Archive | April 2013

Perez’s coming of age

Sergio Perez faced stern criticism at the end of the Chinese Grand Prix from journalists, fans and his team bosses for his lack of “fight” when dicing with other drivers for position.

The young Mexican yielded position to several drivers with ease, and something that is unbefitting for a Mclaren driver to do. Quickly after the race was complete, Martin Whitmarsh took Sergio aside and told him to “toughen up”, the Team Principal said: “I think he’s been very polite so far this year; I think he needs to toughen up, I think he’s been generous in allowing people to get past him.”

In Bahrain the 23 year old Mexican talent repayed his boss handsomely with a storming drive from 12th on the grid to finish well above his team mate in 6th come race day. His duel with Jenson Button was controversial, despite earning plaudits from press and public alike. The two touched cars no more than five times during Sunday’s race, with Perez eventually blasting past his more experienced team mate.

Button battles Perez

Button battles Perez

Later in the race, Sergio came to battle with two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, after making it past the Spaniard he remained ahead by placing his Mclaren on the racing line at Turn 4 and ruthlessly forcing Alonso wide off the circuit warranting a call of distress from Fernando to his team. On the final lap ‘Checo’ also made it past Red Bulls Mark Webber to claim 6th position.

If ever there was a time to respond, Sergio Perez mastered it perfectly stepping up to the plate come the race. He not only robustly held off drivers from overtaking him, but he went wheel-to-wheel with two megatrons of Formula One, the two adversaries he needed to overtake to prove is worth to the world, his World Champion team mate and the most fruitful and wisest driver Fernando Alonso.

He will now have to keep up this top form not just for the next race in Spain, but for the rest of his Mclaren career to prove his many doubters wrong and to assert his worthiness of a seat for the Woking based team.

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Lack of in-race punishments

Have you noticed the lack of punishments for drivers who make mistakes during the race in 2013? Most cases are now investigated after the race and dealt with that way. It has come about after secret meetings between Jean Todt of the FIA, Charlie Whiting and all the F1 drivers.

They have all decided that every small touch or small incident in the race, should be investigated afterwards. This is for two reasons, one is so it does not upset the race itself, it does not ruin the outcome of perhaps a great battle on track and the other reason is to promote extra overtaking. Drivers were beginning to feel that if they get punished each time they touch a car, there is no longer the need to take the risk, they may as well sit back and wait for either the car in front to make an error, or collect the points they are currently earning from their position, instead of risking a drive through penalty for any calamitous manoeuvre.

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The race organisers and stewards have implemented the new provisions in the first four races consistently. There have been few drive-through penalties and the grid displacements that we saw at Bahrain were due to aggressive driving. Especially in the case of Esteban Gutierrez who completely destroyed Adrian Sutil’s race. So the main punishments are now being handed down from the FIA because they are preventable collisions.

In Bahrain we saw an incident at Turn 2 with Webber and Rosberg, to which only a warning was handed down from the FIA to Webber and also between Sergio Perez and Alonso at the exit of Turn 4. The FIA took the view that Perez was in front and inclined to take the racing line, it was Fernando’s fault for trying to overtake around the outside of the corner. Sky F1’s Martin Brundle also agreed, “He [Alonso] went on the racing line. Why should he make room for Alonso on the left side when Fernando tried it anyway, he has to stop to take into account that it is bumpy on the sand next to the track.”

Button and Perez battle it out

Button and Perez battle it out

The FIA also took a similar approach towards Perez with his incident with Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn complaining that Perez was moving in the braking zone, but the FIA took the view that he was ahead and therefore could take whichever line he suited.

It now means that drivers will be able to fight and go into combat with much more risk in 2013.

Kubica back in F1 Sim

Robert Kubica has returned to a Formula One simulator to test his own skills once more behind the steering wheel of an F1 car. In recent weeks the Pole has been to the Mercedes factory in Brackley to explore his motor skills in his hand. The process is a long one, with the aim of the 28 year old to try and get back into racing in the pinnacle of motorsport.

Robert with Wolff

Robert with Wolff

Kubica tested in Mercedes DTM cars over the winter and although a drive did not come to fruition, citing that it was too soon especially given that he drove around most of the circuit with just one hand on the steering wheel, he has kept his ties with Mercedes, and in particular Toto Wolff, intact. It is believed that Toto has been the leading driving force behind Robert’s recovery and his subsequent training in the Mercedes simulator, after witnessing his test in a DTM car earlier this year. Insiders at Brackley have suggested that Robert still struggling with mobility and arm movements inside the tight and narrow cockpits.

