Category Archives: Reviews and Previews

Monaco Grand Prix preview

Having practice sessions on Thursday makes it much easier for us to preview the Monaco Grand Prix easier. With what we have learned from yesterday on board, let’s have a look at this weekend’s race:

The track

There is little doubt that the Monaco track is the most difficult and punishing of the F1 tracks. This is mainly because of the barriers, which drivers are forced to scrape every single lap as they struggle for pace. The slightest mistake will result in their car flying into the barriers, putting them out of the race instantly. We saw this in practice to Kamui Kobayashi.

The Snt Devote corner is one of the most challenging corners on the track. At the start of the race, it is notorious for a pile-up at the back of the field, though oddly enough this hasn’t happened in recent years. Expect that to change though, as the heavy fuel loads and cold tyres at the start, paired with inexperienced drivers at the back, could well mean several drivers could get taken out. If they do, the safety car will be a certainty.

Next up is Massenet, or Turn 3. This is a long blind entry left hander, which requires good turn-in of the car to take it quickly. Understeer would be preferable here, as oversteet would result in the car spinning and hitting the outside barrier, as Karun Chandhok did yesterday.

Another difficult turn this year will be the Harbour Chicane, Turn 11. This is after the tunnel straight, and enters a heavy-braking area, where the track also goes downhill. Then, a quick left, then right, and the car is on the way to Tabac corner. The biggest danger here is losing control in the braking area, and possibly hitting a car in front. We saw loss of control here many times in practice, most noticeably by Jaime Alguersuari, who did very well to stop the car from crashing. This is also the only opportunity for overtaking, but don’t expect to see much of it.

The next difficult turn is the last one, Anthony Noghes. This is a bumpy right-hander, which requires maximum speed to keep going quickly on the pit straight. Several drivers went very close to the right barrier here yesterday.

As usual, Red Bull have their own analysis of the Monaco street circuit:

Tyres

Bridgestone are supplying the super-soft and medium tyres for this race. By the data we got yesterday, some teams are struggling with tyre wear on the super-soft compound. The medium compound, on the other hand, is quite a bit slower in terms of pace, though we are not sure by how much. However, there is not too much difficulty with warming them up either.

If drivers do opt for the super-soft tyres for the first stint, then they will only last for about 12 laps. After this, medium tyres will be the preferable choice, but it is unknown if they will last the distance.

Weather

A few days ago, many people were predicting rain for Thursday, but very little for the weekend. So far, we have only seen very slight rain on Thursday. Most weather services are only predicting for a chance of rain on Sunday, but not much of a chance. Therefore, it will probably be a dry weekend.

Air temperature will be around 20C, track temperature around 25C. There will be a slight wind on Saturday, which may cause problems with the drivers in places, but it will slow down by Sunday.

Drivers to watch

Fernando Alonso – After topping both Friday Practice sessions, and the Red Bulls being not as competitive, I would tip Alonso for the pole and win this weekend. The Ferrari has good pace here, despite the lack of the F-duct, due to good mechanical grip. Felipe Massa will only pose a threat to Fernando if he qualifies in front of him, which I doubt.

Michael Schumacher – There’s no denying that the Mercedes team are slowly working the car in Schumacher’s favour rather than Rosberg. Regardless of our opinions, it means that Michael will have a better chance this weekend, thanks to the chronic understeer being mostly fixed. A win is still out of the question, but I think it is within the car’s ability to challenge for a podium. Just as long as he doesn’t forget how to take La Rascasse.

Robert Kubica – Monaco is a circuit that often brings the gap down between the teams, since aerodynamic grip has very little effect here. Because of this, having a slower car won’t disadvantage Robert Kubica too much. He is still the outsider in the title race at the moment, and a good performance in Monaco would certainly help his cause. I’d saty that he has the ability to get a podium this weekend.

