Tuesday, July 19, 2011

F1-Geeks Armchair Team Principal Silverstone (Britian Post Race Recap)

1949 version of Silverstone

 This classic course, steeped in history, received a revamp last year and this year brought even more changes.  The original version looks scary fast with corners just asking to be over-driven.  Move the start-finish line, renumber the corners and build a new pit complex, and you've got a pretty good chance of shutting Bernie up about how old and outdated Silverstone is.   After the European race two weeks ago I was concerned all of our exciting races were over with.  Were my fears unfounded?  Let's jump in...

This season just keeps getting better.   The greatness of this season is that even when a race is decided by pit action, it's still awesome.   It looked like Vettel was going to run away with it again.  Although one could argue that the Ferrari's were closer because of the whole BlownfuserGate (1) I'm going to figure there was some engine saving going on and while RedBull Racing was in a pretty good spot going into the last few laps, the pit problem put Alonso in front and there he stayed.  I'm not really sure how the blown diffuser rules changes affected the RedBull rear jack but RedBull's official protest details it out pretty clearly.(2)

Phil "Last Turn" Massa is starting to get very good at making things work for him on the last lap.  The tragedy here (3) is that Massa is forced to relive his championship loss on the last turn of the last lap of every race. (4)

Although we didn't hear Hamilton's response to his crew asking him if he's got a current AAA membership with the gas option, I'm sure it was something like "I can't put any gas in."  Which means, "Did the guy who let Jenson go early oversee my fuel load?"  Well, Louie, I'm afraid the answer to that is, "yes".

Bob Varsha breifly mentioned it but it bears repeating.  Formula One racing is a team sport.  It really isn't just about the drivers.  You saw it when a piece of equipment failed for RedBull, when the Chief Mechanic told Jenson it was OK to go before his right front wheel was attached and when the McLaren crew took a full two-tenths of a second longer to change Hamilton's tires than RedBull took to change Vettel's.  For perspective, this is about the time it takes for you to blink twice.

Hamilton tries to get close enough
to siphon some fuel from Alonso

This two-tenths difference put Vettel back in front of Hamilton.   Cool, yes, would it have mattered?  Probably not.  Given Hamilton's fuel issues and McLaren's pit problems this round.

The thing about team orders that I was unaware of; they are legal this year.  That changes everything for me.  Webber defying them in the past may have been somewhat heroic but now it's just more of him whining about how unfair things are.   Win a championship Marko, then we'll talk about how shitty your team is treating you.

The truth is, I can't even begin to comprehend the various pressures and politics involved and if I were to be honest, I know I'll never be half the driver even the worst of the F1 drivers are.   So, one could make the argument that I should shut the hell up and stop talking about stuff I don't know anything about.  Well, the one thing I do know, is that given the information I have, Webber's a petulant crybaby who needs to just calm the hell down.   If you are better than Vettel, then beat him.  There were no team orders in qualifying.  Clearly, Webber took pole.   Were there team orders governing his start?  "Look, mate, we need you to really botch the start and risk us losing a lot of points, OK?"

 I doubt it.

The cold hard rule of sport is that it is all business.   Part of what I love about F1 is the business driver is rarely hidden.  It is above the surface.   The team (business) above all else.  The team (business) comes first.

One last thing.  We heard Alonso refrence the honor he felt and how great it was to drive the first ever Ferrari to win a Formula One race 60 years ago..   In the US we didn't get a chance to see that.  There are two laps, so don't let the first one fool you.  It's worth watching Alonso take this thing on a hot lap.    My only wish here is that he didn't have to wear his helmet so we could see the eyebrows in full effect.  I also like how they keep a split screen shot of Bernie, who owns the car.  If by chance Alonso drove this thing into a wall, you'd definitely want to capture Mr. Ecclestone's expression.   Here you go:

Here's a bonus.  I'm not sure what the reason was, but Alonso misses the F1 drivers "float" and starts running to catch up.   Even though I don't speak Italia, everyone seems to be amused by the situation.

Tim's Take
With Webber and Vettel taking the front row at the start of the British Grand Prix, some of the speculation that the ban on the blown diffuser would cripple Red Bull seemed to fade away.  Of course it was interesting that Webber took pole for the race that last year was his most passionate victory of the season.  And by "most passionate victory" I mean whined like a spoiled child who was denied his toy and then gloated like the biggest sore winner ever.  So it was with no small amount of joy that I watched his teammate Vettel easily out pace him into turn one and leave him behind to fend off an attack by Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.

