Saturday, September 10, 2011

F1-Geeks Armchair Team Principal - Spa (Belgian Grand Prix Post Race Recap)

With the Italian race looming on the horizon, it's time we looked back at Spa. 

Spa.  People, let me tell you, this track makes the heart pound.   Shaped like some Klingon mating implement, the elevation changes, twists and corners make this a wonderful course.  I look forward all year to a few specific corners.  Spa contains one of them.  Did the track live up to my own personal hype?  Did Eau Rouge provide the drama we all crave?  Let's find out.

Rain early on in Friday's first practice had me thinking the whole session would be skipped.  It was raining heavily.  Then it stopped and the fun began.  The guys go out on full wets and Hamilton decides to move to Intermediates.  There was a moment of hydroplaning that was so entertaining that Hamilton came in and switched to full wet tires (and clean underpants according to the BBC).   Uneventful but still entertaining laps until about 15 minutes left in the session, Paul Di Resta slides off and the crane is busy with a Renault.  Crane drama, does it get any better than that?   Well, fortunately, yes.

The weather is usually a factor here but oddly the biggest change was a step back to last years rules in practice. I was really looking forward to seeing what would happen with DRS and Eau Rouge.  Would Lewis make a typical mistake and end up in a barn?  Would Webber ram into his teammate and blame it on the DRS?  Unfortunately, we'll never know as the race stewards didn't allow the DRS to be engaged throughout practice as they usually do because of Eau Rouge.  I love this corner.  It is so demanding that the Race Stewards couldn't take the chance that someone's rear wing would be in a DRS configuration when it should be in normal configuration.   That's how intense this corner is.  Although it pales a bit in comparison to the Masta Kink on the old track, it still provides good intensity without much death.
A bit about the Masta Kink, a high speed left-right combination situated on the old course in between two straights over a mile long each.   Long enough for the cars to reach maximum speed before they hit it and the following straight made the turns critical to get through with as much speed as possible.  This led to much death and destruction but the one that haunts me after reading about it was where a marshall was practically vaporized after being hit as a car came through in the early 70's.(1)

We didnt' have to wait long for some drama here.  A minute and a half into qualifying Michael Shumacher's rear wheel falls off and he is set to begin his 20th anniversary race from the back of the field.  A bummer really.  I used to be happy to rail against Schumacher but his precision, focus and drive was really amazing.  Now he seems to have mellowed out a bit but still shows some of that ability is still with us.  He may not win another championship but his legacy is not diminished and I am honestly glad managed to live through to this stage of his carreer.  We don't need all of our greats taken suddenly.
Speaking of greats, Ayrton's nepher Bruno is in a black and gold Renault and this could be interesting. very cool to see a Senna in a gold and black.  He does well in Q1 and lands a very respectable 7th.  One might make the argument that with Shumacher out, Senna inherited a position.   One might also be an ass who needs to shut up.   You decide. 

Q2 is interesting to see everyone lifting through Eau Rouge but the beauty of the complex pales literally and figuratively in the rain.  The blue-sky and white clouds that make Spa a beautiful place turn a remarkably similar gray.  It ends up looking like someone turned down the saturation in the control room.
Sutil touches the paint with about 8 minutes to go in Q2 and after realizing they won't be able to clear the track safely, the stewards red-flag the session.  This complicates things for Eyebrows who just completed an outlap and was only one lap into a multi lap warm up plan to get his Intermediates warmed up.   This takes at least one lap away from the number he can use to warm up and there is some drama about whether he'll make it out of Q2.  His first hot lap started out badly and Alonso really seemed to throw caution to the wind through Eau Rouge and he jumps to first.  Alonso at the top of the timesheets.  I get a carbonated beverage from the refrigerator and Alonso was 9th.  These guys do not let up.  Then Hamilton makes a move that is going to make the stewards cranky with him and Senna makes it back into the top ten then goes to 5th.

