Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hungary Dries Out for Jenson

Photo courtesy of Team Lotus
The changeable weather in Hungary made for another race where it was impossible to guess the result from the start. After the bad news for British TV coverage it was just what was needed to get the focus back on the racing.

After Friday practice it seemed that Red Bull was playing catch up to McLaren and Ferrari. That was reinforced by Vettel's side of the garage pulling an all nighter to get his suspension set up back to how it was in Germany. Surely it had to be a sign that things weren't going their way. Of course in Free Practice 3 as the temperatures rose, all those hopes were dispelled. Vettel fastest in the session by 0.3 seconds. Would this be another Red Bull domination? We were about to find out.


As the Q1 session started it was Vettel and Webber that set the early pace. A short time later Button crossed the line to put himself into second place and Hamilton followed behind to take the top spot. 13 minutes remained on the clock and the top teams stayed in the pits. Ferrari were the next to attack for the top spot and Alonso put himself 4th with Massa 5th. As the rest of the field fought for their places the top of grid went quiet again. Webber had another try but could only get 5th, Alonso also ran again and put himself in the top spot with 5 minutes remaining.
Q2 came next and again Vettel was out early but not setting a terribly impressive time. Hamilton was also out early and put himself into 2nd place. Interestingly he was running on the harder of the two tyres for this weekend which makes that a pretty impressive lap time. Webber was next to post the fastest time but that didn't last long as Button went even faster. Alonso was next to make his way to the top and with that it seemed that the top 6 were satisfied and saw no need to run again. Hamilton had saved himself a set of soft tyres which could become very helpful on race day. Paul di Resta put in a time to claim 10th place just as the flag dropped but with several cars on a flying lap it didn't look very safe. Sure enough Scumacher, Kobayashi and Petrov all acheived a faster time and dropped him out of the final session.

Now it was time for the Q3 session and the final challenge for pole. Alonso was the first man out of the pit followed by Hamilton, both of them obviously eager to get started. Alonso's time was comfortably beaten by Hamilton going 0.4 seconds faster. Button took third and Massa 4th. Vettel was next to cross the line and he nearly took the top spot, missing out by 0.07 seconds. Webber however could only manage 6th. Mercedes didn't send either of their drivers out for an early run opting to gamble on just one flying lap.

As the drivers started their second attack Webber was being told that his KERS had 'come to life' and he would be able to use it for this run. Alonso was the first to cross the line but his time was not good enough to change his position. Vettel started his lap with an average first sector but pulled it together by the end to take pole. Hamilton failed to improve while Button jumped to 3rd place. Massa also put in a great lap to put himself in 4th and out-qualify his team mate for the first time this year. The final grid was Vettel on pole, Hamilton 2nd with Button, Massa, Alonso and Webber making up the top 6.


There was rain early on Sunday morning and although there had been a chance for the track to dry, there was more light rain before the start. It was ending as the grid formed up but the track was wet enough for everyone to start on intermediate tyres. The weather reports seemed to indicate that there wouldn't be any rain for a while after the start though so the track would dry quickly.

Photo courtesy of Force India
As the lights went out the first three all got a decent start and stayed in formation to the first corner. The track was clearly more slippery than they had expected though and it was easy to see all the cars struggling to find grip on the way out of the turns. The Ferraris lost out at this stage to the Mercedes with both drivers losing places. Hamilton seemed to have the better of Vettel as well, the English driver trying hard to find a way past in the early stages. At almost every corner the cars were twitching and sliding, which really allowed the drivers to show some skill as they kept it on the black stuff.

Hamilton finally made it alongside Vettel on lap 4 but couldn't complete the move having run out of grip. Alonso touched the white line on turn 2 and had to run wide to avoid spinning. That lost him a place that he had just won from Rosberg. Next time round Hamilton was again pushing Vettel who tried to brake late into turn 2 to defend but misjudged it and also had to run wide. Lewis was through into the lead and started to open a gap straight away. Vettel's mistake had allowed Button to close in and now the German had to defend from him as well.

Alonso ran wide at the same place allowing his team mate, Massa through but he retook the position on the way down the main straight. By lap 8 the order at the front was Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Rosberg, Alonso and Massa with Webber catching up. Massa spun on the treacherous turn 2 paint and rolled backwards into the barrier, he damaged his rear wing but was able to continue. Meanwhile at the front, Hamilton had increased his lead to 5.5 seconds with Button 1.7 seconds behind Vettel.

Webber was the first to head for the pits on lap 10 for soft slicks. He struggled to make it out of the pit but by the second sector it was clear that there was enough of a dry line to make them work. Massa was next in as lap 11 started followed by Button and next lap Hamilton. Lewis came out in front of Schumacher but he quickly took the position as Hamilton slipped around on the wet part of the track. Webber proved the timing of his change was right by setting the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton got up to speed but couldn't find a way past Schumacher until the German dropped into the pit at the end of the lap.

It was now Button's turn to overtake Vettel and set off after Hamilton. Webber found a way past Alonso on lap 14 in the gap between turns 1 and 2 but soon after he ran wide off the track. Alonso wasn't close enough to get his place back though. Hamilton and Button were pulling away from Vettel and opening up their lead, things were looking good for the British team.

Things were also looking pretty good for Paul di Resta who, by this stage of the race, was up to 7th place and was closing in on Rosberg in 6th. Massa was trying hard to overtake Schumacher but wasn't finding it easy. By lap 24 Hamilton was being told to look for damp patches to cool his tyres. Not the sort of message that you expect to hear when using dry tyres. The wear was obviously a lot higher than expected, at least for Lewis, Button meanwhile was setting a new fastest lap.

Nick Heidfeld pitted and due to a problem was stationary for longer than planned. As he got moving again there was a cloud of smoke from the sidepod of his car which quickly turned to flames as he exited the pit. He pulled over to the grass and jumped out as the side of the car burned more fiercely. Marshalls ran out with fire extinguishers and started to put out the fire. There was a small explosion and a piece of debris must have hit one of the marshalls and he limped back off the circuit.

Surprisingly no safety car was called but that didn't stop several cars driving into the pit. It was probably only 4 or 5 laps early for a stop anyway so it must have seemed like a good idea. Over the next two laps most of the top drivers pitted and by lap 28 only Vettel had not. He was paying the price now as everyone else was going much faster on fresh rubber. He finally stopped one lap later and by the time he returned to the track Webber was close behind.

The order on lap 30 was Hamilton, Button, Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Kobayashi. Alonso was now on the move and by lap 34 close enough to Webber to use his DRS. Webber's defensive driving kept him behind though. Alonso was making his third visit to the pits by lap 37 while Hamilton was being told he would need to make his tyres last another 9 laps. That didn't seem likely to happen, Vettel was already complaining about his rears going away and Alonso was setting times 3 seconds a lap faster than Lewis.

Photo courtesy of Force India
Lap 40 and Webber was in the pit, this time for a hard tyre to make it to the end of the race. Hamilton stopped a lap later for soft tyres and Button the next lap for hard. Would Lewis be able to find enough speed to make up for the extra stop he would surely have to do? And would the hard tyres actually last to the end? Alonso made the most of his fresher, soft tyres and found a way past Vettel on lap 42.

A few laps later and Button was told he can make it to the end as long as he is careful with his front left tyre. A sudden rain shower at the back of the circuit livened things up. Hamilton was first to encounter the wet track and spun in the chicane. He ended up facing the wrong way in the middle of the track and spun his car but Di Resta was coming out of the chicane and had to take avoiding action. Button also passed him for the lead as he got back up to racing speed.

Alonso was pitting at this time (lap 48) and put hard tyres on his car, obviously hoping not to stop again. The drivers were being told that the rain would not last, but if it did they would need some inters very soon. By lap 49 the order was Button, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Rosberg. Hamilton was closing in on Button again as the wet track cooled the harder tyres faster than the soft. The two swapped places a few times, obviously having a great time racing each other. The track was still wet in the back section, but would anyone stop for intermediate tyres?

Webber was the first to make that call and on lap 52 he went in. On lap 53 it was Hamilton who was in front and he too dived into the pits for the inters. Next time round Button still didn't bother to stop and Webber agreed with him by coming back in for a set of hard tyres, deciding it just wasn't wet enough. Hamilton also saw his mistake, but to rub salt in his wounds, he also received a drive through penalty for the dangerous move recovering from his spin. On stop for tyres and another for the penalty.

