Monday, 19 April 2010

An Update after 4 rounds.

I’m wondering what the biggest talking point after 4 races is. There are undoubtedly many to choose from. Is it Button vs. Hamilton (along with the resultant bit about Button finding his feet in the Woking squad)? Is it Alonso vs. Massa (now more so after Alonso’s brazen pit lane overtake in China)? How about Schumacher vs. Rosberg (delicious due to the fact the Rosberg has used a hammer to beat MS on track, all the while sweet talking everyone into thinking he is the undisputed No.2 at Mercedes GP)?

This does not account the technical talking points including F-Ducts, Double and Super Diffusers, side-mounted mirrors and ride height adjusters! The first race may have been dull, but the circus that is Formula 1 has more than made up for it with customary flair.

Ferrari, Mclaren, Red Bull, Mclaren. These have been the 4 teams that have won races this year. On the face of it, it would seem like Mclaren have the upper hand. Yet people are talking about more than them. Red Bull has been the source of much news, gossip and rumors, Ferrari have been in the thick of everything that’s happened to date and the world of Mercedes has been thrown upside down.

The racing too, has been quite extraordinary. Lewis Hamilton might be secretly loathing his new team mate stealing all the spotlight from him, but he has done his racing reputation no harm by driving like a man possessed (and this includes his swerving on Petrov at Sepang and pit lane skirmish with Vettel in China). The matador in Ferrari has shown the ruthlessness that makes him the champion he is by driving the engine off his car in Malaysia and mauling the field (including his team mate) in China. Too much has been made out of his move on Massa in the pit lane. The reality is that something was going to happen at some point of time between the 2. Alonso is not a No.2 driver and Ferrari should have expected it. Legally too Alonso is in the clear, as the pit lane entrance is a part of the track. Massa has to pull his socks up. If he does not, he’ll be gobbled up by Alonso (who has no qualms about doing so) as well as finding himself out of a Scarlet seat very soon.

Red Bull, who have seemed super quick all season had a bit of a wake up call in the Chinese GP. Not only did they struggle to compete with Mclaren, their drivers later admitted to being “Blown away” in the race. The recent FIA ruling banning Ride Height Adjusters in any form was thought to result in the Red Bull’s demise in qualifying. The fact that they blocked out the front row was a verification of Christian Horner’s comments about Red Bull not using any such system at all!

A word about the new teams. Its commendable to note that every new team has manged to close the gap to the main field in the last 2 races. The clearest sign of this was when HRT manged to get to within a couple of seconds off the pace of the quickest new team, all of it without any updates whatsoever. This is going to be a hard season for the new drivers as well, and one can onloy hope that they do enough to impress any of the big teams so that they remain in the sport for the nest year as well.

Volcanic Ash in the sky prevent the teams from getting home, but rest assured that the men and women in the factory will be working very hard to get major updates ready for the start of the European leg at Valencia in 3 weeks time.

This season is set to get better. A lot better.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Chinese GP Preview

With 3 different winners from 3 different teams in the first 3 races of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championships, the season ahead looks mouth wateringly exciting. After what was (apparently) the boring Bahrain GP, we’ve had 2 exciting races at Albert Park and Sepang which have thrown up overtaking, crashes, mistakes and good racing.

Now the season shifts to China, one of the most modern circuits on the calendar. A Herman Tilke-designed circuit, the Chinese GP has never been anyone’s favorite track. Usually a challenge for the Engineers more than drivers, it has the potential to be a cracker of a race this year. The main reason for this is 2-fold. One, it bears a striking resemblance to Sepang (another Tilke circuit), this year more than others. Temperature in China are lower than they have traditionally been, which means that if drivers are unable to get heat into their tyres quickly, we might end up having another topsy-turvy grid after Qualifying. This, as we saw in Malaysia (thanks mainly to Lewis Hamilton) will almost always result in a lot of overtaking.

The second reason is that the circuit in China has the longest strait amongst all F1 circuits. With the Mclaren F-Duct on display and some of the other team’s ability to generate the requisite down force required on the track (think RBR), it is another point in favor of good racing. A corollary to this is the fact that the track in China is also quite wide. That is a positive for racing.

From the team’s point of view, Red Bull Racing has its tail up. Their superstar and superquick Seb Vettel is in sublime form. Had it been in his hands entirely, he would have had 75 points in the bag at this stage and would have looked like becoming a runaway contender for Jenson Button’s crown. If RBR get their cars to the finish line in working condition Mark Webber’s despondent look (as seen on the podium in Sepang and at the subsequent Press Conference) is set to stay in place, and grow wider.

Ferrari have engine issues, with both their customer engines (in the back of the Sauber’s) giving up, coupled with Alonso’s spectacular bow up with under 2 laps to go causing Stefano Domenicalli and Luca Marmorini many a headache. If any of their 4 engines give way in China, Ferrari will have a lot to worry about and not much to do (as Engine development is frozen for the duration of the season).

Mclaren shot themselves in the foot yet again when their proposed ride-height alteration system was forced to be put on ice this week. This, after they realized that they would have been in the red had they gone ahead and bolted on their proposed systems to the cars marked 1 and 2. However the performance of Lewis Hamilton (who had come in for some criticism before Australia for not seeming committed enough) would have brought a few smiles to the men from Woking (now more so with the absence of the poker faced Ron Dennis). Hamilton drove quite a race in Malaysia to finish in the points.

Force India and Renault have impressed as well. Both drivers from the former and Robert Kubica from the latter have put in some strong performances this season to get them valuable points. The fun fact from Renault has to be them ordering rookie Vitaly Petrov onto a diet! Apparently Petro weighs in 10 pounds heavier than his Polish teammate, weight that the team rather allocates to Ballast. A little less Caviar Vitaly..? Both teams look set to fight it out for the “Best of the Rest” tag behind the big 4 and if Force India can pump out a little more then Renault, it will be a big boost to the men from Silverstone (India?)

All in all the Chinese GP should be a good race. Anything more will be a resounding testament to Formula 1 (more so if it does not rain).