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:
FRIDAY
Practice 2: 7a - 830a
SATURDAY
Quals: 7a - 830a
SUNDAY
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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November 08, 2014

F1 Quals: Brazil 2014

Lowering skies and sub-optimal temperatures greeted the Blundering Herd as they got ready to qualify for tomorrow's 2014 Grand Prix of Brazil.  Would it affect anybody?  Here's the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:10.347 1:10.303 1:10.023
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:10.457 1:10.712 1:10.056
3 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:10.602 1:10.343 1:10.247
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:10.832 1:10.421 1:10.305
5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:11.097 1:11.127 1:10.930
6 4Time Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:11.880 1:11.129 1:10.938
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:11.134 1:11.211 1:10.969
8 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:11.558 1:11.215 1:10.977
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:11.593 1:11.208 1:11.075
10 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:11.193 1:11.188 1:11.099
11 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:11.520 1:11.591
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:11.848 1:11.976
13 Adrian F'n Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:11.943 1:12.099
14 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:11.423 No Time

15 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:12.037

16 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:12.040

17 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:12.076

18 Crashtor Maldozer Lotus-Renault 1:12.233


The end of Q3 definitely fell into the "exciting" category.  Rosberg had pole when Hamilton turned his final lap.  That lap was not only good enough to wrest pole from his teammate, but was fast enough to set a qualifying record for Interlagos.  It took the title from Rubens Barrichello in the Ferrari F2004, probably the pinnacle of the modern F1 car.  The F2004 holds almost all of the qualifying and single-lap records for circuits still in use today... indeed, the fastest lap ever at Interlagos is a 1:09.something, set by the F2004 in practice that year.

However, Hamilton's record stood for something like ten seconds, for Rosberg came along and grabbed his 10th pole of the year with his final lap.  The whole time, though, he was looking over his shoulder at the man behind him, one Felipe Massa.  The Brazilian, racing at his home track (almost literally; he grew up in Saõ Paulo, within sight of the circuit), had been making things difficult for the Mercedes boys by being consistently faster than them down the straights, and with the vocal support of the Brazilian fans (that's a lot of fans!), had a legit chance at taking pole.  Alas, he was unable to do so, for a reason that we saw all too much of today.

If I had to describe today's Quals session with one word, it'd have to be "sloppy."  The track surface temps were some fifty degrees cooler today from Practice, and it seems like many of the teams were set up for rain.  As a result, we saw a LOT of smoking tires, blown turns, flatspots and four-wheel drifting.  It got so bad that I was joking to myself at one point: "first man to turn a clean lap wins pole and we can all go home."  I'm still not sure anybody did do so.

So tomorrow actually has the possibility of being interesting, particularly if the expected rains come.  Programming note: the race is actually being shown live on CNBC at 930am, then on tape delay on NBC as mentioned in the "F1 on TV" report.  That's new, I only just found that out last night.

See ya there, y'all.


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November 07, 2014

F1 Practice: Brazil 2014

Not a whole bunch of excitement during Practice 2 today, unless you count three red flags as "excitement."  Formula 1's stewards are being very cautious when it comes to car cleanup these days, perhaps overly so... and that's a good thing.  A repeat of Jules Bianchi's accident, as unlikely as that may be, would be A Bad Thing, so I'd rather the cars sit quiet for a little while during cleanup activities.

Jules Vergne's Toro Rosso packed up after about 10 minutes of running in the session, then a half hour later, HWMNBN's caught fire shortly before Esteban!'s Sauber decided it didn't want to run anymore.  It's suspected that all three fell afoul of the weather in Saõ Paulo, best described as "holy crap that's hot and there's no air."  Air temps at the start of the session were near 90, with rain in the immediate future.  Combine that with the elevation the track is at, 2500 feet, and life is proving to be very hard for the turbochargers.  It may prove to be nothing at all; HWMNBN was running an old power unit, and it's fair to bet that Sauber and Toro Rosso were doing the same, but it's still something we need to keep an eye out for.

Another thing to watch is the new pit entry.  For years I've complained about the pit lane entry at Brazil and how the racing line for the final turn ran right through it.  Well, the folks in charge of Interlagos finally did something about it, probably after some prodding from the FIA.  The results are as seen above, and it's a helluva lot better than before.  No longer will it look like someone is entering the pits at 160mph.  I still don't like the circuit, but this is a step in the right direction.  They also resurfaced the track, I gather, and the new asphalt is stupid slippery in the heat.  Track surface temps were near 130 degrees, much hotter than anybody expected.  As a result, we saw a lot of tire wear, which may come into play down the road.  But probably not, as we're expecting rain both during Quals and the race itself.  Won't that be fun?

