Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Albert Park, Australian Grand Prix

Editor’s note: I cover the entirety of the Formula 1 on-track action at Formula1Blog throughout each race weekend. This is just a taste of those session and race recaps. Follow the links to read the full story, as posted immediately after each session.

Jenson Button won the 2012 Australian Grand Prix in dominating fashion, having taken the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton into the first turn and only giving it up for a pit stop. Hamilton would finish third, as second place finisher Sebastian Vettel pipped him in a pit stop during a Safety Car period caused by Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham stopping on the front straight. Mark Webber finished fourth, having lost positions on the start then retaking them through the race. The Australian was very close to Hamilton in the closing stages but remained unable to make a move on the Briton. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top five, having heaved his Ferrari up from a twelfth starting position. Read the entire Grand Prix Redux at Formula1Blog…

Saturday’s qualifying session added to the newly mixed-up 2012 field, as Hamilton (1:24.922) won pole with a 2011 Vettel-style lap. Only Button came close to the former world champion, making a McLaren front row on the starting grid. Grosjean showed that Lotus’ pace in testing was no fluke, though a mistake from his new teammate Raikkonen meant that the Finn qualified only eighteenth. The biggest mistake, however, came from Alonso. The Spaniard beached his recalcitrant Ferrari in the gravel halfway through Q2 and was only twelfth quickest. Still, he fared better than Massa, who went out after Alonso’s red flag and was also knocked out in Q2. Back up front, Schumacher qualified to start next to Grosjean in the mad dash to fast laps in Q3 while Webber and Vettel managed only to qualify fifth and sixth, respectively. The Australian out-qualified his reigning champion teammate, despite yet another KERS failure. Despite usually winning an appeal to the stewards despite qualifying times outside 107% last year, neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan started the race, presumably due to their extensive balking of other drivers as moving chicanes during qualifying itself. Perez also had issues with his gearbox that forced Sauber to change it and resulted in a five place gird penalty from his qualifying position of seventeenth. Read more about qualifying for the Australian GP at Formula1Blog…

Both McLarens also showed good pace in the practice sessions, with each driver posting the fast lap for a session. Button (1:27.560) led the team 1-2 on the wet Friday morning, with Schumacher, Alonso, and Webber joining them as the fastest five. Hamilton (1:25.681) had his turn on the dry and sunny Saturday morning session, leading Grosjean, Webber, Button, and Rosberg as the quickest. Both Schumacher and Vettel had trips through the gravel in the sunshine, though no driver crashed out of either wet Friday practice. Schumacher (1:29.183) was the shining driver Friday afternoon, leading Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, and Kobayashi in that session as the track dried quickly in the final minutes.

What a Year It Has Been…What a Year It Could Be

What Happens When a Year Flies By

9:27pm EST — As I sit here, checking Twitter and my Google Reader and all the other things I do to see what’s new in the roadracing world, it is a marvel to me that a year ago, about this time, I was publishing my very first post here at On Any Sunday, These Days.  In and of itself, that post was nearly a year old; a post about my first MotoGP race, the first GP at the circuit originally designed for Formula1, then raced the other way around.  I had originally written about my experience in a very long-winded article I sent to a couple of motorcycle magazines, with results that were only similar in the fact that they were all rejections.  Mainly, I’m sure, due to my verbosity and their own lack of space for my subject.  It was soon (as in a few minutes) followed with a post about how I love to be right, and was proven so in the Renault ban from the European Grand Prix after Felipe Massa’s disastrous run-in with Rubens Barrichello’s lose spring…as I struggled between a conversational and journalistic style.

However, the views kept coming, with fabulous readers from everywhere I could think of and some places I couldn’t, emailing and commenting and (as soon as I joined Twitter) tweeting their thoughts.  This site and the wonderful readers waiting to read F1 and MotoGP news with my opinion thrown in soon became a bit of an obsession, and that was ok since it was the slower season for my real job (I pay the bills by owning and operating, with the rest of my family, a small retail store at a tourist destination).  Then came Formula1Blog and the offer from Todd McCandless to become a Contributing Editor, with front-page news duties and a weekly column.  I couldn’t say no; I didn’t want to.  Unfortunately, writing there has meant less writing here.  So, the posts here have slowed from a massive seven a day to one from time to time.  Still, I can’t let go, you all (and my own color scheme) are too much fun.

