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F1 - THE FOG OF WAR

 It is oft said that truth is the first casualty of war. It is also a truism that in battle a plan does not survive the first shots. So it is in Grand Prix racing. Not one teams weekend went as planned and many found that the truth, or at least their version of the truth, went up in flames as well. Whether it was Red Bull, Hispania or Pirelli, something unplanned hit everyone. The weather was certainly unplanned, with mid afternoon temperatures struggling to break out of the teens. This, combined with the non-abrasive nature of Albert Park meant that teams were struggling to get the new Pirelli tyres up to operating temperature. Some, of course, more than others.  

 

 

  The Pirelli problem was a perplexing one, although it gave us the wide variety of strategies that it was hoped for. Some drivers struggled to make the tyres last and three stopped, thus getting help up behind slower cars and being unable to unlock the speed of the new sets. Two stops seemed to be the optimum strategy as shown by the podium getters, Vettel, Hamilton and Petrov. Startlingly, Sauber's Sergio Perez made only a single stop and made it work with a superb drive to seventh place. Pity about the rear wing. 

   Lotus were the most vocal about their problems with the Pirellis, claiming that that they were unable to get sufficient temperature into the tyres during short qualifying runs. Their pace compared to the leaders in longer race stints seems to add weight to their explanation of their poor qualifying performance but this is one of those truth thingies. Everyone had the same tyres. All the other teams, barring Virgin and Hispania, were able to deal with the tyre/conditions predicament better than Lotus. The problem therefore, in cooler conditions, is either the Lotus or the drivers. From the footage of poor Karun Chandhok's concrete interface moment, it is possibly that the car just doesn't like cold tyres. Yeah, the guy's inexperienced at this level but he's not that crap a driver. He often out-performed Bruno Senna last year while he was in the HRT.  We wait to see how they perform in qualifying at Sepang. It will be warm there so Lotus's excuses in Australia will have no standing if there is not marked improvement.

   As previously stated though, all teams had their problems. Even Red Rags weekend was problematic. Sure, Vettel had a brilliant weekend and showed just how good Newey's latest brainchild is. But Webber was struggling. Struggling for outright pace, struggling to make the tyres last, struggling to better his result here in a Minardi. In all of these he failed. Why? Is it that Vettel has improved by eight tenths of a second since last year? Sorta doubt it although winning that first title can make one more confidant. Mark has lost eight tenths in pace over the winter, not likely either. Remember these two were so closely matched last year that they were usually split by hundredths, if not thousandths of a second in qualifying and after Hungary Webber had more wins and more podiums than Vettel and was comfortably leading the title chase. Car doesn't suit Webber's driving style? Possibly, but he has had that problem before and it hasn't put him that far off his team-mate. There were murmurs from Christian Horner about a possible chassis problem which may be an explanation or maybe Webber is just not destined to have that great race at Albert Park. Think Barrichello and Interlagos. Sometimes it is just not meant to be. And then the Red Rags had their KERS turned off for the race as they were a reliability concern so that didn't help Webber when he got stuck in traffic after his first stop. No KERS no pass. Again, Sepang may give us some more answers.

   Team Britannia seems to have told the truth when they finally admitted that the new wonder exhaust system on the MP4/26 was the equivalent of emu excrement. They then bolted on a bog standard version with a relatively simple under-tray and were instantly close to the pace. The Hoon celebrated his monikers first anniversary by beating Webber to a front row spot on the grid and a fine second place in the race. Not something that anyone thought possible just a fortnight ago. Jenson drove a splendidly, albeit unusually, aggressive race, absolutely hounding Massa through the first stint until getting a drive-through for cutting the corner where he finally managed to barge his way by the Ford pick-up, err sorry, Ferrari. He was heard over the radio querying how the pick-up was able to pull away from him on the main straight while the McLaren's adjustable rear wing was in the open position. It was likely that the barn door that McLaren bolted onto the back of their car to make up for that simple under-tray might just have had something to do with it.

