Saturday, 20 April 2013

Bahrain Qualifying: The Force of India!

Lewis Hamilton began the day with a five place grid penalty, after having to replace his gearbox as a result of a rear suspension failure. Lewis joined a number of drivers who found themselves looking at grid place penalties, which was destined to make Bahrain qualifying extremely confusing and quite frustrating.

The weekend in Bahrain was overshadowed, once again, by controversy. Bahrain and the Bahrain Grand Prix continue to be plagued by unrest, as citizens clash with the authorities and protests are held against the hosting of the event. Its a difficult situation in The Kingdom and opinions vary across the board. Rather innapropriately the FIA and FOM seem to be of the opinion that racing cars are as important as people's freedom and so the running of the Bahrain Grand Prix is always in the balance. The race organisers regularly make the wrong decision to go ahead with the race, amid the riots and protests, instead of shelving the stage until the problems in the area have been resolved.

In the first session of qualifying it was very much a two horse race, between Ferrari and Red Bull. Force India were once again in the mix and as the season progresses, their impressive form is becoming less and less of a surprise. There were very few surprises by the end of of Q1, but one or two surprises crept in during the second session. One of those surprises came in the shape of McLaren's difficulties, which were compounded by Jenson Button's apparent elation at only just making it in to the Q3 shootout. Perez in the second McLaren car wasn't so lucky as Jenson and qualified in twelfth, outside of the top ten. Force India continued to show good pace and both drivers made it in to the top ten shootout. Dare I say that Force India might be closer to contending the title than McLaren.

Many of the drivers left it till the final moments of Q3 to put in their fast laps. A few of them bailed out of their fast laps right at the end and it was Nico Rosberg who blew everyone away, showing that Mercedes definitely have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and the Red Bulls. Force India didn't quite live up to the expectations of hopeful neutrals, only achieving seventh and eighth. Unfortunately, this is where the confusion ensues, as the plethora of grid penalties means that the lineup will actually be very different to what we saw at the end of the session. For me, the most important thing is being able to gauge the pace of the teams. Force India look strong again, Mercedes look very strong and Ferrari and Red Bull are predictably competitive.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Chinese Grand Prix: a tyreing day in Shanghai

Pirelli tyres played a massive part once again, but excitement is what F1 is all about and Pirelli bring that. If the tyres were predictable, then the teams would all choose the same tyres, at the same time, and we would be left with a relative procession, complete with scheduled pit stops. Approaching the closing stages of the race it became apparent that Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, each had to make one more stop, to use the soft tyre. Soon after that realisation it became apparent that on fresh tyres their pace would be greatly increased. What transpired was a a nail biting finish, in which Button passed Massa and then found that he had to defend against the Brazilian, whilst Vettel proceeded to hunt Lewis Hamilton down and unbelievably made up around thirteen seconds in two laps. He actually finished just two hundredths of a second behind the Brit, with Lewis only just holding on to the well deserved third podium place.

Sebastian managed to salvage fourth place from the difficult ninth that he qualified in. Webber was less fortunate in his attempt at salvaging something from his torrid qualifying result. As a consequence of running out of fuel in the qualies, Mark was forced to start from the pit lane. He began on the soft tyre, which gave him the opportunity to pit after the first lap and go on to the harder tyre for the remainder of the race. However, he ruined the race for himself when he took a wild dive up the inside of Vergne, where there was a limited passing opportunity, and damaged his front wing forcing him to pit again. His luck worsened fatally when, in his pit stop, his right rear tyre was not attached properly and the Aussie had to retire from the race.

It was a race packed with incident, with a number of drivers making contact with each other. Sutil had a bump with his team mate, Di Resta, on the first lap, which almost ended both their races. A few laps later Sutil then became involved in an incident that was completely out of his control, when Gutierrez came careening down to the final hairpin. Gutierrez took off his own front right wheel and, in the process, caused terminal damage to the rear wing and rear suspension of Sutil's car. Some have called it Karma, I think that's a little harsh.

The race win went to Alonso, who was clearly over the moon about the result. It's rare to see such a reaction from the Spaniard, but with Ferrari's preseason pace being below par, the whole team will be relieved to find that they are still one of the strong title contenders. Kimi Raikonnen had another solid performance in his competitive Lotus, finishing in second. Mercedes looked strong as well, despite Hamilton being unable to hold his lead against the Ferrari's, in the opening laps, and Rosberg having to retire mid race. Their pace looked good and it will be interesting to watch them peg back the front runners in future races. The big success story for me was Ricciardo, in the Toro Rosso, who carried his qualifying performance in to the race to achieve his best finish in Formula One, so far. He finished in a respectable seventh position after qualifying seventh. It seems that it might be shaping up to be the season of the underdog.