Singapore Grand Prix: Vettel Proves Fastest in Lion City

Vettel took out last night’s Singapore Grand Prix, sharing his podium with Alonso and Raikkonen. The RB-9 was unchallenged from the start, though there is no denying the German’s talent. The second and third steps on the podium were more of a surprise, but a nice one at that after both Alonso and Raikkonen had poor qualifying sessions.

As the cars lined up on the grid, Mark was warned to go easy on the throttle, and Ricciardo was unfortunate to have his worst start of the season, before the Toro Rosso driver had even left the grid he’d conceded several places to drop back to fourteenth. Things were only going to get harder for the young Australian driver. Grosjean lost two places to Webber, and Alonso into the first corner, though worked hard to stay with the front-runners. The Spaniard made up for a less than satisfying qualifying as he flew up to fourth from seventh, proving that he can deliver in a less than optimal car. Into turn one it looked as if we were in for a tight race as Rosberg briefly nudged Vettel out of first. Unfortunately for Rosberg, Vettel was not about to let up that easily and had regained the position before the exit to the chicane. Within a few laps, the Red Bull with a fearful pace had developed a lead that could not be challenged, so the rest of the pack were left fighting for second.

The battle for thirteenth between Perez and Hulkenberg on lap 12 saw a collective intake of breath from fans around the world as the whole fray took place around Maldonado, a risky move in itself. Luckily all cars emerged unscathed, and the race continued. Ricciardo had a frustrating start failing to move off the grid, but things only got worse for him as he fully locked up into turn 18 and crashed head on into the barrier on lap 24. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing race for Ricciardo, the only good to come from it was that the safety car was deployed.  The timing of the of safety car split team strategies in two with most of the field coming back into pit their super-soft for medium compound tyres. with the exception of Vettel, Rosberg, and Webber, who were already running on mediums.

Di Resta, who couldn’t seem to catch a break over the weekend, suffered his third race retirement in a row after hitting the barriers on lap 54. It was sad to see di Resta retire when he looked set to collect his first point since Silverstone. The retirement didn’t cause another safety car however as the stewards could easily remove the stricken Force India.

My standout for the race would undoubtably be Lotus. Romain Grosjean had a superb race, probably the best I’ve even seen him do. He handled his car with confidence and precision of a much maturer driver than previously seen in the season. I was definitely one of the fans groaning in pain when he was called in for his pit-stop. A 40+ second pit stop to fix a fault on his engine’s pneumatic system all but killed his race, when he genuinely looked in a good chance to challenge for a podium finish. Shortly after his excruciating pit-stop his was called in and retired on lap 37. Almost as if to make up for Grosjean’s retirement, Kimi stepped up immediately to carve his way through the field from where he’d been cruising in eleventh. Whatever the treatment they gave Kimi on Saturday night seemed to work wonders, you’d never know that he was nursing a back injury for the aggression and speed he showed on track. The Finn made easy work of Button as the McLaren was losing grip on his tyres. Having never reached the podium at Singapore, Kimi definitely had some unfinnished business to attend to (See what I did there…?).

The remaining Australian on the track was struggling in the final laps of the race, after being told over team radio to short shift all gears Webber lost considerable pace and relinquished his fourth to Rosberg and Hamilton. Despite Webber’s best efforts to nurse the car to the finish line, his engine gave up on the final lap. Trust the Australian to turn his car into a BBQ. Webber caught a lift back to the pit on Alonso’s Ferrari, which saw them both be reprimanded by the stewards. It was Mark’s third of the season which meant he was handed a ten place grid penalty. The stewards decision was based on the fact that Rosberg and Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid Alonso as he stopped to pick up Webber. It seems a bit harsh that the stewards chose this course of action, I’m all for driver safety, but these guys are Formula 1 drivers, they have pretty flipping quick reaction times.

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:48.574 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, Selamat datang ke Grand Prix Singapura*. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the hardest circuits on the calendar. The nature of the track requires total concentration as there is very little room for errors. More than half of the 23 corners of the circuit are at harder than 90 degree angles. The cars have to be set up with a heavy downforce package, despite having a slightly higher than usual ride hight. Cars can be raised by as much as 4mm to account for the more than bumpier track. Sections of the track are extremely tight, therefore it’s no surprise to hear that the Marina Bay Circuit is known as the “Monaco of Asia”. The Singapore Grand Prix would has to be one of the best races of the season, although I realise that I may be slightly bias in my appraisal given that I used to live there and slightly consider it my home Grand Prix… But ignoring that, the night race is nothing short of stunning.

