Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bahrain GP

What bugs me most more than the lack of drama in the Bahrain GP at Sakhir is I missed 1 hour of the race due to the clocks losing an hour due to daylight savings. Couldn’t it have happened on some other Sunday! I didn’t really expect racing with full tanks would make a race so processional. It is good that Schumacher scored points on his return and beat all but 5 drivers. I’m hoping he’ll be back to his form in a few races’ time. Red Bull were a big surprise to me considering they were largely silent in winter testing. While the first fly-away races are definitely a better indicator of the pecking order than testing, judgments have to be reserved until we get to Europe. I’m expecting to see some shake-up in the order of the first four teams. Jenson Button and Mark Webber performed as expected (somehow you don’t expect them to match or beat their energetic teammates, at least not every time).

You have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a season which Ferrari started in such a great fashion, which means it’s the first time Ferrari’s new management have tasted a 1-2 in the season opener. Alonso was cementing his position at the top with a series of blinding laps at the end but Massa could well have done the same had he not been required to run his engine rich.

Force India did very well to open a season with points and they last did this 9 years ago when they were Jordan. But it was actually a

disappointment as Sutil could well have scored substantial points but for the first corner melee. Their progress is significant as it is clear that they getting ever closer to the top teams all the time, and they beat teams like Renault, Williams and Sauber on merit.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New teams

One of the questions you can ask about F1 this season is, “Has it been diluted due to the addition of new teams?” I know it’s loutish to be asking this question when someone is putting in colossal efforts to make it to the top echelon. But when one of them, USF1, isn’t going to make it to the grid, and the other, Campos, had to go through so many difficult changes, you can’t help yourself. Isn’t F1 supposed to be a brilliantly orchestrated world where things fall into place, in the eyes of the public, smoothly?

A hasty addition to expand the grid is what it looks like from the outside. The new teams will have had nowhere near the input that the old teams have into their cars. Don’t get me wrong, I have huge respects for the folks at Lotus and Virgin Racing for having an F1 car ready for testing in a such a compressed timeline but all of them should have gone racing for the next season. They will have had much more preparation by then, would not have been 5 seconds behind the other teams and would have made racing more exciting for us fans by mixing it with the lower midfield, which I doubt they will do this year.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What testing tells

The just-concluded winter testing tells us that it is very close between four teams this season—Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. For a while it looked like Ferrari were going to wipe the floor with the rest of them and then suggestions came out that McLaren were actually looking a little faster. While Ferrari and McLaren seemed to be slugging it out, Adrian Newey’s team did not seem bothered to grab the headlines. Then Mark Webber slams in just that—a headline lap time. So the Milton Keynes team is there in the mix too? You bet. Michael Schumacher went from being slightly lukewarm about Mercedes’ chances for the start of 2010—not totally surprising, as he has not been known to play up his or his team’s chances in the past—to concluding it is looking positive after all. The Saubers and the Williamses look to be behind the leading bunch and it looks like Force India are going to go after them. The Silverstone squad are talking about taking their aero package, which was very good last year in terms of low-ish drag, and adding a healthy helping of downforce to get the car working in corners. The downforce/drag ratio is a difficult thing to nail and it should be quite exciting to see how much Force India have improved in this area. More championship points this season? It could be easier this time given the changes to the points system. I think a good measure of Force India’s improvement this year will be lap times rather than points. It is also worth noting how their in-season development changes after James Key’s departure to Sauber.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Australian Grand Prix

That was an unbelievable showing from the whole Brawn GP team. The cars were reliable and had spectacular pace. And both the drivers put those to good use to take a well-deserved and much celebrated 1-2. It shows not only Ross Brawn’s midas touch but also the potential of the ex-Honda squad he leads. I have to admit that I shared the popular skepticism with regards to the reliability of the cars—after all they didn’t have so much as a proper winter testing—but happily they got to the end. I also think the driving style of the drivers helped—I was always under the impression that Button had a bit more in reserve.

David Coulthard was talking later on on whether Ross Brawn purposely builds a physically strong car and I suspect he does. That is the only way Rubens could have got away with his nose relatively intact after his clashes. Normally, as Eddie Jordan said, the nose cone would be flying in that kind of impact. 

Vettel in the Red Bull stayed vaguely in touch with Button’s Brawn although promptly lost a podium finish with a clash with Robert Kubica whose BMW came alive in the last part of the race on prime tyres.

It’s difficult to know what Ferrari could have done if many of the things that went wrong for them had went right: strategy, cold tyre problems in the restart, Raikkonen’s mistake and a steering issue for Massa. I think it’s fair to say that the Ferrari of these days don’t seem to radiate the solidity of the Jean Todt/Ross Brawn/Michael Schumacher days. Getting back lost operating philosophies is more difficult than clawing back lost performance. I hope the team have not yet fully forgotten their methodical perfection of the recent years.

