Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hubris, it's not just a Greek salad!

Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις) means extreme pride or self-confidence. When it offends the gods of ancient Greece, it is usually punished

"Hello? Yes hello ... Is that the Ferrari contracts department ?"

All Mercedes had to do this weekend was turn up and push the cars out onto the track, right? This was a pre ordained win, nobody else was close to them and nobody had a better driver than Lewis in a competitive car. It just goes to show you how much I know about things!
Certainly no one told Ferrari the plan, after firing half the middle management over the winter, losing the CEO and their second team manager of the year. This was the Ferrari of old with infighting, back stabbing and no direction. Except at the very first test of the year, Ferrari had come out of the starting blocks guns blazing and an engine firing on all six cylinders. Ferrari has suddenly got itself a fast car.
The only question was Vettel and how well he would adapt to racing for the pride of Italy. Well the answer seems to be, pretty well. Third in Australia and now in Malaysia, slap bang on the top step with seconds to spare over a couple of ordinary looking Merc boys!

Make no mistake here; Ferrari won this on pure merit, they popped the Merc bubble, beat them for pace, strategy and simply reading the circuit in front of them.  Mercedes set their stall out on Saturday afternoon when they sent the boys straight out on the soft tyre choice. They were going to run the hard tyres in the race and wait for everyone to catch up with them somewhere at the end of the season.  
Now, to a point you can understand why they went with the same strategy they used last year to such good effect. Lewis had missed the first practice session with an electrical problem that cut the entire car to pit telemetry; he missed much of the second practice with the same problem. When he finally got out to record a time, it was fast, but he didn't have much long run data to analyse. So the third practice session on Saturday morning was about finding a solid qualifying setting for the afternoon and hoping the race pace would follow.
Q1 and Q2 confirmed the car was fast and Ferrari were pretty close. Then it rained and after a lengthy delay we saw Hamilton at his best, on his first lap out onto the wet track he nailed the pole whilst the others tiptoed around. No one else got close; Nico tried to be too clever and lost second to Vettel just to confirm the Ferrari was fast in the wet as well as the dry.
But everyone though the Ferrari was just punching above its weight in the wet and the dry race on Sunday would see the normal Merc battle up front.

Sunday dawned very hot and very, very dry.
When the lights went out Lewis shot off up the road, Vettel squeezed Nico towards the pit wall and just about held onto second place in front of the Merc. The rest of the 19 cars that made it to the grid this time followed into the turn one complex, Maldonardo picked up a rear puncture that dropped him to the back of the pack. He was joined by Kimi at the end of the first lap when Nasr tried to use him as an emergency stop into the last corner. Other than that, it looked like another dull race where the Merc drove off with Vettel for company.

There was some feisty racing in the midfield between the Torro Rosso’s, Williams and Redbull drivers.  But the front looked like being a boring tactical battle of “How long will Vettel stay ahead of a Merc one two”. Except Vettel didn’t look to be waiting for Nico to come and take the place back, he wasn’t exactly catching Lewis, but he wasn’t eating a cloud of dust either.

Then Ericsson spun into the gravel trap at turn one and beached the Sauber which meant a tractor to remove him, and because of Japan last year, out came the safety car and the race changed dramatically.
Having qualified on the soft tyres, the Mercs were desperate to come in and bolt on the hard options for a couple of long runs to an easy win. The Ferrari of Vettel was perfectly happy to stay on the soft option however, so as Lewis and Nico peeled into to pit under yellow we had a leader that wasn’t powered by a Mercedes for a change.
 All the pundits immediately threw their arms into the air and questioned what Ferrari thought it was doing !!!! How could Vettel stay ahead of the anointed championship winning Mercs with old soft tyres? But the thing was Vettel wasn’t the only one to stay out, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz and Perez also stayed out and they would prove crucial to the Vettel race.  And because Nico had been stacked in the pits whilst Lewis got new tyres, he came out a further 2 places back behind Ricciardo and Massa.
Oh we all thought, Mercedes will just turn the wick up and breeze past the slower boys and put Vettel back in his place. But when the safety car pulled in, suddenly the Mercs didn't look quite so racy. By the time Lewis cleared the Force India of Hulkenberg, Vettel was 20 seconds up the road and Hamilton had burn the life out of his tyres. The hard option was already a second slower than the soft sets and Vettel didn't look like he was struggling to keep his Ferrari on the grey stuff.

It rather appeared as if Ferrari had pulled a bit of a master stroke and read the track better than the Merc pit wall. The red car was looking after the tyres better on the hot track and had the pace to hold off the silver cars. When Vettel eventually pitted it didn’t take him long to reel both Mercs back in and retake the lead. Whilst Hamilton’s race engineer assured his driver than he would be able to take the win from Vettel at the end of the race, the reality was they were on their back foot and Vettel was clean away.
To underline how good the Ferrari strategy was and how well the car was handling, Kimi who had been plum last after his puncture made it all the way back to fourth. And we shall take a moment here to look back over our shoulders at the forlorn figure of Alonso. Standing on the pit wall, in his McLaren Honda overalls after just 21 laps, last year he hauled yet another prancing donkey around the world’s circuits for very little praise and no reward. He was pushed or flounced off at the end of last year and waved goodbye to yet another poor handling Ferrari with an underpowered engine and climbed into a poor handling and underpowered McLaren Honda. Now he stands in the pits, helmet in hand, as the fine champagne mist from the Ferrari garage celebrations dry in the hot air around him. He must be crying over that contract now, you have to feel sorry for the guy.

