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.

F1: Japan, Korea and Brazil 2010 Race Reviews

Formula One 2009 Rd.15 Japanese GP: Sebastian ...
Vettel at Japan 2009. Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t posted a race review for a while so before I get into Abu-Dhabi and a season review, I’d like to quickly recap the previous 3 races.

Japan – Suzuka

Japan this year was another display of Red Bull dominance with Vettel first and Webber second followed by Alonso grabbing yet another podium for his string of solid results.

The two McLaren’s finished 4th and 5th with Button ahead due to Hamilton’s gearbox issue. Schumacher had a strong finish in 6th and the Sauber drivers were impressive in 7th and 8th, especiall Kobayashi who made some really exciting overtaking moves through the race and as usual had no problem risking everything at any point.

As far as the new teams, Kovalainen all but secured Lotus’ 10th place in the constructor’s championship with his 12th place finish, higher than any other new team driver had managed.

Many drivers also experienced a weekend to forget. Kubica after qualifying strongly among the Red Bulls, had a wheel come off under the safety car at the beginning. That safety car was brought out by multiple incidents. Petrov got a great start but had too much speed and no where to go, taking out himself and Hulkenberg who was minding his own business before the first turn. Rosberg also had a wheel come off late in the race which scuppered a promising result for him.

Massa got squeezed onto the curb at turn 1 which caused him to lose control and barrel into Liuzzi who couldn’t do anything to avoid losing all his wheels in the barrier.

The worst incident appeared to be from Lucas Di Grassi who crashed on his way to the grid, even before the warm up lap around 130 R. Whether it was a driver error or car failure I’m still not sure but it is one of the worst places to make such a catastrophic error if indeed that’s what it was.

Overall, Suzuka was a strong weekend for Red Bull that brought Vettek back into the title hunt and cemented Mark Webber’s position as a serious challenger. Alonso kept himself in there fighting and McLaren seemed to not be making much progress.

Korea – Yeongam

While Japan was a brilliant weekend for Red Bull, Korea was an absolute disaster for the team. The damp track was causing huge visibility problems and the race had to be red flagged to wait for conditions to improve. They improved but not by much. After the second safety car start, Mark Webber made a simple mistake and spun his car. He might have been able to continue had it not been for him backing across the track and taking out Nico Rosberg, who even after taking to the grass to try and avoid the Red Bull still couldn’t avoid him.

It was a massive blow to Webber’s title challenge as well as Rosberg’s race hopes. It was the second race in a row where Nico was robbed of a potential strong result. Vettel was looking at ease out in front, managing the conditions well before he suffered an extraordinary engine failure. You could clearly see nuts and bolts flying out of the back of his car as he came down the long straight with smoke barrelling out of the engine. He was remarkably dignified afterwards despite being robbed of a win and potentially his championship hopes.

Alonso sailed through to inherit yet another win from Vettel like he did in Bahrain at the first race.

Lewis Hamilton finished second to out perform his car while Felipe Massa had a strong third place although he was realistically looking at 5th or 6th at best in the dry without the two Red Bull’s and Rosberg’s retirements. Schumacher had a great 4th place and Liuzzi had an equally fantastic 6th place for Force India.

Brazil – Interlagos

Red Bull were back to winning ways with another 1-2 finish, again with Sebastian out front, which may have been a sign that Webber was going to struggle to stay ahead in the championship. Alonso couldn’t match the pace of Red Bull but finished on the podium again to stay in the fight leading the championship heading to the last race. Red Bull decided against team orders to switch the drivers as they wanted to not put all their eggs in one basket heading to the last race, where anything could happen. At the time I wasn’t sure if this was a smart move as it looked as if they were almost conceding defeat to Ferrari and Alonso, but if you’ve been following recently you would know how much of a smart move it was.

After the top three were the two McLaren’s with Lewis just ahead of Jenson, followed by both Mercedes cars with Rosberg about 8 seconds ahead of Schumacher at the flag. Nico Hulkenberg, despite starting on pole and holding up Alonso for a few laps, could only manage 8th with his car’s speed in the dry, but he said afterwards that he gave it everything and that he was happy with 8th.

Despite the home support, all 4 Brazillian diver’s had races to forget finishing outside the points, especially Rubens and Felipe who both had tyre problems and had to have extra pit stops.

F1: Hungarian GP Review

Last week’s Hungarian Grand Prix was a great race for Mark Webber and for Red Bull in general, but not what Sebastian Vettel wanted. After a mistake behind the safety car where he let Mark get too far ahead, which he subsequently received a drive through penalty for. That penalty cost him a fairly easy win and also the second place, which was the real killer blow to his patience.

He was clearly much faster than Alonso for the entirety of the race after that point but simply couldn’t get past him due to the nature of the circuit with its tight turns and narrow layout. However, even though the race ended up being handed to him, Mark Webber drove yet another fantastic race. When he needed to produce the laps of his life to build a lead big enough to pit and still come out in the lead after the safety car, he rose to the challenge and did 42 laps on those super-soft tyres.

Aside from Red Bull, Ferrari had a fairly decent race with a second and fourth position finish. McLaren struggled for the second race in a row with an absolutely dismal weekend. They had Lewis retire with a car issue which appears to be engine or gearbox related, and Jenson, after a poor qualifying could only manage 8th in the race. The team lost the lead in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. They’ll be looking to make a huge improvement in Spa to try to get back in front. They’ve got a tough task ahead but if anyone is likely to pull it off, it’s McLaren.

It was a great result for Vitaly Petrov with a 5th place. He out-qualified his talented team-mate Robert Kubica and after Kubica had a collision with Sutil in the pit lane he cemented his first weekend as the top Renault driver. Nico Hulkenberg was the best of the Williams drivers in 6th. Rubens Barrichello was in 10th after an exciting but dangerous overtaking move on Michael Schumacher. Pedro De La Rosa had his first points finish of the year in 7th and his team-mate Kobayashi had an 9th place finish for Sauber.

While Williams and Sauber have been steadily improving recently, Mercedes, McLaren and Force India have been going in the opposite direction. Mercedes had a terrible race. First, Nico Rosberg had a horror pitstop where a wheel came loose and speeded down the pit lane narrowly avoiding pit crew until eventually it was stopped by a williams engineer who took quite a hard hit but was fine after.

After Nico retired, near the end of the race Rubens was faster than Michael and wanted to take that last point scoring place off him. After a couple of laps Michael made a mistake in the final corner which put Rubens right on his tail going into the main straight. he got a good slipstream and was going to easily pass him but Micahel pushed him towards the pit wall, far beyond the white line of the edge of the track. Luckily a serious accident was narrowly avoided but Schumacher has been handed a 10 place grid penalty at the next race in Spa, which is probably going to put him near the back of the grid at that race. It’s unfortunate for him especially after finishing outside of the points at this race but it was a deserved punishment.

Also notable is all new teams achieving double car finishes for the first time. This is a great achievement for Cosworth who haven’t had a single failure so far this year from what i believe. This result just underlines their excellent reliability, especially considering their multiple year absence from the sport.

The next race is in Spa in about 3 weeks. It’s a classic track and it should be great this year so I’m really looking forward to it. I hope we get as many teams as possible evenly matched and some good racing up and down the grid.