Sunday, 24 May 2015

Someone is in trouble tonight!

There wasn't a mugging, there was no day light robbery. That was a spectacular cock up, a dropping of the ball and a failure worthy of an English cricket team in full ashes collapse.
Hamilton had the race won! He'd done all the hard work on Saturday with a comfortable pole and a team mate floundering around the escape roads home. Ferrari had briefly threatened to upset the script with Vettel looking handy. But the cold track on Saturday had played into Mercedes hands and all Hamilton had to do was demonstrate just how fantastic he is. Sunday was just going to be a cruse in the sunshine, no chance of rain unfortunately, it was hot and clear blue skies as far as the eye could see. There was nothing, absolutely nothing there to stop Hamilton winning in Monaco and burying Nico's challenge stone cold dead.

I'd even drifted off it was so dull, the low drone of the engines, Martin Brundels soft voice like warm honey in the ear informing me just how easy this all was for Hamilton. The minor places being scrapped over by old boys and young bloods. McLaren having a good race for a change, Button into the top ten as Alonso has a Monaco to forget.
The Torro Rosso boys making a name for themselves; Sainz starting from the pit lane after the FIA threw the ban hammer at him for a minor misdemeanour in qualifying, was charging back through the field. Verstappen was harrying the lotus of Grosjean and my eyes were getting heavy, sleep was washing over me as the smell of freshly mown grass wafted through the open windows. A glass of chilled Soave glinting in the afternoon sun, Hamilton on the way to the chequered flag... sleep enveloping me like a warm comfortable blanket.

Then crash bang wallop, how's yer father, Grosjean has brake tested Verstappen into the first corner and sent the young scallywag barrowing into the Tecpro safer barrier; Sparks and wheels and bits of carbon spraying off in all directions! It's a big one, but the Dutch lad was able to walk away with only his pride injured.

Charlie up in race control threw a virtual safety car to begin with, where all the drivers have to stick to a set speed following each other, no overtaking, as the marshals clear the Torro Rosso away. But there were too many bits of old car on the racing line and they have to be removed by hand. So the safety car was sent out to pick up Hamilton and neutralise the race.
At this point, a soon to be ex employee of Mercedes racing gets it into his head that Hamilton has enough time to get back to the pits, change his tyres and get back out ahead of Rosberg, who has been quite unremarkable all afternoon, and Vettel who can't overtake because this is Monaco.
No he didn't. Ferrari weren't out in the pits about to change Vettels tyres, Mercedes knew Nico wasn't coming in. So why the Sam Hill bring Hamilton in? No one else pitted, no one else though "14 laps to go, we need nice new rubber for this".
Every single pit boss watched Mercedes stride out into the pit lane as Hamilton turned into the last corner and as one though "Why !?!?!?!?!. Every single person who had sat through 64 laps of tedium watched Hamilton drive down the pit lane on his own and though "Why !?!?!?!" Nico thought "Why?", Vettel thought "Why?" and then made sure he got to the pit lane exit line before Hamilton and thought "hahahahahaahahahahaahahahaha ...........mmmmmwwwhahahahahaahahahahaha"

The first rule of Monaco is  ... you can't pass at Monaco, unless the other guy screws up.

Vettel was never going to screw up with 10 laps of racing left. He's a four times world champion. He might not be brilliant, but he's not an idiot and he knows how to defend a position. What where Mercedes thinking? They knew Nico wasn't coming in and damn sure as mustard he wasn't going to hold back and let Hamilton cruse back into the lead.

So the safety car eventually goes back in and we get to watch Hamilton desperately try to overtake Vettel for a bit, the chilled Soave gets a bit too warm to be enjoyable anymore and Nico picks up what has to be the easiest victory of his entire career.
Nico didn't even have the good grace to look embarrassed about it all at the end. He was waving and jumping around like he's fought tooth and nail for every inch of that track. Instead of being blown away and generally tooling around until his team stunningly fumbled the ball handing him the win on a plate. He didn't even get the fastest lap! Ricciardo did that chasing Hamilton down at the end to make it even more uncomfortable with the unlucky Brit.

