Monaco Grand Prix: Pit Stop Woes

Monaco Grand Prix: Pit Stop Woes

Nico Rosberg made it a hatrick of wins in the Principality at today’s Monaco Grand Prix after inheriting the lead during a disastrous pit stop strategy under the safety car. Following on, on worn soft compound tyres, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel fought hard to keep his newly earned second place from Lewis Hamilton. The podium result soon saw a somewhat bewildered Nico Rosberg, from an ecstatic Sebastian Vettel, and a less-than-usually-sulky Lewis Hamilton. At lights out, Hamilton was quick off the line, keeping his team mate behind him. Vettel immediately had to defend his position from Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, who incidentally nearly ran into the back of the Ferrari for some very late braking. Daniel Ricciardo, in the other Red Bull tried to make a move around the outside of Vettel and Kvyat, though the move failed to come to pass. Ricciardo conceded a place to Kvyat through turn 1, relegating the RB11 to P4. Snaking their way through, Alonso in the McLaren and Hulkenberg in the Force India made contact through Mirabeau, resulting the the VJM08 losing it’s front wing in the barrier. Hulkenberg limped back to the pits for a new front wing, losing several positions.

Some undoubtably awkward conversations will be happening over in the Mercedes camp following a definite 1-2 Hamilton-Rosberg victory being thrown away by an unnecessary pit stop under the safety car. Hamilton had led the entirety of the race, managing to keep the brakes cool and pull a +9s lead on Rosberg at times, all before the appearance of the safety car on lap 65. Initially running both cars on a one-stop strategy, the pit wall decided to call Hamilton in for a second stop under the safety car to swap to fresh super soft tyres. A move that made no sense given that there were barely 10-laps left in the race, and almost no opportunity to over take. Without a large enough gap, Hamilton emerged from the pits behind seemingly Vettel, and after a brief investigation over position on track vs. crossing the safety car line, where he would stay. Overall it wasn’t the easiest race for the Mercedes camp.

At least one face on the podium looked pleased to be stood where he was. Sebastian Vettel clearly pushed hard from lights out, never letting the Mercedes ahead get out of reach. The Scuderia initially tried to take Rosberg with an undercut in the pit stops, but failed to pay off the move against the F1 W06. Moving up to P2 from Hamilton’s pit under the safety car, Vettel was concerned that his tyres would lose too much temperature due to the lapped cars unlapping themselves (a long an arduous process). As we went racing once more, Vettel had to defend from a Mercedes right on his gearbox. There wasn’t an opportunity for Vettel to challenge Rosberg for the top step, so the Ferrari focussed on getting his tyres back up to temperature and pulling a large enough gap to keep Hamilton at bay. A strategy that worked as the Mercedes was unable to pass. Further back in the field, Kimi Raikkonen was clearly annoyed* by the traffic through the streets. Monaco isn’t Kimi’s favourite track, though the Ferrari clearly pushed hard to fight for his position. Keeping on the tail of Ricciardo, Raikkonen closed the gap to the Red Bull. Following the safety car however, some contact between the two pushed Raikkonen back to P6.

Red Bull finished the race in a healthy P4 and P5 for their drivers, with Daniil Kvyat finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. Both Dan’s drove a strong race, with Kvyat’s start off the line, and Ricciardo’s overtaking following the safety car being highlights for the two. Once the safety car had peeled in, Ricciardo was told he could attack the cars in front, and attack he did, making up two positions in the two laps following. Pulling off a rather bold move on Raikkonen, which after an investigation by the stewards saw no further action. Ricciardo had then the opportunity to challenge for a podium finish against Hamilton. However with the Mercedes remaining just out of reach, and Kvyat lapping quicker, the Aussie was told over radio if he couldn’t make the overtake to let Kvyat through. Ricciardo obliged and the team scored some solid points between them.

Force India got off to a bumpy start after contact between Alonso and Hulkenberg on the opening lap, costing the Hulk several positions. Sergio Perez however had a strong drive, showing what the Mercedes powered VJM08 is capable of around the tight streets of Monaco. Starting from P7, Checo put together a flawless race, managing a two stop strategy of softs in the middle stint, before switching back to the super softs under the safety car to build a strong challenge against Kimi Raikkonen. Unfortunately for the Mexican, the race ran out of laps, and he was unable to catch the Ferrari and settling for P7. Nico Hulkenberg  dropped to the back of the grid from lap one, though was able to claw his way back up to finish just outside of the points in P11.

A bittersweet result for McLaren-Mercedes, who managed to bring just one car to the chequered flag, that car however did manage to pick up 4 points! More than the Woking based team have collected all season. Starting from P10, and with the odds against him, Jenson Button managed the temperamental Honda power unit keeping a competitive one-stop strategy right up until the safety car. Covering their bases, he team pit Button under the safety car to finish the race on the quicker super-soft tyres as Perez and Nasr pit around him. The strategy paid off as Button finished in P8, his best result all season. Fernando Alonso was less lucky, being handed a 5-second stop-go penalty for causing the collision with Hulkenberg on the opening lap (which he unknowingly served on lap 33, and finally retiring due to a gearbox issue ten laps later.

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with Felipe Nasr finishing just inside the points in P9, and Marcus Ericsson coming home in P13. Running on a one-stop, Nasr initially made up positions on Alonso and Grosjean, though was promoted to P9 through the retirements of Maldonado, Alonso, and Verstappen. Nasr came in to pit for a second time under the safety car, though failed to make up a position. Marcus Ericsson was running on a two-stop, though pitted under the safety as well. Overall, it was a bit of an underwhelming race for the team.

Bringing home a single point, the Toro Rosso garage were robbed of something to really celebrate for. Carlos Sainz, starting from the pit lane managed a one-stop strategy, pitting on lap 12 for the harder of the two compound tyres. Sainz made up several positions before the safety car, finishing a promising P9. Max Verstappen started the race with storming pace, however a slow stop for the STR10 cost the rookie some time. Verstappen quickly worked on closing the gap to get back into the points. The battle soon saw the Toro Rosso approach the back of Romain Grosjean in the E23. After a bold attempt at the hairpin, Verstappen remained behind the Lotus. Keeping on Grosjean’s gearbox, Verstappen made another attempt at the position, though failed to pull the dummy manoeuvre and misjudging the Lotus’ braking. The STR10 caught the right rear of the E23, snapping the front left wish-bone and sending Verstappen straight into the barriers at Mirabeau. Fortunately, Verstappen emerged unscathed from the hefty impact. Unfortunately, Verstappen has also been handed a grid penalty for Canada, and had points added to his super licence.

Romain Grosjean was the only Lotus to finish the race as Pastor’s E23 pulled a sicky earlier in the race. Maldonado, starting off strong, was called into retire after a brake by wire failure on lap 8. Though a short lived race, Maldonado did pick up some contact first with Massa into turn 1, and then Verstappen at Tabac. Keeping his head down, Grosjean maintained a competitive pace on a one-stop strategy, though was unable to make a points finish stick. The E23 finishing just outside in P12.

