2017 Australian Grand Prix: A Measured Response

The new regulations presented themselves with a few pros, but some deeply stark cons. It was great to see the drivers enjoying the grip and sensation of pushing every lap, but agonisingly discouraging to see the cars struggle in dirty air once they reached within 2.5 seconds of cars in front of them. The new, wider, harder tyre compounds witnessed cars on the limit through every corner on every lap, but it meant the race was restricted to one stoppers, so strategy was indistinguishable throughout the field. Fernando Alonso stated the drivers had to be incredibly sharp in their responses to any tank slappers or slides, “So you have half a tenth of a second to react. Last year you had four seconds – in the corner you could take a coffee in those cars!”

Whilst last year’s narrow track chassis combined with fragile Pirelli compounds proved monotonous and frustrating for the drivers, at least spectators were treated to close racing with opportunity for passes albeit at corner speeds adjacent to Formula 2. This cars have not only seen dramatic rise in corner speeds, but also drastically reduced braking distances, much more aggressive steering lock approaches, earlier re-application of throttle responses on corner exits, increased acceleration out of braking zones and heavily multiplied drag levels.

So what is the solution? It would be egregious to return to last year’s slower regulations, that was dismissed by fans, drivers and personnel alike as mickey mouse-like and regressive. However, a number of options for 2018 need to be considered and these include:

  • An increased power unit capacity, with a switch to either 2.0L- 2.4L V6/V8 turbo hybrids or 3.5L- 4.0L V10 naturally-aspirated internal combustion engines (although the latter option has been ruled void by FIA president Jean Todt)
  • A removal of the multiple elements on the front wings, with a rule mandating that only two separate elements with a single slot gap separating them. This is highly recommended, as this is a probable solution to the issue of the dramatically increased turbulence the cars have been suffering in the 2017 specs
  • A narrowing of the chassis from 2 metres to 1.8 metres, in order to decrease drag and force the size of the wings to be reduced by 10%.

Some fans heavily bemoaned the durable tyre compounds reducing the number of pit stops to just one during this year’s Australian GP, but the sight of Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg having confidence in their tyres to endure moving offline to overtake an ailing Fernando Alonso without last year’s worries of regular flat-spotting was very promising.

However, there also needs to be a technical change which can adversely affect the balance of the cars. Of course, some may argue that the sight of drivers losing the rear end of the cars may occur more commonly, as seen by Jolyon Palmer’s and Daniel Ricciardo’s crashes last weekend. However, others have argued drivers will eventually become familiarised with the handling and the limits in which they can extend the boundaries of their machinery. With that in mind, it is highly likely the necessity for the drivers to attack to maximum will see the margins between the top drivers and the merely good extend to much wider in comparison to last year: the time gaps between Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, Renault’s Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer & Williams’ Felipe Massa and rookie Lance Stroll are proof of how much talent and experience will count this year. This is something that will be welcomed by certain fans, who have admonished cars of the past five years as little better than souped up GP2 cars.

The sight of at least a dozen elements on the front wings has had some fans criticising the technical aspect of the sport having become esoteric. Former prominent F1 supremos such as Flavio Briatore have been openly scathing in their criticisms about these issues, stating clearly that the sport should prioritise entertainment for viewers over what he saw as a self-indulgent pet project for engineers. The loss of downforce through the removal of elements and narrowing of cars and wings could be compensated with the return of ground-effects, albeit with a FIA-standardised venturi-shaped floor which every team must fit to the underneath of their chassis.

Practice on Friday saw Mercedes domination, which many saw as sad harbinger of what may follow this season. Non-Mercedes fans’ worst fears of a fourth consecutive seasons appeared depressingly real, but Saturday displayed the hallmarks of a Ferrari challenge. Although Lewis Hamilton grabbed the 62nd pole position in his 189th attempt, Sebastian Vettel hauled his scarlet Ferrari within 0.268 seconds of the Mercedes. It proved to be a miracle as qualifying was ran in mild conditions, with a sprinkle of rain appearing in the early minutes of Q3, which had threatened to kill off competition for pole ten minutes early.

