F1: Turkish Grand Prix Thoughts

The final corner at Istanbul Park.
Image via Wikipedia

The Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul extended F1’s streak of exciting races to start this season. While we still had the same winner and pole sitter, that didn’t stop it from being an enthralling race in which you couldn’t predict the podium result until right near the end of the race due to predominantly the tyres.

People will undoubtedly lay blame at Red Bull’s door for being too dominant and making the outcomes predictable, but that would hardly be fair. It’s not their fault that the competition aren’t pushing them hard enough so far in the season. All they’ve done is design the best car possible under the regulations, and had drivers, one in particular that have driven them to their potential. I expect Ferrari, McLaren and possibly Mercedes to stay close to them and win multiple races this year, and not just on strategy alone, as McLaren did with Lewis Hamilton in China. We may even see Renault get back to podium clinching ways in Spain.

In other words, while Red Bull are certainly the favourites as things stand to repeat their double championship success from last year, they certainly won’t have things their own way for much longer. The other top teams have too much money and talent to let that happen.

As far as the race itself, I think it was pretty eventful, even confusing at times even for long time fans of the sport. The DRS seemed to be a bit too strong this weekend which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it allowed multiple overtakes and re-passes from the likes of Webber and Alonso, where normally one car will get past and be done with the rival, as they won’t be able to get back into the one second window for DRS deployment.

I was happy to see Rosberg and Mercedes come back up to 5th place in the race at the end after they appeared to be struggling badly on high fuel and getting passed by everyone early on. It may be true that 6th would have been the best he could have hoped for had Button not made the mistake of only pitting 3 times instead of 4, but after his strong start I think he and the team deserved it.

Williams seemed to be stronger in qualifying pace, almost getting into Q3 with Rubens, but it wasn’t to be. Points also weren’t to be once again, another blow but at least progress is slowly being made. I hope they can finally score in Spain, but they could face stiff competition from Team Lotus, who will bring big upgrades including a blown diffuser which could find them a second in pace. They’re not just looking for their first point of the season, but ever, so both teams will be intensely fighting for that 10th place.

The other midfield teams, Sauber and Toro Rosso will also be looking to stay in the points in the next round. Kobayashi thought 7th was possible after a puncture sustained with Buemi caused him to change strategy. He made a 3 stop strategy work which was impressive and finished 10th, which is still very strong considering the car he was driving as well as having to come from the back of the grid.

The final midfield team Force India will be hoping to get back to form and into the points battle too after struggling in Instanbul. Sutil finished 13th and Paul Di Resta retired 44 laps in with mechanical failure.

Virgin had a terrible weekend. First, their upgrades including the rear wing, floor and blown exhaust system didn’t work correctly and had to be removed. Adding to this, Glock’s car had transmission issues before the race and couldn’t start. Jerome D’ambrosio drove a strong race and was the only driver to make a 2 stop strategy work. Virgin also beat HRT comfortably which is good, especially as they did it without their upgrades. They certainly can’t rest on their laurels though.

Finally, a quick mention for Felipe Massa who, if you look at the race result, you would think was comprehensively beaten by his team mate. I thought so too, but then heard that he had problems on 3 of his 4 pit stops.  This cost him considerable amounts of time and then dropped him back out on track in traffic, further ruining his race. Hopefully he’ll have a bit better luck next time out in Spain.

I’m excited for the next race at Catalunya in a couple of weeks. Many eyes will be on Team Lotus to see if they really can mix it properly with the midfield.

F1: Australia, Malaysia and China Thoughts

Here’s what I think quickly about each of the first 3 flyaway races of the season in F1.

Austalia

  • The DRS wasn’t very successful in the first race, not long enough to make it work as desired but it did add some overtaking at least, but not enough.
  • Red Bull far ahead of everyone else, good if you’re a fan of them but bad if you like close competition, something we rarely see in F1.
  • Great podium by Petrov shows Renault will be right up there challenging for podiums, although probably only for the beginning of the season until Ferrari and Mercedes get their acts together.
  • McLaren make massive improvement from testing.
  • Lotus not as compeitive as expected, stuck in a division all their own. Too far behind established teams yet far ahead of Virgin / HRT.
  • HRT embarrassingly don’t qualify for opening race, Virgin very slow.
Malaysia
  • Vettel and Red Bull domination in qualifying and race continues.
  • Great podium for Heidfeld, fantastic starts for both Renaults.
  • Webber strong recovery, Red Bull still strong without KERS.
  • Williams absolutely useless, once again fail to live up to expectations, neither car finishes.
  • Lotus much stronger, able to stick with Toro Rosso.
  • Jenson gets strong second place, while Hamilton and Alonso tangle and both lose out in final standings.
  • Di Resta strong performance for first earned point, second race beating Sutil in qualifying and race. (let him past in Australia due to team order from what I understand)
  • DRS more successful, tyres making very exciting racing
China
  • Strategy decision costs all 2 stoppers (vettel, massa, alonso). Vettel lost out to Hamilton, could not defend against better grip / traction.
  • Strong result for McLaren who didn’t have the fastest car
  • Lotus beat Perez and Maldonado, great result. Partly due to Williams’ struggles and Perez’s mistakes and penalty but still very strong pace.
  • Virgin fortunate to not be further embarrassed by HRT moving ahead of them in pace.
  • Massa beats Alonso again, looks to be getting back to 2008 form.
  • Paul Di Resta unlucky not to score after personal best 8th qualifying position.
I think it’s been a good start to the season and each race has been better than the last. I’m glad we don’t have to worry about Vettel winning every race now and I hope Renault can keep up the pace along with the top runners. I think Turkey will be another great race and I’m looking forward to it.
The interesting thing about the China race is that it was won on strategy and not by the fastest car. Of course, strategy can only take you so far, and that’s why unfortunately we didn’t see Nico Rosberg or a Renault win today, but who knows what can happen in future races, this is F1 where practically anything can happen.

