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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Race analyses (hopefully) returning soon

So I thought I would have time to write a full race analysis on the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix... I am changing jobs, moving somewhere else, and basically I have to restart my whole life. This blog is suffering for a moment, but changes will be for the best.

The only thing I am sure about is that I will be at the Canadian Grand Prix in less than 2 weeks. A full analysis shall follow the race.

--Andre N.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

2008 Turkish Grand Prix Analysis: Delayed

I was not able to write the Turkish Grand Prix analysis as I usually do. I expect to post some comments during the coming weeks, commenting on the last race and also building up to the next one. The only thing I can be sure about, though, is that the analysis on the Monaco Grand Prix will be posted on the Monday after the race.

The good news is that the Canadian Grand Prix in early June is now my home race, and I will be there.

--Andre N.

Monday, April 28, 2008

2008 Spanish Grand Prix - Race Analysis

If there was such thing as a device that could measure fun, the place to test it would not be the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix. It would just point to 'boring' the whole time, because watching the race felt like watching a funeral procession.

The only moment that probably caught everyone's attention was when Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren hit the tyre barrier at full speed, after his left front tyre suddenly deflated. That moment was definitely not fun at all, as it seemed like he was badly hurt. Luckily, he is ok. Well, he is going to wake up this Monday and find out how sore he is, but at least he did not break any bones.

Kimi led the procession

The other Finnish driver - Kimi Raikkonen - had better luck. He won the race easily. In fact, he returned the favour that his teammate Felipe Massa had given him in Bahrain. Kimi outperformed Felipe in qualifying, although he had more fuel, just like Massa did in the previous race. After that it was just a matter of getting a reasonable start and waiting for Massa to pit first. The race was won after the first corner.

Lewis Hamilton was finally a better driver today than in the past 2 races. No major mistakes this time. He did what he could do, and that was to finish behind both Ferraris. He got a great start, helped by the fact that he was 5th on the grid, on the clean side of the track. His aggressive move cutting to the inside allowed him to overtake Robert Kubica, who started 4th, under breaking. If he did not make that move, he would have finished behind the BMW, because the cars were evenly matched and Barcelona is not the kind of track that allows overtake manoeuvres.

The Alonso show

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso did a wonderful job, and almost pulled off the miracle of finishing fifth in a car that rightfully would have a hard time being in the top 10. It is a shame that his engine blew up on lap 34. I was not surprised that his race ended like that. I think Renault mapped his engine to get more power just so he could put up a show for his home crowd. It is better to score a DNF and have everyone applauding them than to finish 10th without anyone really noticing they were there. Better from the business point of view, that is.

Quick notes:

- Nelsinho Piquet made a mistake that ruined his first good chance of scoring a point. He was running a solid 10th for 4 laps when he braked too deep into the corner and understeered all the way into the gravel trap.

- Two laps after rejoining the race, Piquet tried a risky manoeuvre to overtake Bourdais for 17th, and ended up hitting the STR. That put an end to Nelsinho's race. It was just a racing incident, but he could have spared himself from this situation had he not lost so many positions due to his mistake.

- Mark Webber drove the miracle race that Alonso wanted for himself, and finished a brilliant 5th. His strong performance in qualifying was a big boost for the race.

- It is not true that Kovalainen's incident left no victims. Nick Heidfeld's race was killed by the safety car deployment. He had to pit for fuel while SC sign was up, which meant by rules that he had to pay a 10-second stop-and-go later on. He scored no points.

- While Heidfeld's BMW was behind the much inferior Force India driven by Fisichella, it was noticeable that it is almost impossible to overtake in Barcelona. Everytime Nick got closer, he lost aerodynamic grip and had no chance of overtaking. Formula One needs more mechanical grip. FIA, please bring back the slick tyres!

- Sebastian Vettel was once again caught in a first lap incident that caused him to retire. It was not his fault, as Adrian Sutil was spinning in front of him and there was nowhere for him to go.

- David Coulthard was the victim of Timo Glock's reckless driving, and had a puncture when the Toyota collided with his RBR. He had already been hit by Sutil during the first lap. This time David was just trying to stay out of trouble, unlike in the previous races. Either way it does not seem to work out for him this year.

