May 23, 2015

F1 Quals: Monaco 2015

After the rain washed out the majority of Free Practice 2 on Thursday, eyes were cocked askance at the lowering skies above the Monaco harbor.  Would we get a wet Qual session at the most ridiculous circuit on the calendar?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Monaco:

Pos. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:16.588 1:15.864 1:15.098
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:16.528 1:15.471 1:15.440
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:17.502 1:16.181 1:15.849
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:17.254 1:16.706 1:16.041
5 Kid Kvyat Red Bull 1:16.845 1:16.453 1:16.182
6 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:17.660 1:16.440 1:16.427
7 Sergio Perez Force India 1:17.376 1:16.999 1:16.808
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:17.246 1:16.762 1:16.931
9 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:17.630 1:16.775 1:16.946
10 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:16.750 1:16.546 1:16.957
11 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:17.767 1:17.007
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:17.492 1:17.093
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:17.552 1:17.193
14 Felipe Not Nasr Massa Williams 1:17.679 1:17.278
15 HWIACTBNA McLaren 1:17.778 1:26.632
16 Felipe Not MassaNasr Sauber 1:18.101

17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:18.434

18 L.M. Ericsson Sauber 1:18.513

19 Will Stevens Marussia 1:20.655

20 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1:20.904


I don't know why I expected anything different.  Wait, no, yes I do: Monaco is the one place on the calendar where the car/driver balance is tilted waaaaaaay over to the "driver" side.  Which isn't to say a good car isn't a requirement... of course it is.  But if you had told me that HWIACTBNA had dragged his recalcitrant McLaren into Q3, I would have believed you.  As it was, it was only because he was balked on his last flying lap by a yellow flag that Jenson Button didn't make it to Q3.

I'm thinking that this was the best quals performance for Red Bull as a team this season, and isn't that an amazing statement after the past four years?  There's nothing particularly surprising about the rest of the grid, though Sauber and Williams must both be chewing on their mustaches in consternation.

Rosberg is going to have to pull some serious driving stuff pretty darn quick after the lights go out, ere his teammate is going to snap his string of wins at his home race... and if you think Lewis Hamilton doesn't want to do that after Spain, you're crazy.  Plus, heck... it's MONACO.  This is the Big One.  And if Rosberg manages to win, he'll join some rather elite company... the names of drivers who have won Monaco three or more times is pretty impressive.  Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill, Slappy Schumacher, Alain Prost, Sterling Moss and Jackie Stewart.  19 World Championships between them (Moss drags the average down, winning no championships during his career... which is just mind-blowing).  I think it'd be safe to say that Rosberg would be the worst driver of the bunch, which isn't really a knock.

Well, we'll find out on Sunday, the Racing Fan's Holiday!  See ya then!


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May 18, 2015

F1 on TV: Monaco 2015

Ahhhhh, Monaco.  The place Formula 1 likes to imagine every race is like.  The glitz, the glamor, the champagne, the megayachts in the harbor, the casino, the women, the money.  For some reason, I can't imagine Spielberg, Austria, or Mexico City, or Spa-Francopants, or even Austin, Texas being the center of glitz and glamor (though Austin's the center of Weird).  But that's fine.  The sport can have its delusions because at least once a year, they're real.  This weekend the F1 Circus makes its way to the Principality for the 2015 Grand Prix of Monaco.  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we?

Essentially unchanged since the addition of the Nouvelle Chicane (Turns 10/11) in 1986, though there was a minor reprofiling of the Swimming Pool (Turns 13-16) in 1997, Monaco is the slowest circuit on the calendar.  It's also the narrowest, has both the slowest (The Hairpin) and one of the fastest turns (Turn 9, the Tunnel) on the calendar, and is the only place on the calendar with a measurable risk of drivers ending up in the water.  There's no "straight" here, just less curvy areas, and I'm fairly sure that the stretch from the end of the Nouvelle Chicane to Turn 17 is flat... the rest is uphill, downhill or seemingly both at the same time (the exit to the tunnel loses altitude except for a car-length-sized bump uphill).  It takes about six weeks to construct the circuit by putting up the armco barriers, safety fencing, bleachers, activating the pit lane, bolting the curbs into place, welding the drain covers down, that sort of stuff.