Lap 57 and after Lewis' multiple stops the order was now Button, Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Webber and Hamilton. Lewis was right behind Webber though and as the Aussie used his DRS to try and make a pass on Massa, Hamilton was trying hard to follow him through. Alonso got himself into a spin later on and Hamilton did eventually make it past Massa whose tyres were fast wearing out. He stopped for fresh on lap 59.

Webber and Hamilton caught up with a train of backmarkers on lap 63 and started to try and find a way through. Hamilton, ever the opportunist, took a chance and got three wide as Webber was overtaking a lapped car to pass him in turn 12. Webber tried to fight back but couldn't get any drive and lost out down the main straight. Despite trying hard Webber was unable to catch Hamilton as the laps ran down.

The race finished with no more moves at the front. Button took an impressive win followed by Vettel and Alonso. Hamilton took 4th with Webber just behind and Massa in 6th. Paul di Resta took an impressive 7th place to bring home some good points for the Force India team.

Button once again showed his driving style suits changeable conditions by taking a win on the same track he got his first victory. What a great way to celebrate his 200th grand prix, he is bound to earn himself more cake for that one. Hamilton's eagerness to get on with the job cost him dearly in this race. A little patience may have saved him a penalty and could even have stopped him going in for the unnecessary intermediate tyres. Without those he could well have been challenging for the lead or at least a podium. Di Resta did a great job considering his qualifying performance and its good to see him overcome his recent troubles and get points for a team that really deserve them.

A great race with lots of action. The relative performance of the top teams was very close. Despite all the talk of taking a step forward for the next race, you can't help but hope that they all stay where they are now. It would be much more fun if they stay this competitive. Now comes the summer break and a long wait for the next race. Lets hope its as good as the last few!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday in Hungary, McLaren Strike Back?

It was a grey and dull day at the Hungaroring for the first free practice session of the Hungarian Grand Prix. The cars went out on a track that was cooler than expected and still slightly damp from earlier rain and soon started to get up to speed. There were a few occasions to be announced at this race, so lets get those out of the way first. It was Fernando Alonso's 30th birthday, Jenson Button's 200th Grand Prix and the BBC announced that they would not be showing all the F1 races live from next year. More on the BBC coverage later, first lets get the on track action out of the way.

Photo courtesy of Force India F1
Button was the first of the front runners to set a competitive time but he was quickly topped by Hamilton as the session got properly under way. Alonso took the top spot a while later but it was much later in the session before Vettel made his mark and took P1 away from him. There were a few missed corners and lock ups but nothing too major during the session. Then as the end started to draw closer the soft tyres came out and the pace was upped again.

Webber made a mistake 15 minutes from the end. He ran wide on the exit of turn 4, hit the astroturf and spun across the track to take his nose off on the barrier. The australian was able to drive back to the pit but his session was over. Despite getting some traffic, and being obviously frustrated by it, Hamilton managed the fastest time of the session. He beat Vettel by 0.214 seconds with Alonso taking third. Webber held fourth followed by Button and Massa.

Practice 2 was again grey but dry and the lap times started being posted almost straight away. Throughout the session the McLarens, Ferraris and Red Bulls traded fastest times. It seemed that the fastest lap was the first on the soft tyres though, with no-one appearing to be able to do better on their second flying lap. As the session wound down it was once again Hamilton who held the top spot with Alonso 0.241 behind. Button finished third in front of Webber, Vettel and Massa. The Red Bull drivers must have been disappointed with their times, almost half a second behind Hamilton.

There is a chance that McLaren's mid season turnaround might continue here. But Red Bull rarely show everything they have on Friday. There is still lots of track time (for them!) before the race so it would be wrong to get confident too early. However this has got to be a boost for everyone else. Just maybe the finger won't be waved again this weekend!

BBC Coverage

Photo courtesy of Team Lotus
The other big news today was the announcement that the BBC will be 'sharing' coverage with Sky in the UK from next year. This means that the BBC will show 10 races live throughout the year, concentrating on some of the biggest events, and Sky will show all the races in full. For those in the UK, who have been enjoying some of the best F1 coverage ever seen, this is a huge disappointment. Although Sky are quick to point out that there won't be any adverts during the race, there is still the pretty high barrier to entry of paying for the Sky Sports TV package. Its hard to believe the broadcaster's claim that this will "bring increased choice, innovation and breadth of coverage." At the moment it seems a bit of a Hobson's choice. If you want to see the races live, get your cash out.

The BBC have an award winning team with some of the biggest audiences for many years. Cutting a large portion of those viewers out wouldn't seem to be the best choice for Formula 1. A sport that relies so heavily on advertising must have large audiences, and this is a move which is guaranteed to make them smaller.


With all of that out of the way, who is in with the best chance of a win? Well McLaren still look like their renaissance is continuing and Hamilton seems to be back in the zone. It would be tough to bet against them from what we have seen so far. Ferrari are right there with them and its Red Bull who, shockingly, appear to be playing catch-up. This is only Friday though and we have seen this arrangement before only to have it switch back to normal Red Bull domination at the end of qualifying. Lets hold on to our hope though and put Hamilton on our imaginary pole. Will he survive the race in first place? I'm going to go with yes. If he can start in front and have similar speed to those around him he won't let anyone else beat him to the line. So its Hamilton first, Alonso second and Vettel third for me. What do you think?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Unexpected End To The German Grand Prix

Free practice 3 saw McLaren catching back up with the leading teams. The english drivers ended up 5th and 6th at the end of the session. Definitely better than they looked on Friday but still not looking like they would be in a position to challenge Red Bull or Ferrari in the race.


Photo courtesy of Force India F1
It was again grey and overcast as the Nurburgring Q1 session started. Mark Webber was the first of the front runners to post a competitive time, but not for long as Lewis Hamilton put in a quick lap. Sebastien Vettel wasn't able to match the Englishman's time either but did beat his team mate. Halfway through the session Alonso eclipsed everyone else to go straight into provisional p1. By now only 0.3 seconds covered the top 5 which stood as Alonso, Hamilton, Webber, Vettel and Button.

The top teams, having set a decent time, sat out the rest of the session and let the bottom half of the grid sort themselves out. Except for Felipe Massa who, for no apparent reason, decided to use up a set of soft tyres at the end of the session despite being quite safe in his position. In the end it was Kobayashi who didn't make it into session 2, surprising everyone in the process.

Felipe Massa was first to leave the pits in Q2, continuing on the same soft tyres that he finished the last session on. Lewis Hamilton proved that his Q1 pace was not just a fluke by putting himself into first place again ahead of Alonso. Vettel was next to cross the line and he also failed to beat Lewis. By the halfway point of the session Hamilton was still in first, followed by Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Button, and Massa.

Paul di Resta put in a quick time to go 9th with around 90 seconds left on the clock. But now the competition was heating up quickly. Schumacher and Sutil both beat the English driver who finally ended up in 12th place. The biggest story of this session though was Lewis Hamilton hanging on to the top spot. His lap included a time through sector one that no-one else had been able to match.

Q3 was next up and again, Hamilton was one of the early pace setters. This time though Webber managed to find an huge extra chunk of time (0.47!) and get into first place. By the halfway point it was Webber, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa and finally Button making up the top 5. The second runs now began to finally decide pole position, despite some small improvements the majority did not change positions. Vettel did suddenly seem to be back in with a chance, but in the end his time was only good enough for third. Hamilton ended up only 0.05 seconds behind Webber in one of the closest qualifying sessions all year.

The final grid stood with Webber on pole followed by Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Rosberg and Button only able to get himself up to seventh. Its hard to see what lead to Lewis Hamilton's enormous improvement in pace. In practice they looked like they were being happily beaten by Mercedes. Martin Whitmarsh claimed that confidence in the car while using the blown diffuser could be part of it, but that doesn't seem likely to me. These are drivers who are used to pushing the limits of a brand new car with new parts every time they sit down to drive. Button is just not 1 second a lap slower than Hamilton so there must be some bigger difference. What it is and whether it will last to the end of the race would not be revealed until Sunday.


Photo courtesy of Team Lotus
There was light rain as the mechanics cleared the grid for the race. Not enough to really wet the track but definitely enough to cause some nervous looks at the sky. As the parade lap set off though it was clearly drying up again.

Hamilton got a great start from pole position and took the lead into the first corner. Alonso also got a flyer and was challenging Webber all the way through lap 1. Vettel lost out and found himself in 4th with Rosberg behind him. On lap 2 Alonso ran a bit wide in turn 2 and lost the rear which put him wide and he rejoined in 4th. Button had a poor start and lost 3 places.

