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:
7a - 830a: Practice 2 on NBCSN live
7a - 830a: Quals on NBCSN live
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:
7am - 830am: Practice 2 on NBCSN
7am - 830am: Quals live on CNBC
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


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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April 18, 2015

F1 Quals: Bahrain 2015

Pretty night at Sakhir tonight as the F1 Circus gets ready for tomorrow's race, but who's going to be leading the horde towards Turn 1 when the lights go out?  Here's the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.928 1:32.669 1:32.571
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:34.919 1:33.623 1:32.982
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.398 1:33.878 1:33.129
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:34.568 1:33.540 1:33.227
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:34.161 1:33.897 1:33.381
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:34.488 1:33.551 1:33.744
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:34.691 1:34.403 1:33.832
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.653 1:34.613 1:34.450
9 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:35.371 1:34.641 1:34.462
10 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:35.007 1:34.123 1:34.484
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.451 1:34.704  
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:35.310 1:34.737  
13 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:35.438 1:35.034  
14 HWMODBNA McLaren 1:35.205 1:35.039  
15 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:35.611 1:35.103  
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:35.677    
17 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:35.800    
18 Will Stevens Manor 1:38.713    
19 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:39.722    
20 Jenson Button McLaren No time    

The same "Big Six" as we've come to expect, just a little scrambled.  Actually, Vettel was the polesitter right up until the very last moment.  Unsurprisingly, Hamilton nailed him on his last attempt, and to be honest there was a sense of inevitability to the proceedings.  Of COURSE Lewis Hamilton was going to be on pole.  No, it doesn't matter than his car is on fire and he's only got two tires, he'll still be faster.

One nice thing to see is that McLaren appears to have begun their long trek out of the darkness, at least kinda.  Jenson Button had an engine failure before he could set an actual qualifying time, and races at the Steward's whim.  However!  HWMODBNA got his valiant steed out of Q1 and firmly into Q2.  Reliability is still an issue obviously, but the signs are there: they're picking up about a second per lap ever race.  Again, this is the easy stuff they're doing.  Analogy time!  When painting a wall, it's a cinch to slather the big areas and cover dozens of square feet at a time.  Things start to slow down, though, when you're painting the baseboards and the moulding and around the electrical outlets.  It's those details that make the wall look good when you're done... and it's the little details that take a F1 car from the midpack to join the big guys.

The race is in the morning, 10am Pond Central time... you bring the bagels, I'll have the cold pizza ready.  See ya then!

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April 13, 2015

F1 on TV: Bahrain

From Shanghai, the F1 Circus now packs up and wings westward.  Across China, over the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the length of Pakistan, maybe catching a small piece of Afghanistan, winging over southern Iran just to the north of Bandar Abbas, crossing the Persian Gulf, and landing nearly 12 hours later at Bahrain International Airport.  From there, it's a 40 minute drive down the Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Highway to the Bahrain International Circuit, located at Gate 255, Gulf of Bahrain Avenue, Umm Jidar 1062, Sakhir... the home of the 2015 Grand Prix of Bahrain.  Let's take a look at the track map:

Seems like quite the journey for us to end up... here.  It's very much a Tilkedrome, almost totally indistinguishable from Malaysia or China... only the decorations differentiate between locations, really.  Well, that and the sand in Bahrain.  There's a lot of that.  The University of Bahrain is literally right across the street from the Bahrain International Circuit, too... indeed, the bleachers that line the outside of Turns 1 through 3 are called the "University Stands."  See?  You really DO learn things here at The Pond! 

Anyway, the track surface aggregate is very grippy.  Interestingly, it was shipped from Bayston Hill quarry in England, but it should play merry hell with the rubber this race.  There's also the ever-present fear of sand on the track; the adhesive the event organizers spray on the surrounding desert does seem to keep most of it down.  The track is mostly very wide, thus allowing plenty of room for cars to run side-by-side, ha-ha.  It has one of the best medical centers on-site at a racetrack in the world, with perhaps only the Abu Dhabi facility rivaling it.

On the whole, it's not a particularly challenging circuit, but there's one huge change being made to it this year: lights.  That's right, this year the Grand Prix of Bahrain is going to be a night race.  That'll add a whole lot of confusion to the proceedings, since nobody's ever driven here under the lights. 

It's a huge boon for us, the viewers, though!  Let's take a look at the TV schedule...
10am - 1130am: Practice 2 Live on NBCSN
10am - 1130am: Quals Live on CNBC
930a - 12noon: 2015 Grand Prix of Bahrain live on NBCSN

No staying up until 4am, or getting up at 6am, for this one!  For once, I can actually be happy with Formula One Management. 