Just as the Monaco Grand Prix is different from other races in many ways, so too is the race weekend for Monaco.  Instead of Friday-Saturday-Sunday, instead we have Thursday-Saturday-Sunday.  Such arrangement allows the billionaires to return from their jobs in Switzerland or England on Friday... or not, as the case may be.  It's also one of the few that we here in the US get to see on one of the "Big Three" networks!  Here's the broadcast schedule:
Thursday
7a - 830a: Practice 2 on NBCSN live
Saturday
7a - 830a: Quals on NBCSN live
Sunday
630a - 9a: 2015 Grand Prix of Monaco, live on NBC
As always, all times are Pond Central; check your local listings.  Post no bills.

This is also Memorial Day weekend, meaning that Sunday is the Racing Fan's National Holiday as well.  We get Monaco in the morning, the Indy 500 in the early afternoon, and the Coca-Cola 600 in the late afternoon/early evening.  That's a lot of racing, and no, I'm not gonna try it this year.  The open-wheel races, yes, but NASCAR I'll be happy if I get to catch the end.  It's a busy weekend, but a fun one!  See ya 'round, racefans!

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May 09, 2015

F1 Quals: Spain 2015

Hold the phone!  Stop the presses!  From border to border, coast to coast and all the ships at sea, we have breaking news!  Flash!  Here's the grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Spain:

Pos. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.490s 1:25.166s 1:24.681s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:26.382s 1:25.740s 1:24.948s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:27.534s 1:26.167s 1:25.458s
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.262s 1:26.197s 1:25.694s
5 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:26.773s 1:26.475s 1:26.136s
6 Min Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:27.393s 1:26.441s 1:26.249s
7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:26.637s 1:26.016s 1:26.414s
8 Kid Kvyat Red Bull 1:27.833s 1:26.889s 1:26.629s
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1:27.165s 1:26.147s 1:26.757s
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:27.611s 1:26.692s 1:26.770s
11 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:27.383s 1:27.375s
12 Ohgodits Maldonado Lotus 1:27.281s 1:27.450s
13 HWPMBNSTITF McLaren 1:27.941s 1:27.760s
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1:27.813s 1:27.854s
15 Gamal Abdel Nasr Sauber 1:27.625s 1:28.005s
16 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:28.112s

17 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:28.365s

18 Sergio Perez Force India 1:28.442s

19 Will Stevens Marussia 1:31.200s

20 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1:32.038s


Yes, someone other than Lewis Hamilton has landed the premium spot on the grid for the first time this season!  That it's his teammate Nico Rosberg should come as no surprise to anybody, since he actually had more poles than the rest of the field combined last year.  Pole is important in Spain, as 12 out of the last 14 races at Barcalounger have been won from the first spot on the grid.  However, those two times have occurred in the past four years... i.e., during the DRS and KERS era. 

It's still not an easy place to pass, so you've gotta think Rosberg has an advantage.  We'll know by the first turn!  The race is Sunday morning, we'll see you then!

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May 08, 2015

F1 Practice: Spain 2015

I totally forgot to watch.  Completely spaced on today being Friday.  However!  I did say that I'd get back to you about if the new livery helped the McLaren go faster or not.

A McLaren, blood dripping from its wings, continues hunting for fresh prey.
Jenson Button ended up 7th at the end of P2.  His teammate, HWPMBNSTITF, was solidly in 11th.  So I think we can safely say yes, at least for today the Dark Charcoal and Red livery gave the McLaren chassis a speed boost.  Never mind any other gewgaws and doohickies they may have added to the bodywork, it was all down to the livery.  For what it's worth, Button is still over 1.5 seconds behind times set by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.  In other news, Lotus has installed a particularly aggressive batch of upgrades to the E23 chassis for this race.

All joking aside, and please note they put the tires on backwards, Lotus had a spot of bother out on the circuit today.  Lettuce Grosjean was turning a lap at speed when the entire engine cover tore off like it was never attached.  Normally I would think that this would do terrible things to a car's pace, but this is Lotus we're talking about here.  Ahem.  Here's what it looked like when Lettuce made it back to the pits:

Quals in the morning.  The quals report probably won't be up until the afternoon, though.

