June 16, 2007

USGP P3 and Quals!

A rarity on the TV today, something I didn't even know existed until 2005's coverage of the US Grand Prix: Saturday practice! What seemed to be a lot of fine tuning, though with two notable incidents. First, we learned that Lewis Hamilton's McLaren needed an engine change, though since it was before Saturday it was done without penalty... a changing of the rules from last year. Second, more wildlife deaths on the track. Last week, it was a groundhog. This week? Pidgeon. One second it was there with a F1 car bearing down on it, the next, poof. Feathers everywhere.

And then came Quals. Hit the buzzer if you've heard this one before: rookie (bzzz!) sensation (bzzz!) Lewis Hamilton (bzzz!) took pole (bzzz!) by beating his teammate (bzzz!) on a track that he's never been to before (bzzz!). As mentioned, Fernando Alonso was second (bzzz!), making it a McLaren front row (bzzz!).

To continue the theme, the two Ferraris (bzzz!) make up the Row 2 (bzzz!), Massa then Raikkonen (bzzz!).

This really (bzzz!) HEY!

This really (pause) has got to be concerning the boys in red. If any track can be said to be owned by a team, it's the Indy road course, which has been completely dominated by Ferrari over the years. In fact, other than Mika Hakkonen's McLaren winning the first USGP at Indy, no other team has won there. Worse news yet for the Scuderia, they are almost a half-second slower than Hamilton.

Third row is comprised of Grizzly Nick Heidfeld and Heikki Kovalenininneininnie for BMW and Renault, respectively. Rookie (bzzz!) Sebastian Vettel, in his first F1 race ever and filling in for Robert Kubica in the second BMW, is seventh. A sterling performance for the 19-year old, one that's got to have Dr Mario Theissen (BMW Team Principal) grinning happy less stonefaced than usual. Jarno Trulli, continuing his run of good performances in less-than-stellar cars here, is eighth (his teammate, Cora Schumacher's Husband, is 12th somehow... I suspect that both Toyotas are rather short-fueled).

Making up Row 5 is Mark Webber's RedBull and Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault. Webber has had a rather poor weekend so far as he's struggled (like all RedBull sponsored cars at Indy this year) with very low grip. Yes, they're fast in a straight line, but what good is that if you can't actually STOP at the end of said straight line?

The rest of the grid:
11. David Coulthard's Chin Red Bull-Renault 1:12.873
12. Ralf Schumacher Toyota 1:12.920
13. Jenson Button Honda 1:12.998
14. Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:13.060
15. Rubens Barrichello Honda 1:13.201
16. Anthony Davidson Super Aguri-Honda 1:13.259
17. Man-mountain Wurz Williams-Toyota 1:13.441
18. Takuma SuperSato Super Aguri-Honda 1:13.477
19. Vitantonio Liuzzi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:13.484
20. American Scott Speed Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:13.712
21. Adrian Sutil Spyker-Ferrari 1:14.122
22. Christijan Albers Spyker-Ferrari 1:14.597

Should be interesting: will Alonso race his teammate to the first turn, or will he settle in behind? Will the Ferraris try to gang up on the front row? Will half the field wreck in turns 1 & 2 like last year? Will Scott Speed make it past turn 2? Will Spyker even bother showing up? Tune in on Sunday at 12pm central on Fox to find out, then come here for F1 UPDATE!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 12:49 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 I have a friend that's a tire engineer for Bridgestone. She was sent to Portland and is now at Indy in the pits. I envy her.
She's doing something about monitoring the tires, I don't know what exactly.

Posted by: RPD at June 16, 2007 02:12 PM (OqhWR)

2 McLaren is really kicking everyone's ass this season. I wonder what they did?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 16, 2007 03:48 PM (+rSRq)

3 We might have gotten a little bit of an answer to that question on Friday, Steven. Steve Matchett, the mechanic member of the Legendary Announce Team (worked for Team Benneton [which became Renault] in the early-to-mid '90s, and still has contacts up and down pit lane) was talking to 'a few guys from McLaren,' and they told him that when they shifted to Bridgestone tires, unlike all the other previously Michelin-shod teams, the tires gave them MORE downforce and grip.

All the other teams found the new Bridgestones to be slippery in comparison to the Michelins they had been running. Part of that is simple to explain: now that there's no longer a tire war, Bridgestone doesn't have to go all-out, doesn't have to spend a billion dollars a year creating esoteric tire compounds, trying to find that extra hundredth of a second over Michelin. Now that everybody is on the same tire, reliability is the key.

The other part is a little more difficult to explain. Briefly, the chassis of these cars are specifically designed for the tires they'll be using. McLaren, Renault, Toyota and all the rest have been using Michelin for years, and the cars had evolved to use 'their brand'. Last year, if you had taken a Bridgestone runner and bolted Michelin tires on (or vice-versa), it'd probably drive like a hog on ice.

So it may be like going clothes shopping. You've always worn Size X, and it fits fine, but this time, just for a lark, you try on size X-1, and you discover that that fits you even better. McLaren may have gotten lucky.

There's also the whole Adrian Newey thing. Newey is a car designer, and a darn good one, if not the best in F1. He was the designer for McLaren until the middle of last season, when he was lured to RedBull by an offer of millions of cans of energy-drink.

Newey's 'problem', if problem it is, is that he likes to make radical jumps in design. Had a twin-keel (suspension mounting points) design on the chassis? Let's go to a zero-keel... or vice-versa. Let's change the entire design in a season!

Sometimes that works, like the 2005 McLaren design. Fantastic chassis, but horribly fragile engines and gearboxes killed it... and even then, Kimi Raikkonen was still in the hunt for the Driver's Championship until Japan.

But sometimes, evolution is better than revolution. I wonder if, now that Newey has left, are McLaren taking a more evolutionary approach to their car design, and that just paid off this season?

Or maybe it's just that their drivers are that damn good. Like as not, it's a mix of all of those things, and more. A 'perfect storm' of things, combining to make a helluva team.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 16, 2007 05:26 PM (2nDll)

4 YAY Lewis Hamilton! Two wins in a row would be awesome.

I hadn't realized until I caught a glimpse of his yesterday, but Flavio is probably wishing for the days when Smarmy would stick a microphone in his face.

Someone made a comment yesterday about Scott Speed not seeming too happy in his current situation and mentioned that the Red Bull style is intimidation. Sort of a telling comment.

I only saw about an hour of the Thursday interviews by the Legendary Announce Team. Sato and Ant the most entertaining. Wind Sato up and he'll talk and talk. I thought the two of them were the best thing about the show. (I turned it off when Mumbling Kimi came on.)

Posted by: Mallory at June 17, 2007 12:07 AM (iLcnv)

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