“The car was grippy” and other F1 comments

Formula 1 is amazing and I’m so happy the season has kicked off. I was watching the driver comments at the end of today’s Sochi GP Q3 (qualifying round 3) and it’s just so cool to see what relationship each has with their car, their team, their teammmate, and with winning/victory.

Oh, and I’ve watched Esteban Ocon of Force India race for all the seasons he’s been in F1, only to realise via watching this interview clip that he has a face beneath the helmet! Same thing McLaren’s Vandoorne, though this is only his first or his second season. We’ll probably see more of Force India’s drivers; besides having just an amazingly pink livery, their car also seems to be delivering its drivers into the points quite a few times this season.

Kvyat sounds like he should have auditioned for the role of Elliot Alderson in Mr. Robot – so robotic is the sputnikified quality of his commentary on his performance.

My fave commentary was Alonso’s. No one is still hyping the McLaren-Honda collab as something that will prove magical a la Ayrton Senna days (of McLaren-Honda), and that is a relief because the whole heritage thing seemed kind of forced without a strong car to back up the hype. But it seems the guy who says things like “it was like driving a truck” seems to like his car’s performance this weekend. He said the car was “grippy” – an anglicization similar to “trippy” (hallucinative)? I’m at a loss for words. Ok, he meant it felt balanced and grounded including in corners, and that the tyres had good grip and the car didn’t vibrate more than is usual for an F1 car. But still, seeing him come up with his own vocab is pretty fun. Also, he said “my performance right now is quite ok and I feel very competitive.” I just really like the quite ok bit :)

Vandoorne said we’ll try to do our best from the back tomorrow, I think, you know, we can only do better from there…” You don’t say. I do wish McLaren Honda the best.

When Vettel is happy, he’s just bursting with it, can’t hide it. It’s exciting that Ferrari is challenging Mercedes, and look at all that visibility that Kaspersky is getting…

Valterri Bottas is still getting the hang of this whole interview and visibility shindig. Like, what, I have to stand and answer questions about my performance and the car and how easy/hard it was to qualify third? Ok, well. I guess. I’m not in Kansas (Williams, where you can go season-in-season-out without ever seeing an interviewer’s microphone) anymore.

Lewis gives the best interviews in my opinion. When he does well, he thanks and acknowledges the team publicly. When his performance isn’t great, he splits the blame between himself and the car. Today in the interview it was mostly blame for himself. I hope he’s in top tip shape tomorrow.

All in all, I’m pretty hyped for Sochi GP. I think despite the fewer chances for overtaking that the Sochi circuit presents, this could be a good race.

Advertisements

MMXVI: The Year of Verstappen

2016 is the Year of Max Verstappen.

He’s the man whose headstrong defensive drives we grew to dislike, yet whose aggressive overtakes had us singing his praises… all in the span of five races.

He won’t let you overtake him; yet he won’t let you not let him overtake you.

Fearless at 300km/hr (not cool, bro) as he is on a dripping wet circuit (dude, he’s like Hamilton… or Senna!), he’s at his best when he’s aggressor trying to overtake, not so much as rookie karter vacillating on the track to ensure you don’t get past him.

The FIA rules on changing direction under braking were changed only last month thanks to Verstappen and his defensive maneuvering, and definitely to cheers from other drivers. Yet guess who got caught in the FIA’s net the very next race after the rule change? You’ll be forgiven for thinking it was Max if you can’t tell your Vettels from your Verstappens.

