May 2009 - Posts
Probably some time this season, Force India will inadvertently get a point for they are progressing well, race to race, and are trying too hard that their luck will change sooner or later. But in a dry, straight-forward race, the race at Monte Carlo was their best bet, that is, if you can call Monaco a ‘straight-forward’ race.
The twisty track at Monaco makes the team concentrate more on mechanical efficiency as aerodynamic built of a car is really not tested and therefore, teams like Force India have a chance. One would also like to put McLaren in the same bracket for they are struggling with their car as well but this was one track where Lewis Hamilton could have gunned for his best result of the year, up until he blew it in qualifying.
On Saturday, their hopes would have been up for the two Force India cars qualified 13th and 15th, their best qualifying results in their short history in this sport. It was all the more reason to be hopeful for they had left two Toyotas, two BMWs and one McLaren in their wake, and with the track not allowing much overtaking opportunities, they could be assured of running a good race.
The only part they needed to get right after a great qualifying session was their strategy and they did that well enough when they fueled Fisichella’s car to do more than forty laps on his first stint. Sutil was on a more aggressive two pit-stop strategy, obviously hoping for a safety car period to take advantage of. Had that happened, probably both of the cars could have been in points, but as it panned out, there was no major incident during the race making this year’s Monaco GP somewhat of a procession.
Fisichella did manage to get to eighth place on his one-stop strategy but couldn’t keep going for he had to stop for fuel and tyres. And as it is, Sutil is more adept at defending or attacking with the car at their disposal, while at his age, expecting something like that from the Italian is asking a bit too much. So, in the end, Giancarlo Fisichella brought the car home in 9th place, probably with both the driver and the pit-crew hoping throughout the final few laps that any car in front of him would give away or crash or something, so that he could move up. And with Sutil following in at 14th, it was somewhat of a disappointment compared to the highs he achieved in last year’s wet Monaco GP.
The World Champions have done it again! Famous Ferrari Fumble, if I
could call it that! Unfortunately for Ferrari and their fans, the
fumbles have happened one too many already in 2009. 4 times in 5 races
this season! The Spanish GP, in which they were expecting to bounce
back, they made 2 errors in 2 days!
In Spain, the first of the Ferrari fumble was when Kimi Raikkonen
got caught in his pit box. Instead of being out on track and posting a
laptime, the 2007 champion was seated stationary in his car as he saw
himself being eliminated in Q1. Apparently, the team miscalculated the
time needed for his final run! This particular qualifying error was not
the first of this season. Earlier, Massa was the victim and it seems
Ferrari are on their way to ‘mastering’ this error!
Day and the unreliability of Ferrari’s F60 was on display again. First,
Kimi’s KERS failed before the start of the race and then the demons hit
Kimi’s hydraulics and caused his retirement. Kimi was chasing BMW’s
Heidfeld and just when he seemed like making an attempt to pass
Heidfeld, his engine lost drive.
Ferrari of course switched all
their energies to Felipe Massa who was running strong in 3rd position.
However, it seems they under estimated their fuel consumption for Massa
who was constantly being told on the radio to ‘conserve fuel’ while
defending a charging Vettel in his Red Bull.
calculations revealed that he was one lap short on fuel. Massa had two
options, one was to pit for fuel and loose around 22 seconds and risk
finishing outside the points. Second, was to slow down and let Vettel
through! Thankfully, Ferrari made the right call here by asking Massa
to slow down 4 laps from the end.
Poor ol’ Massa, who drove a
perfect race and ensured that his slower Ferrari stayed ahead of the
Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel had to eventually let him go. Massa had to
drop upto 8 seconds a lap to ensure that his Ferrari crossed the
chequered flag atleast.
One lap to the end, Renault’s Fernando
Alonso hammered the final nail in Ferrari’s Spanish coffin by passing
Massa to gain 5th place. Soon after crossing the finish line, Massa’s
car ran out of fuel and had to be parked at the side of the circuit.
Just showing what a comical error the Italian team had made.
the Ferraris did show the pace to be racing at the front of the grid,
they made too many errors to exploit their pace and gain some valuable
championship points. They suddenly seem to be a team that has lost
confidence and is making the most immature strategic calls this season.
I am sure they too are wondering what they have to do to have an error
free weekend this season. God save the Ferraris, or can you Michael?
The European Leg!!
Spain usually marks the start of the European leg of the F1 championship, followed by a quick race around the streets of Monaco. Since the season starts off in Australia and then heads to Malaysia followed by China and Bahrain – they are slotted as the ‘away’ races.
The away races usually are a logistical nightmare – since there is tons of equipment to transfer besides the cars and drivers – they also offer an interesting insight into teams performances and development programs.
The away races also mean that the teams don’t always necessarily travel in full attendance. The recession not being the only reason, but key personnel are needed back in the factories to develop the cars as they grow older through the season – race by race.
As a result of the distances away from their ‘bases’ in Europe the teams are not fully equipped to run their otherwise busy development cycles. The time zones too are not too friendly for constant development. Hence, if attempted, one could draw a chart showcasing a trend in team performance. I wouldn’t say it is a rule of thumb – but a team that usually doesn’t ‘perform’ in the opening round in Australia would usually not perform in the other away rounds.
So typically 2009 too – we have seen a similar trend. Brawns have come from no where [literally] and have blown the field away. If I could – I would coin a term – ‘if it’s dry, it’s Brawn!!’
We also saw the Toyotas pose a challenge time and again, but their qualifying pace hasn’t converted to a strong race pace. Tyre usage is increasingly important this year due to decrease in aero grip – the Toyotas clearly have struggled in this aspect. Their driver duo are one of the best equipped to develop a racing car – whether this duo can win Toyota their first GP win in F1 waits to be seen. But I would put my money on Glock rather than Trulli – just a gut feel!