Adrian Sutil – Like I said about Kubica, the Force India’s disadvantages are made smaller at the Monaco circuit. In practice, we have seen Sutil do quite well, whereas team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi has been in the lower end of the midfield pack. His skill is undeniable, and he is improving in terms of keeping the car out of the barriers. A few points wouldn’t be too bad here in Monaco.

Spanish Grand Prix preview

The flyaway Formula 1 races have concluded, so now the sport returns to Europe until Singapore in September (excluding Canada). The first of the European races this season is in Barcelona, Spain.

The track

Like China, I have voiced my dislike of this circuit, since it is very difficult to overtake here. It does, however, pose a challenge to both the drivers and the team. High g-force corners like Campsa (Turn 9) will be a tough test on the driver, while the entire track requires perfect aerodynamic setup, which will be difficult for the team.

Overtaking opportunities are slim here, but the bet option would be on the main straight. The final chicane, put in this track in 2007, has helped slightly improved chances of getting past an opponent on the long straight. Still, it is difficult to follow the car ahead around the rest of the track, so overtaking may remain a challenge this year.

Here is Mark Webber’s video of him talking us through a lap of the Spanish Grand Prix

Weather

There is little chance of rain in Barcelona this weekend. On Sunday, there is a 45% possibility of rain falling at some point within a 24-hour period, with a 70& chance of Friday. Those figures may seem very high, but don’t forget it’s referring to an entire 24-hour period, so the chances of it falling on a 1.5 hour slot in the middle of the afternoon is very low.

So, if it remains dry, air temperature will be 20C at highest, with track temperature quite higher. Wind speeds will be 6m/s, which may well pose a challenge at corners like Campsa. The cars will be very sensitive to wind speed at this corner, where the track inclines while turning right, so watch out for this over the weekend.

Tyres

Bridgestone will be supplying the hard and soft tyres, the same as last year. There were no particular problems with heavy tyre wear last year, but that could change. With the full fuel tanks at the start, and heavy aerodynamics providing lots of grip, the softer tyres could burn out quite quickly if they are used for the first stint.

Still, I’m expecting the teams to run the soft tyres first, for about 15 laps or so, then switch to the harder tyres for the rest of the race. An alternative strategy would be to run two stints on the soft tyre, then one on the hard at the end. This was attempted by Rubens Barrichello in Malaysia, but it dodn’t work. However, if a driver wanted consistently fast pace throughout the race, without worries of tyre wear, then Barcelona would definitely be the track to use this two-stop strategy.

The three new teams may try vastly different tactics, since their cars are probably lacking in downforce. This especially will apply to Lucas di Grassi, who won’t be able to make it to the flag, thanks to his fuel tank issue. Some of these 6 drivers may opt to take on two sets of soft tyres, like I said earlier, to keep up the grip levels on the car, and to stick to the cars ahead. If reliability doesn’t get in the way, then they would have to change to hard tyres for the final stint.

Otherwise, as long as it stays dry, there should be no other changes in strategy.

Drivers to watch

Sebastian Vettel – It has been acknowledged that Red Bull have the car to beat in Spain, so Vettel is obviously the man who I’m tipping for the win. The RB6 can consume 10kg less fuel than its rivals, which gives Vettel and Webber a huge advantage for the first stint. Also, as we have seen, their car is geared towards a balance of aerodynamic and mechanical grip, which perfectly suits this circuit. I would put Webber down on the list here, but I feel that Sebastian is just better on race day. Having said that, Mark coming second wouldn’t be a surprise at all.

Fernando Alonso – If anyone is to challenge the Red Bulls, it is certainly Alonso. First of all, this is his home circuit, always packed to the brim with his adoring fans, and Fernando always tries to keep them happy. Even with the underperforming Renault he had a few years back, he always tried his best at this track, and often did very well, such as running 5th in 2008, before a gearbox problem stopped him in his tracks. In fact, this circuit is really where he put his name on the map, back in 2003, when he chased Michael Schumacher all the way to the flag, and instantly created a new Spanish hero.