McLaren MP4-26 Launch

McLaren launched their new car for 2011 in Berlin today. At first, it was hard to notice any real differences between this car and the 2010 challenger. However, upon closer inspection, you can see that the car features very distinctive L-shaped sidepods, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Whether or not they make a great deal of difference aerodynamically remains to be seen, but you certainly can’t fault the McLaren engineers on their ingenuity and originality.

I was however very surprised to see essentially the same front wing and nose as the previous model, which was evolved during the last campaign. They haven’t really got aggressive with the design of that part of the car in the same way that Mercedes have for example, which is surprising.

The rest of the changes appear to be under the hood, or are just waiting to be added to the car later on during testing or before the Bahrain GP. McLaren have the most experience with KERS of any team as they ran it at if not all the races in 2009, then the vast majority of them. Not only do they have experience with it, which many teams such as Mercedes and champions Red Bull don’t, but they also have what’s widely acknowledged to be the strongest and most reliable KERS unit. That combined with the also very strong and reliable Mercedes engine could put them right at the sharp end of the grid this year.

Jenson has said that the Pirelli tyre characteristics should benefit his gentle style which is another bonus for him and the team. I really think McLaren are going to be far stronger this year and give the other front running teams a lot to think about.

Renault, Sauber and Lotus 2011 Car Launches

The 2011 car launches are now coming thick and fast after Ferrari’s F150 was unveiled on Friday. Renault and Sauber showed off their new cars at the Valencia circuit today ahead of tomorrow’s first test there. Team Lotus decided to launch the car in their email newsletter known as Team Lotus Notes. They will arrive at the Valencia track on Wednesday and film for an extra day on Friday.

The new Renault looks much more streamlined than the last version, especially at the front of the car. Last year’s nose cone was very big and bulbous compared to most of the other cars. This year’s R31 is slimmed down and looks similar to the other new cars we’ve seen so far.

This year’s Sauber also looks very sleek and as we expected is covered with advertising for Mexican sponsors due to Sergio Perez‘s financial backing. It’s a nice looking car though and an improvement on last year. As far as performance, you would expect them to be a bit better this year but we’ll find out in Bahrain as in testing pace can easily be disguised as happened last year.

The Lotus T128 is a big improvement over the first entry by the new Norfolk based team. Not only do they now have championship winning Renault engines, but also the Red Bull technology gearbox and hydraulics. These are along with the completely redesigned aerodynamics of the new chassis. The new car is still green and yellow but beyond that the similarities appear to end. Obviously it’s still an F1 car so it can’t look too different, but the team say they have made big improvements in every area of the car. I hope they really can establish themselves as a midfield team this year but the proof will be on the track. I have a little doubt also cautiously optimistic at the same time.

As far as the livery, I really like it. They’ve made a big change the the engine cover and wing design with a prominent Air Asia logo on the engine cover. This is probably nice preparation for if and when they are forced to change their team name to that.

Mercedes also teased their new car today. The picture can be found on their own site as well as the official F1 site and Autosport. The picture is a front view of the car as rendered, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the actual physical car to make its appearance. From the image though, it appears that the new car will have a higher front nose unlike last year’s which was one of the most dramatically downward facing. As I mentioned earlier, this appears to be one of the key trends among all of the newly shown cars.

I should also mention that Renault have announced both Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean as reserve drivers for this year. It’s nice to see that Bruno is getting a chance to keep his F1 career alive after being relieved of his HRT race seat after a season in which he wasn’t really able to show what he could do in a good car. Like Nico Hulkenberg, he now has that chance so hopefully he can do well in any practise sessions he gets to drive in and put himself in the frame for a race seat in 2012. The same applies to Romain Grosjean who was replaced by Petrov at the end of 2009.

Tomorrow will see Red Bull, Mercedes GP, Williams and Toro Rosso unveil their cars. That will leave McLaren’s launch on the 4th of February, Force India on the 10th and Virgin and HRT still unconfirmed.