Archive | June 2013

Big Blowout! British GP Down to the Tires

2012_f1_tyres_pirelli2I have mixed feelings watching a race like today’s British Grand Prix. Yes, it turned into a last-few-laps nailbiter. Yes, we saw some great overtaking and wheel to wheel racing. But the tires were exploding. Big congratulations in order for Nico Rosberg. The man fastest in FP3 returns to win this years British Grand Prix from the second spot on the grid, amidst debris flying from all angles.

The biggest news being the the curse of the race leaders and tire delamination that plagued today’s racing. The front-running Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton (hadn’t looked this cheery in months by the way), was cut down early by a blowout on his left rear tire as he lead the pack on lap 8. The silence of the British faithful was eerie to say the least. Hamilton regained footing to finish just off the podium in 4th place. You can bet there’s no cheering in the Vettel camp today. The Red Bull ace lead the pack by a substantial margin today until gearbox failure forced him to retire at with 12 laps to go. A blitzing Felipe Massa seemed to get his pace back, until he suffered the same delamination blowout of his left rear tire, and went straight into the gravel pits. STR’s Jean-Eric Vergne and McLaren’s Sergio Perez both retired later in the race due to severe delamination and subsequent body damage, Perez blew out two tires.

Although circumstances were dire, what an amazing show of racing we saw following Vettel’s retirement. Aussie Brit Mark Webber, claimed 2nd spot on the podium with a massive drive today after a truly terrible start (4th to 15th). In the last few laps, Webber was catching Nico Rosberg at a rate of 0.2 seconds per lap, but not enough to overtake the German on the final straight. Webber adds another fastest lap to his tally (1:33.401). Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa contributed much needed speed today to a stale-performing Ferrari. Massa overcame his blowout to finish 6th, Alonso finished 3rd on the podium (9th in qualifying).

The young guys fought hard today, putting themselves just in the points. Force India continues to impress, as Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta take 7th and 9th places. Sutil had climbed as high as third after Vettel’s incident. di Resta pulled off another remarkable drive, working his way from last place on the grid all the way up to 9th – engaging in stellar battles with Lewis Hamilton. Daniel Ricciardo had a similarly close battle with Fernando Alonso, finishing in 8th.

Lotus will be pleased to get Kimi Raikkonen back into the points this weekend. Raikkonen started 8th behind teammate Romain Grosjean, and finished 5th. Grosjean still looked too dangerous for a Formula 1 car, coming in contact with Webber at the start and nearly hitting Alonso in the pits. Is this the last year for Kimi at Lotus? I’d put money on it.

Stay tuned for Pirelli tire backlash. Exactly one week to go until the cars fire back up on the grid in Germany.

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Hamilton, Heartbreak, Hangar Straight – British GP Qualifying

450893-lewis-hamiltonThe rain of FP1 is gone, and it looked to be a beautiful day at Silverstone for the qualifying sessions of tomorrows British Grand Prix. The saying goes “F1 comes home to Monaco”, but in reality they should substitute “Silverstone”. Nearly all of the current Formula 1 teams base their efforts in the surrounding countryside of the British midlands. Whether its Red Bull of Milton Keynes, Lotus in Enstone, or McLaren in Woking. Needless to say, spare parts aren’t far for most, especially if you’re Force India – they’re right across the street.

Thankfully it was an incident free day of qualifying, other than a severe tire blowout from Sergio Perez’ McLaren. Felipe Massa’s Ferrari was back on the track following his nosedive into a barrier during FP2, however the Brazilian made very little impact upon elimination in Q2 at the 12th spot. Massa’s teammate Fernando Alonso did only slightly better, edging out elimination and finishing 10th in Q3. Alonso was displeased with the Ferrari performance on Saturday, “10th and 12th are not the results we want. Obviously we can only improve tomorrow, we must do it.” Ferrari however were using the hard compound on Alonso’s car, perhaps showing their hand at a tire strategy for tomorrow.

