's all because it's the home race of NBC.  Hopefully the race will be good!

We'll see you then, then!

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October 10, 2015

F1 Quals: Russia 2015

If there was a race that's clearly cursed, it's the 2015 Grand Prix of Russia.  Why do I say that?  Practice 1 was badly affected when, ironically, a cleaning truck dumped a metric fsckton of diesel fuel on the circuit.  Even after the mess was dealt with, the track in the area was still slick.  Practice 2 started in a heavy rain, but just from Turn 12 to Turn 2.  The rest of the circuit was only slightly damp, which was absolutely the worst possible result as far as the teams were concerned... you can't learn anything with the track like that.  The slightly damp part was okay for slicks, but those would be suicide on the wet part.  Likewise, you could put full wets or inters on for the wet part, but they'd be chewed to hell on the dry.  So there was practically no running during Practice 2.  And today's Practice 3 was stopped at the halfway point after Carlos Sainz Jr had a heavy wreck.  He actually went under the TecPro barriers and caused serious damage to the backing steel barrier. 

He was essentially unhurt, and is apparently campaigning the doctors to let him race on Sunday.  However, the required repairs to the steel barrier were so extensive that not only was Practice 3 stopped, but the following GP3 race was cancelled as well.  So did Quals go off without a hitch, or did the ghost of Stalin, unhappy with all the comingling with the western powers, reach up out of the tarmac and rip out the suspensions of the cars?  Here's the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Russia:

Pos. Driver Team Time
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.113
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.433
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.912
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:37.965
5 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:38.348
6 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:38.659
7 Sergio Perez Force India 1:38.691
8 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:38.787
9 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:38.924
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:39.728
11 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:39.214
12 Felipe Not Massa Nasr Sauber 1:39.323
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:39.763
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:39.811
15 Felipe Not Nasr Massa Williams 1:39.895
16 HWIOANFernando Alonso McLaren 1:40.144
17 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:40.660
18 Will Stevens Marussia 1:43.693
19 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1:43.804

Of course, only 19 cars qualified; Sainz's was too badly damaged to repair in the hour or so the team had.  Late reports from Sochi are that he's been medically cleared to race, by the way.  No doubt the Stewards will allow him to race.  Up at the top very little has changed.  Oh, it's Rosberg instead of Hamilton on pole, but that's really not a huge shock.  Bottas in the Williams shouldn't come as a surprise either: Mercedes engine, after all.  Nor should the Ferraris being where they are stun anybody by now.  Really, it's a bog-standard grid for a nightmare-plagued race.

In other news, Lettuce Grosjean was officially confirmed as the primary driver for Haas F1's inaugural season.  Great pickup for a rookie team: he's got six years experience, a handful of podiums, and has the greatest nickname I've ever come up with for a F1 driver.  Definitely no downside to him, except he'll probably be moved to Haas's technical partner, Ferrari, in a few years.  Still no word on who'll be in the second seat, except it seems very unlikely it'll be the long-rumored American driver.  Unless they somehow pull Rossi from Manor, that is... and I don't expect that to happen, worse luck. 

Race in the morning, see you afterwards.

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October 07, 2015

F1 on NBCSN: Russia 2015

Last year saw the debut of the Grand Prix of Russia, but it was a very bittersweet race to say the least.  Indeed, one got the impression that the drivers weren't all that thrilled to be there... understandable, considering what had happened in Japan a couple of weeks earlier.  That's not a knock on Sochi, the atmosphere probably would have been the same at any circuit on the calendar.  So here's the map for the second Grand Prix of All The Russias:

Guess who designed it?  That's right, it's a Tilkedrome, though it doesn't have his hallmark long straight followed by a stupid idea of a turn. Probably because he didn't have unlimited control of the venue: the circuit winds through Sochi Olympic Park, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  There were probably too many buildings in the way for him to do his usual design tricks.

Last year, the circuit proved to be very gentle on tires... indeed, Nico Rosberg managed to go 52 laps on one set of tires, when the whole race was 53 in total.  The surface is a year older now, so maybe it'll be a little less "sweet", but that's not the way to bet.  Look for another one-stopper, and another rather less-than-exciting race.  Hopefully we can actually see someone trying to challenge the lead.

Fortunately for our sanity, the Legendary Announce Team will be bringing us EXTENDED coverage this time around!  Let's take a look at the broadcast schedule:
FRIDAY
Practice 2: 6am - 730am live
SATURDAY
Practice 3: 5am - 630am live-ish?
Quals: 7am - 830am live
SUNDAY
2015 Grand Prix of Russia: 530am - 8am live
That's right, we're getting to see Saturday's Practice 3!  That's uncommon... I think it's usually just at Austin and occasionally Montreal that we see that.  Why?  Probably just needed to fill time is my guess.  All times are Pond Central, of course.  Add an hour if you're out there on the east coast, take two hours off if you're in Oregon or California, and it's whatever time you want it to be if you're on the North Pole.

You may remember I mentioned something about an announcement at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix F1U!... there was a chance I was going to have to drop my satellite plan due to lack of fundaging, but that turned out not to be entirely the case.  So no worries, my usual desultory F1 coverage will be along on Sunday as usual.  See ya then.

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