Lewis was making a gap by lap 2 and Alonso had recovered from his off and was right behind Vettel. Lap 4 and he was trying the same trick of running wide. Massa was being told by his engineer to get past Rosberg but seemed unable to make any impression. He caught up fast in the DRS zone but Nico went defensive early and Massa was forced to the outside and had to back out on the way into the chicane.

Webber seemed to be finding his rhythm and started to close in on Hamilton. By lap 7 only 3.6 seconds covered the top 4 drivers. Alonso was right behind Vettel and on Lap 8 he got a run out of the final turn and took the German into turn 1. Vettel started trying to keep with Fernando but on lap 10 he put a wheel onto the grass under braking for turn 10 and slid sideways into the run-off. He didn't lose any places but now Rosberg and Massa were right behind him.

Nick Heidfeld was trying to overtake Buemi on lap 11 and went to the outside but Buemi didn't see him, moved across the track and the two collided. Heidfeld's car jumped over Buemi's rear wheel and into retirement. Buemi managed to continue but only after his punctured tyre had been replaced.

Webber had caught up to 0.5 seconds behind Hamilton by lap 12 and was well into the DRS zone. Hamilton made a slow exit from the chicane and Webber was alongside as they passed the pit entrance. Lewis slowed to get a better run off the final turn and used the slipstream to retake Webber into turn 1. This battle allowed Alonso to get even closer and he joined in the battle on lap 14, and his attack on Webber allowed Hamilton a little breathing space. Especially as he drove into the pit the following lap.

Vettel was next into the pit on lap 17 and Hamilton and Alonso the very next lap. Webber was looking for a way past Massa down the pit straight as Hamilton and Alonso emerged from the pit nose to tail. Massa tried to take an inside line but was forced wider by the cars in the pit exit. Webber went even wider and used his speed to keep his place. Massa pitted at the end of the next lap giving the lead back to Webber with Hamilton second and Alonso third. Massa came out of the pit in front of Vettel. It was becoming clear that this would not be a dominant performance from the German driver.

On lap 24 Schumacher put a wheel off the track in the same place as Vettel and span in almost exactly the same way. Button headed into the pits for the first time a lap later, the English driver was clearly trying a different strategy to everyone else. Lap 26 and the top three were still only covered by 2.8 seconds. Sebastien Vettel's bad day continued, he was now 28 seconds behind first place and still losing time. A radio message gave a clue though, he was asked to move his brake balance forward to protect the rear brakes.

Alonso also got a radio message, "we think Webber is starting to have problems with his tyres, you can start to catch him now." He promptly responded by setting fastest lap of the race. Button was catching up with Adrian Sutil for 7th place as Webber pitted again for new soft tyres. Hamilton also went into the pits at the end of lap 31. Webber had to negotiate some traffic during his out lap and was slightly behind Hamilton as they went into turn 1. The Australian tried to switch back and was on the outside of Lewis as they went into turn 2. Hamilton ran Webber nice and wide and he backed out to remain on the track.

Next lap round saw Alonso going into the pit for his new soft tyres. In an almost exact replay of a lap earlier he exited the pit and got into turn 1 just in front of Hamilton. Lewis switched back, just as Webber had, but kept his foot in a bit harder and drove around the Spaniard, leading the trio into turn 3 on lap 33.

Photo courtesy of Force India F1
By lap 35 Button had taken Rosberg and was starting after Massa and Vettel. Hamilton was now enjoying his race and set a fastest lap. Jenson's race was over a lap later though as he had to pull into the pit with hydraulic problems and retire. Lewis however kept on going faster and by lap 37 had a 2.6 second lead and another fastest lap.

Vettel stopped for more tyres on lap 41 and Massa a lap later, emerging in front of the German. Hamilton continued to extend his lead and was now almost 9 seconds ahead of Webber who was also falling back from Alonso. Vettel was still chasing Massa and trying hard to overtake. He missed the chicane on lap 44 and had to rebuild a new attack. He  got a new fastest lap while catching back up and Massa was warned he was coming. By Lap 49 he was right behind him and continued to try and find a way past for the next few laps.

Hamilton made his last pit stop, moving on to hard tyres, on lap 51 but was it too soon? Ferrari bought fresh tyres out into the pits but Alonso continued past and they went back in. Hamilton showed that it was the right choice by setting a 1st sector time that no-one else could match. Alonso went for his hard tyres on lap 53 while Webber stayed out. Hamilton had done enough though and was in front of Alonso into turn 1.

Webber was clearly not going as fast as Hamilton and Alonso after their stops and finally went for his hard tyres on lap 57. That put Lewis back on the lead and on the next lap his engineer came on the radio, telling him, "You are P1, 3 seconds ahead of Alonso. You are the fastest car on the track." That has got to be a good thing to hear.

Vettel was still behind Massa and the race was quickly getting to the end. They would both have to stop soon for hard tyres but neither wanted to be the first to go. Two laps remaining and Vettel was told to do the opposite of Massa on the next trip past the pit entrance. Massa did not go in, and neither did Vettel. It would now be down to straight pit stop race on the penultimate lap. They both dived in, Vettel leaving it late to brake for the speed limit line and almost hitting the rear of the Ferrari. The Red Bull team got the better of their Italian counterparts and it was Vettel who made it out first.

The race finished with Lewis Hamilton taking first place followed by Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Vettel came home 4th ahead of Mass and Adrien Sutil claimed 6th place.

It was no surprise to see Ferrari matching and even beating the Red Bull cars for pace, but it was a surprise to see McLaren at the front. Even stranger was the fact that Button still seemed to be showing the same lack of speed that the British team had showed on Friday. Whatever the reason its good to see a race where there were three people in with a chance of winning right up until the end. And it was another (pleasant?) surprise to see that none of them were Sebastien Vettel. This performance will only lend weight to the theory that Vettel can only lead from the front and you have to wonder if he will ever be able to disprove it.

A fantastic win by Hamilton, against the odds. Hopefully this could be the template for the next few races. It would be great to think that we won't know who is going to win until the last lap for the rest of the season. It might also be a bit too much to ask. But for now I'm hanging on to my optimistic view. Bring on the second half of the championship!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday at the Nurburgring

This years German Grand Prix is the middle race of the season. Now that the hot blown diffuser rule changes have been settled the racing can begin again in earnest. The cars took to the track on a grey and overcast day to find their way around the Nurburgring circuit and try out the new settings.

Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
Free practice 1 began as usual a little slowly. It took a while to get some competitive times on the board. Hamilton started the early running but was quickly outpaced by Sebastien Vettel. He was overshadowed a while later by Alonso. It seemed that their Silverstone pace was not to be just a one off.

Jenson Button was trying out a new rear wing on his McLaren, which apparently gives a little less rear grip but a bigger boost with the DRS open. It didn't seem to suit him though, as his times were not as good as his team mate. Schumacher was trying nice and hard and locked up few times. He slid off at turn 7 and managed to drive around the gravel trap, finding time for a wave at the fans before he rejoined the track. It was Buemi who got the award for biggest of though. He launched his car into the air sideways as he ran off the track, and slid to a halt with no damage, except to his pride.

Practice 2 began without any major improvement to the weather, but it was no worse either. Towards the end of the session the times started to get faster as the drivers switched to the option tyres. It was Webber who was setting the pace with Alonso right behind but unable to beat him. Vettel was keeping close in third with Massa just behind him. The McLaren's bad form seemed to be continuing, Hamilton could only get himself into 7th place with Button languishing in 11th. There were a few moments, notably Alonso locking up and nearly colliding with Schumacher. No damage for either car but it definitely looked like a slightly panicky moment for the Spaniard.

Photo Courtesy of Force India
The DRS detection zone for this race has been positioned just before turn 10 with the activation point at the  end of turn 11. This leads onto the long back straight through turn 12, a flat-out right kink, and into the braking zone for the tight chicane behind the pits. Hopefully the long straight and tight chicane will allow the system to work well. The fairly high speed turns at the activation point could spoil the effect a bit though. Its expected to be fairly tricky to keep close to the leading car in that section. There isn't a suitable section for using a double DRS zone at this track so this will be the best chance the drivers have. The turn 1 hairpin does present another chance for overtaking but its not going to be easy in there.

The pace of the Ferrari cars is as solid as it was surprising at the British Grand Prix. Whatever it is that they have found is clearly not just for the one track. They may well be giving Red Bull a run for the lead right through until Sunday. McLaren's lack of pace is more surprising though. It had been thought that their poor showing at their home race was down to the uncertain rules situation. It seems clear now though that something a bit more fundamental is going wrong. Whether or not its something that can be fixed remains to be seen. There isn't much of the weekend left to get it sorted though and the new parts they were testing today seemed to make a bad situation worse. It looks like the remainder of the season could be a two team challenge, just not the two we were expecting from the first part of the year.