His Ferrari car should hold up well here as well. Their new F-duct system was tested by Giancarlo Fisichella a few days ago, and should be put on the car in time for the race. This will give them the advantage down the main straight, without crucially compromising them in the heavy-downforce corners of the track. Just don’t mention engine failures.

Vitaly Petrov – His Renault car has been pitched as better than the Mercedes, so there is no better place to prove this than in Barcelona. While Mercedes will be bringing an updated car, which they hope will fix the chronic understeer they have been suffering, I still think that Kubica and Petrov can beat Schumacher, though it remains to be seen about Rosberg.

Still, Vitaly has scored his first points in F1, so he should be getting up to speed fully in the next few races. I’m not expecting him to match Robert, but getting within a few places would be a good achievement.

Bruno Senna – Despite the famous name, he hasn’t thrashed Chandhok like I thought he might. While the HRT car has surely been holding him back, he needs to perform better if he is to prove himself, such as not being out-qualified by Karun. Lotus are still well in front, but I would be looking for Bruno to at leat challenge them this weekend.

Chinese Grand Prix analysis

After the statistics and photo slideshow, here is my analysis of the Chinese GP.

Straight line speeds

Driver Speed (kph)
1 Lewis Hamilton 318
2 Rubens Barrichello 313.2
3 Sebastian Vettel 310.9
4 Felipe Massa 310.3
5 Jaime Alguersuari 308.9
6 Fernando Alonso 307
7 Mark Webber 306.9
8 Karun Chandhok 306.6
9 Bruno Senna 306.2
10 Michael Schumacher 305.5
11 Adrian Sutil 305.4
12 Nico Hulkenberg 304.3
13 Vitaly Petrov 303.4
14 Jenson Button 303.3
15 Robert Kubica 300.9
16 Nico Rosberg 299.5
17 Heikki Kovalainen 298.5
18 Jarno Trulli 294.1
19 Lucas di Grassi 293.6
20 Pedro de la Rosa 287

The first obvious thing to note is that Lewis Hamilton is leading this list, while Jenson Button is a whole 15km/h behind. Clearly, Jenson had more of a grip-based setup than Lewis, which would explain his lack of speed. This would also explain why his last set of tyres desintigrated in the final few laps, when he usually has perfect tyre managment as his top skill.

It was interesting enough to see the Force India of Adrian Sutil be beaten by both of the HRT cars. Also, drivers like Barrichello, Vettel, Massa and Alguersuri were the fastest apart from Hamilton. These were some of the drivers who opted to use a dry weather setup for the race. This backfired for them all, mostly Alguersuari, who we saw sliding back down the field later in the race, and miss out on possible points.

The fact that Pedro de la Rosa was miles slower than anyone else can probably be attributed to the engine failure that took him out of the race soon after the start.

Button vs Hamilton

Button vs Hamilton in Shanghai

Button vs Hamilton in Shanghai

Yes, I know I do this chart far too much, but it really is too interesting to miss. Note that the two massive increases in lap times were caused by the safety car and their second pit stops respectively.

Again, this chart shows why Lewis Hamilton has the advantage of more raw speed than Button. The question is, why is Jenson beating Lewis? This is mainly because of Button’s superior strategy decicions and tyre managment. While Hamilton opted for intermidiate tyres on Lap 2, Button stayed out, and Lewis was forced to pit again on Lap 5 for dries.

Because of this, Lewis had a 40 second deficit to Button within a few laps. However, the second safety car completely ruined Button’s advantage, and gave Lewis a chance to fight back. While he did, he was unable to catch up to and overtake Button in time. So, from this, we can learn that while Lewis was faster for most of the race, he failed to be faster when it mattered most – at the end. This goes back to Button’s excellent tyre managment.

For most of Laps 45-50, Lewis was unable to catch up, as he was stuck behind Rosberg, and then his tyres desintigrated. While Button’s were completely gone as well, he was able to maintain a lead, despite a mistake on Lap 51, and win the race.