Qualifying was a slightly more interesting session than expected with number two drivers out qualifying their team mates (with the exception of Vettel… but we’ll talk about that later). Most notably of this was Grosjean qualifying third, while a bad back Kimi meant that he was knocked out in Q2 starting from thirteenth on the grid. The Frenchman set his flying lap time of 1:43.058 during the last run in Q3, and I have to say impressed. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Grosjean managed to finish in third or fourth (provided he doesn’t hit the barriers or take himself or anyone else out), the Lotus just looked really strong in Qualifying. Grosjean seems to have been gaining confidence since Spa this year and is making a lot smarter decisions on track.  This does appear to slow his pace down, and Singapore might be a good fit for this. I don’t doubt that if Kimi hadn’t been suffering from a pinched nerve in his back that he would have qualified up with his team mate, though it’s hard to say how he will perform tonight. It’s a tough track on the drivers at the best of times, and with an injury it would be extremely painful. Without a back injury I’d fully expect to see him finish ahead of Grosjean.

Less of a gap between the second and first drivers were Massa and Alonso. The Brazilian, who found out after Monza that he will not be racing at Ferrari in 2014 has said that for the rest of the season he will be racing for himself, and not for the team. Perhaps the kick up the butt of pressure to find a new seat was all he was waiting for to get back on form. Alonso was looking a little slippy on track, which makes me think that the cars don’t have quite enough downforce to handle corner after corner. Both the Ferrari’s are still struggling in qualifying, and Singapore probably isn’t a track best suited to their cars, but both drivers did well to qualify in sixth and seventh.

Other cars which looked particularly slippy on track were the Williams of Maldonado and Toro Rosso of Vergne. Maldonado was knocked out in Q1, and Vergne in Q2. Meaning that Bottas and Ricciardo both out qualified their number one drivers. Ricciardo was reportedly disappointed to qualify ninth. The Toro Rosso looked to have the speed, but as Vergne demonstrated, possibly lacking in grip. Similarly Bottas struggled to get heat into the tyres in Q2 (which is odd, because Singapore is flipping warm). Mercedes qualified well, with Rosberg starting second and Hamilton in fifth, I hope that such a strong performance in qualifying won’t be lost in the race. The last windy, high down force, street circuit that Mercedes excelled at was Monaco. I’m hoping Rosberg can deliver again, I’d like to see him on the podium, second or possibly third.

Vettel qualified on pole position ahead of Webber (one of the few exceptions to this weekend’s qualifiying trend. Red Bull just really have got it right this year. So (dare I say it), I fear tonight’s race might be a touch boring from the front of the field. With clean air and an empty track ahead, there is nothing stopping Vettel from developing a healthy lead. Webber put in an excellent qualifying performance, despite missing out on the front row and qualifying in fourth. Fingers crossed Mark doesn’t have his signature start.

If we ignore the mammoth lead that Vettel is bound to have, I think tonight’s race will be really exciting. The atmosphere at the track is fantastic, and it’s built like a proper street circuit. I’m actually pretty devastated I’m not there this year.

– Alex

* I re-read my Key Stage 3 report from my school in Malaysia the other day, and my Bahasa Melayu teacher commented that I had trouble remembering  Malay phrases and vocab. Well, ten years later and I remember a fair bit.

