Notes From the Television Screen: F1 @ Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel took his first win of the 2012 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, holding off an occasionally charging Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean made it a double Lotus podium after a lightning start while Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg completed the top five. Lewis Hamilton dropped well down the order to finish eighth through two extraordinary long pit stops from McLaren while teammate Jenson Button was forced to retire with an engine or exhaust issue just two laps from the end. Rosberg’s Mercedes was also sickly, with the team telling him of his own exhaust issue. He is under investigation after the race from the stewards for incidents involving both Hamilton and seventh-place finishing Fernando Alonso. Both Germans in the top five pulled immediately off at the pit lane exit after crossing the line to finish the race. Paul Di Resta managed a career best sixth place finish. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher managed to scrap a single point despite starting twenty-second. Read the full race report at Formula1Blog…

Vettel (1:32.422) won pole in a thrilling post-session duel between himself, second place starter Hamilton, and third place starter Webber during Saturday’s qualifying. Button would have been the last man to cross the line, but scrapped his lap after a locking moment cost him a faster lap time. He qualified fourth. Rosberg, the weekend’s golden boy after Shanghai, managed only fifth fastest but was considerably better off than teammate Schumacher who got knocked out in Q1 by Heikki Kovalainen. In other champions’ news, Raikkonen dropped out in Q2, qualifying only eleventh, and Alonso just squeaked through to qualify ninth. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

However, Rosberg led two of the three practice sessions (both Friday afternoon [1:32.816] and Saturday morning [1:33.254]). Though Hamilton (1:33.572) led Friday morning’s session, the real consistency came from the Red Bull teammates. Vettel was amongst the top five in all three sessions and Webber in two of them. Despite dusty conditions and plenty of complaining about a lack of rear grip, there were no damaging incidents in any of the practice sessions or qualifying. Most teams seemed quite happy to throw the softer tyre on early in qualifying, both looking for pace as the track evolved and seemingly not concerned with using the compound more than absolutely necessary during the race.

Force India did sit out the second practice after an incident involving team personnel and protestors occurred on Thursday. Instead, the team used that time to switch over their cars to Saturday set up and left the circuit before darkness fell. Di Resta qualified tenth and Hulkenberg thirteenth, though there were no shots of the cars seen on the world feed during qualifying.

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F1: Looking Back Over the Flyaway Start to the 2010 Season, and What We Expected

What Happens When There is, Nearly Literally, No News

12:01am EST — Now that the excitement of the Chinese GP (and the subsequent portrayals of Around the World in 80 Days by the teams and F1 circus to get back home) is over, what seems like an interminable three week break until Barcelona is one third over.  The teams are generally quiet, working on their updates for the beginning of the European season a bit later than usual with the break in air traffic, the drivers are relaxing and working out and doing whatever promotions necessary during the layover, commentators are floundering wildly for just about anything at all to talk about, and fans are waiting for news and a return to action.

Four races into the season, though, there is time for reflection and a re-evaluation of what we had thought might happen before the season began.  Big story-lines before Bahrain included the return of Michael Schumacher (and his re-teaming with Ross Brawn at Mercedes), Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, intra-team squabbles, three new teams, and (depending on your calculations) six rookies.  Oh, yes, and one boring race and three exciting ones, though that may have been down to weather conditions and not so much a return to extremely close racing.  Bahrain was generally considered a snooze, despite it being the beginning of Vettel’s early-season bad luck and a Ferrari 1-2 (Bahrain Grand Prix Redux), Australia brought interesting race conditions and the beginning of Hamilton’s bad luck (or bad behavior?) while Button won his first of two races so far (Australia Grand Prix Redux), Malaysia’s weather made qualifying topsy-turvy as Vettel turned his disappointment into a win (Malaysian Grand Prix Redux), and China brought rain and many tire changes into play for McLaren’s turn at a 1-2 (Chinese Grand Prix Redux).

However, what many assumed would be the biggest story-lines at the beginning haven’t been quite as monstrous as anticipated.  They’re still important and getting quite a bit of attention, but seem to be less a priority within the paddock.  Schumacher has returned, but certainly not triumphantly (good or bad, you be the judge. honestly, go vote in the F1B Oversteer vs. Understeer about just that).  He has been regularly out-qualified and out-paced by younger teammate Nico Rosberg (in every session barring one Friday practice), and in China he was almost an impediment the likes of Sebastian Buemi to Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, et al.