Star of the Race:
Mark Webber

Shame of the Race:
Nelsinho Piquet

Sunday, April 06, 2008

2008 Bahrain Grand Prix - Race Analysis

Since Friday, Ferrari seemed to be the team that would dominate the Bahrain Grand Prix. During the practice sessions, another fact could be noticed: Felipe Massa had better car balance than Kimi Raikkonen. If nothing disastrous happened, it was clear to me that they would finish 1-2, with Felipe ahead of Kimi (reference: my previous post Raikkonen and Hamilton under pressure?), and so it happened. It was a brilliant comeback for the Brazilian driver, who had been criticized after making costly mistakes in the previous two races.

Raikkonen was not bad either. He continues to deserve his 'Iceman' moniker, this time for being sensate enough to realize that second place was the best he could get. The Finn knows that many times he cannot match Massa's pace, and settled for the 8 points that put him in the championship lead.

According to my observations, Massa is still faster considering single lap times, but over the course of a race, Raikkonen is more consistent. That reminds me a little of the old Nigel Mansell vs. Nelson Piquet duel at Williams in 1986-87. Due to his own mistakes, the faster Mansell lost a few races to the more consistent Piquet. Both Raikkonen and Massa are long ways from becoming the legends that were Mansell and Piquet, but if I were Massa, I would take a glance at the history books and try to be more consistent. Piquet ultimately won the battle within Williams by winning the 1987 championship.

Not just another German race car

BMW once again showed some promising pace. They seem to be better than McLaren during the race, especially considering that they have less tyre wear than the British team. In fact, their problem is that they cannot heat up their rubber fast enough. That plays a big factor in qualifying. Kubica had to take less fuel than Ferrari and McLaren to be able to get the pole. Once they get around this issue, they will be racing more closely to the red cars. All in all, BMW is leading the Constructors Championship, after finishing 3rd and 4th in Bahrain.

BMW made two mistakes during the race. One at the start, when Robert Kubica had major wheelspin and lost his lead to Massa going into turn 1. The other was when the team provided no information to Kubica about the fact that there was oil on the track. As he lost his grip, Kimi Raikkonen managed to get by him. Those mistakes were not that costly, as the most that BMW could have hoped for was third. Ferrari was in a league of their own and Kimi would eventually get around Robert.

For the second consecutive race BMW got faster, more consistent lap times during their last stint, coincidentally when they used the prime tyres. The cars were lighter on fuel, because the last stint was shorter, but they seemed to be a lot more well balanced. Maybe it is something that BMW's engineers should consider for the next race: two stints with the primes and one with the options.

McLaren struggles, especially Hamilton

If everything went well for Ferrari and BMW, the same cannot be stated about McLaren. Lewis Hamilton was out of control throughout the weekend. On Friday he seemed uncomfortable that his teammate Heikki Kovalainen was very close to - even ahead of - him on the time charts, and crashed into a tyre barrier while trying to be faster. During the race, he got a poor start. His car just did not jump away when the red lights turned off. Later he said it was his own mistake, because he did not press early enough the button that would engage the proper engine setting (reference: post-race driver quotes). At least he raised his hand for that mistake.

By lap 2, Hamilton was in 10th position, behind Fernando Alonso. He still had a chance of finishing at least 6th. Something came loose inside his head, though, because as he accelerated faster than Alonso out of a corner, he did not steer away from the Renault, hit its back, almost flew over it, and lost his front wing. I am not sure what he was thinking. He later made it worse by saying that it was a racing incident. Hopefully he will watch the replay and publicly blame it on himself as soon as possible. I do not recommend waiting one full week for him to change his mind. Felipe Massa just did that after Malaysia and the Ferrari fans were not happy about that.

After the accident with Alonso, Hamilton came in for the pit stop, changed his nose cone, put a lot of fuel and went back to the race with a different strategy. That was not enough. There was no miracle Schumacher-style comeback for him. In the end he finished just 13th.

While everyone talks about Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen has scored the same amount of points - 14. Watch out for him. He does not lack any natural talent in comparison to Hamilton, and driving the last season in the lousy Renault taught him a couple of things that Hamilton is yet to learn. Yesterday, though, he finished only in a business-like 5th.

Quick notes:

- Fernando Alonso could not score any points this time. With 19 of the 22 cars finishing the race, all he could manage was a realistic 10th for Renault. He raced since the second lap without a small part of his rear wing - chopped off by Hamilton - but that did not affect the results.
- David Coulthard brake-tested Jenson Button going into a corner and 'f'orgot' to check his rearview mirrors. Button avoided the crash under braking, but Coulthard simply turned as if nothing was happening. The two collided. These situations are becoming common to Coulthard. He has to stop blaming them on the other drivers or on plain bad luck. He cannot show a gap, brake early and close the door when the driver behind is already committed to a move.
- Although Honda had disappointing race results - Rubens Barrichello was 11th, Jenson Button DNF -, they have once again shown some improvements. While they still lack straightaway speed, they may be consistently fighting for the points if the new aero package planned for Barcelona fixes that.

