Archive | November 2013

US Grand Prix Weekend

article-2507997-196FA6EA00000578-590_634x421The weekend is here, and boy do we wish we were in Austin for the second running of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas. Qualifying is set to start in two hours but lets recap Friday’s practice and some of the events of this ever evolving silly season.

FP1 was delayed for thirty minutes due to fog (I know, weird – in Texas), and then subsequently red flagged due to the lack of a medical helicopter. Apparently circuit officials didn’t realize it had left, also odd. But that didn’t stop some promising rookies from taking to the track and hammering away for the remainder of the session. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat drove FP1 and was lapping just .2 seconds behind Daniel Ricciardo, the man he’ll be replacing. At Caterham, American Alexander Rossi performed well, outpacing Charles Pic by nearly a second per lap.

Earlier this week Kimi Raikkonen announced he would not return for the final two races in Texas and Brazil, so Lotus scrambled to find a substitute for the Finn. Davide Valsecchi, Lotus’ reserve driver, arguably should have received the drive (as it is literally in his job description), but was snubbed for Caterham reserve driver, Heikki Kovalainen. This incident has cast a pretty dark shadow over Lotus upper management, but you wouldn’t know it by the track performance on Friday. Kovalainen adjusted to the E21 chassis in FP1, but outpaced Romain Grosjean to a fifth fastest time in FP2. Wonder if this weekends performance could vault the Finn back into a permanent F1 seat?….

Felipe Massa knows something about that, as he’s been fighting for a seat in the sport for the past few weekends since Raikkonen was rehired by Ferrari for 2014. Williams announced they will take Massa and current driver Valterri Bottas for 2014, dropping Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. In another rather strange and unexpected move, McLaren has opted to drop Sergio Perez for 2014, and instead hire Kevin Magnussen. Wait you haven’t heard of Magnussen? You know, the winner of Formula Renault 3.5 this year. Yeah, we didn’t either. This controversial decision will leave Perez without a seat, unless he’s picked up by Lotus, or perhaps the duo of Caterham and Marussia. Either way, he’ll be fighting with Maldonado and anyone else who finds themselves sacked in the next two weeks.

Qualifying today should be interesting. The track seems to still be quite fresh in its only second year of running, so expect to see lots of cars running wide and locking up the fronts. If we go by FP2, the Red Bulls once again look unbeatable as they topped the charts. Mercedes has rebounded slightly. Nico Rosberg feels confident in his car’s balance, and Lewis Hamilton starts out with a brand new chassis for the last two races. His impressions are good; following a few miserable performances and having complained about terrible handling in his Merc, the mechanics tore it all down and discovered carbon cracks which compromised the chassis. Let’s see if King Lewis has what it takes to defend his run of two US GP titles…

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Abu Dhabi: Vettel’s 7-in-a-row

Vettel wins Abu Dhabi

Surprise! Sebastian Vettel has won again. Can you believe it?! Well, yes. Vettel ties Michael Schumacher with a record of 7 grand prix victories in a row, and if winning the championship a fourth straight time last week wasn’t enough, this feat should surely cement Vettel as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.

With Mark Webber on pole, things looked good for the Aussie to nab his 10th career win, but Vettel and Nico Rosberg quickly stymied that thought. Webber’s start was average, but Rosberg quickly shot up alongside Vettel and pushed the #2 Red Bull to third. Kimi Raikkonen had been DQ’ed from yesterday’s qualifying session due to a floppy floorboard (say that 10 times Kimi) and was forced to start behind Jules Bianchi at the end of the grid. By Turn 1 he had disposed of Max Chilton and Bianchi, but was properly offed when Charles Pic turned into him and broke the Lotus‘ steering. Webber finished second, with Rosberg third and making a case for himself as the superstar that Mercedes desire.

Typical Vettel clinic by the end of lap 1; he worked out his 2-second lead and would hold it for the remainder of the race. On lap 14 he dove into the pits in front of Felipe Massa by 26 seconds, then reemerged still infront of the Brazilian. Massa looked compelling at the halfway point as he lead Fernando Alonso, but a slow pit stop onto the wrong compound would push Massa down to 8th place. Alonso nearly batted off Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso at the pit outlet which caused some scrutiny by FIA officials. The frenchman pushed over on the racing line, leaving a faster (but not by much) Ferrari with no where to go but off the track. Alonso would finish fifth, behind a very impressive Romain Grosjean.