In all the excitement, I didn't even notice Jenson slipping steadily.   Then while I was thinking about Jenson, Pastor Maldonado retaliates for Lewis' move and rams into him, deliberately damaging his car and his chances in Q3.  While I appreciate him taking it right to little miss cranky pants, the stewards and the FIA are not going to brook that sort of goofiness.   Lewis was clearly not a threat to Maldonado's weekend.  It was an entertaining but dumb move and as it turns out a fairly level-headed decision comes down.  I went back and rewatched that incident and from the rear angle you can see that both Maldonado and Lewis were weaving.  Yes, Maldonado started it but Lewis couldn't let it go and joined in the game of "I'm not scared of you!".   If you watch carefully, I believe you can see Lewis' car turn in to Maldonado as Maldonado turned into to Lewis.  If you play Chicken long enough, there will be contact.  Lewis did screw Maldonado out of some much-needed points at one of the most important races of the year and he did what amounts to completely discounting Maldonado's effort, season, and carrer in order to get the best time he could.  I'd be furious with him.  Knowing Lewis though, I wouldn't pretend to try to hit him to show him I'm pissed off, I'd probably photoshop Nicole Scherzinger having sex with Alonso, in a Ferrari, and then paste it up and down the pits.  While Lewis' effort to get the best time possible is understandable, it still was enough to piss off Maldonado.   Maldonado - 5 spots, Hamilton -3 CHR(2).
Q3 starts with the McLaren lads using duct tape to try to preserve as much of the aerodynamic performance as possible.  With 0:00 on the clock Hamilton takes pole by way more than I thought Vettel could make up.  It was an amazing lap especially considering the damage he and Maldonado did to his car.   Then when Vettel crosses the line he's nearly half a second faster than Hamilton.   A great end to a sometimes sluggish qualifying session.

The Race
A long formation lap lets things heat up nicely.   Almost too much, as someone's car is smoking on the grid.  I thought the rain must be vaporizing as it connets with Webber's helmet.  Glowing hot as he stares furiously at the back of the helmets of all the people he'd like to kill.   Turns out it was just brakes.

When the lights go out, we get lots of people running wide and believe it or not, Rosberg passes Vettel for the lead on lap 1.  Wow.  I loved this.  No matter what happened next, Rosberg will always have that moment.  Would be interesting to see what he would do in the second RBR car.
Alonso starts a crazy run with a great pass as he slingshots out of Eau Rouge and on lap 3 Vettel retakes the lead.  Team Lotus (my nostalgic favorite) didn't make it out of Turn 1 very well .

Alonso clicks together his Ruby Red Driving Slippers and becomes magical through Eau Rouge and somehow uses it to consistently slingshot himself past all kinds of people.

Webber remains consistent with his "I can't see you" strategy and ends up looking heroically brave through Eau Rouge passing Alonso.  Reminds me of the Woody Allen scene:
"I understand your heroism was quite inadvertent."
"Ha!  You should have some inadvertent heroism."

I could see that playing out in Webber'shead.

Hamilton does a good job moving through the field but his arrogance is starting to get the best of him.  

A word about Jenson Button, I've given him him a hard time in the past with my thoughts about how boring his racing is and his violation of "Face Ferme"(3), but I am gaining a respect for his racing.  I'm sure he's been involved in some racing incidents but I can't remember them and now with the frantic passing going on, I find myself being impressed when I compare his performance with Lewis Hamilton's NASCAR like work.

I wouldn't have minded if Jenson won but a fortuitous safety car caught everyone up after Vettel pitted so he had a good run to gain the lead again.   Some drama toward the end with fuel again but nothing panned out.   Vettel takes the win and while the stat sheets may look like this season is boring, it is definitely not(4).
The Eau Rouge did not disappoint this year.

Tim's Take

I adore Spa.  It is my favorite course on the F1 circuit and by a long shot.  The drivers love it because of the challenges posed by the elevation changes and corners, especially Eau Rouge.  But mostly they love it because, as they say, "When you drive at Spa, you feel like you're actually going somewhere, not just the same lap over and over." 