It too was an anonymous race for Williams, who, not hoping for much, finished in P14 and P15. It was all too clear that the FW37 is suited to long high speed straights, and as Monaco barely has one, the team struggled. Valtteri Bottas maintained a two-stop strategy, pitting just before the safety car to finish P14. Felipe Massa had a difficult start, having to pit on the opening lap following contact from Maldonado. The stop was a long one owing to a necessary front wing change. Massa then raced on a two-stop strategy, before pitting for a third time under the safety car to finish P15.

Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens for Manor F1 Team are undoubtably sick of the sight the blue flags, having spent the entirety of the race having them waved in their visors. That being said, both cars managed to finish the race, which in itself is an accomplishment in Monaco. Merhi finished ahead of his team mate in P16, to Stevens P17.

After a rather quiet start (or 60-odd laps), the Monaco Grand Prix did deliver it’s usual spectacle of nail biting attempts to overtake and safety car appearances. Though it wasn’t quite the victory that Rosberg would have been hoping for, the result has closed the championship points gap to just ten points. So, that’s something for Mercedes, or Vettel to think about. The championship now moves on to Montréal, for the Canadian Grand Prix. Not always the most exciting of races, though Daniel Ricciardo did take his first Formula 1 victory there last year, so personally I’m hoping for a repeat. Until then, à tout à l’heure.

– Alex

Spanish Grand Prix: Rosberg’s Race

Spanish Grand Prix: Rosberg’s Race

Nico Rosberg took home his first race victory of the season at today’s Spanish Grand Prix. A controlled race from the start, Rosberg managed a two stop strategy to finish 13 seconds clear of teammate, Lewis Hamilton, and a massive 48 seconds clear of third placed, Sebastian Vettel. Apart from a few bruised front jack-men, and a mysteriously missing rear end plate, the Spanish Grand Prix got underway smoothly. There wasn’t even a Renault powered retirement. At lights out, Rosberg stormed ahead while Hamilton was left behind due to excessive wheel spin, allowing Vettel to slip himself into P2 leading into the first corner. Already on the back foot, Hamilton had to defend his now P3 position from Bottas in the Williams. The rest of the grid snaked their way through safely, though Maldonado did receive some contact somewhere and somehow in the pack.

The Mercedes team, celebrating yet another 1-2 finish, split their drivers strategies today. Rosberg running off a two-stop started on the mediums, swapping to the hard compound tyre in the middle, before swapping back to the medium tyre in the final stint found that the F1 W06 still had a considerable amount of rear grip as he crossed the line. Hamilton, however, went for a three-stop strategy after using up too much of his front tyres chasing down Vettel in the opening laps. The Briton’s first stop was a slow one due to a reluctant left rear tyre. Coming back out behind Maldonado cost the Mercedes valuable time in chasing down the Ferrari. After Vettel’s final stop, Hamilton was able to pull enough of a lead to hold P2. Still a good 13 seconds behind Rosberg, Hamilton was told over the radio that catching his teammate would be “impossible”, settling the Mercedes for second.

The aero upgrades that Ferrari brought with them to Spain were somewhat of an anti climax, as when it came down to crunch time, Vettel wasn’t able to catch the Mercedes. Making the most of a good start, Vettel’s two-stop strategy starting on the medium and ending on the hard compound still gave the German a podium position. An irritated Vettel was held up in traffic after his final stop, making a challenge for P2 out of the question. In the other Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen nursed his medium compound tyres, only coming in to pit on lap 20. (Only Alonso in the McLaren lasted longer on the medium tyres, pitting on lap 24. But things didn’t work out too well for Alonso in the end, so it doesn’t really count). Swapping to the hard compound for the middle stint, and back to the medium compound for the final stint, Kimi was able to close the gap to less than a second ahead of fourth placed Bottas. The fight of the Finns last right down to the final corner, where Bottas remained just out of reach. Overall, a P3 for Vettel and P5 for Kimi was a strong finish for the Scuderia.

It was a positive day for Williams, with both Bottas and Massa finishing comfortably within the points. Bottas’ defending from a fresh and hungry Raikkonen was arguably the most exciting thing to happen to the team for the entirety of the race. Massa, starting from P9, made an early move on Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz to climb up to P7, later making up a further place on Daniel Ricciardo to finish P6.

Red Bull managed, not only to make an entire race distance without a Renault power failure, but to bring both boys home within the points. Daniel Ricciardo finished ahead of his teammate in P7, while Kvyat was further back in P10 after a bold move by Sainz saw the Russian lose a place.

In the weird and wonderful way that Lotus like to do things, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado provided some entertainment while both delivering a strong race performances. Starting from P11, Grosjean had a difficult race after losing fourth gear in the middle stint. Coming in for his second stop, on to the hard compound tyres, Grosjean found the E23 really had lost all grip. Overstepping the grid spot and giving the front jack-man a little nod in his, er, crown jewels. Luckily it wasn’t anything a bag of frozen peas and a bandage couldn’t fix for the jack-man, and Romain went on to finish P8. Maldonado it seems, took the Lotus sponsorship of Mad Max a little too literally, damaging his rear wing early on in the race. A longer pit stop on lap 15 saw the mechanics fix *cough* remove the broken end plate, and Pastor raced on in his E22.5 somehow matching the pace of the fully functioning E23 of Romain. Physics. Unfortunately for the team, Maldonado had to come in to retire at the end of lap 45.

… More to come

– Alex

Bahrain Grand Prix: Mercedes And A Flying Ferrari

Bahrain Grand Prix: Mercedes And A Flying Ferrari

Once again, Lewis Hamilton took the top step of the podium on a Sunday afternoon, managing his race from pole position to extend his championship lead by 27 points. Kimi Raikkonen took the drive of the day, pulling off a two-stop strategy to keep his tyres grippy and ruin Mercedes hopes of a 1-2 finish. The Ferrari finished on the second step of the podium ahead of Nico Rosberg in third. Hamilton had a clean getaway, pulling an early lead and leaving Rosberg to try and challenge Vettel into the first corner. Unbeknownst to Rosberg, Raikkonen was eyeing up a move on the Mercedes going out around the outside into turn 1 and moving himself up to P3. Further back in the grid, Maldonado and Verstappen got a bit too close for comfort as the two made contact, leaving Verstappen with some front wing damage. The rest of the grid snaked their way through reasonably unscathed, Ericsson was the big winner in the opening lap, making up four places moving himself into P9.

Lewis Hamilton took home the race victory after managing a two stop strategy. Starting on the option tyre, Hamilton’s first stop on lap 18 saw him stick to the soft compound before swapping to the medium prime tyre for the final stint. Hamilton’s drive to victory was rather unchallenged, although the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen did creep closer in the final laps due to a brake-by-wire issue with the F1 W06. Nico Rosberg delivered the fight we’d been waiting for at the Sakhir circuit. Opting for the same tyre strategy as Hamilton, Rosberg had to defend and then attack two attempts of a Ferrari undercut by Vettel. It would have been a 1-2 finish for Mercedes had Rosberg’s tyres not gone in the final leg of the race. With little grip, the German ran wide in the final laps, letting Raikkonen through easily and relinquishing the Mercedes to P3.

