Sunday, October 12, 2008

Save the Canadian Grand Prix

When Bernie Ecclestone killed the 2009 Canadian Grand Prix, that just confirmed that F1 became too much business and too little sport. Boring tracks are added to the calendar, while the classic venues are discarded like paper cups. I am out of words, so here is a great initiative by Manipe F1, a petition that can be signed by everyone who is as disgusted as I am with this situation:

That is no world championship. That is a money race that has to stop. Otherwise all the races in the future will be in Asia... In countries that have no auto racing heritage at all. Tell me about logic venue selection. And I am not even going to get into two races in tiny Spain and none in North America.

--Andre N.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Belgium full race analysis yet to come...

In the meantime, there is a good discussion on the comments following my article posted on ArmchairGM.

--Andre N.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hamilton penalized in Belgium

After being the first driver to make it to the checkered flag at the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was penalized with a 25-second time penalty for cutting the Bus Stop Chicane and gaining an advantage the allowed him to overtake Raikkonen on the first corner. I believe that Hamilton should definitely be penalized, because although he lifted a little bit for Raikkonen to go by, just as Raikkonen went by he already dove to the inside at full throttle trying to get by the Finn. Overall, the time that he lifted did not compensate for the time he gained by cutting the corner. Therefore this is the right decision by the stewards. Since it was on the final laps of the race, it was not possible to penalize Hamilton with a drive-through.

Felipe Massa is the lucky winner, and Nick Heidfeld gets second position. Hamilton becomes third and his championship is cut to 2 points.

More details will sure be given on the Official Formula One website. I am sure McLaren will protest the decision.

--Andre N.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

2008 European Grand Prix - Race Analysis

New venue, same old boring Formula One. That is a good summary of last Sunday’s European Grand Prix. I thought about using at least one verb to make it a proper sentence, but I did not think the race deserved that much. Too bad for the organizers, who created a wonderful atmosphere. Unfortunately, today's F1 grooved tyres and excessive downforce do not allow anyone to drive out of the racing line in an overtake manoeuvre.

It was another display of strength by Felipe Massa. At the same time, it was another display of Ferrari’s weakness. Two engine failures in two consecutive races is not what one would expect from a title contender. Especially when the other contender – McLaren – is doing much better in that area. That gives them a big advantage. That allows Lewis Hamilton to be leading the championship, although he has also had his share of ups and downs. That inconsistency was matched by Felipe Massa’s own mistakes in the beginning of the season, so the drivers are equally matched. If that engine had not failed in Hungary, he would Felipe would be the championship leader. And let’s not even mention Ferrari’s other miscues this season.

The Raikkonen situation

Kimi Raikkonen also did not help Ferrari by leaving the pit stall before getting the green light from their new - yet unproven - automated system. When the media is saying that you are not at the top of your form, it does not help to break the bones of one of your crewmembers.

Still, it seems like the media all over the world is obsessed in saying that Raikkonen has no desire to race anymore. I doubt that. The way he drives is a reflex of his personality. He has never been a flamboyant character either on or off the track, Still, he has finished the championship twice in second place, and, more importantly, once on top of the world. He is not as aggressive as other drivers are – e.g. Massa and Hamilton. Still, that does not mean that his driving style is wrong.

Let's think about Alain Prost, for example. The guy was neither a great qualifier, nor the best in overtaking other drivers. I even remember a few times when he had problems overtaking backmarkers! Ok, the blue flags were not as strict as today, but some guys like his arch-rival Ayrton Senna were doing a much better job. All in all, Prost was champion 4 times. Once is luck, two is coincidence, but 4 times is what? That’s consistency. He was always hanging in there even during bad situations, scoring precious points. This is what Raikkonen has been doing. Ok, maybe he has not had the best races of his life, and on average he has just scored 4.75 points a race. Nevertheless, he is 13 points behind the championship leader. That is not perfect, but not bad at all. It allows him to hang in there. Who can blame the guy for thinking that the current F1 is boring?

Quick notes:

- David Coulthard once again decided to try a daredevil overtaking move and overestimated his chances. He hit Adrian Sutil, but at least he only hurt his own race. He is about to retire now, so I guess he decided to have some fun. Maybe too much fun.

