Thursday, April 23, 2009

Formula 1: Bits and pieces before Bahrain

Ferrari: Already into round 4 of FIA Formula 1 World Championship and yet there is still no prancing horse in sight. The Italian team, winner of countless Constructors’ trophy has already missed three chances to be in the podium in the 2009 season. Hounded by reliability problems lately, Ferrari has also been remiss in its aerodynamic package. You wouldn’t expect that in an outfit whose development team is bigger than the whole Red Bull F1 team. If Ferrari fails to deliver this weekend in the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix, this will be their worst start in decades. What a waste!

MacLaren-Mercedes: Inch by inch, as Lewis Hamilton’s car was fitted with his new double-decker diffuser, was how I describe the Briton’s climb into podium finishes. The British team, embarrassed by Brawn’s success with the same Mercedes engine as theirs, has been in the limelight again lately for having Hamilton admittedly lying to race stewards in an investigation after the Australian GP-- a bad way to start the show, ladies and gentlemen. But clearly it has not deterred MacLaren. The car has improved its pace from 1.2 seconds behind the nearest Brawn GP car to two hundreds of a second when new diffusers were installed.

Brawn GP: Basking in the glory that shines through the brilliance of Ross Brawn, British driver Jenson Button and Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, couldn’t help but smirk at the way things are going out for them—leading in the Constructors’ points and both drivers in the top 5 of the Driver’s points. What could be better than that! But alas, a weakness for wet tracks was revealed last week as both cars were outpaced by a double-diffuser-less Red Bull’s RB5.

Toyota and Williams Toyota: Both teams initially showed pace by having double-decker diffusers in their design in the opening of the 2009 season. But what Toyota converted to podium finishes, Williams could only do so well in practice sessions. German driver Nico Rosberg wows timesheets during practice but fails miserably during qualifying where grid position matters the most. Now the rest of the teams are redesigning their own diffusers and it looks like tough competition looms ahead.

Renault: The French team was excited to try their own version of split diffusers in double World Champion Fernando Alonso’s car and it really showed pace in qualifying during the Chinese Grand Prix but Alonso’s strategy that day proved to be difficult for the team as rain and safety car battled down the Spaniard’s chances when he pitted for fuel and reentered the race on last place. What a day!

Red Bull Renault: I may have posted negatively in my earlier write-ups about the appearance of today’s F1 cars but now I change my mind. Perhaps the finest looking car F1 ever produced to date is Red Bull’s RB5. With an aerodynamic package designed by the expertise of Adrian Newey, F1’s erstwhile technical guru, and powered by a 2.4-liter Renault V8, the young team showed pace and reliability despite having single diffusers by finishing a 1-2 in the Chinese GP last week. Newey concedes that a double-decker diffuser would be a great addition to the car but hints that such a design would have to be postponed until after Monaco as the RB5’s suspension is fully integrated into the current diffuser and replacing one would take weeks. Now that’s a car I can’t wait to see—an RB5 with a split diffuser leaving competition behind! Let’s wait and see.

Coming up: Bahrain.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Formula 1: Vettel pulls off phenomenal win

In a stunning display of brilliant error-free driving and team strategy, Red Bull Racing, probably having the best-looking car this year, finished a 1-2 in today's rain-soaked FIA Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai with young German driver, wet track specialist Sebastian Vettel, who started on pole, followed by teammate Australian Mark Webber. This was the first time Renault-powered Red Bull had two cars in the podium since the team's debut in 2005.

Jenson Button of Brawn GP, winner of the first two races of the season, finished 3rd with Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello in 4th place. Making up ground after being fitted with new double-decker diffusers, the McLaren-Mercedes duo of Heike Kovaleinen and Lewis Hamilton finished 5th and 6th.

Double World Champion Fernando Alonso of Renault, who started on 2nd place, finished 9th after obviously starting with a light fuel load, pitting in early with the race started from the back of the Mercedes ING safety car. The Spanish driver could no longer make up time after that when race officially started.

Ferrari's string of weekly bad lucks continued to haunt them as Felipe Massa, hoping to make a comeback, had a mechanical problem in his car and was unable to continue while the Flying Fin World Champion Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 12th. This is the Prancing Horse's worst start of the season in decades!

Sebastial Vettel, who first won his first Grand Prix last year also in the rain-soaked Italian GP, was unstoppable from pole to finish in his RB5 as even teammate Webber and Brawn driver Button could not keep up with the German's pace in the lake-filled tracks of Shanghai. Interestingly, none of the Red Bull cars racing today had double-decker diffuser designs but what the British-based team lacked it made up for its aerodynamically-designed front and rear wings and carbon fiber body.

Round 4 goes to Sakhir as Formula 1 shifts location to the Middle East in the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix come April 24th.

Formula 1: Vettel on pole in today's Chinese GP

German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel stormed his way through round 2 and 3 of qualifying yesterday to snatch pole position in this afternoon's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. Vettel, 21, the youngest driver ever to win a grand prix will be joined in the front row by Spanish Renault driver double World Champion and this blogger's sentimental favorite, Fernando Alonso. On the 2nd row will be Vettel's teammate, Australian Mark Webber followed by the two Brawn GP cars of Button and Barrichello on 4th and 5th place.

Interestingly, the British-based team Red Bull uses Renault engines while sister team Toro Rosso uses Ferrari.

The race will be the first time a Formula 1 car with a non double-decker diffuser design occupying the the first 3 positions on the grid as drivers race around this low to medium downforce, 5.451-km track shaped like a "shang" with the exact number of right and left turns.

But analysts say Brawn GP cars will catch up with the frontrunners in today's race as both Button and Barrichello qualified yesterday with heavy fuel loads. Ferrari and McLaren, still reeling from the FIA's ruling on the legality of split diffusers will be starting in the middle of the pack as engineers burn the midnight candle redesigning their own double-decker diffusers.

Both BMW cars of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were a disappointment as both failed to earn respectable places in the grid.

But finishes, not poles make up points. So for today's race, it's anybody's game.