Monthly Archives: March 2010

Petrov to pay tribute to victims of Russian bomb attacks

Russian Vitaly Petrov for Renault, who will wear a black band this weekend

Russian Vitaly Petrov for Renault, who will wear a black band this weekend

Renault’s Vitaly Petrov will pay tribute to the victims of the recent suicide bomb attacks in Moscow, by wearing a black armband as a mark of repsect, during this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

After the bomb attack on the Moscow Metro on Monday, which left 39 people dead, two bombs today went off, killing at least another 12. The country and government remains on alert at the moment.

Petrov said:

"This terrible news shocked me 
profoundly. I would like to give 
my support to everybody who was 
affected by this tragedy. I will 
wear a black armband during the 
Malaysian Grand Prix in memory
of the people who were killed or 
wounded at Lubyanka and Park 
Kultury stations."

"I'm sure organisers of this barbaric 
act will be found soon and brought to
justice and I hope from all my heart 
that such a thing will never happen 
again."

In many occasions have driversand teams paid tribute to people who have died, inside or outside of F1. The Toyota crew all wore black armbands during the 2008 French Grand Prix after the death of their Ove Andersson, the head of Toyota’s F1 program and a former rally driver.

At the Nurburgring in 2007, Felipe Massa had a black stripe on his helmet and a black band on his left arm, after the deaths of 191 people in Sao Paulo in a plane crash.

Tickets for Korean Grand Prix on sale

The planned layout for the Korean Grand Prix

The planned layout for the Korean Grand Prix

The Korean Auto Valley Operation (KAVO) has started to sell tickets ahead of the inaugural Korean Grand Prix in October.

The prices of these tickets will range from 117,000 won (£68,€75) to 920,000 won (£537,€600) minus tax at the track. This circuit is expected to hold around 123,000 people when the Grand Prix is launched in October.

This race will be the fifth and last Asian race of the season, and it will launch the final trio of races.

More information can be found at www.koreangp.kr.

Although I have no use whatsoever, I went onto the official site (the ticket part of it is in Korean) and got prices for a 3-day ticket at Grandstand B, which is beside the hairpin which connects the pit straight and the main straight. This grandstand definitely looks like the best spot to see some good F1 action, unless you are the sort who goes to the tight section of the circuit with a camera. I’ve compared prices against a few of the best circuits on the calendar, to see are the tickets really worth it.

The circuits I am comparing against are Silverstone, Spa, Monza (as 3 of the best in Europe), China and Singapore (as  of the best in Asia). Apart from Silverstone, all prices were obtained through Formula1.com.

Best Grandstand Other grandstand
Korea €400
Silverstone €360 (Copse) €290 (Becketts)
Spa €520 (Eau Rouge) €520 (La Source)
Monza €340 (End of pit straight) €275 (Parabolica)
Shanghai €470 (Grandstand A) €260 (Grandstand K)
Singapore €575 (Turn 2) €315 (End of main straight)

Actually, it’s a bit cheaper than the best circuits around, but that was to be expected. I’ve heard from a few locals saying that it was too expensive for them, but €400 for a main ticket isn’t too bad compared to the rest. However, if you were thinking of going to any of the Asian races, there’s little point, seeing as how you can sit at Copse cheaper than any other great corner in the world.

Malasyian GP press conference schedule

The third round of the Formula 1 world championship gets underway this weekend. Here is the schedule of the press conferences for the Thursday and Friday interviews:

Thursday April 1, 1500 hours local time (0700 GMT):
Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Karun Chandhok (HRT), Kamui Kobayashi (BMW Sauber) and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes).

Friday April 2, 1600 hours local time (0800 GMT):
Tony Fernandes (Lotus), Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus), Vitantonio Liuzzi (Force India), Otmar Szafnauer (Force India).

Full transcripts will be available here as always.

Malaysian Grand Prix preview

As I said earlier, the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2009 was a complete washout, with the race only completing half distance. This year, we hope that everyone has learned their lesson, and we can get back to racing at this very demanding circuit.

Weather

This year there are thunderstorms predicted for this weekend, which could hugely affect the race again. Just have a look at the BBC’s weather forecast page if you don’t believe me. Humidity will be high, as well as very heavy showers and possibly storms. Temperatures will be between 25 and 32 degrees for the weekend.

The sapping humidity is the biggest challenge for the drivers here. Most of them lose a litre of body fluid per hour here, due to the extreme heat and humidity. Therefore, keeping cool is obviously the challenge. Most teams could well simply enlarge their drinking water supply, but that would leave less room for mechanical components.

As well as the drivers, the cars will take a beating as well. The hot, dense air in Sepang means the quality of air going into the engine is poorer than usual, which could mean the engine will overheat or excessively wear down. Expect Renault’s engines to explode at some point during the weekend. While there is less time here spent at full throttle than in Malasyia, the oil temperatures will have to be kept in check, to keep the engine running smoothly.

The track

The Sepang circuit is one of the best tracks produced by Herman Tilke, but that’s not saying much. There are 8 high speed stretches, 3 slow corners, and 2 main spots for overtaking. The tricky Turn 1 will be the best opportunity to overtake, especially on the first lap. Apart from this, Turn 3 is also a good braking zone, which results in a few overtakes here. However, most of these overtakes would result from the driver in front failing to get good traction after Turn 2.

Turn 4 is very difficult in the wet, as shown last year when Sebastien Buemi spun out at this turn. Turn 9 is susspectible to a spin or 2, as corner entry and exit is very difficult, due to a huge loss of speed while on a sloped part of the track. Turn 14 is difficult, but rarely gets overtakes here, apart from Button getting past Alonso last year.