   Meanwhile over at Ferrari their plans went array when their latest offering showed good pace on the straight bits but was as quick as the aforementioned pick-up in the twisty bits. Neither King Fernando or the mended Massa ever looked like troubling the Red Rags or Team Britannia and even connived to finish behind the very impressive Vitaly Petrov. The Silver Slings simply proved that their "Oh Fuck" moment hadn't actually vanished overnight in Barcelona. The unfortunate truth emerged that they were about where they were last year and again the gap between Nico and the unter-ubermensch was still about three to four tenths of a second in qualifying. Had they miraculously fixed their car? Well it wasn't quite as much of a Bassett Hound as it had been in early testing but it is still nowhere near the pace.

   In the Renault camp it came as a bit of a surprise when quick Nick was blitzed all weekend by Petrov. Quick Nick was so un that he failed to get out of qualy one while Vitaly saved the teams plans by planting his black and gold beauty in sixth on the grid and having a superb race to take the final podium spot. Team Willy's weekend was a disaster with both cars suffering from transmission problems. Neither car shone nor finished so their truth of nipping at the heels of the front runners is looking a bit shaky. Force India was probably the most realistic going into the race. Since their stunning pole at Spa in 2009 they have been sliding slowly back to the tail end of the mid-fielders so to have both drivers scoring points was a pleasant surprise for the squad. Even if it was only by the two Saubers being disqualified.

   Speaking of having your best laid plans buggered up. The Saubers showed reasonable pace in qualifying and the duo finished seventh and eighth in the race with the impressive Sergio Perez leading home Kamikaze Kobayashi. Sauber's sneaky plan of have Perez only one stop was not considered feasible by the rest of the paddock but it came off beautifully for the Mexican youngster. Until scrutineering of course. When both Saubers were rubbed out with a rear wing infringement, which they briefly considered appealing but finally accepted. Bugger.

   Toro Rosso's testing pace was shown not to be an underweight ploy after all and Buemi startled everybody by planting his steed in the top ten in qualifying and had a steady run to claim eighth place in the final results. Lotus's woes have already been mentioned but Virgin seems to have fallen even further back from last year and were a good two seconds behind the Lotus's. HRT were a shambles as they again tried to build their cars at the first race but this year they were caught out by the 107% rule which was strictly enforced. They were packing for Sepang on Saturday evening defiantly claiming they would put up a better result in Malaysia. Then again, they couldn't really do much worse.

   So what do we really know about the pecking order after Albert Park. Not much. The Red Rags are fast, the Virgins aren't. Everyone else had plans and expectations go array and even Pirelli didn't get what they expected from their tyres. It was too cold for the tyres, the straight was too short for the movable rear wings to have any effect, Red Rags turned off their KERS and the list goes on. Roll on Sepang where many more answers, however temporary, will be revealed.    

  

Sam Snape

 

 

02/04/2011

F1 Ð THE PHONEY WAR IS OVER

  In days of yore it was once known as the Winter World Championship. Through the 80’s and 90’s McLaren, Ferrari and Williams would slug it out in test sessions throughout southern Europe, mainly in Spain and Portugal, and going into a season you usually had some idea where each team stood. Occasionally some cheating, underweight interloper would liven up proceedings with a mega time, usually to impress potential sponsors, but generally you would get a feel for the grid. Sometimes, of course, you would get it completely wrong. Ferrari, for example, was generally considered to have comfortably won the 1990-91 winter crown and it was felt that Prost was in with a great chance of a fourth title. Bit of a bugger then that Ferrari didn’t win a race in ’91, and that Prost was sacked by the end of the year for describing the car as a truck.

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 It can’t really be described as a Winter World Championship any more. There are only fifteen days of testing allowed in four tests at three circuits. To show just how vast the difference is, I’ll use 1999 as an example. And 1999 was not the high point. There was 171 days of testing in 61 separate tests at 9 different circuits. Sure, quite a few of these were a single team running on a single days, say Ferrari at Fiorano, but you get the picture.