Fernando ALonso is at Ferrari, but the bigger story there, after much PR work by both the Spaniard and the team making it clear they like him and he likes them far more than Kimi Raikkonen in red or Alonso at McLaren, is the projected intra-team squabble between him and Massa.  Both have given as good as they’ve gotten, and neither has made moves that punted the other off the track, though there has been some good dicing between them when it counted.  In the other pre-season intra-team drama, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton don’t seem to be fighting so much with each other on the track as Hamilton seems unhappy with the team, his performance, or both.  While Button has won two races, Hamilton has been cited for aggressive driving off the circuit, had two reprimands for aggressive driving on the track, and has taken out tire frustration on the team.  It will be interesting to see how the two British world champions deal with the rest of the season in their British team, which is currently leading the constructors’ world championship.

The new teams have been experiencing the expected growing pains, but do seem to be adapting accordingly.  In an unexpected twist, Sauber seems to have added itself to the new category with continual mechanical failures and an inability to finish races.  In fact, much touted rookie Kamui Kobayashi has yet to finish a race in 2010, despite showing much promise for the final two races in 2009 (which makes me very sad, as I was all set to become a Kamui fangirl).  In China, many of the new teams were actually running in the points for a while, while the tire strategies of the top drivers shook themselves out.  It made for very interesting racing.

Finally, the rookies.  There are a couple of drivers who can be classified as rookies despite their previous F1 starts: the aforementioned Kobayashi and Jaime Alguersuari, who only began his F1 career at the Hungaroring last season and has not completed a full F1 season.  Vitaly Petrov seems to be the undisputed king of the true rookies, though, with points in China and a great battle with Hamilton in Malaysia.  Three (Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok, and Lucas di Grassi) of the true rookies are racing for new teams, making it more difficult to chart their progress, while Nico Hulkenberg has been struggling at Williams (though his greatly experienced teammate Rubens Barrichello has as well).  Interestingly enough, Pedro de la Rosa and Michael Schumacher, neither of whom has raced for three years or more, are also struggling.  However, de la Rosa is in the troubled Sauber while Schumacher’s Mercedes is at least capable of upper points paying positions.

All in all, it has been an exciting early season, both on and off the track.  Still, that on-track excitement has been encouraged by adverse weather conditions and poor qualifying decisions by some of the teams.  While there are  many discussions on how to improve the show, 2010 has proven that the easiest way would be to simply install sprinklers at random locations on each track.  When the race gets too processional, turn them on and let the strategy and precision driving ensue.

F1 News: Ferrari to Use Bahrain Engines in China, McLaren Stops Trick Suspension Development

What Happens When Teams make Some Changes

12:02am EST — While Ferrari brings partially used engines to China, McLaren has announced that it has stopped development on it’s trick suspension response to the rumored suspension of Red Bull. Continue reading

F1 Opinion: SPEED’s USF1 Explanation, Schumacher Slower Than Rosberg All Weekend

What Happens When the News Flow Slows, a Bit

12:01am EST — With the news slowing as teams return home from Bahrain, do laundry, make updates, and fly back off for Australia, here’s a bit of opinion, previously published by this author at Formula1Blog.

SPEED Coverage from Bahrain Offers an Interesting Explanation for USF1:
Obviously, this weekend’s race coverage had to explain the USF1 situation to the more casual viewers who do not follow Formula1 in the off-season.  Here in the States, we watch F1 on SPEED channel, home to the excellent and entertaining color commentary team of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett and last season’s grid reporter, Peter Windsor.  Both Windsor’s absence from the SPEED team and USF1’s absence from the grid had to be explained, as his position as one of the team’s owners was touted quite often late last season.  Bob Varsha did the honors, explaining first in the second practice coverage on Friday and again, with nearly the same language, during the half hour pre-race show Sunday morning, along with another mention during qualifying on Saturday, just why USF1 wasn’t on the track in the 2010 season opener.
It is this explanation that has raised eyebrows at OASTD.  It began quite well, explaining that the team had money troubles, couldn’t produce a car in time, and that Windsor had mentioned to his old friends/colleagues on the SPEED team that the FIA had asked that the involved parties not discuss anything about the situation until it was sorted.  Then, Varsha continued (both on Friday and Sunday, and also possibly during qualifying), in a statement that was usually overlaid with footage of the new teams running, suggesting that we, the fans and viewers, should not be too harsh on USF1 since, they and they alone of the new teams, were actually constructors as the spirit of the rules indicated teams should be.
Instead, he indicated during the SPEED broadcasts, these new teams actually racing this weekend were consumer teams who bought their parts and chassis and engines from other sources instead of building them themselves.  The coverage went nearly to the point of denigration of Lotus, Virgin Racing, and HRT, in favor of the mountain USF1 attempted to climb and failed.
The explanation seemed to be a bit much, in the wake of what happened.  I understand that Windsor used to work at SPEED.  I understand that the USF1 and SPEED headquarters were/are practically next door in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I really understand wanting to be certain that the coverage of USF1 was not too harsh.  But, the favor seemed to be returned in harsh coverage on the new teams that actually made the grid, constructor or consumer teams or not.  As a reminder, from it’s inception until this season Toro Rosso was a “consumer” team.
In the end, we won’t know why what was said was said that way.  It could have been the SPEED F1 coverage team’s decision and writing, a producer’s, an intern’s, or word from SPEED on high.  It reminds me of the casual drop-in that Campos (now HRT) would not make Bahrain, either, when the USF1 deferral request was first made known.  An interesting and seemingly odd bit of editorializing.