So Nico won, and he didn't really deserve it did he. He messed up qualifying, never looked like really being on terms with Hamilton on Saturday. Okay, I'm sure the team talk on Sunday morning was a straight, "Lewis got pole, don't do anything stupid lad, alright" chat. Nico wasn't going to jeopardise a Mercedes one-two at the most prestigious European race of the year after all, tail gunner duties set to Germany this weekend. Hamilton built up a nice lead and never looked like making any mistakes that Nico could capitalize on, he was well beaten this weekend and no amount of high fiving the team that handed him the win is going to change that.

Vettel didn't have the grunt to pass either Nico or Lewis and thusly was the only happy person on the podium with second place. He wasn't expecting that second and said as much in the post race interview. The Ferrari looked better than it did in Spain, but Monaco is a bit of a one off so you can't draw any conclusion about the car here. Vettel however is looking much happier with his switch to Italy and you can't really begrudge him the results so far.

Hamilton was shafted by the team and I have never seen a driver so gutted with third place at Monaco. He gets a lot of respect for saying well done Nico for the win, watching his team mate cavort around like it was the greatest victory of his life must have been galling. They'll be other races, but none as painful as this third place.

Kvyat was fourth despite Ricciardo taking the first to Hamilton at the end.  Apparently Riccy was given the chance to have a go for third only on the proviso that if he wasn't on the podium on the last lap, he had to give the place back to his team mate who had let him past after the safety car. Bizarre indeed, I doubt there are many drivers on the grid that would give the place back. But Redbull are fighting for pride alone now, Vettel has gone and it's a more harmonious garage these days. So Kvyat got his fourth back......

.... and Ricciardo was fifth.

Kimi was sixth and still needs to work on his qualifying.

Perez with a bucket of spares parts nailed together and powered by the sweat of desperate men, was seventh. Not a bad effort with a car that is in desperate need of some new bits. Monaco unique etc etc luck blah blah.

Button was eighth and the McLaren boys and girls deserved that. They've plugged away with a terrible engine and hybrid system, a chassis that twists and turns more than David Cameron at an EU summit.  Alonso had a Monaco to utterly forget with numerous engine failures and technical issues but Button almost made it into Q3 for the first time this year and was chipper and upbeat all weekend. They've not turned a corner of anything, but they've got some points now to cheers up the faithful.

Nasr was ninth, I think because Grosjean and Verstappen took each other out. It's a good result for Sauber who look like they're struggling again.

And finally Sainz was tenth with a feisty drive from the pits. Apparently he missed the random mandatory FIA car weight check during qualifying, so the stewards took away all his qualifying times and made him start from the pit lane. To get back to tenth at Monaco is no mean feat, the safety car was late in the race so didn't give him any help. That was a pretty good drive, and he didn't his anyone up the backside, like his more fancied team mate did you'll notice.

Okay Riccy fastest lap, and the last place driver was Will Stevens this week, in the Manor Marussia. Is it my imagination or does Stevens look like the delivery boy from the post room who got mistaken for a racing driver one day and no one has the heart to tell him the to go home? No, just me then.

Right, dull race then, the winner didn't deserve it and the best man was third. ho 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Monaco, its not just about the money.

Hello everyone. It's time to put on the best bib and tucker, dust of the loafers and hitch up that winning smile because we're all off the Monaco and the yearly European F1 trade show.

Don't worry about the racing, watch qualifying, that's your winner right there. No need for all that tedious round and round nonsense. Well there's the guessing at what point Maldonado inevitably smears it down the wall but other than that, qualifying will give you all you need.

No, Monaco I'm afraid is an anachronism these days; it's too narrow, has far too little run off to play with. The spectators don't really get to see much, other than who's there and who paid to be next to the Royal pavilion. Singapore meanwhile is fast turning into the city race course it's ok to like these days.

Monaco is little more than a trade show for the B list money men who can't afford to go to Singapore. What used to be the highlight of the social season has turned into an unseemly dash for a shrinking pool of money. The likes of Ferrari, Redbull and Mercedes will wing the super rich to the Raffles hotel for the best night race of the year. But the less financially stable will have reasonably priced boats moored in the Monaco harbour and pray the weather holds all weekend and doesn't upset the middle ranking CEOs and mildly VIP. Some of them might even watch the race, most will be there to be seen and wonder what time the taxi heads back to Nice.