We'll see ya after!

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April 11, 2015

F1 Quals: China 2015

Before you can race in F1, you must qualify.  This has been duly done by the accumulated Circus, but how did everything end up in Shanghai?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of China:

Pos Name Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.285 1:36.423 1:35.782
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.496 1:36.747 1:35.824
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:37.502 1:36.957 1:36.687
4 Felipe Massa Williams 1:38.433 1:37.357 1:36.954
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.014 1:37.763 1:37.143
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:37.790 1:37.109 1:37.232
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:38.534 1:37.939 1:37.540
8 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:38.209 1:38.063 1:37.905
9 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:38.521 1:38.017 1:38.067
10 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:38.941 1:38.127 1:38.158
11 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:38.563 1:38.134  
12 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:39.051 1:38.209  
13 Zygote Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:38.387 1:38.393  
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:38.622 1:38.538  
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:38.903 1:39.290  
16 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:39.216    
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:39.276    
18 HWPMBN McLaren 1:39.280    
19 Will Stevens Manor 1:42.091    
20 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:42.842    

Pretty much what we expect these days.  The Mercs have the one lap speed advantage over the Ferraris, but aren't as easy on their tires as the red cars.  The team from Maranello looked quite  good during long runs in practice, suggesting that Vettel and Raikkonen will be bringing it to Hamilton and Rosberg on Sunday.  The Finn's position in sixth is due to, and I quote, "a sh*t lap", where the car misbehaved during his final pole attempt. 

Nobody believes that the Williams are serious contenders for anything more than staying a notch below the Ferraris, and Red Bull is trying desperately to find some way to explain their sudden lack of speed, grip and class.  Their whining coefficient is off the charts, though.

The one thing everybody can hope for is Nico Rosberg's proclamation coming true.  After Quals, he stated that he believed the softer Option tires were going to die quickly during race conditions.  While the Silver Arrows managed to hold an unused set of Options in reserve, their 1.7 seconds per lap advantage over the Prime tires won't matter if they're only good for five or six laps... the extra pit-stop will take longer than the speed advantage saves the team... particularly if Ferrari can repeat last race and make their tires run longer.

Down at the other end of the order, we actually had both Manor chassis on track at the same time, which may have been the first time that's occurred this year.  Both are well within the 107% time of 1:44.something as well.  Meanwhile, McLaren is... improving, something like a second or two a race.  Of course, these are the easy fixes they're applying; its when they reach "average" that they'll start to really have difficulty improving to "good" or "great."

In other news, we had a track invader during Friday practice.

The man, a Chinese citizen, came down out of the stands, scaled the 10' tall catch fence and the interior armco barrier, ran across the front straight and dove over the inside wall.  He then approached the Ferrari pits and stated an interest in "giving one of the cars a try."  He was apprehended by circuit marshals and turned over to the local police.  As one can imagine, the F1 Circus immediately screamed for a larger security presence.  Reports say that the organizers doubled the front grandstand's police force.  I'm only going to say "wow" and leave it at that. 

Race is Sunday morning... see ya after.

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April 07, 2015

F1 on NBCSN: China

After a relatively surprising result in Malaysia, the Formula 1 Circus has bundled itself up and traipsed its way across the South China Sea to find itself in Shanghai, home of the 2015 Grand Prix of China.  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we?  Yes, let's!

Well, one thing's for sure: it hasn't changed.  It's still smoggy, it's still shaped like the Chinese symbol shang, meaning "arise", it's still a Tilkedrome.  It's more likely to cough up a good race than any other Tilkedrome, true, but that's nothing to hang on your wall proudly.  Throw in the perceived dominance of Mercedes and I find myself staring at the schedule and wondering just what I'm doing with my life.   I mean, besides "nothing".

Well, since I'm not doing anything, I may as well watch the race.  Here's NBCSN's planned coverage schedule:
Practice 2: 1am - 230a live
Quals: 2a - 330a live
Grand Prix of China: 1230a - 300a live

All times are Pond Central, of course, but please check your schedule, just to be sure we've got the times listed right.  Seriously, Zap2It is a clumsy, awkward, sloppy little piece of moldy cheese of a TV listing software, and I trust it about as far as I can spit an eatanter.  And for the record, I can't spit an eatanter at all... the tail keeps getting snagged.