Anyway, it was a cracking race this one. There was plenty of feisty racing throughout the field, Ferrari came back to win after far too long cluttering up the midfield. We’ve got a championship fight after all between two teams rather than just two drivers. It’s been said before that F1 is at its healthiest when Ferrari are winning, everyone who drivers a car has heard of Ferrari after all and every grandstand around the world is full of punters sporting red t-shirts. It’s just a shame it’s got to be Vettel waving his finger around on that top step.

Vettel wins and not even I can take anything away from him here. He won that fair and square on pace and strategy. I know I keep banging on about strategy, but Ferrari had a plan and stuck to it, they knew what they wanted to do, saw an opportunity and went for it. Exactly like Williams didn't do all last year. Without the safety car I'm not sure the win was on, but it still would have been a close run thing. Mercedes didn't really fumble the ball either, they had set their stall out in qualifying and it was up to Ferrari to bury them. Yes .. I suppose it’s quite nice to have a Ferrari back on the top step and it does rather put to bed the idea that Vettel can only win in an Adrian Newey car, that he can’t over take and only gains places in the pit stops.  Two races, two podiums and its game on then for the finger waving German.

Hamilton second and it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if there had been no safety car. The Merc wasn’t as kind to its tyres as the Ferrari and they didn't have enough of the faster soft tyres to give Lewis a chance at the end of the race. Where Mercedes complacent? That’s the big question. Did they just roll up expecting to win easily and didn't think anyone would beat them on pace? With the problems Lewis had on Friday they were always playing catch up, but the accepted wisdom was they had a good second in hand over the rest of the field. Is this the end of Hamilton’s championship run? Let’s see what happens in China where it’s not so hot and better traction is the key.

Nico was third and still didn't look like he was going to beat Lewis at any point. But let’s not stick the knife in just yet, I believe his wife is at home expecting their first child and isn’t too very well at the moment, there was hospital visit recently. So he can be forgiven for having an off weekend this once. There’s still a long way to go in this championship. He got the fastest lap for his troubles.

Kimi was fourth and as I said, underlines just how much faster the Ferrari was today. I'm still not convinced Kimi is doing anything other than pick up the cheques, but it’s good to see him in a fast car again.

Bottas made it to fifth and I think we can tick off that “Williams have been jumped by Ferrari” box now.  Pretty much the only positive thing Williams can take away from this is that Bottas is faster than Massa, and the car the best of the customer Merc engines teams. Other than that well they were far too conservative in qualifying and the race yet again, didn't have any sort of answer to Ferrari. And Torro Rosso weren’t too far behind either, I foresee testing times ahead for the Didcot boys and girls.

Massa was sixth and got mugged by Bottas at the end. He didn't look happy all weekend.

Verstappen becomes the youngest ever points winner of an F1 Grand Prix in seventh. And seeing as from next year you have to be 18 and above to gain a super licence, Max could hold that record for a very, very long time.  Verstappen has not disgraced himself at all so far, he’s been feisty and shown some real race craft in the two races we’ve had. The boys got the chops to be here on the strength of what I’ve seen so far. Let’s see if he can keep it up for the whole year.

And let’s not forget Sainz who, in eighth place, has also done very well. As all the ho har about the engines driveability and whether Renault will buy the team or not, these boys have just got on with things.  

Not quite living up to the promotion is Kvyat. Okay the DNF in Australia wasn’t really his fault, but he looks like a gawky teenager at the moment, all elbows and arms flailing around trying to puff himself up and look impressive in front of the bigger boys. It’s not really flowing for him and he need a pit call to Ricciardo to let he through to reach ninth. Maybe the promotion to Redbull was a year early, time will tell.

And Ricciardo was tenth and a bit rubbish. The Honeymoon’s over now young man.

Okay, well let’s have a look at last place ... and it’s a Manor Marussia!! Just like last year. But now Max is gone and we have to cheer on Merhi. Who is some F3 kid with a bundle of used Spanish Euro’s I believe, he’s only got a contract for these two races as far as I know and given he was three laps down I don’t expect he’ll be there any longer than his Euros last.

Okay. That’s more than 2000 words. All stone cold sober as I ran out of wine last night. I'm going to see if I can rustle up a stiff G&T to celebrate. The next race is in China after Easter, but I won’t be watching as I'm planning to see some proper racing at the Silverstone for the start of the WEC series. Big grunty cars that sound like they mean business;  here have a video to get you all excited J

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