Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Get on the glad rags we're off to Monaco.

Well Wednesday has rolled round pretty quick hasn’t it !

Okay then, Monaco it is I suppose.

Firstly, if you’re updating your predictions, you need to do it before midnight on Wednesday. As, for some reason connected with making lots of money and poncing around in sharp suits and stuff, they close the circuit down on Friday to swank around. That means the first practice is this Thursday and as we don’t want the clued up getting to big an advantage, predictions close on Wednesday night before said practice.

You have been warned.

Right that’s the housekeeping out of the way. Monaco is a strange sort of place. It’s not really a circuit that the super fast can win at, nor the super smooth. She takes no prisoners does the Lady Monaco, She and Lady Luck have a riotous old time here. Staying out late at night there’s enough champagne for both of them to get thoroughly razzed up, before rewarding those brave souls that want to flirt with their more dangerous bumps and curves. For a very select few there’s also the long dark slippery tunnel to play around in.

Monaco requires a driver to concentrate 100% for two hours as he threads the car through the narrow tunnel of concrete and armco. He has to be millimetre perfect lap after lap, wheels just brushing the metal skirts and shiny curbs because this place is no respecter of legend or losers. No matter how great the driver is in his own lunch time, if he drops his concentration for a second he’ll be smearing his very expensive carbon ride down the armco before he can think up any excuses as to why he shouldn’t get fired.

The belief that Vettel can’t overtake comes in a large part from this race, he doesn’t like it. Oh he came second last year you cry, but he was never close to Webber and it was only the fact that he had a car that could cruise to the front of the grid that kept him at the front all day. He’s never liked the place and will say so more than once during the weekend.

Hamilton on the other hand glories at this place. He loves, no adores Monaco and seems to feel he has a God given gift to spank the tarmac. The first year he came to Monaco in an F1 car, he just flew around the circuit, drifting the car in total control through the swimming pool complex and round the casino. If you want to thrill at what a car can do when the driver has a hand full of its hair and isn’t worried about getting her a little sweaty, go and find onboard Youtube videos of Hamilton driving a lap of this place. It’s pure petrol heaven.

Webber also likes this place, last year he arrived after a win in Spain and totally dominated the weekend to get his championship run well and truly motoring. This year he blew the race in Spain and hasn’t looked as comfortable as Vettel at all. If he wants to make Vettel work for his championship (because honestly right now it’s Vettels alone to lose) this is where it has to start.

Ferrari also needs to get their act together. They had an opportunity presented to then at the start of the race in Spain and contrived to lose it. I doubt they could have won, but there was a podium there for the taking. As usual with Ferrari when things need calm, mature even headed responses, they reorganise the company and fire a couple of people. First to go is Ferrari's technical director Aldo Costa, who’s going to have “new responsibilities” before this weekend; presumably these responsibilities are cleaning the windows and emptying the bins.
Will this help them get to the front of the grid ? Not a chance. Consistency is how you win championships, not firing all and sundry when it doesn’t go to plan.

At this point in time the FIA are saying there will be DRS on the start finish line during the race, but no DRS in the tunnel for the practice and qualifying. I’m not sure it’ll make too much difference as I don’t think it’ll be a factor.
Fancy go faster buttons and flappy rear wings are not what this place is about, it’s car control and mechanical grip. It wouldn’t surprise me if Redbull don’t even bother to fit their narcissistic KERS system this race just to teach it a lesson.

Meanwhile Pirelli are talking up their tires this weekend with a suggestion that a two stopper might just be possible ..... No I don’t think it’ll happen either. There will be just as many marbles off line to catch the HRT’s and Virgins out as normal. But you never know, the car that can do the fewest stops stands a chance, so maybe the likes of Perez or Di Resta might have a punt at the longs runs to make up a few places. Certainly the Sauber can look after its tires so anything could happen.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Bugger me. It's a Spain race with passing.

Right, it’s just a quick one this week as I knackered after selling loads of junk to unsuspecting punters at the Farnborough car boot sale. Which meant I missed the race and had to watch it later so now I’m tired .... and there is no wine in the house which is a cardinal sin in my book.

