Thursday, 3 November 2011

Formula 1 - Korean and Indian Grands Prix 2011

2011 Standard Issue F1 Podium
First of all, my apologies for missing the report on the Korean Grand Prix. It's only the second one I've missed out (the other being round 2 at Malaysia), so I'll sum it up here:

The Korean Race In A Nutshell:
> Lewis Hamilton out-qualifies Vettel by 0.2s, the first time a non-Red Bull gets pole in 2011
> Vettel overtakes Hamilton at Turn 4 on lap 1 and pulls away, Jenson Button falls behind Felipe 
   Massa at Turn 3, then passed by Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso at Turn 4, Webber passes 
   Massa later in the lap
> Button and Nico Rosberg swap places a couple of times after first pit stop, Button gets ahead
> Massa forced to wait as Michael Schumacher and Vitaly Petrov beat him out of the pits, the pair 
   also overtake Alonso during pit stops
> Petrov and Alonso brake too late for Turn 3, Alonso runs wide to narrowly avoid Petrov piling into 
   the back of Schumacher, Petrov later given 5-place grid penalty in India for taking himself and 
   Schumacher out of the race
> Safety Car out, Hamilton now very close to Vettel, but the Red Bulls were superior in 
   twisty sections, so Hamilton fell back towards Webber, who didn't end up beating him despite 
   spectacular battling through the twisty sections and passing him at Turn 1, after which Hamilton 
   could use DRS to re-pass, Webber finished 0.4 seconds behind Hamilton
> Ferraris both overtake Rosberg, who then pits and finishes out of the points
> Alonso passes Massa on pit strategy, he and Button catch up to LH and MW, but no-one 
   changes places
> Vettel gets 10th win in 16 races, Red Bull Racing win constructor's title

Top 5 Finishers: Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Button, Alonso

You can see the full race results by clicking this link, but now we move onto India, which held its first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix this past weekend, at the (very) newly-built Buddh International Circuit in New Delhi. While the race itself was simply a demonstration of how F1 in 2011 works, the track was certainly interesting and received much praise from the drivers, but less so from Martin Brundle, who complained online about the commentary box being a room with no window rather than in a tower overlooking the circuit, as is usual. In fact, a lot of the facilities and such behind the pit lane looked plain and simple, suggesting that they didn't have a great deal of time to build it all in. Another sign of that was the amount of dust on the track, apparently from when it was still being built mere weeks ago...

The Indian Race:
Buddh International Circuit [Despite T3 meaning finish line on this map, I use T as "Turn"]
In A Nutshell:
> Vettel won from pole, never losing the lead, setting the fastest lap of the race and lapping 8th place
> Chaotic start at the back, as cars made contact into T1, Barrichello loses front wing, Kobayashi 
   and Glock taken out of race. Trulli punted off out of T3 but recovers
> Button ahead of Webber by T4 of lap 1 and stays there, Ferraris ahead of Hamilton
> Hamilton and Massa come together again, Rowan Atkinson's reaction looks like this: (GIF image) 
> Massa gets drive-thru, Hamilton pits for front wing, Massa's wing flexed until he repeated 
   Qualifying crash by breaking his suspension on a tall kerb and retires
> Alonso beats Webber in the pits, Schumacher beats Rosberg in the pits, Senna loses 9th in pits

Top 5 Finishers: Vettel, Button, Alonso, Webber, Schumacher

After Sebastian Vettel won the championship at Suzuka, surprising no-one, part of me hoped we would see the top teams make use of the pressure being taken off them and just have a blast for these last few races, but so far we haven't really seen that. Aside from Lewis Hamilton out-qualifying Vettel in Korea, these two post-championship races have simply been a demonstration of F1 2011. Vettel wins from pole, Mark Webber gets off to a shaky start and ends up racing Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton bump into eachother, there are other little battles further down the field, with overtakes aided by DRS, and a McLaren finishes second.

That said, the new track seems to be really popular with drivers, and with less construction dust - weirdly you could see a clean line forming after a couple of laps, as if it was a wet race - it could play host to some pretty intense racing. They might want to make turns 5 to 7 slightly wider though, or keep it a challenge, as many drivers ended up skipping across the inside grass (by which I mean dust) through T7 and kicking up a big brown cloud. It's the section from there onwards where the track really comes alive though, with a fast and brutal chicane sending you towards a smoother version of Turn 8 at Turkey (that's the left-hand one with four apexes), through which you turn in, run wide as it tightens, and then fire the car out the exit on the second apex of sorts, shooting downhill a bit towards turns 13 and 14. T13 is a flowing left-hander, but T14 has one short, snappy apex, so you turn in hard and hit it hard, like the first Degner corner at Suzuka, then it's a swooping right-hander before you go over one of two DRS detection zones and turn a hard left onto the main straight (both long straights had a DRS Zone, the other activation point being through T3). Of course, you can't actually overtake anyone at any of these corners in an F1 car, because they don't require much braking and most of it only has one good line through it, but it must be great for qualifying. Where you can overtake, aside from after the DRS zones, is turn 3, which has a blind apex atop a small hill, but a very wide entry (much like T4), which allows drivers to take all kinds of lines in and hopefully improve overtakeability, if you will. Unfortunately, the dust was detrimental to that this year.