This guy’s drives, man. After yesterday’s race, you saw him smile. It was that full-faced smize, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Vettel took second place in Canada, you know, the race where he (Vettel) had swerved to avoid the suicidal seagulls and all. Not one to jump, faux-levitate, fist-pump, DAB, or do a Tebow like one of the other nimbler-limbed drivers, Verstappen wears his mood 95% in his face and 5% in his intonation. Often this season, his expression was smug, sullen, tightened, unwelcoming. After the Brazilian GP on the Interlagos Circuit yesterday, that is to say, after he out-strategized Perez, Sainz, an increasingly whiny Vettel… and even Rosberg in that brief moment before his team called over the radio to piss on his parade — often by overtaking around the outside of the track, a part F1 drivers would normally avoid for its wetness and low grip but which Verstappen was bold enough to exploit successfully thanks to negative wheel camber keeping it dryer and with better grip than other drivers dared to imagine — he had that full-faced, I-woke-up-like-this, daddy-Jos-can-you-see-how-I’m-making-you-proud? smile. And this time, the world was full-on smiling with him.

There’s an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.” Verstappen is the best manager of his own image, and the way he has made us go from hating his driving style to admiring his gut, sheer force of will, and gosh, amazing driving talent, all in the span of the 2016 Formula 1 Championship season, is something that should make it to the case study blurbs of business texts for years to come.

NOTES:

  • Apparently I need to watch more karting because Verstappen, the straight-from-karting-to-F1 kid, is pulling some hot karting overtaking moves that us who like F1 would do well to get schooled on.
  • Hamilton, man. I’m so used to his amazing drives that what he did in leading this utterly wet-track race from start to finish (at times up to 8 full seconds ahead of the driver behind him) might not be getting all the laudatory glory it truly deserves.
  • Still on Hamilton, his first win in Brazil, Si Señor! And his 52nd F1 win, now sandwiching him between Schumacher and Alain Prost as the driver with the second most F1 wins of all time :-D Proud gal shimmy.
  • RED BULL. Guys, time and again, your pit stop strategy sucks. Who are the strategists for Ricciardo and Verstappen? How does anyone really think that when a Red Bull successfully comes between the two Mercedes is a good time to pit for sissy things like a tyre switch from wets to intermediates? Especially on a wet track with a high likelihood that some aquaplaning car or the other would have the safety car rolling out sooner or later (and you can capitalize on a free pit stop)? Also, was a simple weather forecast for more rain not available to these guys? It’s becoming laughable how often they deprive their drivers of a good fighting chance for a higher podium finish; and in the process, deprive us viewers of what could be some seat-edge racing in a season monopolized by Mercedes 1-2’s.
  • A three-and-a-half hour race, God, I must love F1.
  • Red Bull gives you wings.

Verstappen and other quirks at F1’s Spa-Francorchamps

Where does one start in reviewing a race that felt like those season premieres that give you two episodes of your favorite show in one sitting? Belgian GP, with its two starts including one brought on by an epic (safe) crash that triggered a red flag, a safety car, and a 17-minute mid-race recess to repair a guardrail, was just that.

I’ll back-pat myself for calling that Alonso and Hamilton’s teams would take advantage of their back-of-grid starts, to place them on medium tyres for the start of the race. Track temperatures were 40 degrees celsius, afterall, and since they didn’t qualify in top ten at Saturday’s Q2, they could choose their starting tyres for Sunday’s race.

TyrePredictionsBelgianGP

So 2pm and the race starts — start 1 of 2, though we don’t know this by then. Don’t know what opening-lap strategy Vettel was pulling off in the starting seconds, but it somehow put his Ferrari teammate Kimi in Verstappen’s way early in the race, something I’ll rather not see happen at all because, well, Kimi is a nice guy. After Kubica, he was racing’s best poker face. And I don’t like to see him angry, but Verstappen seems to bring it out in him all the time. He was so angry during this race that the swear-filter was too slow to catch the stream of expletives he directed at li’l Max via team radio. I saw a commenter refer to Max as Vercrashen, by the way. I’m trying to be nice, but he needs to be schooled on F1 racing etiquette. However I don’t expect Red Bull to take the bull by the horns, unfortunately. Let’s hold that thought…

