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.

F1 Hungaroring Race Results & Report: Button for the Win While Hamilton Gets Another Penalty

What Happens When It’s a Fine Day for A Race, Even When It Rains

9:57am EST — Jenson Button stormed to victory in a 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix that featured rain, fire, fighting teammates, and as many as six trips to pit lane by teams calling multiple strategies. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso joined him on the podium, with Lewis Hamilton finishing fourth despite five stops and a drive-through penalty, holding off Mark Webber after passing him in the final laps. It was Button’s second win at the Hungaroring, where he won his first grand prix, on his 200th F1 race start.

Vettel (1:19.815) won pole on his last lap, keeping Hamilton at bay during Saturday’s qualifying session after the Briton had led both Friday practice sessions. Vettel’s late lap stunner came after a late night by the Red Bull mechanics and despite a poor time from teammate Webber, who started only sixth. Between them, Button was barely slower than his teammate, while Massa out-qualified Alonso to fourth. The Spaniard will start next to Webber on the grid.

Hamilton led the Friday morning practice while both Red Bulls were somewhat off their usual pace, with Webber losing the final seventeen minutes to a crash that tore off the nose of his car. Hamilton was also quickest in the afternoon session, but remained unable to string together a fast lap to beat Vettel on Saturday morning. On Sunday, rain was falling an hour and a half before the race start, with Mike Gascoyne susinctly summing up the weather, “Pouring down with rain here now. Since the forecast said it would stop rain and the chance of further rain was decreasing its rained nonstop.” By the time the start rolled around, the rain was still falling and the track was both damp and dry in places, and the two sides of the starting grid had different conditions.

Race Start:
On the start, Hamilton speared across the track, but could only manage to hope to take position from his teammate. Alonso got ahead of Massa while the McLaren drivers went down the track next to each other, possibly touching. The Ferraris slid backward, with Rosberg and Schumacher getting ahead of them. Alonso had a look on Schumacher by the German held him off. Vettel led Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Alonso, Schuamcher, Massa, Webber, di Resta, and Kobayashi as the top nine at end of the first lap. As the third lap began, Hamilton had a go on Vettel for the lead, with both getting a bit sideways. However, Vettel would not allow Hamilton through. Meanwhile, Alonso had taken fourth from Rosberg.

Vettel and Hamilton continued to fight over the lead while, a bit further back, Alonso got off onto the paint, sliding off and back on, then getting retaken by Rosberg. Hamilton got next to Vettel with the DRS, but could not make a pass stick. He finally pushed Vettel wide onto the paint in Turn 2, taking the lead on L5. Button was next right behind Vettel, pushing the championship leader hard. Soon, Hamilton had two and a half seconds on Vettel, iwth the entire field having started on intermediates.

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F1 Hungaroring Quali Results & Report: Vettel On Pole Belies Fighting to Get There

What Happens When It’s a Fight For the Same

9:12am EST — Sebastian Vettel (1:19.815) took pole from Lewis Hamilton on his final lap in qualifying, in a Q3 shootout that involved six drivers from three teams. Jenson Button will start third, with Felipe Massa next to him on the second row as both bumped Fernando Alonso to fifth in the final seconds. Mark Webber, who was suffering from continued KERS issues, will start sixth and alongside Alonso.

Vettel (1:21.168) was fastest in the final practice on Saturday morning after a late night by the Red Bull crew, their first curfew violation of the season. Each team is allowed four before being punished, with former Benetton mechanic (and SPEEDtv commentator) Steve Matchett explaining on Twitter, “the chaps in Hungary were awaiting set-up data/simulation confirmation from the vehicle dynamics department back in Milton Keynes, England.” Alonso, Button, Webber, and Massa were the five fastest at the end of that session, with Hamilton back in seventh.

The former world champion had led both the Friday morning and afternoon practice sessions, but was unable to put down a fast lap Saturday morning on the super soft tires. He complained that the breaks didn’t work on his first lap when he went wide into Turn 1, but proceeded to lock up on his next lap as well. Alonso was in the top three in all three sessions, with the Red Bulls, McLarens and Ferraris locking out the top six in each session, but for Rosberg on Saturday morning. For qualifying Hamilton was, according to Peter Windsor, “looking to go back to his unusual N’ring brake set-up – Brembo front, CI rear, Akebono calipers all round.” Also, Buemi will lose five grid positions due to a penalty from last weekend’s race, involving a collision with Heidfeld.

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F1 China Race Results & Report: Hamilton Wins Passing-Strewn Race, Webber 3rd

What Happens When It’s In the Strategy, and the Ability to Push

4:53am EST — Lewis Hamilton won a heart-pounding 2011 Chinese Grand Prix after nearly not making the grid Sunday. Teammate Jenson Button passed pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel on the start. It was not so clear-cut as that, with multiple tire strategies and close racing putting six different drivers in the lead. Vettel had his turn at leading after the first round of pit stops, but Hamilton took him in the final laps of the race. The star of the race was Mark Webber, pushing his Red Bull to finish third after starting eighteenth. Button was his last victim, finishing fourth on fading tires. Nico Rosberg, who led a good deal completed the top five, while Felipe Massa finished where he started and teammate Fernando Alonso finished seventh.

