Sunday, 14 April 2013

Its all about the soft sticky stuff.

Right then what did you think of that?

Exciting stuff with overtaking aplenty and a fascinating game of chess from the grand masters on the pit wall ? or A dull event where the driver with the ability to look after his tyres took the win ?

Do you remember when DRS was introduced a few years back, and the old guard came crawling out of the wood work to decry “this artificial racing”. It wasn’t real racing because “Fangio never needed this driver aid and he was a real red blooded hero, pass the pink gin nurse”. Which as we all know is utter rubbish because Fangio and Mercedes were spending more money than England did on tea to beat the rag tag buckets of bolts he was up against.
Well the old guard have been woken from their gin soaked slumbers yet again to complain bitterly that driving the car to look after the tyres is once again, not actual racing!  Forgetting in their alcohol haze of course those days when half the cars would fall apart after 10 laps. These days’ cars just don’t fail, engines run for race after race with no loss of power. Pit stops are over in the blink of an eye and drivers are fitter than Olympic triathlets.   Long gone are the days when Keke would flick his cigarette across the pit lane, haul his gold jewellery into his Williams and stick the thing on pole. No more tales of all night drinking sessions and Playboy bunnies being found wondering in hotel corridors as dawn breaks on race day.

No, these days every single little detail is on a list and has been analysed until a pit stop takes 2.1 seconds and the pit wall tells the driver to lift 0.02 seconds earlier into turn 4 to save 0.01 seconds on his sector time.

Sanitary, it’s all very sanitised and ruthlessly efficient.

So you have to throw something random into the mix these days to give the pit wall something to think about. They know the soft tyres will last five or six laps, but with a full load of fuel will that be four laps and a slippery in lap? or can the star turn make it seven and only lose a spot or two off the line? And if he can make them last will the next set work as well, for as long, or is it best to switch to the harder tyres earlier and take the hit on race position? Then you have to worry about what everyone else is doing.

This week we saw Redbull trip themselves up as team infighting and a general air of bad blood pervaded the garage. Webber was to confirm he was off to Porsche and endurance racing next year at the end of the event, so his mind was elsewhere as he ran out of petrol in qualifying and the FIA threw the book at him.
Whilst Vettel told everyone he wasn’t really sorry and didn’t care what Webber thought of him. On the track he just didn’t seem to be able to find a balance with the car on the soft tyres as the Redbull was chewing them up in handful of laps. Usually he’d go out in Q3 and stick it on the front row with ease, this time he put on a set of the hard tyres and tooled round and back into the pits without setting a time. To be fair everyone was complaining about the soft tyres being a bit Mickey Mouse here. But Redbull have been complaining since the start of the season that they’re being specifically penalised because they’re too fast. Which is complete rot and they know it.

Pole was left for Ferrari and Mercedes to fight over with most experienced hacks calling it an easy 1-2 for the Italian squad. But as the flagged drop to end qualifying it was Hamilton sitting on the top of the heap with his first pole for his new pay masters as more and more the switch from McLaren looks like the right thing. But Kimi had popped into second and pushed Alonso back to confirm that Malaysia was probably just a blip in the Lotus push for championship glory.

Sunday, then was going to be about the tyres. Button and Vettel were going to try and pull a 2 stopper and look after the tyres for as long as possible and drag themselves from the back of the top ten starting on the hard rubber. The rest were three stopping and starting on the very, very soft tyres. There were a few nervous looking pit walls as the cars waited for the lights to go out. The pundits said they’d all be back in within 5 laps.
Off the line, Hamilton kept it sensible whilst it was Kimi’s turn to have a starting system throw a wobbler and he was swallowed up by the fast starting Ferrari duo.  Lewis tried to build a lead but you don’t leave Alonso in the dust when he has a sniff of the top step. For a whole five laps we saw some racing for the lead, then those that had started on the soft stuff started to peel into the pits for more suitable rubber. As they fed back into the pack, Vettel and Hulkenburg of all people, were left at the front to scrap it out.
This time Vettel couldn’t just ask the pit wall to hobble the driver in front, so he complained that he could go half a second faster if the Sauber driver would just get out of his way. Horner told him to get on with it and no one was surprised when he didn’t. As they came in together for their first stop, Redbull did what it does best and turned their driver round ahead of the Sauber boys. And that was the end of Hulkenbergs challenge. Vettel once again, needed a pit stop to pass.
Button was also up the front with a slow but steady run looking after his tyres and trying not to get in the way too much. He knew the McLaren was no match for any front line machinery, so this was a damage limitation dash for point run only. No clever stuff required.

Hamilton had lost out to Alonso in the pit stops and tried hard to stay with the Ferrari as it carved its way through the back markers. But the Merc doesn’t quite have the legs of Alonso when he’s on fire and Lewis was soon joined by Kimi who was recovering from his poor start and early attempt to break his nose off on Perez’s gearbox. As the laps ticked over Alonso pulled out a 10 second lead and had plenty of time to make his third pit stop. Kimi sneaked past Lewis and they too stopped for their final set of tyres.  Vettel meanwhile was trying to get as far as possible on his second set of hard tyres before switching to the soft rubber for as few laps as possible.
Finally with five laps to go he peeled in from second for the soft stuff and pulled back out into fourth and just eleven seconds down the road from Hamilton and a podium finish. For those five laps he caught the Merc at almost three seconds a lap, nailing sector after sector so as the final lap started be was within touching distance of the plucky Brit. He had the car, the tyres and the chance to make it to the podium, but where he should have had the calm head to pick the spot to nick the points, he lost the plot and attempted to lunge it up the inside from a country mile back. Lewis is far smarter than that and was past the apex by the time Vettel came sliding into the corner, that was the last of last the soft tyres had to give and he tank slapped it onto the long back straight and his podium shot spluttered out.