—News is currently breaking regarding a post-qualifying penalty. Force India’s Paul di Resta will be awarded a grid penalty due to his car failing the current minimum weight requirement. The VJM06 weighed 1.5kg under the minimum weight of  642kg. This is a huge blow to the young Scottish driver who pulled off an astonishing 5th spot during Q3 today. This turn of fate is not so surprising when you look at di Resta’s past few races in which team action hasn’t been nearly quick enough. In Canada, di Resta  was one of the fastest in practice, but negligence in the pits meant he was released into qualifying too late, and subsequently eliminated in Q1. He worked wonders, making his way from 17th all the way to 7th, but obviously not an ideal scenario. Force India is given two options: either start at the back of the grid, or adapt the car and start from the pit lane.—

Lewis Hamilton takes pole position, and Mercedes once again dominated their 5th qualifying session of the year (a first of the season for Hamilton). The fans came out in droves to support the homegrown hero in his first year at Mercedes. This year’s atypical pole sitter, Nico Rosberg, settles for 2nd on the grid, locking out the front row for Ross Brawn and his Mercedes crew. Both Red Bull’s were pushed back to Row 2: Sebastian Vettel a staggering 0.6 seconds off of pole, Mark Webber right behind him. Webber has won this race twice (2010 and 2012), neither of those times from pole position. Wishful thinking? You bet.

Rows 3 and 4 get real interesting. Paul di Resta would have filled out the 5th spot behind Webber, but instead all the following drivers now move up one slot. Australian Daniel Ricciardo will follow his compatriot in 5th, with Force India’s Adrian Sutil behind him. Ricciardo is now competing for the coveted #2 spot to be vacated by Webber at the end of the season, so this show of speed will definitely help his chances (if Kimi Raikkonen isn’t already signed…). Speaking of Kimi, he and fellow teammate Romain Grosjean fill out the 4th row for Lotus. Grosjean out-qualified Raikkonen for the 7th spot. Jenson Button, who narrowly missed Q3, will move up one spot in his McLaren to the 10th spot behind Alonso.

Tire strategy will be very crucial tomorrow due to fast corners like Maggotts and Becketts, as well as the outright speed on the Hangar Straight. Ferrari looks to maximize the harder compounds for longer, while presumably frontrunners Mercedes and Red Bull will make a two stop (soft, hard, hard).

Many questions surround Sunday’s race. Have Mercedes mastered their tire wear? Will McLaren finally make a change to this nightmarish season? Is the Ferrari that far off the pace? Why are Will Buxton’s (of NBC Sports) pants so colorful?

Race starts at 7:30am EST on CNBC. See you there.

9 Wins, 36 Podiums, and 11 Poles for Mark Webber

mark_webber_5Mark Webber’s days in F1 are slowly counting down, following an announcement from the F1 veteran this morning. Webber has signed with Porsche’s new LMP1 program for 2014, a team with 16 wins at Le Mans. This marks the end of a fruitful career for Webber, but more importantly the end of a strained team dynamic with Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Webber began his Formula 1 career in 2002 for Minardi, followed by stints at Jaguar and Williams, before settling in at Red Bull for the 2007 season. This marriage brought Webber his first Grand Prix win at 2009’s German Grand Prix. Webber has been revered by insiders and drivers alike, as fiercely competitive but  remarkably fair during his career in F1. This honest approach to competition was strained most recently during the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, when teammate Vettel disobeyed team orders to overtake Webber and win. This just the latest in a long history between the two drivers.

The move to Porsche couldn’t have been an easy one. At 36 years old, Webber has previously alluded to the fact that he is growing too old for F1 and no longer satisfied with team dynamics at Red Bull. “I’m very much looking forward to this new challenge after my time in Formula 1. I can hardly wait to pilot one of the fastest sports cars in the world.” Webber has raced twice at Le Mans for Mercedes in 1998 and ’99, vowing to never return after two nearly fatal accidents.

What a fitting time for Mark to announce his F1 retirement… just days before the British Grand Prix, which coincidentally was his last grand prix win (2012). Can Mark make it a repeat? I sure hope so, the intrepid Aussie may be heading towards the door, but I’d put money on the fact that he won’t be slowing down any time soon (currently 5th in the points).