- I am not sure what Kazuki Nakajima was thinking when he hit Fernando Alonso’s rear wing on the first lap. He was close, but not so close he did not have room to react. That cannot be called a rookie mistake. That is a total mental lapse by a guy who has not yet proven why he is in F1. Or maybe he has, especially if we read the 'Toyota' on top of his engine.

- Nick Heidfeld seems to be fading behind more and more. I do not think that he suddenly forgot how to drive, but something in that car is clearly not matching his driving style. He needs to watch out or he will lose his job. All BMW needs is to find another German driver to replace him. That seems to be easy in the post-Schumacher era. If they want, they can get Nico Rosberg for 2009 or Sebastian Vettel for 2010. Or Timo Glock. They may have clauses in their contracts, but BMW has enough money to buy them out.

- By the way, Rosberg scored a point, but it is becoming too painful to watch Williams lingering around the track. He is sure desperate to get a better car.

- Vettel scored a 6h place without any safety car appearance, rain or anything unusual. When that is done in a new circuit, it means that the guy knows a lot about setting up a car.

Star of the Race:

Felipe Massa, especially for bouncing back from a dramatic end to his previous race.

Shame of the Race:

Kazuki Nakajima

--Andre N.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2008 Hungarian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

It has been a long time since I was last able to write comments about a Formula One race. More specifically, since the French Grand Prix - 3 races ago. The problem of not being a professional writer is that sometimes my real job gets on the way. I did manage to watch all the action, though – F1 is a ‘religion’ to me! – so some of my comments today will also reflect some of the last GPs.

Drama in Hungary

First, I would like to start with some comments about the dramatic turn of events at the Hungarian Grand Prix. When Lewis Hamilton got a flat tyre, I was thinking: ‘hey, maybe he destroyed his rubber and that was his fault’. I had already noticed that he had some blisters on his front tyres, even more than is normal for his aggressive driving style. Then Felipe Massa's engine blew up. Some may say that Hamilton was lucky. Yes, that is certainly luck, but if he took care of his tyres, as did his teammate Heikki Kovalainen, he would have won the race. I will not blame him too much, though, because of his commanding victories in Britain and Germany.

In Hungary, I think Felipe Massa as a driver deserved to win, because of the way he started the race – passing the 2 McLarens before the end of the first corner – and his qualifying-like-lap-after-qualifying-like-lap performance. I do not think Michael Schumacher could do any better than that. Yes, that was probably the drive of Massa's life.

The thing is: F1 is a team sport, and the car is built by a team. In engineering those cars, nothing happens by accident. I am pretty sure that whatever blew up was something that the engineers considered a 'calculated risk'. That is what engineers - myself included - say when there are so many things that can go wrong and they just cannot be sure about the outcome. Those things are almost a bet. If F1 were poker, Ferrari's engineers certainly did not have a straight flush. Ok, Massa as a driver did not deserve that fate. He deserved it as a team player though, because that’s the way it is.

(Un)Lucky Heikki?

Heikki Kovalainen deserves credit for his win. He kept on pushing until Massa’s engine gave away. In the old time, until the beginning of the 90’s, that was a very common tactic. That does not work so well anymore because of the high reliability the cars have today. Still, his win is as deserving as many of the ones by Jackie Stewart or Emerson Fittipaldi, for example. Those guys would just push whoever was ahead until their engine blew up or they made a mistake.

We also have to consider the fact that now Kovalainen is clearly McLaren’s number 2 driver. I always thought he could drive on the same level as Hamilton, but he was unlucky a few times in the beginning of the year, and that cost him better results. Still, Hamilton was clearly faster. That was the reason they needed to make him number 1. McLaren has always had a favourite driver, that’s the way they do it. I do not blame them for that, but I hate the fact that they keep posing themselves to the media as a team that gives equal opportunities to both drivers. They say that, and they may even believe that they do it, but then they always find ways – maybe unconsciously – to bend their own system to favour one driver over the other. Right now, I am pretty sure that if they have to choose between Heikki's or Lewis' requests, they will choose the latter's. Little things, but the same things that made David Coulthard look much slower than Mika Hakkinen, when in fact the difference was not that much! I just hope they do not ruin Kovalainen’s bid for a championship anytime in the future, just like they did to Coulthard after he was beaten for the first few races sharing the team with Hakkinen.