End of Summer Break: 2014 Grid Changes

Over the summer break it was expected that Red Bull would announce who was filling the soon to be vacant second seat at the team. Eagerly we waited, and still, there has been no confirmed announcement from the team or any drivers. My poor nerves have been on edge especially over the past two weeks with a Finnish newspaper reporting that Kimi was moving to Ferrari, rumours that seemed to be confirmed as Kimi’s manager announced that talks with Red Bull had broken down a while ago. However, only last night Christian Horner came out and said that Kimi was still very much in contention. Various Australian news sources are reporting that the Red Bull seat is going to Daniel Ricciardo. Still, nothing has been confirmed, by anyone, at all. So as we’re all waiting, here are some of the options:

Kimi Raikkonen to Red Bull

Potentially a driver team set to dominate the 2014 season, despite quite radical changes to the cars for next year. I would expect the Red Bull Renault RB-10 to remain a dominate car on track given that Renault have had experience in making small turbo engines for decades. So a move to Red Bull could be in the best interest (points wise) for Kimi, even if he’d be more involved in publicity events for the team. The issue that arises with this move, is who would be the number two driver? Obviously the official number one driver would be current world champion Sebastian Vettel. Although, out of the major teams, Red Bull seem to have less of a hierarchy difference between the two drivers.. Well, most of the time (Silverstone in 2010). Though if it came down to it, I’d think Kimi would obey team orders similar to a Multi21 as much as as Seb did in Malaysia. Kimi is not meant to be a number two driver.

Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari

There is the similar issue as who would be the number two driver between Alonso and Kimi (assuming it was Massa who was given the flick). Though the Ferrari team have been very vocal about backing Massa despite a more than unlucky 2013 season so far. Which raises the question of would Alonso move to Red Bull? Rumours have been circulating of this move, but it seems to be more gossip than fact (I hope). It would however, make clear that Kimi would get the number one seat at the team. As far as competitiveness of the team goes, Ferrari feel that reliability of their 2014 engines will be a major issue for the team. Unlike Renault and Honda, Ferrari have very little experience in manufacturing small turbo engines, despite having the definite resources to developed them. Taking Kimi back on in 2014 would mean for the team admitting they made a mistake in 2008 by letting the Finn go a year early to replace him with Alonso. Awkward.

Kimi Raikkonen to stay at Lotus

This move (or lack there of) seems to be less spoken about, although I still feel it is a possibility. Lotus have shown real strength throughout this season, and despite rumours of financial crisis, are confident in their 2014 developments. It wouldn’t be the craziest move if Kimi decided to stay with the team that gave him a “second chance” and  a seat in Formula 1. While Kimi is without a doubt, a race car driver through and through, I do feel like he’d show a bit of loyalty to a team that has been so good to him. Despite rumours, Lotus know that wherever Kimi is, investment will follow, so it would be in Lotus’ best interest to keep him onboard.

Daniel Ricciardo to Red Bull

To me, this feels like the most likely option if the seat doesn’t go to Kimi, especially as it would mean “graduating” from Toro Rosso. Although I have to admit I would be disappointed, not because I don’t feel Ricciardo has the talent for RB, but the exact opposite. I’m worried that if Ricciardo went to Red Bull now, when Seb is at the height of his career, he’d be stuck as the number two driver in the team (and possibly his career). Ideally I’d like to see the seat go to Kimi at Red Bull, and then when Sebastian’s contract expires, for Ricciardo to step up and take the seat then when he’s had a few more seasons experience. On the other hand, Ricciardo’s past experience in the Red Bull car at testing (and his performance so far in Formula 1) might just mean that he could give Seb a run for his money.

While I feel like it will be most likely that the Red Bull seat will go to Ricciardo, nothing will be certain until the teams make their announcements (any day now). Until then, I will be eagerly refreshing for any updates.

– Alex

German Grand Prix: Another notch on Vettel’s belt

It took me a good few hours to calm down after Sunday’s German Grand Prix. The podium could not be more deserved by any driver. It was Sebastian Vettel’s first win at his home track in Formula 1, and a race that couldn’t be faulted for either Lotus drivers. Kimi Raikkonen worked his tyres better than anyone, and really gave Vettel a run for his money right up until the final corner. Kimi’s team mate however, seemed to have figured out how to drive fast and not drive into anything. It was incredible to watch both the Lotus cars work their way through the grid in succession.

Both Red Bull’s had superb starts. Mark Webber took three practice starts prior to the formation lap, which maybe he should have done more often, his start was impeccable. It was only made better by Hamilton’s rather risky move of being too aggressive off the line on the Vettel, which left the first corner wide open to Mark to take the outside line and push the Mercedes out the way. Immediately off the grid Massa managed to gain a position on Ricciardo. Massa’s luck ran out pretty quickly as he lost grip into turn 1 on lap 4 and became the first retiree of the race.