And it was incredible to watch how quickly fortunes change; Hamilton’s arrival had the F1 media nearly forget that there was at least one other talented British driver on the grid (read Button) who can get the job done. And now Button is leading the championship with an inch-perfect driving and an incredible start to the season! Keeping my fingers crossed for their reliability in the Malaysian GP!

More Information: Race Pictures

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Briatore’s mantra

I previously sussed that Flavio Briatore bases his recent comments on the diffuser issue on what people call the ‘spirit’ of the regulations. His latest thoughts on the issue clearly highlight this:

The interpretation of the regulations was very clear in the past - the cars need less downforce for safety reasons. Correct? Every time we build a new car it was to be two to three seconds slower than the previous car. Correct? That was always the intention of the Federation.

What happened here is that the three teams (Brawn GP, Williams, Toyota) are going pretty clearly in the direction of downforce. And as we all knew that we will run on slick tyres from '09 on, it was the intention of FIA president Max Mosley and the Federation to impose new rules to reduce downforce.

But somebody was going in the downforce direction that was forbidden by the FIA, and that is not following the principles of the rules.

It’s certainly the intention of the new rules to reduce downforce. Having said that, you can’t expect a Brawn aero boffin to tell his colleagues, “All right guys, the FIA wants us to go slower this year and so make sure you build a slow car.” That will be ridiculous. What the three teams have done is simple: they read the regulations and interpreted in such a way that they could put into the car their fastest possible diffuser concept all the while staying on the correct side of the rules. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect this of any team. F1Fanatic says Williams made a point with their protest against the Ferrari and Red Bull teams. This was a masterstroke from Williams. 

As I’ve been saying, any team’s job is to make sure their car complies with the regulations. If they also factor into their car design the supposed outcome of the regulations (which Briatore seems to claim his team did), well, they are doing something which they don’t need to.

This diffuser row, if anything, is putting into spotlight the inadvertent (or may be intentional) practice of the FIA to leave their technical wordings open to widely differing interpretations.

More Information: Briatore’s Say

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Surtees’ indelicate comment on Button

The only MotoGP and Formula 1 champion, John Surtees, reportedly had the following to say of Jenson Button:

Sebastian Vettel is an example of a real driver, look at Button - frankly, I wouldn't have confirmed him with the team. If you don't give 100 per cent, even when the car is not good, you have to be sacked - you can't just be good when you have a good car.

I consider this comment to be seriously flawed. Firstly, comparing Button with another driver from another team is not the right way to go about criticizing (or commending, for that matter) his performance. The two operate in completely different scenarios in just about every area and it is simply not right that their results are matched just like that. If Vettel winning the wet Monza has made him the ‘real driver’ in Surtees’ eyes, what does he make of the Button who won the rain-soaked Hungarian GP in 2006? Secondly, I don’t understand how Surtees is so certain that Button is not giving his 100%. From his on-track results? Results are skewed by a number of factors—car performance being the primary one. Only the driver and his engineers know what he’s doing in the car. Nobody else does.

More Information: Surtees On Button

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flavio Briatore’s latest

The Renault boss man is on it again. His latest gripe is about some teams cleverly exploiting the diffuser rules and its associated performance gain. He famously got wound up when his team fell back on horsepower and now it is the diffuser issue. Reportedly, he stops short of saying that Williams and Toyota employ illegal diffusers in their cars.

Without doubt the Renault aerodynamicists are as clever as the others in the paddock. I wonder why then Briatore chooses to go public instead of pushing his engineers to go into the same ‘loophole-exploiting’ mode as the Williams and Toyota men do? Being illegal is operating deliberately outside the regulations which is clearly different from being right on the edge in sticking to the rules.

There’s always going to be two answers to this problem—the diffuser is legal if you go by the wording of the rules (the Williams and Toyota way) and it is illegal if you bring the ‘spirit’ of the regulations into the picture (which seems to be Flavio’s premise). The ‘spirit’ of the regulations is not what the teams have to be concerned with, in my point view. It’s the FIAs job to do that. The FIA Technical Working Group will have (must have) framed the diffuser dimensions to make it work to their target and their target might have been to reduce the downforce. The teams are obliged to design their cars to the rules and not to the effect which the rule change promised to bring.

If, as is reported, the Toyota, Williams and Brawn cars’ diffusers are designed per the wording of the regulations, they are legal. This is how I see this issue.

More Information: Technical Analysis | Diffuser Is Legal

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