Don't get me wrong here; there are real fans at Monaco. If you look really hard, as the cars turn into the pit entrance there is a slab sided hill off to the right as you look back out to sea. I'm told it's a sheer cliff face; you take your life in your hands getting down there. But it's free, and it affords one of the best views in Formula one.

From there you can practically taste the history of F1 racing. A view out over the harbour that has hardly changed from the days of Fangio and Moss, watch the daredevil drivers threading the eye of the needle through the Armco barriers.  Cars dancing out of Tabac, through the swimming pool complex into La Rascasse, Anthony Noghes and the long curving pit straight.  Those nitwit on the boats don't appreciate what's happening in front of them, the level of skill they could be witness too.
There might not be much overtaking and actual racing, but watch Alonso in a dog of a car, Kimi rekindling his love of racing and Hamilton at the top of his game and be damned impressed for they are gladiators, fighting for our entertainment.

It's looking like it'll be a wet weekend in the south of France, just to add spice to the event. Normally rain levels the playing field and the rubbish cars get a chance to shine. But at Monaco it just makes the whole thing a more of a lottery, skill will still will out and all so that a Merc or two at the front with a Ferrari or Williams shadow no doubt. The rest of the top ten is going to be far trickier to predict.

Force India has two excellent wet weather drivers.
Sauber has a fast car but two so so drivers.
Torro Rosso has thrusting young bucks and a handy little car.
Redbull will be able to turn the wick down and Danny has shone at wet races in the past.  

And what about McLaren ... if they're going to get anything this year, Monaco will be the place it happens. 

Please update your predictions before Wednesday midnight, due to Monaco starting the practice days on Thursday so they can have Friday off to get drunk I think.

Also this weekend in the Indy 500, four corners, speeds over 230 mph and a solid concrete wall if it all goes wrong. Hunt around for live feeds on the internet it might not have the global reach of F1, but those boys are racing at over 200mph 3 wide with no run off to save them. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Set aero to "unpassableness"

Well what do you think, is this the start of Rosbergs fight back? Or was that a prime example of where F1 has gone wrong?
Roll with me here, I thought this was supposed to be the age of the engine, energy recovery systems and cars actually racing for the win. But here we are four races into the season and we're back to four years ago and cars of similar speeds not being able to overtake each other. Because the moment a Merc gets up behind a Ferrari, on similar tyres, all the down force disappears from the front wing and the Merc can't follow the Ferrari through the long sweeping corners.

It's all about the aero again, sure the flappy rear wing thing will get the Merc past the likes of Torro Rosso and Lotus, but only if the Lotus has half its rear wing missing! And I don't think this is just this circuit, which the teams test on during the winter break and know like the back of their hand. This not being able to get close enough to overtake was evident in China, Malaysia and Bahrain. Those front wings are works of pure art, they are sculpted to within an inch of their lives. Multiple lines, element after element cascading in a spray of carbon fibre and Kevlar honeycomb, they are beautiful.  But they stop working the moment they get 20 foot from the car ahead.

I sometimes wonder if the aero designers, those oh so clever lads and lasses sitting in dark wind tunnel control rooms pouring over data screens looking for that millionth of a second difference. Do they ever stick another model in front of their new design and see what happens? Has no one explained to them that there are indeed other cars on track at the same time? And the chances are, their new front wing will have to negotiate Maldonado at some point.
I might only have a rudimentary grasp of aerodynamics from my HND at Farnborough tech back in 1989 but if I was the team boss of Sauber or Williams, I'd be telling the design office to make sure the front wing still worked six foot from the back of a Ferrari.

So anyway the race was less dull that I was expecting. Watching Hamilton is always exciting for me. His "rag it to the end" attitude encapsulated by the radio call at the end, wanting to know if it was just team orders to stop racing, or it actually was technically impossible catch Rosberg.  Sure there was plenty of whinging about not being able to catch and pass Vettel. And the usual old chestnut about not calling him when he's busy driving round corner and stuff. But all of that can be forgiven when the driver want the win not just the points.