In other news, Marussia has officially given up and is no longer a race team.  This removes them from the prize moneys they earned for their points at Monaco, promotes Sauber to 9th place in the standings, and Caterham to 10th if they can make it to Abu Dhabi.  The end of Marussia closes the book on a rather troubled lineage.  Starting out as Virgin Racing in 2010, that car was the first entirely designed and tested using Computational Fluid Dynamics technology... no wind tunnel for these guys!  Unfortunately, no success for them, either, as they often appeared to have the worst car on the grid in both 2010 and 2011, something of a feat considering the presence of HRT.  A surprise 9th at Monaco this year by Jules Bianchi earned them their first ever points, a high ruined by Bianchi's terrible accident at Japan, one with some similarities to test driver Maria de Villota's crash in 2012.  The team ran one car at Sochi, and that will prove to be the last time Marussia made it to the grid.  A pity.

Quals in the morning!

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November 03, 2014

F1 on TV: Brazil 2014

No time to rest for the wicked!  The F1 Circus is heading south to São Paulo, Brazil, home of Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, the location of the 2014 Grand Prix of Brazil!  Let's take a look at the track map:

This is the time where I point out that I have a terrible hate for this circuit.  It's an irrational hate, one that makes no sense no matter how I look at it.  It's just one of those things, like if you get 50 people in a room, no matter how friendly they all are, it's likely two of them will be at each other's throats.  That's me and this track, which is better known as Interlagos.  Interlagos means "between the lakes", and my long-time joke is that it'd be better if it was known as "in the lake."  I really don't like this place.

And yet, they don't listen to me and the continue to schedule races there.  How rude is that?  I mean, sure, Brazilian fans (that's a lot of fans!) are possibly more rabid than the Italian tifosi... they just root for Ferrari, where Brazil loves the sport and all thing Ayrton Senna... but is that enough reason to keep coming back?  It is?  Oh.

Well, the Legendary Announce Team will be doing the whole coverage thing again, so that's good.  Here's the broadcast schedule...
FRIDAY
Practice 2: 10a - 12n live on NBCSN
SATURDAY
Quals: 10a - 1130a live on NBCSN
SUNDAY
2014 Grand Prix of Brazil: 12n - 230p live on NBC

The penultimate race of the season... I should be excited.


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November 01, 2014

F1 Quals: United States 2014


A surprisingly chilly day greeted the F1 cowpokes as they guided their steeds onto Austin, Texas' Circuit of the Americas in preparation for Sunday's US Grand Prix.  Which of 'em would be named sheriff, and which would be dangling from the end of a rope?  Let's take ourselves a look at the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.303 1:36.290 1:36.067
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.196 1:37.287 1:36.443
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:38.249 1:37.499 1:36.906
4 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:37.877 1:37.347 1:37.205
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:38.814 1:37.873 1:37.244
6 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:38.349 1:38.010 1:37.610
7 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.574 1:38.024 1:37.655
8 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.557 1:38.047 1:37.706
9 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:38.669 1:38.263 1:37.804
10 Adrian F'n Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.855 1:38.378 1:38.810
11 Crashtor Maldozer Lotus-Renault 1:38.608 1:38.467
12 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:39.200 1:38.554
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:38.931 1:38.598
14 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:38.936 1:38.699
15 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:39.250

16 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.555

17 4Time Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:39.621

18 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:39.679


If you ask the Legendary Announce Team, it's something of a miracle that Rosberg and Hamilton made it to Q3, let alone lock out the first row.  Both Merc drivers have been dealing with technical difficulties all weekend, the type that make engineers pull out their hair, mechanics lose sleep rebuilding entire cars to find a single mistinned lead, and drivers throw hissyfits while spilling their energy drinks.  Rosberg seemed to have a side-to-side brake balance problem, something that you almost never hear of in F1, while Hamilton was having shifter difficulties.  Both of these "miraculously" cleared up before Quals, which saw Hamilton make a teeny bobble in Q3 to give his teammate pole for Sunday's race.

Last year, 4Time Vettel won this race, with Lettuce Grosjean standing next to him on the podium.  Quite the difference a year can make.  Grosjean just has a miserable pile of scrap for a car, and Vettel, knowing that he has to start from the pitlane for using a completely new powerplant (his seventh, one beyond the limit), barely even tried.  The talk was, in fact, that he wouldn't even appear in Quals, until someone pointed out that put his ability to race in the hands of the Stewards (for not setting a time within 107% of the fastest time in Q1), officials who were already in a foul mood because of the loss of two teams.

Hail Adrian F'n Sutil for finally giving Sauber their first appearance in Q3 this season... and if that isn't a terrible proclamation, I don't know what is.   

Actually, I do know what is.  There's at least a chance that there will only be 12 cars taking the lights tomorrow.  To protest the incredible imbalance between the financial situations of the big teams and the smaller ones, Lotus, Sauber and Force India have been linked to a boycott of the race.  All three teams have been reported to be suffering financial difficulties, and to be fair, F1 is completely cocked up when it comes to the money situation.  For example, the 2013 payout was something like $900 million... and Ferrari got $100 million right off the top simply because they're Ferrari, over and above their prize winnings.  That right there is more than the annual budgets of either of the two teams missing this week, Marussia and Caterham.  Something does have to be done about this imbalance, and this threat is a good way to draw attention to the problem.  The three teams can absolutely kill any chance F1 has to get back into the US long-term (remember the 2005 debacle?), and what do they care?  As is, none of them will be around in two years, driven out by the manufacturers.