In what has become somewhat routine, Vettel started the race on pole, having set the fastest time by a wide margin during Saturday’s qualifying, and posting fastest times during both the Friday morning and afternoon sessions, as well as the Saturday morning practice. Other than Vitaly Petrov’s red flag stacking up seventeen drivers for a two minute shoot-out in Q2, qualifying followed the standard 2011 script: Vettel was very quick, with Button and Hamilton the only drivers in his vicinity. For Webber, qualifying was not standard, as he was knocked out in Q1, with KERS and possibly other issues. He started only eighteenth. Rosberg slotted into fourth to start next to Hamilton, with Alonso and Massa starting the race from the third row. McLaren barely made the grid, as Hamilton’s engine did not want to start whilst flooded with fuel, according to Paddy Lowe, though most others in the area called it a fuel leak. He managed to leave the pit lane with thirty seconds to spare, but missing bodywork that had to be added while on the grid.

The race got underway under the first clear blue skies of the weekend, with A great start for Button to take the lead, while Hamilton fought with Vettel for second, managing to take the position. Rosberg also took a look on Vettel, but could not manage to take third. Vettel lost time looking to block Hamilton, allowing Button to safely take the lead and be on his way. Rosberg then came under fire from the Ferraris, but held his fourth position. By the end of the first lap, Button had more than a second on Hamilton, with Vettel, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, di Resta, Sutil, Schumacher, and Alguersuari as the top ten. Webber had moved up one position to seventeenth. After the second lap, Hamilton had gained back a bit on Button.

Though Button continued to lead through the first few laps, he remained unable to put more than a second between himself and Hamilton. Vettel remained less than a second behind Hamilton, with Rosberg two seconds behind his fellow German. Massa and Alonso were less than a second apart and close behind Rosberg, while di Resta was complaining of problems from the rear and over four seconds behind Alonso in seventh, five laps into the fifty-six lap race. Schumacher took some interesting lines to keep his Mercedes in cleaner air, with the team’s overheating problems continuing. Continue reading

F1 China Quali Results & Report: Vettel Wins Pole Again, Webber KO’d in Q1

What Happens When Something is Wrong

3:22am EST — Sebastian Vettel dominated his way to pole for the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, with Jenson Button joining him on the front row. Shockingly, Mark Webber was unable to make it out of Q1, qualifying only eighteenth without KERS and on hard tires. Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row, qualifying just four hundredths off his teammate’s time and joined by Nico Rosberg on the second row. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa complete the third starting row, with Jaime Alguersuari, Paul di Resta, and Sebastien Buemi starting in the top ten. Just after going fourth fastest on his only Q2 run, Vitaly Petrov stopped on track, bringing out a red flag that left a two minute shootout to move on to Q3. Felipe Massa did, but Michael Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld did not. Though Petrov’s time put him into Q3, he was unable to compete and qualified tenth. All drivers qualified to start Sunday’s race.

Vettel ran away with the headlines in all three practice sessions, ending all three quickest, and with the fastest lap of the weekend. There seemed no limit to the Red Bull’s pace, so long as technical gremlins weren’t attacking Webber’s Red Bull. He was second quickest Friday morning, but drifted farther back as the weekend progressed, ending the Saturday morning session fifteenth and without an opportunity to run on soft tires before qualifying. Meanwhile, the only other cars or drivers able to come close to Vettel were Hamilton and Button, or Rosberg and Schumacher, all running under Mercedes power. Though the Ferrari duo of Massa and Alonso continued their slow-Friday-quicker-Saturday running, Alonso missed valuable track time with a hydraulic issue Friday afternoon. In heartening news, all times set during the final practice session were within 107% of Vettel’s quickest time (1:34.968), indicating that all drivers should qualify for Sunday’s race. “With less than 20 mins to go to the start of Q1 Webber’s car still on high stands in garage. Mechanics working flat out,” tweeted Anthony Davidson from China. He would make it out for Q1, but without KERS, again.

Q1:
The day was still cool as the first, twenty-minute qualifying session began in Shanghai. Perez was the first out, quickly followed by birthday boy di Resta. Other drivers began trickling out of their garages, though there was no mass exodus. Perez’s first time was a respectable 1:38.295, followed by di Resta, nearly seven tenths slower. Five minutes in, and only Vettel, Webber, Buemi, and Kobayashi were still in the box, though the former two would be on track just a minute or so later. There were no more times at that point. Continue reading

F1 Malaysia Quali Results & Report: Vettel on Pole Again, but Hamilton Very Close

What Happens When the Same Old Show is Still Dramatic

5:17am EST — Sebastian Vettel beat Lewis Hamilton to pole for the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix in a last-second shootout after the Briton led most of Q3. Jenson Button and Mark Webber will complete the front two rows for Sunday’s race, and continued the Red Bull/McLaren domination of the weekend. Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld will start fifth and sixth after reserving their shot at pole to a single lap, as did the other drivers in Q3. Nico Rosberg, who will start ninth, shoved teammate Michael Schumacher out in Q2 while the HRTs will start their first race of the season, posting times within the 107% rule.