   During the tests these days, many teams are concentrating mainly on tyre wear over longer stints and just making sure that the bloody things actually work for a Grand Prix distance. Most, using their simulators, already know just how quick they can be on a qualifying lap of any circuit in the world, so many do not bother with testing banzai laps any more. Hardly ever are any two teams running the same programme and fuel load at the same time so the regular punter can only get a general, fairly hazy, feel of who is where.

    You can’t even get a real feeling of what impact new rules will make on the racing or running order. Will, for example, the movable rear wings make overtaking easier? Dunno. It’s not much point basing your opinion on tests where the guy in front may be fifty kilo’s lighter in fuel and therefore going faster. One may or may not have their KERS activated. Some drivers mentioned that you won’t be able to pass anyway as there are so many “marbles” off line due to the degradation of the new Pirelli tyres. Pirelli say that there won’t be such high degradation once we get to the warmer climates that races are usually run in and that this was only a problem due to the cool weather in Europe at this time of year.

   So what’s going to happen this year? Buggered if I know. And that will make Albert Park interesting. I hope. Because Albert Park, and I know as an Australian I will be shot for saying this, is as boring a Grand Prix race track as has ever been designed. Unless there is some outside influence, and hopefully the moveable rear wings, KERS and the Pirelli tyres will have the desired effect, it is usually impossible to overtake at Albert Park. Can anyone out there actually name one on track overtaking move for the lead in Melbourne? And Hakkinen v Coulthard doesn’t count. Nor does Ralf Schumacher’s as he was about thirty feet in the air at the time.

   And that’s sort of the point. It is not a great advert for a track if there is more aerial activity than on track passing manoeuvres. There are supposedly three passing spots at Albert Park. Turn one, where there have been numerous first lap pile ups, including the afore mentioned Ralf’s assault on Barrichello, but bugger all passing. Turn three is more often remembered for; a) Martin Brundle’s aerial antics in the Jordan in ’96, b) Jacque Villeneuves more tragic repeat of Martin’s stunt in 2001 or, c) Kamikaze Kobayashi’s harpooning of Hulkenberg last year. And turn nine, well nothing ever happens there because just off line is a bloody great bump in the track surface and if you go across that in the breaking zone you are only ever destined for the kitty litter. Normally it is just one and a half hours of cars following each other about hoping for the guy in front to retire.

   Don’t get me wrong though. I love having a Grand Prix in Australia. The speed, the sound, the smell and the atmosphere are all a wonderful assault on the senses. I just wish there was an actual race as well. There have been times when, 20 or so laps into a race I have thought, “God I wish this would just hurry up and finish.” And I believe that many other fans are thinking much the same thing. This is why spectator numbers are falling not because they need more off tract entertainment. It’s a great event but a shithouse race track and if your average family wants to spend one to two months income on a three day Grand Prix, they want to see some actual, bloody, racing! If the Australian Grand Prix is to survive in the long term it must move. But to where? To Sydney at a modified (heavily) Eastern Creek perhaps. Homebush is a fantasy/nightmare which will never happen. Back to Adelaide? Not sure if they could afford it any more. Or perhaps, as has been suggested, a purpose built track outside Melbourne. 

  Still, the anticipation is high. Who will be on pole? Will the new regs work? Who will win? My guess is; a) either a Red Bull or a Ferrari, b) to a certain extent & c) either a Red Bull or a Ferrari. We may not get to see the full effects of the new rules until Malaysia where passing is possible under normal circumstances. That should be a VERY interesting race. Especially if it rains again.

  And who is where? Well as previously mentioned it looks as if Red Bull and Ferrari have got it right for the start of the season. Hopefully Felipe Massa has returned to his best form after a difficult comeback year last season and we will have a genuine four way fight for the lead. McLaren seem to have too many problems and their lack of reliability has hampered their efforts to find any real pace so far. Mercedes probably have too much ground to make up from their “Oh fuck” moment in Valencia although they say their recent upgrade has made a huge difference. It is still very hard to turn a fat bulldog into a greyhound in such a short time.