Schumacher’s Return Highlighted By Slower Pace Than Teammate:
When Michael Schumacher announced his comeback with Mercedes, there was a lot of excitement and speculation that he would either a. be too old or b. tromp all over the comparatively inexperienced youngsters.  Then came testing, where it became apparent that the Merc simply wasn’t fast enough to hunt for the championship straightaway.  People’s excitement was tempered, but there is still a sense that his masterful developmental ability, combined with Ross Brawn at the team’s helm, will soon allow Schumacher to be the force to be reckoned with that he has been.  Then came the first true test: this weekend at Bahrain.  Where he was out-paced and out-qualified in every track session by teammate Nico Rosberg.
It was Rosberg, 8th; Schumacher 10th in practice one on Friday, Rosberg fastest; Schumacher 3rd in practice two on Friday, Rosberg starting fifth; Schumacher 7th after qualifying, and Rosberg finishing 5th; Schumacher finishing 6th in the race today.  So, with an entire race weekend the only available racing data, we can completely say that (note some amount of sarcasm here) young Rosberg has out-performed his more illustrious colleague in the same equipment in every bit of proper track running all season.
There are myriad reasons why, from something as simple as Schumacher not liking Bahrain, being a teeny bit out of practice, or that ever-elusive and varying quality called luck.  Obviously, we will have to wait all season, and the next three years for the rest of his contract, to learn if Michael Schumacher is truly back in all of the powerful racing glory he once demonstrated.  However, it is clear that the previously expected (in some quarters) domination of the field is belied by his early pace behind younger and more in-practice teammate Rosberg.

F1 News: There Was a Race & Other Stories (Vettel’s Engine Woes, Drivers Protest)

What Happens When the News Can Be Amusing

12:01am EST — While the day’s biggest news was the season opening race (full race report found here at On Any Sunday, These Days) in Bahrain, there are two stories that trickled out from the paddock that were interesting.

Vettel’s Issue Electrical, Not Exhaust:
According to an Autosport article, it was not a broken exhaust that caused Sebastian Vettel’s dramatically slow pace at the end of the GP of Bahrain and his subsequent fourth place instead of first.  During the race, Red Bull explained to ever-curious reporters that Vettel’s car was suffering from an issue with the exhaust, which the team had changed the configuration of between off-season tests.  Instead, Vettel finished fourth, behind Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, and Lewis Hamilton, because of a faulty spark plug.  The article noted that “the team said, however, that there had been no damage to the unit,” which should be good news for the team, since their Renault engines had reliability issues last season that could be said to have lost them the championships.

Ecclestone Bans Physios From Grid, Drivers Retaliate:
Watching respective pre-race shows before Bahrain, one might have noticed that the drivers remained suspiciously absent from the grid.  There were no interviews, no chatting with celebrities wandering about.  The drivers only appeared at the last moment to strap in, having waited in the pit lane or garage until then.  According to an unnamed driver source in an Autosport article, this was a protest against a move by Bernie Ecclestone to reduce the number of people wandering the grid before each race, by refusing to grant passes to drivers’ personal physios.  Generally, the physio is someone who seems to be combination personal trainer/doctor/masseuse/cheerleader/drink fetcher/umbrella person.  It is understood that Ecclestone told the drivers that they would need to have their teams provide the passes, a difficulty since teams are already required to maintain a maximum at-track staff number.  So, this source explained to Autosport that “the plan of action would likely continue for the next race in Australia too unless the physio’s access to the grid is sorted” since Ecclestone continued to refuse to offer passes even after the drivers explained to “him that they need their physios with them to ensure they are in perfect physical shape for the race.”  One would hope this spirit of cooperation amongst drivers will continue to hold firm should any safety matters force a standoff between Ecclestone and the drivers.