The final corner going onto the back straight is crucial for getting traction, as it leads onto the main straight, and an ideal overtaking spot. Red Bull have explained the track in further detail, with Mark Webber:

Tyres

For this race, Bridgestone are bringing the hard and soft tyres, as they did last year. There weren’t any problems with tyres last year (apart from the rain) so there should be little change this year. Since Australia, the softer tyres have proven themselves to be the much better of the two compounds, being powerful and can also be very durable.

For this year, expect most drivers to start on the soft tyres. Then they will try and use them for as long as possible, up to half distance if possible, and then switch to the hard tyre. Of course, if rain falls like it could, then all strategies are out the window. If this happens, then that means both dry compounds do not have to be used, and the proper racing begins.

Of course, there is one more thing to consider when talking about tyres in Malaysia. Ferrari used a very clever strategy in 2001 to take a 1-2 victory here, by taking advantage of the circuit’s strange rain patterns. In Sepang, when it rains, it pours, as everyone knows. In 2001, it did, and nearly everyone took on extreme wet tyres. Ferrari, however, instructed Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello to take on intermidiates, even though the track was completely saturated. At one point, they couldn’t catch up with the safety car, and they were aquaplaning on the straights. But, the Sepang circuit has a habit of some parts of the track drying off extremely quickly. Ferrari knew this, and watched as the other’s extreme wet tyres fell apart after a few laps. Schumacher and Barrichello scythed their way up the grid, and performed the easiest overtakes on Hakkinen and Coulthard they had ever seen. By the time the conditions were right, and everyone switched to dry tyres, the Ferraris were miles ahead.

That sort of strategy would rarely be used, because of the many circumstances that would have to be in place for it to work, but this is Malaysia, and it could well happen again.

My predictions

My initial instinct is to support Sebastian Vettel for the win again, but I don’t think it’s going to happen here either. His Renault engine, or his mechanical parts, simply won’t hold up against this track’s serious heat and humidity.

His team-mate, Mark Webber, isn’t a likely candidate either. While he holds the same machinery as Vettel, he doesn’t have the raw pace to beat the other drivers, although he will probably get better reliability than Sebastian. This leaves Ferrari as my choice for the win. Their package still beats McLaren’s, and as long as they don’t have engine problems like they did in Bahrain, they should be out front.

The question is which driver? Fernando Alonso is in front of Massa in the driver’s championship, but Massa did well last race to hold him back. Fernando has had problems in the past with overheating, so I think that Massa will take his first win of the year here. Alonso could get on the podium if possible.

Jenson Button has improved a lot in McLaren, and I think he will be able to beat Lewis Hamilton again this race. Lewis must be hugely frustrated after Australia, and with no manager at the moment, he might not be able to restrain himself properly. Jenson’s tyre managment skills will come in very useful in the hot and humid Sepang, but mostly in the dry rather than the wet. If it does rain, then Hamilton will be the one to beat, and would end up on the podium at least.

Unfortunately, the Mercedes cars will take some time to catch up to the top 3 teams, if at all, so I don’t think even a podium is at stake here for them. As long as it stays dry, that is. If it rains, then Schumacher could very well blitz his way up the field and annihilate everyobody like we saw years ago. Rosberg, like Barrichello did in Malaysia 2001, should be following him all the way, but won’t get past. Being realistic, though, the best they can hope for is one driver on the podium.

Force India claim this year’s car is better suited to medium-downforce circuits, so let’s prove their claim. Vitantonio Liuzzi should be the driving force again this weekend, as he has shown great pace so far this year. Adrian Sutil could do well, but if it rains, then the explosion of a Force India taking out a grandstand will be heard in my attic on the other side of the world. If it stays dry, then a handful of points would be good work for the team. If it rains, less so, but still a few.

Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber are teams I’m all tipping to struggle this weekend. The new boys of Hulkenberg, Kobayashi and Alguersuari (he still counts for a few more races) will hardly be expected to get into the top ten, especially if it rains. As for the other drivers, I don’t think any of their machiery is up to the job of doing well here. If anyone from any of these teams were to get points, I would say Rubens Barrichello of Williams, since he has huge experience of this circuit, he’s good in the wet conditions, and he knows a bit about tyre strategy here.

As for the new teams? You really can’t expect much from them, in the dry or the wet. The hot and humid conditions will blow their hydraulics and engines to pieces in the dry. None of these teams exactly have a good downforce setup, so they would struggle even more in the wet. The 3 new drivers out of these teams (Senna, Chandhok and Di Grassi) may well fall prey to the body-sapping nature of this track. However, if any of them got to the finish, it would be a great achievement for them.

But these are all my thoughts. What happens in Sepang this weekend will certainly be exciting, and may well throw up a few surprises, especially if the local weather forecaster is correct again.

Fauzy to drive in Malaysia practice

Fairuz Fauzy testing for Lotus in the winter

Fairuz Fauzy testing for Lotus in the winter

Lotus have announced that reserve driver Fairuz Fauzy will drive their car in Friday Practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

He will temporarily replace Heikki Kovalainen at the wheel. The former GP2 driver has been involved with several test sessions with Lotus before the season began.

While it’s good to see reserve drivers being given the chance to test their skills in an F1 car, I feel that this isn’t the right idea for Lotus. The car needs as much improvement as possible, and Trulli and Kovalainen are the right people for this job. While allowing Fauzy to drive is good for him, the sponsors and the investors (the 1Malaysia group), I would think that the return of having a better developed car is better than pleasing the sponsors and the home croud.

