Monday, April 4, 2011

Reveiw of the Australian GP *SPOILER ALERT*

Well, it took long enough to get here but the first race of the 2011 season is here.  Perhaps it was just the fact that I was so eagerly looking forward to the season, but the off season seemed to last forever.  Of course having the Season's opening race canceled because the whole of the Arab world has decided they've had enough of their leaders, didn't help matters.

Tim's Take
So we have some exciting new stuff thrown into the mix this year.  There's a host of new faces in the cars, and from the looks of things, they show promise.  The gentleman's agreement to not use KERS has expired and most of the teams have it and are using it.  The movable rear wing known as DRS, or Drag Reduction System is on every car.  And of course, all of these are riding on brand new Pirelli tires.  For many the most notable thing was not what was there, but rather what wasn't; namely Robert Kubica wasn't behind the wheel of his Renault.

One more change is the return of the 107% rule.  As I watched qualifying I was struck by how much it looked like any given qualifying from last year.  The teams fell roughly where they had in any given qualifying from last year.  I admit that I was really pulling for HRT to get over that 107% line.  The team had managed to run a grand total of something like 7 complete laps between the two cars over the 3 practice sessions.  So qualifying was their first real shot at running the car.  I was hoping they'd make it, but not too surprised they couldn't get within 107% of the top time.

It was no surprise that HRT would appeal and ask for an exemption to the rule so they could race.  I kind of thought that if there was a race that they might get a pass on, it was this one.  After all, they made such a valiant effort to get things up and running and get the car on track.  But you could argue that they had had the entire off season to do that, so screw them.  Apparently the FIA took the second view.

By far the coolest thing about qualifying happened not on the track, but after it was all done when the top three were in the interview room.  The interviewer asked Vettel if he was surprised how much faster he was than the McLaren of Luis Hamilton, 8 tenths of a second, even when he had never used his KERS.  Hearing that Hamilton looked visibly stunned and just shook his head.  What I wouldn't have given to have heard what was running through his head at that moment!

Sunday night, there they were all lined up.  The lights went green and everyone went for a mad dash to the first corner.  I was shocked to see everyone make it through with no accidents, but even more shocked to see Alonso and his magnificent eyebrows make his way from 5th to third, only to get forced off track and drop to 7th.  Massa on the other hand rocketed up from 8th to 4th, trapping Button behind him for several laps as the rest of the field steadily walked away from both of them and everyone behind them.

With Button trapped behind Massa, we were now going to get to see, for the first time just how much speed could be gained on an F1 car by killing most of the lift on the back wing.  After the third lap, once the DRS was enabled, Button followed Massa into the last corner, less than a second behind, which now meant his DRS was enabled.  Jenson hit the button on his steering wheel, the wing lifted, I moved to the edge of my seat to witness first hand the splendor of the McLaren rocketing past the Ferrari and...  nothing.  Jenson might have closed the gap a bit, it was difficult to tell  from the camera angle, but one thing was certain, he followed Massa into turn one like nothing had happened during the start/finish straight at all.  What the hell!

How it ended up playing out for Massa and Button was essentially how it played out for nearly everyone else as well.  The trailing driver would deploy his DRS, and the front driver would deploy KERS to keep the trailing driver behind.  They'd enter turn one in the same order they left turn 16, but now the front driver had used nearly all their KERS to maintain their lead.  That meant the lead driver had less KERS to use through the rest of the course, which did translate into some interesting racing.  So there was some fallout from the introduction of DRS, but it didn't play out the way I expected it.

Of course Button did get by Massa eventually.  But it involved a move that only the most insane person would try to justify as reasonable.  Jenson was slightly ahead on the inside going in the corner when Massa moved over to pinch him out.  Jenson decided to take a shortcut through the infield, which was conveniently paved, came out way ahead, and felt that all was right with the world.  Apparently the fact that he was no longer on the track didn't bother him.  Then Massa let Alonso by* just to make things far worse for Jenson**, which looked like it would do just that.  But then the two of them made it even worse for Jenson by employing the clever strategy of pitting!  Now, there was no way for Jenson to give the position back, which is what he should have done right away, so instead he was given a drive through penalty.  I think if I were Martin Whitmarsh, I would have given him a time out as well.

By far the biggest impact of all the changes was the new Pirelli tires.  The FIA had told Pirelli that they wanted tires that would make the racing more interesting, and Pirelli delivered.  The softs were grippy as hell, until all of the sudden they weren't.  On the first lap when drivers would start to notice a fall off in grip, they would see 1 second fall off their lap time.  By the time they'd passed the pits and were on their next lap, they were certain to loose between 2 and 3 seconds.  All this means that the pit crews have to be ready with a tire change NOW!  Pit schedules and strategies, out the window.  Tire management it going to be huge this year.  There will be no getting around just how fast the tires degrade once they start to go.

As far as the leaders were concerned, the race progressed much like any other, with Vettel walking away with the race win, still never having used KERS.  In fact neither Vettel or Webber ever used their KERS.  Hmmm... very interesting.

The biggest surprise through the race was Vitaly Petrov and his Renault.  What a stud he was!  Starting off in 6th and racing with the best F1 has to offer, wheel to wheel, only to work his way up and finish on the podium in 3rd.  Congrats to him, what a great race.  Meanwhile Nick Heidfeld does what he does best; finished well behind his team mate complaining of problems with the car.  Maybe he really did have problems with the car, like perhaps who was driving. 

To cap off the race, after Webber crossed the finish line in 5th place, at his home grand prix, he immediately pulled over near the pit exit, got out of his car and walked away.  Doesn't that sound a bit like a spoiled kid taking his ball and going home?   "It didn't go my way, so I'm leaving!"  *Sigh*  You're not earning our admiration Mark.  Then again, maybe he had car problems too.

Fred's Take
Tim, has this dead right.  This is going to be an interesting season just for the tires.  I am pretty excited to see how the different tracks affect these tires.  The rest of the items are all gravy.  107%, moveable wing, Petrov's moment to shine, just add to the whole damn thing.

On performance boosts,  I did appreciate the massive difference when the circumstances lined up such that the driver in front had no KERS to use and the driver behind had both KERS and DRS.  That was cool.   It looks like the trick would be to pressure the driver in front through as much of the course as possible such that he'll have to use up his KERS.  Then you've got him on the next straight.  This track only had one decent straight section so this makes me miss Bahrain that much more.

The Massa parry and counter move.  I LOVED this.  LOVED it.  The whole thing reminded me of the way you pounce with a massive counter attack when your opponent gets a really really bad dice roll in Risk.**  The move to put Alonso in front was a classic No-Lose gambit.   Either Jenson is required to give the position back or he isn't, and he either gives the position back or he doesn't.  The thing about the "Eyebrows are faster" maneuver is that it did the most psychological damage to Jenson as possible.  It all sucked for him.

Working through those scenarios:
Jenson is not required to give the position back.  This is the worst case for Ferrari and it still puts Alonso in a position to pressure Jenson into another mistake.
Jenson is required to give the position back and he does.  Likely he'll lose two positions (not sure about the rules on this but it's going to be damn hard to cut off the trailing Ferrari if they go nose to tail for the pass.
Jenson is required to give the position back and doesn't.  He'll get penalized and Ferrari gets the positions and a massive thorn in Mr. Scruffy Face's paw.   That drive through has got to still be irritating Jenson whenever he thinks about it.

I was also very happy to see Petrov's podium.  Particularly with how much joy it obviously brought him as he recalled the day at the post race interview.   Should be a damn good season folks. 

Damn good.

*No team orders needed this time!
** If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to enhance your Geek Cred, my friend.

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