For me, it’s a sad day. I respect Mark’s sporting persistence and down-to-earth simplicity. There is not one other driver on the paddock who represents themselves quite the way that Mark does. He’ll be missed on Sunday, but next year we’ll watch him slug it out for 24 hours. Now who will replace him at Red Bull?…

Best of luck Mark, let’s see a win this weekend!!!

 

Tragedy at la Sarthe

Simonsen1Only 4 hours into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, #95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE driver Allan Simonsen succumbed to injuries sustained in an early morning crash. Simonsen, the 34 year old Danish racing driver lead the GTE Pro Category from pole position on Saturday, until his impact at Tertre Rouge, which brought out the safety car. Simonsen was rushed to the medical center in serious condition, but injuries proved fatal.

This marks the first death in recent Le Mans history since the deaths of Sebastien Enjolras in 1997 and Jo Gartner in 1986.  Simonsen was truly a racer, with wins in the Formula Ford, Australian GT, and Asian Le Mans Series. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Simonsen family and Aston Martin Racing – his 35th birthday only two weeks away.

We so often lose touch with the extreme athleticism and risk taking that drivers must commit to when competing at this level. Drivers like  Ronnie Peterson, Jochen Rindt, Gilles Villeneuve, and the absolute best – Ayrton Senna – have made the ultimate sacrifice in search of ultimate speed, which grounds us in reality. Not anyone can go out there, put their foot to the floor, and make their cars dance across the tarmac. It takes an unbelievably skilled and talented individual to drive at the limit, over and over again. Today we mourn a man who could do just that, but we celebrate his life and commitment to the fraternity of the racing drivers.

 

Allan Simonsen

July 5th, 1978 – June 22nd, 2013

FIA Tribunal Slap on the wrist

The results are in on the FIA International Tribunal, regarding the controversial tire test between Mercedes and Pirelli following the Spanish Grand Prix. The full 20 page transcript can be found here.

Officially, Pirelli and Mercedes have received “reprimands” for their involvement in the test which featured the current 2013 Mercedes car. The tribunal will further exclude Mercedes from participating in the “young drivers test” – which seems like an awfully soft blow – granted that both Mercedes’ drivers are already 1000km ahead of every other constructor in terms of in-season track time. Regardless, the FIA found that “The track testing, which is the subject of these proceedings, was not carried out by Pirelli and/or Mercedes with the intention that Mercedes should obtain any unfair sporting advantage.”

Either way, Mercedes now has three days of data on next years tires. Pirelli and Mercedes must split their legal costs in addition to the costs of operation for the tribunal – which is likely a lot of cheese and croissants. 

Vettel wins – “Car was fantastic”

We were blessed with another great race day, this time in Montreal. Rainy conditions made practice and qualifying tricky, but sun sun and more sun made the race day one to remember. Sebastian Vettel finally takes a win in Canada with a truly unopposed race. He lead from start to finish and quickly lapped most of the field, proving the Red Bull has tire management in the bag. He gave us all a scare on an early lap where he clipped the wall of champions. Red Bull #2 man, Mark Webber, settles once again for a spot off the podium with a 4th place finish. Webber had a great start, but fumbled midway after an unaware Giedo van der Garde turned into his wing, clipping a chunk off.

In expected fashion, Valtteri Bottas drops place after place following the start. The Williams car looked great in the rain yesterday, but it was immediately obvious his skill as a driver paved the way for qualifying. Ferrari fan’s rejoiced in Montreal as Fernando Alonso took the 2nd place spot on the podium. Alonso battled his way from sixth through both Mercedes‘, Bottas, and Webber to finish just behind Seb. During his last few laps Alonso passed the 3rd place finisher, Lewis Hamilton, and made slight contact with his front wing. Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg (finished 5th) both encountered more tire wear and chassis, but had great races against Webber and Alonso.

Almost more impressive than Vettel’s pace was the job done by the next few drivers. Out of nowhere, Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric-Vergne finished 6th with relatively low-key, uncompromising race. That’s a major showing from STR, but let’s not count out an amazing drive from Paul di Resta for Force India. di Resta made his way from 17th to 7th on a two stop strategy which highlighted his and the car’s great pace. Finally, Felipe Massa “stayed cool” and raced well from last in Q2 to the 8th spot. Force India teammate Adrian Sutil was not as lucky – he did a 360 spin soon after starting and was bumped hard by Pastor Maldonado early on.