    Renault? Depends on how they get past losing Kubica and if the forward exhaust/blown floor concept works in all conditions and how much Nick Heidfeld can extract from it. Williams could surprise with their radical rear end and Toro Rosso have been showing good speed with their sort of twin floor concept, although how much of that is genuine speed we will only know on Saturday week. The twin floor idea has been tried before, very unsuccessfully by Ferrari in 1992. It ended Ivan Capelli’s career. The rest will bicker over the scraps.

   Unless, of course, there is something else we don’t know yet.

 Sam Snape

 14/03/2011 

 

F1 Ð JEREZ HEIDFELD BAHRAIN & BLOWN FLOORS

  I seem to recall that at about this time last year the Saubers were very fast. It is quite amazing just how light you can make an F1 car even with seven or eight laps worth of fuel on board. You take out the ballast, KERS batteries and anything else not necessary for a six lap screamer and hey presto, there you are on top of the time-sheets. In days gone by teams have been known even to run with lightweight wings that would only last a few laps to get their headline time. I’m surprised that some haven’t given their driver a laxative and sent him out for a long run prior to driving. That would shed a few kilos. Now all of a sudden this years Mercedes and Williams challengers have gone fast for a day  Just one. 

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 Far be it for me to suggest that Williams, for example, would not want a nice chart topping time just days before they float the company on the stock exchange. That would be way too cynical. Tut, tut, naughty boy, perish the thought. But somehow I just cannot see the front row of the grid in Bahrain being shared by a Williams and a Mercedes. Can’t see the McLaren’s only on the fourth row or the Red Bulls back on the seventh behind the Toro Rossos either. Especially considering their comparative pace through the rest of testing and the fact that the unter-ubermensch has already dampened Merecdes title hopes. He has stated that he doesn’t believe that they can make a title challenge and that "the target is still the same as we said weeks ago: to hopefully be, with this car, on the podium and maybe, if things go very well, to win a race this year.” As what they said “weeks ago” sounded very much like “Oh fuck” so does this latest statement.

   Still, you never know, it might rain in Bahrain. More likely though, Bahrain will not take place. As the political dramas sweeping the Middle East escalate into violence in these countries with police shooting and killing protestors in Manama, Bahrain’s capital city, the GP2 race scheduled for last week was cancelled and the final F1 test and opening Grand Prix are in extreme doubt. The last time a GP was cancelled due to political unrest was in 1976 in Argentina.

   After his chart topping run in Jerez Nick Heidfeld has been given the Renault drive, replacing the injured Robert Kubica. Robert, by the way, has undergone what is expected to be the final operation to fix the injuries he received in the rally accident and is making good progress. As many expected, Renault chose the German’s experience over their own reserve drivers as they needed someone that could guide the team’s development of the forward exiting exhausts. The idea here is that a blown floor will provide more down-force that just a blown diffuser and therefore claw back some of the lost down-force from the banning of the double diffuser. Rumour has it that McLaren are already well advanced with their version of this concept as well but they did not use any such system on their cars in Jerez. Still, if the teams have another two weeks to develop their mounts than expected, due to the Bahrain situation, who knows what the front row in Melbourne will look like.

   Finally, a rumour doing the rounds is that Vitantonio Liuzzi will get to test for Hispania F1 in Barcelona with the chance of securing the final seat on the grid. They will still be running last year’s car at Catalunya and will not debut the F111 until the fourth and final test, wherever that may be. Probably not in Bahrain

  For full testing times from Jerez go to;

 http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=149&Itemid=38 

Sam Snape 

17-02-2011

KUBICA CRASHES IN RALLY Ð UNLIKELY TO RACE THS SEASON

  Robert Kubica is likely to be out of action for the entire 2011 Formula 1 season as a result of the serious injuries he sustained in his accident on the opening stage of the Ronde di Andora rally. He had lost control of his Super 2000 Skoda Fabia just a few kilometres into the event and clipped the wall of a church. The car then rebounded across the road and struck a crash barrier head on. The Armco penetrated the cockpit of the car through the firewall and hit Kubica, badly injuring the right-hand side of his body. As well as multiple fractures to his right arm and leg, of more immediate concern was his partially severed right hand. His co-driver Jakub Gerber was not injured.