Sunday saw Daniel Ricciardo ominously break down in front of his home crowd on a warm-up lap, thanks to an electronic sensor locking his transmission in sixth gear. He was fortunate the rescue crew extricated his stricken Red Bull and returned it back to the pits, but when he re-ignited his Renault power unit, his car had already been lapped twice. Toro Rosso stablemate Daniil Kvyat faced the threat of an extraordinary third consecutive DNS in-as-many-events at Melbourne due to a fire extinguisher emptying itself, but his mechanics saved his bacon in prompt manner. Nico Hulkenberg embarrassingly parking his Renault two inches ahead of his demarcated grid slot, enforcing a second formation lap, which may have frayed a few anticipatory nerves. The race start was clean, but the collision between Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson at Turn 3 was the result of the Dane clipping his rear right tyre over the kerb, causing a sudden tank-slapper that left him nowhere to go but clobber the startled Sauber driver.

The race for the lead was a cat-and-mouse affair between Hamilton and Vettel. Taking a cue out of the 2016 strategy book, the Briton pitted early on lap 17, as the Mercedes tacticians naively believed the undercut would work like last year despite Hamilton still having 30% tread remaining on his first stint compounds. With clean air to scythe through, Vettel duly capitalised, whilst Hamilton emerged behind a beguiled Max Verstappen, who made his struggling Red Bull as wide as possible for five laps before the Briton inevitably used DRS to speed past. Unfortunately for Mercedes, Vettel pulled enough of a margin so that when he cleared a confused Lance Stroll and pitted, he had a comfortable enough margin which he never relinquished. Hamilton would spend the remainder of the race complaining of dirty air, something which his Mercedes cars of previous years undoubtedly proved inferior in terms of dealing with in comparison to the opposition (but rarely mattered due to its absolute domination). With the improvements Ferrari have made intertwined with the new regulations, this is an issue which will provide many headaches at Brackley during breaks between races.

Valtteri Bottas fell progressively behind in the initial stint, but his second stint proved more productive, where he eventually finished less than 1.5 seconds behind his illustrious team-mate. Kimi Raikkonen, sadly, seemed to flounder as the race progressed, as fifteen laps from the race’s end his arch-nemesis of last year, Max Verstappen, closed in ominously, but could not even attempt to facilitate a consideration to overtake the embattled Finn due to the excessive turbulence in following the wake of the rejuvenated Ferrari package. The Iceman’s P4 is a solid start, but already his critics were condemning his performance, slamming it as half-arsed, lazy and other slurs which have become all-too-commonly aimed at the 2007 world champion.

An “un-retired” Felipe Massa drove as if he’d never retired, as he brought home a vital 8 points. Motivation will be key for the 35-year-old Brazilian, as Williams cannot be sure his dilettante team-mate Lance Stroll is capable of scoring points whatsoever judging by his underwhelming Grand Prix debut. Running 13th, the young French-Canadian eventually parked his car in the pits with failing brakes, but whether this was a genuine mechanical gremlin or a result of his inexperience with handling carbon F1 brake discs remains to be seen.

Despite an overweight new VJM10 chassis, where drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were forced to lose weight before the race, they respectively finished 7th & 10th, proving the Silverstone squad had not regressed on last year’s remarkable results. Toro Rosso debuted their STR11s with drivers Carlos Sainz & Daniil Kvyat finishing eighth & ninth, however both questioned the handling and balance of their chassis throughout the weekend, so tweaks could be forthcoming.

Stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi drove an impressive Grand Prix debut, admitting he had pace to spare after finishing P12 due to lack of experience with this year’s durable Pirelli compounds. Hulkenberg tried to overtake Ocon in the closing laps, but yet proved an umpteenth driver unimpressed with the dirty air produced in the wake of a fellow competitor. Stoffel Vandoorne finished P13 and last, clearly unable to adapt to his MCL32’s dreadful package, as his far smoother driving style could not correct the understeering tendencies which his illustrious team-mate Alonso has famously combated with stunning success thanks to an infamously aggressive initial turn-in. The Spaniard had been running an awe-inspiring P10 before debris caught under his car’s floor would leave him as a sitting duck for the advances of Ocon & Hulkenberg. A resultant broken floor would force an unsurprising retirement from Alonso, who made no secret of his frustration at McLaren & Honda’s apparent regression in development over the winter.