Okay, so Spain then. Plenty of over taking this time round and a much better race for it too. I do think we’re kind of losing the qualifying excitement though. As drivers opt to save tires rather than going out and making a fist of it, anyone not in a Redbull doesn’t feel the need to get in the way of the Vettel-Webber fight for pole so it’s all a bit of an anti climax once those two have done their Q3 run.
After qualifying everyone though the Redbulls were going to just disappear off into the distance with their second a lap advantage. Webber had managed to get his act together long enough this time out and piped Vettel to the top spot, but Vettel kept saying he had a problem with his KERS unit and it was no biggy that he wasn’t on pole. The grumpy Australian didn’t look too convinced, though he didn’t look all that happy either. Looking far happier was Alonso who hadn’t ended up in 5th as usual, but was in 4th for his home GP. With a 6 year contract in his back pocket he felt things had turned a corner and the car was going to give him the chance to fight for the win this time out.

The race on Sunday however was all about Lewis and Vettel.
Off the line and Alonso got a flier and Webber got blitzed by the Ferrari and Vettel hardy har har. Hamilton slotted in behind and those four took off into the distance. Button who had started in 4th ended up in 10th after a horrendous start.
This year it’s all been about the teams calling the right strategy not just as the race unfolds but all weekend. Alonso had used too many tires getting his 4th on Saturday, so as the race went on he didn’t have enough nice new soft tires to stay with the Redbulls. He had to pit earlier and couldn’t make the tires last long enough to give him a shorter run with the hard tires at the end. He spent too long racing the afternoon away with Webber who after his bad start kept his eyes on Alonso and not on what Vettel was up to.
Button after the bad start looked after his tires and the team guided him through the chaos with a three stop strategy that worked for him. They realised that Alonso didn’t have the tires for the fight so they reacted to what he did and went after the third spot he should have got. When Alonso ran out of grip at the end Button was able to leapfrog the Ferrari and Webber who missed the bigger picture.
Hamilton just spanked the car all day and drove the bollocks of it like the driving God he is. Oh yes indeed.

So then Vettels 4th win and fifth podium of the year. He’s starting to look unstoppable. He kept Hamilton behind him for 10 laps at the end when the likes of Webber or Alonso would have taken them both off. He did all that with a KERS system that worked some laps and not others. So you have to give him that credit. Worryingly for Redbull though the McLaren more than had the legs of the Redbull in the tight twisty stuff, so they might well struggle at places like Canada and Valencia.

Another 2nd for Hamilton. That’s it lad stop the German getting too smug with that bloody finger of his. And he got the fastest lap, result.

Button does another super smooth job for 3rd, making the three stopper work this time out. I think the smooth strategy is risky one to go for, it only needs a lap or two stuck behind a Renault or a Merc for it instance and it all ends in tears. That and I like my drivers to go for it a bit more. Still, he’s picking up the points and keeping the score board ticking over.

Webber, once again shows he chokes when he’s on the front row. 4th is all he gets after not making the most of a pole and letting Alonso take the lead on the first lap. He seemed to be on the back foot after that and spent too long messing around trying to get past the Ferrari. Vettel didn’t look too fussed about not getting pole on Saturday and you fell right into his trap. That sound Mark, is the sound of your world championship chance exiting on platform 5 bound for HRTville you’d better run for it.

Alonso should have got more than 5th, but he used too many soft tires on Saturday and couldn’t make two sets of hard tires last long enough at the end. Maybe he’ll go better in Monaco next week. The Ferrari is there or there abouts, it’s certainly where that Ferrari should be in 5th so they can’t feel too hard done by.

A solid 6th for Schumacher who has a much better weekend after his nightmare in Turkey last time out. He didn’t bother to contest Q3 deciding to save tires and accept a 10th place spot. It paid dividends in the end when he got a flier off the line at the start of the race taking Nico into the bargain. He made his Merc very wide all afternoon and gets a creditable 6th for his troubles. Is this the return of the old master .. I sincerely hope not.

Rosberg is a disappointing 7th. Must try harder next time lad.