Since then, Hamilton has conceded that he may have to take “the easier route” as he calls it, and make the right decicions at the right time, rather than hard racing.

Fastest lap per driver

Driver Team Time Set on Lap #
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1.42.061 13
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1.42.358 14
3 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1.42.609 14
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1.42.886 14
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1.43.245 14
6 Robert Kubica Renault 1.43.630 14
7 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1.43.755 14
8 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1.43.801 14
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1.44.134 14
10 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 1.44.298 14
11 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1.44.364 14
12 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1.44.549 13
13 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1.44.594 14
14 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1.45.559 17
15 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1.47.141 14
16 Pedro de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1.47.739 6
17 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 1.48.216 16
18 Karun Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1.48.788 15
19 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1.49.675 14
20 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1.53.185 7

Again, this shows how Lewis has more raw pace than Jenson. Otherwise, we can see how the Red Bulls did have good pace this weekend, but their disastrous first pit stop for intermidiate tyres, when one of the wheel guns failed on Mark Webber, ruined their races.

Also, this chart proves how Pedro de la Rosa was in serious trouble from the start, as his best lap, set on Lap 7 when the track had dried out, was 11 seconds slower than Hamilton’s.

Malaysia weather predictions: Rain, rain and more rain

A sudden storm catches out an FIA official in Sepang, Malaysia

A sudden storm catches out an FIA official in Sepang, Malaysia

Last year, most of the blame was on Bernie Ecclestone for the terible time organisation of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Similiar complaints were made about the Australian Grand Prix, as the sun was in the drivers’ eyes on the straights for the entire weekend. We all hoped that mistakes would be learner, and the start time for this year’s Grand Prix would avoid the weather and stay in sunlight. But, it doesn’t look likely.

Storms and heavy rain, like the one shown in the picture above, have been catching out the entire paddock for the last few days. A few hours beforehand, the conditions were near-perfect, with the drivers and crew getting to walk the track. Soon enough though, the track and paddock were deserted, as the rain hammered down, and fears about the race on Sunday grew.

Every weather forecasting service is stating that there will be thunderstorms all weekend long in Sepang. With the high temperatures remaining, there is a high probability of a storm interrupting at least one of the sessions this weekend. For the teams, the instant thought would be to prepare a wet-weather setup. But, what are the chances of the rain resulting in the race not going full distance?

I can’t give an exact figure as to the probability of this happening, but it is much higher than it should be. To give you an idea, F1Photos on Twitter are hosting a competition, to see who can guess the lap of the red flag being brought out and abandoning the race (I’d say around Lap 25).

Really, after what happened last year, it’s shocking to see how the organisers, FIA and Ecclestone would overlook this problem again. The start time is 16:00 local time, an hour earlier than last year, but still sitting right in the middle of the Sepang storm time range. Of course, these later times are to assist European viewers in watching live F1 races, but it really is pointless. I mean, there are constant repeats on the BBC red button, and BBC 3 later that night. The only way to correct this problem is to put the race at mid-day local time, and get all of the European broadcasters to show replays later for the not-so-true F1 fans who don’t get up in the middle of the night.

But, of course, this won’t happen, so we will have to wait in worry to see will the race get to full distance or not. It will rain, but it is now just a matter of how heavy. But what do you think?


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.

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.

Autralian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

The last time Sebastian Vettel took pole position, a spark plug failure cost him a probable victory. This time, he will be hoping for better luck in Australia. Before the race begins, let’s have a look at what might happen during the race.

The traditional first-corner Melbourne crash - expect another this year

The traditional first-corner Melbourne crash - expect another this year

First of all, with an extra 4 cars on the grid, and the notorious Turn 1, there will almost definitely be a first-lap crash. In 2009, Heikki Kovalainen, Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello all collided. The year before, Felipe Massa spun, and Webber, Button, Vettel, Heidfeld and Fisichella all got involved at the first corner. Also, with the much heavier fuel loads at the start, I am sure that someone will be caught out and understeer into someone else.