The Turn 3 incident between Magnussen & Ericsson would see the Dane retire 11 laps from the end with suspension damage, whilst the Swede would soldier on with hydraulics damaged in the incident that failed after 21 laps. Daniel Ricciardo would see his car retire after 25 laps, thanks to a fuel pressure issue unrelated to his pre-race electronic sensor failure or his crash in qualifying the previous day.

Jolyon Palmer, who had the weekend from hell, retired with his brake-by-wire system failing to register his car’s electronics and hydraulics together properly after 15 laps. Star of qualifying Grosjean saw a water leak end his day with just 13 laps completed, having started 6th, an all-time best for Haas.

Test overview: Mercedes and Ferrari in front of Red Bull

thejudge13

With the final test all wrapped up it is time to predict what we can expect in two weeks time. For me Australia can’t come soon enough. So is it possible to draw a conclusion from the tests? Lets try.

First things first: Speed!
The fastest lap of these wintertests was set by Kimi Räikkönen with a time of 1:18.634. Compared to last years time (Also set by Räikkönen in his Ferrari) of 1:22.765, that’s an improvement of 4.131 seconds. Not the, by the FIA, promised 5 seconds, but then again I am fairly certain we haven’t seen any team give it their all, sandbagging is part of the game. And times in testing are almost completely useless. As Craig put it earlier this week: “Ferrari might have only had a teacup of Shell in their tank.”
Ferrari’s impressions.
The overall impression, for me (yes, I am a Vettel…

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Reaction to Joey Barton vs. Lewis Hamilton

http://www.f1racinggrid.co.uk/reaction-joey-bartons-criticism-hamilton/

Two days ago, Lewis Hamilton won the 2014 SPOTY award and a day later, QPR midfielder, Joey Barton (who I guess is not the Mercedes driver’s biggest fan), took to Twitter to criticise the double world champion.

Take a look at what he tweeted:

I’ve written this post to set Barton’s facts straight. I don’t want to say that the midfielder is an idiot as I’m not that type of person. However, it was a coincidence that I read an article in the 14th December 2014 issue of the Sunday Times Style magazine as the racer reveals where he pays his tax. On Page 22, Hamilton said, “What people don’t realise is that I pay tax here (in England), but I don’t earn all of my money here.” He then continued with, “I race in 19 different countries and I pay in several different places, and I pay a lot here as well. I am contributing to the country and not only that, I help to keep a team of more than 1,000 people employed. I’m a part of a much bigger picture.”

Lewis Hamilton

So there’s the evidence in a nutshell for you. I just wanted to show Hamilton’s side of the story and that Barton is incorrect in his tweet.

McLaren Renault?

MCL32 Analysis brought to you by TJ13 Forensics contributer Joao Lamberio McLaren unveiled their charger for 2017 with a great deal of fanfare and tumultuous change. New rules, hope, livery, engine, boss and a new car. Can McLaren finally rekindle their lost former glories with the newly nomenclatured MCL32? Uniquely, the nose of the car has […]

via 2017 McLaren Honda now McLaren Renault? — thejudge13

Newey baffled by Ferrari technical detail

Brought to you by TJ13 Forensics contributer Joao Lamberio Ferrari have a ton of pressure on their shoulders for 2017, and Sergio Marchionne will not abide another year without a proper challenge to the Silver Arrows. The SF70H represents Tifosi hopes, and from the early running it’s looking very promising. The lower wider stance certainly gives […]

via Newey baffled by Ferrari technical detail — thejudge13

Thirty years on – Alain Prost’s finest drive? And not the one you think

https://www.motorsportweek.com/news/id/13143?id=13143

It’s human nature that it’s the final showdown we remember. The big finish. The crescendo that remains ringing in our ears as we walk away.

But often – in F1 at least – it was the one before that contained the grander shift. Not only of the mathematics but also of the mood. But readily it gets forgotten about. Think of Kimi Raikkonen’s stunning late seizing of the title in 2007 in Interlagos; Lewis Hamilton’s mysterious delay and all. Yet it was actually the round before in China that did more for Kimi. As I said it’s human nature – as one with experience in market research I’m well aware of what the trade calls ‘recency effects’.

