Belgian Grand Prix: Aussie Aussie Aussie

Belgian Grand Prix: Aussie Aussie Aussie

Daniel Ricciardo took out his third win of the season at Spa-Francorchamps after a faultless drive allowed him to pick up the pieces of Mercedes disastrous race. Nico Rosberg somewhat controversially took the second step of the podium, while the quiet achiever at Williams; Valtteri Bottas came home to finish third. From lights out, Hamilton got the jump on Rosberg on the run down into La Source, but so too did Vettel. Starting from P3, the Red Bull was quick off the line to challenge the two Mercedes down into turn 1. Rosberg reluctantly conceded two positions, until a too-eager Vettel ran wide, letting Rosberg back through to challenge Hamilton. The rest of the field made it through La Source relatively unscathed, with the exception of Bianchi, who ran wide down to Eau Rouge and was clipped by Romain Grosjean as he re-entered the track. The tone for the rest of the race however, was set on the second lap after a very clumsy tussle between the two Mercedes. As Lewis Hamilton led his team-mate* into Les Combes, Rosberg went off the racing line to have a look around the outside of Hamilton. Hamilton continued on the racing line to make the apex of the corner, only to find Rosberg still there… Rosberg’s front wing clipped Hamilton’s left rear, causing a puncture (and soon a full blow-out) and a considerable loss of downforce to Rosberg’s car. All of this, and only on lap two.

Daniel Ricciardo was there to pick up the pieces of the scrapping Mercedes. Ricciardo was calm and calculated, not to say he wasn’t pushing. Making it somewhat of a habit, Ricciardo took Alonso into Les Combes on lap 4 to hunt down Vettel. He didn’t have long to stalk behind his team-mate before another mistake on Vettel’s behalf forced him wide, allowing Ricciardo to pounce past, and scamper away. The young Australian led for most of the 44 lap race, defending his top step finish right down to the last lap. Ricciardo finished the race on 17 lap old medium compound tyres, just 3.3s ahead of a fully recovered Rosberg on 10 lap old soft compound. A brilliant drive, and a well deserved win for Ricciardo and his “big homies” (his words, not mine). Vettel, though somewhat outshined by the young-gun, put in an impressive drive (though clumsy in areas) to finish P5. Vettel’s race came to a climatic finish following his final pit stop for soft compound tyres with just 10 laps remaining. The strategy put Vettel right amongst the battle in the midfield between Magnussen, Button, and Alonso. The wheel-to-wheel action saw Vettel capiltalise on mistakes made by Button and Alonso, moving himself up to P5 on the final lap. Despite a solid finish, Vettel’s race was a little shabby, exceeding track limits at the Curve Paul Frere, and running wide through Les Combes on the opening lap.

Valtteri Bottas completed the podium line-up, making up three positions to finish third. The Williams, clearly much more competitive in the dry conditions made progress early on in the race, making an easy pass on Rosberg before remaining steadily on the gearbox of Vettel. Following the Finn’s pit on lap 38 for the harder compound, Bottas breezed past Vettel on the run into La Source, and never looked back. Having no such luck, Felipe Massa picked up damage from Hamilton’s tyre debris, spoiling his race from early on. Massa spent most of the afternoon well outside the points, though finished his race in the 1:54s in P13.

Kimi Raikkonen looked in strong podium contention at Spa, though in the end, the F14 T didn’t have the pace to challenge the Williams. Still running the smaller wing, Kimi was lapping within the 1:54s compared to Alonso’s 1:56s, showing that hopefully the Finn is becoming more comfortable in the Ferrari. Alonso’s race got off on the wrong foot, with team personnel still on the grid at the start of the formation lap. Alonso was awarded a 5 second stop-go penalty, which he served on lap 13. Though the penalty could have been worse for Alonso, it did bring him out behind Magnussen, who proved not as easy to pass as Alonso would have expected. The F14 T looked very scrappy, lacking considerable grip and even speed against the MP4-29 (which is slightly embarrassing). In the final laps, the Ferrari was in the midst of the battle for P5, 6, and 7. Though spoiled his chances by running wide, allowing Vettel through. Eventually Alonso finished P8.

McLaren had one of their best results of the season of a double points finish, with Magnussen P6 ahead of Button in P7. Magnussen had already shown he could hold his own against Alonso, though managing a two stop strategy finishing on 20 lap old medium compound tyres is rather something in your rookie year. Jensen Button waited until the final stages of the race to do something exciting, keeping himself ahead of the Ferrari, and for a time the Red Bull as well. Alonso had eventually made it past Button, though running wide on the final lap allowed the McLaren through for P7.

