Archive | October 2013

Vettel Win makes it 4 Consecutive F1 Championships

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Forget 2012’s championship three-peat, on Sunday at the Buddh International Circuit, Sebastian Vettel won six races in a row to claims his fourth Championship title for Red Bull. His win also cements another consecutive constructors championship for the Milton Keynes team. The enormity of this win is unbelievable. Vettel sits fourth in number of total race wins behind absolute legends of the sport, Ayrton Senna with 41, Alain Prost with 51, and Michael Schumacher with 91. With three races left in the season, hats off to Vettel and Red Bull for performing absolute dominance.

It was good racing all around especially with the guys rounding off the podium. Nico Rosberg finished second to add to the Mercedes points haul in the constructors championship (now leading Ferrari by 4) and a surprising third place finish, Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman fought his way up from P17 at the start to land his Lotus on the podium, and near the end engaged teammate Kimi Raikkonen in a wheel-to-wheel fight which saw Grosjean leave the track altogether. Back to Mercedes, Rosberg continues to be better on his tires than teammate Lewis Hamilton… more on him later.

The man expected to finish on podium, Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber, had yet another heartbreaking incident which ended his race prematurely. On Lap 20, Webber was ordered to pull off track and stop due to an alternator failure. The dismay in his voice was evident as he pulled into the runoff area, a sight so frequent in the last few races of the year. Aside from a rocky start, Webber was on track to take the fight to Vettel due to a different tire strategy. Webber, slow off the line, made contact with the cascade elements on the front of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and jostled into Raikkonen before Turn 2. This caused Alonso to pit prematurely for new tires and front wing damage; he never recovered and finished just out of the points in 11th.

Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa finally converted his good P5 starting position into a positive fourth place finish. Massa monopolized after the start to claim second position behind Vettel, and then fought his way back up against the pair of Lotuses on lap 58, excecuting a thrilling three-abreast pass with Grosjean over Raikkonen. Following right behind was a knife’s-edge drive by McLaren youngster, Sergio Perez in fifth position, for his best finish of the year thus far. Perez wrung out every last ounce of performance from his car, and made some spectacular moves late in the race over Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. On clapped-out tires, both Raikkonen and Hamilton were sitting ducks as they were passed easily in the closing laps.

Closing out the top 10 were Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil for Force India, followed by Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. Sutil had been holding 4th position for most of the race after going a tremendous 41 laps without stopping. Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg retired in the closing laps, resulting in his startling absence from the points this weekend. Hulkenberg has amassed four top 10 finishes since Italy.

We have but one week ’til the next race in Abu Dhabi. How will things shape up now that Vettel has secured his 4th World Title? He has the opportunity to make his current 6-win streak into a 9-win obliteration of the 2013 season. Does Red Bull have what it takes to get him there? Obviously not if you’re Mark Webber… Stay tuned, I’m sure we’ll hear some more evolution in that story in the days to come.

Vettel on pole at Indian Grand Prix

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But tire strategy could put Webber ahead.

It should come as no surprise that for the 2013 Indian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has once again put himself on pole position. From its first iteration in 2011, Vettel has been on pole each time, set the fastest lap each year,  and has lead every single lap to date. History suggests that tomorrow we are unlikely to see anything different than the overwhelming Red Bull and Vettel dominance at the Buddh International Circuit, but there are a few details that might make this year’s race a little different.

Before we get to qualifying positions and all that good stuff, news flashes regarding Pirelli. Already under fire for bringing their two softest compounds this weekend, Pirelli made a statement Saturday vowing to leave Formula 1 unless the FIA allows preseason testing. This is bound to create quite a stir in the paddock, but Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery backs the decision. “We have to do some testing. If we can’t, we won’t be able to provide the tires.” Hembery explained that for the tires to be optimal for the 2014 season changes, Pirelli must test over the winter on current cars. However, with the season still underway and early season testing at Jerez in February, the timeline looks doubtful.

Saturday’s qualifying was thankfully incident free, and Saturday’s Free Practice 2 was nearly the same. WilliamsPastor Maldonado was fined 60,000 euro over a lose wheel nut which flew off during FP2 on Friday. This incident is the second in two weeks for Maldonado, as he lost a wheel nut in Japan in an identical scenario. Otherwise, there were no retirements or accidents, but many drivers seem to be pushing the limit and sliding around on all the curbs in Sector 2.

The Mercedes‘ of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will follow Vettel’s pole position. Both cars seemed to be on pace, ironing out a few balance issues in preparation for Sunday, but Hamilton seemed expectedly nervous and displeased with his car. Vettel, Rosberg, and Hamilton all qualified on the supersoft compound, while Red Bull #2 Mark Webber utilized a different tire strategy and qualified on the prime tire. This decision may put Webber on top of the podium Sunday afternoon. Although his starting laps may be slower, as long as he maintains position he will be able to run his harder compound further into the race while the frontrunners dive into the pits.

Behind Webber on row 3 is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and LotusKimi Raikkonen. Massa, arguably driving for his chance to stay in Formula 1, has out-qualified his world champion teammate in 4 of the last 5 grand prix, however Fernando Alonso has finished ahead of Massa in all of those races, most of the time on the podium.

Speaking of Alonso, he’ll be starting behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who has come alive in the past few races. Due to a new aero setup on the Sauber, Hulkenberg has become a Q3 staple as of late, and a tough competitor well into the grand prix. In Korea, Hulkenberg fought valiantly and finished just off the podium, having held off Alonso, Hamilton, Rosberg, and the McLaren of Jenson Button.