Rookies on the run

In Germany, I was very happy to see Nelsinho Piquet withstanding the pressure and finishing second. I was happy for him and for myself, because I had predicted him to be the rookie of the year and for once he was proving me right. Then Timo Glock drove a brilliant race this past Sunday and finished second without the help of a safety car. Maybe I was wrong about who will be rookie of the year.

Right now, though, I am still sticking to Piquet.
He also had a good race, starting 10th and finishing 6th. I cannot ignore his fight for the GP2 championship against Hamilton in 2006. Piquet lost it, but in 2007 Glock never had any real challengers in GP2. Still, if I am wrong and Glock starts to shine like he did yesterday, I do not mind being wrong. As long as reality is something better than I had predicted for the sport. The little part of F1 that is still a sport, that is.

Quick notes:

- Since today the topic seems to be good drivers that may be unlucky, what about Sebastian Vettel? He had his 6th retirement in 11 races. Most of those because the STR is unreliable. I guess the young German will have a much better car when he moves to the main Red Bull team in 2009.

- Williams was expecting a good race, but Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima qualified 14th and 16th respectively. There is not much to be done starting behind at the Hungaroring, as overtaking is almost impossible.

Star of the Race:
Timo Glock.

Shame of the Race:

--Andre N.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two in a row for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton has scored two consecutive wins in the UK and Germany. He certainly deserves to be leading the championship, although some may argue that he is getting advantage from being the current number-one at McLaren. That may be true, but he is driving very well. I still think he needs to learn when to push and when to back off a little, but the previous two races were good for his usual 100-percent-attack mode.

I hope I find time to write more about this, but unfortunately some personal issues are preventing me from doing so. I will try to be back soon.

--Andre N.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

British Grand Prix Analysis Delayed

I wish the days had 30 hours so I could write the British Grand Prix analysis. Unfortunately they don't, so I will have to call this a delay for now. Hopefully I will be able to write something this weekend.

--Andre N.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

2008 French Grand Prix - Race Analysis

Lap 30 of 70. The rain threatened but never came. It was the only thing that could possibly take the victory away from Ferrari, but even so the red cars were too far ahead of the rest of the field. Kimi Raikkonen was leading Felipe Massa by 6 seconds, and everyone else was more than 20 seconds behind the latter. Felipe had already given up fighting for the win. Then disaster struck for Kimi. Part of the exhaust pipes on the right side of the car cracked, he started to lose power - which translated to a loss of 1 to 2 seconds a lap - and his side pod began to slowly burn.

The final result? A Ferrari 1-2, with Massa inheriting the victory at a track he is not known to be faster than Raikkonen. And yes, Raikkonen was second. What does it tell us? That Ferrari is so dominant at this point of the season that it is hard to predict them to lose the Constructor's Championship. One may claim that McLaren could challenge for the victory if they did not have to face penalties for both drivers - Heikki Kovalainen 5 grid positions for blocking in qualifying, Lewis Hamilton 10 grid positions for crashing into Raikkonen in the previous race and a drive-through for cutting a corner to go by Sebastian Vettel. I have to disagree. The two Ferrari drivers were certainly racing hard until the first pit stop, but I doubt that they were going for that last chunk of power that they could take from their engine mapping. If McLaren were closer, Ferrari would be even faster. Ok, a 1-2 would be difficult due to Kimi's problems, but Felipe would easily win.

Hamilton Self-Destructs

I have seen it happening to pretty much every driver this year. At one point the guy simply makes a stupid mistake and throws away precious points. This time it was Lewis Hamilton. Actually, it was Hamilton for two weeks in a row. He was already starting 13th after the penalty for crashing into Raikkonen in Montreal. He started the race quite well, as did Sebastian Vettel just ahead of him. When both got to the Adelaide corner - the slowest turn of the track - Lewis had a better entrance and a much better exit. That put them side-by-side going into the Nurburgring chicane, a very fast right-left turn combination. Vettel braked before the turn. Hamilton braked deep into the turn, so deep that it was not enough for him to remain on the track. He basically cut the second leg through the tarmac escape area, and remained ahead of his STR rival. Until then, it was no big deal. Lewis should simply let Sebastian go by and he would get no advantage out of his off-road tour.