Another factor to consider is that the pole sitter has a very high chance of keeping their lead. In the last 14 years in Melbourne, only 2 of the pole sitters did not win. They were both involved in accidents in the race. The driver in pole position generally can cut out a huge lead for himself, as Jenson Button did last year. Even better, they are on the clean side of the track, so a good start is very likely. With all of this in mind, Vettel has a good chance of keeping his lead.

But, what about his well-known reliability problems? Two-thirds of the lap in Melbourne is spent at full throttle, which could be a strain on the engines. However, this could be countered by the colder-than-normal conditions we have been having across the weekend. If it rains, for example, the Renault engine would hardly overheat.

Next up is strategy. If the conditions were dry, then it would be a simple 1-stop strategy for most of the field. But, the  imminent first-lap crash will cause tyre problems if the safety car is deployed. If Bernd Maylander is called out, then drivers who started on the softer tyre will have less time to get the most out of them. Drivers who start on the harder compound can go much longer in the race, when added with the durability benefit. The one problem is that the harder compound takes about 3 laps to fully warm up, which would suit them well if the safety car came out on Lap 1, and they were heated then. For the front-runners, however, most will have to start on the soft tyre, since their fastest lap was set on them in Q3. Therefore, those in the top 10 who are starting on the hard tyre (unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be an official list of who is on what tyre, but I’m pretty sure that Sutil is one of the drivers on the harder tyre) will have a good chance in the race.

There will not be the tyre-wear issue that we had last year. A few days back, I incorrectly reported that the super-soft and medium tyres were being brought by Bridgestone. It is in fact the soft and hard tyres that are being used. This means that the super-soft tyre problem that we had last year will not be happening this year, which means that the soft compound can be used for about 15 or so laps this year, compared to the 10 laps last year.

Then of course there is the weather. Unlike many other years, showers are being forecast for tomorrow. If rain does fall, then the two compounds of tyres do not have to be used in the race. Depending on when it falls, it may give an advantage to the front runners who start on the soft tyre. The perfect time for it to rain, in the eyes of the leaders, is around Lap 14-16 or so. The BBC are predicting heavy rain at points tomorrow, with moderate visibility. Temperatures will be between 12 and 20 degrees. The colder-than-normal temperatures will hugely disadvantage the harder tyre, because it will be harder to warm them up when they are first put on.

Drivers to watch

Mark Webber – The local boy, woho has never finished higher here than his 5th in 2002 with Minardi. He is 2nd on the grid this year, with the best car on the grid. with the crowd behind him, expect him to push Vettel for the win until the last lap. Unless his terrible luck catches up with him…

Robert Kubica – an upgraded front wing and other aerodynamic updates have resulted in a much better R30 than in Bahrain. Kubica starts P9, and on the clean side of the grid as well, so he could make up 1 or 2 places at the start. The Renault seems to pick up speed very well as its fuel burns off, so if the weather stays dry then he could perform well. The one thing he needs to be careful of is the first corner, with several aggressive drivers ahead of (Schumacher) and behind (Sutil and Hamilton) him.

Lewis Hamilton – I’m not expecting a good result from the Briton, but I am expecting fireworks. He is overly aggressive at starts sometimes, and he is bunched up in the middle of the field, so expect him to cause a big pile-up on Lap1.

Heikki Kovalainen – This may seem like an odd choice, but he has the best chance out of the new teams. He lines up 19th on the clean side of the grid. He has the best new car, so he may possibly get a chance of keeping the pressure on the drivers in front. The only thing that would stop him is reliability.

The 2009 F1 Review- The new teams for 2010

As opposed to the first 4 parts of my 2009 review, this part is dedicated to the new teams for 2010: Virgin, Campos, Lotus and USF1.