Force India had a better race than qualifying, though only managed to get one car into the points. Perez made up four positions in the race to finish P9 on a two-stop strategy. Hulkenberg, on the same strategy, made up a full nine positions to finish just outside the points in P11.

Danill Kvyat took out the final point of the race, finishing P10. Kvyat had a quiet, but positive race. Vergne was unlucky to score a point at Spa, lapping in the 1:53s, albeit in clean air and with no one behind him. Perhaps the pressure of losing his Toro Rosso seat will push Vergne the same way it pushed Massa last season?

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with neither driver picking up a point. Sutil finished ahead of his team-mate in P14. Gutierrez at least had a better race than he did qualifying, though he did only manage P15.

Max Chilton was involved in a rare occurrence of racing in challenging Ericsson for P16. Hats off to Max though, who after having stalked down the Caterham once, lost considerable ground in the final few laps due to blue flags as the scrap between Magnussen, Button, Vettel, and Alonso moved through. The Marrusia managed to let everyone past, and close the gap back to Ericsson in less than a lap, to eventually overtake the Caterham. Jules Bianchi was forced to retire on lap 41, though his race was ruined from the opening lap. Following his contact with the Lotus, Bianchi never managed to make up his lost grid positions.

It was not the best day at the office for Lotus, with neither driver reaching the chequered flag. Maldonado retired on lap 2, due to exhaust issues on his E22 calling it quits. Grosjean made it to the final ten laps before damage from debris forced him to retire.

With the number of cars that picked up damage from debris during the race, it is a wonder why at no point the Stewards thought it might be a good idea to deploy the safety car and clear the track. That being said, if the track had of been cleared, Nico Rosberg wouldn’t have picked up with very snazzy decal around his antenna (a piece of Lewis’ tyre). The safety car would have however, brought the grid back together, saving a few races. All in all, I don’t think anyone will be complaining about the top step result, as Ricciardo remains the only driver able to win a race against the Mercedes this season. It’s the Tifosi’s turn to host Formula 1, as the championship moves to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks time, so until then, bonsoir.

– Alex

* That term is used very loosely now

Belgian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Mercedes lock out the front row of the grid ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, though it was Nico Rosberg who could hold his own in the tricky track conditions, to out qualify his team-mate for pole position. Lewis Hamilton, therefore settles to start alongside in P2, with Sebastian Vettel still two seconds behind for P3. The Spa circuit lived up to its reputation of varying track conditions during qualifying. A massive downpour in the hour before the first session ensured that the already challenging track was, shall we say; moist. The slippy track resulted in many an off-moment for most of the grid.

Mercedes still clearly have the lead on the rest of the grid, qualifying a full two seconds ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull. Nico Rosberg kept a level head during all three sessions. While playing the usual game of cat and mouse between his team-mate for provisional pole, it was a more calculated racing line that saved Rosberg time, securing him pole position. Hamilton suffered several off-moments during qualifying, mostly around the Bus Stop Chicane, though he could be seen twitching through Eau Rouge in Q2. With no mechanical issues for the F1 W05* , Hamilton has nothing to fall back on, he just wasn’t quick enough for Rosberg today.

Red Bull appear to be closing the gap to the Mercedes, albeit, not by much. Vettel stayed on the intermediate tyres for all three sessions, a risky choice as rain continued to spatter the track, but a risk that paid off nonetheless. In the final session, Vettel ran wide after swapping to fresh intermediates and not having his tyres up to temperature. It took three laps on the new tyres for Vettel to set a time of 2:07.717 for P3.

Ricciardo continues to challenge his team-mate, briefly pushing him into the drop zone in during Q2. Also choosing the stick with the intermediate tyres, Ricciardo recovered from a rather thrilling twitch through Blanchimont to sit just behind Vettel with 2:07.911. The Australian sat in P4 until Alonso crossed the line, settling him to start P5 on the grid.

Alonso had a few moments throughout the day, suffering a right front lock up in Q2, and a few twitches at Eau Rouge in Q3, though overall had quite a positive qualifying. The Ferrari driver put his F14 T through its paces; with slightly better straight-line speed for P4. Raikkonen ran a different wing to Alonso during qualifying, choosing a higher downforce setup to give advantage in sector two. Kimi was rather slow to get going in the first session, venturing out first for two laps on wets, then diving back for inters. When he eventually set a lap time it was more than enough to see him through. Not wanting a repeat of qualifying in Hungary, the team kept Raikkonen out to ensure his passage to the next sessions. In the second session, Kimi catapulted himself from P14 to P5 on the inters, finally coming to rest in P8 in the final session with 2:08.780, 0.994s behind Alonso.

