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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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...
Practice 2: 10a - 12n live on NBCSN
Quals: 10a - 1130a live on NBCSN
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:
1130a - 1p: Practice 1 live on NBCSN
2p - 4p: Practice 2 live on NBCSN
12n - 230p: Practice 3 and Quals live on NBC
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:
Practice 2: 5am - 630am live
Quals: 6am - 730am live
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.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:29 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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