Ferrari posed more of a threat to the two Mercedes, though some silly errors by Sebastian cost him a podium finish. Both the Ferraris got off to a flying start, with Vettel retaining P2 in the opening stint, and Raikkonen pulling a sneaky jump on Rosberg. It was Kimi’s cool tyre management that allowed the F15 T to remain competitive right down to the final corner. Even on the “slower” medium compound tyre, Raikkonen was lapping a second quicker than the rest of the field. Vettel on the other hand couldn’t keep the grip in his tyres, and an off moment defending from Rosberg not only cost him a position, but valuable lap time and a nose change. When Vettel returned to the track, he was unable to pass Bottas in the Williams. Reluctantly Vettel finished behind the FW37 in P5.

– Alex

Australian Grand Prix: Another One Bites The Dust

Australian Grand Prix: Another One Bites The Dust

Lewis Hamilton takes an early lead on the 2015 season after taking the top step of the podium at the Australian Grand Prix. The reigning world champion walked it home around the park from pole position. His teammate, Nico Rosberg did all he can to keep Hamilton in his sights, but never managed to lay a challenge for the lead. Sebastian Vettel took out the final step of the podium for the Scuderia.

It was a considerably smaller grid for the season opener, with Bottas being ruled out due to a back injury following qualifying, Daniil Kvyat suffering from gearbox failure on his way to the grid, and Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren flat out giving up before the formation lap was even underway. So at lights out, it was 15 cars that snaked their way through turn 1. Hamilton flew off the line, with Rosberg leading the hunt. Further back on the grid, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean crawled off the line with a cut in power to the Mercedes engine, while Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz moved himself up to P6 before the first corner, slotting in behind Kimi Raikkonen.

The two Ferraris’ went into turn 1 side-by-side, with Vettel riding the kerb leaving very little room for Kimi to move. The Finn backed out of the corner, but clipped Sainz on his way through, leaving the STR10 twitching to keep traction. Sauber’s Felipe Nasr got caught up in the action as Kimi’s front right tyre made contact with the C34, and in turn clipping the left rear of Pastor Maldonado’s E23. Clearly coming off worst out of the opening lap altercation, the E23 lost rear traction, spinning counter clockwise and careering backwards into the barriers out of turn 2. An unlucky start to the season for the number 13 driver. The stranded E23 triggered the release of the safety car, and a flurry of action in the pit lane as strategies reshuffled.

Mercedes essentially were going through the formalities at Albert Park, with the 1-2 finish for the team remaining unchallenged. Starting on the soft compound tyres, Hamilton was first of the pair to box on lap 26 for the medium compound tyre, with Rosberg following suit one lap later. Rosberg maintained the gap to his teammate at around 1.6s during the second stint of the race, though neither driver pushed each other in a bid to save fuel. Rosberg suffered from harsher tyre degradation compared to his teammate, fearing that he may have to pit for a second time towards the back end of the race. Given that the Silver Arrows had more than a 30-second lead on the rest of the pack, Rosberg’s tyre woes didn’t make much of a difference.

The Scuderia have emerged as an early challenger to Mercedes, with Sebastian Vettel putting the SFT-15 into P3. Starting from P4, Vettel managed to jump Felipe Massa’s FW37 during the pit window. As Massa came in for the prime tyre on lap 21, the Scuderia decided to keep Vettel out and push to make the gap in front of the Williams. Four laps later, the German pulled in for his turn to swap to the prime tyre, emerging a solid distance ahead of Massa and retaining his potential podium finish. The challenges piled up from lights out for Kimi Raikkonen becoming the final DNF of the race. Firstly, the Finn was forced to back out of the corner on the opening lap by his new teammate, resulting in his SFT15 picking up front wing damage and losing considerable downforce. The early contact then saw Kimi fall down the order from a healthy P5, to a struggling P8. The Ferrari did however manage to take a storming Carlos Sainz through turn 9, stepping out and around the Toro Rosso to move up into P7 on lap 8. Powering through, Kimi’s first stop on lap 17 for a new set of the option tyres cost him even more time and grid positions as a stubborn left rear wheel nut refuse to tighten. Finally on lap 43, the Finn came in for his swap to the medium compound tyre, but yet again it was the left rear causing havoc for the team. Kimi was halfway down the pit lane before realising that something was wrong, with the left rear having not been properly secured, he was forced to pull over and switch off the engine at turn 3.

Williams were unlucky not to reach the podium in today’s race, with their pit stop strategy being the only weak point. Felipe’s swap to medium tyre was smooth and to plan to keep the FW37 in contention for third place, however it was back on track with Massa being caught behind Sainz’ Toro Rosso that allowed Vettel to pull the large enough gap from the Williams in the pit window. Nevertheless, Massa picked up some early points, finishing a comfortable P4. Valtteri Bottas was ruled out of starting the race due to a back injury picked up during Saturday’s qualifying session. Bottas failed the second of two fitness tests enforced the the FIA to ensure driver safety, leaving the Finn to watch on from the garage on Sunday.

For something completely different, Sauber decided to move their battles from the court room to the race track, with both drivers picking up points. Already more than the Swiss team achieved in the entirety of the 2014 season. Rookie Felipe Nasr without question took out drive of the day, taking an early advantage from P8. The Brazilian made light work of his fellow rookie, Carlos Sainz on lap 4, slipping the C34 in front of the STR10 on the start finish straight. Nasr then passed a slightly off-pace Daniel Ricciardo for P5, paving the way for the rest of the race. It was clear from qualifying that Nasr would be a threat to the mid-field following practice and qualifying, but it was hardly expected that the rookie would spend his debut F1 race defending from a hungry honey badger. Nasr not only managed his tyres, but kept the C34 competitive to cross the line P5. Teammate Marcus Ericsson picked up valuable points in P8, after a strong but tough race for the Swede. Running wide and through the gravel in the final stint of the race, Ericsson pit for a set of the option tyre, rejoining behind Perez and Sainz. On fresher tyres, Ericsson moved up behind Sainz, managing to outbrake the now struggling STR10 on lap 56, slipping down the inside to take P8.

Daniel Ricciardo was left to bring it home for the Red Bull team after Daniil Kvyat retired on his way to the grid. Kvyat, for his first race in the big sister team, lost drive on his out lap after failing to select fifth gear in the RB11. The gearbox failure forced the Russian to park up before even reaching the grid, joining Bottas, and soon Magnussen as a DNS. Homeboy Daniel Ricciardo delivered a strong race despite early set backs. The RB11 had considerably less power in the opening stint, resulting in the Aussie conceding several places in the opening laps. However, as the race wore on, and temperatures warmed, Ricciardo stalked Carlos Sainz for P6, and began the hunt on Nasr for P5. Caught up in the battle, Raikkonen gave Ricciardo something to think about as the Red Bull driver managed to keep the Ferrari in his mirrors while keeping the gap to Nasr at 0.8s. Going to the end on the medium tyre after pitting on lap 24, Ricciardo didn’t quite manage to make a move on Nasr stick. Though given the challenges the RB11 has already faced this season, a P6 finish will keep Ricciardo smiling until Malaysia.