It’s been a year, and I hope it’s another, and another, where I’m writing about roadracing and passion, and team orders, and everything else we debate whilst fans of some of the greatest sporting in the world.  I’m working on going to more races (see my coverage of the 2010 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona), with another trip planned to Indianapolis for MotoGP in a month.  Things might begin to look a bit different, too.  Ads, maybe, better readability, and more MotoGP.  In these six hundred and sixty-five posts in three hundred and sixty-five days I’ve said a lot, typed certain words too often and others not often enough.  We’ve seen medical miracles (Massa’s recovery after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix; Valentino Rossi’s recovery after the 2010 Italian Grand Prix), scandal after scandal, and some seriously good racing.  May the good keep on coming and the need for medical miracles cease.  I’d ask for an end to the scandals, but what is racing without a bit of drama off the circuit as well as on?  So, thanks, dear readers who have become friends and those readers who quietly pass through.  It’s been a hell of a year, and I’ve enjoyed more than a new motorsports journalist could ask for, and far more than I thought I ever would when I started on a whim, at a suggestion from my father.

F1 Opinion: A Rant on Diffusers, Rules, and “Fairness”

What Happens When F1 Travels and News Slows

12:38am EST — With little news coming out of the F1 community in an off week, the following is a re-publishing of my weekly opinion column at Formula1Blog, as published Sunday.

Nearly a week ago, I wrote an article here at F1B, detailing the 2010 version of the diffuser debacle.  Days later, SJ wrote this article about the FIA response.  To make a long story short, it had come to the attention of the FIA that four teams (namely McLaren, Mercedes,  Force India, and Renault) had used the loophole in Article 3.12.7 of the technical regulations stating that “a single break in the surface [of the diffuser] is permitted solely to allow the minimum required access for the” starter motor.  Since the regulations did not make any specifications regarding said hole, those teams made interestingly shaped starter motors that required a hole or holes in the diffuser that gave advantage to those teams.  The FIA, having found that these innovative holes broke the spirit of the rules (fairness in racing, et al), have sent a note clarifying the previously mentioned Article and informing the above-mentioned teams that they have to make changes in order to race next weekend in Melbourne.

I began the following rant in my article when the first mention of the FIA’s investigation into these diffusers was noted:

This sort of thing is what tends to make my blood boil about rules in F1.  Perhaps I am out of the ordinary, but isn’t the point of F1 that it isn’t fair?  Aren’t special, clever technicians who exploit the loopholes in the rules the ones who are most feted?  It seems to be the wisest course of action to improve the car performance, and just maybe the show, to not “clarify” or change the rules to make things more fair, but to allow these men and women to design every sneaky but legal thing they can for the fast cars they build.
In fact, the article says “there is some unease about teams utilising [sic] start motor holes to make their diffusers more effective.”  Isn’t a more effective diffuser the idea?  Imagine that one guy at Ferrari last season, standing around the factory, asking the other designers and technicians, “what do you think? Build a less effective diffuser this year?”  He’s not working at Maranello this season.  Still, it appears as though another clarification of the technical regulations is in order.

I will now continue, since the FIA has so very nicely quashed all my arguments with it’s clarification and closing of loopholes.  Obviously, we want to see close racing, and the more similar the cars (the more “fair” the rules) make for closer racing.  Still, isn’t Formula1 marketed as the pinnacle of motor racing, design, and technology?  Shouldn’t the clever designers be allowed to continue with their clever design?  Of course, as SJ correctly notes in his article, regarding the Autosport article that informed us all that the design had to be changed, ” ‘This concept was pioneered by Brawn GP in 2009.’ Is it just me (or really Todd’s influence on me), but does that last sentence drip with sarcasm? I feel like there are bright blinking lights reading: ‘Yep! They shoulda done this last year!’ “  So, is this a response to the hoopla around the 2009 championship-winning Brawn?

Finally, in my rant about how closing the loopholes is precisely what the FIA shouldn’t be doing, I wonder if those in change noticed the dichotomy of their decision.  The named teams who were using the loophole to advantage (a reminder: McLaren, Mercedes, Force India, and Renault) weren’t actually gaining all that much of an advantage.  Did any of those four teams run away with the GP of Bahrain?  No.  They finished the race as high as third (Lewis Hamilton, who was gifted third after Sebastian Vettel’s spark plug problems dropped him to fourth) and as low as twelfth (Adrian Sutil) of seventeen finishers.  If the spirit of the rules were fairness, wouldn’t it be more fair to these just-about-mid-pack teams to allow them to use their clever designs in order to attempt to catch up to the, for now, better-running teams?  The FIA just allowed Renault to modify some parts of their engine to make things more fair, as the engine freeze froze their engine at a disadvantage, according to Christian Horner.  Wouldn’t the ensuing design war utilizing all the loopholes make for more interesting racing, if the winner changed around each race or two?  and, if the idea truly is fairness instead of clever technological advantage, allowing these teams to use their clever technological advantage to gain position in comparison to those teams who didn’t use it but are still racing faster would make the racing closer and more fair, no?  Or, am I either too logical or too illogical for the FIA rules?