In other F1 news, Red Bull has stopped whining about Mercedes' so-called engine domination.  Now team principal Christian Horner is calling for a wind tunnel ban.  Given his track record on this sort of stuff, I can only assume that Red Bull is having technical troubles with their wind tunnel.  Either that or they hate the thought of Haas F1 having the best automotive wind tunnel in the world at their beck and call.  Maybe both, who knows?   I'm not even sure Horner knows.  Red Bull is talking about getting out of the sport altogether, Toro Rosso is on the verge of becoming a Renault tean... maybe we can get a team that's concerned about racing on the track, instead of a team that's a marketing tool first, and then a racing team. 

Rant over.  Everybody back on your heads.

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March 28, 2015

F1 Quals: Malaysia 2015

Allegedly they've heard of sunlight at Sepang.  If you just went by today, however, there's no way that's actually possible, as the session began with low, heavy clouds.  If I saw clouds like that here at Pond Central on a Summer day, I'd be heading for the laundry room as fast as I could go.  But did it actually rain?  Here's the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Malaysia:

P Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:39.269 1:41.517 1:49.834
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:39.814 1:39.632 1:49.908
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:39.374 1:39.377 1:50.299
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:40.504 1:41.085 1:51.541
5 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:40.546 1:41.665 1:51.951
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:40.793 1:41.430 1:51.981
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1:40.543 1:41.230 1:52.473
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:40.303 1:41.209 1:52.981
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:40.249 1:40.650 1:53.179
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:40.340 1:41.748 1:53.261
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:40.415 1:42.173  
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:40.361 1:42.198  
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:40.830 1:43.023  
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1:41.036 1:43.469  
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:39.814 1:43.701  
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:41.308    
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:41.636    
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:41.746    
Roberto Merhi Manor 1:46.677    
Will Stevens
No Time

First things first: the 107% time was 1:46:217.  Neither Manor driver brought his vehicle in under that time, so they race at the Steward's permission... which was granted, as both drivers managed to display enough pace during practice to claim they manage it.  Assuming Manor can find and fix the gremlin that infected Will Stevens' car between Practice 3 and Quals, we should have a full grid on Sunday!

And what an interesting grid it is, too.  Of course it rained in Malaysia; it always does.  The teams had enough time for one or two flying laps before the heavens opened up and dumped a substantial portion of the Malacca Strait onto Sepang International Circuit.  Lewis Hamilton was nearly caught by this, as he had problems getting his Mercedes started.  Because most only got one shot, one bad twitch could cost you the session, as Kimi Raikkonen learned.  After the dry laps were in the books, there was no point in going out again.

Q3 was delayed nearly 40 minutes as the Powers That Be waited for the water to stop bucketing down.  This it duly did, but the track was still sodden enough for Intermediate tires (and some thought Full Wets) to be required for the entire session.  In the process, we may have discovered that, at least in the wet, Ferrari can hang with the Mercs.  In the dry, the Silver Arrows still have the clear advantage, though it seems to have been cut somewhat.

We'll see what the race will bring us early Sunday Morning.  No idea when I'll manage the writeup, as I've a couple of other things that need to be dealt with on Sunday.

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March 27, 2015

You Stupid Idiot.

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March 24, 2015

F1 on NBCSN: Malaysia

With a cloud of embarrassment hanging over its head, F1 bids adieu to Australia and made its way to the next destination on the World Tour: Malaysia, and the Sepang International Circuit contained therein.  Let's take a look at said circuit's track map:

Some things never change.  Since 1999, Malaysia has been dominated by the two "forever straights", separated only by a tight, low-speed hairpin.  In effect this was Hermann Tilke's premiere track design, though he did technically design the A1-Ring (now the Red Bull Ring) in Austria first.  It's already full of what would be come his signature tics, like the aforementioned long straights, lots of rhythm-destroying turns, and an appalling lack of feel for a racetrack.  All of these would carry over to his later designs, with only Turkey truly standing as an acceptable layout. 

Well, what's done is done.  The circuits are here, they aren't going away anytime soon, so this is what we've got.  What do often do get in Malaysia is rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  If we're lucky, we'll get rain this weekend.  According to the forecast, there's showers scheduled on race morning, with thunderstorms in the afternoon.  The question, of course, is if "the afternoon" is during the race itself.  We'll see.

In injured driver news, both Valterri Bottas (back) and HWMNBN (concussion) are hopeful for returns this weekend.  The Finn will do the car self-extraction test on Thursday, and if he's capable of that, he'll be driving.  The Spaniard, however, went through a battery of tests this weekend, and will undergo a final medical assessment from the FIA on Thursday as well.  I'd expect to see them both racing on Sunday. 

