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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Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Shanghai

Nico Rosberg took his first ever win in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, ending a dominating twenty seconds ahead of Jenson Button. The Briton had a problem in a pit stop that cost him a fight for the win. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium, having participated in a ten car fight over eight positions in the third of the race. Kimi Raikkonen looked safe to finish on the podium, but drifted back to twelfth in that fight, as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel completed the top five. It was a race of strategy, with teams using both two and three stop strategies. There was no rain, but plenty of clouds in a grand prix that saw plenty of dicing for position, and Michael Schumacher the only retirement. Read the full race report at Formula1Blog…

Rosberg (1:35.121) set the pole winning time in a remarkable fashion, retiring to the garage after one fast run early in the final Q3 part of Saturday’s qualifying session. Though Hamilton qualified second fastest, a gearbox change penalty dropped the Briton back to the seventh starting position and put Schumacher on for a Mercedes front row. Not only is it Rosberg’s first pole ever, it is also the first pole for a Mercedes factory car since 1955, when two Silver Arrows also started on the front row in Italy. Hamilton and Schumacher set the fastest practice times, but neither’s quali lap was closer than a half second to Rosberg. Kobayashi qualified fourth fastest but began the race in third, with next to him on the grid. Button and Webber completed the third row of starters. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

Webber contributed to teammate Vettel’s poor qualifying showing (he started only eleventh) by posting the fastest lap on the softer tyres in Q2 and knocking his teammate out in that session. Neither Red Bull looked to have any particular pace to match the Mercedes powered cars at the front in any of the practice sessions. Hamilton led both the Friday and Saturday morning sessions, with Schumacher taking the advantage at the end of the dry Friday afternoon session. Both Ferraris again struggled through the practices, but Alonso managed to qualify ninth and Massa twelfth. Despite the lack of grip and multitudinous slides and trips over kerbing, only Timo Glock suffered an incident during any of the sessions. He appeared to lose the front wing and nose cone entering Turn 1, leading to his skittering across the gravel and belting his Marussia into the tyre barrier. He was generally unhurt, though perplexed.

Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Sepang

Fernando Alonso won a rain stopped 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, holding off a charging Sergio Perez in the final half of the race. Only a mistake from the young driver on a wet kerb kept him from pushing the Spaniard hard for the win, though he still ended the race barely over two seconds behind the two-time world champion. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium. The race began under a cloud and lightly falling rain that fell more heavily early on, bringing out the safety car and stopping the race just nine laps into the fifty-six lap race distance.  After fifty minutes of red flag boredom, the race restarted under the safety car with Hamilton and Button leading. Once the SC pulled back in, pit stop mayhem shook up the order and proper racing commenced. In the end, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top five, while Sebastian Vettel finished outside the points in eleventh, despite odd stoppage orders from Red Bull on the final lap. Read the full Grand Prix Redux at Formula1Blog…

Hamilton (1:36.219) started next to Button on the front row after the second McLaren domination of qualifying in a row. The younger Briton set his very fast lap midway through Q3 in Saturday’s qualifying session and no one could touch it during that session. Button barely managed to join his teammate on the front row, pipping third place starter Schumacher with a final, post-checkers hot lap. Next to Schumacher qualified Webber. The Australian made for some drama, as he looked set to be nearly knocked out in Q2, but a quick lap moved him smartly up the order. Raikkonen’s lap was fifth fastest, but he lined up only tenth after a gearbox change five place penalty. That put Vettel and Raikkonen’s Lotus teammate Grosjean on the third row of starters. Vettel, however, made a gamble to use the harder tyre to set his time and was the only top ten starter to line up on that compound. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

It really was Hamilton’s weekend, as the driver led both Friday sessions. In the dry morning practice, Vettel, Rosberg, Schumacher, and Grosjean completed the fastest five, while Schumacher, Button, Rosberg, and Ricciardo did so during the dry afternoon session. Oddly, the only damp running came Saturday morning, as a drizzle coated the circuit for about twenty minutes before that session began. It stopped around the time the final practice began and allowed a dry line to form quickly. Rosberg topped Saturday morning, with Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, and Grosjean joining him. There were no major incidents though most drivers struggled with rear grip. Many increased the heart rates of their mechanics with power slides and trips through the gravel, but the damage was relatively light all weekend. Ferrari continued to fare poorly, as Alonso managed to set only the ninth fastest qualifying lap and Massa made it only to Q2.

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.

