Monday, August 27, 2007

Turkey – Race Analysis

This past weekend Formula One headed to Turkey for the 12th round of the 2007 season. There is not much history in Turkish motorsport, but having the third Grand Prix there seems to be a good start. The track is one of the favourites among the drivers. It is very demanding and has already one of the famous corners in F1 – the magnificent turn 8, a long high speed corner with one apex for each of its four radii and lateral g-forces in excess of 4. I only wish today’s F1 did not rely so much on aerodynamics, so that two cars could race closer to each other there... Well, this is another chapter of my long-time campaign, which I could call ‘FIA, please bring back the slicks and reduce downforce’.

Overall the race was not the most exciting ever, but for the 2007 standard of completely uneventful races, this one at least had its share of surprises. Felipe Massa’s win was not one of them, as he had beaten Michael Schumacher there last year. The same cannot be said of the unexpected fact that 20 of the 22 drivers finished an event that was held in very hot weather – air temperature in excess of 35°C (95°F). The top surprise had to be Lewis Hamilton’s blown tyre, which cost him two championship points and gave Fernando Alonso one as he dropped from 3rd to 5th.

Ferrari is on a mission

Felipe Massa drove a great race, helped by the fact that teammate Kimi Raikkonen also started on the clean side of the track, in 3rd position. After Raikkonen beat Hamilton going into the first corner, victory belonged to Ferrari, the only remaining battle being which driver would have the better pit strategy. This was already decided in qualifying, as Massa had one extra lap of fuel, which meant that Raikkonen would never have the chance of remaining on the track longer to overtake him when both pitted.

By the way, a distracted fan may not have noticed that Ferrari gives the opportunity for their drivers to fight for the best time in the equally balanced Q2. Whoever has the best time races with was calculated as the ideal fuel load, and the other driver gets one extra lap. It makes sense, since the quickest driver is given a chance to start from pole and the other is given a chance of being more consistent. The two mistakes by Raikkonen during his two hot laps in Q3, though, cost him two positions on the grid. Starting third, all he could do was to hope that he could beat Hamilton at the start, which he did. From there on, he knew he could not get past a car that was exactly like his. Sad but true in modern F1.

Ferrari raced an improved chassis this weekend, and it seems to be better than the previous version. From the onboard camera I could notice since Friday practice that their cars were the ones to beat. Alonso and Hamilton had to fight a little bit with their equipment to keep them on the road. Massa and Raikkonen had minor understeering problems in the first session, but that was it. After that it seemed like they were racing slot cars. During the race, the advantage showed more in terms of better tyre wear than in single-lap times. Over the course of each stint, though, McLaren could not beat them.

Ferrari is certainly on track to make the ideal strong season finish that they need, and the next events certainly suit the red cars. Their best one should be Monza, 2 weeks from now. And they may get an extra help from BMW. There and in Spa-Francochamps I expect BMW to come even stronger as their car is really good at high speed corners when using a mid-to-low downforce setup.

Damage control at McLaren

Lewis Hamilton equalled his career worst streak of finishes without a podium finish: one race. Seriously, the guy is consistent. Since he has the same number of victories as Alonso, Massa, and Raikkonen – 3 for each –, consistency is what gives him the championship lead. He was going to get another podium finish when his tyre blew up. His driving style certainly had an effect on the rubber. I mean, tyres are supposed to last, but it seems like Alonso does a better job saving his equipment during the race than Hamilton does. Not to much to worry about, though, as in the beginning of their careers Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna were pretty much like Hamilton is today. I just think it is no coincidence that Hamilton’s tyre blew up and Alonso’s did not.

Hamilton’s advantage is raw speed, and that he showed during qualifying. Alonso was outpaced by him. Fernando even tried a gamble by running his laps in Q3 with the prime tyres. The idea was that he could take back the time that McLaren was losing on the 3rd sector. The option tyres could not keep that first layer of softer rubber for an entire lap. The starting grid shows that the gamble did not pay off. In the end, 3rd was a good result for Alonso.

Kovalainen shows how good he is

Finally we have seen the best of Heikki Kovalainen. After a struggling start of the season, he has consistently improved and is now outpacing teammate Giancarlo Fisichella. In Turkey he also beat one of the superior BMWs – Robert Kubica. He finished 6th, which does not sound like a lot, but his better consistency and speed in comparison to his veteran teammate, even if the Renault is still a very tricky, ‘twitchy’ car to drive are enough for me to call him the star of the race. All I can say to Fisichella is ‘goodbye’. Nelson Piquet Jr. is ready to race and Flavio Briatore will probably drop the veteran driver to give the upcoming star a chance.

Turkey’s quick notes

- Anthony Davidson had a great performance on Saturday, qualifying 11th with his Super Aguri. In the beginning of the race he had to leave the track to avoid a spin by Jarno Trulli and lost a lot of positions. He probably would not get any points because of the few retirements, but dropping back was probably frustrating.