Finally, here's the TV schedule for NBCSN's coverage this weekend:

P2: 100a - 300a live
Quals: 400a - 530a live
2015 Grand Prix of Malaysia: 130a - 400a live

As always, times are in Pond Central.  Also as always, NBCSN's scheduling is brought to us by Zap2It, which means it's frequently wrong, and constantly impossible to read.

And, completely off-topic, here's this year's World Endurance Racing entry from Audi:

Yes, please, very much so.

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March 14, 2015

F1 Quals: Australia 2015

If it's Saturday in Melbourne, it must be qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix!  How will this season go?  We should begin to get an idea after this, the first time it all really counts... let's take a look at the grid:

P Name Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:28.586 1:26.894 1:26.327
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:28.906 1:27.097 1:26.921
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:29.246 1:27.895 1:27.718
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:29.307 1:27.742 1:27.757
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:29.754 1:27.807 1:27.790
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:29.641 1:27.796 1:28.087
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:29.788 1:28.679 1:28.329
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:29.597 1:28.601 1:28.510
9 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:29.537 1:28.589 1:28.560
10 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:29.847 1:28.726 1:29.480
11 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:30.430 1:28.800  
12 Junior Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:29.248 1:28.868  
13 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:30.402 1:29.070  
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:29.651 1:29.208  
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:29.990 1:29.209  
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:31.376    
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.422    
18 HWMNBN'DSI McLaren 1:32.037    
DNS Will Stevens Manor No time    
DNS Roberto Merhi Manor No time    

Yeeeesh.  As if last season wasn't bad enough, Mercedes is picking up 2015 right where they left off in 2014, with another front-row lockout.  Polesitter is a full 1.4 seconds ahead of the first non-Mercedes challenger, Williams' Felipe Massa, and about a half-second ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg.  The two Ferraris had relatively dull (but good!) Quals sessions.  Meanwhile, Red Bull pretty much wants to strangle engine manufacturer Renault.  First, Riccardo had his first engine (of four for the year!) die during Practice, then his second is "practically undriveable", full of weird holes in the engine mapping.  That's why teammate Daniil Kvyat is so far down the grid, and why Ricciardo nearly missed Q3.

Sauber has to be relieved that Felipe Nasr qual'd 11th, considering the nightmare they've put up with this week.  Indeed, he was looking like he'd go through into Q3 until Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz bumped him out at the last moment.  Too, Force India has to be pleased with their results in Quals.  Sure, they aren't high up the grid, but they had very little track time with their new car and it's looking to be solidly reliable.  Particularly early, reliability is almost as good as speed: if the car can't finish a race, it doesn't matter how fast it is.  However, a reliable car can evolve to become quick.  A special tip o' the cap to Junior Verstappen, who became the youngest person to qualify for a F1 race today at the ripe old age of 17.  Seven-frickin'-teen.

Really, the only team that has any reason to be unhappy is McLaren.  Sure, Manor didn't manage to get their cars running at all this weekend (reportedly it took four hours on Friday just to get the car's flashing rain light to function with the new software), but a month ago the team didn't exist and their pieces were being sold away.  Just being in Australia as a team, having a chance to get running, is a win for Manor.  But McLaren is a different story.  In Q1 their best time was set on the soft-rubbered Option tire.  It was nearly three seconds behind Lewis Hamilton's fastest time in Q1 on the slower medium Prime tire.  They were the slowest through the speed traps, about 10mph behind the fastest chassis, the Williams.  They've not even done a full race distance in the new chassis... hell, they've not even done as much as 13 laps at once.  To call this a disaster for the legendary McLaren/Honda combination is perhaps understating the case.  While there's plenty of time for the car to improve, this start makes one wonder how they can.

Late news from Melbourne!  After Quals on Saturday, Valtteri Bottas was taken to hospital suffering back pains.  They actually began during the Quals session, but he drove through them.  He and the team await the diagnosis, and currently his drive on Sunday is in doubt.  If he can't go, the team will not be allowed to replace him, and we'll have a 17-car grid for the race.

Race is late-night Saturday/early Sunday here at The Pond... see ya in the AM.

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March 13, 2015

F1 Practice 1+2 Thoughts And Sauber: Australia 2015

First off, news has come down that Giedo van de Garde has temporarily withdrawn his various motions and notions, so as to allow Sauber F1 to actually race this weekend.  This also has the side-effect of allowing Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn to leave Australia once the weekend is over.  There are two things behind this, undoubtedly.  First, the lawyers on both sides must have come to some sort of agreement regarding compensation for the aggrieved driver.  The wonder of it all is how the cash-strapped team could guarantee anything along those lines.  Second, it became crystal clear that van de Garde would never drive for the team.  Oh, make no mistake, the courts could have said "yes he is" and he'd be named... but when he walked into the team paddock yesterday for his seat fitting, every team mechanic walked out.  Every.  Single.  One.  I don't care what the judges and lawyers and bailiffs say... if your mechanics hate you, you aren't racing.  You wouldn't make it to the end of the pit lane before breaking down.  So there you go: Sauber is racing in Australia.  More on this to come, clearly.