Heidfeld has a barnstormer from the very back of the grid to 8th spot. He turned his engine into moving BBQ on Saturday morning practice so missed qualifying entirely as they rebuild the car. So with a full complement of tires and a few timely moves he kept his head down and drove back though the field to get some valuable points. In days gone by the Renault could be counted on as one of those cars that could be developed to stay in the game. These days and Mercedes have passed them now, while Ferrari, Redbull and McLaren are distant memories. Okay he’s 8th from the back of the grid but Petrov started in 6th and ended up 11th as the Saubers went past him. Things are looking grim for the Renault.

Perez makes it to 9th, and gets the “was he in the race” prize. I’m still to be convinced he’s the second coming, but others are talking about him taking Massa’s seat .... I have as yet, no idea why.

Finally Kobayashi finishes 10th after getting a puncture and pitting on the first lap. Another good race from him and it also confirms that the Sauber is a tasty little car with more than one upset in it.

That’s that then. It’s a fast turnaround for Monaco now, more on that when I get round to writing it.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Brapbrapbrap ... then it was all silence.

Right then fellow Petrol heads. This was going to be a long moan about how boring the Spanish GP normally is and how it’s usually won from pole ..... then the FIA decided that they hadn’t been throwing their weight around nearly enough this year and have banned clever throttle over run.

“What’s clever throttle over run”, you all cry. Well, children, let me enlighten you a little bet. All the teams have a very very cleaver exhaust systems that routes the very hot and very fast exhaust gasses though narrow slots on the trailing edge of their diffuser at the back of the car. This “pulls” the air though the wing and under the car due to the venturi effect. Low pressure behind the car caused by the fast moving exhaust gas increases the down force just a whole shed load.
So, getting your exhaust gas to come out in a nice thin line over a wide area in just the right spot gives you a load of down force which increases your grip and thus speeds in the corners where all the time is made in motorsport.
“But”, you say “what has that got to do with throttles?”. “Shhh” I say, “I’m just getting to that bit”. When you get to the corner, if you’re sensible, you brake. But that means you come off the power and your exhaust gasses stop, at just the point where you want a load of down force and grip to be there for you. What all the teams have been doing and Redbull with more success than most, is to keep the engine pumping out the fast moving gas whilst braking at the same time. If you listen to the cars as they brake into the fast corners you can hear a sort of staccato “brapbrapbrap” noise as the trick throttle pumps the engine really fast in micro burst.
During qualifying, Redbull in particular have been whacking up these throttle micro bursts to 100% open. If you do it too much you’ll cook the engine and the back of the car, so for the race they turn it down to I think 50%, still enough to keep them ahead of the pack, and not cook the engine. All very cleaver, if your engine can take it like Renault and Redbull, underhand dirty cheating if you’re McLaren and Ferrari.
They are all at it of course, but Italian teams that couldn’t get it to work properly have been having a quite word, Whilst British teams with British drivers have been muttering and asking pointed questions.

So in the spirit of being fair to all and making sure the Red Italian team gets a few more points they banned it. Well not banned it exactly. They’ve said this ...

“It is understood the directive to the teams tells them that, under braking, the throttle input can now be no larger than 10 per cent of its maximum. Some outfits had been gaining aerodynamic benefit from keeping the throttle flow at 100 per cent under braking.
To push this regulation change through, the FIA has deemed that throttle use will be allowed only for the purpose of increasing torque, not for 'aerodynamic performance'.
This effectively means that any team found to be using off-throttle blown diffusers could be in breach of the famous Article 3.15 of the technical regulations that outlaws moveable aerodynamic devices.”
Quote from autosport.

Just how the FIA plans to police this is anyone’s guess. Short of having real time telemetry from all of the cars on each and every lap being checked by a technician, who knows what the throttle response should be for any given part of the track and where the breaking point is when looking at a linear real time telemetry feed. I can’t see how they’ll know when a car is using 10% or 23.4% let alone 100%. Maybe they’ll have an FIA official standing at each corner listening for the BRAPBRAP.

So the upshot of all this is ... I have no idea who will win.