SAINZ BUILDZ BRITZ
In the 90s we had cable TV and thus it was that I got a catchy Heinz baked beans ad stuck in my head, one that ended with “Heinz Buildz Britz.” Sainz had one of the best race starts of his F1 career today, but his car began to disintegrate following a puncture… tyre, then rear wing, till he had to retire. Jenson Button had to retire too. So did Wehrlein of Manor Racing, a driver whose style I’ve started to warm up to. F1 is like a TV series in yet another way: gradual character development. You start the season just seeing the new drivers’ names and teams; and admiring their cars’ livery. Especially drivers of cars that usually don’t finish in the points. Then as the season progresses, you catch a rare interview, see the driver walk disappointedly to the pits after a crash or celebrate an uncharacteristic podium win, and suddenly there’s a personality beneath the helmet and livery. Wehrlein will still have some great races ahead of him despite today’s disappointment, I’m sure. It sucks that he took out Button’s McLaren too.

On the sixth lap, Magnussen’s Renault spun from 180mph to a smoky high-impact halt in a tyre barrier. Besides being a long circuit (4.35 miles; most of the season’s other circuits are a bit under three miles), Spa is also a hilly circuit, undulating in places and giving less-experienced drivers a run for their Petrobras fuel.  It was in one such spot, by Eau Rouge corner, that Kevin’s yellow R.S. 2016 rammed dramatically into a tyre barrier, sealing how the Renault team would be spending the half-fortnight before Monza GP: rebuilding his chassis. Formula 1 is such a beautiful sport in how safe it is today. Kevin immediately moved to signal that he was conscious, and then nimbly jumped out of his cockpit, as he was approached by race stewards coming to check the extent of the damage. I recently tried to watch clips of some road cycling championships and if Formula 1 is a thriller to watch these days, road cycling is a horror movie.

Guardrail repair followed on lap 10, with teams taking advantage of the 17-minute recess to get their cars in tip-top shape. Hamilton, whose mediums had served him so well in his ascent from back-of-grid to fifth place, now switched to softs as track temperatures cooled. Verstappen was having a bad day, having started on supersofts (teammate Ricciardo got the lucky softs in this split-choice tyre strategy), and having picked up some front-wing damage in that opening sandwich in which he was preventable top bread (what this time, Max, your brakes didn’t work? or you need a tutorial on how to time their use?). He’d be a cantankerous old man, but chap’s only nineteen. Either way, an angry Max on the track is to be avoided, for the whimsical damage he might do to your  rear wing or tyres or self esteem.

Am I player hatin’ on Verstappen too much? Ok, I’ll stop. See, I was screaming into my screen circa 2009 when Schumacher, on his comeback to F1, squeezed Rubens Barrichello into a wall before backing off. Damon Hill can tell you a few stories too, though their rivalry was before I became an F1-er. The teams and maybe even the FIA are saying nothing, possibly because rivalry is “good for the sport.” Rivalry, yes, but not reckless racing, which is what Verstappen is building his young brand to be known for.

All in all, with its two race starts, red flag, scenic setting, and the temperature at Spa throwing in an unknown variable that meant the guys in the back who were smart enough to see it got some little starting advantage, this was a beautiful race. Why do I love F1? Let me count the ways. Listed near the top will be the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps.

Winners:
3rd place: Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes
2nd place: Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing
1st place: Nico Rosberg of Mercedes

F1 Racing’s Driver of the Day: Lewis Hamilton

A race in the wet

Trust the Silverstone circuit to deliver a race in the wet. It wasn’t actively raining, so most drivers switched from wets to intermediate tyres early in the race, and as the track dried, to mediums. All the same, the wet track reminded me of one of my favourite quotes in the 2010 movie Senna: “Then his favourite thing happened. It began to rain.”

The most exciting thing about this race was the tussle between Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen. And if you’d been following these two since their Ferrari days, Massa (now driving for Williams) and Alonso (now at McLaren Honda) were interesting to watch midgrid as well.

As a driver who has had 15 race wins, 11 pole starts and who finished 2nd in the 2008 Drivers’ Championship, Massa is one of the really good drivers out there right now. The way he fended off Alonso’s overtake attempts during Sunday’s British GP only served to reinforce this idea.