Force India decided to split their drivers’ strategies, having Perez start on the medium compound tyre, while Hulkenberg got off the line on the softs. Nico Hulkenberg managed to keep his VJM08 out of trouble to finish a quiet P7. Stopping on lap 23 for the medium compound, and then again for a final time on lap 46 for the soft compound to go to the end. The Hulk noticeably challenged Max Verstappen before the STR10’s untimely retirement. Sergio Perez drew slightly more attention during the race, playing cat and mouse with his former teammate at McLaren, Jenson Button. After a few failed attempts to make a move stick from the back end of the grid, Perez moved up on the inside of Button on the inside of turn 3. As Button refused to yield the two made contact, leaving the Mexican in a spin and in P13. Somehow not noticing the shower of bodywork rain down upon him, Perez radioed that he hadn’t attracted any damage and resumed the chase to Button. It wasn’t until Kimi’s retirement from the race that Perez managed to pace the McLaren. In a cruel set of circumstances, Button was in contention for a single point in P10, before Perez, on fresher tyres took Button on lap 44.

Toro Rosso picked a brilliant pair of rookie drivers, with both Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen delivering drives beyond their years. Sainz finished somewhat out of position in P9 following an excruciatingly slow stop on lap 26. Like Raikkonen, it was the left rear that caused the issue, refusing to loosen. The Spanish rookie sat patiently* as the pit crew tried to get the Toro Rosso moving. Max Verstappen was reluctantly added to the list of DNFs for the race following a power unit failure on lap 33. The 17-year-old rookie had driven incredibly to make a later stop back to the option tyre on lap 33. Being on the stickier, quicker rubber, and being considerably lighter on fuel load, Verstappen emerged in P9 eager and ready to carve his way back to his P5 taken by Raikkonen. Unfortunately, the Renault power unit had other ideas, billowing smoke and forcing Verstappen to park up at the entry to the pit lane. It was a valiant effort by the rookie, and a strong points finished spoiled by reliability issues.

McLaren Honda were the unlucky lot, with Jenson Button being the only car to finish outside of the points.
Button fought valiantly to keep the McLaren going, having not even completed a race distance yet this season. Managing the tyres from lap 1, Button held off Perez for almost the entirety of the race, briefly beating the Mercedes power with Honda power. Eventually finishing P11, it was a bitter sweet result for the team who, deciding the treat the race like another test session, were not expecting to even finish the race, but to come so close to scoring a point and losing it have a lot of positive and negatives to take away from Melbourne. Kevin Magnussen was another DNS with the MP4-30’s Honda power unit packing it in before the race began.

After a strong practice and qualifying for Lotus, it was a low blow as both drivers were DNC for the race. The opening lap scramble saw Pastor Maldonado get caught up in a tangle that wasn’t his fault to retire 10 seconds into the race. Meanwhile an immediate and inexplicable loss of power to Romain Grosjean’s E23 saw the Frenchman crawl back to the garage to retire at the end of the first lap. A short and frustrating race for the Enstone team.

While the 1-2 Mercedes finish was, *cough* somewhat predictable, the Australian Grand Prix lived up to it’s anticipation. It was the rookie drivers that delivered the best on track action, with the likes of Felipe Nasr and Max Verstappen particularly standing out. This season promises to deliver challenges for the “not-so-underdog-but-kind-of-now-an-underdog” McLaren, and anyone powered by Renault power, as well as chances for the rookie drivers to hold their own against race vetrans. The championship now moves in two weeks to the hot and humid Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysian Grand Prix, until then, ‘Ooroo!

– Alex

* Silently screaming expletives.

Images Courtesy of Lotus F1 Team.

Australian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Australian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

G’day maaate, welcome to the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship in Melbourne Australia. It’s the 20th year running that F1 returns to the 5.303km circuit at Albert Park. Running clockwise for 58 laps, Albert Park is a brilliant mix of big braking points and smooth running corners. At an average speed of 213 km/h, this one is considered a medium speed track with “only” 65% of a lap spent at full throttle. The hard braking zones, with turn 13 being the heaviest offer a good opportunity to recharge the ERS. Brakeware has a stronger focus in strategy, with teams’ favouring a higher downforce set up carrying an advantage. Doing it’s best to imitate the outback, the bumpy and dusty Albert Park circuit is a demanding track, with overtaking even with DRS proves to be difficult. Turn 3 appears to be the best opportunity for overtaking, but expect some challenges out of the final corner. The tyre allocation for the weekend is the soft, option, and medium, prime Pirelli compounds, with a two-stop strategy being expected. Track temperatures were a warm 38°C for the beginning of Q1, dropping by 10°C by the time Q3 rolled around. The opening qualifying session saw Lewis Hamilton set 1:26.327 to steal pole position by 0.594s, ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg. Williams’, Felipe Massa took P3 with a 1:27.718, indicating that the Grove based team remain the best of the rest compared to the Silver Arrows.

Mercedes refuse to loosen their strong hold on the championship, with the F1 W06 consistently setting a quick pace over the weekend. As the session begun both Hamilton and Rosberg were slippy on the medium compound tyre, with the rear occasionally stepping out. After a few laps were on the board however, the tyre temps and pressures settled in, and Mercedes quickly took their familiar spot at the top of the timesheets for Q1 and Q2.
Hamilton was unchallenged in the final session, setting his 1:26.327 with more than 5 minutes to spare. Rosberg did a bit of maintenance to the grass in Q3, running wide in turn 15 after an unusual lock up in the middle of the apex. With no time set for the German, the pressure was on for Rosberg to deliver a challenge for pole. Unfortunately, Rosberg’s 1:28.510 was comparatively slow to his teammate, settling to line up P2 ahead of tomorrow’s race.

Williams F1 Team played leapfrog with the two Ferraris’ throughout qualifying, though once again held their own in the final moments of the session. Felipe Massa ran a good session in the FW37, remaining just behind the Mercedes both on the medium and soft compound tyres. It was with apparent ease that Massa set a 1:27.718 for P3. Valtteri Bottas took the role of Flying Finn in qualifying, being the stronger of the two in Q1 and Q2, slipping comfortably into P2 in between the Silver Arrows. Painfully, it was Q3 that didn’t come together for Bottas after suffering a lock up on turn 1 of his first flying lap, followed by massively missing the apex of turn 3. After several more attempts to put a lap together, it was the bumpy entry of turn 16 that mocked the FW37, sending Bottas wide and spoiling what was a strong lap. As a result, the Williams is slightly out of expected position in P6 with 1:28.087.