Because Pirelli have now decided it’s time to bring really hard, hard tires. Nitwits have been complaining that there is too much over taking and that in the good old days Fangio would race for 14 hours in his linen suit and not have to rely on having a far superior car than anyone else and it was all so much better and there was more Gin in the pink gins in the club house and other such bollocks. Clearly forgetting that only four years ago you only had to watch the first 5 laps to pretty much know who was going to win in two hours time. Plenty of time to wonder off and have a few stiff pink gins before catching the Ashes being won at Lords with Buffy and the lads.
Now you have to concentrate on the race there’s barely enough time for the waiter to take the drinks order before someone is over taking and heaven forbid entertaining the proles in the muddy spectator cattle pens. huuurumph !!!
Okay, so four stops per race is a bit much, maybe just three would be better and make it a little more of a race rather than a lottery. Pirelli are going to bring some hard tires which can last more than 12 laps before they turn to mush.

Will all of this make a difference to the result? It’s hard to tell. The rule change is going to affect everyone, some more than others. It might make qualifying a bit more of a spectacle too, with drivers not having to save fresh tires for the race.

But really Vettel hasn’t looked like being raced by anyone so far and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.
I think McLaren are going to struggle against Mercedes, whilst Ferrari looks like they got their finger out and are back on track.

But this is Barcelona, and it’s always a dull race remember.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Give it up Schumacher you're starting to be an embarrasment !!

It’s another Vettel benefit race as he cruises from the pole to the win. This time it was the Ferrari of Alonso that took the fight to the Redbull as the McLarens got bogged down fighting each other, whilst the Mercedes of Rosberg and Schumacher failed to deliver their qualifying potential.

The weekend had started with misty skies and a very wet track on Friday, most of the big boys didn’t bother to trouble the timing beam. They figured that driving around a wet track when the race was forecast to be bone dry was a waste of time and could prove costly. Just how costly that could be was demonstrated by Vettel who did go out and after a wobbly lap or two told the team “Hey chaps .. Watch this !!!“ Before promptly stuffing it into the wall and writing off the brand new updates the team had just finished bolting onto his car.
Everyone else looked on and though “ho ho, we might be in with a shout here” Vettels car was too badly damaged to take part in the second practice session and everyone really thought they really did had a chance then. Both of the Merc’s looked fast, but there were some glum faces at McLaren as things didn’t seem to be going their way.

Come Saturday and qualifying and the Redbull mechanics had rebuilt Vettels car, so well was it rebuilt in fact, that it just cruised past everyone else and took a pretty easy pole. The only surprise was that Rosberg was still up the sharp end of the grid in third. Maybe Schumacher had been right and the Merc has got better with three weeks rest. The McLaren’s were behind the two Redbulls as Webber had got his act together this race and was only just behind Vettel rather than the back of the grid. Hamilton saved some pride for Woking by being 4th ahead of Alonso who was smiling for a change and Button was sixth. Schumacher confirmed the potential of the Merc by getting between the Renaults of Petrov and Heidfeld in eight spot. Whilst Massa showed he was almost as good as he used to be in tenth. Could Rosberg push Vettel on Sunday? Were Ferrari back in the hunt at last ?

So on Sunday, Rosberg hoped he’d be able to jump Vettel when the lights went out and control the race from the front. What happened was Vettel engaged first gear and shot off into the distance followed by Webber and Alonso. And that was the race for the win over with. No one got close to Vettel for the rest of the day and the only time the camera focused on the young German was at the end of the race to see him waving his bloody finger around again. This is starting to get annoying now.
This in now three wins in four races for Vettel and he just looks like he can turn it on when he needs it. Webber and Alonso were nowhere near him all day and he didn’t make the mistake of thinking he could get away with a 3 stop race this time around. When Webber and Alonso stopped with 11 laps to go for some soft tires, Vettel came in too and covered that. Can he over take anyone .... well there is no one for him to overtake at the moment, the car is reliable, KERS or no KERS balls out faster than anyone else. Ho hum, Despite the finger waving I’m kind or warming to him, so far he hasn’t arsed around and given it all the “big I am” mouth of the like of Schumacher in his prime. I’m not going to say he’s humble or anything, but he always thanks the team and says it’s them, if not more than him. As an engineer, I like that.

Anyway where was I .. Oh yeah Vettel won again.

Webber starts second and finished second. A late pit stop for the soft rubber, gives him the fastest lap and allowed him to mug Alonso in the process. Again it demonstrates that the Redbull is the class of the field even in the grumpy Australians hands. He wasn’t close to taking the fight to Vettel but he did do what his contract tells him to do.