The role that Mercedes could play in his future is unclear, as both drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are tied to the team for the foreseeable future and the Polish driver will not be able to participate in the Young Drivers Test later in the year, as he is not considered a rookie, on account for his 76 starts in F1, although a possible separate deal may be struck with other teams for him to test a two or three year old Mercedes car with either promotional ‘filming’ Pirelli rubber or GP2-spec tyres on the car.

In recent months, he has been trying out rally cars in the WRC, and although he has flashes of speed and brilliance, it has often come to a premature end, either by mechanical failure or driver error.

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Alonso on top in FP3

Fernando Alonso led the time sheets after Free Practice 3 in Bahrain.

Sebastian Vettel came home in 2nd place ahead of Webber, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Grosjean, Sutil, Di Resta, Rosberg, Hulkenburg who rounded out the top 10.

The only significant incident of the session was when Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari spun on the exit of Turn 2 and 3 after failing to control an oversteery moment. Toward the end of the session, Vettel had a small tiff with Charles Pic into the last corner.

When the session was complete, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes appeared to suffer a left rear suspension/track rod failure.

Raikkonen completes Free Practice 2 on top

Kimi Räikkönen completed Fridays action at the top of the time sheets.

The Lotus driver set a time of 1m34.154 beating the Red Bull pair of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Fernando Alonso finished 4th ahead of Scot Paul di Resta and team mate Felipe Massa.

Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Lewis Hamilton rounded off the top 10.

Button completed the day as the fastest Mclaren driver in 11th. Vergne was 12th followed by Perez, Ricciardo and Hulkenburg. Williams completed a disappointing day down in 16th and 17th. Van der Garde finished the day at the bottom of the time sheets.

The session got underway with plenty of cars heading out to complete early lap times.

With 40 minutes of the session to go, teams began their longer runs on both sets of tyres and heavier fuel loads yielding no further improvements in lap times.

A few drivers ran off the circuit with the most notable incident coming from Esteban Gutierrez who over steered his Sauber into the front end of Charles Pics Caterham, puncturing the Mexicans front left tyre.

Massa leads Free Practice 1

Felipe Massa started the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend in good form by going fastest after Free Practice 1, beating team mate Fernando Alonso, who was second, by a little under a tenth of a second.

Nico Rosberg finished 3rd ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Paul di Resta, Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Sutil in 8th, Räikkönen in 9th and Grosjean in 10th rounded out the top 10.

Perez finished the day in 11th ahead of Bottas, Hamilton, the Toro Rosso’s of Vergne and Ricciardo finished 14th and 15th respectively, Maldonado, Hulkenburg, Gutierrez finished 16th, 17th and 18th. Charles Pic managed to outpace returnee Heikki Kovalainen at the bottom of the field, whilst Gonzalez finished last in the Marussia after suffering with a gearbox issue.

There were no obviously incidents throughout the session, with just a few minor lock ups and excursions off the track.

Friday Analysis: Shanghai

The talk of the paddock after Fridays two practice sessions were no longer about the Red Bull driver fall out – but instead the high degradation of the tyres brought to Shanghai.Each tyre in the Pirelli range have all been made a step softer for 2013 and have brought higher wear rates and higher degradation at all of the Grands Prix so far, much to the chagrin of most drivers and teams. In China the teams are experiencing massive front left graining, all due to the Shanghai International Circuits long right handers, including Turns 1, 2, 8 and 13. These turns are putting a huge strain on the Pirelli soft compound tyre more so than the medium tyre.