As far as the two practice sessions went, there are four conclusions to be drawn:

1) Mercedes will do it again.  They were a second clear of the next best teams, and they weren't even trying hard.  Expect a repeat of 2014, except maybe more wins.

2) Ferrari might just be back.  From all appearances, the SF15-T is a much better drive than last year's F14T.  It might be on-par with the Red Bulls, which means it could, in theory, be contesting for podiums and wins.  In theory.  In practice, with three teams (Red Bull, Williams and Ferrari) jousting for second-best, someone's gonna lose out.

3) Expect nothing from McLaren.  The team is having serious problems with their new Honda engines.  Combined with faults of some kind, the MP4-30 had Jenson Button saying that they might do well to start 18th on race day.  There are only 20 cars, and two of them are Manor chassis that have yet to turn a wheel in practice or in anger.  That's how bad it is for McLaren right now.

4) Engine problems may doom everybody.  Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull had an engine change after P1 yesterday.  Felipe Massa's Williams had a water leak that may lead to an engine change as well.  Cars only get four "power units" to last 20 races, and this is happening now?   Oh boy... Manor might actually be in the BEST shape; their 2014 power units are at least a mature technology now, with well-known flaws and foibles.

P3 and Quals coming up later tonight.

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March 12, 2015

Sauber Situation, Manor Mayhem

While we wait for Practice 1 to air here in the States, I want to touch on a couple of items that might cut the number of running cars this weekend to 16, instead of the scheduled 20.

First and easiest to deal with is Manor, the former Marussia.  Their cars are in the paddock and the team is beavering away, but there has reportedly been an operational snag.  As you'll remember, the team went into receivership and their assets prepared for sale.  This past December saw an auction of much of their stuff, but importantly some of their things were withheld despite having been listed.  This included all of their IT layout, something desperately needed to run the car at the track.  Of course, the team didn't know there would be a last-minute reprieve, so they had to prepare their computers for sale, so they scraped everything off the hard drives.  Reportedly, they've had problems getting the reinstalled and/or rewritten code to mesh with the Ferrari engines... meaning the cars won't start.  I did sneak a peek at the Practice 1 results, and neither car set a timed lap.  Unfortunate, but unsurprising.

Even more unfortunate is the disaster looming over at Sauber.  We actually first discovered there was a hint of a problem last year when Jennifer Becks, ridiculously cute girlfriend of Adrian Sutil tweeted out during the USGP weekend that it appeared that the team had signed a third driver for the two race seats in 2015.  There's nothing wrong with having three drivers, but one of them is supposed to be declared a reserve.  Time went on, nothing was clarified, and then it was announced that the team had signed a fourth pay driver as well!  Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were eventually announced as the race-day drivers, and all seemed fine for much of the off-season.  Until former F1 driver and 2014 Sauber test driver Giedo van der Garde stood up and in effect said "hey, I've got a contract with the team for a race seat, what the heck is going on?"

There's no question that Sauber was in desperate financial straits at the end of last season.  Clearly what the heck was going on was that the team signed two drivers that brought more sponsorship money (and/or were willing to pay more for the seat) than van der Garde, simply to stay alive.  Then, quietly, Sutil apparently mentioned that he's got a contract as well.  Van der Garde, however, is pushing the matter, and rightfully so.  He's got a legal contract, after all.  He took the team to court last week... and won.  Of course, the team appealed the ruling saying, in effect, that it'd be dangerous for him to be allowed to drive the car at such a late date... after all, it's been set up for Ericsson and Nasr.

That was, of course, a stupid argument: new drivers step into F1 seats all the time.  The court agreed with van der Garde, ordering the team to allow him to drive and pay his court costs to boot.  The team clearly doesn't want to have him drive, and contempt of court proceedings are actually underway in Australia, with the team ordered to provide a list of assets in the paddock.  In theory, if the team doesn't let him drive, van der Garde could end up owning all of the race assets of Sauber.  Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn, herself a lawyer, has been summoned by the court, while van der Garde's legal team is calling for her imprisonment.  Reportedly, she hasn't been seen for a while, and one source is claiming there are court bailiffs at the Paddock looking for her.

Not surprisingly, the team did not run in Practice 1, either. 