The Lotus F1 team is nothing like the Lotus of the past, except in name. It is now owned by 1Malaysia, and run by Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of Air Asia. Money seems to have helped the team start off, as Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen are two very talented drivers. Also, Mike Gascoyne’s arrival as chief technical officer will have a large impact on the car’s design.

The team’s plans appear to be on schedule, according to Tony Fernandes. However, before the season has already begun, the team has already decided where they need to finish: anywhere ahead of Virgin. As you will probably know, there is know a bet between Fernandes and Richard Branson (principal of Virgin Racing). Whichever team loses next year to the other, that team prinicpal must work for a day, as an air stewardess in the other’s airline! Whatever happens, it is sure to motivate both teams well.

The Virgin Racing team started off by announcing its drivers as Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi. Again, another good pairing. Glock has speed and experience, while di Grassi can hopefully grow, in his first year of F1. Virgin’s car is to be designed using only CFD (Computer Fluid Dynamics), which is the first ever F1 team to do so. This plan may either fail or succeed hugely, depending on how good the technology is. To be honest, I want it to work, because otherwise we may see Branson in a stewardesses costume!

Lotus are so confident of beating Virgin, they have even picked out an outfit!

Lotus are so confident of beating Virgin, they have even picked out an outfit!

Campos are probably the least reported new team for next year, because they make the least noise about anything they’re doing. The problem is, they appear to have very little done at all. Bruno Senna has been confirmed as one of their drivers, and that’s it. Their website is practically useless, as all they do is advertise for small positions within the team. This concern has been repeated by Bernie Ecclestone, who in December, said that he doubts they will be ready for the 2010 season. We will have to wait and see what happens next.

The Campos Meta logo

The Campos Meta logo

While Campos appear to be failing quietly, USF1 appear to be failing with an enormous bang. They came in claiming to be the first ever “all-American” team, which would be based in America, try to use American parts, and hire American drivers. However, no drivers from the US will be avilable until at least 2011, most of their parts suppliers are European, and the team is secondarily based in Spain. Worse than that, they have hired no drivers at all yet. The ony progress they appear to have made yet is their company base, in Charlotte, is up and running.

The 2009 F1 Review- Red Bull and Brawn GP

Brawn's early season dominance was enough to give them both championships

Brawn's early season dominance was enough to give them both championships

This is the fourth part of my 2009 F1 review, and looking forward to the 2010 season. Tis article is for the top two finishers, Red Bull Racing and Brawn GP.

The 2009 technical regulation changes were a complete revolution in how the cars were to be designed. Massively different aerodynamic regulations, KERS, slick tyres, and engine rev limits, to name but a few. Because of all this change in such a short amount of time, only the greatest masterminds would come out on top. Enter Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn. Newey is an aerodynamic genius, and was cadamite to Red Bull’s radical car design. Ross Brawn is a tactical mastermind, and with Honda’s millions in funding, plus the extra months of development in 2009, meant he was always going to do well. Even in March testing, everyone was shocked by the pace of the Brawn cars, after only being confirmed 20 days before the start of the season. On the other hand, Red Bull’s testing performance was mid-field more than frontrunner.

Their start, at Australia, went very badly. Sebastain Vettel was involved in a crash with 3 laps to go, and finished 13th. Mark Webber was caught up in a crash at the very start, and finished 12th. Malaysia wasn’t much better, Vettel getting caught up in the monsoon conditions, and ended up 15th. Webber was 6th, but only got half points. However, their performance suddenly changed in China, where a 1-2 finish gave Red Bull their first ever win. The next 4 races were not too bad for the team, with 2 podiums apiece for both drivers. However, Vettel should have won in Turkey, but a mistake on the first lap left him 3rd.

