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.