I'll keep you informed.

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March 09, 2015

F1 on NBCSN: Australia 2015

Like a big, hungry, pissed-off grizzly bear dragging itself out of its hibernation cave, the growls of Formula 1 have begun to emanate from the south-eastern tip of Australia.  Melbourne is the location, the Albert Park circuit the destination for the ten teams contesting the 2015 Formula 1 season.  Let's take a look at the track map for this historic circuit:

Just as the Cincinnati Reds used to open the baseball season with the first game of the year, so too does Australia have primacy of place on the F1 calendar, and the few times that hasn't been the case have felt weird.  I've often said that the Albert Park circuit is the perfect starting track for season, for it's pretty much *everything* you could want out of a track.  Tight, twisty sections that test the maneuverability of a car?  Yep, it's got it.  High-speed parts?  You betcha.  Heavy braking?  Oh yes.  Fast sweeping turns that strain the downforce levels?  Surely.  God's Slot Car Track will provide.  Plus it's a nice-looking location, to boot.

The only thing that prevents it from being the perfect circuit is a lack of elevation change.  It may not be billiard-table flat, but it's awfully close.  It's a tough layout for both driver and car.  It's considered a street circuit, as it runs along permanent roads through the park.  As such, it has many of the problems you'll find in places like Monaco... motor oil dripped into the surface, for example... but without any of the bumps and blemishes you'd expect from a street track, as the entire place was reprofiled and resurfaced to make it as smooth as any permanent layout, despite only being used one weekend a year.  Throw in the first time running the cars "in anger," and you get the potential for exciting weekends for some teams.

And despite all predictions, we'll have ten teams on the grid.  Marussia fought its way out of receivership and will show up in the pit lane despite no testing, running a heavily modified version of last year's chassis, with Ferrari supplying 2014 engines.  That can't be good as far as being a legit challenger goes, but at least the team is on the rid.  They're operating under the parent name "Manor Motorsports," which has always been the name on the racing entry, though Virgin and more recently Marussia has been the team name.  The equipment carriers still have the "Marussia" logo on them, as do the shirts of the team members receiving them, but my guess is that Manor will be the final name.

One driver that WON'T be on the grid for Australia is McLaren's HWMNBN.  During testing a few weeks ago, the Spanish driver was involved in a relatively simple accident, banging into a wall with the side of the car at around 80-90 mph.  While otherwise unharmed, he suffered a concussion with unconsciousness and some amnesia to boot.  He has not been cleared to return to driving activities yet, and the possibility of missing the next race in Malaysia as well can't be ignored.  Concussions are nothing to be sneered at, and caution should always be used concerning them.  There's been a lot of conspiracy theories floating about the accident, primary amongst them that he was shocked to unconsciousness by a malfuctioning ERS, but McLaren denies this.  Kevin Magnussen, one of McLaren's 2014 drivers and now their reserve, will be in the seat until HWMNBN is okay'd to race once again.

NBCSN will once again be providing coverage of the weekend with the Legendary Announce Team in full throat.  Since this is a special event, the first race of the year, it appears that we're getting expanded coverage, too!  They're showing up P1 and P3... take a look at the schedule, understanding that you'll want to double-check it on your end before you trust any of it.  Zap2It, which powers NBCSN's online schedule system, is slightly less ergonomic than your average steel I-beam.

P1 & P2: 1130pm - 2am (P1 probably timeshifted)
P3: 1130pm -1230am live
Quals: 2am - 330am live
Grand Prix of Australia: 1130pm - 200am live

All times are Central Pond Time.  Add one hour for Wyoming, Delaware.  Subtract an hour for Wamsutter, Wyoming.  Remember, all you residents of Coos Bay, Oregon, that you're two hours behind The Pond.

So there we are.  And there you are.  And here I am.  Someone will see you sometime.

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December 16, 2014

Around F1: 2014 Postseason

Though we're almost a month past the final race of 2014, there's still news being made by the F1 Circus.  Shall we take a look at some of the more interesting bits?

*McLaren finally set their 2015 driver lineup.  As was expected, HWMNBN was tabbed to occupy one of the seats.  This officially puts his nickname in danger; if the team he screwed over has welcomed him back, how can I still hold a grudge?  As it turns out, pretty easily.  Fernando Alonso will remain HWMNBN until further notice, but it's getting harder and harder to grump at him.  His teammate will be returning driver Jenson Button.  The surprise was that it took a very long time to announce that decision; it was only made a few days ago, much to the consternation of Button fans everywhere.  While I personally believe that it should have been a slam-dunk decision, I can't fault McLaren for taking their time.  Kevin Magnusson is a young up-and-coming driver who flashed brilliance at times during the 2014 season (see Australia), while Jenson is on the far side of his career.  Still, I think they made the right choice.