Force India and Red Bull have been handed fines for pit lane incidences. The first of which was an unsafe release of Di Resta (nearly into Vergne). It was a disastrous stop for Red Bull’s Mark Webber on lap 9. The RB9’s right rear went rogue and hit a FOM cameraman squarely in the back. Luckily the cameraman escaped serious injury, and Formula 1 commented today that he would make a full recovery. Looking back over the footage of the pit stop, the wheel gun fails to engage and the mechanic gestures to have the wheel adjusted. The mechanic jacking the car up at the front misinterprets the mechanics gesture and releases Mark, down the pit lane, with one tyre completely loose. I dare say there were some stern words spoken in the garage after the race. It seemed to be the end to Webber’s race receiving a radio message to switch off his engine, but he soon had all four tyres (as securely as they’d even been fastened) back on, and he was released a lap behind and in last place. Disaster.

Jules Bianchi was the second retiree of the race. Bianchi’s MR02 was reluctant to retire and did briefly attempt to rejoin the race without his pilot. Unfortunately without having anyone to steer it rolled back off the other side of the track eventually coming to rest on top of a UBS sign. The safety car was released while the track was cleared and Vergne became the third retiree with car troubles. Teams were once again forced to scrap their original race strategies and start again from the pitwall. Bianchi’s retirement turned out to be the saving grace for Mark Webber as he was allowed to unlap himself.

After the safety car, Webber moved his way up through the pack, and managed to finish in the points in seventh. It was disappointing for Webber’s race after having such a fantastic to have to work his way back from a lap behind, but it does go to show his skill and determination. Well done Mark.

The second half of the race was clearly dominated by the two Lotus’ and Sebastian Vettel. Kimi and Romain, who were swapping fastest sector times, absolutely flew around the track. The pressure seemed to only push Vettel on to set fastest personal sector times to pull away from the Lotus’. Grosjean clearly was not going to give up without a fight and he launched on the Red Bull with mind-boggling precision. If that is what he is capable of when he is on form… Keep doing that? Not so surprising was Kimi’s managing soft tyres for the last ten laps of the race. Iceman continued to set fastest lap times and make his way back towards Vettel and Grosjean following his final pitstop, eventually passing his team mate on lap 55 to close the gap on the Red Bull.

The front cars were lapping the back of the grid (blue flags, blue flags everywhere), which momentarily slowed Vettel and Kimi down. The race between these two had me on the edge of my seat. In final two laps Kimi was consistently within DRS of Vettel, but he ran out of laps. I really would love to see them drive in the same team next season, those boys are without a doubt my favourite drivers.

Other than that, Mercedes struggled with their tyres during the race. Hamilton and Rosberg seem to have no grip around the corners. Fernando Alonso had a pretty straight forward race, though he failed to make it back to the pits after crossing the line in fourth. The worst part of the Grosser Preis Santander Von Deutschland (isn’t that fun to say), is that there is now such a long wait until Belgium.

– Alex

British Grand Prix: Post Race Mind Blown (and a few tyres)

I think it’s safe to say that Pirelli’s PR division would be working in over drive today following Sunday’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It appeared that not a single driver was immune from tyre issues yesterday, though some suffered considerably worse than others (and not just from Pirelli).

From lights out, Hamilton made a very clean getaway from the grid. Immediately Rosberg conceded a position to Vettel, and Webber suffered a poor start (Hmm) and then some contact from Grosjean (Again, hmm). For the next five or so laps it seemed as if the podium was decided. Hamilton had a strong lead on Vettel and Webber was at the back of the pack. I admit, I was quite disappointed when I thought Webber’s shot of the podium was out of reach.

Hamilton was the first to suffer major issues with his tryes. On reflection, that’s a bit of an understatement, Hamilton was the first to recover from his tyres just flat out giving up and exploding in a sea of debris. The blow out occurred right after the pit lane entrance as well, so Hamilton was forced to limp back around the track for one more lap before he could change his tyres.