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May 04, 2015

F1 on TV: Spain 2015

The slow boat from Bahrain has finally made landfall in the Old World, and the F1 Circus has disembarked in the traditional home of racing boredom, Barcalounger, home of the 2015 Grand Prix of Spain.  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we? 
I call it a boring race because it almost always is.  For many, many years, the Circuit de Catalunya was the winter home for testing, with every team putting in thousands of laps annually.  As a result, every tiny rise, every small dip, any bump, crack or irregularity is known and processed through the filter of the teams.  Every single inch of this circuit is mapped and imprinted directly onto the cerebellums of the drivers, to the point that the race has spawned some legendary processions.  Indeed, if there was ever an argument to be made for the necessity of gimmicks like DRS and KERS in Formula 1, this track right here is it.

Over and above all that, there's nothing particularly challenging about this Spanish track.  It's a burrito from Chipotle is what it is.  Filling, and you know you've eaten something when you're done, but real burritos are so much better.  It wasn't always that way... I remember when Sector 3 was ridiculously fast: Turn 10 was a sweeper instead of a hairpin, and the final turn ran in a single arc from Turn 13 to the exit of Turn 16 and cars barely slowed for it.

But those days are dust, now and forever more.  At least we'll have the Legendary Announce Team to bring us coverage over paella and tortas from the Basilica Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus.  Here's the broadcast schedule:
FRIDAY
7am - 830am: Practice 2 on NBCSN
SATURDAY
7am - 830am: Quals live on CNBC
SUNDAY
630a - 9am: 2015 Grand Prix of Spain on NBCSN. 

All times are Pond Central, of course.  Add an hour if, for example, you're in a hospital in Virginia.  Subtract two hours if you're having a Mission burrito in San Francisco.  And if you're in the Midwest, have a breakfast pastry with your sangria.

We'll see you then.

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May 01, 2015

Deforming

There was a nasty wreck during the ARCA series race at Talladega today.  Austin Self got a little squirrely and spun in the tri-oval, not an uncommon occurrence.  As his car flailed around, it caught the hard-charging car of Brad Smith right in the nose.  Along with the obvious damage, Smith's throttle was stuck open.  He went up the track, smacked the outside wall, and then...

Rescue crews actually had to cut Smith from the wreckage of the car, but he was able to walk under his own power to the ambulance, though unsteadily.  Taken to the infield care unit, he was later helicoptered to the nearby University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital for further observation. 

I mention all this because of a screenshot I saw of the wreck... to whit, this one:

The particular stretch of wall that Smith impacted had what's called a SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) Barrier installed in front of it.  When hit, it's designed to crumple like a beercan, reducing the strength of the impact before the car makes contact with the concrete wall behind it.  That's why Smith's car looks like it's smooshed to half its size: part of it is inside the SAFER barrier. 

During the NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona back in February Kyle Busch had a similar accident, except the wall he hit notably didn't have the SAFER barriers installed.  He suffered a broken right leg and left foot.  Certainly there were differences: impact angle, size and weight of the cars, so on and so forth... but that one man could walk away and the other is sidelined and will remain so for an unknown amount of time may very well come down to the way the wall deformed.

F1 doesn't use SAFER barriers; instead, they use tire walls which really do much the same thing, or TECPRO barriers at four or five circuits.  TECPRO is the same idea as SAFER, just with much more foam and less steel.  It's used mostly at Monaco, where it protected Sergio Perez from what would have been a catastrophic injury in 2011.  Compare that accident to Jenson Button's in 2003, when they had a tire wall instead... no give at all.

In most cases for F1, tire barriers are sufficient.  Walls are usually far away from the track, and when they're not, a car isn't likely to hit them (on straightaways, for example).  Tire barriers are "good enough" in those circumstances, combined with the way F1 cars are designed to absorb impacts.  A SAFER barrier might actually hinder the way a F1 car takes damage, come to think of it.

Well, there you go.

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