Of course, this is the Malaysian Grand Prix, a country that hasn’t had an F1 driver since Alex Yoong, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, so maybe Fernandes and Lotus want to promote Malaysia’s next top F1 driver.

2009 flashback: Storms cut Malaysia race short

Jenson Button, alongside Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock

Jenson Button, alongside Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock

In a new series, before each race, I will look back on the race in 2009, and look forward to 2010. This time round it is the Malaysian Grand Prix.

2009

In the days after the Australian Grand Prix, Brawn GP were already looking forward to win the Malaysian Grand Prix. When Jenson Button took pole position, it seemed as if it could be two in a row. Jarno Trulli joined him on the front row, which gave more evidence towards Toyota’s pace this year.

But neither led at the first corner. Nico Rosberg, who started from fourth, mugged both of them into the first corner, and took the lead. Jenson was struggling to heat his tyres, and lost further places to Trulli and Alonso as well. Fernando had made perfect use of his KERS at the start. He started ninth on a heavy fuel load, but was third by the first corner. But, once Button had his tyres sorted out, he took third back at Turn 13 on the first lap.

Rosberg steals the lead from Button at the first corner

Rosberg steals the lead from Button at the first corner

For the second race in a row, Heikki Kovalainen was out on the first lap. He was struggling for grip, and lost control on the difficult Turn 5, and spun into the gravel trap. He was travelling beside his team-mate Hamilton. Robert Kubica was also in trouble, with problems getting off the line, and an engine failure soon after.

There was soon a train of cars behind Alonso, as his KERS wasn’t enough to keep his third position. Button got past first, and by the time Barrichello had got through, Jenson was 6.5 seconds up the road. On Lap 10, Kimi Raikkonen got through, followed by Mark Webber two laps later. Timo Glock tried to get through, but failed because of damage to his front wing after previous contact with Webber. Sebastian Vettel was behind Glock, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld.

Rosberg pitted from the lead on Lap 15, and Trulli followed him two laps later. This gave Button clean air to push, and after a few blistering laps, he pitted on Lap 19, and emerged in the lead. By now, everybody knew the rain was going to fall, as there were dark clouds everywhere, but it was just a matter of when. The common knowledge in the paddock is “when it rains in Malaysia, it pours”. Even though the rain wasn’t falling yet on Lap 18, Ferrari decided to pre-empt the weather by sending Kimi Raikkonen out on extreme wet tyres, even though the track was still dry. Kimi was running well, so this was a huge gamble.

The rain unnerves the teams as the pit stops approach

The rain unnerves the teams as the pit stops approach

The rain eventually fell on Lap 21, but nowhere near as heavy as people thought. It wasn’t the downpour that was expected, but it was still enough to change tyres. Fernando Alonso was caught out, and nearly spun out into the gravel. More than half the field pitted for extreme wete on Lap 22, but Timo Glock went risky and took on intermidiates. Since the rain fell slowly at first, this was a huge advantage at first for the Toyota driver. While the others had to nurse their tyres until the rain got heavier, Glock sailed past most of the field.

Once the teams realised intermidiates were the way to go, they all changed tyres again, and Glock was in the lead. He was nearly 30 seconds behind Button before his strategy, and was 5-10 seconds a lap faster. Jenson didn’t react quickly enough, and lost the lead when he stopped for intermidiates on Lap 29. Button emerged from the pits just behind Glock, but just then the rain got heavier, making conditions even harder to read.

The next lap, Button made his move to retake the lead, but as he did, Timo pitted again for extreme wets, again outthinking the rest of the field. Sure enough, the rain turned torrential that very lap, cathing out Giancarlo Fisichella, Sebastian Vettel, Sebastien Buemi, and several others. Immidiately the rest of the field pitted for extreme wets, as the safety car was deployed on Lap 32 for dangerous conditions.

Button attempts to sail an F1 car across the Pacific Ocean

Button attempts to sail an F1 car across the Pacific Ocean

As the safety car pounded around the track, there was a problem – the F1 cars couldn’t keep up. The wooden blocks under the cars, used to stop the cars bottoming out in dry conditions, were turning the cars into giant rudders. The leaders, Button, Glock and Heidfeld, all struggled around the track at incredibly slow speeds. By this time, the track resembled a swimming pool, and the race was red-flagged at the right time.

While the other drivers worry about a restart, Kimi feasts on ice-cream and Coke...

While the other drivers worry about a restart, Kimi feasts on ice-cream and Coke...

The cars all lined up on the start finish straight to wait for the race to be resumed. Some waited in the cars, some stood under umbrellas, while a certain someone decided to head off and have an ice-cream. Kimi’s early stop for extreme wets did not pay off, as by the time the rain arrived, his tyres were completely destroyed, and he fell to near the back of the grid. When the race was red-flagged, he had an electrical probelm that meant he wouldn’t be able to restart the race. He changed into a t-shirt and shorts, got an ice-cream and Coke from the Ferrari vending machines (didn’t make that part up!) and hung around watching the drivers anticipate a restart. Good man Kimi, but mint Feasts are much better.

Meanwhile, while Kimi felt the need to cool down in storm rain conditions, the teams soon realised that the race wouldn’t restart. Even though the rain had stopped, the track was completely saturated, and sunlight was falling fast. FIA race director Charlie Whiting correctly decided to cancel the restart, end the Grand Prix after 32 laps, and award half points. This meant that Jenson Button was declared the winner, ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock. These two had to swap positions after the race, after it emerged that Glock had overtaken Heidfeld on the lap before the race was abandoned, which is the lap that is left out of the race result.