Ferrari must get up very early in the morning as the Scuderia’s haven’t looked this strong since the 2008 season. The SF15-T was not only quick, but maintained bite throughout the session, remaining competitive in the latter end of Q3 where the Ferrari fell away last season. The highly anticipated arrival of Sebastian Vettel to partner Kimi Raikkonen makes the driver line up a fan favourite, and it would appear that Seb’s cheek is well matched with Kimi. “Sebastian, what kind of Ferrari have you got ahead of tomorrow’s race?”, “A red one…”. Neither Vettel nor Raikkonen are strangers to the sharp end of the timesheets, with a P4 and P5 for the team, a podium definitely isn’t out of reach.

Local hero and Red Bull’s new front man, Daniel Ricciardo received cheers every time he crossed the line from the Webber Grandstand. After suffering from an early engine change on Friday, Ricciardo recovered to run consistently on Saturday in Q1 on the medium compound tyres, before flinging himself into P6 to see him pass through to the top ten shoot out. Shaving a few tenths off the Q2 time, Ricciardo set a 1:28.087 as the checkered flag fell briefly putting the Aussie in P3, before being bumped down to a relatively competitive P7. Daniil Kvyat was last out in Q1, making his first appearance with less than three minutes remaining in the session. It was a disappointing first outing for Kvyat stepping up into the Red Bull seat as handling issues and an over enthusiastic throttle that had plagued FP3 carried through into Saturday afternoon. Unable to make the cut, Kvyat battled the RB11 for 1:29.070, an improvement from 1:30.402 in Q1, though still considerably off the pace. The Russian lines up P13 for tomorrow’s race.

The Toro Rosso’s were another surprise challenge in qualifying with both drivers finishing inside the top ten after Q1. Carlos Sainz’s pace in the STR10 impressed in in qualifying, despite spinning at turn 4 after dipping a toe on the grass. Sainz controlled the Renault powered Toro Rosso to put together flying lap after flying lap. It was no surprise therefore that the rookie made it through to the top ten shoot out to piece together a lap of 1:28.510 on the soft tyres. Just 0.2s off big brother, Daniel Ricciardo, Sainz lines up P8. The youngest on the grid had a lot to prove in his debut qualifying session, to which he delivered. Max Verstappen was similarly quick on the pace in Q1, with his performance leaving Helmut Marko unphased. However his session came to an early end after complaining over the radio that there was something behind his right shoulder, the rookie held the STR10 together s best he could for a 1:28.868, just missing out on the top ten shoot out in P12.

The new and improved Lotus F1 Team were a happy addition to the top ten shoot out, proving that the switch to Mercedes power at the end of last season was a good decision. Although Maldonado had to battle with understeer, and then oversteer on his flying lap in Q1, the Venezuelan kept it together and soon the E23 behaved. Both Grosjean and Maldonado were quicker than the Red Bulls and Toro Rosso’s in Q2, indicating the the E23 is more than ready to put up a strong fight. The Enstone based team appeared to suffer most from the 10°C drop in track temperature, losing pace in the back end of Q3. So it was P9 for Grosjean and P10 for Maldonado with 1:28.560 and 1:29.480 on the soft compound tyres.

Sauber’s weekend so far has been a touch dramatic, with car issues during practice and you know, the whole issue of seemingly having 3-drivers signed to a 2-seat team… Putting the paddock drama to one side, Felipe Nasr was something of a dark horse on Saturday, out-qualifying his teammate by 5 grid positions. In the final moments of Q2, Nasr set a competitive flying lap of 1:28.800, briefly seeing the rookie inside the top ten. Although it was the two Lotus’ final effort that bumped the Sauber down to P11. Markus Ericsson’s new outfit is at least, more competitive than a Caterham… Unfortunately for the Swede the best the C34 could offer him didn’t even dip below the 1:30s. A difficult final flying lap for Ericsson put together 1:31.376 for P16.

Force India were absent for the Q1 and Q3, resulting in both Hulkenberg and Perez being literally absent in Q3. Despite having the advantage of a Mercedes power-unit, the VJM08 lacked both pace and bite into the corners. In an uneventful Q1, Hulkenberg and Perez managed to remain out of the dropzone to progress to the second session. And while it was a improvement on both times, 1:29.208 for Hulkenberg and 1:29.209 for Perez were the best the duo could muster for P14 and P15 respectively. In an effort to find a silver lining, at least Hulkenberg and Perez appeared consistent with each others lap times, even if it was three seconds off the pace to the leaders.

The issues keep on coming for McLaren Honda, with Button and Magnussen rounding off the grid. Considerably down on power, Button and Magnussen posed little threat even to Sauber, only managing 1:31.422 and 1:32.037 respectively, a massive 1.5s off the pace to progress through the grid. Manor F1 Team have put in an incredible effort to make it to the season opener on Australia. Unfortunately for the team, a software issue has plagued Manor over the course of weekend, resulting in yet another session that both drivers’ were forced to sit out. It was therefore, “no time set” for Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi in qualifying.

So Mercedes remain in a league of their own ahead of tomorrow’s race, while a surprising battle between the Williams and Ferrari is emerging. It remains to be seen if Ferrari can hold out to make the distance competitively, or if the Scuderia will fall short on the demanding circuit. Williams will no doubt be a worthy adversary, being strong both in terms of pace and aero setup. Further back in the grid, we can expect battles between the Red Bulls, Lotus, and Toro Rossos for a tantalising cocktail of vetran and rookie skill. McLaren, aside from Manor have the biggest challenge ahead of them, with their aim likely to be to finish the race without sacrificing an engine. Adding to excitement, the locals predict rain for race day, but it is Melbourne in March, could be either blazing sunshine of absolute downpour… Either way, the season opener will be top show.

– Alex

Ps. It’s good to be back.

Japanese Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Japanese Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Konnichiwa, Nihon e yōkoso! With much excitement, the Championship remains in the Far East for the Japanese Grand Prix The Suzuka Circuit is one of Formula 1 legend. Home to iconic corners; Degner, 130R, and Spoon, the 5.807km circuit is a highlight in the Formula 1 calendar for drivers and fans alike. Suzuka is a true racing circuit, it’s old school; high-speed, 70% of a lap at full throttle, only one corner taken at less than 100km/h, and a figure of eight loop. The long and fast corners put an incredible load on the cars, making it a rather technically demanding race. Suzuka’s coastal location means that the track is prone to sudden rain, in this year’s case, a super-typhoon.

Suzuka is comprised of challenging double apex corners, and varying radii*. The track narrows in several places translating into little room for error. One lap, well, every lap, requires commitment and complete concentration. Even with the DRS zone, overtaking can be a challenge, but possible (and awesome) at the chicane on the exit of 130R. There is a delicate balance between high downforce and stability at Suzuka, while not compromising on speed. Adding to the setup consideration, super-typhoons call for a little more grip than the average shower. The chance of a safety car is officially around 60%, but again given the super-typhoon this is set to change. The circuit isn’t particularly modernised, the asphalt is abrasive, and tyre wear is an issue. To accommodate the high-speed corners and wear, tyre allocation for the weekend is the hard prime and medium option compound tyre, the two hardest compounds Pirelli offer.