Alonso had a happy weekend for a change and gets Ferraris first podium of the season in 3rd. About bloody time! The new wings did their job and Alonso driving the wheels of the car did the rest. Massa who loves this track couldn’t make it into the top 10 at the end, okay he had a poor pit stop with a clutch that wouldn’t engage so the wheels were spinning as the mechanics tried to give him new tires. But the point is, Massa wasn’t fighting for a podium here and that must be the bench mark of the car, it’s Alonso that made the difference and the reason you can never count him out. With his home race in Spain next he’ll want to keep the ball rolling and fight for the win.

Hamilton also has bad stop with a sticky wheel nut holding him up on his third stop and was a long way back in 4th. He got stuck behind Button at the start of the race and cooked his tires in 11 laps trying to get past. Once he’d done that he was on the back foot for the rest of the race. The sticky wheel nut robbed us of a three way fight for second spot, but in reality the McLaren wasn’t on the pace here and was lucky the Mercs were rubbish when loaded with fuel. The new aero bits can’t come soon enough if Ferrari has got their act together.

Rosberg should have got more out of this but 5th was all he gets. The car was fast when there was no fuel in it, but off the line and it looked like it was missing a gear or two. Once the flappy wings got switched on after 2 laps, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Schumacher who ended up in 12th was no better and Brawn confirmed after the race that they need to work some on the race set up. With the tires the way they are, just being in the top ten look’s to be good enough, they don’t need to be trying to get a car to pole. Rosberg’s got it in him, he just need the car to catch up.

Button gets 6th after trying to do the race on three stops. Even the famed ‘smoothest driver on the track’ couldn’t get this to work for him and he was passed by Hamilton and Rosberg at the end of the race. If he wants a tilt at the title this year he needs to get his finger out and stop relying on being smooth. Grow a pair Jenson and start ragging it lad.

Heidfeld turned up once to wave a fist at Petrov and spent the rest of the time not being as interesting as anyone else on his way to 7th. Slowly slowly catchy monkey and all that guff, I think we’ll be seeing the Renaults back here from now on as the other teams get their development programs in gear for the European season. Renault has lots of work to do.

Petrov in 8th demonstrated to Schumacher that the German should call it a day and retire with some dignity left intact. Petrov drove the nuts of the Renault and the front wing of the Mercedes and should have got more for his efforts. That he didn’t is a testament of the car not him. I like the Russian, he’s fun.

9th for Buemi, nope, I have no idea either and he gets the “did he take part in the race?”, award this time out.

Finally and unfortunately we didn’t see it, but Kobayashi come from the back of the grid, after the engine died on his first qualifying lap, to take a very well deserved 10th. As a comparison, Perez, who was 14th had the fastest lap for a long time and would have been in the top 10 too if he hadn’t lost a front wing at the start of the race. The Sauber is turning out to be a fast little car and Koby is an exciting driver with plenty of potential, imagine what he could do in say a Mercedes for instance.. (Perez is still only a legend in his own lunch time as far as I’m concerned).

The race for the chance to be crowned the most rubbish driver goes to Liuzzi in the HRT, who didn’t really have much competition this week. Every time we saw him, he was either off line being past or off the circuit being past. He was five laps behind Vettel and 2 laps behind his equally rubbish team mate Karthikeyan who has an impossible long name that’s difficult to spell even stone cold sober. This week’s amusing HRT quote comes from Liuzzi who says “Overall this has been a positive weekend up until qualifying” that’s the spirit lad.

So there you have it. The first 3 rounds didn’t lie and Redbull have a championship winning car, the driver to do and lady luck belting out Deutschland Uber alles from the top of the hospitality bus as embarrassed staff try to talk her down and get the bottle of champagne out of her hands.
Can anyone stop them .. who knows? She’s a game old lass and she’s having a grand old time.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Put the Chocolate and wedding cake down, we're back to racing.

Right, has everyone had enough chocolate and wedding cake ? Good, then I'll begin.

Welcome back to Europe and round four of the F1 world championship. It’s always good to be back in Europe with the crowds and the history and the whole, “this in where motor racing began vibe”. Except we’re in Turkey which has no history, no vibe and no punters in the stands usually.

