Joe-Pinions: Sports

22 July 2010 – Formula 1 Mid-Season Review (Part 3)

Posted in Auto Racing, Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 23/07/2010

Three grands prix into the 2010 season, we have three different drivers from three different teams, all powered by three different engines, taking victory.  The first race, the GP of Bahrain, fell to Fernando Alonso and Ferrari; Great Britain’s Jenson Button, the defending world champion, won the GP of Australia in his McLaren-Mercedes; finally, Sebastian Vettel, the young German driving the fast but apparently fragile Red Bull-Renault, took the top spot in the Malaysian GP.  Clearly, we have the makings of one of the most memorable seasons Formula 1 has seen in years.

Round 4:  Grand Prix of China

The Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber once again took the top two positions after qualifying, again confirming the notion that the Renault-powered RB6 was the quickest car, at least in qualifying trim.  Fernando Alonso did well to take P3, with Nico Rosberg taking the fourth grid spot.  Button led Hamilton in an all-McLaren third row, while Felipe Massa, the current championship leader, shared row four with Robert Kubica in his Renault.  Row five was an all-German affair, with the 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher taking only P9 (again out-qualified by his younger teammate Rosberg) and Adrian Sutil somehow coaxing his Force India-Mercedes onto the 10th spot on the grid.

A light drizzle sprinkled the Shanghai International Circuit shortly before the start of the race.  With the previous year’s race run in a heavy deluge, the consensus decision by all the runners was to adopt a full-wet car set-up, even though they opted to tak start on dry weather tires.

At the start, Fernando Alonso left rather earlier than he was supposed to and jumped into an immediate lead, albeit one which even he acknowledged he was never going to keep.  As the pack snaked and slid over the rain-slicked surface, it was perhaps inevitable that some racers would not finish even the first lap.  At turn six, Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control of his Force India-Mercedes and collected Kamui Kobayashi’s innocent Sauber BMW and Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso-Ferrari.  Nico Hülkenberg took evasive action and saved himself from immediate elimination, but not from relegation to the back of the pack.  The Liuzzi-initiated carambolage triggered the deployment of the Safety Car, as well as provided most of the remainder of the grid to dive into the pits and take on intermediate tires.

By staying out, Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes took the lead, followed by Jenson Button in his McLaren and the Renaults of Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov.  Rosberg led serenely until he made a mistake on lap 22, which allowed Button to overtake him.

As ever, rain made the racing very interesting, especially behind the leading quartet.  Alonso and Massa engaged in an intra-team race in the pit entry lane, which saw the Spaniard pip his Brazilian teammate for position.  Close by, Vettel and Hamilton also engaged in a squabble during their pit exits, with the Red Bull and McLaren pit crews doing equally great jobs in servicing their charges.  Vettel and Hamilton, released nearly simultaneously from adjacent pit boxes, slithered down towards the pit exit side-by-side, until Hamilton ceded position and allowed Vettel through.  Sebastian and Lewis would later receive reprimands from the stewards for their pit lane shenanigans, but no further penalties.

Meanwhile, the leading quartet lost Petrov, the Russian rookie proving a little out of his depth amongst his more experienced competitors.  Not only were the three cars ahead of him going faster and leaving him behind, but the rest of the pack was also reeling him in with their intermediate tires fitted.  Before any more figurative fireworks could ensue, however, Jaime Alguersuari triggered another Safety Car period when he collided with another car, damaged his front wing, and spread bits and pieces of Toro Rosso all over the racetrack.  The top ten, then, at this point was:  Button, Rosberg, Kubica, Petrov, a recovering Michael Schumacher in 5th, Webber, Hamilton, Vettel, wet-weather expert Adrian Sutil, and Fernando Alonso, up to P10 after dropping back due to a drive-through penalty for jumping the start.

At the end of the Safety Car period, Webber got caught out by the accordion effect of Button controlling the pace of the pack (as is his right as the leader of the race) and slid off the circuit, dropping from P6 to P12.  Meanwhile, Hamilton jumped to fourth, first taking Schumacher during the first lap after the Safety Car period, Petrov soon thereafter, then Kubica after several more laps.  He continued to charge, closing the gap to Rosberg in P2, until the two ran nose-to-tail.  Hamilton overtook Rosberg with the same move he used to take Schumacher in turn six, but Keke’s son fought back and retook P2.  The matter was finally settled in Hamilton’s favor during the final round of pit stops, with McLaren helping him jump Rosberg’s Mercedes by virtue of a more efficient pit stop.

Jenson Button had a relatively boring day, taking only one car on the track and basically just keeping his nose clean and not indulging in heroics.  He took his second victory of the 2010 season and became the first driver to win more than once this year, followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton.  The McLaren 1-2 enabled the team to claim the top spot in the Constructors’ World Championship after four races.  Nico Rosberg took the final place on the podium, holding off a charging Fernando Alonso in P4.  The rest of the points finishers:  Kubica in fifth, Vettel a slightly miffed sixth, Petrov a very creditable seventh; eighth place went to Mark Webber, ninth to Felipe Massa, and Michael Schumacher took the final point for P10.

An action-packed race which saw plenty of overtaking, collisions, and a couple of Safety Car interventions, the Grand Prix of China also saw a good shuffling of the Drivers’ Championship deck, with Button taking over the top spot and his teammate Hamilton slotting into fourth.  Meanwhile, Felipe Massa, who was the leader of the standings entering this race, was now out of the top five.

Round 5:  Grand Prix of Spain

In years past, the first race of the “European season” in Formula 1 heralds the first round of major updates to the cars.  After the “flyaway races” in the Middle East, Australia and Asia, the return to Europe provides an easy opportunity for the teams to attach refinements and developments to their base chassis in their unending quest to make their cars go faster.