Someone from Lotus tweeted that they'll be racing, but team boss Gerard Lopez was quite angry at yesterday's team principal press conference, which makes for quite eye-opening reading.  Will they go through with the boycott?  Probably not, but we won't really know until the teams form up on the grid for the lights.

Tomorrow could prove to be quite interesting!  See ya then.

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October 27, 2014

F1 on TV: United States 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 11, 2014

F1 Quals: Russia 2014

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

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

18 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:43.064

19 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:43.166

20 Crashtor Maldozer Lotus-Renault 1:43.205

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:43.649


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

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

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

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October 10, 2014

F1 Practice: Russia 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 07, 2014

Bianchi Update II

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

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

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

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

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October 06, 2014

F1 on NBCSN: Russia 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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October 05, 2014

Jules Bianchi Update

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

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


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

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

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2014 GP Of Japan, As It Happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 04, 2014

Runup To 2014 Grand Prix of Japan

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

More as events warrant.

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

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

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

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Cloud Cover At Suzuka

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

Just a little bit, yeah.

UPDATE: But all is not clouds!

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F1 Quals: Japan 2014

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

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

18 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:35.984

19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:36.813

20 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 1:36.943

21 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:37.015

22 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:37.481


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

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

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

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

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

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October 03, 2014

BIG F1 News Coming, Stay Tuned To Quals Report

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

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

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September 30, 2014

F1 on NBCSN: Japan 2014 UPDATED!

Japan.  The Land of the Rising Sun.  Also The Land of My Favorite F1 Circuit.  Let's take a look at the wonderful Suzuka, home of the 2014 Grand Prix of Japan:

The only figure-8 course on the calendar, Suzuka is close to being the perfect blend of fast and slow, the technical and the flat out.  All of it attended by the fanatically rabid F1 fans of Japan, Taki Inoue's opinion notwithstanding.  We can generally count on some weather showing up, as well... they weren't called the Great Suzuka Boat Races for nothing, after all.  This year, though, we get an extra-special dose of weather: volcanoes!  Mt Ontake, Japan's second tallest mountain, erupted this past Saturday, killing at least 30 and spewing ash high into the atmosphere.  At last check, it's still doing so.  Flights into and around Japan have been affected.  Suzuka is less than 200km from the volcano, so it's hardly a stretch to imagine ash making it to the track... does one use Inters or full Wets for lava?

In less serious news, our friends in the Legendary Announce Team will be providing coverage on NBCSN all weekend, and the times are even close to being watchable by a human being!  Let's take a look:

FRIDAY
12mid - 130am: Practice 2 live
SATURDAY
12mid - 130am: Quals live
1130pm - 2am: 2014 Grand Prix of Japan live.

Yes, that's right, coverage of the race begins Saturday night!  I'll surely be staying up to watch all of these... I've gotten used to 2am bedtimes again... so who knows, there might be some liveblogging going on, too.  We'll see!

See ya then!

UPDATE:  If the volcano bit wasn't enough, there's a typhoon!  Typhoon Phanfone is predicted to skirt the eastern coast of Japan over the next six days or so, passing by Suzuka/Nagoya sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning, roughly speaking.  When it does, it's predicted to be somewhere in the vicinity of a Category 4, dropping to a Cat 2 by Sunday night.

Maybe there won't BE a Grand Prix of Japan this year...

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September 21, 2014

F1 Quals: Singapore 2014

Real quick one here, since I'm posting this only a few hours before the race itself begins:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:46.921 1:46.287 1:45.681
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:47.244 1:45.825 1:45.688
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:47.488 1:46.493 1:45.854
4 4Time Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:47.476 1:46.586 1:45.902
5 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:46.889 1:46.328 1:45.907
6 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:47.615 1:46.472 1:46.000
7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:46.685 1:46.359 1:46.170
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:47.196 1:46.622 1:46.187
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:47.976 1:46.700 1:46.250
10 Kid Kvyat STR-Renault 1:47.656 1:46.926 1:47.362
11 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:47.161 1:46.943
12 Jules Vergne STR-Renault 1:47.407 1:46.989
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:47.370 1:47.308
14 Esteban! Sauber-Ferrari 1:47.970 1:47.333
15 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:48.143 1:47.575
16 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:47.862 1:47.812
17 Adrian F'n Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:48.324

18 Crashtor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 1:49.063

19 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 1:49.440

20 Gandalf Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:50.405

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1:50.473

22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1:52.287


If someone that isn't named "Hamilton" or "Rosberg" is going to win another race this season, this is where it's going to happen.  The main advantage of the Mercedes chassis is the high-speed stuff, and there just isn't any of that around Singapore, not really.  Thus a nimble car like the Red Bull, or a car that's slightly above average with an ace driver, like the Ferrari, stands a better shot in the 24 turns of the Marina Circuit.

I still wouldn't bet against the Mercs though.

Race in the morning.

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