Star of the race
Felipe Massa

Shame of the race
Lewis Hamilton

--Andre N.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Raikkonen and Hamilton under pressure?

As I watched Free Practice sessions 1 and 2 for the Bahrain Grand Prix, it was obvious that Kimi Raikkonen was fighting to stay on the track. At one point in FP2 he got a similar time to his teammate Felipe Massa, but that was a single lap. Later Felipe put almost one second between them, but the better part of it was probably due to being lighter on fuel. Still, for the long run, Massa seems better. Raikkonen is struggling for grip and is certainly slower than his teammate.

I still expect a Ferrari 1-2 for the race, but it seems like Massa over Raikkonen this time. Unfortunately I am not in time to change my pick at F1 Pick 6.

It is unclear weather Raikkonen's struggle has anything to do with a faster teammate. Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, made a critical mistake while trying to match his teammate Heikki Kovalainen. Lewis accelerated too much going over a kerb and skid into the tyre barrier, destroying his car. It was scary, because for some reason, he never took his hands off the steering wheel. He could have been hurt.

Is pressure affecting the two championship leaders? More to come tomorrow and on Sunday...

--Andre N.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

2008 Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

For the entire week prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix, talks were about the rain that would likely fall during at least one of the sessions. Formula One does not seem to like probabilities this year, so the unlikely happened again and we ended up with a dry track for all 5 sessions, including the race.

Everything (Almost) Perfect for Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen showed the world why he is the current world champion, with a brilliant performance that balanced raw speed and strategy. At the start, he might have passed teammate Felipe Massa going into the first corner, but opted to stay behind since he knew he had fuel for one more lap before the first pit stop. For the next 17 laps he shadowed Massa. Both were pretty quick at this point, but later Kimi would mention at the press conference that they had already reduced the engine's at that time. They were still faster than everybody else and, good for us fans, running in equal conditions. When Felipe came in, Kimi got some clean air and made the best of it, gaining the best part of the 2 seconds that he needed.

Some time was handed to him by the fact that Massa stayed in the pits for about 0.6s longer. I am not sure if Ferrari put more fuel on his car - which would not make any sense -, or if it was just a case of not-so-great pit work. Anyway, Kimi got P1 when he returned to the track and started to pull away from Felipe.

Then it was disaster for Massa. Mental disaster, it seems. After he was more than 4s behind Raikkonen, he should have realized that 2nd place was all he could get. Pressure has never been a factor in his career, and his pace in qualifying showed that. He is a fighter, though, and many times that hurts him more than helps. As he tried harder and harder to keep up with his teammate, he hit the kerb very hard in turn six and his car switched ends between turns 7 and 8. Usually cars understeer going around those corners, so it is very likely that hitting that kerb caused some suspension damage. To make matters worse, he got stuck in the gravel trap and had to abandon the race.

The Best of the Rest

That left the door open for Robert Kubica to finish 2nd. He quietly drove his BMW to the checkered flag, and except for some excessive wheelspin at the start, he made no major mistakes. Since the 2 McLarens had to start back in 8th and 9th - after the blocking penalty in Qualifying - and his teammate Nick Heidfeld lost a few positions going wide around the first corner, no other car that could match his pace was close enough to challenge him. His ideal position would be to finish behind the Ferrari, and luckily for him only one of the red cars made it to the end.

Heikki Kovalainen had a brilliant performance. He outpaced Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, despite having fuel for an extra lap. During the race, he was able to save his tyres, although he drove a long time in traffic, which causes major understeer in today's aerodynamically dependent F1.

Hamilton showed some carelessness with his rubber, just as he did a few times in his rookie season. He certainly needs to improve that, but the main issue for him in Malaysia was that he lost about 10 seconds during the first pit stop, due to a problem with an air gun. At the end of the race he pushed as hard as he could to catch Jarno Trulli, who had a surprisingly good performance for Toyota. As Trulli drove some of his best laps of the race, he guaranteed that Hamilton would finish behind. Those laps were so fast - for a Toyota, that is - and so important, that I must give Trulli the Star of the Race award. Hamilton is still leading the championship, so kudos for him for not trying anything stupid.