Button will start behind fellow McLaren teammate Sergio Perez on row 5, wrapping up the Q3 starters. Saturday marked the first time all year that a McLaren managed to get to the top of the Qualifying board, a dreadful reminder of poor performance this year, but perhaps a sign of good race pace going into Sunday.

Towards the middle, Sahara Force India was relegated once again to Q2, with Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil starting in 12th and 13th spots, respectively. The team will be hoping to make a strong showing at their home grand prix. And at the very back of the pack, a usual frontrunner of late, Romain Grosjean will be starting from a dreadful P17. Lotus ended their run in Q1, expecting Grosjean’s time to stand up against the field, however at the very last moment he was bumped out by the second Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.

This has been a largely uninteresting and technical synopsis, hopefully the race will be a little more eventful, but before tomorrow… a few words on our Champion-to-be, Sebastian Vettel. Watching everyone moving around the track, fighting for grip, and generally slipping all four wheels occasionally off the track made me realize how good of a driver and car combination Vettel possesses. For those that insist Vettel is only as good as his car – your wrong. The Red Bull chassis has proven to be the best around, but just watching Vettel put in fast lap after fast lap is truly tremendous. On Saturday, every single driver on the field looked twitchy, looked strained, and some, like Kimi Raikkonen, looked absolutely on the limit to get their qualifying time in. Vettel is different. Vettel always looks calm and never hints that he is out of control. Watching back to back laps of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel defined that point for me. Although a fantastic driver, Webber looked a little shaky at points, sometimes even putting three or four wheels off the track. Vettel looked shaky once, on his last lap, already having topped the charts, and then quickly into the pits.

The hype is real. Like him or not, Sebastian Vettel has the talent and will win this championship. Having the best car isn’t everything, and you certainly don’t win three championships in a row without having a special talent.

What should we expect for tomorrow? Will Webber shake things up with his tire strategy? Will Grosjean fight his way up from 17th to make a podium finish? Hopefully it’ll be a nail biter.

A Very Lotus Korean Grand Prix

Rise of “The Hulk”

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Sebastian Vettel once again stormed to victory in his RB9 on Sunday in Korea, however his pace and distance between the rest of the back did seem less dominant than in his previous victories (won 5 in the last 6 races). That being said, he did lead every lap of the race, start from pole position, and record the fastest lap – so who’s to say that isn’t dominant.

Teammate Mark Webber wasn’t so lucky. Webber qualified P3, but due to his reprimand in Singapore, would start 13th on the grid. He systematically hacked away at the field up to second place before pitting. Immediately after the pit, Webber suffered a puncture following a massive blowout from Sergio Perez’s right front tire. He pitted onto his remaining set of tires, the undesirable super soft compound, but a few laps later was punched off the track by Adrian Sutil, and the RB9 subsequently burst into flames. All hell ensued as the track officials released the safety car behind the pack, and a “fire” Jeep in front. I doubt the FIA is going to let that one slide.

Unexpectedly, Lotus filled out the podium with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Lotus’ pace in practice and qualifying was good, but not consistent. Grosjean would start from P4, with Raikkonen all the way back at P9. Perhaps the long-run speed of the team was due to the use of the longer wheelbase chassis that saw its introduction in Raikkonen’s car in Italy. If that’s true than it’s quite a development, because Raikkonen’s performance with that chassis a month ago was ruddy awful (finished 11th).

Both Ferrari and Mercedes looked to be outpaced by an unlikely young driver. Nico Hulkenberg in the Sauber tied his best ever result (Belgium 2012) to finish 4th infront of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Nico Rosberg. This race result combined with the few weeks left in the season should at least give “the Hulk” a chance for a better ride in 2014. Rumors recently surfaced that Ferrari had been seriously considering Hulkenberg for 2014 before deciding on Raikkonen. Shame, they would be saving quite a lot of Maranello’s money.

At Mercedes all is certainly not well. Hamilton complained of poor tire performance beginning around lap 10, and could do nothing but wallow in the Sauber’s wake as the laps ticked away. Rosberg, who at one point was lapping 2.5 seconds faster than Hamilton, encountered a fantastic front wing failure in the midst of overtaking his teammate. Sparks flew everywhere as the diffuser scraped the ground; if you missed it check out this bizarre malfunction.

Fernando Alonso seemed to have great trouble with his F138 on Sunday. Instead of bouncing up to the front, Alonso’s start pushed him back behind Hulkenberg, where he would remain for the duration of the race. Felipe Massa struggled once again this weekend, displaying this at Turn 2, opening lap. Massa spun his car, taking cascade elements off of Adrian Sutil and Jenson Button. With this type of performance it will be quite hard for Massa to prove to Lotus or Sauber that he is the right fit for one of their 2014 seats.

Further down the grid the action stayed lively up to the final few laps. The pack of Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, Valteri Bottas, and Pastor Maldonado committed some extraordinary passes between safety car stints. Both Toro Rosso‘s and Force India‘s retired in the last third of the grand prix. It’s been disappointing to see how far these two smaller constructors have fallen since the Pirelli tire switch following the British Grand Prix.  The effect of the change is evident. Paul di Resta had finished top 10 in all but one of the first eight races. Since the change, di Resta has finished out of the points or retired. The jury is still out on that ruling.

The action resumes once again in five days as the teams head to Japan, where the reigning world champion could clinch the title if Fernando Alonso finishes no higher than 9th. What a season, hopefully Ferrari keeps it interesting for us as we delve into the last five grand prix.