For the first time n 18 years, a Formula 1 race hadn’t reached the 75% mark, so half points were awarded. However, this race will most likely be remembered for the fact that this ending could have been avoided. Bernie Ecclestone had requested a later start time for this race, so European viewers could get a better time to watch the race. However, he completely ignored the locals who knew perfectly well that a 5pm race start was right in the middle of a monsoon storm time area. Also, since the race was later, the race couldn’t resume, because it was too dark. Hopefully everyone has learned their lesson for this year.

Safety should still be key

When I was watching the race on Sunday, two things struck me as odd. First of all was Kamui Kobayashi’s repeated front wing failures, and the second is the issue over the outboard wing mirrors, which I have already posted about.

Neither of these ended with catastrophic results, but they are both still worrying. The fact that drivers have to take their eyes away from the road in order to look behind them is unacceptable in F1. The fact that there were two front wing failures on one car in one weekend, with little action taken (so far), shows a lack of drive by the FIA and the stewards in improving safety.

Since the death of Ayrton Senna, Formula 1’s primary aim is safety. Many innovations have been crucial in assisting this, such as the HANS device, front, rear and side impact structures, and helmet improvements. However, ignoring simple problems like these could one day undo all the great work that had been done over the year.

Here’s one example. Kamui Kobayashi’s front wing failure meant that he speared into Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastien Buemi. Now thanks to the improvements in chassis structures, only the heaviest of impacts could result in serious injury. But, what about the debris from the front wing? Let’s not forget that the front wing is very wide, and the debris could fly into spectator or photographer areas, or near the stewards. A steward was killed in Australia 2001 when he was hit by a flyaway wheel from Jacques Villeneuve’s and Ralf Schumacher’s crash.

After incidents like these, you would think that the FIA would be quick to clamp down on the complete lack of safety in Sauber’s front wing design. But, so far no action has been taken by either the FIA or the stewards regarding this problem. Hopefully Sauber will sort this out before Malaysia next weekend, but it is very worrying to see that something like this could get away unpunished.

Then, we have the problem of the outboard wing mirrors. At the moment, the mirrors are outside the drivers’ peripheral vision, which is the area that you can see, outside the point that you are currently looking at. If you currently want to look behind you, you must first take your eyes off the road, which is plain crazy at speeds of up to 200mph. This means that drivers are opting to keep looking ahead instead of behind, which means they don’t see cars approach from behind. A perfect example of this is the collision between Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher.

When Fernando turned into Turn 1, he simply couldn’t look in his mirrors to see that Button had already taken the inside line into the corner. Jenson tipped Fernando into a spin, and he hit Schumacher, damaging his front wing. To be honest, I’m amazed that nobody else was caught up in this incident, seeing as there was a backwards Ferrari and a small bit of flying debris.

While this incident was a small one in the scale of things, there could be a much worse accident if the outboard wing mirrors continue to be used. These are just my thoughts, but swift action must be taken on issues like these to ensure that Formula 1 retains its appearance as a pinnacle for safety.

Drivers call to change wing mirrors

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on the Ferrari F10

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on the Ferrari F10

Formula 1 drivers are trying to lobby the FIA to take action on the problems with the wing mirrors this year, following many complaints about a lack of visibility.

Many incidents occured in the Australian Grand Prix this weekend because the drivers were unable to see behind them while concentrating on the road. In Friday Practice, Pedro de la Rosa was given a reprimand after holding up several drivers, although he was unable to see them approach from behind. In qualifying, Michael Schumacher spoke to the stewards after he was held up by Fernando Alonso while he was on a flying lap.

Currently, most teams mount the outboard wing mirrors on the very edge of the turning vanes, so as to improve aerodynamic efficiency. However, while drivers can see them, they have to turn their head to look behind them, which means that they cannot concentrate on the road. Ths results in drivers opting to look ahead rather than take the risk of looking behind them, which is certainly a danger on the track.

The drivers are very concerned about this, according to Rubens Barrichello:

"I hope we put a proposal as the GPDA to see if we can have the mirrors back to 
where they belong – and it is something we mentioned in the drivers' briefing 
on Friday.

We have all been quite honest and said that we all have difficulties – apart 
from Lewis. The problem for me is that we are driven by the aerodynamics, but 
the mirrors situated on the aero stuff vibrates." Just a thought on what Rubens 
said about Lewis there. If Hamilton claims that he does not have problems with 
the wing mirrors, then it is his fault for holding up Michael Schumacher in 
qualifying on Saturday.

Pedro de la Rosa spoke to the FIA race director Charlie Whiting on Friday about this issue. He said:

"Everyone has got a problem with mirrors. The reality is that the mirrors on 
the sidepods, they give you very small vision of what is happening behind and 
they vibrate a lot so you see very little.

So if you don't have a lot of information coming from the radio, then you have 
a problem. You can see when you have a car straight behind okay, but when it 
is two seconds behind you have no idea where it is.

Everyone has the same problem, but since the mirrors have gone outboard this 
is a problem – as they are aerodynamic devices now.

Mirrors are to give the car the ability to look backwards and what is happening 
behind. They have to come back to the monocoque, with the old style, as that is 
the best position to work.

The reason they are out is that they are an aerodynamic device so they give 
downforce. That is the reality. We have to compromise – this is a safety issue. 
Most of the drivers agree – it hasn't been an easy weekend for me because of this 
factor."