Prediction time again. Its very hard to think that McLaren will be able to do anything with the speed they showed today but we can always hope. I'm going for Vettel to score another pole, he's at home and its hard to bet against him anywhere, never mind there! The race may be another matter, Ferrari are coming on strong and I think Alonso is going to have the determination to do the job on Sunday. I'm thinking it will be Vettel second and Webber third again. Massa just doesn't seem to have the pace to get himself on the podium without some mechanical problems for Red Bull helping him out. Will it be a Mercedes following them home? From today's practice sessions you would have to say yes but Hamilton on a mission can produce something special. He really is going to have to be on a major mission though and I'm just not sure he can do it with the car he has this weekend.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Blown Diffuser Rules Settled - For This Year

With the mid-point of the season fast approaching, it seems that the discussions and regulation changes surrounding hot blown diffusers has finally come to an end. The system requires unburnt fuel to be passed through the engine and ignited in the exhaust while the driver is off the throttle in order to power the rear diffuser and create extra downforce. The FIA regard this as a form of changeable aerodynamic device which is against the technical regulation and so they have been looking for a way to ban the systems for the past couple of months.

As the systems were investigated, it became clear that some teams were using very aggressive engine mapping during qualifying, and then changing the Control unit settings for more reliability during the race. At the Valencia GP this sort of change was outlawed and all teams accepted this change gracefully. This allowed the FIA further time to decide on the exact changes required for the next race to stop hot blowing altogether.

When Silverstone started the FIA had already made the new regulations known and this is where their problems really started. Some teams claimed that differences between their engines meant that they could not stick to the new rules without damaging their engine. Coupled with differences between throttles (butterfly versus barrel) and some need to keep fuel flowing while off throttle to maintain crankcase pressure, there was now pressure on the FIA to make certain concessions to the regulations. This was done and it lead to a complaint from Renault that now they were being unfairly penalised. After being presented with more evidence the FIA allowed slightly different rules for the Renault engines. According to some, this actually allowed them slightly more freedom than they had before the whole sorry saga started!

After a last minute complaint, discussion and decision on the Saturday morning of the British Grand Prix, all the cars were allowed to run as they had at Valencia. More discussion after the event lead to the final decision which all the teams have agreed to run under. This means that engine mapping is free but no changes are to be made between qualifying and the race. In other words, nothing has changed since Valencia. The biggest difference is that all the teams have agreed, which means no more changes before the end of the year.

Next year however, exhaust positions are to be changed. The pipes must exit well above the diffuser and the FIA believe that this will stop them being used as an aerodynamic device. They may even be right at first, but you can't help thinking that F1 engineers are a pretty clever lot and will take any advantage they can. It may be possible to use the exhaust gasses to heat the rear tyres or maybe affect the airflow around the rear spoiler. We are bound to see something clever and its a good bet that someone will find something to complain about.

This is a perfect example of why rules should not be changed mid-season. There is little chance that everyone will agree to any changes while a championship is underway. Someone will always feel hard done by, and they may well be right. Apart from making the FIA look a bit silly and indecisive, this won't have much effect on the racing in the end. Thank goodness for that, because if Ferrari really have pulled themselves up to match Red Bull, we might be in for a great end to the season. Motor sport punters at Luxbet Sports Betting would have been sure to find the odds quite even! Fingers are also crossed that McLaren's dismal performance at Silverstone was a one-off. A three-way battle for the remaining races would be great to watch. We might even start to get some answers this weekend at the Nurburgring. Looking forward to it!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dramatic Finish at Silverstone

Good old British weather and confusion over blown diffusers helped to make an exciting race for the Silverstone Grand Prix. The regulation change on fuel flow while off the throttle was being discussed right up until the start of the qualifying session. Concessions due to reliability issues were the main discussion point and nobody really seemed sure what the final result would be or indeed what the final effect on car set-up would be. The final meeting was over literally 5 minutes before the session began.


Photo Courtesy of Force India
As Q1 began there were reports of rain starting at Copse which pushed everyone out of the pit nice and early. Alonso set the early pace but was quickly overshadowed by Vettel. The Spaniard then ran wide and was forced to drive around the outside of the gravel trap to get back on the track. The track was clearly drying rather than getting wetter and so the times quickly started to fall. Lots of drivers took a go at the top, including Pastor Maldonaldo, but it was Mark Webber who was in P1 as the rain started again with 6 minutes remaining.

The shower was over by the start of Q2 so again everyone was keen to make the most of the time available. It seemed to be only Copse that was wet while the rest of the track was very dry, so many of the cars decided to go back into the pits and wait for some improvement. There weresome runs after 5 minutes or so which saw Adrian Sutil at the top of the time sheet then another patch of quiet while everyone prepared for the last attempt. With 4 minutes left those attempts began again. After the dust cleared it was Felipe Massa on top with Webber and Alonso behind. Paul di Resta made it into P9 and through to the final session.

Another early start to Q3 again. The uncertain weather pushed the drivers out early which is always good for the excitement. Unfortunately it seemed that McLaren didn't have any performance in this session. Was it a consequence of the last minute discussions on blown diffusers? Paul di Resta made a great effort to put himself into 6th with 5 minutes to go. The rest of the drivers kept trying, but ran out of steam before the end. The final grid ended with Webber on pole, Vettel second and Alonso in third. Di Resta held on to his 6th place just behind Button, but Lewis couldn't manage anything better than 10th. A dissapointing end to the session for McLaren but a great result for di Resta.


Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
As the drivers prepared for the race, the track was half wet and half dry. So much so that there were spins on the way to the grid. This meant that everybody decided to start on the intermediate tyres. As the lights went out it was Vettel who got the best start and took Webber on the way into turn 1. Button and Hamilton also got good starts with Button taking Massa and Hamilton firing himself into seventh by the time the first lap was settling down. He carried on and by lap 2 was overtaking Button.

Vettel and Webber were (as usual) making themselves a gap over the rest of the field at this point. Lewis meanwhile was out braking himself and running wide at Brooklands. Thanks to Jenson not actually having any pace at all, Hamilton managed to maintain his position and set off once again. The DRS was left off by race control until lap 6 due to the wet conditions.

Lap 9 and Alonso was gaining back some lost ground on Mark Webber. Schumacher tried to take advantage of DRS to get past Kobayashi but misjudged it badly and took his front wing off and spun the Japanese driver. He was given a penalty for that, at this track it was a 10 second stop due to the pit lane configuration making a drive through faster than completing a lap. Lewis was now gaining time Massa who was sliding about through Becketts, but not enough for Hamilton to make the pass.

Lewis continued hounding Massa as, on lap 12, Button pitted to change to dry tyres. It was clear that the intermediate tyres were running out of grip and the track was drying out fast. That was proved as Schumacher, who had changed to dry tyres with his front wing change, set the fastest lap of the race. This triggered pit stops for everyone else and Hamilton won out against Massa in the changes.

It was Jenson's turn to be fast now, and he set a new fastest lap and caught up to Felipe Massa. He couldn't do anything about it in the wet part of the track though. Lewis was now right behind Alonso. Jenson finally got into Massa's slipstream but was forced to the outside of the turn. He kept his foot in though and braved it out to get him on the way through Club. Lewis used his DRS to get close to Alonso and then got a good run onto the old pit straight where he put his car in the wet part of the track and out braked the spaniard into turn 9.

Kobayashi came into the pits a short while later and after a hesitation on release had to take avoiding action from another car. He ran into the Force India wheel gun hoses and pulled a couple of them down earning himself a penalty for an unsafe release. Meanwhile Alonso had caught back up to the back of Hamilton as his tyres were wearing, forcing the British driver to go on the defensive. Alonso got past using his DRS and Hamilton pitted on lap 25 as Alonso set another fastest lap.

Paul di Resta's luck ran out as he pitted to find the wrong set of tyres waiting for him and causing him a massive delay. Webber, Button and Massa all pitted on lap 27 while Alonso kept on increasing the pace. Vettel and Alonso headed for the pits on the next lap but the Red Bull team got a stuck wheel and Alonso got out in front. Hamilton made it through before Vettel could get out of the pit and Webber was right behind him.