Williams! One wonders what they need to do to perform. They have got the car right – well atleast the diffuser. They have been topping the timing sheets on Friday. But have clearly lacked performance when it matters the most. Nico has been on the pace time and again while Kazuki seems to be still finding his feet – Williams clearly is one team that hasn’t extracted the potential out of their machines yet.
Funnily, Brawns, Toyota and Williams have been slotted into one bracket this year – and not just by me. The Diffuser Three as they are called have clearly set the pace and benchmarked themselves against the rest. With the European leg setting in and most teams getting their new diffusers too – will these three still beat the others at it? Or will their dominance finally be challenged?
The only team that has posted a win this season with a conventional diffuser design has been Red Bull. Vettel and Webber have been in the thick of things. They have been pushing each other on track and off it! The Adrian Newey designed car has clearly been the talk of the season. They have proved to the entire paddock that the diffuser is not the ‘only’ way to make an aero efficient car.
Last years championship winning teams Ferrari and Mclaren have clearly struggled to extract pace from their cars, but is there really more pace in their cars? Personally I think that they are a long away from scoring a victory this season. The technical changes of the 2009 season wiped the slate clean for all teams and as Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn put it – the ‘intelligent’ teams are the ones that have made the most of it. For a change, the power of money has failed to work in the world of F1!
Ferrari and Mclaren are upbeat about their chances in the European leg of the season. They are working over time to fit the double deck diffusers to their cars. But will this hurried attempt work? Considering that there is an in-season ban in testing cars and new components the task of car development only becomes harder. Which also means that the teams will be using the Friday and Saturday practice sessions to test their cars. Quite funny considering that they could instead use the sessions to just make the cars go faster!
While the on-track has been fun to say the least – the off track too has made headlines and typically for all the wrong reasons. The diffuser saga was brought to an end and so was the lie-gate issue. McLaren were handed a suspended sentence – which in F1 terms is very funny. The team was penalized for ‘lying’ to the FIA and later pardoned because they were ‘fair and true’ during their interrogation. Funny ways of the FIA!
Amidst all the immediate decisions the FIA also released the rules and regulations for the 2010 season. While the press release carried that the ‘winner takes all’ will be re-introduced, the FIA further re-clarified by issuing another press release that it indeed was a mistake. This too is a ‘first’ for the FIA – claiming that they made a mistake.
The future of F1 is in jeopardy – and not necessarily due to external recession. The damage this time could be more internal. The constant changing of rules has not gone down well with the fans. Also, the FIA is keen on introducing a two – tier F1 championship from next year. Comically, the tier system is differentiated on team budgets and not on a technical scale. We’ll leave that for a later discussion. But the two tier system has raised many concerns by the participating manufacturers who have threatened the FIA that they could re-consider their commitment towards Formula1.
Unfortunately, in this war of words, power and ego – the one person who could be drastically left out could be the FAN! And did I mention a ban on re-fuelling next year? Err!! Lets just enjoy the F1 circus as long as it lasts…
By Chetan Narula
Finally we can get past everything and get back to racing. In the past couple of seasons, one has seen the FIA make a hash of some really straight forward decisions and a lot of them went against the McLaren-Mercedes team. But this time around, anything else that a bit of leniency could have cost F1 dear!
The implications could have been far greater for the Silver Arrows team than a suspended sentence. The dust has just about settled from the ‘Spygate’ scandal in 2007, and probably they haven’t even recovered from paying that huge fine. A world championship win in 2008 may have eased their pain a bit but the very first race of the new season and they shot themselves in the foot again.
Those were reportedly the words of Anthony Hamilton, father of Lewis Hamilton, the one driver McLaren hope will script long term success for them in this sport. More than any other punishment, losing Hamilton would have hurt them badly. Then there was the possibility that another huge fine would have got Mercedes thinking about their involvement with the sport, given the economic meltdown that we are living in where Honda have shut shop.
And on top of that, the sponsors threatened to pull out. At the end of the day, who would want to be associated with a team that has been officially declared a liar and a cheat, and has been punished for it, in lieu of a ban? In short, the very survival of the Woking based outfit was at stake here and in the melee, the question that needs to be asked is: Can F1 afford to lose the team that gave them a drivers’ champion in 2008?
The answer is no and not because of Lewis Hamilton. For he could have possibly found another team, willing enough to give him a drive! It was the prospect of losing one of the long standing teams of Formula One, on the footsteps of Honda and Super Aguri shutting shop in the last twelve months and that is what ought to have made the FIA think.
Let one also point out, what else made the powers that be, think. Ron Dennis’ exit from McLaren Racing altogether! It cannot be proved that Dennis had anything to do with Hamilton lying at Melbourne, but that is not the way that the FIA sees it. What they know is that Dennis is some one who will never back out of a scrap especially if it concerns Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, and so whatever the team does wrong invariably leads right back to the former team principal himself.
With Dennis out of the picture and McLaren making a good show of themselves at Bahrain, trying to turn a new leaf over with the FIA, it only bodes well that they got some decent reciprocation for their efforts by the sport’s governing council.
And for all those who feel that McLaren have been let away lightly, sample this. They have been punished enough already with the three race ban sentence suspended; excluded from the Australian GP, the loss of Dave Ryan and Ron Dennis – two of the most influential men in McLaren’s history – coupled with the damage to Lewis Hamilton’s image.
When Michael Schumacher parked in car in Monaco in 2006, he was sent to the back of the grid and that was the end of it. No one pursued Ferrari after that, there were no hearings. The offence was somewhat similar: getting an advantage unfairly. Its time to let go and just race, for crying out loud!