*Possibly more exciting news occurred in the first offseason test as the worldbeating combination of McLaren and Honda returned to the sport.  Honda will be returning to F1 as an engine manufacturer in 2015, powering McLaren exclusively.  While the Yas Marina test sessions didn't go all that well, with the 2014 chassis/2015 engine lashup only managing five laps in two days, that's also to be expected.  Remember, Red Bull was having similar problems at the beginning of 2014 testing, too. 

*Marussia is now officially gone.  Tuesday was the first day of the liquidation auction of the team.  There's another day of auction on Wednesday, but almost all the interesting stuff went today.  Multiple complete chassis were auctioned off, in the 2012 and 2013 configurations, with the 2014 cars being sold either at the end of December or early January (the 2014s are in Ferrari hands at the moment, having their engines removed).  Apparently, Haas F1, the American start-up team  that'll take to the grid in 2016, bought one of the chassis, and this is a smart move.  They now have a guaranteed working testbed to run pieces on, and of recent construction as well.  Compare this to Caterham, HRT and even Marussia iteself (as Virgin F1), who had no such crutch when they joined three seasons ago.  I'd be surprised if one or both of the 2014 chassis didn't end up in Haas hands to boot.  Other things auctioned off were all the spare parts, basically everything you would need to race-run a team, except for engines and tires.  Wednesday's auction includes the actual factory fittings and equipment: cordless drills, CNC machinery (I don't think Haas will be needing any of those), computer chairs, big-screen TVs, that sort of thing.  Oh, and the team's transporters and hospitality "mobile homes."  Something tells me Haas F1 will be looking at those, too.

*Also from Marussia, mixed news about Jules Bianchi.  A few weeks ago, he was taken off the ventilator and removed from the medically-induced coma.  He was also transferred from the hospital that he's been in since the horrible accident at the Japanese Grand Prix, and is now in hospital at home in France.  However, he's still in a coma, and remains in intensive care. 

*Eye-rolling news from Red Bull.  Last week, news came from the team that some bandits ran a car into their office/factory complex and stole some 60 of their trophies, causing thousands of dollars of damage in the process.  Heaven knows I'm no Red Bull fan, but for whatever reason this annoys me to no end.  It's not like the thieves could fence them or anything, unless its to some secretive F1 fan who won't ever display them to the world.  News came out this morning that 20 of the trophies were recovered by police from a nearby lake.

Y'know, the McLaren Technology Center is near the Red Bull factory, and it has a lake... I'm just sayin'.

More news as it happens, or as I'm motivated to write about it!

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November 22, 2014

F1 Quals: Abu Dhabi 2014

Pretty much perfect weather for today's Quals at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.  Tomorrow's race will decide which of the Merc pilots will win the driver's championship!  Who are you backing?  Is it Lewis Hamilton, 2008 driver champion, and leading this one?  Or is it Nico Rosberg and his consistently good finishes and ten poles?  Who gets the advantage for tomorrow?  Let's look at the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:41.308 1:41.459 1:40.480
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.207 1:40.920 1:40.866
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:42.346 1:41.376 1:41.025
4 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:41.475 1:41.144 1:41.119
DSQ Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:42.204 1:41.692 1:41.267
DSQ 4Time Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:42.495 1:42.147 1:41.893
7 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:42.302 1:42.082 1:41.908
8 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.137 1:41.875 1:41.964
9 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:42.439 1:42.168 1:42.236
10 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:42.467 1:41.940 1:42.866
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.104 1:42.198
12 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:42.413 1:42.207
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:42.654 1:42.239
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:42.444 1:42.384
15 Adrian F'n Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:42.746 1:43.074
16 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:42.768

17 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:42.819

18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 1:42.860

19 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:44.540

20 Will Stevens Caterham-Renault 1:45.095

Rosberg scores his 11th pole of the season, and at least has a small advantage going into tomorrow race.  Now all he has to do is win and hope Hamilton finishes third or worse... he needs help, in other words.  Still, advantage Rosberg.

The huge elephant in the room, obviously, is the two Red Bulls being disqualified from Quals.  They were reported to the stewards for having a front wing that had been designed to flex under loading, which means it's a movable aerodynamic device.  Tricky, but against the rules.  They've accepted the penalty, while saying "we're disappointed that we're getting penalized while other teams are doing the same thing."  Of course, all front wings move a bit as downforce comes on, but Red Bull's were really pushing it.  I'm not impressed by their reaction; essentially it boils down to "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, you're picking on us!"  Which, to be fair, has been their reaction to such things in the past as well.  The two Red Bull drivers will start from the back of the grid.