We take a three week break and then meet up at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. Will Kimi get it together? Is McLaren doing anything in Woking? We’ll see come June 30th. Stay tuned!

The Car You Want…for less?

Buying a car is not usually a thrilling experience, in fact it can be pretty painful and agonizing if your budget is tight! However, today we’ll talk about a nuance of the car industry which may make getting what you want… a little bit easier.

Badge engineering is a term which describes the production of one car to be marketed and sold as a number of different cars, under different marquees. This method of rebadging cars isn’t new or revolutionary at all, it’s actually been done for years, such as the 1958 Studebaker/Packard Hawk. But it does offer up one great big benefit – resale value. If a car is manufactured for two different companies, chances are that one has more prestige or quality associated with it – if this is the case, you should be able to get the mechanically identical counterpart for less… much, much less. Let’s take a look at a few late model and older examples.

vibematrixPontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix

The Matrix and Vibe hatchback wagons were developed at the NUMMI production plant in Fremont, California. The NUMMI plant is a joint venture between Toyota and GM to cut costs in vehicle production but jointly engineering vehicles. Both cars are mechanically identical, differing only in front fascia and other body panel designs. The Vibe and Matrix have received rave reviews by owners and still command a premium on the used car market due to reliability, fuel economy, and versatility. Both versions are available with plenty of options, including all-wheel-drive and a sporty six-speed transmission. If you’re looking to pick one up, go for the Pontiac. Although Pontiac is now a defunct marquee, any Toyota Service department will be able to service the vehicle and supply parts. Expect to see prices of used Vibes much lower than comparable Matrix’s. Why pay a premium for Toyota reliability?

saabaruSaab 9-2x/Subaru Imprezza

This one is slightly stranger than the Matrix/Vibe from above. Saab began struggling in the later part of the 20th century and was subsequently bought out by General Motors as a subsidiary franchise. In order to keep production costs down (GM already sank $125 million in the company) the Saab engineers were given a vehicle from another GM relative, Fuji Industries, the parent company of Subaru. Thus the Saab 9-2x was born, and aptly named the Saabaru by fans. Mechanically the Saabaru…erhm… the 9-2x shared it’s platform, engines, and drivetrain with the Imprezza WRX and STI. So if you’ve ever wanted a WRX but cant cough up the money for one, check out this rally-grade Saab 9-2x Aero. Like Pontiac, Saab is no longer with us, however Subaru Service departments will be able to take care of any 9-2x.

trollblazerSaab 9-7x/Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy

Yet again, GM gave Saab another badge engineered “bil” (Swedish for “car”). The 9-7x SUV was built in conjunction with the TrailBlazer and Envoy at GM’s Moraine Ohio plant. Like the other cars on this list, it is mechanically identical to its Chevy and GMC counterparts, aside from it’s distinctive front and rear fascia, lights, and interior. It comes with a straight-6, and two V-8 options (one being the Corvette’s 6.0 liter LS2). TrailBlazer’s and 9-7x’s of the same year differ about $1000 in price with similar mileage, but for an SUV that has the luxury look with the bargain maintenance – search no further than the 9-7x. All Chevy service department’s will know their way around this Swedish sport ute.

A few more…

Mazda Tribute/Ford Escape: The CUVs

Tribute holds a better resale value, has more options and trim levels. Buy the Ford, it’s significantly cheaper with less option frippery.

Eagle Talon TSi/Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX: The Small Sport Coupes

Mitsubishi badge holds a premium with prices much higher for the same car. Buy the Eagle, it’s slightly rarer than the Mitsubishi and who doesn’t want to own a car called…THE TALON.

Toyota Corolla/Chevy-Geo Prizm: The Small Sedans

Toyota reliability is great… until it inflates resale prices sky high. Make the smart choice and buy the Prizm. Yes its not a desirable badge, but it’s a Corolla in a plain white T-shirt and blue jeans.