There’s only one good thing that came out of outboard wing mirrors. When Felipe Massa was hit by a spring in the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying, his head was – you guessed it – turned to one side, looking at the wing mirrors. If his head was straight ahead, the spring would have hit him head on, and it could well have killed him. I realised this when I first heard of this news of the outboard mirrors.

Australian GP press conference

Jenson Button, with Felipe Massa and an extremely interested Robert Kubica

Jenson Button, with Felipe Massa and an extremely interested Robert Kubica

Today we saw Jenson Button take his first win for McLaren, and Robert Kubica take a well-deserved second place for Renault. Here is the transcript of the post-race press conference:

Q: Jenson, an incredible race. 50 laps plus on a set of soft tyres. You made the early gamble for the slick tyres and that was the game changer. Was that your call?
Jenson Button:
It was. I think it is a lot easier for the drivers to feel the conditions. The team can see it on TV with the clouds coming in, but we can feel out on the circuit what is happening. I didn’t have a balance on the inters, I was really struggling and I lost a couple of places, so I thought ‘let’s get in, stick the slicks on.’ There was a dry line. A few places were a little bit wet. When I went into the pit lane I thought I had made a catastrophic decision as it was soaking wet in the pit lane. But once I got it going and up to speed, I had a little off at turn three, but the pace was pretty good and I was able to put in some good laps and overtake three or four cars when they stopped and put their tyres on, so it was the right call and I am very happy that I made it.

Q: How do you feel to win on the second race with your new team?
JB:
I mean, it is very special. It has taken me a little while to get to grips inside the car. The team has been fantastic though. They have really welcomed me in, but it has taken me a little bit of time to adapt to inside the cockpit. I don’t know what to say really, it is very difficult to put it into words. But a very special feeling and we will take a lot from this. I feel I am just building in confidence and hopefully when we get to the next race we can do something similar as this feels too good.

Q: Robert, you went from ninth to fourth at the start, then decided not to take a second pit stop for a new set of tyres. How hard was that call for you?
Robert Kubica:
It was difficult because we struggled with the warm-up, so when we saw Jenson being very quick we just pitted in the same lap as Felipe did. Our guys, the mechanics, did a fantastic job and I overtook Felipe in the pit stop but Jenson was much quicker with one or two laps already on the tyres. He built the temperature up, so they are very quick on the straight lines and I was not confident about the conditions as it was my first lap going through the corners with the slick tyres, so it was very difficult to fight with Jenson. It was tough. First of all I thought we would pit again. Then when I had really big degradation I asked my team if we are going to pit again and they said if we can manage we will not do it, so I took a bit more care with the tyres. But on the other hand I had first of all Lewis attacking quite strongly. He came very quickly behind me and I then…, I don’t know, he decided to pit. Then Felipe again, so I was just taking care of the tyres but also keeping good speed and that we would keep second place to the end.

Q: Felipe, it looked like pretty hard work early on and then the race came towards you and two podiums in two races.
Felipe Massa:
It is just fantastic, especially coming to Australia. My best result here was sixth. Having a problem in the qualifying and starting last in 2007 and then getting here which I cannot say was the best race for me. In terms of pace I was struggling a lot yesterday, but I did a fantastic start. We lost some positions on the pit stop and also a little bit on the track because of some mistakes with the difficult track. But it is just fantastic to have one second and one third. We know how important this is for the championship, especially my past. At the beginning of the championship I never had a lot of points like I have now, so this is very nice. The team did a fantastic job, so very happy to finish third in a difficult race like this.

Q: Jenson, Lewis pitted for a second set of tyres and complained about it afterwards on the radio. How did that decision process play out with you and the team and him?
JB:
I don’t know what their idea of pitting was. I guess he was stuck behind Robert and couldn’t get past. I never thought of putting on a second set. I didn’t think that would be an option really. It was always to run the race on one set of tyres if we could after it stopped raining. My pace was not great once I settled into the car. I felt I was starting to damage the rear tyres, so I settled into a pace that was consistent to not destroy the rears. The good thing was Robert was not closing and about 20 laps to go I started pushing just to pull the gap a little more just in case people had pitted and were two to three seconds a lap faster and it was just enough to get me to the end comfortably. We could not have done a better strategy. I think my decision at the beginning was my call but from a lot of feedback from what the circuit was doing and the other cars. It is always a team effort and I need to thank the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team for all their hard work and it is good to see we are improving every step of the way.

Q: Robert, this is the first time you have finished in Melbourne. What does this result mean for you and the Renault team?
RK:
Unfortunately, Australia was never lucky for me. I have been very quick each year and could finish in the last two years easy on the podium but for two crashes I didn’t manage it. To be honest we were not expecting to finish on the podium, so I think for Renault and myself it is a very special result as we were trying to push really hard during the winter. This is the best result we could get from the beginning of the season and it is a big thanks to the guys for all their effort but we have to keep realistic. We are not up to the pace for fighting for the podium in a normal race, so we have to keep pushing, keep working and I am sure we will manage sooner or later to be with the pace of the top teams.

Q: Felipe, a sweet moment for you at the start and a reverse of what happened in Bahrain. You passed your team-mate Fernando Alonso. Tell us about it.
FM:
Actually, I had a fantastic start, so I was able to do the start without wheel spin and I saw many cars in front, especially Fernando and Webber doing some wheel spin and I was able to do a very smooth start and pass them in a good way. I was very happy for the start and also the whole race was very difficult. Lots of slippery, low grip everywhere and to finish the race was very difficult today.