The rest of the top 10 featured a few unfamiliar faces. Force India made a big turnaround today after getting both drivers into the points. Paul di Resta drove confidently on a forgiving set of Pirelli’s to 6th position, Adrian Sutil on a similar run to 10th. Sergio Perez snuck his McLaren into 9th, but was nearly creamed into the pitlane wall by Sauber. The young ace Nico Hulkenberg was released right infront of Perez, but was later rewarded a drive through penalty for the incident. This marks the first unimpressive drive from Hulkenberg since Sauber reconfigured their wing setup.

Speaking of unimpressive drives, Lewis Hamilton pulled his Mercedes into 7th position, having floundered for much of the race. The car had seen quite a few repairs done since yesterday’s incident at the end of qualifying. Turns out the rear wishbone broke which lead to Mercedes replacing the entire rear suspension… and subsequently the brake discs, calipers and pads all around. Not enough to get HAM up to his teammate on the podium.

So in two weeks F1 comes State-side once again. Wish I could be there at the Circuit of the Americas to watch, but for once I’ll get to sleep in on a Sunday morning. Cheers.

Webber on Pole in Abu Dhabi

mark webber abu dhabiIt’s only fitting that upon the crowning of 4-peat World Champion Sebastian Vettel, the drivers race for “best of the rest” really kicks off, and today saw the fireworks fly late in the qualifying session as Mark Webber stormed to P1 with the only qualifying time in the 1:39’s. Webber makes this his second pole position of the year, a position that most of the F1 world hopes will elevate him to another win before his career ends in Brazil. Vettel was visibly disappointed following his final lap, and could be seen shaking his head immediately upon crossing the line. After congratulating Mark, Vettel spoke on his position behind his Red Bull teammate in the press conference, “I think I deserved to do a little bit better.”

So far, Abu Dhabi has excited. The practices on Friday saw many drivers, from Chilton all the way up to Raikkonen, spinning and running off track in an attempt to squeeze everything from their cars. Oddly, the tires have been working well compared to last weeks degredation pace in India. The soft compounds have proved to be more than durable enough for a good race stint, but hopefully won’t equate to a dreary one-stopper. If anything, this week the focus will be on the changing track temperatures due to the race starting at dusk and ending in the dark.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will lock out the second row for Mercedes, vying to be “best of the rest.” Rosberg once again looked relaxed and composed on his way to P3, while Hamilton spun on his final hot qualifying lap of Q3. His position was luckily unaffected, but he noted that “something went on the rear.” Both cars were closer to the Red Bulls than in the last few qualifying sessions. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see some close racing from the Silver Arrows.

Kimi Raikkonen will start on Row 3, followed by Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg. Raikkonen has been having a very public dispute with his Lotus team over payment – allegedly having not received a single cent the whole season. Raikkonen showed up last minute on Friday for the first practice session, and conceded that he was thinking of skipping the last three races of the season if an agreement hadn’t been met. Meanwhile, strong performer Hulkenberg still has not signed a contract for 2014. It is rumored that he and Pastor Maldonado are in contention for Raikkonen’s seat at Lotus for next year.

And now to the big headline. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso did not progress into Q3 for the first time since last year’s race in Valencia (a race in which he won). Alonso will be starting in 11th position with a seemingly uncompetitive F138. Felipe Massa once again out-qualified him, finishing in 8th position. Alonso was on track to have a good qualifying time when a mistake late in his run added crucial tenths to his time. He soldiered on for another hot lap but it wasn’t enough.

Other notable mentions. McLaren’s Sergio Perez bludgeoned Jenson Button’s qualifying speed, ending in 9th position and 13th position, respectively. That makes two world champions out of Q3. Ouch.

Let’s hope for a nail-biter tomorrow morning! Could this be win #10 for Webber? That’d be nice.