Before the race, there was a one-minute silence on the grid, with all the drivers, team bosses and officials gathering at the start/finish line, to remember Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli, two great racing drivers taken before their time. On Saturday, Jenson Button said of Wheldon "We used to do karting together, and Dan was always the one for us to beat", mentioning that he was "a great racing driver" and a great guy. All the drivers wore tributes of some kind, some with black arm bands, and all with a 'DW' logo and Simoncelli's number 58 on their helmets.

Race Start: Anyway, the race. The disadvantage of wide corner entries is that the grid piled into the first corner all at once, which caused some synchronised swimming and accidental friendly fire in the back half of the grid, who entered a traffic jam rather than a corner. Rubens Barrichello accidentally bumped into team mate Pastor Maldonado, breaking his own front wing and forcing him to pit on the first lap for a new one, while Kamui Kobayashi was pushed wide by this friendly fire and was tagged by Tim Glock when rejoining, spinning them both round (and untimately putting them both out, but while Kobayashi only made it to turn 3 before he had to park it and watch from the side lines, Glock got to lap 4 and pitted to retire a Virgin car with internal bleeding of some kind). Narain Karthikeyan then caught the rear wheel of Jarno Trulli in turn 3, spinning the green Team Lotus car in similar fashion. Further up the grid, Fernando Alonso tried to go round the outside of a slower-starting Mark Webber, but slithered on the construction dust and made no headway. Jenson Button got into Webber's slipstream down the long back straight after Turn 3 and managed to out-drag him into the braking zone to T4, without the aid of DRS, which of course doesn't come into effect until lap 3. Meanwhile, both Bruno Senna and Michael Schumacher made very good starts, with Bruno going from 14th to 10th and Michael going from 11th to 8th place. One of the high-qualifying Toro Rosso cars fell back from the top 10 because of this, after the Ferrari-powered "B-Team" cars managed 9th and 10th on Saturday. In the end Jaime Alguersuari managed to hold onto a points finish in 8th, whereas Sébastien Buemi retired for technical reasons on lap 24.

Battles Commence: Having passed the self-proclaimed "Number two driver" at Red Bull, Jenson Button was in no way out of the woods yet. Once DRS came into play, Mark Webber was right on him, trying a move down the outside into turn 4, a dive which, had it been down the inside, would've seen him past, alas Button was able to shut the proverbial door on him by holding his racing line and forcing Webber to back off or run very wide. By lap 10 they were still within a second of eachother. Meanwhile, Bruno Senna lost out to Jaime Alguersuari in the DRS zone, trying to fight back until they were forced into single file by turns 5-7, at which point Alguersuari's 10th place was secured. Buemi passed him on the pit straight as they entered lap 10, also using DRS. Bruno then complained about his KERS not working. On lap 14, Pastor Maldonado's Williams went into neutral and over-revved, ending his race as he parked it well out of the way inside turn 6. Whether the botched gear change was his doing or not is unclear.

First Pit Stops: On lap 16, Mark Webber came in for more Option tyres, followed by Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, who narrowly avoided tripping up a Red Bull pit crew member as he dived into his box for more options. Alonso was overtaken after rejoining by Michael Schumacher, who hadn't pitted yet. That didn't stop Alonso wanting to overtake the German, as he was losing time to Mark Webber in 5th place. He managed to pass Schumacher next time round, but had to get back in the slipstream of the faster Mercedes GP W02 before he could deploy DRS. He managed to get the job done though, and Schumi pitted that lap. Meanwhile, Jenson Button left the pits with his new Options comfortably ahead of Webber. Vettel then pitted without incident on lap 20.