The top 6 were only 11 seconds apart on lap 29 but it was clear that Alonso was going faster than the chasing Hamilton. By lap 33 Vettel was right behind Lewis. Webber was chasing him hard as well but he made an error and ran wide, bouncing across the kerbs and losing some time. Vettel mounted an attack on Hamilton but his defensive driving kept the German behind. He had to wait for his next pit stop on lap 37 before he got the chance to get past Hamilton. Button pulled into the pit for his final stop but in the rush an engineer reaching for a new gun was mistaken for the all clear signal. Jenson made it halfway back to the track with the wheel wobbling furiously before he pulled over to the side of the track.

Hamilton was being told on the radio that he needed to save fuel. This probably wasn't good news as Webber was catching him fast. It took a few laps to get there, but by lap 46, Webber managed to use his DRS to get past and into third. Alonso was now 17 seconds ahead of Vettel and safe, Webber was faster than his team mate though and set off to catch him. Massa suddenly seemed to come alive as well and despite being quite a way behind Hamilton, was closing down the gap by well over a second a lap.

Even Patrick Stewart Couldn't 'Make it so' for Di Resta.
Mark Webber caught up to Vettel on lap 51 and despite a good try he couldn't make it past his team mate. A radio message was sent telling Webber to hold the gap but it didn't look like he was taking much notice. On the last lap Massa had caught Hamilton and tried to outbrake him on the outside, Lewis held on and hit the Ferrari in the side. Massa was in front on the way into the last turn but couldn't get the power down and ran wide trying to save a slide. Hamilton kept his head and just managed to get in front on the way over the line. It finished up with Alonso first, Vettel second and Webber in third. Hamilton took fourth from Massa with Perez taking sixth.

It later came out the Webber had been told several times over the closing laps not to overtake Vettel but had decided to ignore the orders and carry on. Fair play to the Aussie but he can't be making himself popular in the team with moves like that. It can't be forgotten that team orders are allowed this year, Red Bull were perfectly justified in asking him not to overtake. Of course its Webber who has the wheel in his hand and thank goodness he's not the kind of guy to settle for just any old position.

Lewis Hamilton's last ditch attempt to keep his place was a great demonstration of why he is always in the news. It was surprising hearing the talk before the race how many people talked up his chances despite there being two other Brits on the grid in front of him. (Scotland still counts as long as they're doing well right?) Hamilton's sheer passion and drive to do well really puts some people off. But for others, its the whole reason he's popular. I'm can see why he turns people off, but he has to have that kind of self belief and passion to get himself into his position, never mind get the results he does. He doesn't take any prisoners and when it pays off, like today, its a heroic move. But when it doesn't, well we all saw what happened after Monaco.

The blown diffuser confusion was the oddest news of the weekend though. It had seemed as though everything was decided well before the event began, but F1 is a complicated business and things are never quite that straightforward. Most of the complaints seemed to be arguing that reliability would be hurt by the regulations, followed by a fair bit of, 'well if they can do that, we should be able to do this.' Some of it may well even be true, but it certainly doesn't look well organised from here. There were assurances from various people that its all sorted out now, but is it? I guess we'll find out very soon. It does seem that McLaren lost out, Ferrari gained and Red Bull probably stayed where they were. Again we'll find out if there is a way to even the score very soon.

Bring on the next race!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Flooded Friday at Silverstone

In typical British style the rain started this weekend off at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. It didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the drivers on the run up to the event though. Most of them seem to regard Silverstone as a second home and obviously for the British drivers a home event is always a big deal. But the track itself has seen significant changes this year as well.

Photo courtesy of Force India
The pit complex has been moved into a new part of the track which has created a lot more space. The garages are now housed in the all new Silverstone wing building with its distinctive roof and the whole effect is very modern. The track has also been reshaped with a major new section being inserted between Abbey and the start of the complex at Brooklands. This section is designed to be difficult and possibly get the drivers to make some errors and increase the chances of overtaking.

The wet track and changing conditions meant that it was difficult to see any difference in performance from the hot blown diffusers. The new regulations regarding the amount of fuel that can be burnt when off throttle come into force from this race onward. This should see some effect on most of the cars, but Red Bull are believed to have the best system and should see the biggest change. That's debatable though thanks to some last minute changes to the ruling. Due to reliability reasons some concessions have been made to the rules and its now even more unclear if any difference at all will be noticeable.

There was a lot of sliding about from many of the drivers, but it was left up to Kamui Kobayashi to have a big accident. He ran wide coming out of Woodcote and in typical fashion refused to lift off until the car span. It turned side on as it hit the grass and nearly rolled before sliding into the barriers and causing some pretty major damage. Nico Rosberg had a good try at outdoing the Japanese driver as he locked the rear under braking for Copse. The car tried to swap ends on him three times but he saved it and ran off the track before continuing round the track for another go.

Most of the running was carried out in the morning session thanks to a rain shower making the track far wetter just before free practice 2. Fastest time of the morning was taken by Mark Webber. Felipe Massa was fastest in the afternoon session but was 3.3 seconds behind the Australian's morning run. Not much was learned by anybody after that but the weather does look set to improve throughout the weekend.

I've given myself an almost impossible task of making predictions from a Friday that had no proper running at all, so this is purely based on gut instinct and hope! Ferrari have been the closest challengers to Red Bull in recent races. With a little pace taken by the engine changes the blue cars may be vulnerable here. Home advantage is with McLaren as well which will hopefully make for a very close fight for pole. I'm going for Alonso to finally beat Vettel in qualifying. Hopefully a double DRS zone, and not much dry tyre running until the race, will mean that the main event will be totally unpredictable. I'm hoping that Jenson will keep his head and be able to make his way to the top step again. Vettel is never far away though so I'll put him second and Alonso third. I get the feeling that Hamilton's aggression may get the better of him again and lead to another race for him to forget. I'm also thinking that Paul di Resta can pull out all the stops and get himself back into the points if he gets a little luck, so keep an eye out for him too.

Let me know if you think I'm talking rubbish, I'd love to hear your version of the top three!

Friday, 1 July 2011

2014 Engine Rules Confirmed

The World Motor Sport Council voted on the engine regulations for 2014 on Thursday and the proposed changes have now been ratified and accepted. This means that the proposed rules are now accepted by everybody who has a choice about them and so are highly likely to go ahead. But what are the new changes all about?

The Engine

The new engine configuration will be a 1.6 litre V6 using a single turbocharger and energy recovery systems. This layout is a compromise on the original suggestion of an inline 4 to help keep Formula 1 more appealing to sports car manufacturers (read Ferrari mostly!) It also allows the engine to be used as a stressed part of the chassis which helps the manufacturers to build a better car around it.

Direct fuel injection will be used at up to 500bar along with a fuel flow control system to help limit maximum power. The engine speed has been raised to 15000rpm, apparently to allow engineers more flexibility in power and energy management. Because the fuel flow has remained the same this should lead to even more efficient engines than the previous proposals.

There will also be two energy recovery systems. First, a beefed up KERS with twice the current energy storage. It has not been made clear exactly how this will affect its operation during a race yet. It could be the same time allowed to use it with double the power boost, double the time allowed at current power levels or some variation in between. Second will be an exhaust energy recovery system linked to the turbocharger. Turbos are normally run by exhaust gases anyway so exactly what this will turn out to be is still a little unclear.

The Effects

One of the complaints about the new regulations is that the noise will not be the same. Formula 1 cars are incredibly noisy things and it is thought that this is one of the big selling points of the championship. Personally I'm not so sure. No doubt the noise is one of the things that you always remember about seeing a Formula 1 car in person, but its not as if there is suddenly a need to use silencers. It will sound different of course, but you can be sure that it will still be very loud indeed.

Formula 1 has used inline 4 cylinder engines in the original turbo era during the 1980's. Although there was a lot of talk about how fair the turbos were compared to normally aspirated engines, I don't seem to recall any talk at all about the noise.


The efficiency of the engines has been talked about a lot and this is something where I think the FIA are moving in the right direction. The rev limit on the engines has been raised, but in order to take advantage of those extra power cycles you need to fill the engine with fuel. The flow rate has not been raised so that means you absolutely must have a more efficient engine. The only ways around this simple equation is to use more of the wasted power and this is where the energy recovery comes into play. If we assume that the exhaust system will be used for more than just spinning the turbo, this is where the engineers get to start being clever and think up new ways to increase the amount of forward motion from a set amount of fuel. It seems that, as long as a little freedom is given in this area, we might actually see some interesting technology start to appear from F1 again.