Q: Jenson, the track was damp at the start but when it dried out why was it so much easier today to overtake? Why was there so much more overtaking than there was in the first grand prix in Bahrain? Can you explain that?
JB:
I think it comes down to degradation. You had a lot of cars out of place which is different to Bahrain. The top eight cars were in the top eight slots pretty much. I think a lot of it is the degradation of the tyres. There was a lot of rear graining, some people did two stops, some people did one stop. Some people were trying to look after tyres, other people were pushing hard. There were lots of different ideas out there and it is great to see as, as you said, Bahrain was not the most exciting grand prix. I love that place and it was disappointing not to have a good grand prix, but here I knew what was going on. I could see quite a bit on the TV screens and it did look like a very exciting race. Hopefully we are going to have more races like this and that is what we all love.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Jenson, second win here in Australia. You must be getting to like the place.
JB:
It is. It is. The start of the race wasn’t perfect for me. I touched with Fernando at turn one. I was half-way alongside him on the inside and I don’t know if he just couldn’t see me because of the mirrors. I don’t know what, but we touched. It obviously cost him a lot of time and it cost me a lot of time. It wasn’t the best start to the race and then on the inters I was really struggling. I just did not have a balance. A lot of oversteer in the car. There were very strange grip levels out there on the tyre and I was really, really struggling. I could see a dry line appearing in most places and at the rate my rear tyres were going away I knew there must have been enough grip for slicks. I made the call to pit early as I thought if I don’t pit early I am just going to keep going backwards. I thought it was a terrible call initially as the pit lane was so wet and after my first lap out of the pits I thought it was a pretty catastrophic mistake. But after that I could get into it. I found on the dry parts I could push pretty hard and then really it was about picking people off as they came out onto the circuit. It was a nice feeling as they are searching for the grip and I know where it is and I am able to overtake. It was a good feeling. I got up behind Sebastian and made a little mistake, ran wide, so I couldn’t really have a go at him. He obviously had his own problems. But from then on I just had to conserve the tyres. I had a big issue on about lap 15 where the rears just started going away from me and I had a lot of graining from the rear and I thought that’s it for me, they’re just going to swallow me up. I took a lot of front wing out, closed the diff and just hoped for the best really. Towards the end of the race I could start pushing and got the balance back and the car felt very good. I was in a very happy place the last 20 laps knowing I had a good gap and it would have been very difficult for anyone to catch me.

Q: What about the pace of Sebastian? Do you think you could have got on terms with him?
JB:
I was catching him initially and it was strange. He would start pulling away and I would start pulling him in. Then the team said you have got to look after these tyres. You are going to try and do the whole race on these tyres, 45, 50 laps, and I thought we will back off a little bit and see where we are. From previous experience, I don’t know if it is the case now, but the Red Bulls have been quite tough on their rear tyres. I just settled into a pace and we would see what would happen. I don’t know. If he had stayed in the race there are always ifs and buts and we don’t know how he would have ended up. The important thing is we came away with a win for whatever reason and I am very happy. The team should be very proud of themselves. We didn’t put a foot wrong.

Q: Robert, surprised to be second?
RK:
After yesterday, yes. Before the season, I think after two tests, I called my friend and I said ‘I think in Australia it will be possible to finish on the podium.’ It was around two months ago. Of course we were planning to finish on the podium with our pace. As we saw yesterday our pace was far off the podium but with this strange race we were able to make a lot of places and finish second.

Q: Do you think the higher temperature today was better for you whereas the low temperature yesterday wasn’t so good?
RK:
We know where we are struggling and I think yesterday was unfortunately a good example. We were very strong in P1 where there was a lot of sunshine and hot track conditions. Extremely competitive. Then unfortunately clouds came in for all weekend and the temperature dropped down and we were just struggling. We were not able to stress the tyre and increase the temperature, especially every lap of their usage. This was the case in qualifying. Okay, we are still not up to the pace of the top cars but today was a good example of not giving up and with a hard job, sometimes you get paid back.

Q: How much of a challenge did you have from the Ferrari?
RK:
I had more challenge from Hamilton and I was very surprised he pitted. First of all I thought it was a drive through as for me it was strange that he was pitting. He was much quicker than me. He was not far behind Jenson and at that point of the race if he had managed to overtake me, most probably he would go for it. He had quite a difficult time to catch me although there were a couple of places where he was very close to me and I think once he overshoot the braking. We were very close to touch, but then I had to take care of my tyres. Felipe came quite quickly behind me but I knew the cars behind they would struggle even more with the tyres, so I just settled to the consistent lap. As soon as I tried to push I did like three or four-tenths quicker a lap but then the lap again was four-tenths slower, so I just put up my pace which I thought would be reasonable without mistakes and try to bring the car home.

Q: Felipe, tell us a little bit about the first corner. What happened there?
FM:
The start?

Q: Yes.
FM:
I just did a great start, so I was able to spin the wheels much less than the cars in front. I was changing gears very quickly just to not get it to go into the wheel spin as the grip was very low. That gave me a lot of possibilities to just go through. I saw Fernando and Mark spinning the wheels and that was just great, especially to arrive at the first corner. It was very slippery to brake at the right place and not try to fight with everybody. It was a good point of the race.