Massa was next to suffer a rear tyre blow out, followed by Vergne who was forced to retire. In the final laps Perez became the fourth and final driver to have a tyre blow out, with debris missing Alonso by inches. It was quite unbelievable to watch, there was a very intense feeling when you didn’t really know who was next. It felt like there was a sniper on the track taking drivers out one by one. After Hamilton, Massa, and Vergne’s blow outs the safety car was deployed. To be honest I was half expecting the SC’s rears to go too… I’ve never seen race marshals have to work so hard, it was hard to believe that the race wasn’t even halfway through. More than just marbling. Pirelli have reported saying that this season’s bonding process is not to blame for Sunday’s incidents.  A number of drivers have defended the Silverstone track after suggestion that tyre damage was caused by the kerbs.

Apart from the tyre ‘issue’ (magical exploding tryres), race leader Vettel suffered gearbox failure on lap 42. Vettel obviously didn’t read my Canadian Grand Prix post in which I asked for him to win for my birthday (naughty German). He went out in style though requiring a safety car and a crane to remove his car from the pit straight. Grosjean’s car suffered damage and he retired on lap 52 due to handling issues.

Rosberg’s win was considerably overshadowed by the multitude of tyre failures during the race. Not only that, but Webber’s comeback was just incredible. As I mentioned earlier, after his contact with Grosjean it seemed like his hopes of being on the podium were squashed. This was not the case as he pulled off some fantastic moves going around the outside to over take. Pure skill, it was awesome. Alonso’s drive throughout the race was unsurprisingly good, but incredible in the final five laps. During the second safety car, both Webber and Alonso came in to pit which was a very risky move. Though maybe due to the track temperature, both cars had much superior grip and speed. As a result, Alonso was able to steal a podium finish away from Kimi, and Webber secured second place.

So that was a few of the highlights. Other points worth a mention include Alonso’s fantastic moustache he is currently sporting (Please don’t shave that one off mate), and Kimi breaking Schumacher’s record for most consecutive races finishing in the points. Well done Kimi! It was a pretty good way to ring in my twenty third birthday to be honest, one of the best races of the season. A Finnish friend of mine wished me a Happy Birthday today, or more accurately wished me a “Hyvää Syntymäpäivää”, which is much more difficult to say.

Well, that’s all for now. I shall see you later in the week for the German Grand Prix

– Alex

British Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Greetings and salutations from Silverstone in Northamptonshire*, for round eight of the Formula 1 Championship. This weekend kicked off with a drizzly P1 on Friday in which Daniel Ricciardo dominated in the wet. Ricciardo continued to perform well in all three qualifying sessions, could Webber’s announcing his retirement have spurred the young Australian on to fight for a seat at Red Bull next year? I think it might have something to do with it, but there is no denying Ricciardo’s skill.

Mercedes secured another front row lockout with Hamilton and Rosberg to start first and second on the grid. Red Bull will take out the second row with Vettel starting third. I feel like Webber will be one to watch in tonight’s race. He’s had a good history at Silverstone, winning back in 2010, and 2012, and still making the podium in 2009, and 2011. Red Bull perform well at “the local”, but I’m thinking Mark will try and stick it to Seb this year.

Di Resta had qualified fifth on the grid, but has been handed a grid penalty for his car being underweight, and will therefore start from the back of the grid. On a brighter note, Ricciardo (who qualified sixth) will now be starting from fifth. I really hope he scores high in the points this race, it will be a good Birthday present to himself (Daniel Ricciardo and I share the same birthday, July 1st, tomorrow, I’ll be 23, he’ll be 24).

Kimi struggled in qualifying yesterday, though the trye god has his ‘points finishing’ record riding on this race. Ferrari also struggled on Friday and Saturday, with Massa colliding with the barriers in practice, and Alonso losing grip on Saturday.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s race. I’m thinking Vettel, Webber and Rosberg have a good shot of being on the podium. Though Kimi, Hamilton, and Ricciardo will definitely be drivers to watch tonight.

Other important events to note include Williams Team 600th Grand Prix start on Sunday, and the FIA and the teams pay tribute to Canadian marshal, Mark Robinson, who suffered fatal injuries clearing Gutierrez’s car during the Canadian Grand Prix. I’m not often serious in my articles, but my thoughts go out to Mark’s family and all those affected.

*Please note that I’m not actually at Silverstone, but hey, a girl can dream.