I have seen it mentioned that Formula 1 would save more fuel by rearranging the logistics of the races than by reducing the fuel used in the race cars. In purely mathematical terms that is absolutely true, but it does miss the point a little. Fuel prices are not going to go down at any point and it makes no sense for F1 to continue along what is essentially a dead end in car development. The current engines are way beyond what can be responsibly put into a road car already. Changing the rules will bring them back into the area where they have some connection to the cars ordinary people use. A pretty tenuous connection yes, but it is there. Efficiency is the new feature that all cars must have, in much the same way as safety was before it. For Formula 1 to be lagging behind won't be good for its image, and for the manufacturers that image, and the sales it generates, is everything.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Valencia, the Low Point of an Exciting Season

The European Grand Prix at Valencia was definitely more exciting than the last three times it has been run. But sadly in a year of stunning races, this was definitely the most dull. Can anything save this race from being a bit rubbish or is it just a lost case? And how can anyone persuade Bernie to get rid of it? It showed promise early on though...


Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
It was very hot for the start of qualifying and continued to get hotter throughout the session, combined with the slippery track here there was a chance of some errors creeping in. Predictably, Vettel set the early pace but Jenson found a little more speed shortly after as the track improved. Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull were all very close as the session continued and then Nico Rosberg jumped up to fourth as the last runs began to show that Mercedes are still involved as well. The shuffling started to push Webber and Massa down towards the drop zone but they both saved themselves at the last with Massa taking fastest lap by 0.6 seconds.

In Q2 most of the drivers had their fast laps done nice and early which was lucky for them. Pastor Maldonaldo broke down in the middle of the track and bought out the red flags for a few minutes as a crane had to rescue him. The fast guys didn't bother to go out again after that. Paul di Resta was trying hard at the end but his lap was too scruffy to be quick and he lost out on a place in Q3. His team mate, Adrian Sutil, did make it in though, which made for a good result for Force India.

With 5 minutes of Q3 remaining  the top six was Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Webber, Button and Massa. The top 4 all decided to do another run at the end, Webber set off first and Vettel was the last. By the end of his flying lap though, Vettel hadn't improved and jumped into the pits to save his tyres. Webber managed to get a faster time but only good enough for second. Button somehow ended up in 6th place as the cars all came home and another slightly disappointing qualifying session ended.


The cars lined up on the grid on an even hotter day than Saturday which was making the teams nervous about how long the tyres might last.

Photo Courtesy of Force India
As the lights went out both Ferraris got good starts with Massa getting the best of all. Hamilton bogged down a little and both of the red cars were past him by the first corner. Alonso made the best of the second turn though by running around the outside and putting himself into third on the way out of the corner. Massa tried to continue his run off the grid but had to back out of it and settle into 4th. In the confusion Button ended up knocked down to 7th as Rosberg squeezed past into 6th behind Hamilton.

By lap 2 Sebastien Vettel had opened up a 1.3 second gap on Webber and didn't look as though he would have any trouble keeping it. As the DRS became active it was Button who was in the best position to take advantage to it. Sadly it didn't seem to be working to well for him, he was getting closer to Rosberg with the flap activated but not close enough to get past. Rosberg started to get a bit ragged as the pressure built, but it was on the way into turn 2 where Jenson finally just forgot to brake for a few metres and dived through on the inside.

Fernando Alonso was closing on Mark Webber up to lap 6 but didn't seem to be making enough headway to get through. In trying to hard he ran very wide on turn 20, right across the astroturf section and giving Webber a little more breathing space. Vettel was widening the gap as Fernando started again on catching Webber.

Lap 10 saw Massa overshoot turn 17 but Hamilton wasn't close enough to take advantage. The pit stops began on lap 12 with Heidfeld and Kobayashi being the first to blink. Hamilton was in the next lap and it was clear that nobody would be able to make the tyres last much longer as Vettel was starting to get some oversteer moments. Webber was the first of the Red Bulls to stop followed by Vettel on lap 15 with Alonso right behind him and Massa the lap after.

Michael Schumacher came out of the pits and tried to take the inside of turn 2 as Petrov was coming past. Vitaly thought the corner was his and turned in, loosening the front wing of the Mercedes. It proceeded to get more broken and despite managing to get past a Force India it ended up trapped under the side of the car by the tie he made it back to the pit. After an investigation by the stewards no action was taken.

The top three drivers were still less than 4 seconds apart by this stage. Webber found himself stuck behind some traffic at this stage which let Alonso get a little closer and the Spanish crowd were starting to get up on their feet every time he went by. He finally found a space and out-braked the Australian on the way into turn 12 and started to open out a gap.

By lap 22 Button was being told on the radio that the cars in front would start "degging" soon, indicating that their tyres would be degrading fast. A couple of laps later and Hamilton was informed that he was on the same pace as the cars behind. Normally this would get Lewis asking what about the cars in front, but not this time. The McLaren cars didn't seem to be showing the same pace they have had in the last few races, and it seemed as though this might be as far up the field as they could make it.

Later on during lap 27, with a fresh set of tyres, Lewis still found enough to put in fastest lap of the race up to that point. His engineer was on the radio asking him, "please manage your pace," or in other words, "don't wear your tyres out too quickly!" Webber made his second stop on lap 29 with Alonso coming in one lap later but he came back onto the track behind Webber.

By lap 30 Lewis was getting warnings from the pit again, this time his rear tyre temperatures were too high. To which he replied, "I can't go any slower." That's the sort of attitude we like to see! As Button pitted for his second time, Webber was catching Massa fast and dived past him as the Brazillian dealt with some traffic on the way into the pits.

Button was on the radio on lap 33, being told that his KERS was not working. This prompted the McLaren engineers to go and get their rubber gloves out. Hamilton was again not doing the right thing and on lap 40 he got another message from the team to up his pace. The reply this time, "I'm going as fast as I can go!"

Now the track started to make its mark on the race properly as no real progress was made by anyone for a long time. There were some good scraps in the midfield, but compared to the races so far this year it was quiet and almost processional. Despite the top three still being within 12 seconds on lap 50 nothing really seemed to be heating up and the top 6 finished as they had been for more than 10 laps.

Vettel seemed to be particularly pleased with this victory for no reason that anyone could fathom out. It just looked like another of his pole to flag victories, despite his romantic claims that its him against the car and the track. Sadly for us it seems to be the track that is the problem. As Tiff Needell tweeted afterwards, "Even Pirelli's best efforts and the wing flappy thing can't turn a truly boring circuit into a racing track."

The final result ended as Vettel from Alonso with Mark Webber taking the final podium position. Hamilton stayed in fourth with Massa, Button and Heidfeld behind that. Jaime Alguersuari got himself a good eighth place to boost his season, despite this being one of only three Formula 1 races ever where everyone who started also finished. And one of those was the infamous Indianapolis race where only 6 cars started.

Valencia is just a track which doesn't seem to inspire any racing and its hard to say why. It's a great location, not as narrow as a street circuit but still with walls that should make mistakes count. Long straights, tight twisty sections. Everything it should need is there, but just put together in a way that makes it dull.

Still, next time out is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and that is a track that often produces a good race. It can be helped out by the Great British weather of course, but this year there are also major changes to the circuit. Specially designed to create mistakes and introduce more passing. With the added bonus of the Pirelli tyres and DRS this should help make it the sort of race that has been keeping us interested for the first part of the season. Come on the Brits!

Full Result

Championship Standings

Friday, 24 June 2011

Valencia Weekend Starts Grey and Dull

The weather in Valencia for the European Grand Prix started grey and dull. Much like the last few races here really. This year though there are hopes it may brighten up on the racing side of things at least. The Pirelli tyres, DRS, KERS and now the engine mapping changes are all working together to give us a good chance of the best race ever at this track.

Photo Courtesy of Force India
Paul di Resta swapped his drivers seat with Nico Hulkenberg for Free Practice 1 and probably wished he hadn't shortly after. Nico almost immediately flat spotted his tyres and followed that with losing the back end under braking and putting the car into the wall early on in the session. There was some confusion for Hamilton as he told his engineer that his rear wing flap wasn't working and was informed it had been disabled for testing.

Red Bull were seemed to be running two very different sessions. Vettel was not going quickly, there was speculation that this could be because they were testing engine map settings for Silverstone, where the hot blown diffuser ban is to be introduced. Webber meanwhile was at the top of the time sheets and stayed there as the session ended a little early. That was thanks to Glock, who half spun his car and stalled it on the exit of turn 4. Petrov was next on the list followed by Alonso, Hamilton, Heidfeld, Massa and Button with Vettel only able to get up to 16th place.