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 Robert underwent a seven-hour operation earlier today at the Santa Corona Hospital in Pietra Ligure. There were fears that the hand may have had to be amputated, but doctors managed to reattach the blood supply during a lengthy operation and are hoping the repair will be successful. "It has been a very important and difficult operation," said hand surgeon Mario Ignor Rossello. "Robert Kubica's right forearm was cut in two places, with significant lesions to the bones and the tendons. We did our best to rebuild the functions of the forearm. "At the end of the operation, Robert's hand was well vascularised and warm, which is encouraging," he added.

    When asked by reporters about what the future holds for Kubica, he answered: "We will see in the next days what will happen. "The danger is that in five or seven days we have vascular problems. He could have surgery again to resolve the problems." It has been suggested that Kubica will take at least a year to recover, but Rossello insisted: "Drivers are always very special patients. I have a lot of motorbike patients and they heal in the fastest way possible, much faster than normal people." 

   This will, of course, come as a huge blow to the Renault team who had, just days earlier, topped the test times with Kubica at Valencia. As they have produced an innovative new car with its forward mounted exhaust exits they may need to look at hiring an experienced driver to steer the development in the right direction. The current team reserves, Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean, are perhaps not considered experienced enough and neither would be looked upon at this point as a team leader in Formula One. Nick Heidfeld is probably the obvious choice but over at Force India, Adrian Sutil still has not been officially confirmed so he may be able to move. Mind you, he may have already have a signed contract that is about to be announced at Force India’s launch this week, Although if Sutil moved it would save Force India from figuring out what to do with Vitantonio Liuzzi who currently has a valid contract to race with the team this year but who has, so far, been replaced by Paul di Resta.

 Sam Snape

 07-02-2011

F1- SEASONAL SILENCE SOON TO BE SHATTERED

  These are long hard months. Cold damp winter up North, well actually damned cold with bucket loads of snow. Blazing hot down South, apart from those areas in Australia and Brazil that have been washed away by some of the largest floods in may a year. And nary the faintest hint of an 18,000 RPM V8 wailing away in the distance to be latched onto in desperate hope. The loudest noise in F1 land is the clicking of keyboards on a designer’s computer, the whooshing of a wind tunnel, the hum of an autoclave baking the latest monocoque and the thump of steel on carbon fibre as said monocoque passes its mandatory crash test.

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  True, this is when the tech boys, such as Adrian Newey et al, really earn their crust. And the chaps that build all those fiddly little bits are putting in seven day a week shifts to gain that last 0.010 of a second in lap time.

 But that’s OK. They mostly live in Europe anyway and couldn’t have gone anywhere if they wanted to. They were all snowed in. Happy White Christmas guys. Digging through four or five feet of freezing, icy white stuff to get to a car that probably won’t start sure takes the romance out of that scenario. 

  But for the rest of us, it’s just a long bloody silence with only rumour, hot air and innuendo to keep the drug flowing. Coke snorting dopers have no idea what real withdrawals are like. Not even Charlie Sheen can know what it’s like for a F1 fan. No desire to quit but forced into three months cold turkey. Aaaaggghhh….. 

  It wasn’t always like this though. Just five years ago we would have had the “launch season” which in reality was a moving yawn where every team manager would tell us how they were going to win this coming season. But at least there was some colour, some pizzazz, plenty of free booze and some pictures for the magazines. There was also some testing going on. Even in January you could find someone pounding around Jerez or Catalunya.