In other news, hey look!  It's Caterham!  They managed to sucker enough F1 fans into their crowdsourced funding project to get to the grid, and thereby earn 10th place and a cut of the prize money despite not actually having earned it!  Even better, all that prize money will likely go right to creditors when the team folds after the race.  There are Caterham staff who reportedly haven't received back pay from two months ago, and over 200 employees were let go a while ago.  I do hope the mechanics at Abu Dhabi were paid in advance.  I also hope the cars are safe... at Russia, Gandalf Kobayashi tweeted that the team had repaired a broken carbon fiber suspension piece by wrapping it up with a carbon fiber sheet.

Finally, in the world of ridiculous penalties, Lettuce Grosjean has received a twenty grid-place penalty.  He's using his sixth engine, turbocharger and MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit - Heat, which converts exhaust heat to electrical power as part of the KERS unit) at Abu Dhabi, meaning he gets a 10-spot for the engine, and 5-spots for the other two.  Since he can't actually start from 36th on the grid (that would put him roughly halfway across the Al-Mafraq bridge), he's going to have to serve a ten second stop-go penalty during the race while starting... um... well, I'm not sure where he'll be starting.  He'll either be 18th, just before the two Red Bulls, or 20th, behind them.

Race is in the morning, F1U! thereafter.  See ya then!

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November 17, 2014

F1 on NBCSN: Abu Dhabi 2014

So it comes down to this.  The season which first saw the lights go out in Melbourne will see the checkered flag flown in Abu Dhabi.  From the land where everything is trying to kill you, to a small island that holds nearly 10% of the world's oil reserves, and thus has a ridiculous amount of money lying around... a perfect atmosphere for Formula 1.  Let's take a look at the track map for the 2014 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi, shall we?

The Yas Marina circuit is probably the richest, most expensive purpose-built racing circuit, not just in F1 but perhaps in the world.  At least as far as a "how to" guide to build an entire racing area, Abu Dhabi is probably THE place to go.  The circuit itself, eh, not so good thanks to the influence of Hermann Tilke.  Remember, this is the place that has the pit exit that runs underground and crosses under the circuit.  It also has what is probably the single most ridiculous hotel you could ever hope to stay at, the Yas Viceroy... that's the dark gray handheld razor-shaped thing between Turns 18 and 19.  499 rooms, and while it's currently sold out for the race weekend, you can get a Marina Deluxe King room for about $230/night normally.  If you want to be a plebe about it, that is.  For something higher end, there's the Presidential Suite... 400m2, two floors, private lap pool, terrace overlooking the track, touch panels for the whole-suite ambient lighting, the works... all this can be yours for a mere $5200/night normally.  I'd be fascinated to see what it'd cost during race weekend.

Dear god.

Unfortunately, the track itself isn't nearly as spectacular an experience.  Like every other Tilke track, it's a weird conglomerate of long straights connected by right-angle turns that ruin any flow the place has for racing.  It does have perhaps the best asphalt in F1, however, grippy without being particularly abrasive, a neat trick if you can pull it off.  Probably has something to do with the ambient air temperatures; the average high in November is around 86°F, with 65% humidity.  Of course, you'd expect that for a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf, wouldn't you?  I'll be honest, I'd take that right now: as I write this, it's snowing with a windchill of -4°F.  November in Northern Illinois, yay!

Because it's so hot in Abu Dhabi, the race begins late in the day and goes into the night, a rather spectacular visual spectacle.  The race itself?  Not so spectacular, and arguably can be blamed for the acceptance of DRS (see 2010, HWMNBN, losing Driver's Championship) in F1.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say that F1 cars shouldn't be racing here, as the Australian V8Supercar series has had some fantastic races at Abu Dhabi.  That's just me, though (note: no, it's not).

Well, our friends at NBCSN will be doing their usual knockout job with coverage, following the following schedule:
Practice 2: 7a - 830a
Quals: 7a - 830a
2014 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi: 630a - 9a

Of course, it's a race to crown a new driver's champion as well.  If Lewis Hamilton finishes ahead of Nico Rosberg, he wins.  If Rosberg finishes ahead of Hamilton, Hamilton needs to finish second to win the championship.  Here's a chart breaking down finish positions and what needs to happen for either to win.  Even if Hamilton fails to finish, Rosberg must end up in 5th to win.

So here we go.  We here at F1U! will see ya this weekend!

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