F1 Abu Dhabi Results and Full Race Report: Vettel’s Strategy Wins the Race, as Hamilton Retires, and Webber Holds Off Button for Second

What Happens When New Tracks Are All the Same

9:44am EST —Sebastian Vettel won the 2009 Abu Dhabi GP after a pit stop strategy gave him the lead over Lewis Hamilton, before the latter had to retire on L17 with brake issues.  Mark Webber held off a determined last-lap charge from Jenson Button to finish second.  Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld rounded out the top five, as rookie Kamui Kobayashi’s quick driving and one-stop strategy netted him points for sixth position in only his second race.  This win moved Vettel ahead in points, and he finished the season second in the driver’s championship, with Barrichello third and Webber fourth.

Lewis Hamilton started on the pole for Sunday’s inaugural Abu Dhabi GP, after a near-domination of qualifying.  However, he had to get a great start in order to stay ahead of the slightly heavier Red Bulls to his right and behind during the pit stops.  Interestingly enough, all cars starting from eleventh (Raikkonen) back could conceivably turn Abu Dhabi into a one-stopper.

Hamilton led into the first turn as Vettel got off a bit slowly.  Barrichello attempted to get around Webber, but could not.  Kubica made his way around Trulli.  By the end of the first lap Button had passed his teammate as Barrichello began to slip back to Kubica having lost the right front endplate after slight contact with Webber.  Vettel, meanwhile, was  not allowing Hamilton to get away.  At the back, Grosjean had managed a pass on teammate Alonso.  By almost L3 Kovalainen had moved up five positions from his eighteenth place start.  He had qualified thirteenth, but changed his gearbox and suffered a five-place penalty.

L4 had Alonso back around Grosjean, but both were back in seventeenth and eighteenth.  By L5, Webber had taken the fastest lap from Hamilton as Hamilton led Vettel by 1.5 seconds, with Webber another 2.7 seconds behind.  The gap between the front two dropped, then increased by two-tenths.  By L10, Hamilton had re-taken fast lap, leading Vettel (1.7s), Webber, Button, and Barrichello.  On the next lap, Hamilton attempted to increase the gap, but had a small off-track excursion, bringing the gap down to nine-tenths.  Those behind them were also catching up with only a few laps until the stops began.  Webber again took fastest lap on L14 with a 1:40.571.  Two and a half seconds separated the top three, at that point.

Barrichello and Kubica were the first to pit, on L17.  Brawn did not change that damaged front wing as Barrichello seemed to be setting fast times, he returned to the circuit in front of Raikkonen in tenth.  Hamilton pitted on L18, as did Button.  Button rejoined in eighth, just ahead of Kobayashi, who gave him quite a bit of trouble, until Button overshot the turn and lost position to Kobayashi in a brilliant piece of driving from the young Japanese.  Webber, Trulli, Rosberg, and Buemi pitted on L19 as Vettel took the lead, posted a fast time, then pitted.  Just before, Alguersuari had tried to pit, though he overshot his pit attempted to stop in the Red Bull pit and had to pass through.  The very sharp Red Bull boys managed to recognize Alguersuari, get out of the way, wave him through, and process a quick stop for Vettel, who returned to the track ahead of Hamilton.  Hamilton then had to pull into the garage with brake issues, ending his race. “The brakes were not really coming up to temperature, so much.  I was having to be a bit cautious, I was waiting for the tires to come up, but they didn’t,” said Hamilton after retiring.

Alguersuari stopped on the circuit, apparently having gearbox issues. L22 had Vettel leading Webber, Kobayashi (who was likely on a one-stopper), Button, and Barrichello as the top five.  Not yet stopped, Raikkonen led Kovalainen for sixth, making third in the constructor’s championship a dicey battle between the two.

L26 was the same for the top five, though Vettel was gaining a gap on teammate Webber, 8.9 seconds.  In third, Kobayashi was posting faster times than both Vettel and Webber.  Fisichella, the first of the one-stoppers, pitted on L29 from fifteenth.  Raikkonon did so on the next lap as Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa looked on.  Raikkonen rejoined in fifteenth.  Kobayashi pitted from third on L31, rejoining in eleventh, with stops to be made by those ahead of him.

The stops continued as Kovalainen stopped on L32, ahead of Raikkonen’s Ferrari.  L32 also had a drive-through penalty for Fisichella for speeding in the pit lane.  The next lap had Nakajima pitting, leaving only Alonso on track without stopping.  Alonso then had a bit of a fight taking eleventh position from Kobayashi, but Alonso immediately pitted, returning to the track in fourteenth.  L37, before the final round of pit stops for the front-runners, had Vettel leading Webber, then Button, Barrichello, and Heidfeld as the top five.  Vettel had a 10.4 second lead over Webber, who led Button by twelve seconds.  Barrichello was much closer to his teammate, only three seconds behind Button, with Heidfeld just over two seconds behind Barrichello.