For some reason, Lewis thought that the move was legal and never let Vettel go by. The marshalls penalized him with a drive-through. After the race, Hamilton still thought he was right! This time he is the deserving winner of the 'Shame of the Race' award.

Once again, McLaren was blinded by the fact that they think their star British driver cannot make a mistake. It was clear on TV that he gained an advantage, so why not radio him and tell him to return the position? Lewis is a young driver and has a lot to learn! He needs coaching. The 'coaches' at McLaren do not seem very good, though. China 2007 is a good example: They allowed Lewis to stay on the track although his tyres were gone, and ultimately he slid out of the race. They trusted his inexperienced call that staying on the track was ok.

Trulli's Brilliant Performance

Is Toyota a car good enough to finish on the podium, fighting for position with a McLaren and a BMW? Certainly not. Yet, Jarno Trulli somehow managed to do just that, including a wheel-to-wheel fight with Heikki Kovalainen with less than 2 laps to go. As Toyota was mourning the death of one of their greatest team members - the guy who led the team during the golden rallying days, Ove Andersson - it seems like everyone gave it a little more. Hopefully they will learn something from this race, because they have one of the largest budgets of F1 and their results have never matched the investment.

Quick Notes

- Fernando Alonso had a disappoint weekend. After qualifying third on a light-fuel load, reality struck hard as a bunch of drivers returned from their stops ahead of him. His demise was a wide turn going into Adelaide, when he lost 7th place to his teammate Nelsinho Piquet.

- Piquet had the strongest performance of his short F1 career. He qualified reasonably well - 11th, but started 9th due to McLaren's grid penalties - and drove a good, constant race. He was braking much earlier than in the previous races. That means he was braking where he was supposed to, because up to now he had the bad habit of braking too deep and too hard going. Maybe Renault found out that his driving style was the reason why his brakes vaporized in Montreal.

- Nick Heidfeld is having problems adapting to this year's BMW. He finished a lousy 13th, while his teammate was 5th. He should adapt quick, because there are a few drivers waiting for his spot. Bring on the Vettel and Alonso rumours once again.

Star of the Race
Jarno Trulli

Shame of the Race

Lewis Hamilton

--Andre N.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

2008 Canadian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

Sitting on the grandstands at the hairpin exit, I was able to watch a good race in Montreal. At one point, though, I had to ask myself: 'I am really paying almost 400 Canadian dollars for this?' When? Here is a hint: FIA's safety car rules are plain stupid. When half of the field pitted under the safety car, Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica had to stop at the pit exit, waiting for the green light that would come after the pack of driver on track went by. Then Lewis Hamilton made a stupid mistake and hit the back of Kimi's Ferrari. Kubica took the opportunity and won the first grand prix of his career, the first of a Polish driver in F1, the first of BMW as a constructor on its own.

The safety car rules shall be changed because they are always affecting the race results in a way they should not. Who in the world wants to see two of the three main contenders of a race retiring inside the pit lane? I guess that FIA's president Max Mosley did not have the time to think about that, though, as he spent the better part of last month using his influences to stay in power, something he somehow managed to do even after being caught in an orgy with prostitutes. It may not be so bad if it is true that Formula One Management's big boss Bernie Ecclestone wants to create a parallel championship without the FIA. More than 10 years of grooved tyres and no overtaking is the biggest achievement in rulemaking in the recent years.

Enough with that and back to the race...

Leading all Young Promises

All in all, the race had a deserving winner. It is true that Kubica's main contenders made it easier for him. Besides Hamilton and Raikkonen, Felipe Massa was excluded from any hopes of winning when Ferrari messed up while refueling his car on the first pit stop, and he had to return to the pits on the next time around. That does not take anything away from the magnificent job by the Pole. Because many drivers did not stop under the safety car, he was in the middle of the field for a while. He knew how to keep his cool, waited for everyone to pit, overtook his teammate Nick Heidfeld - who was returning from the pits heavier on fuel - and later drove 7 or 8 superb qualifying-like laps before his final pit stop. He rejoined the race as the leader, showing qualities that not many 23 year-old drivers have.