Fred summed up everything worth mentioning about qualifying above, but I wanted to talk a bit more about Pastor Maldonado's little incident with Lewis.  I don't know how many times I've watched Lewis do this when passing someone, but he does it often.  It's a subtle strategy, but it works well for him.  He comes along side someone as they go into a corner and out brakes them putting his nose just ahead of the other car.  Then, because of the speed he's retained, he needs to run wide coming out of the corner.  The other car is forced to go wide and change the line they'd planned to take.  Not a problem for either driver. But then Lewis then takes advantage of the little ground that the other driver had to give and continues his drift wide, crazy wide, forcing the other car off the track. In some cases forcing them to take a detour through a neighboring town just to find their way back on track.

I'm not saying it's wrong.  But I am saying that if I were the driver he did it to, I'd be pissed.  You find yourself intentionally driving off the course lest you risk crashing out because Lewis has just thrown his car ahead of yours and then into the path of yours with no regard to your safety or his.  The only way you both can come out OK is if you simply get the hell out of his way, and he's counting on that.  Most would say "that's racing, that's how it's done."  Perhaps they're right, but I see Alonso passing a lot of people without forcing them off track into the next county.  It's a bullying tactic.

Now it's one thing to do that during a race where there are laps to run to make up the time Lewis has stolen from you.  But if it happens in qualifying, you're boned.  I think that's why Pastor was pissed off.  I think that's why decided he was going to play bumper cars with the McLaren.  Again, I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying I understand.

On to the race!  Bruno Senna proved that he could run near the front of the pack in qualifying, but then unfortunately, displayed a rather disappointing ability to stay there in turn 1.  Meanwhile, somewhere in his little den of banality, Nick Heidfeld gleefully rubbed his hands together and muttered "Tricksy Senna crashed!  I will get my ride back.  My precious..."

A word about Mark Webber's race starts.  Consistent.  He's consistently bad.  This time he nearly became a human speed bump as a half a dozen cars flew past him before he'd reached 20 MPH.  Perhaps he needs to spend more time in the Red Bull simulator practicing starts and less time brooding over the fact that he's clearly fallen to a second place driver.

When Rosberg managed to get himself to the front of the field to lead the race, I was shocked and thrilled and hopeful that he'd keep it for a while, but not all that optimistic.  Sadly it wasn't long before he was drifting back in the pack. 

Lewis Hamilton tried his usual move of placing his car in harms way and counting on the other driver to move to avoid an impact.  Unfortunately he chose to do it against Kobayashi.  No one, and I mean NO ONE is going to "out crazy" Kobayashi!

In spite of his poor start, Webber did pull off some amazing passes during the race.  Overtaking Alonso in Eau Rouge was gutsy and he did it very well.  It was cool to see Schumacher manage to make it all the way up to 5th after having to start from dead last.  His 20th anniversary start ended up not being as bad as it could have been.  Sutil managed to overcome his less than spectacular qualifying position of 15th and finish in the points at 7th.  Well done there.  Sadly, Filipe Massa continues to struggle, falling back in the pack and finishing well behind Alonso.  I was particularly pleased to see Jenson who got screwed in qualifying because of a judgment error from his team, go from 13th to finish on the podium.

While the track is awesome, the race at Spa wasn't one of the more exciting races for the year.  Compared to any other year it was fantastic.  But within the context of all the amazing races this year, it was just good.  Anyway, on to Monza!

  1. The haunting part about that was a driver was warned to watch out for body parts in that section and it turns out that they weren't talking about the body of a car.
  2. If you don't know what "-3 CHR" means we're going to guess that the "geek" vector did not apply to your finding this site.
  3. A little known rule in the F1 Sporting Regulations, Section 4 Sub 3.1 "Face Ferme" "Drivers must shave cleanly no sooner than Parc Ferme and no later than the completion of the Formation Lap.  Although drivers are not subject to sanctions for violation, "Recently Shipwrecked" is not a look that we, The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, can really get behind.  As such, any driver found in violation shall yeild position to Fernando Alonso." This rule is known as the "You can't make up for your girly eyebrows with that mange-riddled scruff you call a 'beard' rule" or more commonly, "The Groucho Marx Clause".
  4. 513 overtaking moves so far this year not counting Spa.  Compare this to the total of 429 in 2010.  It would seem the rules changes are working.

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