Q: And you had quite big challenges from both Mark and Lewis during the race.
FM:
Yes, I made some mistakes. My tyres were suffering, trying to keep the tyres in the right condition, at the right temperature, especially at the beginning of the race. I was suffering from that yesterday as well. But then after 20 laps, let’s say, they started to improve a lot. Maybe I picked up the pace with a bit of degradation and I started to do my race twenty laps after I changed my tyres. For sure, we had some fights and I lost some positions in the race. But the team did a great job with the strategy, not to stop, and I think that was a great job for the top three.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Jenson, would you have ever thought that it would take you only two races to win your first race with McLaren?
JB:
No. I thought it would take longer than this, but a lot of it depends on what sort of car you come out of the box with. This race was obviously unusual. I don’t know where we would stand in general pace but it’s not what all racing is about. It’s about strategy, it’s about thinking and it’s about conserving and we did it correctly today and we came away with a good victory. This is very special. Whatever happens over the next few races, this means a lot to me, to be in this position right now. After being with one team for seven years and clinching the title and here, after two races, getting a victory is very special to me. A lot of that goes to the team for their efforts and making me feel welcome within the team, because that’s something I do need, to be competitive, and I have that. So now we’ve just got to look at improving the car because out and outright pace in qualifying is something that we’re lacking a little bit, so it’s an area we desperately need to work on. When you can get good points’ finishes like this it really does mean a lot to you when you don’t have a car that you think is quick enough to win races every weekend, so these are important points for us and we’ve just got to work hard and hope that we can bring some good packages to the next few races.

Q: Jenson, there’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of days over Bahrain; is this the race that might put the suggestions to rest for a while?
JB:
I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that we probably all thought that the last race was not the most exciting and what were we going to do about it now, but I’m glad that we haven’t really jumped to too many conclusions or ideas, because I think this race was a great race. I had a lot of fun; obviously when you win the race you have more fun than any other position but overtaking cars on the circuit and watching on the screen I could see that there was a lot of action going on. I hope it’s not just because of the weather conditions. I hope that we can have races like this because this is what we love and hopefully these sorts of races are here to stay. You are going to have races that aren’t the most exhilarating experience for us but that’s the way it is. Not every football match is fun to watch. It’s got to be a bit of a balance, I think. One thing that was pretty tricky in this race was the light. I had a clear visor and at the end of the race I was struggling to see on the last few laps. It seemed a lot darker than last year. I suppose it was because there was no sunlight, it was all behind clouds, so that might be something we need to look at a little bit.

Q: (Flavio Vanetti – Corriere della Sera) Felipe, did you have a real chance to catch Robert, and what about the duels you had during the race with Fernando, except of course the first one at the first turn?
FM:
Well, I caught Robert but we didn’t have very good top speed on the straight and when I got very close, I lost a lot of grip, so it was not possible to get close enough to try to pass. So the only time I was passed was because I made a mistake in the second last corner, and then Lewis passed me and then I also made a mistake in turn one and then Mark passed me, so that was the only way I lost a position. So when you get very close, it was quite difficult and also Fernando, when he was behind me, sometimes he was just locking wheels. Then you see a guy coming closer and then you just do two good laps and then he’s far away with no possibility to pass, but it was a good fight from everybody, not just from me and Fernando but from most of the cars on the track. Most of the cars on the track were fighting the whole race, I think.

Q: (Joris Fioriti – AFP) To all of you; Red Bull has the fastest car but they are off the podium for the second race running. What do you think of that?
RK:
Better for us.
JB: I think they have got a very quick car and for whatever reason they aren’t here. I think reliability was the issue for Sebastian at the first race and I don’t know what happened here, so I can’t really say much on that.

Q: (Sudhir Chandran – Chequered Flag) Robert, you mentioned about those laps with Lewis behind you. Was it as difficult to keep him behind you as it appeared to us?
RK:
It was quite difficult because we are quite quick on the straight but McLaren, with the device that they are using, they are extremely quick and it was very, very difficult. He was much quicker than me, his tyres were in better shape and he had a more competitive car. I knew that without a mistake it would be difficult for him to overtake me, but I think he once tried before corner eleven and I didn’t see him in the mirrors and I thought he was on the inside. I left a space and it just shows that they were really quick. Jenson was side-by-side with me in the middle of the straight going into turn 13. That’s how it is. I was surprised when he pitted. It was very good for me, because I could just concentrate on saving the tyres, driving my pace and not concentrating on looking in the mirror and just blocking him, so it was a much better, much easier race for me.

Q: (Chris Lines – Associated Press) Jenson, could you tell us about the decision-making within McLaren? You stayed out, Lewis was called in. How much of that was the driver’s call and how much of it was the team’s call? Also, your thoughts on the first corner: Fernando got caught between you and Michael (Schumacher).
JB:
It’s always a very tricky corner here. It’s very, very narrow. When one person gets a bad start it can be a bit of a nightmare. Fernando got a poor start, so that meant that I was on the inside, Michael was on the outside and it’s difficult for three cars to get through turn one as we saw. But when you’re in a racing environment it’s very difficult and it can also be very dangerous to back out of that situation, because if you hit the brakes during the straight, you can cause a big accident behind you. I think it was just one of those things and I’m sorry for Fernando that he was turned around. It cost me a lot of places as well. So that was turn one, really. It was very slippery as well, so it was tricky for us on heavy fuel.
As for the stops, I don’t know if it was Lewis’s decision or the team’s. For me, I didn’t think we would be pitting at all, because that was never the idea for us, and that’s why I was looking after the tyres. Maybe he was graining the rears or maybe he flat-spotted a front or something, I don’t know. But it’s very tricky to look after the tyres when you’re behind another car as we’ve seen many times before, so maybe his tyres were getting seriously damaged behind Robert.