Quick Notes:
- Fernando Alonso once again showed that he is pushing Renault to better results than they would get without him. He once again had a fantastic overtake move, this time around David Coulthard. That was only overshadowed by the fact that Nick Heidfeld passed both Coulthard and Alonso as they were fighting against each other.

- Nelsinho Piquet showed a promising race pace. He still has a lot to learn, but he is showing that he can have a year as good as Kovalainen had in 2007. We cannot forget that he fought against Hamilton for the 2006 GP2. What if he drove a McLaren?

- Rubens Barrichello turned the speed limiter off too soon while leaving the pits, and got a drive-through penalty. He later stated that the pit exit was not clearly marked. That is too bad, Rubens, but for some reason the other drivers did not have trouble with that. Good for you that Massa guaranteed the Shame of the Race award with his spin, otherwise...

- Both Williams and STR never showed the same pace from Australia. Sebastian Vettel had a strong showing during the practice sections, but that was it. I wish he had a more reliable car, because he is really great. It was a double DNF for STR and a 'no-pointer' for Williams. I thought Williams was at the same level as RBR, if not better, but now I am not so sure.

Star of the Race
Jarno Trulli.

Shame of the Race
Felipe Massa.

--Andre N.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

2008 Australian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

For Lewis Hamilton, it was a walk in the park - Albert Park, that is. He managed to get a good start, not great, but enough to keep him in first place. From there on, he was lucky that all three safety car interventions did not ruin his pit stop strategy. The only moment when he had to push was during his second stint, in order to make sure that he would pit and return to the track ahead of a surprisingly fast Sebastien Bourdais, who was to have no more pit stops until the end of the race.

Heikki Kovalainen also did a very good job for McLaren, and posted the fastest lap of the race. He even would have a chance of challenging Hamilton for the win, if the safety car did not happen right before his final pit stop. He continues to impress, and the 5th place finish just does not show how good a driver he was during the race. His only mistake was during his fight with Fernando Alonso, to which I will get back later.

The weekend was full of surprises, but Lewis' win was very predictable after the strong performance in qualifying. Almost everything else was unexpected. Things that surprised me the most: Ferrari with 2 blown engines - plus another one on Bourdais' STR -, BMW's very competitive race pace, and the large number of retirements - even for round one of the season.

Problems for Ferrari

Talking about Ferrari, what a messy race that was! Everyone in the team made mistakes. The drivers were excessively aggressive. Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen had each one a couple of close calls. I do not blame Massa for the contact with Coulthard. At worst that was a racing incident, if not Coulthard's fault for not giving him enough room. On the other hand, he had to think about finishing the race that was not going well after he tapped the wall all by himself in the first turn of the race. Raikkonen also cannot be blamed for trying to overtake Kovalainen, but he was certainly too optimistic that he could brake so deep - in fact he could not, hence the drive into the gravel trap.

I was not able to understand Ferrari's strategy, either. Instead of calling Kimi to the pits under the safety car - as did Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica, for example - they waited for the race to restart and 3 laps later he was in, under 'green flag' racing. It would not matter in the end, as he stopped with a damaged engine, just like Massa. Maybe the unpredicted hot weather in Australia caught Ferrari's engineers by surprise, but those engines were in their first one of the two mandatory races.

Bourdais and STR at a Surprising Pace

Sebastien Bourdais drove his STR like a Formula One veteran, although it was only his first grand prix. Team tactics were a big part of the fact that he was about to finish 4th when his engine blew up, but his pace was very good.

Complicated FIA Rules Take Points away from Honda

FIA rules continue to be way too complicated for spectators to understand. Rubens Barrichello received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for refueling while the pits were closed. After the race, he was disqualified for leaving the pits while the red lights were on.

What was he supposed to do in that situation? He was running out of fuel, so there was no other option but to stop. The fact that he had to make the stop-and-go later already guaranteed that he got no advantage in that situation. What was he supposed to do at the pit exit? Wait for how many minutes before the green light? This rule never made sense to me, and it never will. And the fact that Rubens was allowed to finish the race shows that even the stewards do not know what to make of this rule.

A Wonderful Move by Alonso

Fernando Alonso did a fantastic job with the Renault and finished 4th. So did Hamilton, Heidfeld and Rosberg, but the reason that I will give him the Star of the Race award is because he managed to get by both Raikkonen's Ferrari and Kovalainen's McLaren at the same time. What a move that was! Two laps later he was passed by Kovalainen, but the Finn made a stupid mistake - hit the speed limiter by accident while clearing his visor - that allowed Alonso repass him and finish 4th.