So then Alonso didn’t really have too much work to do, a couple of passes when required to keep him on track and a cool head to look after the tyres was the order of the day. It’s the sort of drive that Alonso can do in his sleep and shows that Ferrari have a solid shot at the title this year. The car was dialled into the track whilst he Redbull rival struggled with a lack of rear grip. China isn’t like any other circuit in that it tends to require the teams to set the car up for the track they find on Friday. It’s not predictable with its grip and wear rates so a car that goes well here either lucks into a good setup (Nico last year) or is flexible enough to allow the engineers to dial it in quickly. The Ferrari just got better and better as the weekend went on and when the chequered flag dropped it was Alonso sitting on the top step. It means we might have the making of a classic championship race.

This is pretty much confirmed with Kimi in second. Even after he smacked the Perez who was weaving around getting in everyone’s way all race long, Kimi stuck at the job and drove around the problem to stay with the leaders. Last time in Malaysia Alonso breathed into the back of Vettels gearbox and lost his wing and a hatful of precious points. This time Kimi nailed the McLarens rear and just ripped a hole in the top surface of the nose. Obviously Lady Luck was drinking Vodka late last night. It’s that sort of thing that gives you championships and I think the only think that is going to make it difficult for the Lotus driver is Lotus. There is still a big question over who’s paying the bills at headquarters.

Another race and another podium for Lewis in third and this time he earned it all on his own. Rosberg continued his run of poor luck with a broken suspension component and his second DNF of the season. Whilst Lewis tried to stay with the Ferrari and Lotus, they had the speed over one lap but couldn’t quite stay with them as the tyres went off. Lewis has always been a driver to trash the car to line, which is fine if you’ve got the rubber under you, but these days he has to learn to stroke the car to the line. Its a good result and he wasn’t fazed by Vettel coming at him like a freight train. The talk at the start of the season was all about staying with the leaders and not looking too rubbish, after three races expectations have moved up to maybe a win or two and an outside shot at the title. It’s still early days, but this moves seems to have revitalized Hamilton’s desire to race.

Vettel rolled the dice on this one for perhaps the first time in his Redbull career. The car wasn’t dialled in and he had to work hard to get points today. Not setting a final qualifying time must have been hard for a driver that has made Banzi pole laps his own of late. It meant he had to actually drive the car for the points this time too, rather than steal them off his team mate. In the end he showed why so many people dismiss him as “an average driver in a top draw car”. He really should have nicked third off Hamilton, with a bit more calculation and less “Schnell Schnell !!!!!!!” he would have waited till the back straight and crused passed in the braking zone. But he lunged from a mile back and the tyres told him they’d had enough. It was a great drive back to Hamilton, but he really should have got the points there.

Button, fifth, did alright with a car that looks slow and unresponsive. There’s no poise there no, dancing on the edge of adhesion. No this is a car that needs that fables McLaren development crunch. So a fifth is about what is deserves right now. It’s behind the Redbull, Ferrari and Lotus, probably the Mercs too, they just don’t have the pace to chase the big boys and Perez is going to need to get his act together sooner rather than later. They need direction, no weaving around getting in the way.

Massa, sixth, sort of faded away and looked like the Massa of last season again. Alonso drove a controlled positive race and Massa should really have been tail gunner to the line.

Ricciardo was seventh and would have got sixth if he hadn’t had to change his nose. I’m not sure why he had to change it, but the team say it cost him a place. This is the sort of result the Torro Rosso drivers will need to deliver week in week out with the news that Webber is off at the ends of the year. A prime seat is going at the sister team and Ricciardo is the first to leave a marker on it.

Di Resta tried hard not to finish at all but eventually made it to eighth.

Grosjean had another unexciting drive to ninth and is looking more and more second rate as Kimi gets a head of steam up for the title. Well, I suppose he isn’t hitting anyone anymore, so that’s a good thing ... isn’t it?

 Hulkenberg was tenth, with a car that led the race at one stage. He had the grunt to keep Vettel behind him for eight laps of so, but then Sauber got all panicky and he was faded into the background. He did better than Gutierrez though, who made the rookie mistake of not listening to his race engineer when he told him the car was heavier and would therefore need “more room to SLOW DOWN” at the start of the race. He slammed into the back of Sutil’s Force India on lap two and the FIA threw the book at him. A five place grid penalty awaits the Mexican manic in Bahrain.

Finally Mr Van der Garde beat Max to the final spot this week. See, all you nay sayers, Max isn’t the worst driver out there! There is a long list to choose from, Gutierrez and Perez are my current favourite idiots at the moment. Van der Garde looks way out of his depth. So yeah leave of Max, he’s doing all right.

Williams watch...he look ..... Maldonado managed to make it to the finish whilst sat in the car for a change! Bottas beat him, but hey he finished, 5 seconds ahead of Bianchi in a Marussia hurrah!

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