There were of course, some other interesting facts regarding qualifying.  Lewis Hamilton couldn't scrape together a better lap in the rain and ended up in the 10th grid spot.  While that was certainly noteworthy, I thought an even more interesting note was how well Paul Di Resta did qualifying 6th, and right behind him Pastor Maldonado.  Two very talented drivers in good but not great cars making good on the circumstances and putting in a terrific qualifying effort.

Within the first lap and a half, Lewis managed to work his way up to 6th, and then to 5th passing his team mate.  It almost looked like Button just let him go by, but I can't imagine why he would have.    It was amazing watching the drivers try to cope with half a dry track and half a sopping wet track.  Everyone's intermediates were going South and going there fast.  Within a couple laps you could see chunks of rubber flying off the tires on the dry part of the course and then the cars slipping around on the wet because their tires were starting to resemble slicks. 

Schumacher was doing very well moving up the field until on lap 10, on a wet part of the track when his tires were going, he lost grip and slid into Kobiyashi.  Unfortunate for both, but I have to say I thought the 10 second stop/go penalty for that was not just harsh, but stupid and uncalled for.  But the damage on his wing forced him to pit and he took on a set of slicks; first in the race.  By lap 13 nearly everyone had slicks on.  Sadly for Kobiyashi, when he pitted, the stick man failed to pay attention and let him go straight into Maldonado who was minding his own business at the time.  KK swerves to avoid the collision and takes out the air hoses of their neighbor.  He ends up serving his own 10 second stop/go penalty a short time later for that. 

On lap 15 both the McLarens take it to the Ferraris.  Button executes an excellent pass on Massa, and Hamilton flies by Alonso as if Fernando were distracted and slowed down to look at the pretty clouds.  But Lewis' lead over Fernando was not to last when on lap 24 he easily overtakes Lewis with the aid of DRS.  But then he races ahead and never looks back.  A short time later, Vettel who was still leading at the time, and Alonso who was second, pit at the same time.  While the Ferrari pit stop goes without a hitch, the Red Bull team get caught up by a bad rear jack.  As the Ferrari races by Vettel to take first, his pit crew is scrambling to get a working jack to finish the stop.  That was it though, the damage had been done.  Fernando never looked back.  The Ferraris have been looking better in the last few races, but with nothing but clean air in front of him, Fernando gaps the rest of the field easily.  Of course it didn't hurt Fernando that Lewis played blocker to both of the Red Bull cars for several laps.

As traumatic as that pit stop was for Vettel, it wasn't nearly the worst.  First, there was Paul Di Resta's fiasco of a stop.  He comes in, the team starts to put tires on and realize they have Sutil's tires out and ready to go.  There's a huge scramble to get the proper tires and avoid a huge penalty from the stewards, and in the mean time, Paul's 7 place position, that he was working brilliantly to keep, slipped away and he came out in 16th. 

That sucked for sure, but then there was Button's stop.  The right front tire man goes to bolt the new tire on, and the gun malfunctions.  He throws it aside and reaches down for the spare.  When he looks back up, the car is gone.  While you couldn't see his face, you could absolutely read his body language, and it was classic.  His shoulders slumped as he held the gun shaking his head. The curious thing is, I re-watched one of Lewis' earlier pit stops and I saw the stick man release the car before all the guys on the corners had their hands up.  It was clear he was looking down the pit lane for traffic.  The same right front corner man was pulling his gun off of Lewis' wheel as he started to leave the box.  I'm not implying that right front man was slow, I'm saying the stick man wasn't doing his job right, and it cost Button some serious points in the Championship. 

For me though, perhaps the highlight of the race was with two laps to go when Webber is all over Vettel's rear wing.  Clearly he's about to challenge Vettel and try to pass, and then he simply gives up his effort.  Half a lap later you hear the radio transmission (which is broadcast delayed) "Mark, keep the gap."  Clearly that's why he gave up.  The only thing that would have made that message better was if they added "BITCH!" at the end of it.  To his credit, and I type that very reluctantly, Mark did not whine or cry about it in the post race interview.  He could have, and last year he would have. 

(1) Yes, I'm coining that phrase now. When Hobbes shouts it out, he owes me $4.68.
(2) OK, so they didn't claim it affected their jack but it is concerning nonetheless. I'm sure there was conservative driving just to help with their engine.
(3) Bob would have called it irony.
(4) One of the side effects of RubensSpringGate(TM)

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