At Silverstone, Red Bull brought their heavily revised “b-spec” car, featuring a comprehensive new aerodynamic package. A completely dominant 1-2 finish slammed them right back into contention for the championship. At the next race, it was another 1-2, this time with Mark Webber finally taking his first win of his career. However, from here on, things got more difficult for the team. Two mechanical retirements in a row gave Vettel a shortage of points, and barely enough engines to finish the season. He had to limit his runnings in Friday practice, to conserve his engines. Webber had a torrid run of form, going 5 races without even scoring a single point. In Japan, with his engine situation now at critical point, Vettel managed his latest win, while Webber did similarly well in his win at Brazil 2 weeks later. But it was too late. Their mid-season slump had cost them dearly, and a 1-2 victory at the final race, Abu Dhabi, was little consolation for them.

  Vettel's engine failure at Valencia was one of the things that scuppered his championship hopes

Vettel's engine failure at Valencia was one of the things that scuppered his championship hopes

For the next season, their line-up remains the same. Vettel is contracted to Red Bull until 2011, with an option to extend until 2012. Webber’s contract runs out at the end of 2010. He will need to match Vettel’s speed if he wants to keep his seat. Sebastian simply needs to control his speed to be in contention next year. His crash in Monaco, after excessively wearing down his rear tyres, shows he needs to mature a bit more before he can win a world championship.

When Formula 1 came to Australia, the Brawns rocked the paddock by locking out the front row. Then, after a very eventful race to say the least, they became the first team in history to score a 1-2 finish on their debut. Jenson Button continued their dream start, winning the first 6 out of 7 races. Such was the dominance of his performances that people were already believing the title had been decided, even with 10 races to go. However, 2 things were soon to put a stop to Brawn’s dominnce: They shifted their focus to the 2010 car very early, and Red Bull had brought along a heavily revised car for Silverstone. Since Brawns wind tunnels were now working on next year’s car, their performance began to falter. This was shown as Silverstone, where Sebastian Vettel won in dominant fashion, while Button only finished 6th, in a race he was expected to win. Also, the Achilles heel of the Brawn car was revealed: it struggled to heat its tyres in cold conditions. Suddenly, Button and Brawn looked vulnerable. At Hungary, the Brawns slipped even further down the field, finishing 7th and 10th. Button came on the radio, complaining of chronic understeer, and said: “How can the car be this bad at the moment?”

At Germany, warmer temperatures helped the team, finishing 5th and 6th. And, Rubens Barrichello, who had underperformed in the first half of the season, suddenly took his first win in 4 and a half years at Valencia. In the space of 3 races, it seemed to be falling apart for Button. Luckily, at this point, with 6 races to go, he had an 18 point lead to Barrichello. After this, both Brawns finished every race in the points, apart from Button in Belgium, where he was taken out in the first lap. At this point, McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull all had the ability to get race wins, and that’s what saved Button. Since no one person could dominate like he did earlier, his points gap couldn’t be reduced quickly enough. Barrichello pushed as hard as he could, taking another win in Italy, but couldn’t catch him in time. In Brazil, Button finished 5th, becoming the wrold champion in his 10th year.

Many people questioned Button’s victory, since it was mainly down to the Brawn car, and his 1st half dominance. However, it must be noted that he finished in the points in every race of the season (except Belgium, where Alguersuari ran into him). Barrichello, however, wasn’t too shabby either. Apart from Turkey, where a gearbox failure took him out, he finished all but one race in the points. At the end of the day, Red Bull could not fully catch up in time, so I feel the Brawn team deserve their titles.

But what now for the double championship winners? As we now know, they have been bought out by Mercedes, and they have got Petronas as a title sponsor for next season.Button has moved to McLaren, while Barrichello was dropped, and elected to go to Williams. They have been replaced by Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher. This is certainly a formidable line up, and they are one of my favourites for next years titles. Provided their car is up to scratch, of course.

The 2009 F1 Review- Ferrari and McLaren

Both Ferrari and McLaren struggled initially,but bounced back in the second half of the season

Both Ferrari and McLaren struggled initially,but bounced back in the second half of the season

This is the third part of my review of 2009, and looking forward to 2010. This article is for Ferrari and McLaren.