Perhaps reflecting the same thing when a few years back the sport made its most recent fatuous attempt to ‘ban’ team orders they seemed to conclude laterally that orders in the final round were actually OK, as if it had some kind of stand-alone status. Plenty mused that actually all rounds count towards your points total…

And so it is too with the astonishing title showdown of 1986 in Adelaide that we’re almost exactly 30 years on from. That in which three drivers had a chance, and after a gripping and corkscrew-plotted finale the least likely of them sneaked through to snatch the championship – Alain Prost so doing between the two warring Williams-Honda pilots of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

Even now some say it’s the last time the F1 world crown was won in other than the best machinery. Whatever the achievement was magnificent, and likely even Prost’s greatest glory of all.

He [Prost] remained in title contention, because he unfailingly got the maximum from his car, because his racecraft was without equal – Nigel Roebuck

No doubt with the 30th anniversary there will be plenty of retrospectives, and indeed Motor Sport magazine just named this one as the finest F1 race ever. But in Nigel Roebuck’s article outlining what happened that day he reminded us of the round that preceded it too, the Mexican Grand Prix. It was at least as important, not least for the eventual champion Prost.

The TAG engine in the back of his McLaren did not provide close to the power of the Honda that the Williams drivers could count on. “He [Prost] remained in title contention” said legendary scribe Roebuck, “because he unfailingly got the maximum from his car, because his racecraft was without equal”.  And the penultimate round of the season in Mexico was, as Roebuck said, a “brilliant drive” from The Professor. One in which that famous racecraft was seen at its finest.

It also was more typical Alain than in Australia a fortnight later. In Adelaide Prost recovered with sheer abandon from a deflated tyre delay, and by his own admission he eschewed most of his usual cerebral ways, given it was win or bust. He even ignored his fuel gauge – and judging this was in normal circumstances Alain’s trump card – as had that been accurate his McLaren would have conked out before the end. He rolled the dice needing a six, and got it. In Mexico though – with an ethereal touch allied to brain power that outdid them all – the drive was pure Prost.

Prost accepted that clawing back 11 on Nigel with just 18 left available wasn’t realistic. Alain went so far as to congratulate Nigel on his championship.

And as with most great drives Prost had plenty to overcome in this one. Entering it there seemed little doubt who would walk off with the title. The afore-mentioned Mansell had triumphed in crushing fashion in the previous round in Portugal, and that seemed that. Prost even, while not conceding his crown, accepted that clawing back 11 on Nigel with just 18 left available – and in effect the gap was even wider as then only your best 11 scores of 16 counted – wasn’t realistic. Alain in the race’s aftermath went so far as to congratulate Nigel on his championship.

With this he needed to get something back on Mansell in Mexico. He did, and moreover he did it having driven much of the race a cylinder down…

The ’11 best’ rule again confused matters but someone worked out that all Mansell needed was fourth place in Mexico to make the thing sure. Prost’s McLaren-TAG as outlined wasn’t in the class of the Williams-Honda at the best of times, and here at exasperating mile-and-a-half altitude these were conditions that would play to the strengths of the grunty Japanese unit. While in addition to Mansell’s pomp as underlined in Portugal his team mate Piquet was having a late year resurgence of his own, having won three from four prior to Portugal. Ayrton Senna too while now out of title contention was still expected to be in the mix for the race win and of course would relent not a bit.

Compounding the matter McLaren’s Porsche engineers had trouble getting the revised turbos brought for these peculiar Mexican conditions programmed into the car’s engine management system. The upshot for Prost was severe engine lag, less boost that he’d have liked and just sixth place on the starting grid.

Prost needed to get something back on Mansell in Mexico. He did, and moreover he did it having driven much of the race a cylinder down…

As we were reminded 12 months ago a Mexican round parachuting onto the calendar was not at all like the usual new-fangled host. Not least because it has considerable F1 previous.