Robert Kubica is a member of my list of young drivers who are talented enough to add their names to the history of the sport. He will be around with Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel for a long time to come. And trust me, Nelsinho Piquet will join that group soon. Right now he is just suffering because of the lack of testing in 2007. Oh, and Massa, Raikkonen, Kovalainen are a little older, but they will also be around for a while! Right now, though, one driver is ahead of them all, and that is championship leader Kubica.

An Improved Massa

As impressive as Kubica was, the crowd favourite was Felipe Massa. When Ferrari had to call him back to the pits due to the aforementioned mistake, he returned to the track in anger, 15 seconds behind the last of the other drivers. He drove an aggressive race as no one else did, overtaking many cars in the process. The move of the day was when he passed both Kovalainen and Barrichello at the same time. That was right in front of me at the hairpin and at that time I had no doubts that my money was well spent.

He scored valuable points by finishing 5th. Had he not thrown away 8 points by spinning in Malaysia, he would be the championship leader now. That is Massa, though. He will make a few mistakes, but his good moments will more than compensate for those.

Quick Notes:

- Rubens Barrichello did what he could with the lousy Honda, and held back as many cars as he could while going for a one-stop strategy. He finished 7th.

- Nelsinho Piquet cannot be blamed for his spin this time. His brakes simply became black dust. After the spin, he was breaking earlier and earlier every lap before the hairpin, until he was so slow that he had to stop. The fact that Alonso also spun out during the race counts in Nelsinho's favour, showing that the Renault may be faster, but still has a 'nervous' behavior.

- After starting from the pits, Sebastian Vettel held back Heikki Kovalainen in the late laps and scored 1 point by finishing 8th. He is taking everything that he can from driving a bad car. This kind of experience will help him a lot when he eventually gets a job at a top team.

- As I expected, Lewis Hamilton was actually lighter in qualifying. Maybe not as light as I thought - I even wondered if he would be 3-stopping - but he had less fuel than both Kubica and Raikkonen. Therefore, he needed more time to refuel when the safety car put everyone who pitted on the same strategy. When both the BMW and the Ferrari overtook him, he lost his concentration and threw his race - and Kimi's - away. It is a good thing that he was penalized with 10 grid positions for the next race, because his mistake was completely avoidable. As usual, he at least admitted his fault.

Star of the Race
Robert Kubica

Shame of the Race
Ferrari, for throwing Massa's race away due to a faulty refueling operation.

--Andre N.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Is Hamilton 3-stopping in Montreal?

After a short while away, I am back with my F1 analyses. I was sitting at the hairpin grandstands today (Saturday), so I could see - and hear - a little more than the TV coverage shows. Lewis Hamilton was definitely displaying great car control. He is the fastest driver this weekend. He is so fast that maybe McLaren decided to try a different strategy. It looks like he will make 3 pit stops tomorrow, or at least go for a very short first stint.

His McLaren certainly looked light, because of the way his car was oversteering coming into, in the middle and going out of the hairpin. If he was oversteering like that with a full tank, as the fuel lowers and the tyres go away, the tail will become looser and looser. If that is the case, Hamilton will have a hard time keeping the car on track tomorrow.

My belief at this point is that McLaren is searching for the extra edge that they need tomorrow by trying a different strategy. They have had problems with tyre consumption this whole year, so why not drive less laps with each set of rubber? Hamilton is probably light, and that seems like a good strategy.

Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, and Heikki Kovalainen seemed heavy. They were braking for the hairpin a little before than Hamilton. Robert Kubica seemed light - not as light as Hamilton. I could not 'read' Fernando Alonso, but if I had to guess, I would say that he is light. His braking point for the hairpin was before Hamilton's, but maybe that is because the Renault is not that good a car.

Whatever happens, the race tomorrow will be fun. Thanks to McLaren and Hamilton for adding excitement to the Canadian Grand Prix! Oh, did I mention that the forecast for tomorrow shows 60% chance of rain? It will be fun!

--Andre N.