He made up for it Free Practice 2 though by posting quick times straight away. Button complained about low rear grip as he tried to improve. It didn't seem to be affecting Hamilton's car too much as he was challenging for the fastest time with Vettel, Webber, and Alonso. Di Resta finally managed to get his freshly fixed car out of the pits with only 10 minutes of the session remaining and proceeded to do his best to make up for lost time.

At the end of the session Alonso had the fastest time just 0.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton with Vettel less than 0.1 behind that. Schumacher, Massa, Button and Webber were also close with Webber ending up just 0.563 behind his team mate. Paul di Resta only pulled himself up to 16th place but considering his very limited time in the car, that's a pretty good result. Hopefully he'll get a better run on Saturday.

Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
After the dust settled it appeared that the soft tyre was around a second a lap faster than the new medium tyre. It also appeared to be lasting fairly well with some drivers continuing to improve their times after 2 or even 3 laps. The final times show that this could be a closer qualifying session than we have seen so far this year. But Red Bull are becoming infamous for pulling something special out of the bag at the last minute. Will the new parc fermé rules stop that? We'll find out tomorrow afternoon!

That throws a few more unknowns into the equation for predictions so I'm going on pure gut feelings! Lets see if Alonso can make the most of a home advantage and bring in a pole to give Ferrari's season a boost. For the race, I think that if he does get pole he will get mugged in the double DRS zones and not be able to bring it home in first. So the top three could be Vettel, a newly calm and focussed Hamilton and then Alonso. Sorry Button fans, I don't think this is his track, but he might hang on to fourth. What do you think?

Bring on the racing!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Rule Changes, Rule Changes and Changes to the Rules

The FIA have finally decided to implement the long discussed ban on blown diffusers from the British Grand Prix onwards. But of course, that on its own would be too easy, so an there is an extra change to the rules (effective immediately) which bans any change in engine mapping between qualifying and the race. Just to add a little more entertainment it has also been decided to postpone the major engine regulation changes to make Formula 1 greener, from 2013 to 2014.

The ban on hot blown diffusers has been talked about for a little while now and the FIA have finally got round to making a ruling on it. From Silverstone the teams must change their engine mapping so that when the throttle is closed no more than 10% of the maximum fuel flow is allowed into the engine. Some of the teams have been using a system where the fuel flow is kept high but the ignition is retarded so much that the fuel burns in the exhaust. This allows hot gas to exit the exhaust and create more downforce under the car. Now that this is to be restricted, we are left to wonder which cars will be most affected by the change. Its widely believed that Red Bull will see the biggest hit but nothing is certain until the British Grand Prix.

The teams have also been issued another ruling which will take effect this coming weekend in Valencia. Once qualifying is finished there are to be no changes to the engine mapping until the race is underway. Previously it was not regarded as a breach of Parc Fermé rules to plug in a laptop and make alterations to the ECU settings. This allowed the cars to use a far more aggressive mapping during qualifying, and then change the setting down for the race in order to stop the floor and exhaust from overheating. Again Red Bull are thought to be the biggest loser in this change. Their cars never quite seem to have the domination in the race that they show on Saturday.

It should be interesting to see if this has any noticeable effect during the European Grand Prix. Theoretically it is possible to change the engine mapping during a pit stop. But due to the time required, no-one seems to believe that it will happen, which means that the other cars may be a little closer to Vettel than normal. Some are unhappy that these changes weren't left until the end of the season but it does seem to slow down another (presumably) expensive line of research and may even help to close up the championship race. Which is never going to be a bad thing!

Finally the major engine changes that were to be introduced in 2013. It was believed that the FIA had secured agreement for a change to 4 cylinder turbo-charged engines to be introduced in 2013 but now, after a meeting with all the teams a new agreement has been reached. And this time that means that everyone agrees. This will see Formula 1 moving to 1.6 litre V6 turbo-charged engines instead of the current 3.5 litre V8. There will also be a reduction in fuel flow along with a rev limit reduction from 18,000 to 12,000 rpm which should see fuel usage drop by up to 35%. These changes should see the current power output of around 750bhp stay roughly the same. KERS will also be beefed up to twice its current output.

These changes are intended to make the sport greener, but how green can a sport like motor racing really be? These are cars that have no purpose other than moving one man around and around in a circle as fast as possible. Not going anywhere as quick as you can is, by its very nature, a waste of fuel and energy. It is hoped however that the turbo chargers and energy recovery systems may boost the use of the same  technologies on road cars, which can only be a good thing.

In my opinion, the only real way to make F1 greener would be to limit the total amount of fuel used per race and drop that amount season by season. The teams would be allowed to use whatever other sources of energy they can (KERS, solar power, Mr. Fusion etc.) to make up the shortfall and increase the efficiency. Then we might see a technical battle worth watching and it might have a greater impact on the rest of the road-going world.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Lewis Hamilton - What Should Be Done?

Lewis Hamilton has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently. He has been in front of the stewards several times in the opening part of the season. Then it started to get worse in Monaco with a weekend to forget in the car, closely followed by his comments, which won't ever be forgotten, afterwards. The controversy continued in last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix with his early exit and yet another call to face the stewards. Then we have the ex-Formula 1 legends jumping in with their opinions that Lewis is dangerous and more severe penalties should be given out to calm him down.

Photo Courtesy of Dwonderwall
Lewis was the only other driver to clinch a win this year against the unstoppable force of Vettel until Button got his win last weekend. He knows he has the ability to win and he also has the determination and ambition that put him in Formula 1 in the first place. It seems that he is the one putting himself under impossible pressure to pull off overtakes that other people wouldn't even try. Then when they fail to come off, he is even more determined to get back to where he thinks he should be. Its this vicious circle that is putting him in more trouble than he should be in this year. The question is, what is he going to do about it?

There is no doubt that if he has many more incidents where the blame can't be shared, he will be on the receiving end of more penalties. But I can't imagine that will help. Hamilton seems to react badly to that sort of discipline, and it seems unlikely that will change. What might help more, is nearly taking out Jenson Button. I do believe that the McLaren drivers really are the good friends that they talk about being in the media, and the collision in Canada could well have taken them both out. Lewis isn't stupid, and I think that he must realise that Jenson would race him fairly, and that might get him to look a little harder at his own driving. The simple fact is, if he doesn't tone it down a bit he won't be finishing any more races this year, and that won't do his championship any favours at all.

Then there is the speculation about Lewis making a move to Red Bull, which seems to be based on the flimsiest evidence ever. Lewis spoke to Christian Horner. That doesn't seem a lot to go on to me! I'm not sure that Red Bull would want him, or that McLaren would let him go either. Stranger things have happened though, so I wouldn't rule it out completely, but I'm guessing not next year. Red Bull already have the best driver they could have in Sebastien Vettel. Add Lewis in there as well and you really would have an explosive combination. My guess is that if Webber decides to pack it all in for next year Red Bull will be looking towards the lower end of the grid for their new driver.

Thankfully there is only one more week until the European Grand Prix in Valencia. I can't wait to get some cars on the track so that we can have some actual racing to talk about!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Canadian Grand Prix is a Four Hour Epic

This year's Canadian Grand Prix was in every way an epic race. Stopped, restarted, rain, sun, safety cars and accidents, this race had it all. And even a fairy tale ending.

Photo Courtesy of Force India
Free Practice 3

Early on Saturday third practice saw Vettel fastest again while Pedro de la Rosa took the back wheel off his borrowed Force India. McLaren again couldn't get close to the Ferrari's and Vettel. Mark Webber however didn't get any running at all as his car was pulled apart to try and repair the KERS. Once again the KERS system costs Red Bull. Apparently their System only puts out 66% of the maximum allowed power. They claim that the lower weight and smaller size allow them to gain back performance in other ways. So far the balance seems to be right but if the KERS doesn't work at all, as seems to be happening so far, they are definitely losing out.


As qualifying started Martin Whitmarsh claimed that McLaren are setting the car up for wet weather due to the weather forecast showing a 60% chance of rain during the race. A lot of cars got out nice and early for qualifying 1. It looked as though there could be a chance of rain at any minute and there was also the chance of an accident stopping the session that forced them out for a banker. The drivers were opting for up to 3 flying laps as well, the soft tyres seemed to get faster as the temperature built up.

The top 6 was established pretty early on in the session with Fernando Alonso setting the fastest time. Paul Di Resta put in a fantastic lap to put himself in 8th place by the end of the session. Pedro De La Rosa provided some entertainment by running a little wide and skimming the wall with both wheels causing a shower of sparks. Somehow he avoided any damage and complete his lap but his speed was nothing to write home about.

