Saturday, 5 April 2014

Bahrain Qualifying: A second ahead of the game...

The best thing about the Grand Prix in Bahrain is the certainty that there will be no rain. That is until we consider that Mercedes are shaping up to dominate the entire season and the absence of rain may mean that Hamilton and Rosberg can simply drive away from everyone else and take an easy win. Some might say that it is a little early to suggest that Mercedes have the season in the bag, but the start of the 2014 season is a complete opposite to the start of the 2012 season, in which we witnessed a different winner in all of the first seven races, and even last season was far less predictable.

As Q1 reached its half way point it was staggering to see the two Mercedes cars sitting at well over a second faster than everyone. Us F1 fans are a fickle bunch and we will get very bored very quickly, if the same team continues to outclass everyone else. Fortunately, many of the cars put in faster times than Hamilton and Rosberg just before the end of Q1, however it quickly became apparent that the only reason for this was that they had put on the more favourable Hard tyre. There was a ludicrous incident in the closing laps of the first session, when an over zealous Adrian Sutil decided to force Romain Grosjean off the circuit and, essentially, in to the desert. The move was a tad aggressive for a qualifying session and Sutil's excuse and justification was utterly pathetic. He'd better not use the same justification when appealing to the race stewards, or he might as well pack his bags and fly home now.

It appears as though Vettel and Ricciardo are actually alternating there luck from race to race, despite the fact I was only joking in a previous post. Sebastian Vettel tumbled out in Q2, putting himself in eleventh place for the race. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, Sebastian was extremely graceful in his post qualifying interview. That familiar grin was playing across his face as he diplomatically stated that he "just wasn't quick enough". In contrast, Ricciardo managed to bang in a third place qualifying lap, but he has a frustrating ten place grid penalty, which will hinder him massively again
. However, nobody was able to challenge the Mercedes cars, with both Lewis and Nico qualifying almost a second ahead of everybody else, and they are looking more and more dominant as the season gets underway.

Its nice to know that we can all watch Formula One free of guilt, as these hybrid, environmentally friendly racing cars hurtle round a circuit lit by thousands of energy guzzling light bulbs. It's fantastically contradictory and makes a complete farce of the whole eco-friendly F1 generation, but at least the sport can pretend its doing its bit.

The Grid:
6Nico RosbergMercedes1
44Lewis HamiltonMercedes2
77Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes3
11Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes4
7Kimi RäikkönenFerrari5
22Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes6
19Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes7
20Kevin MagnussenMcLaren-Mercedes8
14Fernando AlonsoFerrari9
1Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault10
27Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes11
26Daniil KvyatSTR-Renault12
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing-Renault13
25Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Renault14
21Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari15
8Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault16
13Pastor MaldonadoLotus-Renault17
10Kamui KobayashiCaterham-Renault18
17Jules BianchiMarussia-Ferrari19
9Marcus EricssonCaterham-Renault20
4Max ChiltonMarussia-Ferrari21
99Adrian SutilSauber-Ferrari22

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Malaysian Grand Prix: Deja vu in Sepang.

As I look back at the Malaysian Grand Prix, I have two thoughts. The first one is, at least the rain stayed away. The second is, haven't we seen this before? Over the winter break the F1 regulators have made massive changes to the rules, in a bid to mix the field up a bit, create a level playing field, and inject even more excitement in to the sport. So, how great to witness the result of those efforts, in the opening races of the season. Oh wait... Red Bull Racing and Mercedes at the front, Mercedes taking first and second, the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel taking third? That was all too reminiscent of the result here last season. I can hear the echoes of disgruntled F1 fans already, 'F1 is boring', 'Always the same teams winning'. It's only a matter of time.

The scary thing is the huge gulf between some of the teams. It was the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton that provided us with the best example of this. He left the pits, after his first stop, and steamed past Hulkenberg, in the Force India. We can only hope that the lagging teams can draw closer, in the wake of the technical developments that always come before the European stint of the season. Last season I championed the Force India team, however this season I have a new team to keep an eye on. We're only two races in, but it is clear that Caterham have come on in leaps and bounds. It was hugely impressive watching the Ferrari of Kimi Raikonnen struggling to overpower Ericsson's Caterham. Even the Caterham drivers must have been questioning their great pace, as the trackside marshals erroneously waved blue flags at them. I really hope they can keep the pressure on the teams in the middle of the field, in the coming races.

This week it was Ricciardo's turn to shoulder the weight of disappointment in the Red Bull team. He was looking strong, albeit behind his teammate Vettel, when a mistake during his pit stop left him sitting forlornly, waiting for the pit crew to roll him back to his pit box. It seemed that, after seating his left front wheel correctly and actually attaching it to his car, he might salvage something from the race. However, it wasn't to be, as he suffered a front wing failure, which resulted in him being more than a lap down on the rest of the field and destined to retire. It was unclear whether his retirement was down to a car issue or simply the total loss of motivation, but it really didn't matter to the fans.

McLaren were surprisingly far off the pace throughout the race. It's a little confusing when you consider that  they have the same engine as the Mercedes team. Much like monkeys with typewriters, McLaren just don't seem to know what to do with the Mercedes engine. Perhaps with an infinite number of staff McLaren could pull something off, but then they would need an infinite number engines and that just wouldn't be feasible for Mercedes.

In retrospect, the Malaysian Grand Prix wasn't much to write home about this year. I found myself praying for the Mercedes pit crew to make a mistake, during Lewis' pit stop. Unfortunately, it all went smoothly. There was talk of rain, as we approached the half way point. I prayed to the Gods for that to transpire, but the God's, it seems, are Mercedes fans and were happy for the Grand Prix to be a foregone conclusion. In all fairness, if it had rained, we'd all still be waiting for this race to start.

Check out The F1 Spectator Malaysian GP podcast and listen to The F1 Spectator himself.

The Result:
144Lewis HamiltonMercedes561:40:25.974125
26Nico RosbergMercedes56+17.3 secs318
31Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault56+24.5 secs215
414Fernando AlonsoFerrari56+35.9 secs412
527Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes56+47.1 secs710
622Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes56+83.6 secs108
719Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes56+85.0 secs136
877Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes56+85.5 secs184
920Kevin MagnussenMcLaren-Mercedes55+1 Lap82
1026Daniil KvyatSTR-Renault55+1 Lap111
118Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault55+1 Lap15
127Kimi RäikkönenFerrari55+1 Lap6
1310Kamui KobayashiCaterham-Renault55+1 Lap20
149Marcus EricssonCaterham-Renault54+2 Lap22
154Max ChiltonMarussia-Ferrari54+2 Lap21
Ret3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing-Renault49+7 Lap5
Ret21Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari35+21 Laps12
Ret99Adrian SutilSauber-Ferrari32+24 Laps17
Ret25Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Renault18+38 Laps9
Ret17Jules BianchiMarussia-Ferrari8+48 Laps19
Ret13Pastor MaldonadoLotus-Renault7+49 Laps16
DNS11Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes0+56 Laps14