Hamilton Versus Massa: On lap 23, Lewis Hamilton was able to close quite a gap to Felipe Massa after the Brazillian ran slightly wide in Turn 1 and slithered on that blasted construction dust that only makes one clean line through most corners. He chased him for the next lap, and then at turn 5 on lap 24 he was keen to use his extra speed out of T4 to squeeze up the inside of Massa, at a corner that isn't really wide or slow enoguh for overtaking, and the inevitable happened, as they connected and Massa spun round, wacking his left front wheel on Hamilton's front wing which pushed him straight, but he was now heading well off the track. Hamilton survived, claimed innocence, and pitted for a new front nose/wing. Massa then rejoined, but they both lost a few places in the process. His resulting stress meant that he then skipped across the very dusty grass inside T7 next lap. He and Hamilton were of course under investigation from the stewards. Meanwhile, Buemi's Toro Rosso stuttered to a halt at the same corner on lap 26, well off the road, but on the outside rather than inside. Thankfully there was no safety car.

By lap 30, the halfway point, the stewards decided that, for once, Felipe Massa was at fault, and he was given a drive-through penalty, which he served on lap 31 and exited two places ahead of Lewis Hamilton. That is, until he pitted again for a new set of Prime tyres and a new front wing, after his started shaking like an Indian singer's voice at high speed like it did in qualifying. To add insult to injury, on lap 34 he revisited qualifying again when he made the same mistake and took way too much kerb through T8/9 and snapped a suspension pushrod. It's easy to feel sorry for him, but why do it again after it killed you qualifying? The tall orange kerbs at that corner are inside of the normal red-and-whites, and are there to discourage drivers from trying to straighten that fast chicane out too much. I'm sure they're not meant to snap suspension arms, but still, if Hamilton can back out of going up the inside of T5 on someone else, why cna't Massa learn from his mistake? Alonso was then on camera and he didn't go near the tall orange kerbs.

Last Pit Stops, Finish: Mark Webber pitted in on lap 36 for Prime tyres, having run out of Options (in both senses), and after they proved to be "working", Alonso came in a lap later, exiting in front of him. Normally when Alonso and Webber are together on track we see some excellent professional racing, but this time it wasn't to be, even though they stayed close together up to the flag. Hamilton pitted on lap 46. Button then pitted without incident, as did Vettel, who still hand't lost the lead at any point. Michael Schumacher lasted until lap 51 out of 60 before putting primes on, managing to stay in 5th place ahead of his team mate Nico Rosberg. Behind them, Bruno Senna looked like he would score his second round of points since securing a seat in a Renault at Spa in the summer, but unfortunately he still had to make a mandatory change to Prime tyres, and when he did on lap 58, he dropped down to 12th place.

In the end, Sebastian Vettel won the race while setting the fastest lap on lap 60 out of 60, taking the chequered flag waved by cricket sensation Sachin Tendulkar, while Jenson Button came a solid second place again. At this race, Vettel set a new record for most laps lead in a season, beating Nigel Mansell's 92 laps. He said afterwards "I'm surprised there's a record left that didn't belong to Michael [Schumacher]". Well, there's one record of his that'll take some beating yet, even if Vettel stays on a winning streak. Fernando Alonso scored another podium by staying ahead of Mark Webber, while the two Mercedes GP cars finished 5th and 6th, ahead of a disappointed Lewis Hamilton (read: regular Lewis Hamilton). This finishing order was enough to secure McLaren 2nd in the Constructor's Championship. The remaining Toro Rosso finished one place above his qualifying position in 8th place, while Adrian Sutil scored two points for Force India at the team's first ever home Grand Prix (well, home to most of the employees and boss man Vijay Mallya, but they're actually based at Silverstone), and Sergio Pérez fought up from behind to clinch 10th place, having started in 20th.

Oh No De Di'in't! - After the race, of course, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa had some things to say, but not to eachother. Lewis was all like "He hasn't spoken to me for ages. After the one-minute silence, I made an effort and said 'good luck for the race' and he didn't say anything", and then Massa was all like "So this is trying to what? 'Have a good race' is not part of talking or whatever." OH SNAP. He didn't think it was sincere! Like, drama! When asked what he could do to "heal the rift" between him and Lewis he said "Nothing from me". All this suggests that, like, he all mad, but apparently "I don't have anything against him - nothing, zero." Has he simply given up on making amends with Lewis after apparently trying in Singapore? It sounds like someone needs to sit them both down at a table and get them talking so they can iron this out. Either this, or a proper rivalry will develop out of it, which can make for entertaining racing, and interviews. Well, we've already had some sass from Felipe, saying twice that Lewis "doesn't use his mind". Hmmm......

With more constructor's positions secured, and yet more records now belonging to Sebatian Vettel, F1 now takes its emotional baggage to Abu Dhabi, for 55 high-speed parade laps in an elaborate setting, which will take place on the weekend after next, on 12th-13th November 2011.

Results and points below, click to enlarge:

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