Rosberg was the first to stop for the second time on L39, returning to the track in tenth, ahead of Kovalainen.  Kubica was in next, rejoining just behind Kobayashi.  Webber pitted on L41, returning racing in sixth.  Barichello and Heidfeld pitted on L42, as did Buemi.  Barrichello and Heidfeld were close in fifth and sixth on track.  L42 was, perhaps the most exciting lap of the race, as Vettel and Button pitted and Kubica and Buemi had a coming together that resulted in a spin for Kubica.  Vettel maintained the lead, and Button rejoined in third.  The top five with all pit stops made, were Vettel, Webber (back 16.4 seconds), Button, Barrichello, and Heidfeld. Kobayashi was 2.4 seconds behind Heidfeld.

As the laps ticked down, Button was reeling in Webber, taking .5 second off Webber in chunks.  With seven laps left, the gap was down to 2.2 seconds from 3.6.  The gap was 1.3 by the next lap, and Button could see Webber at all points on the track.  With four laps to go, the gap was less than a second.  With one lap to go, Vettel set the fastest lap of the race in the lead, as Button got closer to Webber and both started slide a bit.  On the back straight, Button tried, and tried again, but Webber held him off, barely, in the most exciting driving of the inaugural Abu Dhabi GP on the very last lap.  Neither McLaren nor Ferrari scored points, leaving McLaren in third for the constructor’s championship.

Results for the 2009 Abu Dhabbi GP: (courtesy of the official Formula1 website)
1. Vettel
2. Webber
3. Button
4. Barrichello
5. Heidfeld
6. Kobayashi
7. Trulli
8. Buemi
9. Rosberg
10. Kubica
11. Kovalainen
12. Raikkonen
13. Nakajima
14. ALonso
15. Liuzzi
16. Fisichella
17. Sutil
18. Grosjean
Hamilton
Alguersuari

F1 Abu Dhabi: Midnight Race Predictions and Fuel-Adjusted Grid

What Happens When Everything is Bright, Shiny, New, and the Outcome is Not Yet Determined

12:32am EST — Yet again, the time differences for Formula1 fans in America make it late at night (though not that late when considering the soon to be implemented time change) while early in the morning for Europe, and nearly time to rise for those actually participating in the sport, at the 2009 Abu Dhabi GP.  Sunday’s evening race in the Middle East will have Lewis Hamilton on pole position, leading the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, while the Brawns of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button finish out the top five.  Saturday’s qualifying was an accurate portrayal of the transition at the circuit from day into night, with all the lights on while it was still light and keeping everything bright as darkness fell.

As was discussed Saturday when the car weights and projected pit stop times were determined, Hamilton must get a good start and quickly outpace the Red Bulls in order to maintain the lead during the pit stops.  Many drivers whose cars seem to be capable of a one-stop strategy are further back, but have a lot to prove, either because this is the last race for them at their current team (Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso) or because they have no contract for 2010 and must impress during this last race of the season (Heikki Kovalainen, Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, Tonio Liuzzi, Nick Heidfeld, etc.).  Look for as much dicing as possible, and similar incidents as in Brazil as drivers jockey for position in the 2010 field.

Every car from Raikkonen back, eleventh through twentieth, is capable of a one-stop strategy for the fifty-five lap race.  Lewis Hamilton, who admitted after qualifying that he and McLaren could have been heavier during qualifying, could be overtaken through the race by at least Vettel, if not also by Webber.  Both Brawns will likely stop on the same lap as Hamilton, lap twenty, while Vettel will likely come in on lap twenty-two while teammate Webber stops on lap twenty-one.  The first to stop will likely be Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber, while both Renaults will only have to do a short fifteen or sixteen lap stint on the lower-performance tires at the end.

It is unlikely that any sort of weather other than hot and dry conditions will occur during the race, though one might remember the rain-delayed opening race of this MotoGP season, at Losail in Qatar.  Still, the more likely condition to change-up the running order is a safety car.  This is a brand-new circuit, and while the practices and qualifying were uneventful, multiple spins occurred.  In race conditions, these sorts of kinks will be far messier to work out, especially when, as mentioned earlier, at least half the field is looking to impress for a 2010 contract.  Such a safety car will very much disrupt Hamilton’s necessary strategy of a quick getaway from the Red Bulls, as he is lighter on fuel.  Keep a watchful eye on rookie Kobayashi, as he showed he does not care who he is fighting with for position two weeks ago in Brazil when attempting to hold off new world champion Button.