Perez crashed into the barrier at the pit lane entry

Perez crashed into the barrier at the pit lane entry

The softer tyre is also significantly quicker over one lap; early predictions suggest it could be as much as 1-1.5 seconds per lap, meaning it will be the ideal Qualifying tyre for Saturday’s Q3 session. Jenson Button actually went so far to proclaim the soft tyre was the “perfect tyre over one lap, it’s more like a Qualifying tyre.” The tyre did pose a problem for Jenson though when at the end of a 13 lap stint on a relatively high fuel load, he locked under braking for the Turn 14 hairpin and the tyre tread dissolved on the track surface, leaving Button to crawl back to the pits with a slowly delaminating tyre. Despite the softer tyres ability to deliver one quick lap, the pace fades away very quickly. A closer look of a 9 lap soft tyre stint during Free Practice 2 looked like this:

Lap 1: 1m 48.5

Lap 2: 1m 43.9

Lap 3: 1m43.4

Lap 4: 1m 44.1

Lap 5: 1m 44.3

Lap 6: 1m 46.2

Lap 7: 1m 46.8

Lap 8: 1m 48.3

Lap 9: 1m 49.5

These times are suggesting that the tyres are very quick straight out of the box. Managing the tyres first lap pace ensures that the stronger lap times have lasted for longer, for example by taking a slower lap 1 pace, the driver has managed to get his fastest lap on lap three of the run. But once the meat on the tyre has been used for one or two quick runs, it enters a realm of no return. The tyre drops off very quickly, and although manageable at first, towards the end of the stint (just lap 8) the tyre will be useless and in need of changing given its lack of pace. The simulations all suggest that after a 3 lap run on the softer tyre in Quali 3 on Saturday, the tyre may only be serviceable up to lap 7, anything after will result in huge loss of grip and subsequently, time.

Vettel was unhappy with the lack of pace to the frontrunners

Vettel was unhappy with the lack of pace to the frontrunners

The issue of safety could now be where the teams voice their concern to Pirelli. Several teams like Red Bull in Malaysia have already said the tyres are impeding the cars overall speed, as the drivers are having to drive slower to preserve the rubber. Free Practice 2 in China saw Jenson Buttons tyre delaminate and Lewis Hamilton hitting out by saying, “The life of the tyre, it’s the worst I’ve ever experienced with bits flying off all over the place…It doesn’t feel like the right tyre for this circuit. I did a couple of laps and the tyres just disintegrated.” Other drivers too have voiced their concerns and rued the rubber brought to Shanghai. However Pirelli boss Paul Hembrey hit back by saying the softer tyre was doing as it is intended, “If the medium did the same then I’d be concerned, but it doesn’t,” he said. “It’s a qualifying tyre. It’ll be a bit like Melbourne I guess where the top teams are going to be forced to qualify on the softer tyre because it’s such a performance advantage and within the first 10 laps they are going to have to pit.”

The medium compound tyre has a more structured wear rate and will be the ideal tyre to last around 15-20 laps during the race. This will be the tyre the drivers will want to be on for most of the race, despite its lack of grip compared to the softer tyre it can still offer a lot of durability. Enough to stretch to a risky two stop strategy.

The soft compound drop-off is very large and will have a significant impact on the race come Sunday. All of the top 10 qualifiers will all be on the yellow marked softer compound, because of the significant advantage it will yield in Q3, they will require that tyres grip to hoist them up the grid. Those starting from 11th backwards, will almost all certainly start on the white marked medium compound and try as hard as possible to eke out towards a two stop strategy, they will also be hoping to pick off a few of the front running cars whilst they are getting serviced in the pit lane.

Felipe Massa was fastest in FP2

Felipe Massa was fastest in FP2

We could end up seeing a scenario come race day where the weakest tyre wins. What that means is, whoever has to pit first may well come out on top over the long run, despite having the disadvantage of pitting so early. This is due to the overlap that they benefit from when receiving new rubber. Say a driver, in this instance Nico Rosberg was running third just 3 seconds behind the theoretical race leader Felipe Massa. Nico could pit on lap 7, a seemingly early and stupid lap to pit, but only for him to benefit from fresh medium tyres, which could run quicker than Massa’s Ferrari. After just 1 lap Nico would take the lead of the race, the degradation of the softer tyre really can be as much as 3 seconds a lap, if you stay out and get it wrong.

All the talk of extreme tyre graining, wear and degradation could all be elementary of course. We have seen in the past extreme tyre conditions on Friday for the scenario to change completely for the rest of the weekend. Given that the track conditions should remain largely the same as we are not expecting any rain over the course of the weekend and there are no significant support races to upset the chemistry of the track surface, there may well be a track evolution which could favour both compounds of the Italian manufacturer’s tyre. This would leave all previous criticisms unfounded and a fairly undramatic and straightforward race…but then nothing is straightforward in Formula One.