As we all know, the 2008 championship was battled into the very end of the last race of the season.  Both Ferrari and McLaren continuously developed their 2008 cars to the very end, instead of working on the 2009 car, which needed a completely different approach thanks to the technical changes. So, when Formula 1 rolled into Australia in March 2009, both teams were completely off the pace.

Ferrari had a torrid start to the season, as both cars retired due to differential and suspension problems. In fact, in the first 3 races, they failed to score a single point, their worst start since 1982. Already, many people within the team had completely given up on that season, and wanted to shift their focus to the 2010 car. However, after that, things improved for the Scuderia, as Felipe Massa scored points finishes 5 times in a row(one of these a podium), in races 5-9. In the same period, Kimi Raikkonen only managed one podium and one 8th place. People were now seriously questioning Raikkonen’s commitment to the team, and whether he was even interested in F1 anymore. Being outperformed comprehensively by Massa didn’t seem to motivate him either. However, events at Hungary changed the team’s season completely.

Felipe Massa’s freak accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix, when he was his by a loose spring at 140mph, left him on the sidelines. For the next two races, Luca Badoer was picked to replace him. However, after 10 years as a test driver, he simply couldn’t find race pace. He was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella (after his heroic Belgium performance) for the rest of the season. But Fisi struggled nearly as much, and failed to score a point for the rest of the season. Kimi Raikkonen fared much better, picking up a win in Belgium, and 3 other podium finishes. His boost in performance may have been the fact that the team’s efforts were now solely on him.

For 2010, Massa will be able to make a return, having suffered no long-term injuries from his crash. Raikkonen was released from his contract one year early, and has moved to the Junior Citroen WRC team. He will be replaced by Fernando Alonso, having spent two years in a mediocre car at Renault. He has stated that he wants to end his career at the Maranello team, because “any other team would be a step down”. Massa won’t be moving any time soon either,  so this security should help them bounce back next year.

As with Ferrari, McLaren went into the season knowing they were well off the pace, as the testing timesheets showed they were 2.5 seconds off the pace. The first race in Australia was a similar disaster, as Kovalainen was taken out on lap 1. In the race, Lewis Hamilton drove from 18th to 3rd, a slightly lucky but still stellar performance. But, after the race, when called to the stewards to investigate an overtaking incident under the safety car involving Jarno Trulli and Hamilton, McLaren threw it all away. Their Sporting Director, Dave Ryan, instructed Lewis to lie about the incident (even though they did nothing wrong), to secure their 3rd place. When the stewards heard radio transmissions between Hamilton and the team during the incident, they knew McLaren had misled them. Hamilton was disqualified, and Ryan was sacked.

This was the worst start possible for the team. Three points finishes in a row after this for Hamilton was good, but the team then slumped in the middle of the season, failing to score any points in the next 4 races. However, McLaren continued to push hard with their development of their car and the KERS system. This was to prove important, when the system was improved, and both drivers could gain up to 5 places on the first lap thanks to KERS. Their hard work paid off, in Hungary, when Lewis took his first win of the season. He took another win and Singapore, and two podiums in Japan and Brazil. Compared to him, Heikki Kovalainen did very poorly. His best finish was a 4th place at Valencia, and only got 7 points finishes across the entire seasons, with no podiums.

  McLaren got their first win in Hungary, after a torrid start

McLaren got their first win in Hungary, after a torrid start

It was little surprise, therefore, to see Heikki dropped after the season end. He will be replaced by reigning champion Jenson Button. This is certainly sweet revenge for McLaren, who stole him from under the nose of Mercedes, just after the two companies separated. For next year, Martin Whitmarsh has already said he thinks the 2010 car is a serious championship contender, and I believe him. With the line-up of Hamilton and Button, they will be a force to contend with. Also, Button has the opportunity to silence his critics who said that he did not deserve the 2009 title.

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