Q: An open question: how difficult is it to pass, with the cars’ aerodynamics the way they are, because we saw Hamilton and Webber really struggling towards the end with obviously better tyres. Is it extremely difficult this year or is it just the same as other years?
JB:
I found it very difficult in Bahrain. You’ve got a much smaller front tyre, so mechanically you have less grip, so when you lose the downforce by following other cars, which inevitably happens, you have less mechanical grip, so you have less grip. I think it’s more difficult this year. If we have another race like this where we have mixed conditions and the tyres are graining and people do two stops and some people do one, I think we can have a great race and especially in somewhere like Malaysia where it’s wide, it’s open, you can overtake, I think we can have a really exciting race, but here you’re a little bit limited to overtaking, so I’m surprised there was so much.
RK: I don’t think it’s just the tyres. For me actually it’s easier to overtake this year than it was in the past, because I’m driving a car that has better top speed. There’s quite a lot of percentage if you have good top speed or not and you want to overtake. If you are the quickest car in a straight line it’s easier to overtake than if you are the slowest. I don’t think it’s just the tyres, it’s everything. It’s always been very difficult to overtake in F1.

Q: (Tom Cary – The Daily Telegraph) Jenson, you appear very calm at the moment; how does the first win for McLaren compare with you first win with Brawn 12 months ago?
JB:
You can’t really compare victories like that. They are both very special but they are very different and the emotions that were going through my head before and after the race were very different also than last year. This one is a special victory because I’ve only been with this team for a short period of time but this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be here. I think that the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team is pretty much always fighting it out for victories and as a driver you want to be in that situation. But on the other hand, I think the conditions helped us in this race, definitely. We’re not in the position to go to the next two or three races and walk away with victories, so we’ve got to enjoy this moment and think that we’ve got some good points when we’re not the quickest and we’ve got to work on the areas where we think we’re weak. We’re doing that right now and I think that every race we go to from here we will be closer and closer to the front when it comes to qualifying and hopefully race pace is pretty much there now.

Australian Grand Prix analysis – a true drivers’ race

For all the complaining Formula 1 got for the race in Bahrain, the Australian race has firmly put F1 back in the good light. Thanks to the early rain, there was no messy tyre compound changes, no refuelling to worry about, so it was all down to the drivers. They didn’t dissappoint, and we got a brilliant race as a result. Here is the analysis of a great race.

Button’s consistency

Button vs Hamilton, from Lap 8 to Lap 58

Button vs Hamilton, from Lap 8 to Lap 58

Here we can see why Button stayed ahead, even though Hamilton was quicker after his pit stop. On the few laps before Hamilton pitted on Lap 34, his tyres had already degraded, since he was charging through the field. Meanwhile, Button had driven very cleanly and consistently, meaning his tyres were in a good enough state to be used for the rest of the race. Even after Hamilton’s stop, he was only 1 to 1.5 seconds behind, which was nowhere near enough to catch Button up again. The Ferraris were the final step to ensure that Hamilton would be well behind his team-mate. His collision with Webber was the end in a frustrating day for Lewis.

Jenson, meanwhile, showed the form that won him the championship last year. A perfect example is Monaco last year. All of the other drivers struggled with managing the softer tyres, and Button sailed away by managing tyre wear while still mantaining a healthy lead, and took the win easily. The same scenario happened today in Melbourne. By keeping his tyres in check, he could still keep up the pace throughout the race, while others struggled, or were forced to pit again.

Kubica’s different tyre strategy

Kubica on hard tyres as opposed to Massa on softs

Kubica on hard tyres as opposed to Massa on softs

While most of the field took on soft tyres after the track dried out on Lap 8, Robert Kubica decided to take the harder compound. From an analysis perspective, it makes little sense, seeing as the soft tyres were lasting most of the race distance. However, by the end, they would be in pieces, whereas the harder compound could keep performing well throughout.

Up to about Lap 42, Massa’s laps were faster than Kubica’s, save a few mistakes and being slowed down by others. However, tyre degradation quickly caught up with him, which meant that he could not catch up with Kubica at the end. Although Robert had an advantage at the start by having one position more, he stayed well ahead of him for the entire race. So, the call for hard tyres went well for Renault, although it is unclear how well the car would have performed with the softs.

Lotus well ahead

Drivers from all 3 of the new teams

Drivers from all 3 of the new teams

For this graph, I have omitted Jarno Trulli and Bruno Senna, since they did not last long enough to contribute to this analysis.

While it is slightly more clustered and harder to read (sorry about that) we can determine that Heikki Kovalainen was definitely the fastest of the new teams today, like I predicted yesterday. Better still, a reliable car meant he made it to the finish only 2 laps down. While he was well off the pace, with a best lap time of 1.33.639, he was consistent, so it was a good finish for them.

Neither Virgin finished, but they weren’t too bad in terms of pace. Timo Glock’s best time was 1.34.240, 6 tenths off Kovalainen’s time, but Lucas di Grassi was another 2.4 seconds behind. He retired on Lap 26 with a hydraulic problem, so that might have been affecting his pace. Timo Glock pulled out with 15 laps to go with a suspension failure at the back left of the car. It is believed that a piece came loose.

HRT did well when you consider they finished a race with 1 driver. While Bruno Senna lasted only 4 laps, Karun Chandhok clung on fot the rest of the race to finish, albeit 5 laps down. His best time of 1.35.045 may seem encouraging, but he constantly made mistakes, and destroyed the floor of the car by running onto the gravel traps repeatedly. Still, a race finish is a step in the right direction, so the next aim must be to get both of their drivers to finish a race.

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