- Giancarlo Fisichella touched Trulli’s rear end, causing the latter to spin. Both had no major damage, but Trulli returned to the race very far behind. Although he had nice battles with the Hondas, he could not finish better than 16th.

- Ralf Schumacher completed the bad Toyota performance by finishing 11th. After the dismal qualifying run that put him 18th on the grid – later he got 2 positions after the Hondas switched engines –, there was not much he could do. I believe his career at Toyota is about to be over.

- Sebastian Vettel is only a very young rookie, but I expected more from him. His qualifying lap was 0.6 seconds slower than his STR teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi, and that was the story for the entire race. He had a hard time holding Adrian Sutil in the slow Spyker during his first, long stint. Not a problem had he picked up the pace during the shorter stints, but that was not the case. Every day Scott Speed’s release from STR seems more political than anything else.

- Nico Rosberg had a great race and finished 7th, showing that he is racing hard despite the poor performance by Williams in the past years. Let's hope that his car improves before this desire to win goes away.

Star of the race:

Heikki Kovalainen

Shame of the race:

Sebastian Vettel.

--Andre N.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hungary – Race Analysis

Formula One was back at the Hungaroring. The same track that became famous in the 1980’s and early 1990’s for the epic battles involving Mansell, Piquet, Prost, and Senna. The same track that has been the stage of the most boring F1 race for each of the past few years. I feel bad for the fans in Hungary – and the many that went there from Finland and Poland.

Yesterday Kimi Raikkonen drove the whole race behind Lewis Hamilton, although at different points one was better than the other. We should have seen many overtaking moves, but in the current F1 this is impossible. Even Felipe Massa in a Ferrari could not go by Takuma Sato in the slower Super Aguri. The race was boring, but the championship battle has heated up.

War inside McLaren

For starters, I agree that Alonso should be punished for what he did in qualifying. Let’s not forget, though, that he did not start the war when he waited a lot of time to exit the pit stall. Hamilton did, when he refused to let Alonso go by in the fuel burning phase of qualifying. Unfortunately, Hamilton could not be punished by the FIA for breaking team orders, but Alonso could because he broke the sporting rules.

Hamilton drove a reasonable race and did not make any mistakes while Raikkonen was right on his gearbox. Alonso, on the other hand, was overly aggressive and inconsistent at the start, but later figured out that he should score as many points as possible. Seven points separate both drivers in the point standings. The war is far from over.

Felipe Massa’s inconsistency strikes back

Felipe Massa made a costly mistake in qualifying and it led to a series of events that resulted in his worst F1 race ever – at least from my point of view. Felipe lost the balance, going wide into the last turn during his hot lap in Qualifying 2. As he corrected with more steering input, he lost his rear end and almost spun out. That cost him a lot of time. He would need another flying lap to make it to the top 10 – and into Q3. One would expect that Ferrari would be ready for this kind of situation, but guess what? They weren’t. Somehow they managed to forget to put more fuel. Felipe had to shutdown the car as he exited the pit lane and be pushed back all the way to the pit stall. In the meantime, his tyres were just cooling down. With the cold tyres, all he managed was the 14th fastest time.

Is it really all that Ferrari can do with cold tyres? Why did he not move his car from side to side in his warm up lap? In the event Ferrari probably did not tell him how much time was left – and there was plenty of time –, he should have asked... What would Michael Schumacher do?

Then the race... During the first lap he went wide going out of turn 2, allowing Takuma Sato to overtake him. That cost him the race, as he could not overtake Sato, who was on a similar fuel strategy. Is 13th all a Ferrari driver can manage when starting 14th in Hungary? I do not think so. It was one of those races that make us remind of the former, inconsistent Massa, not the one we have seen since the end of 2006.

F1 vs. GP2

Is it just me or the GP2 races have been more fun to watch than F1 for some time now? Even in the tight Hungaroring, there were plenty of overtake manoeuvres. The GP2 cars depend much less on aerodynamics and run on full slick tyres, so drivers can follow the car ahead even on the fast corners. FIA President Max Mosley seems to be taking steps ahead to create rules that create more overtaking in F1. We know it has been a problem for a long time, though. They just could have reacted faster.

Hungary’s quick notes

- Honda struggled a lot more than they have been used to this year. At one point Rubens Barrichello spoke to his engineers that he was flat out all around. He was 3 seconds a lap off the leaders’ pace. Jenson Button also had a similar pace.

- Giancarlo Fisichella was very aggressive at the pit exit, but so was Anthony Davidson in the incident when both touched. Heikki Kovalainein was the best Renault driver of the day, and saved 1 point after starting 11th and finishing 8th.

- Jarno Trulli’s bad first lap ended any chances that he had to score points. His teammate Ralf Schumacher finished 6th, although I think it is too late for him to save his job in F1.

Star of the race:

Nick Heidfeld. He drove a very consistent race and held Alonso back for the final laps. One may argue that Hamilton also held Raikkonen back, but Heidfeld clearly had an inferior car so his battle was more difficult.

Shame of the race:

Felipe Massa.

--Andre N.