In 1986 the Mexico race, as was the case last season indeed, was returning after a spell away, and returning then as now to the track in Mexico City’s Magdalena Mixhuca parkland. Then as now too while the layout had been tweaked the resemblance to before was clear (though then unlike now the mighty and mighty treacherous Peraltada curve remained in all of its glory).

Like then too the main shift had been off the track. Many with longer memories returned in 1986 with some trepidation, as the previous round there in 1970 was run literally “lined with human guardrails”, as that year’s Autocourse put it. Some 200,000 turned up and most decided to get a better view by breaking down the safety fences and settling next to the edge of the track, with literally nothing between them and the cars. It was sheer merciful deliverance that unimaginable carnage and death among those watching on didn’t happen.

It wasn’t repeated 16 years on though, in part down to the presence of double rows of high barbed wire-topped fences and guards with vicious-looking dogs patrolling between them. Also though part of the explanation was that the crowd was only around a quarter the size of before, with ticket prices set far beyond many local wallets.

F1 at this point in history was more generally though experiencing an awakening. The sport was beginning to really establish itself as a Bernie-inspired TV extravaganza with a mass following, and adding to it Mansell that season was – after six years in the sport – becoming an overnight sensation with his title run. As we were to find out the everyman ‘Our Nige’ established popularity in his homeland never touched before or since most probably.

Expecting a world title confirmation the British press decamped to Mexico in large numbers. This step into the unknown perhaps explains why the Mexican pre-weekend press gathering with Mansell was arranged to take place in, erm, an airport café…

And expecting a world title confirmation and with it the first British crown in ten years, as outlined in Maurice Hamilton’s book Chequered Conflict the British press decamped to Mexico in large numbers (albeit beaten likely by those witnessed routinely today). This step into the unknown perhaps explains why, in these days before a strict schedule of official pressers, the Mexican pre-weekend press gathering with Mansell was arranged to take place in, erm, an airport café. The other side of the passport and security checks…

Underlining just how things have changed too Autosport boasted of the “extensive coverage” the BBC would give the race on British TV, which amounted to showing the first ten minutes of the race as well as the final 30 minutes live. And, oh yeah, a short race report would be on Radio 2 that evening.

‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’, as goes the opening line of The Go-Between.

Whatever, Alain hardly was mentioned while all this was going on. He still wasn’t when we discovered something else that would in time became numbingly familiar. That drama – and of the scarcely credible kind – seemed somehow to follow Mansell around. Nigel as many visitors do in Mexico picked up some ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ prior to the race; apparently on the Friday evening from a dinner celebrating the birthday of long-serving commentator Murray Walker… But still it seemed even with his obvious discomfort it wouldn’t halt him where it mattered, particularly as he qualified a solid third behind habitual pole man Senna and Piquet alongside.

But the opening ten seconds of the race did a lot to halt Nigel. Or rather, not get him moving from the halt. When the green light was shown Mansell’s FW11 didn’t move and cars flashed by on all sides, before Nige eventually got up and running, 18th at the end of the first tour. Mansell said simply that first gear wouldn’t go in. Some suggested uncharitably that he’d simply neglected to remember to put it in.

Any thoughts that those behind could chase Berger down on their fresh rubber were dashed, as instead they then put on an extraordinary show of tyre abuse. This clearly was a battle for survival.

All might not have been lost though as Mansell passed eight cars in 10 laps, but then we got a portent of the chief discriminator of the day. On the track’s abrasive surface and in intense heat Mansell’s charge had taken its toll on his tyres, and he came in for new wheels, losing him several of the places he’d gained. He only made one more halt after that, but it ensured that his goose was cooked.

It took a while for this to manifest at the front though. For a time the hardly-friendly Brazilian pair Piquet and Senna disputed the lead, with Prost and the apparently interloper presence of Gerhard Berger in his Benetton employing a watching brief. It stayed that way until nearly half distance when it was assumed all would make routine solitary tyre stops.

Prost, Piquet and Senna did peel in, but the shape of the day started to change. As Berger did not. He was on Pirelli rubber rather than the Goodyears the rest used, and the Italian product was noted for its durability and allowing non-stop runs (another case of the past being a foreign country you might say). That’s exactly what Gerhard was doing, and did. And any thoughts that he would wilt under the pressure of an impending freshman F1 victory both for him and his team were not at all borne out, as he proceeded as if on rails to win.

