Joe-Pinions: Sports

18 July 2010 – Formula 1 Mid-Season Review (Part 2)

Posted in Auto Racing, Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 18/07/2010

In my most recent post, we discussed some of the many changes to Formula 1 in 2010, including some of the new regulations, the new competitors, and some of the entities who have departed from the sport.

Starting with this entry, we’ll next be looking at capsulized reviews of the first ten races of the 2010 F1 World Championship.

Without further delay, here is the 2010 Formula One World Championship so far:

Round 1:  Grand Prix of Bahrain

The first Grand Prix of the 2010 season was held on the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain.  Sebastian Vettel put his Red Bull Racing RB6 on pole position, with Felipe Massa doing a remarkable job lining up beside the young German on the front row.  Massa’s performance is remarkable not only because this is his first race back from his life-threatening injuries incurred in the Hungarian Grand Prix last year, but also because he beat his new teammate at Ferrari, the two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso from Spain.  Alonso wound up third, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who was his teammate at McLaren in 2007.  Other notable qualifying performances included:  Nico Rosberg (GER) in his Mercedes lining up 5th, beating his compatriot and teammate, 7-time World Champion (and fresh off a three-year retirement) Michael Schumacher, who lined up 7th; Mark Webber in the slower of the Red Bull-Renaults in 6th; 2009 World Champion Jenson Button in the second of the McLarens lining up eighth on the grid, just ahead of the Renault of Poland’s Robert Kubica; Adrian Sutil of Germany, driving the Force India-Mercedes, completed the top ten.

Vettel had a good start and kept his lead, keeping both Ferraris and Lewis Hamilton behind him.  Behind the leading foursome, there was plenty of action characterized by car troubles.  Webber left the grid with plumes of oil smoke pouring from his Renault engine’s exhausts, causing indecisiveness, order-shuffling and mayhem amongst the mid-grid runners.  Eventually, the race settled into a rhythm and saw Vitaly Petrov scything up through the field in his Renault, impressively overtaking six cars to find himself eleventh.  Whilst fighting with veteran Williams driver Rubens Barrichello, Petrov incurred a damaged suspension and dropped out, joining the HRTs (Hispania Racing) of Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna, both the Sauber BMWs (which actually run with Ferrari engines!) of Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi, the Virgins of Lucas di Grassi and Timo Glock, Jarno Trulli’s Lotus-Cosworth, and the Toro Rosso-Ferrari of Sebastian Buemi on the sidelines.

Late in the race, Vettel’s Red Bull-Renault developed a sick-sounding exhaust, which the team later clarified as a problem with a spark plug.  The Red Bull pit advised their charge to slow his pace in order to make the finish, allowing the Ferrari duo of Alonso and Massa and Lewis Hamilton to pass him.  Rosberg basically ran out of laps in his quest to similarly overtake Vettel for fourth.  Other notable finishers:  Vitantonio Liuzzi in his Force India-Mercedes doing much better than his teammate Sutil to claim two points for P9; Michael Schumacher finishing a decent 6th, with Button and Webber behind him; Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotus finishing in P15, the only one of the six new entrants to see the checkered flag; and Rubens Barrichello in his Williams-Cosworth finishing in P10 and scoring the final point on offer.

Some observers decried this race as “boring” and “processional,” but perhaps this was only natural.  This was the first race of a new era of Formula 1, so many of the entrants ran conservative setups in order to ensure a finish in the Grand Prix.  Not only that, but with the severe reduction in in-season testing, the early races in a season defined by these circumstances functioned as public test sessions even for the most established teams.

The results of the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2010 were arguably defined as much by fortune as they were by hard work and technical excellence.  Fernando Alonso became the first Ferrari driver to win on his debut race for the Scuderia since Nigel Mansell in 1989 despite his Ferrari not really possessing the pace of the outstanding car-and-driver combination, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.  For his part, Vettel was unlucky to suffer a mechanical gremlin and see his race-winning pace reduced just for the sake of preserving his engine for future grands prix.  At least he earned twelve championship points for his misfortune.

Round 2:  Grand Prix of Australia

Mark Webber was probably the most fired-up driver in the F1 circus.  Despite finishing in a relatively poor eighth place in the previous grand prix, he was coming home to Melbourne to a hero’s welcome.  As Australia’s sole F1 driver, he could be sure of enjoying the support of what is traditionally viewed as one of the best crowds attending grand prix weekends.  It mattered little that the GP of Australia has ceded its position as the season-opening race in F1; the Aussies love motorsports, and most of the drivers love visiting the country and racing on the Albert Park track.

Webber lost out to his teammate Sebastian Vettel in qualifying, with the young German winning the pole position again from his Australian teammate by a wafer-thin margin of .116s.  Behind the all-Red Bull front row were the hard-driving Fernando Alonso in P3, Jenson Button in P4, with Massa in the slower Ferrari in P5 leading both Mercedes cars (Rosberg ahead of Schumacher again).  Rubens Barrichello impressed with P8 in his Williams; Lewis Hamilton, P11 in his McLaren, did not.