Which is a shame really, because i rather like this circuit because I think Tilke just about got this one right with its majestic sweeping turn 8 into the daring do turn 9 and 10 before the balls out fast run through turn 11. The rest of the track is a bit Mickey Mouse and all over the show, but turns 8 onward are a real test of daring drivers and fast cars. That’s the sort of thing I like.

So it’s about carrying the speed through the twisty bits and keeping up the momentum for the long straight after turn 10. That’s where the race is won or lost, well I think it is, so it must be true. This year it’s seems to be all about keeping the tires alive longer than the other chaps. If you can push at the end of the race whilst others are hanging on for the line, you stand a good chance of getting some points, maybe even a win. I expect Turkey to be similar to China, in that teams with fresh rubber are going to have the advantage.

So “what’s been happening these last three weeks then?”, I hear you ask.
Well News corp. Have confirmed they’d quite like a slice of the F1 action, along with an Italian investment company that counts FIAT as a major client. Ferrari is obviously in more trouble than we though. Ho ho. It’s all at the “well, how much is it worth then? “, stage of negotiations. Personally I don’t think the likes of Murdoch should be allowed to get their avaricious hands on the sport. Before you know it, it’ll all be about cheers leaders and five minute breaks after 15 laps for adverts and stuff. Less racing and more razzamatazz, if you think DRS and KERS is terrible, wait for the increase in wings size to increase advertising space.

McLaren have been grumbling about the Redbull car yet again. Asking pointed questions about the use of engine mapping to change the exhaust characteristic during qualifying. Mostly they’re annoyed they didn’t think of it first.

Talking of annoyed about not thinking of things, Ferrari are apparently bringing a whole new car, with new wings front and rear to sort out the lack of down force issue. Yet the team is still talking down its chances here, "But our car has a lot to recover: we've had wind tunnel problems and other problems in our methodology” said the chief designer, Nikolas Tombazis. Ferrari doesn’t normally admit they’ve got things horribly wrong, so I’m guessing things must really be bad.

The boys at Williams wish they just had to contend with a lack of down force. The car has been an utter dog thus far, frightening the likes of Lotus and Virgin at the back of the grid. Things have got so bad they they’ve fired (sorry, accepted the resignation of) Sam Michael and hired the disgraced former head of engineering at McLaren, Mike Coughlan. He, you may remember, got caught half inching the blue prints of the 2007 Ferrari before the FIA found out and Max started throwing his weight around. Coughlin’s been over in America for the last few years waiting for the fall out to subside. Now he’s back, let’s see if he can bring anything to the once great Williams team. Personally I think this is the same as sticking a plaster on the hulk of the Titanic and claiming it’s all going to be fine if the band could just start up again please. Firing your team manager and engineering chief after 3 races is never a recipe for success.

Talking of rubbish circuits run by morally questionable dictatorships, Bahrain has been given until to the 3rd of June to either shoot all the peasants or clean its act up and join the rest of us in the 21st century. I think Bernie might move this date back and back and back until either everyone is dead, or it really is unacceptable to have a Grand Prix in the middle of a revolution.

Over at Lotus and Trulli has revealed that the reason he’s not won a GP yet this year, is because the power steering in his car is a bit rubbish ... No Jarno, you are a bit rubbish and should stick to wine making and leave the real driving to the professionals. Apparently the lack of power steering “hampers his ability to feel what the car is doing” it’s going forward really really slowly Jarno hahahahaahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ha
Lotus F1 (the green ones) have also announced that they now have the rights to Caterham cars (the ones that look like a lotus) and will be building F1 Caterhams and selling them now. Maybe they can give one to Trulli and see if he’s any faster in that !

Whilst HRT are up for beating Virgin this time out, a feat i think might well be doable as Virgin continue try to learn the Russian for “can we have some money please, comrade” I really think we’ll be seeing the back of Virgin before we wave goodbye to the HRT underdogs. Things are not looking at all rosy for the Virgin boys who may have been a bit premature in taking the Russian Rubles.

Kubica has finally left hospital, but there’s still no word on a future return.

Finally Mickey Schumacher believes that “Mercedes will be fast in Turkey”. He won’t but Nico might.