While any thoughts that those behind could chase him down on their newer rubber were dashed about as emphatically, as instead they then put on an extraordinary show of tyre abuse. Piquet needed two more changes indeed; Senna another one and could perhaps have done with another as his final set blistered badly. This clearly was a battle for survival.

If there is any driver in F1 history you’d pick to drive to save your life, particularly in such circumstances, Alain would be near or at the top of your list. He continued to ghost along as it all kicked off around him.

And not least for Prost, but for different reasons. He didn’t stop again but in some part necessity was the mother of invention, as with his TAG unit lapsed onto five cylinders rather than the full six as mentioned he dared not pit again, lest his machine not fire up afterwards. But if there is any driver in F1 history you’d pick to drive to save your life, particularly in such circumstances, Alain would be near or at the top of your list. He continued to ghost along as it all kicked off around him, and got home second for six points, near enough half a minute before Senna.

Berger’s win was spoken of as a surprise, but it really shouldn’t have been. As Motor Sport magazine put it, “Anyone who has been watching the F1 scene closely will have been aware that the Benetton-BMW team and Gerhard Berger have been heading for victory…The Benetton team’s pole positions at Osterreichring and Monza had demonstrated there was not much wrong with the car, the engine and the Pirelli tyres as far as high speed circuits were concerned, and the fast Mexican track seemed to suit them.”

Indeed, a few rounds before, Berger was winning in Austria at a canter before a flat battery severely delayed him. The non-stopping tactic shouldn’t have surprised either as it was something tried and done by Pirelli runners frequently, and indeed Berger was well on course to do just that in the Austrian race. But perhaps the discussion served to take more attention away from what Prost had done in Mexico.

In Mexico Alain drove a truly incredible race – Ron Dennis

The Williams meanwhile, the class of the field, toured in an ignominious, and lapped, fourth and fifth with Piquet ahead. It might have been even worse but for late retirements in front of them. The title conclusion therefore went down under, which is where we came in.

As Jeff Hutchinson’s Autosport race report from Mexico concluded of the continuing title fight, “Mansell is still the firm favourite”. And Adelaide we know about, his exploding Goodyear, Piquet then pitting as a precaution, and Prost picking up the pieces for an unlikely race and championship triumph. But as outlined it wasn’t all about that. Something about us extraordinary had got us there in the first place.

But not everyone lost sight of the contribution of Prost’s drive two weeks prior. “In Mexico Alain drove a truly incredible race,” said his boss Ron Dennis. “We’ve always had a lot less power than the Williams-Hondas, but this time – to make it worse – he was on five cylinders for half the race and didn’t dare to make a second tyre stop, for fear of losing the engine. On a very abrasive track he had to make two sets last the whole race: Mansell needed three, and Piquet four. Alain finished ahead of both of them…”

People will say Nigel lost it because of his tyre failure, but you could also say he lost it in Mexico. He could have clinched the title that day, but instead he dropped four points to Prost – and he lost the title by two. To my mind, there’s no one near Alain – Jackie Stewart

And even amid the immediate post-race and championship hubbub in Adelaide the sage Jackie Stewart recognised the importance of what had happened in Mexico. “People will say Nigel lost it because of his tyre failure” he said, “but you could also say he lost it in Mexico, where he started in third gear, dropped to the back, then began blistering tyres and finished fifth. He could have clinched the title that day, but instead he dropped four points to Prost – and he lost the title by two. To my mind, there’s no one near Alain.

“These days, you don’t often see a guy win a GP in a slower car – but this guy’s won the championship in one!”

Here’s the new Mercedes — joeblogsf1

Mercedes-AMG Petronas has launched its new W08, which is now officially known as the W08 EQ Power+, the additional EQ Power+ having been added because this will be the technology brand for all future Mercedes-AMG hybrid models. The launch formed part of the team’s official 100 km filming day, with Lewis Hamilton driving the car in […]

via Here’s the new Mercedes — joeblogsf1