Other qualifying notables:  Highly-rated Nico Hülkenberg looked overrated, lining up only fifteenth; de la Rosa (P14) did well to outdo his much-fancied Japanese teammate Kobayashi (P16) in the Sauber BMWs; Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok brought up the rear of the grid, some six seconds off the pole position time set by Sebastian Vettel.

Ongoing rain showers saw the grid drenched, forcing the race officials to declare a “Wet Race.”  This removed the requirement to run both dry compound tires on offer, which meant that there was a possibility for some drivers to run non-stop once they had fitted dry tires (as opposed to intermediate or rain tires).  Conditions dictated everybody fit intermediate tires on their cars; obviously, nobody wanted to gamble losing control and therefore lose track time when testing time (and therefore opportunity to collect performance data from their cars) was so valuable and rare.

At the start, the Red Bull twins led away.  Alonso and Button touched as they jockeyed for position at the first corner, resulting in a spin for Alonso which dumped him unceremoniously to the tail of the field.  Michael Schumacher couldn’t avoid the Ferrari and damaged his front wing, which necessitated a pit stop to replace the damaged wing.  Jarno Trulli’s Lotus failed to leave the grid due to faulty hydraulics.  Later on in the frenetic first lap, Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber lost its own front wing and took out Nico Hülkenberg and Sébastien Buemi in a violent accident.  By the end of the first lap, then, four drivers were out, and the safety car was deployed to allow the trackside crews to clean up the bits of debris from the Kobayashi-Hülkenberg-Buemi incident.

After the safety car period, the race resumed at full tilt, and it soon became clear that a dry line was forming on the circuit.  Jenson Button was the first to roll the dice, diving into the pits to sit the soft option tires to his McLaren.  The move looked to be a mistake, especially when Button lost time when he slid off-course on his out-lap.  He recovered, however, and began setting very quick times, prompting the other teams to call their drivers in.  Perhaps predictably, Red Bull was one of the last to summon their cars into the pit for the tire change since they were running 1-2.  While Vettel didn’t lose the lead to Button when he finally came in, hometown hero Mark Webber suffered greatly due to the timing of his pit stop, falling from P2 to P8.

Lap 25 saw the end of Vettel’s Australian GP.  On approach to the 2nd gear Turn 13, bad luck reared its ugly head and Vettel found himself spinning backwards into the gravel trap.  Red Bull initially suspected a brake failure, but later clarified the cause of Vettel’s spin to be a problem with the left-front axle.  Jenson Button proved to be the chief beneficiary, as he was chasing Vettel when the German spun out of the race.

There was plenty of overtaking in this race.  Lewis Hamilton started in P11 but found himself in third place by the time of Vettel’s spin.  Fernando Alonso also drove aggressively, slicing up through the order from dead last and into the points and catching up to his teammate Massa.  In contrast, Michael Schumacher struggled to overtake Jaime Alguersuari in the Toro Rosso, who kept the 7-time World Champion back until almost the end of the race.  Robert Kubica also gained many positions through shrewd pit stop timing by his Renault team, as did his teammate Petrov.  Unfortunately, Petrov spun off the circuit very soon after he came in to replace his intermediate tires with dry tires.

Near the end of the race, McLaren called Lewis Hamilton into the pit for a tire change, much to Hamilton’s chagrin later.  In the process he dropped from third to fifth, now around a half-minute behind the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa with twenty laps to go.  Hamilton went on a brilliant charge, recovering track position relative to the Ferraris at a rate of around two seconds a lap.  He soon found himself under Alonso’s rear wing and looking for a way past.  Such was the lack of pace of both Ferraris at this point that not only had Hamilton closed the gap to nothing, but Mark Webber was also closing in behind Hamilton.

On the approach to turn thirteen Alonso moved to the right to protect the inside line under braking for the 2nd gear right hander.  Hamilton responded by lining up on the outside, looking to try an audacious overtake on the outside.  Webber, now close behind Hamilton, took a line between Alonso’s and Hamilton, looking to profit in case the Ferrari and the McLaren ahead of him had any problems.  At the limit of grip under braking, Alonso moved across Hamilton’s line and made contact with the McLaren; Webber, too close to Hamilton, then hit the McLaren and damaged his Red Bull’s nose, which necessitated an immediate pit stop for replacement.  Alonso survived the incident and kept his fourth place.

Button won from a very impressive Robert Kubica, with Massa earning P3 and the final place on the podium.  Alonso finished in fourth, followed by Nico Rosberg, Hamilton, Liuzzi, Barrichello, Webber and Schumacher.