And let's be fair to Nico here for a minute, he went out and got pole with a pretty special lap, that Hamilton couldn't get anywhere near. Off the line he didn't mess it up and then he just drove off. Ferrari's threw a shed load of upgrades at the car which didn't really make the car that much faster, certainly no faster than the Mercs anyway. So Nico did what Lewis did for the first four races, conserved his tyres, fuel and made it look easy, job done. Is the start of his fight back ... I don't know. If he can get his qualifying Mojo back then yeah sure, he'll keep Lewis honest. But realistically, I think this is Lewis's championship to lose still.  But we have Monaco next, and that has belonged to Nico these past few years.

Okay then, Rosberg won and made it look easy. Apparently he was less conservative in qualifying and just went for it like he did last year. So this time he hit the track running on Sunday, rather than worrying about how he was going to overtake Lewis.  

Lewis was second and had to break a sweat to do it. Too much wheel spin off the line and then a sticky wheel nut during the first pit stop and he was always going to be second. He complained all afternoon about not being able to pass Vettel and demonstrated when he had clear air that he had a smidge of a bit of a point. He got the fastest lap for his troubles, but on the same tyres as Vettels' Ferrari and four foot from the rear wing he was going nowhere.

Vettel was third and did the best he could. If debatable whether pitting early with Lewis would have helped, I think Vettel is still iffy in traffic and they knew they were comfortably ahead of the Williams.  Try the long middle stint and see what happens. Then Lewis started banging out fastest lap after fastest lap on the "slower" hard tyres and they knew the game was up. I think Ferrari is just happy they aren't fighting it out for tenth this year. To be just behind the Mercs is good enough right now.

Bottas was fourth and looking at the Williams social media stream you could be forgiven for thinking they'd won! Maybe they were just happy that their meagre upgrade kit had kept them in touch with Ferrari and Mercedes. They still don't have the cash to be building B spec cars, so to be there or there about is as good as a win for the plucky garagistas.

Kimi was fifth and I thought he was doing better than that, hmm. Anyway, the usual 1000 lines "I must do better in qualifying" on the headmasters desk Monday morning lad.

Massa, has some sort of issue in qualifying so only started from 9th, so something, something blah good show, instagram pictures of Massa Jr son all round, pick up the pay check. Goodnight.

Ricciardo didn't blow up for a change. Hurrah! and they managed to beat the junior team who had out qualified then by a country mile. People who know about these things said the pistons in the engine had been changed back to the old ones from the start of the year, rather than the supposedly better ones Renault took to Bahrain. Whatever the car ran faultlessly for a change and Danny gets himself some points,
Someone, I forget who, did mention that Redbull were basically running last year's car for the first four races and that was why they were so awful. It wasn't just the engine that was letting them down, this weekend they had a particularly fine new front wing and plenty of new aero pointy bits. I guess it worked for them.

Grosjean eighth and that lotus still looks a bit of a handful, especially in crazy Maldo's hands!

Sainz on home soil muscles his way past the team he hopes to drive for one day and lands ninth. Now the official FIA result I'm looking which was published at 18:45. Has Sainz ahead of Kvyat but these two were under investigation for being naughty at the end of the race ... hang on, I can check that ... wait there.......hmm I can't find anything to say Sainz was hit with the ban hammer. Oh well if the result changes later you can shake your fist at the FIA and curse their new Media chap who has screwed up the FIA web pages so now nothing is easy to find.

So Kvyat was tenth and fairly anonymous all race, until Sainz bashed into his and went past off the circuit. The young  Russian has had a bit of a tough time of it so far, the words "out of his depth" could be used by a less caring and more unfriendly commentator. But I just think it was a straight up choice between Putin's blood money and Vergne. Damned if they did and Vergne.

Right enough sarcasm. It's time to celebrate a new hero for this stupid game .. step forward Roberto Merhi who is a new Max "the Grin" Chilton. Roberto was four laps behind Rosberg this week. With a best time, that's the best time he could manage during 66 laps of the race, of 1:34:211 on lap 51. Hamilton's fastest lap by way of comparison was 1:28:270 on lap 54. Six seconds, I have no idea how far that actually equates to, but it may as well be the dark side of the moon for Merhi. Let's hope for our sake he gets to keep his seat a little longer. 

