Thursday, May 19, 2011

F1-Geeks Armchair Team Principal Istanbul Park (Turkey Post Race Recap)

Turkey.  We will call it The Nexus from now on as this is where and when all of the F1 machinations combined to produce an incredible race.  It is rumored that this is Bernie's favorite track.  Perhaps that will factor into his keeping it around.

A wide modern track that is technically challenging and unique for more than just the location.  The Istanbul Racing Circuit runs counter-clockwise over it's 3.3 mile length and hosts several events including our beloved Formula One. 

Let's see how the event unfolded for your beloved (but humble) F1-Geeks.

Tim's Take:
By many standards, this year's Turkish GP was kind of dull.  No major crashes, no safety cars, no lost tires flying around, no one stopping in someone else's pit box.  However, even taking all of that into account, this race was one of the best GPs I've ever seen!

The FIA has been trying to engineer more passing into the sport for years.  Apparently there are too many people around the globe whining that there isn't enough passing in Formula 1.  Personally, I don't know why they pay heed to the NASCAR crowd.  All I can say, is if overtaking was their goal, they've hit upon a winning formula.  The combination of KERS, DRS, and tires that lose their grip inside of a two lap span, have yielded some of the most exciting races we've seen.

Before we get to the race, let's talk about qualifying for a moment.  It went pretty much as expected, except for poor Kobayashi, who had to watch the whole thing from the garage.  But without a doubt, the most impressive, if not brash move was Red Bull sending Sebastian Vettel out for one hot lap in Q3.  He goes out, gets his tires up to temp on the out lap, and then manages to set a 1:25:049, a full 1/2 second faster than the next fastest lap (set by Webber), and calls it a day.  I suppose it's not the first time someone's managed to put together their fastest or best lap on their first lap.  But it's the first time I've ever seen anyone not try to improve it.  He and the team were confident enough to say "We're done here boys, pack it up."  An impressive unfolding of events no matter how you split it.

Of course the goal for everyone keeping their lap count down in qualifying is so they have just that many more sets of tires available to them during the race.  If the FIA's goal is to get people to come to races, then the cars need to be out on track.  If they run one lap in qualifying and then pit, that's not really conducive to the FIA's goals.  The suggestion has been made that they may want to allow an extra set or two simply for and only for qualifying.  With much less to lose, the drivers might stay out to play a little longer.  On to the race...

Turn 14

There was so much going on in the first 12 laps of this race, it's going to be difficult to capture it and not let this post grow to the size of War and Peace.  Remembering last year's Turkish GP, Vettel's goal for this race must have been "stay the hell away from Webber."  And he did just that, leaving Webber behind at the start, and never looking back.  I'm so glad to see Nico Rosberg qualifying up higher on the grid, 3rd this time.  The race started and he beat Webber down to the corner and took the second place position away from the Australian.  Nico raced beautifully through the whole race, it's just a shame that the car under him isn't delivering the performance he needs to keep him up in the very front of the pack.

His teammate seems to be having a difficult time dealing with his new lot in life, which is a position we call, in technical terms, second fiddle.  Schumacher got a good start, and his progress through the field looked promising.  But then Petrov dove under him in turn 12 on the second lap.  Because Petrov hit the brakes late, he was going to have to run a bit wide out of the corner, but Michael turned in on him running his front wheel and wing into Petrov's rear wheel.  I don't think anyone could make the case he didn't see Petrov.  I think he just expected Petrov to follow the normal line, but as I said, Petrov was going to have to run wide.  Well, that kind of screwed Schumacher's race.

Once the DRS zone was enabled, and at the first chance to use it, Webber was able to get past Nico and regain his second place position.   But by then Vettel was well ahead and out of danger of Mark's ramming tendencies.  That left Alonso right on Nico's tail, and just behind them, Button and Hamilton fighting for 5th place.  The following 3 laps saw Alonso overtake Nico, again thanks to DRS, and the two McLarens swap places 3 or 4 times.  Each time the drivers pulling off some amazing passes.  In the mean time, Massa was sneaking up on the McLaren boys.