 

 And ten years ago, before this era of stringent financial responsibility, there would be teams with new drivers and interim cars making hay while the winter sun shined through from November to February. Many running hugely under-weight and smashing lap records in the hope of conning some sponsor silly enough to believe the times. The fun thing was however, that no-one really knew if the times were bogus or not. They often were, but there was always hope that one of the minnows had got it right.

 

 

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  Then of course were the really “good old days” Opening round of the World Championship in the searing heat of Buenos Aires in early January. Heaven. True, most teams showed up with the previous year’s cars but they now had different paint jobs and different fellows sitting inside them. The new cars usually didn’t arrive until the start of the “European” season in April or May.

 And before that? In the sixties the top teams would bundle everything off to New Zealand and Australia for the eight race Tasman Series. A winter world championship, so to speak, which was won by the likes of McLaren, Clark, Stewart and Amon. Would that we could enjoy that utopia nowadays.

   But we can’t, so stop whining. Tomorrow though, our cold sweats and DTs will end as the first test of the year gets underway at the Ricardo Tormo circuit near Valencia. The majority of teams will have the initial version of their new cars on hand, but some, like McLaren, will be running interim cars so they can squeeze out that last week of computer time.

  At the big end of town there are no real changes. Red Bull still have Vettel and Webber, McLaren have Hamilton and Button, Ferrari, Alonso and Massa, Mercedes, Rosberg and the unter-ubermensch and Renault keep Kubica and Petrov. In fact the only real change here is that Group Lotus have bought into the Renault team and it is planned that they will run in a black and gold livery that doesn’t remind anyone at all of the old John Player Special sponsored cars of a bygone era. Not in the slightest. Much. Nice though. 

  One problem may be that Canada has laws that forbid any advertising/sponsorship that even remotely looks like an old fag packet. Makes me wonder just what Ferrari will do in Canada also. Surely the fact that the Scuderia is still sponsored by Marlboro can have nothing at all to do with the “flag” on the engine cover that bears a startling resemblance to half a packet of the Marlboro chevron. How long before that goes the way of the barcode?

 

 

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   In the lower half of the field is where all of the changes have been made. Williams has dumped the talented Nico Hulkenberg in favour of Pastor Maldonado and the mega bucks from Venezuela while retaining Barrichello who will start his nineteenth season in the top grade. Force India have dropped “Luckless” Liuzzi and promoted the talented Scot, Paul di Resta. Hulkenberg takes over di Resta’s spot as their test driver which should keep the pressure on both Paul and Adrian Sutil.

   Sauber has secured major dollars from Telmex along with a couple of young Mexican drivers, Sergio Perez, who will race alongside Kamikaze Kobayashi, and Esteban Gutierrez who will be their test driver. Toro Rosso has added West Australian Daniel Ricciardo, but only as their Friday test driver to their current race line-up of Buemi and Alguersuari. For now. Team Lotus have swapped their Cosworth engines for a Renault power-plant and a Red Bull rear end but have retained both Trulli and Kovalainen.

    Hispania F1 have signed Narain Karthikeyan and, well, someone who they may or may not announce sooner or later. They have done a deal for a Williams gearbox but just what they will be putting that into is still a mystery, A new car? A 2010 Toyota, that is still a possibility now that they have some Indian cash to chuck about? Or a tinkered with Dallara?  Finally Virgin struck a sponsorship deal with Russian sports car maker Marussia and Timo Glock will be joined by promising Belgian Jerome D’Ambrosio. 

  So who will be quick? Well, the top half will probably still be the top half come season’s end although Williams might break back into that group. Many hope so. Last years bottom feeders will hope to break into the midfield, while the midfield will hope that they don’t. And as you can’t even run underweight in testing any more, the next few days should give us a glimpse of who has got it right. Or more rightly, it might give us a glimpse of just who has gotten it horribly wrong. 

  

 

Sam Snape