Williams had an interesting qualifying, with the FW36 almost running out of steam towards the end of Q3. Starting strong in the early session, Bottas and Massa challenged for the top end of the time sheets behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls. Though as the day progressed, the Williams didn’t appear to cope as well with the varying conditions. In the wet, Bottas coped well compared to the rest of the grid, though as the track began to dry and the team swapped to the intermediate tyres his advantage diminished slightly. Still very comfortably making it through to the final qualifying session, Bottas steadily found his way back to manage a lap of 2:08.049, for P6. It was a similar story for Massa, finishing the day still 1.7s behind his team-mate, in P9.

McLaren will no doubt be hoping for another dampening of the track during tomorrows race, with the MP4-29 clearly preferring the wet weather. Magnussen did manage to out-qualify his team-mate once again for P7, pushing Raikkonen down to P8 in the final moments of Q3. Jensen Button was under pressure at the end of Q2 after falling into the drop zone (with a lap set by Magnussen), Button pulled it out of the bag and managed to safely make it through to the final session. However, his pace didn’t continue in Q3, failing to improve on his Q2 time, Button will round out the top ten with 2:09.776.

Kvyat was unlucky not to make it to the top ten shoot out, though had a positive qualifying all the same. On his first out lap, the Russian went off at turn 9, with the Spa circuit biting back at the rookie. This was Kvyat’s only real moment, and he went on to set 2:09.377 for P11. Vergne’s pace started off stronger than his team-mate’s, lapping faster in the first session. In the second session however, Vergne couldn’t find the extra 0.5s that Kvyat could, making 2:09.805 on intermediate tyres his best effort for P12.

Force India had a very bipolar qualifying as Nico Hulkenberg didn’t make it out of the first session. Sergio Perez was luckier, lapping a second faster to make it through to Q2. Only improving his Q1 time by half a second, Perez eventually qualified P13 with 2:10.084. It appeared to be a strategic error that cost Hulkenberg his qualifying, with the VJM07 sitting in the garage for the first half of the session. Hoping for a dry line to have emerged, Hulkenberg ventured out on intermediates, though lost time in sector two on cold tyres (and no dry line). The result was 2:11.267 and P18.

Adrian Sutil managed to make it through to Q2, improving over the afternoon to set a lap time of 2:10.238 for P14. However, Sauber suffered from a lack of luck for Esteban. His C33 crawled to a stop during the first qualifying session. Despite only getting in four laps before losing drive, Gutierrez still out-qualified the Caterhams, so you know, small victories.

There were more small victories for Lotus, as Romain Grosjean made it through to the second session. Maldonado didn’t quite make the cut, being pushed out by Magnussen in the final moments of Q1. Pastor was one of the first to feel Spa’s sting, losing the back of his E22 into the Bus Stop Chicane, (you’re not actually meant to park there). The Enstone team therefore starts a little further back than they would have hoped for with Grosjean in P15, and Maldonado P17.

Bianchi continues to impress Marussia (and myself) after another strong performance in qualifying. On the intermediate tyres, Bianchi ended the first session in P14 on the time sheets, ahead of Magnussen and equal with Sutil. In Q2 the MR03 couldn’t keep up, with Bianchi failing to improve on his earlier time to qualify P16. Still, a Marussia in Q2 is a rather impressive achievement. Max Chilton has resolved his contractual issues, though I would have rather seen Alexander Rossi take the MR03 for a spin. Chilton delivered his usual qualifying performance, no real incidents, no real pace for P19.

Caterham have changed their driver line up for the Belgian Grand Prix. Standing in for Kobayashi, Andre Lotterer made his qualifying debut in Formula 1. Lotterer had a slow start to the session. Taking his time to lap within the 107% rule, though managed 2:13.469 after nine laps, out-qualifying Ericsson for P21. Marcus Ericsson therefore rounds out the grid in P22.

It’s difficult to know what to expect at Spa. There has been many a first lap incident on the run down to La Source, with the safety car making an appearance at eight of the last twelve Belgian Grand Prix. Whether tomorrow will deliver such carnage of the past is unknown. However, at a circuit like Spa-Francorchamps, it will undoubtedly be a beautiful race to watch.