Q2 saw some pretty close times, with seven minutes remaining the seven drivers were all within 3 tenths of a second. Kobayashi once again proved himself an absolute hero as he tried to get the best out of his car. The rear end got a little loose in the last chicane. He kept his toe down and drifted it round while looking like he was steering straight at champions wall. He survived it but it was clearly not the fastest way to do it. Paul Di Resta was also trying hard but couldn't do any better than 11th this time out. Massa was on top by the end of the session but only by a very small margin.

Q3 was almost settled by halfway through. Most of the cars went out for a second run but failed to improve except for Alonso who jumped just past Massa to put himself second on the grid. The final grid order was Vettel on pole, Alonso second and Massa third. Hamilton ended up in fourth followed by Webber while Button could only climb up to 7th. It turned out that Mark Webber wasn't able to use the Red Bull KERS at any time during qualifying which shows exactly how much damage it can do to the performance.

Photo Courtesy of Force India

The track was wet as the start of the race approached, but it wasn't actually raining which raised hopes that the race would be able to start normally. Those hopes were to be dashed though, the safety car was at the front of the grid as the cars pulled away. Jaimie Alguesuari seemed to have made a great decision at this point. He had elected to start from the pit lane to allow the team to make some changes to the car and now he didn't  even have to catch up with the end of the field.

The safety car came in on lap 5 and the teams were put into a race situation on full wet Pirelli tyres for the first time. Vettel tried to start early to get a jump on Alonso but the Spaniard was right with him and trying hard to challenge on the start finish straight. As the rest of the cars followed through Hamilton found himself outbraking Mark Webber. It seemed as though he bounced of the kerb a little and knocked the Australian into a 180. The stewards almost immediately sent out a message that they were investigating the incident, no surprises there!

It appeared that Vettel was pulling out a four second lead, but replays showed that he had a short cut across the grass to help him with at least some of that. As Hamilton tried to regain the positions he had lost after his contact with Webber he came up behind Button. On the way out of the last chicane he got a much better run and dived towards the pit wall to try and overtake. Either Jenson hadn't seen or just wasn't expecting Lewis to be that fast as he moved over and the cars hit each other and Lewis hit the pit wall. Hamilton's car looked as though it was losing a wheel but he tried to make it back to the pits. He had to give that up by turn 5 though and parked it on the track, which bought the safety car back out again.

Jenson dived straight into the pits for a check up and a set of intermediate tyres. The car seemed to be ok and he rejoined the race a long way back and the only one on those tyres. A new message arrived from the stewards at this point. The investigation against Lewis for contact with Webber was dropped (yay!) and a new one was started. This time it was for being too fast under the safety car, Jenson got in on this one as well so that Lewis didn't feel left out.

On lap 12 the safety car came back in one more time and Jenson was handed a drive through penalty. Mark Webber was now in 9th place and trying very hard to improve. Once Jenson had completed his drive through he started to show some real pace on the intermediate tyres. Perhaps this had been a strategic master-stroke? Rubens obviously thought it was a good choice as he dived into the pits to try it out himself. Mark Webber didn't seem to be hanging about and pulled himself up to seventh. Fernando Alonso also liked the look of Button's pace, he dove into the pits for a new set of tyres as well.

By lap 19 the rain was starting to fall again as proved by Button aquaplaning towards the hairpin. It suddenly turned into an enormous downpour which bought the safety car out again to avoid any incidents. Alonso and Button both dived into the pit straight away to get back onto full wets. Sebastien Vettel followed them in next time around and thanks to the safety car not picking up the leader straight away managed to get away with only losing a place to Massa. Even that didn't last long as he also pulled in for a tyre change, Vettel gets all the breaks!

The rain was now increasing even more and  the red flag was shown on lap 25. The cars lined up on the grid Vettel in the lead followed by Kobayashi, Massa, Heidfeld, Petrov, Di Resta, Webber, Alonso, De La Rosa, Button and Rosberg. Kamui had not pitted at any point in the race and could now reap the rewards, a free tyre change and second place on the restart. The rain eventually stopped and the street sweepers were out in force to try and clear the track. The race was finally set to restart after a two hour four minute red flag delay.

The safety car led the cars off and after a few laps Kovavleinen was seen going slowly with what appeared to be a slipping clutch. He made his way back to the pits to retire and as it was announced that the safety car would come in on lap 35 D'Ambrosio jumped into the pits to go to inters. That was one  lap too early as it turned out and he got himself a drive through.

On the restart Vettel made his usual break for it and Kobayashi was too busy defending from Massa to worry him at that point. A fair few cars dived straight into the pit for intermediates and even more did the same on the following lap, including Jenson Button. Next time the Ferraris both went into the pit and had to queue for tyres with Alonso losing out. As he left the pit he ended up in front of Button who immediately tried to get up inside coming into turn 4. Alonso wouldn't give it up though and touched Button, spinning himself up onto the kerb and ending his race. Button got a puncture to show for it and made his way slowly back to the pit once again.

The stranded Ferrari meant that the safety car came out for another run, so Vettel stuck it back into the pit for a fresh set of tyres with no positions lost, while Button found himself in 21st and last place. Another investigation announced for the Button/Alonso incident.

By lap 44 Button had worked his way up to 15th place. Kobayashi was starting to struggle and Massa was trying very hard to take his place. By lap 46 DRS was being enabled and it looked like it was becoming time to change to slicks. Webber was well within the DRS activation zone was not able to take enough advantage to make a pass on Schumacher. Lap 49 and Button was up to 12th place. Buemi was sliding all over the place and that allowed Button to take his place, by lap 50 he was up to 10th.

Mark Webber was the first man to dare to go for slicks on lap 51. Kobayashi made a mistake on the way to the hairpin and Massa got alongside him. Neither of them could get any power down on the way out of the corner and Schumacher took full advantage of the situation and passed the pair of them to put himself into 2nd place. Lap 53 and Button pitted again, this time for slicks, with Schumacher and Massa doing the same on the following lap. Massa moved onto the wet part of the track to pass a back marker, lost all traction and knocked the front wing off his Ferrari but survived to continue to the pits.

Hiedfeld hit the back of a slow Kobayashi and broke his front wing supports. On the following straight the wing fell under the car and sent him flying down the escape road. The debris on the track caused the safety car to come out once more on lap 57. The order was now Vettel, Schumacher, Webber and Button with only 19 cars left in the race.

The race restarted on lap 61 with Vettel immediately opening out a lead on the other three. They stayed in order until the DRS was re-enabled. Then the fight began in earnest, Webber was trying incredibly hard but although he got alongside Schumacher, he ran wide on the final chicane. He had to give the place back and managed to do it without losing out to Button. He tried again next time round but this time couldn't keep the car straight on the way out of the chicane and lost his place to Jenson.

Button's DRS was obviously working better than Webber's as he passed Schumacher well before the chicane and started chasing Vettel. The German had a three second lead with only four laps remaining but Button gained back well over a second on the next lap. Webber finally got past Michael on lap 67 and Button was now only 1.3 seconds behind Vettel. Button went on to set the fastest lap of the race and finally get into the DRS zone on the last lap of the race. The pressure was obviously getting to Vettel and he put a wheel into the wet part of the track and half spun allowing Jenson to sweep past into the lead. He recovered to take second place followed by Webber and Schumacher. Massa used his DRS to catch up to Kobayashi and just managed to get a wheel in front on the line.


An incredible win by Button who had pretty much everything thrown at him during the race. It must have been incredibly dissapointing for Vettel who only made one small error in the whole event, but it was the most costly one it could have been. After everything else working out so well it was surprising to see such a slip-up from the man who, so far this year, could do no wrong.

Hamilton seemed to be trying too hard again. He was attempting moves that few others would try but that is how he got himself a championship. When they work he is the hero of the day, when they don't, he looks a bit foolish. That seems to be the result too often in the last few races, but if they gave out points for effort he would already have the championship sewn up. I'd rather see that than too much caution any day. Button said after the race that he just didn't realise Hamilton was trying to overtake when they touched. According to the team, no hard feelings. But you do have to wonder a little!

Schumacher finally managed to produce a performance worthy of his previous career. Some are saying that DRS cost him second place, but I'm not so sure. Once he was overtaken DRS didn't seem to give him back second place or even third after all.

Button and Alonso were not given Penalties for their contact, thankfully. In an incident packed race it seemed that far too many were being given out. One that changed the result of the race would have been a step too far for what was essentially a racing incident.

Surely there is no way Valencia can top a race like this, even with DRS and Pirelli tyres? I guess we'll find out in two weeks time!

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