Unquestionably, the most disappointed man after the race in Albert Park was Mark Webber, while Button was the most thrilled.  His audacious tactics were enough to get him in P2, ready to take advantage in case troubles befell Vettel.  As in Bahrain, the Red Bull-Renault proved fast yet fragile, ensuring that one of the preseason favorites for the Drivers’ World Championship was firmly behind the proverbial eight ball.

Round 3:  Grand Prix of Malaysia

Qualifying at Sepang International Circuit was an exciting affair.  A monsoon drenched the circuit during the session, resulting in some surprises.  Chief amongst these was both Ferrari and McLaren electing to stay in their garages during Q1, while all their rivals set about putting “laps in the bank” in case the weather worsened.  Consequently, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari was mired in P21, Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren in P20, Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in P19, and the McLaren of Jenson Button in P17.

By virtue of a well-timed switch to the ideal intermediate tires in Q3, Mark Webber broke teammate Sebastian Vettel’s stranglehold on pole positions in 2010.  Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes split the Red Bulls, lining up on the front row and again beating Michael Schumacher, who lined up in P8.  Other notable qualifying performances:  Adrian Sutil, an acknowledged master of wet-weather driving, put his Force India in P4; Nico Hülkenberg lined up one place behind in P5; and Kamui Kobayashi, qualifying his Sauber in an incredible ninth place.

At the start, Vettel served clear notice of his intentions by taking the lead by the end of the first lap.  At the back end of the grid, Lewis Hamilton also served notice, slashing up through the order and overtaking ten cars by the end of lap four.  He worked on Vitaly Petrov on lap 5, then took P9 on the pit straight as the sixth lap began.  Petrov slipstreamed past the McLaren immediately and held the place until Hamilton finally retook the position two laps later.  He then weaved from side to side several times as he tried to break the slipstream with the Renault behind him, tactics which angered many observers.  The stewards investigated the maneuvers and ultimately issued Hamilton a warning for his tactics.

Other than Hamilton’s aggressive overtaking, car failures accounted for changes in the running order.  Kobayashi lost his engine on lap 8, Schumacher stopped with a loose wheel nut on lap 9, and Liuzzi’s Force India’s Mercedes lost its electronic throttle functions on lap 12.  Further changes to the running order didn’t come until the pit stops.  Button was the first to stop, taking on harder prime tires on lap 9.  He immediately set fastest lap of the race, prompting most of the other teams to call in their drivers to make the same move.  The Red Bulls, though, again did not call their guys in, waiting until laps 24 and 25 to summon first Vettel, then Webber, for their tire stops.

By this point, only Hamilton, Massa and Alonso hadn’t stopped for tires, but since the rules require them to do so they did.  Massa was first in, on lap 27, and immediately set staggeringly fast laps up to a second and a half better than anybody else’s.  Hamilton made his move and changed to the softer option tires on lap 31st (and P2, no less); he also started lapping faster than everyone else, Massa included.  Fernando Alonso was the final person to make a pit stop on lap 37.  Like Massa and Hamilton before him, once he had made his pit stop, the combination of fresh tires and a lighter fuel road equaled the best lap times of any runner in the race.  Unfortunately for him, though, his Ferrari’s engine would expire two laps before the end.

Once Hamilton peeled off onto pit road, the running order at the very front was set, with Vettel leading Webber over the finish line at the checkered flag.  Rosberg took P3 and the final place on the podium.  Rosberg’s 3rd place was also significant since it was the first works Mercedes podium position since 1955.  Kubica was fourth, Sutil a very impressive fifth, and Hamilton sixth.  Massa took seventh, while Button, Alguersuari, and Hülkenberg took the rest of the points-paying positions.

So, three grands prix in, and we have had three different winners driving three different cars with three different engines.  While the first two races’ ultimate results owed much to misfortune befalling Sebastian Vettel, Malaysia was a totally different story.  Malaysia was all about aggression combined with the correct tactical decisions, even in qualifying.  Webber’s decision to go with intermediates despite the monsoon conditions during qualifying rewarded him with pole position.  And in the race, Vettel and Hamilton showed what aggression can earn you, especially if the opposition is not as willing to match your tactics.  Vettel won this race when he took Rosberg and Webber on lap 1, while Hamilton almost went over the limit (some might say he may have gone over it) in his quest to recover lost positions with force and aggression.

After three grands prix, here are the top five drivers in points:

  1. Felipe Massa = 39
  2. Fernando Alonso = 37
  3. Sebastian Vettel = 37
  4. Jenson Button = 35
  5. Nico Rosberg = 35

The Constructors’ World Championship looked like this after three races:

  1. Ferrari = 76
  2. McLaren-Mercedes = 66
  3. Red Bull-Renault = 61
  4. Mercedes = 44
  5. Renault = 30

Next post:  Reviews of Rounds 4 and 5.

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