– Alex

* And nothing in his eye

Belgian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Bonjour, et bienvenue à le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps! After the seemingly endless Summer Shutdown, the championship resumes for Round 12 at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. The track runs clockwise for 44 laps, the fewer number of laps given that Spa is the longest circuit on the calendar, at an immense 7.004km. Comprised of a mix of highs-peed corners, slow(er) corners, and dramatic elevation changes, Spa is a very challenging track.

Turn 1, La Source, marks the slowest corner on the track before (if you make it out unscathed) opening up to Eau Rouge. There is a risk of cars bottoming out* at the bottom of Eau Rouge, the long sweeping corner should therefore dictate drivers’ ride-height for the rest of the circuit.

With DRS assistance along the Kemmel Straight into sector two, Les Combes offers a lovely opportunity to overtake. The second sector is made up of slow corners (that’s a relative term there…) where mechanical grip is important. A good exit at Turn 15 for the Curve Paul Frère is needed to take Blanchimont at full speed, and into the Bus Stop Chicane for another opportunity to overtake.

Spa is a low drag, lower downforce circuit. So an aerodynamically efficient setup is favoured to assist in straight-line speed for sectors one and three. Teams opting for more rear wing are typically going for a stronger sector two. Despite having 19 corners, brake wear is considered light, giving an indication of just how little braking is needed.

The Belgian Grand Prix is a favourite among drivers and spectators; it’s not hard to see why.

– Alex

* Lol, bottom.

Alelbuth goes to Enstone

Alelbuth goes to Enstone

Being the “hard hitting F1 journalist” that I am, I thought it best to go out and see a factory first hand, and what better place to start than at Enstone. Yesterday, the Enstone family at Lotus F1 Team kindly hosted me as their guest for the day. My adventure started in Oxford, where barely having recovered from my jet lag, I found myself sitting outside of the train station with two coffees. One for myself (needed), and one for Aurélie (also needed) who had kindly agreed to collect me from the station. I did Google Maps the journey to Enstone via public transport, but the route involved two bus changes, followed by a 30 minute walk along a field, so Lotus offered to pick me up from Oxford.

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Once I received my fancy visitors card I met with Ian, who’d I’d been in contact with. My tour started as Ian led me into a room telling me “Don’t hold your breath, it’s nothing special”, opening the doors to the conference room where Michael Schumacher’s 1994 and 1995, and Fernando Alonso’s 2005 and 2006 championship winning Benettons and Renaults lined the wall.

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As ingenious as the E22s twin tusk nose, Lotus’ Computational Fluid Dynamics centre is built in an underground James Bond style bunker to get around planning permissions. Though the feel of the building has more of a Teletubbies feel than a spy bunker, that is, if the Teletubbies were working on state of the art technical developments for the E22…

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I don’t mean to brag, but when I sat on the wheel the car moved about a quarter of an inch back, so *technically* I have driven a Formula 1 car. Just saying… Move over Pastor, I’m coming.

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We then moved along to the wind tunnel, where I was given a lesson in how the tunnel transforms the fast turbulent air generated from the fan, to fast smooth air by the time it runs over the 60% scale model of the E22. I wasn’t able to take photos in this area, but the scale of the tunnel is quite impressive. With the power needed to generate the fan, being enough to run a small village. Impressive.

The tour continued to the 3D printing facility, where an entire mock up of the car, from gearbox to front-wing end plate can be printed using a sophisticated combination of lasers, powder and/or liquid. Moving through the factory, I was taken to visit the composites department, where just next door Charles Pic’s chassis was being repaired. On closer inspection I noted that some of the bodywork on the car was being held together with masking tape, but just until the glue dried I was assured by Ian.

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After lunch in the Lotus cafeteria (I had a lovely fresh tuna sandwich in case you were interested), I went upstairs for a chat with Andy and Aurélie in the media communications office to get some advice on pursuing a career in motor sports. My VIP day ended with a visit to the trophy shelves, where I couldn’t resist taking a couple of “trophy selfies”, and hugging the headless manikin on the Lotus race suit.

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At 5pm, I left the factory with aching cheeks from my Daniel Ricciardo impersonation all day*. Andy dropped me back to Oxford station so I could get back to London. I’ve always heard rumours of the Enstone family being the friendliest in the Paddock, and I can confirm, that’s true. No other team would be that hospitable to a young (slightly F1 obsessed) Australian girl who’d flown 12,000 miles to ask for career advice. So thank you very much Ian, Aurélie, Andy, and the Lotus F1 Team for such an incredible day.

– Alex

* Ie. I couldn’t stop smiling.