The Mercedes probably had the most significant alteration, at least visually.  Instead of the typical integrated roll hoop+airbox inlet, the MGP W01 now sported a two-piece airbox inlet split by a vertical roll bar assembly.  At the poorer end of the grid, the Virgins also had an important update with a lengthened chassis, to allow for a larger fuel tank.  Timo Glock’s Virgin also tried a modified engine cover with a “shark fin” extending to the rear wing as many of the leading cars had.

Most pundits thought that despite the various modifications to the cars, the Red Bulls would still retain their place at the head of the grid after qualifying.  So it came to pass, with Webber beating Vettel for the second time this season.  Third on the grid went to Lewis Hamilton, who was definitely gathering momentum as the season progressed.  Fernando Alonso, the hero of Spain, took P4 in the Ferrari.  The rest of the top 1o:  Button, Michael Schumacher (the first time he outpaced his teammate Rosberg this year), Kubica, Rosberg, Massa, and Kamui Kobayashi, hugely impressive in the BMW Sauber.  Other notables in qualifying:  Spanish Pedro de la Rosa in the slower of the two Saubers in P12, suggesting that perhaps the Saubers were improving quickly from their dreadful form from the flyaway events; Rubens Barrichello in P18, outdone in qualifying by Williams teammate Nico Hülkenberg in P13; finally, Bruno Senna bringing up the tail of the field in P24, showing that it’s possible for the great surname to be found at the very end of a list of qualifiers in a Grand Prix.

At the start, mostly everyone held station through the first lap.  There were some exceptions:  Kubica and Kobayashi touched and damaged each other’s cars, sending both of them down the order; local man de la Rosa and Sebastien Buemi had a similar incident with each other, resulting in a puncture for the Sauber; and Bruno Senna crashed out where de la Rosa and Buemi had their coming-together.  Meanwhile, Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus never took the start due to a gearbox issue.

The Red Bulls ran at the front mostly untroubled, until the pit stops during the first third of the race.  Vettel had a problem during his pit stop, resulting in Lewis Hamilton taking P2 away from him.  Later on, Vettel would drop further down the field when he indulged in an off-track excursion on lap 54, necessitating a cautionary pit stop.  The Red Bull pit crew discovered Vettel had a brake wear problem, which meant that Vettel had to cut his pace significantly if he was to make the end of the race.  Alonso, Schumacher, Button, Massa were the big beneficiaries of Vettel’s problems.

On lap 65, the penultimate lap, Lewis Hamilton lost P2 when his McLaren suffered a puncture to his left-front tire, sending him off the track and into the wall at turn three, a very long right-hander which puts maximum stress on the left-front.  Hamilton fell to P14 in the final classifications, a heartbreaking result when he looked set to make another big leap in the points standings.

Mark Webber won as he pleased, the first pole winner to also take the victory during the Grand Prix in 2010.  Alonso was cheered to the heavens for his lucky second place, and Vettel took the final place on the podium despite his brake problems.  The rest of the top 10:  Schumacher, Button, Massa, Sutil, Kubica, Barrichello, and young rising Spanish star Jaime Alguersuari earning the final point for tenth.  Other notables:  Rosberg in an unlucky P13, thoroughly beaten by Schumacher on a circuit where the 7-time World Champion won six times; Liuzzi classified in P15 after his Force India’s Mercedes engine blew up on the same lap Hamilton had his race-ending accident; and Jarno Trulli in P17, showing that Lotus was definitely the fastest of the newcomers.

So, after five races, the Drivers’ World Championship top five looked like this:

  1. Jenson Button (2 wins) = 70pts
  2. Fernando Alonso (1 win) = 67pts
  3. Sebastian Vettel (1 win) = 60pts
  4. Mark Webber (1 win) = 53pts
  5. Nico Rosberg (0 wins) = 50pts

And the Constructors’ World Championship:

  1. McLaren-Mercedes = 119pts
  2. Ferrari = 116pts
  3. Red Bull-Renault = 113pts
  4. Mercedes = 72pts
  5. Renault = 50pts

After five grands prix, the Red Bulls were still the cars to beat, while McLaren seemed to be on an upward swing in form.  Ferrari’s performances were inconsistent, in that Alonso usually would be high up the grid and Massa several rows behind.  Meanwhile, Renault continued their unexpected good form, suggesting that luck had nothing to do with their speed on the track.  Of the others, Mercedes was similar to Ferrari, in that their form was good but not good enough to pose a real challenge to the front runners; Williams was doing a mostly good job, though their performance in Spain was worryingly bad; Force India was doing a strong, steady job, almost always beating the Toro Rosso pair.  Finally, Lotus had definitely proven that they were the fastest amongst the newcomers, and HRT were definitely the slowest.

Next post:  Rounds 6 & 7.

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2 Responses

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  1. Tim said, on 26/07/2010 at 02:07

    A good write-up of the season to date. The reminder is very helpful – it feels like a lot more has already happened in this half-season than in most complete other years!

    • txtmstrjoe said, on 26/07/2010 at 10:05

      Thanks, Tim!

      Apologies, though, for being so slow on the updates. I’ve got a few drafts in the works, but writing time has been precious and rare lately. Plus I’m just slow.

      This F1 season’s been quite interesting, like the last few have been. It helps a lot that there are quite a few strong teams. I still remember the early 1990s, when Williams was at their apex as a constructor, and Ferrari and McLaren were entering their few years in the doldrums. Then there were the Michael Schumacher years in the early part of this decade… rather dreary, in my opinion.

      I’ll crank out the rest of the season review soon enough, then offer up some thoughts on the current issues in F1.

      Thanks again for the comment!

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