Roberto was bemused to learn he was racing now, and no longer testing

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Pastor is richer than you!

Hurrah it’s all back to sunny Europe and falling asleep in front of the TV on Sunday afternoon. No getting up at some ungodly hour to wonder why you bothered.
After four rounds bordering on the tedious we’re back to Barcelona and the hardly exciting dusty wasteland of the Spanish countryside. No, I’m being disingenuous, Barcelona throws up some interesting races from time to time and we’re due a good one this year.

So then, the most interesting news of the last few weeks as been the head of Ferrari’s renaissance Mr Arrivabene, telling the media that he doesn’t give two hoots about Hamilton ever driving a Ferrari! No, he thinks Bottas is the boy they want to take to the title next.  Which sort of confirms that they like Vettel and don’t want to rock the boat with two number ones and are quite happy to have a monosyllabic Fin driving the car as long as he is willing to do the whole “number two” thing.
I'm not sure that Lewis is all that fussed about driving for Ferrari right now though. He’s clearly got the measure of Nico at Mercedes and with Redbull hamstrung by a rubbish Renault there’s no reason to jump ship for the next few seasons. 
They all pay lip service to the “I want the best team mate there is so I can prove to myself that I’m the best” but in reality they’d all take Massa and his “Alonso is faster than you” attitude any day of the week. Coming second is fine, just as long as it’s no to the other guy in the post-race team debrief.  Vettel tried it last year and didn’t like it one bit, so he went to a team that has no qualms about telling the other boy to get out of the way for the highly paid emotionally fragile talent.
So Arrivabene is just letting Vettel know he’s safe in the seat as long as he’s delivering for the Tifosi, the other teams that Kimi will be up for the highest bidder in ice creams in a year or so and that Bottas is the sort of driver, but not quite number one driver, they’re willing to pay for.

New this weekend will be the McLaren livery. How much of the car under it will be new is anyone’s guess. If you’re a particular McLaren fan who remembers the glory days of red and white Marlboro colours, or the Classic days of Bruce McLaren racing in Orange cars. Prepared to be extremely disappointed as Big Ron, never the most expressive of team bosses, has opted for a sort of stealth look to confuse the watching public as the car slips past at the back of the pack unnoticed.

Can you spot the difference ?
Gone is the pointless chrome to be replaced with black and new red “McLaren“flash lines have been added to the side pods. As a re-branding exercise I'm not sure what they were trying to do. The car doesn’t hark back to any classic paint jobs; it doesn't look much different to the previous 2015 livery and is now even more like Force India. Maybe that it, Ron is trying to fool his investors into thinking his cars are further up the field!

Amusing story of the week...
Maldonado has been reminded that no driver is guaranteed a seat week after week that he has paid for with a whole shed load of Venezuela's finest oil money. No, it turns out smearing the car down various concrete walls around the world is a bad thing. Also scoring a mere 2 points from 23 races is considered a bit below par. So despite bringing an estimated $27millions of PDVSA oil money, far and away the biggest single sponsor in F1 today, and pretty much clearing the debt Lotus had... it might not be quite enough for Pastor to keep his seat!

No, I don't think he has much to worry about either.  All the other drivers do but not Paster, he has 27million reasons to feel pretty safe.

Anyway, to the race.

Well the return to Europe usually heralds a raft of aero and mechanical updates for all the cars. Except for Force India who is still hunting for spare change to pay their suppliers, so they're getting nothing new this weekend. But everyone else will be bringing some sort for "B spec" car.
Now whilst the media would have you believe that the new engine in the Ferrari will catapult them past the Merc and Lauda telling the media how Ferrari are right up their chuff. The reality is everyone moves forward. Unless they suddenly realise they plugged the engine in the wrong way round (and Renault might just be checking their build plans) everyone will find a tenth or two and the status quo will almost certainly be maintained.
Other than of course the rich teams moving ahead of the not so rich teams and Manor, so Merc and Ferrari ahead of Williams with Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Verstappen knocking around the back of the top ten.
I can't see much past Lewis on pole and maybe a Ferrari for fastest lap.  Last will be one of the Manors, probably Merhi if he continues to "race"