F1 News: Jerez Day 1 (Test 2), Continued Dire Rumors About USF1

What Happens When the Day is Equally Exciting and Sad

12:02am EST —  News from F1 on Wednesday were equal parts interesting and disheartening, with another day of testing in Jerez to tax one’s analysis and rumors out of Argentina about the viability of USF1.

Vettel Tops First Day of Second Jerez Test: (as I posted at F1B earlier in the day)
Testing began again in Jerez with continued rain and damp conditions, and the drivers were not able to set times as fast as the young drivers late last year or the fastest times set on Friday.  Sebastian Vettel was fastest for Red Bull in the day-long session (1:22.593) that saw multiple red flags, driver changes at Force India, and another day of low laps run for Virgin Racing.  In an amusing turn, the official Red Bull Twitter account (cleverly named Red Bull Spy), noted “Seb top of the timesheets today and as usual driving like a man with his underpants on fire. He doesn’t really get the concept of ‘testing’.”
Lewis Hamilton was second fastest, with Felipe Massa in the Ferrari third, about .7 back from Vettel.  Ferrari, however, were not pleased, noting on Twitter, “Honestly, it was not a very productive day for the team. Anyway, we did what we could.”
LotusF1, in their debut, stopped about an hour early after running seventy-six laps.  According to the team, Tony Fernandes, and Mike Gascoyne Twitter accounts, Fauzy was driving without power steering, due to a supplier issue and not a mechanical problem.  He did, however, complete the laps necessary to obtain his Superlicense after FIA approval.  With Williams in tenth, LotusF1 in eleventh, and Virgin Racing in twelfth, all the Cosworth-powered cars were lumped together at the bottom of the timesheet.  Williams, through Claire Williams on Twitter, continues to note that “Rubens is doing long runs to check systems this morning” and “Rubens is doing set-up work this afternoon” and that the times are not necessarily representative.  As per usual, none of the times are truly representative of a usually dry race, with the wet weather, heavy or light fuel loads, and changes to set-up specially made for testing.  It all begins again Thursday morning, so pack up the galoshes.  To see the full list of times and further analysis, follow the headline link.

The USF1 Story from Argentina:
There are pointed rumors and stories coming out of Argentina suggesting that the team is seriously floundering and unlikely to make the 2010 season.  Argentina is the home country of the team’s single contracted driver, Jose Maria “Pechito” Lopez.  While nothing has been confirmed by the team, industry sources and those close to the team suggest to F1B that these rumors might be based in fact.
La Voz del Interior
, the newspaper from Lopez’ home province of Cordoba, Argentina, ran a story Wednesday saying (in the original Spanish here), “Peter Windsor, sporting director of the team, gathered at the headquarters of Charlotte with the entrepreneur Felipe McGough [Pechito’s manager] and Jose Lopez (father), he admits that it will not build F1 cars of the U.S. within the agreed timeframe and, with tears in eyes, do not know what to do with your project.”  The article continues, “so little money was coming into the U.S. F1 Cosworth had not sent the engines and was working in a ‘imitation” of the impeller’ ” and notes that “Argentina agreed to pay up-way Automóvil Club Argentino-two million dollars, of which, 830 thousand and were deposited in a U.S. bank account.”  While Google’s translation is, as always, a bit wonky, the meaning is clear: in Argentina, word on USF1 is that the team will not race in 2010.
Adding insult to injury, Lopez’s official website later confirmed the meeting in Charlotte (though not of the details of the meeting) and the subsequent meetings in Europe with Bernie Ecclestone (here in Spanish).

F1 News (and very little of it): Teams Unhappy With Jerez, Michelin May Return

What Happens When Nothing Much Happens

12:02am EST — In this slow news Monday, teams spent the day whining about the Jerez forecast, Michelin may return to Formula1, and I join other staff at Formula1Blog for the weekly podcast over there where we discuss it all.