Sector 1 is technically very challenging, a lot of complex maneuvers and double apex corners. Turn 1 and 2 just happens to be a perfect example of a double apex corner. At 300km/h on the entry into turn 1, as soon as drivers have past the first apex, it’s a quick downshift to fourth gear, slowing the car down to 160km/h. Leading into the ‘S’ Curves, this complex requires continuous momentum and downforce, taken in fifth gear for some mechanical grip. The Esses (turns 3-6) test drivers’ neck strength, good news for Esteban here.

Sector 2 begins with turn 8, Degner Curve. To get the apex, a little clip of the kerb is needed on the entry, but too much and its straight into the gravel trap. The run down into turn 10 is an opportunity for drivers to sneak up to full throttle, but barely as the Hairpin at turn 11 will sneak up pretty damn quick. The Hairpin is a mere 70km/h and has caused a few lock ups over the weekend so far. Turn 12 opens to a smooth right-hander into another Suzuka classic, Spoon Curve.

Then its time 130R**; the fastest corner on the Formula 1 calendar at 310km/h. The final complex of corners, turns 16-17-18 make up the Casino Triangle. The braking point for Casino is crucial for a good entry for the chicane to power towards the start/finish straight. Already there have been two incidents coming out of Casino, Ricciardo met with the barriers in the second free practice on Friday, and Hamilton copied the move on Saturday morning for practice.

– Alex

* Good word

** Squee!

Singapore Grand Prix: Sledge Hammer Time

Singapore Grand Prix: Sledge Hammer Time

Lewis Hamilton took the lead in the championship tonight after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver stormed his way to victory from pole position, and the retirement of his teammate left the way for the two Red Bulls to stand either side of Hamilton on the podium. Vettel stole an early position from Ricciardo to finish second, with his teammate just behind in third. The Singapore Grand Prix had a reasonably high rate of attrition, with Kamui Kobayashi not making it past the formation lap. Nico Rosberg also failed to get away, but managed to start his F1 W05 from the pit lane.

At lights out, the twenty remaining cars on the grid stormed down into turn one. It was a predictably quick getaway from Hamilton, who led the pack. Sebastian Vettel immediately went left onto the racing line, squeezing out his teammate for second. Alonso, starting behind Vettel on the grid in P5, capitalised on the empty track left by the Red Bull, and went full throttle into the first corner. The Spaniard was a little over excited by the prospects of a competitive grid position it seemed, as he went too deep, locking the brakes, and completely missing turn one. Alonso gave his track position back to Vettel, though arguably he should have handed a place back to Ricciardo as well. Further back, the rest of the grid snaked through the first complex of corners in a remarkably orderly fashion, followed up the rear by Nico Rosberg, who had managed to get away from the pit lane.

Rosberg’s race was already off to a bad start before he’d even left the garage for the grid. Control system issues to his steering wheel meant the team had to replace his wheel not once, but twice. The team couldn’t figure out the problem, meaning only the gearshift paddles were working. The F1 W05 sat stranded on the grid as the rest of the pack shuffled around him on the formation lap, forcing him to start form the pit lane. To make matters worse, Rosberg’s radio wasn’t working for the opening laps of the race. Perhaps the Mercedes garages were taking the team radio ban a little too seriously. Rosberg eventually settled into a rhythm and began to make his way through the field of back markers. His race came to a premature end when he came in for his first pit stop. Having to switch the car off for the stop, Rosberg was unable to get it started again. Deciding to save the miles on the engine, Rosberg called game over and retired. Not ideal for defending the championship lead. This left the door open for Hamilton to cruise his way to victory and take the championship lead for the first time this season. However, his race to victory would prove to be far from a cruise. The apparently inevitably appearance of the safety car at the Singapore Grand Prix brought the grid back together at two thirds race distance. There was a moment of panic in Hamilton’s voice when he realised that the seven cars behind him were all on the prime tyre, compared to his worn option. The team pushed and encouraged Hamilton to build a twenty seven second gap over seven laps to Vettel in P2, to allow the Mercedes to make his final pit stop. Hamilton was convinced his tyres were on the brink of sheer explosion. Though with a little coaxing from his race engineer, built up a twenty-five gap and was called in. He emerged just behind Vettel, but critically, in front of Ricciardo and Alonso. Vettel wasn’t about to put up a fight for the lead knowing Hamilton was on fresh tyres, so he let him through.

The second step on the podium was Vettel’s best race result of the season, so it is unsurprising that he allowed Hamilton through so easily. The battle was never there, Hamilton was on fresh primes to Vettel’s twenty-nine lap old primes. So Vettel was happy to collect his eighteen points in second place. The Red Bull was fairly aggressive on his teammate at lights out, squeezing him out for a position before the first corner. Perhaps this was Vettel’s way of showing Ricciardo, who again out-qualified him, that he should still be considered as a threat, or perhaps Vettel wanted a bit of competitive rivalry between teammates. Either way, Vettel’s aggression paid off, he made the position and remaining in front of Ricciardo for the rest of the race. Ricciardo was never in the position to fight back as his RB10 was running on limited power. The team radio ban on driver coaching meant that the pit wall couldn’t talk Ricciardo through the issue, even if they had worked out the problem in the first place. The fact that Ricciardo finished in third is testament to his performance on track tonight. The safety car hurt both the Red Bulls strategy, and Ricciardo was left managing a weak RB10 on seriously degraded tyres during the final laps. Ricciardo couldn’t simply bring it home, he had Alonso right on his tail.

Alonso wasn’t penalised for his adventure off track on the opening lap having given the place back to Vettel. The F14 T had looked competitive all weekend through practice and qualifying, and Alonso was happy to deliver a more than competitive race. The Ferrari was lucky in their race strategy, managing to undercut Vettel in the second round of pit stops, moving into P3. Though the appearance of the safety car, similarly to the Red Bulls, was not a good thing for the rest of Ferrari’s strategy. Alonso was left fighting Ricciardo for the final podium step with twenty-three lap old prime tyres. Alonso sized Ricciardo up, not knowing that the RB10 was struggling for power (and on thirty-two lap old primes), but waited too long to put any real pressure to the Red Bull, eventually finishing P4. Kimi Raikkonen somewhat fell away during the race. Kimi was stuck behind Massa in the first stint, and the safety car didn’t do much to improve his efforts. He still picked up points, four of them, finishing in P8.

Williams’ race fell apart when the safety car came out. Massa’s strategy had benefited him in the first pit, exiting on fresh rubber ahead of Raikkonen. Massa managed to hold the Ferrari up and lay down some good laps. Score one, Massa. The rest of the race didn’t go to plan, with the safety car forcing Massa to drive like his grandmother (his words not mine) to save the tyres until the end of the race. Clearly want to wanting to unleash more from the FW36, he obliged, and finished a healthy P5. Bottas was on the same strategy and enjoying a healthy run in P6, however his tyres completely fell off the cliff on the final lap, dropping from his P6 to outside of the points in P11.

Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, picked up a five second stop-go penalty for exceeding track limits when he gained a position on Bianchi. The Frenchman had two options; either take the penalty in the pits and lose valuable grid positions, or, have the five seconds deducted from his lap time and overtake a good five or six cars to make up for it. Vergne chose the latter option, and powered past Perez, Raikkonen, and Hulkenberg to cross the line in P6. Even with his penalty in place, Vergne retained his finishing position, having built enough of a gap to Perez in P7. It looks like the pressure of being left without a confirmed race seat for 2015 is agreeable for Vergne, he’s doing a lot in his race to build up his resume for a seat. Kvyat had a difficult race. The conditions in Singapore are hard at the best of times, but the rookie was left without a drink for the whole race, literally having to be peeled from his STR9 at the end of the race. Kvyat asked to retire, feeling issues with the Toro Rosso, but the team kept him out. Eventually he crossed the line in a dehydrated P14.

Force India managed a double points finish, despite Sergio Perez’s VJM07 losing it’s front wing to Sutil. The contact with the Sauber occurred on lap 30, when Perez was trying to overtake Sutil for P12. Sutil completely unaware of his surroundings, moved straight across into Perez’s path clipping his right rear on Perez’s wing. A moment later, the Force India’s wing was underneath the car, and littering debris all over the Singapore streets. Cue safety car. Luckily no one picked up a puncture, though the track to several laps to clear. Perez was understandably unhappy, not only did he face the hefty fine of littering in Singapore, but also Sutil’s carelessness had seemingly cost him his race. Or saw we thought, Perez was on form again for the remainder or the night, recovering to pick up points in P7. Hulkenberg had less of a dramatic race, and finished with two valuable points in P9.

McLaren had a competitive pace, and a strong MP4-29, and a good strategy for both drivers. Their race didn’t go to plan though. Button was on a two-stop strategy, keeping him within the points. Earlier in the race he’d been one of the front-runners, though his strategy was going to see him finish around P6 or 7. Alas, on lap 54, Button’s MP4-29 lost drive after going over the kerbs on the Anderson Bridge. After one of Button’s best races of the season, he parked up and retired. Magnussen was on a three-stop, to take the last point in P10.

Lotus nearly scored points on the Marina Bay Circuit, although the race didn’t come together as planned for Maldonado or Grosjean. Maldonado’s first pit wasn’t as smoothly as the team would have liked. The green light for the Lotus pit malfunctioned, sending him away with the front left wheel gun slightly attached still… slightly. The team also had to pit Maldonado a fourth time after fitting the E22 with the wrong tyres under the safety car. Luckily this didn’t affect his position, but the supersofts he was on ran out of grip in the last ten laps and he fell out of contention for his first points of the season. Eventually, Maldonado finished P12. Grosjean lost out on the race restart, pushing too hard and losing two positions. Without enough grip for the end of the race, Grosjean couldn’t pass back into the points, and finished P13.

Marcus Ericsson had his best race of the season, finishing ahead of the two Marussias in P15. His teammate however had one of his worst races, in that he didn’t race. Kobayashi suffered a total loss of oil pressure on the formation lap, recording his first ever DNS. Bianchi once again finished ahead of Chilton. The two MR03s finished in P16 and P17 respectively.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Sauber, and the Singapore Streets didn’t do much to aid their woes. Gutierrez was an early race retirement after his C33 battery wouldn’t charge, leaving him without any ERS*. Gutierrez was understandably upset, he had been on course for a competitive race. Sutil received on a five second penalty for his contact with Perez, though he never served it, coming into the garage on lap 40 made it a double retirement for Sauber.

Hamilton now leads the championship by three points, a margin that is by no means great. The title battle remains! Round 15 remains in the South East for the much anticipated Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. In complete contrast to Marina Bay, Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. The track has a lot going for it too, double apex corners, elevation changes, a figure of eight so the trap loops over itself… Not to mention 130R. Only two weeks to wait. Until then, selamat malam.

– Alex

*Remember how you need a lot of ERS on a street circuit?

Position No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 60 Winner 1 25
2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +13.5 secs 4 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +14.2 secs 3 15
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 60 +15.3 secs 5 12
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 60 +42.1 secs 6 10
6 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 60 +56.8 secs 12 8
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 60 +59.0 secs 15 6
8 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 60 +60.6 secs 7 4
9 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 60 +61.6 secs 13 2
10 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 60 +62.2 secs 9 1
11 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes +65.0 secs 8
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault +66.9 secs 18
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +68.0 secs 16
14 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault +72.0 secs 10
15 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault +94.1 secs 22
16 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari +94.5 secs 19
17 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari +1 Lap 21
Ret 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +8 Lap 11
Ret 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari +20 Laps 17
Ret 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +43 Laps 14
Ret 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +47 Laps 2
Ret 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault + secs 20

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

It is once again a Mercedes front row lockout ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix*. Under the streetlights, Hamilton managed the snatch pole position from his teammate, who in turn stole the top spot from Daniel Ricciardo. The absence of aiding drivers over team radio had caused confusion during practice, but seemed a little more settled for qualifying. With only a 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, the track remained warm at a toasty (but sweaty) 33°C.

Both the Mercedes were slow to get on their usual competitive pace. Having finished FP3 further down the timesheets, many were left wondering if the team were sandbagging. Apparently, yes, possibly? While both the Mercedes clearly had the single lap pace, Hamilton was consistently scrappy, missing the apex and locking throughout the evening. Rosberg’s session immediately got off to a poor start by completely out-braking himself into turn 8 in the opening minutes of Q1. The Mercedes were never in contention of being knocked out before Q3, proving to be able to unleash a little more of their ERS. However it remains to be seen if both the F1 W05s can make the race distance tomorrow.

Red Bull lockout the second row, with Ricciardo once again out-qualifying Seb. Ricciardo had a near perfect qualifying, managing the right amount of downforce and pace in his set up. Demonstrating his ability by moving to P1 on his first flying lap in Q1. It looked as if Ricciardo would secure pole position in the session that counted, posting a 1:46.854 on the chequered flag. The momentous cheers for Ricciardo were short lived and replaced with cheers for Rosberg and then Hamilton. Vettel had a less than perfect session. In Q1, his first attempt of a flying lap was hindered first by driver error in sector one, and then completely spoiled by traffic. The perils of a street circuit, eh? When he finally found some space on the track, the RB10 was easily through to Q2, and then Q3. Vettel’s evening improved as his tyres came up to temperature, but pushing too hard on his final flying lap, he lost critical time through the twisty street circuit. On the Singapore streets, the reigning world champ managed to qualify P4.

Ferrari have been the surprise of the weekend, with both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finding not only grip, but speed from the F14 T. Alonso had been quicker than the Mercedes through Q1, and though he starts from P5, proved to have much cleaner laps. Kimi Raikkonen is unfortunately out of position, having not being able to complete the final qualifying session. Kimi had finished the second session on top of the time sheets, something he’s not managed all year in the Ferrari. However, while Kimi was making space for himself on track in Q3, the F14 T decided that 14 laps for the night was enough, and lost power. Promisingly, Kimi’s lap time was still enough for P7.