Star of the Race
Fernando Alonso

Shame of the Race
Ferrari. Nelsinho Piquet was a candidate for this award after his lousy qualifying run, but during the race he was fine, considering the fact that his car was damaged after he was hit from behind during the first lap.

--Andre N.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

BMW: The Surprise of 2008?

Is BMW going to be the surprise of the 2008 Formula One season? According to Saturday's practice and qualifying times for the Australian Grand Prix, the answer is 'yes'. Robert Kubica will start 2nd. Had he not made a mistake in turn 12 during his final qualifying lap, he would have beaten Lewis Hamilton to the top spot.

I believe that they are much closer to the top 2 teams than everyone had anticipated, which puts than as contenders for race wins this season. Well, someone had anticipated that: Nico Rosberg. He mentioned to journalists a few times that, based on his observations from testing, BMW was going to fight for than 5th place in Australia (as published by He said that they were very fast during the winter, although lap times did not show. Would that be the biggest case of 'sandbagging' ever? Maybe... It would be good for F1 if that was the case.

Nick Heidfeld's 5th place at the starting grid, though, seems more like reality for BMW. As fast as they may be, I do not believe that they are at the same level as McLaren and Ferrari, especially for the long runs between pit stops during the race. Nick is probably on a heavier load of fuel than Robert, and seems to be in better shape for the race. He will fight for the podium, but I am not sure about the race win.

On the other hand, if I am wrong and Kubica pits with the other contenders, watch out as he may win the race!

One final note is that Rosberg also pointed out that what impresses him the most about McLaren is how they simulated race starts. That is something easy to understand. F1 has a single supplier for the electronic control units this season, and the company behind it was already a supplier to McLaren last season. Therefore, I am expecting a great start from both Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. Heikki will start 3rd, and the odd side of the grid has preference going into the first chicane. I expect McLaren to be leading 1-2 before turn 3. Deep inside, though, I am cheering for Kubica to go for it and add fun to this championship.

Let's not forget that Ferrari's Felipe Massa also seems to have a car to fight for the win. The only certainty after qualifying is that F1 fans all over the world have more than enough reasons to want to watch the Australian Grand Prix.

--Andre N.

The Battle for the 2008 Formula One Championship Begins

As I write this, Formula One is already 3 free practice sessions into the 2008 season. Due to personal issues, I was not able to post any articles in 2008... Until now! Rest assured that all races will be fully analysed in 2008! This blog is all about the day after each F1 race.

Once again this season will be, in my opinion, a close battle between McLaren and Ferrari. The edge seems to be with Ferrari, but if you recall last season, every subtle difference from one track to the other could cause a shift in balance. This year though, the edge will probably remain with Ferrari most of the times, as McLaren has lost 100 million dollars - after the spy row - and the two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Alonso will certainly make Renault better and better, but he will have a tough time making them the best of the rest. BMW is my pick to continue as the third force in F1, but with closer competition from RBR and the already-mentioned Renault. Williams will also score better results than in 2007, reliability allowing. The middle pack will be tightly packed together!

The rookie of the year will be Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr., because as good as Sebastian Bourdais is in adapting to F1 after many seasons in CART, he will have a hard time driving the weak STR. Piquet will certainly benefit from Alonso's experience. Timo Glock is not as good as either Piquet or Bourdais, and Kazuki Nakajima is fast but inconsistent.

Who will be driver's champion? Hard to tell. I will go with my pick from 2007, Felipe Massa. I think he is evenly matched with Kimi Raikkonen, although I read many articles from motorsport writers saying that the Finn is better. My guess is that good luck will shift from Kimi to Felipe this year. That has to happen, statistically speaking! It is not all about luck, though. Let's not forget the end of the 2006 season, when Felipe was matching Michael Schumacher's time lap after lap. And his good 2007 campaign, in which he only dropped out of the title's race due to problems related to the car and team, not his driving.

Lewis Hamilton will have a tougher season, because McLaren will suffer the impact from the spy drama. He will eventually survive as a better driver. I am not talking about natural ability, because it is impossible to get better instincts than he already has. I mean the technical aspect of the sport. He will be better and better at developing car setups - and eventually the whole car. Don't get me wrong: He will still fight for the championship. He will just have a harder time than he had in 2007, when he came very close to winning the big title.

So those were some of my points of view. Feel free to disagree if you want! Now let's watch Australia's qualifying, which starts in about 40 minutes!

--Andre N.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blog on hold...

This blog will be on hold while I sort out some personal issues.

--Andre N.