F1 Race Results & Report: Ferrari 1-2 With Alonso on Top in Bahrain

What Happens When Reliability Is An Issue

9:58am EST — A triumphant Fernando Alonso won the 2010 season opening GP of Bahrain, with teammate Felipe Massa making it a Ferrari 1-2 after Sebastian Vettel had late-race exhaust issues that dropped him from the race lead to, ultimately, fourth place.  Lewis Hamilton finished third, as Nico Rosberg outpaced teammate Michael Schumacher to fifth.  Schumacher finished sixth, with Jenson Button close behind in seventh.  Of the new teams, only Lotus finished the race.

Vettel started on pole, in front of the Ferrari’s of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso after a quite sedate qualifying session (the F1B qualifying report can be found here).  Both Ferrari’s changed their engines before the race, “as a precaution,” according to Fernando Alonso in a Reuters article, “because of the heat and mechanically it’s going to be very demanding as well.”  Tenth-place starter Adrian Sutil was the only driver in the top ten to start on hard(er) tires.  Everyone behind him did as well.  Both HRT cars started on the pit lane.  Interestingly enough, many of the drivers did not hang out on the grid under umbrellas, as Bernie Ecclestone no longer allows their personal physios/umbrella people to stay with them.  As the first race with no re-fueling in years, tire strategy would be key, as would finally figuring out which teams have been sandbagging since testing in February.

Vettel got a good start as the lights went out, as the field got away quite heavily.  Webber appeared to lose his engine exiting into turn one from sixth position, as Alonso got around teammate Massa for second after Vettel.  Rosberg got around Hamilton, as Schumacher also made up ground with Webber’s issues.  Kubica dropped from ninth to twenty-first as Kovalainen moved up from 21st to 16th.  Red Bull waited in the pit, while Webber appeared to recover, moving back up to seventh.  In his and his team’s F1 debut, Chandhok had an off, damaged the front of the car, smashing the nose, and ended his race without finishing a lap. Continue reading

F1 Full Qualifying Report: Vettel on Pole for Bahrain, Ferraris Close Behind, and Schumacher Starting 7th

What Happens When Quali is Exciting But, Thankfully, Not for Crashes

7:12am EST — In a sedate qualifying session, Sebastian Vettel took first pole of the 2010 season, followed by the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg as the top five starters for tomorrow’s Grand Prix.  As he did throughout qualifying, Rosberg posted a time faster than famous teammate Michael Schumacher, who will start seventh, followed by reigning champion Jenson Button.  The new teams were first out in Q1, and Button just beating last year’s teammate Rubens Barrichello into Q1.

Qualifying began after a final practice session in which Fernando Alonso posted the fastest time so far this weekend (1:54.099), just faster than Nico Rosberg, with Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, and Sebastian Vettel rounding out the top five.  Karun Chandhok again did not manage any running with clutch problems.

Q1:
Virgin Racing was the first team to leave the pit lane in Q1, where the seven slowest drivers would be knocked out.  Halfway through the first session, sixteen cars of twenty-four were on-track.  Alonso had an early lead, only to have Rosberg, then Massa set the fastest time, then Webber, then Vettel.  With one minute left, it was the new teams in the knockout zone, along with Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber.  At the very end of the session, Alonso went back to the top as Kobayashi posted a fifteenth fastest time and his teammate Pedro de la Rosa dropped into the knockout zone.  He improved, putting the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari out, with Virgin Racing the best of the new teams, then Lotus, with the HRT of Chandhok over ten seconds off fastest Alonso’s 1:53.612.  Vettel posted the second fastest time, then Sutil, Webber, and Massa the top five.

Drivers Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Alguersuari 1:57.071
19. Glock 1:59.728
20. Trulli 1:59.852
21. Kovalainen 2:00.313
22. di Grassi 2:00.587
23. Senna 2:03.240
24.Chandhok 2:04.904 Continue reading