Williams made some radical changes to their balance overnight, with their street circuit setup clearly paying off. Felipe Massa lapped quicker than his teammate all evening, and spent a brief spell at the top of the timesheets in Q3. Williams were looking in strong contention for the front row, however at the end of the session and the usual scramble of times took place, Massa was bumped down to P6, where Bottas starts P8.

McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen made a Q3 appearance, though that’s about all the MP4-29 could muster. Magnussen could only improve on his second session time by four hundredths of a second, putting him P9. Button meanwhile just missed out on the top ten shoot out, qualifying P11. The Briton got all he could out of the McLaren, though needed more downforce. Unfortunately for Button, he’d already maxed that out in Q1.

It was a similar story to McLaren for Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat was the only Toro Rosso in Q3, having found a solution to the brake issues that had plagued him during practice. Like the Red Bull, the Toro Rosso’s STR9 is better suited to a street circuit. The Russian rookie’s lap of 1:47.362 sees him round out the top ten. Vergne, who remains without a confirmed seat for 2015, qualified in P12, six tenths of a second behind Kvyat.

Strategy bit Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who like Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo, had returned to the garage in the final minutes of Q2. It was a risk, was Hulkenberg’s 1:47.308 on supersofts enough to see him through to Q3? No. As the remaining cars on track set their final laps, Hulkenberg was pushed down to P13. Perez didn’t make it past the second qualifying session either, despite being one of the remaining cars out on track. The VJM07 has been competitive so far over the weekend, but Perez appeared to run out of steam and grip in Q2, running wide at turn 11 and only managing to extract 1:47.575 for P15.

Gutierrez was a surprise in the early stages of qualifying, putting his C33 up into P2 with a 1:47.970 on the supersoft tyres. Last year, Gutierrez made his first Q3 appearance at the Singapore Grand Prix, this year he’d only make it to Q2, and P14. It shows at least some promise for the Sauber. On the other side of the garage, Sutil was having no such luck. His C33 lost all power at the end of Q1, relinquishing him to start P17. Perhaps, it is time to give your seat to Giedo for 2015… Just saying.

It was a frustrating evening for Lotus. The E22 and Singapore Streets should be getting along a lot better than they are at the moment. Whatever advantages the E22 has in downforce on the circuit, the Renault turbo seems to squash. Romain Grosjean had the potential to qualify much higher than P16, though spoiling his flying lap in Q2 by running completely over the kerbs. Maldonado, running with a new chassis after his FP2 crash, was unable to run at full power and qualified P18. On the plus side, both Grosjean and Maldonado have fresher tyres to play with tomorrow.

The usual suspects round out the back of the grid. Marussia went against the grain in Q1, coming immediately on the supersoft compound tyres while the rest of the track were on softs. Bianchi out qualified his teammate and the two Caterhams for P19, while Max Chilton got his turbo back after losing it momentarily in FP3 to qualify P21. Splitting the two Marussias, Kamui Kobayashi qualified P20 in a very reluctant CT05. Ericsson only made it out of the garage for two laps in Q1 due to work being done on the car, so unsurprisingly lines up P22.

The 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, quickly changed to 100%, as it bucketed down shortly after all twenty-two cars were safely tucked into bed (their garages). However, it has never rained on race day in Singapore, so once again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sprinkling tomorrow night. The results from qualifying give some indication of who will remain cool in the Singapore heat. Ferrari are finally competitive, while Red Bull (like in Monaco) stand in the best position to challenge Mercedes. Despite their front row lockout, Mercedes have suffered from over heating issues on high downforce circuits before.

– Alex

* I’m running out of different ways to phrase that sentence…

Position No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.7 17
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 01:47.2 01:45.8 01:45.7 19
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.5 01:45.9 12
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.6 01:45.9 15
5 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.9 16
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 01:47.6 01:46.5 01:46.0 20
7 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 01:46.7 01:46.4 01:46.2 14
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.6 01:46.2 18
9 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 01:48.0 01:46.7 01:46.3 18
10 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 01:47.7 01:46.9 01:47.4 21
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.9 12
12 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 01:47.4 01:47.0 14
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 01:47.4 01:47.3 13
14 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.0 01:47.3 9
15 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 01:48.1 01:47.6 13
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 01:47.9 01:47.8 14
17 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.3 6
18 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 01:49.1 8
19 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 01:49.4 7
20 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 01:50.4 8
21 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 01:50.5 7
22 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 01:52.3 5
Q1 107% Time 01:54.2

 

Singapore Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Singapore Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Selamat datung ke Singapura! Round 14 of the 2014 Formula 1 Championship takes us to the 5.065km Marina Bay Street Circuit for the night race; the Singapore Grand Prix. This is quite possibly one most physically demanding races on the calendar. While the Singapore sun is nowhere to be seen, the Singapore heat likes to linger, keeping things nice and warm (not to mention muggy). Humidity is around 80%, coupled with track temperatures around 35°C for the race. Drivers lose around 3kgs in sweat during the two-hour race… charming.

The Monaco of the East can be a rather unforgiving circuit. Already a low grip circuit, the various humps and bumps on the Singapore roads, coupled with the beautifully narrowing barriers, translate into very little room for driver error. Consequently, a similar Monaco setup is used, put on all the downforce, and pray for grip. Gear ratios are also a lot shorter at the Singapore Grand Prix to give a little more mechanical grip through the twisty street circuit, and power out of each turn. Brake stability and balance becomes a focus, as well as engine wear. At this point in the season, most teams are reaching their limit for engine changes. A lot to focus on really… On the plus side, there is opportunity for energy recovery, and lots of it. A total of 23 corners mean a lot of braking zones. This is not a circuit where you want an ERS failure. Tyre allocation for the race is the soft and supersoft tyre, with around a 2.5-3 second difference between the compound. So expect a two-stop or three-stop strategy for the race.

Sector one offers a few opportunities to overtake, particularly in the braking zone on turn one. The first DRS activation zone runs just after turn five along Raffles Boulevard; expect more opportunities to overtake here. Entering into sector two at turn seven is another hard braking zone. The Singapore Sling at turn 10 has been reconfigured to give drivers better traction through the corner. The hairpin at turn 13 is the slowest section on the track and is all about downforce. Sector three is the most technical part of the circuit. Raffles Avenue is the bumpiest sections of track, proving to be not the most comfortable ride, let alone the risk of losing traction. The series of corners from sixteen to nineteen past the football stadium are right-left-left-right, and blind entry, just for fun. Turn eighteen has been particularly tricky in the past, with many a driver pay a visit to the barriers. If you’re Fernando Alonso, you’re going to want to power slide through turn twenty-three and onto the start/finish straight.

A fun fact for the Singapore Grand Prix, the lighting along the circuit to replicate daylight is the equivalent of 3,000 candles. Candles, while more environmentally friendly, would significantly raise the temperature, so I’m glad the FIA opted for light bulbs. The Singapore Grand Prix is probably my favourite race on the calendar, and though I might be bias in saying that, it really does have a lot to offer. Racing under lights, on narrow, low grip, and bumpy street circuit. All the race is missing is rain*.

– Alex

* and me.