Teams a Bit Cranky About Testing In Jerez This Week:
Three teams have not-so-subtly noted their irritation about returning to rain-soaked Jerez for testing Wednesday through Saturday of this week.  Granted, the following three mentions came from the teams’ official Twitter accounts, so it is not as though they are calling up the FIA and complaining (that we know of), but they are publicly stating their displeasure with this year’s main testing venue.
Renault was the first to complain, in a note on the team’s official Facebook page which was then tweeted.  “As is becoming the norm in Jerez, the weather has disappointed us once again. It’s cold and wet and our technical programme has been affected as a result,” said the beginning of the note.  Virgin Racing also noted on Twitter, “Gah! Rainy again…” and later drew their three thousand plus followers’ attention to “Err, Houston? http://news.bbc.co.uk/weather/forecast/2433” the BBC’s weather forecast for this week in Jerez as “heavy rain shower” starting Monday and continuing at least through Friday.  For the team with the fewest laps posted from last week’s session because of lack of spares, continued rain must be putting a bit of damper on new-team enthusiasm. Finally, Ferrari, who has remained in Jerez this weekend, tweeted, “Action! Today’s work is supposed to be dedicated to PR activities. With such a downpour it rather looks like a swimming not filming day!” and “The weather wasn’t good and it is getting worse. Next year it would be more efficient to go in another warmer and drier country for testing.”  Their little message was the most pointed, and  had a suggestion that has been making the rounds amongst the F1 journalists on Twitter since the first raindrop fell.
One would imagine that the other seven teams who tested in Jerez last week share similar opinions.  For those who were not there, the test in Valencia was filled with excitement and fast times.  Jerez became a bit of a bore.  For those participating, who actually need to test the cars in dry conditions as well as wet, this continued forecast must be grim, and quite annoying.

Michelin In Talks to Return To F1 in 2011:
According to ITV, Michelin is in negotiations to return as a Formula1 tire supplier in 2011, as Bridgestone had announced its withdrawal from the sport late last year.  Managing Partner Jean-Dominique Senard said that there are, however, “ome very clear conditions,” such as changes in the tire rules that “show the performance they can bring, notably in terms of fuel saving and CO2 reductions.”  Any addition to tire suppliers would be a good thing, adding another variable for the teams to strategize and increasing the technical variations in the pinnacle of motorsport.

Appearance on the Formula1Blog Weekly Podcast:
As is a semi-regular occurrence, I appeared on the F1B podcast, discussing the week’s news with Todd and Grace.  Tune in and hear us talk about everything that happened this week in F1, and a little bit of everything else, as well.

Finally Available: Interviews From the Rolex 24 at Daytona

What Happens When You Record a Few Questions and Answers

12:31am EST — Now available at Formula1Blog, “The Rolex 24 Interviews” are my interviews with drivers Scott Pruett, Sebastian Bourdais, Ian James, Jeff Westphal, and Chris Dyson, and Lola’s US head of marketing, Steve Charsley, all wrapped up and analyzed in a F1B Downshift episode.  For a behind-the scenes look at the race, check out “Behind the Scenes at Starworks Motorsport” and “Images From the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.”  Look for further driver interviews from the event and driver profiles of Ian James, Jeff Westphal, Jeff Blackmun, and Matt Bell in the near future.

For the entirety of the On Any Sunday, These Days/Formula1Blog Rolex 24 at Daytona Twitter coverage (tweets and links to the pictures posted), please click the read further link just below.  The tweets appear in chonological order, from arriving at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday morning to the end of the race Sunday afternoon.

Continue reading

Live Coverage From the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

What Happens When Coverage Expands

2:35pm EST — For all those readers interested in other forms of roadracing, On Any Sunday, These Days will be providing live coverage of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona beginning on set-up day Thursday, January 28 through the race beginning at 3pm EST Saturday, January 30th and ending after the winner’s circle festivities Sunday, January 31st.  Coverage will be provided through articles and pictures at this site and Formula1Blog, but minute-by-minute coverage (complete with pictures from the pit lane and garages) will be available at “VMR on Sunday” on Twitter.  Interviews with drivers and the various racers simply participating as spectators will also be found at F1B through the weekend and after the race.

For those who are unaware, the Rolex is a sportscar race run under the Grand-Am umbrella and part of that championship here in the States.  It is similar to, though not as prestigious as, the 24 Heures du Le Mans.  More information can be found at the series’s official site, including a current entry list, which includes such drivers as Juan Pablo Montoya, Max Papis, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Scott Pruett, Jamie McMurray, Max Angelelli, Raphael Matos, Ricardo Zonta, Alex Gurney, Jimmie Johnson, Jimmy Vasser, Dominik Farnbacher, Patrick Dempsey, Jorg Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard, Bobby Labonte, and many, many others.  SPEED will broadcast the race with a preview of the event at 2pm on Saturday the 30th, with race coverage starting at 3pm.

I will attempt to satisfy any questions or requests for interviews or pictures from the Rolex submitted as comments here, sent to onanysundaythesedays@gmail.com, or @vmronsunday on Twitter.