There were some awesome battles along the way.  Massa vs. Rosberg, then Massa, and Rosberg vs. Button, Petrov vs Heidfeld and another with Massa vs. Schumacher (with Steve Matchett yelling "It's a trick!"(1)).  Great passes, fantastic driving, bringing along with it some incredible drama.

There was a bit of drama in the pits with Massa pulling in and leaving the car in gear, making it difficult to get the right rear tire on, and Hamilton's excessively long pit stop where the mechanic couldn't get the gun off the wheel nut.  Then Louis tried to take off while the Stick man clearly had the stick down, nearly running in to Massa.  Even though that must have been painful for Louis, I don't think that really affected his chances at a podium spot because it only delayed him 8 seconds at most, where as he finished 30 seconds behind Alonso's 3rd place. 

One of the coolest things we noticed while watching the race was how turn 8 punished the left front tire.  By the second apex, you'd start to see a dark ring on the tire.  By the third, that dark ring was raising up above the surface of the tire.  By the fourth apex, you could see rubber flying off the tire. 

There were a couple things mentioned on Speed TV's broadcast that I found remarkable.  One was that after the last race in Shanghai, the clean up crew swept up over 1100 lbs of rubber from the track.  That's an astonishing amount of material, and it makes it easy to see just why everyone looses so much grip once they go off line even for a moment.  The other thing was that this race saw 80 pit stops, which is a record since they've been keeping records since 1993.  Whhhaaaaat!  I mean the high number of pit stops is interesting and all, but what amazes me is that in a sport that lives and breaths by data acquisition, statistics and telemetry, has only started keeping statistical records in 1993?!  I'm pretty sure the Little League teams in my neighborhood have been keeping records longer than that.

Closing thought:  If this is the last year for the Turkish Grand Prix, I will simply cry.  What a terrific circuit.

Fred's Take:
Let me start by saying the thought of this track leaving the F1 calendar leaves me with a four-apex hole in my heart. I understand attendance may be down, but attendance is down everywhere. And really Bernie, do you need to charge the tracks? Maybe one year, to promote the sport, you let the tracks handle the event costs but they don't have to pay the privilege fee. I guarantee popularity will skyrocket as the local venues know best how to engage their market.

Qualifying was, as usual, very entertaining.  The RedBull move was way more than "confident" as my fellow F1-Geek stated.  It was a move that approached a level of epic that I haven't seen since Senna was racing.  It was as if RedBull pulled out their "man bits" and proclaimed to the rest of the field, "Gentlemen! At this point you may commence to suck it!"(2)  It was awesome, bold, and somewhat stressful as I wasn't sure that time was so far beyond the rest of the field that it would hold.

Tim's right, of course, about people wanting to see cars on the track.  I don't necessarily agree with adding more tires for qualifying.  I think the idea of giving the teams the ability to test freely on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings would be key.   Keep the ban on testing outside the race weekend but unleash the hounds at the event and again, attendance would shoot up.

Kubica goes around Turn 8 a couple of years ago

Turn 8.  It doesn't quite make sense to me why this combination various chemicals, solvents, adhesives, stone, concrete, and paint would mean so much to me.   I guess I forgot to list the main ingredient, love.  In all seriousness, this is such a technically great corner, with speed, technique, and it looks so cool from the onboard camera, that I just adore it. 

I never get it right in the simulation but I love trying.

The race was, as Tim said, one of the best I've ever watched.  Tons of cool passing and some pit drama to make it interesting.  One of the main reasons for this is the tires.   Shorter lifespan means more changes and more chances of drama.

The passing went on throughout the race and it was really great to see.   If this keeps up and we can combine these new tracks and technologies with the old classics, we may see a surge in popularity in this country that we've not seen before.

For those of you keeping track, Sony has given away all of my personal information, including the measurements of my "gentlemen's bits" and then told me I can't play their games online.   So we have no data in the ongoing season races with Tim and I.   I can with some certainty proclaim that if I survived qualifying I may have done OK, but likely would have crashed out in Turn 8 in the race.

(1) That just cracked Fred and I up. 
(2) While not necessarily the exact vernacular used in this country, the message would still have come across.

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