Red Bull and McLaren ran away with the three practice sessions at Sepang, with Webber quickest by a long shot over Hamilton Friday morning, by a tiny margin over Button Friday afternoon, and Hamilton claiming the top spot over Webber in the final practice on Saturday. While both McLaren drivers were pretty quick during all three sessions, Webber outshone Vettel in all three, with the reigning champion seventeenth, fourth, and fifth fastest. Ferrari was either well behind the other two teams during practice or reserving their times for qualifying, with Alonso and Massa only in the top ten in all three sessions. Though Renault had a rough day Friday with front-end issues, Heidfeld was fourth fastest and Petrov seventh in the third practice. HRT continued its slow pace, though Karthikeyan and Liuzzi were faster than Virgin Racing for much of the practice, ending Saturday morning outside the 107% rule.

Q1:
Q1 started dry and sunny, with Liuzzi the first driver to leave pit lane and no one immediately following him. Ferrari, whose weather predictions ruined qualifying last year at Sepang, indicated taht rain was on its way, but would not fall for thirty minutes. Five minutes in, di Resta led the way, with D’ambrosio and Liuzzi the only others to have set a time. Barrichello quickly eclipsed all of them with an early time of 1:40.157, only to have teammate Maldonado go faster. Continue reading

UPDATE: F1 Australia Race Results & Report: Vettel On Top Again, Petrov on 1st Podium

What Happens When It’s a Lovely Start to a Season, For Many

3:45am EST — Sebastian Vettel continued the Red Bull domination of the beginning of the 2011 season with a controlling win of the Australia Grand Prix. He gave up the lead only to change tires and ended with a twenty-two second gap over Lewis Hamilton, whose McLaren’s undercarriage was no longer attached at the front. Vitaly Petrov scored his first podium, holding off a late-race charge from Fernando Alonso, who finished fourth. Mark Webber completed the top five, pulling off onto pit exit immediately after the flag. Despite providing some of the best racing early on, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa finished sixth and ninth, respectively. There were no major crashes, though six drivers did not complete race distance.

After the post-race technical inspection, the Saubers of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were disqualified from the results after infringing technical rules 3.10.1 and 3.10.2. As technical director James Key said when announcing the team’s intention to appeal, “It appears that there is a question over the top surface of the uppermost rear wing element, this area is not the working surface of the component and therefore relatively unimportant to its function. Certainly this has not led to any performance advantage. We are checking the design of the parts now to better understand the situation and we intend to appeal the decision made by the stewards.”

Vettel started on pole (1:23.529) after a dominating performance during Saturday’s qualifying and with a lap time nearly a full second faster than second place starter Hamilton. He managed second on quick last lap flyer, overtaking Webber for the front row start. Button, Alonso, and Petrov competed the first three rows. There were no major incidents during qualifying, though Rubens Barrichello missed out on Q3 at least in part because he beached his Williams in the gravel at Turn 3. In Q2, Sutil had a massive series of spins on the front straight, only to miss everything and continue on despite a likely need for a new firesuit. Neither Tonio Liuzzi nor Narain Karthikeyan for HRT was allowed to start, as they were the only drivers to fall afoul of the reintroduced 107% qualifying rule.

For the first time of the weekend, race day dawned bright and sunny in Melbourne. It was still cooler than usual, but warmer and a clear day for the season-opening race. The top eleven drivers started on the softer tire compound, with teams still unsure if they would need two or three stops through the fifty-eight lap race. Vettel got a good start, with Webber looking to keep his second position, but Hamilton dove to the inside to take second. It was Turn 3 with a bit of a melee, as Barrichello took yet another trip into the gravel. Massa dove is way forward, taking sixth. At the end of the first lap, Vettel led Hamilton, Webber, Petrov, Massa, Button, with Alonso down to eighth and fighting with Kobayashi. Alonso got a bit balked at the start by Webber, and was forced behind Petrov and Kobayashi while Massa went around the outside.

Alguersuari and Schumacher both pitted for new tires as L1 ended, and a new nose for Alguersuari. Meanwhile, Button harried Massa, until the DRS was enabled. He nearly took Massa, but the Ferrari continually held him off, turn after turn. Even the DRS from Button did not get him around the Brazilian, who did not use the system. Radioing back to McLaren, Button complained that Massa must stop moving around on the straight, though replays showed that he squeezed the Briton pretty hard into Turn 1, too. Massa was also receiving instructions to dial back on the brakes, as his were running too hot. This close racing also served another purpose for Ferrari (beyond the obvious of keeping the fifth position), in that Alonso continued to gain ground on the two. Continue reading