If the race is uneventful, or only moderately so, Hamilton has a very high chance of being on the top step of the podium, though he could be overtaken in the pits by Vettel, giving the German the win, Hamilton second and Webber third, especially considering the McLaren’s speed and the processional nature of Hermann Tilke-designed tracks, as Abu Dhabi is.  If there is a safety car or more, the outcome of the race is anyone’s guess.  Alonso, in a horrible fifteenth starting position, is very heavy and could manage a reverse Singapore 2008 (minus, of course, the purposeful teammate-into-the-wall bit), going for a very long first stint and passing as many cars as possible in the not-too-fast Renault, then popping into the pits for a quick stop and the mandatory tire change, to finish in at least the top five.  That outcome, though similar to Button’s in Brazil, is unlikely, if only because of the probability that he will be caught, yet again, in a first-turn smash-up.  Another driver or two to watch will be those in the championship-winning cars.  Both Barrichello and Button seem likely to stop on the same lap as Hamilton, and both are hungry for a rewarding end to a rewarding (or bittersweet) 2009 season.  Button qualified badly due to a vibration in a tire, but will be encouraged to give this race his all in an effort to cap his championship with a win.  The only difficulty both driver face is that their cars still do not respond well to lowering temperatures, and the heat of day will give way to the cool of night halfway through the race.

With everything to gain, and a lot to lose, both the circuit promoters and the drivers themselves have promised an exciting race at a shiny, new venue.  Racing begins at 5pm local time, and the winner is, as yet, undetermined.

F1 Abu Dhabi: Last Fuel-Adjusted Grid and Pit-Stop Strategy

What Happens When Re-Fueling is Stopped

12:42pm EST — The FIA has released the post-qualifying weights for the cars in the 2009 Abu Dhabi GP.  The 2009 season was the first that the car weights were released to the press and public so that likely pit stop strategy could be determined by the fans and other teams before the race.  This, the first Abu Dhabi GP, is the last season such information will be released, as there will be no re-fueling in the 2010 season.  These projected stops are based on a 2.59kg/lap projection, as suggested by James Allen, and could prove to be unreliable at this brand-new circuit.

Heikki Kovalainen qualified thirteenth, but will start eighteenth after a five-place penalty for changing his gearbox. Every car from Kimi Raikkonen back, eleventh through twentieth, is capable of a one-stop strategy for the fifty-five lap race.  Lewis Hamilton, who admitted after qualifying that he and McLaren could have been heavier during qualifying, could be overtaken through the race by at least Sebastian Vettel, if not also by Mark Webber.  Both Brawns will likely stop on the same lap as Hamilton, lap twenty, while Vettel will likely come in on lap twenty-two while teammate Webber stops on lap twenty-one.  The first to stop will likely be Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber, while both Renaults will only have to do a short fifteen or sixteen lap stint on the lower-performance tires at the end.

Hamilton must get a good start and quickly outpace the Red Bulls in order to maintain the lead during the pit stops.  Many drivers whose cars seem to be capable of a one-stop strategy are further back, but have a lot to prove, either because this is the last race for them at their current team (Raikkonen, Alonso) or because they have no contract for 2010 and must impress during this last race of the season (Kovalainen, Kobayashi, Nakajima, Liuzzi, Heidfeld, etc.).  Look for as much dicing as possible, and similar incidents as in Brazil as drivers jockey for position in the 2010 field.

Weights and Projecting Stopping Times for the 2009 Abu Dhabi GP:
1. Hamilton 658.5 L20
2. Vettel 663.0  L22
3. Webber 660.0 L21
4. Barrichello 655.0 L20
5. Button 657.0 L20
6. Trulli 661.0 L21
7. Kubica 654.5 L19
8. Heidfeld 664.0 L22
9. Rosberg 665.0 L23
10. Buemi 661.5 L21
11. Raikkonen 692.0* L33
12. Kobayahsi 694.3* L34
13. Nakajima 704.0* L38
14. Alguersuari 696.5* L35
15. Alonso 708.3* L39
16. Liuzzi 695.0* L34
17. Sutil 696.0*L35
18. Kovalainen 697.0* L35
19. Grosjean 710.8* L40
20. Fisichella 692.5* L33
*declared weight