Sunday was a day of back-to-back sports watching: F1, and then the Wimbledon men’s finals (congratulations Andy Murray and of course SERENA WILLIAMS :-D), and at night, the UEFA Euro Championship finals. What a great day.

Best part of the British GP: Hamilton’s crowdsurf at the end. You earned it, mate.

Confetti tyres and detach-y front wings

If you wanted a clue about the unpredictability with which the 2016 Austrian GP was about to unfold, you needed to look no further than the array of tyres on which the different teams started their drivers. What would normally be an even split between, say, softs and supersofts, or intermediates and wets, was a colorful mix of softs, supersofts, and the newly-introduced ultrasofts in the Pirelli F1 range.

RACE DAY – The race started off decently enough, with no surprises (Rosberg quickly overtaking his way up to 4th place from 7th; the uncharacteristically front-of-grid Force India of Hulkenberg going down some places in the first few laps). So let’s fast forward to where all the excitement happened: Lap 71/71! It was like watching a football match where an equalizer and a winning goal happen in the 89th minute. I was already writing off the race, saying in my head that it would be another Mercedes 1-2, with a happy (very happy) Verstappen as third. Vettel, who had been in third place until about the 26th lap, had seen his right rear tyre ceremoniously explode and shear, leaving huge marbles and rubber debris scattered on the racetrack (and stuck under Rosberg’s chassis!); and his SF16-T immobilized until the safety car was deployed and the car towed away. He retains third place in the championship, so this DNF hopefully doesn’t affect his championship placement much.

What it did affect, however, was the tyre strategy confidence of the other teams. Their radios were suddenly abuzz, and those whose race plan had entailed seeing how far those ultrasofts could take them, were now second-guessing, in part to benefit from a deployed safety car. Whether it is the tyre manufacturer or the team’s strategy that is to blame, it is not very sexy to see the live and then replayed footage of your team’s car bouncing about the track, its tyre unfurling like a roll of confetti or a party whistle, its driver’s gloved hands conveying the frustrated futility of trying to steer a car on three wheels. Ferrari may have the most recognizable livery in F1, but after it happened to them, no other team wanted an encore with its car. So it was pitstop after pitstop, changing the race strategy of many drivers (including Hamilton; when he changed his tyres around lap 21, it was with the intent of having them last the whole race, knowing that his teammate would still lose time pitting. But then he had a tyre change again around lap 50). Hamilton’s pit stops, though. They were long and clumsy. I had thought that Nico’s would be long because the  Sky commentator had said he still had debris from Seb’s car stuck under his chassis. Yet it was art.

Well, the good thing that came out of Lewis’ late tyre change (to softs, against Nico’s faster-wearing yet better-grip supersofts, as we would see in much-replayed footage of their final-lap tussle, later), was that it emboldened him to take on Nico later. Luckily for him, the Red Bull Ring seems to have ample opportunities for overtaking. It’s also a short track (2.3mi), so if you miss this chance to overtake at Turn 2, say, well, in a minute or so (assuming ~200 miles per hour), the chance would present itself again.

Still, man, what a bold move. These two Mercedes drivers are not beyond taking each other out, as they showed in Barcelona. So it was clear that were Hamilton to make a move to turn that 1-2 around in his favor, the chance of a DNF-DNF would be real. But no one could have predicted a 1-4. Especially not in Hamilton’s favor.


Toto Wolff said something about team orders, but I think the best way to enforce driver behavior will be to work on the drivers’ own rational minds. There is such a split-second of time for decision making when overtaking, that it won’t help to have your team barking or even cajoling orders at you simultaneously. I want to watch a race where the drivers aren’t ruthless but are rational even if it will cost them a place or two. Overtaking is fair game, and is indeed the whole point of motorsports. Blocking the driver’s car from returning to the track after an unsuccessful overtake attempt, doesn’t seem to be.

In the end, Rosberg’s front wing was stuck under his car, leading him to slow down to a lucky fourth place (lucky because had there been two laps left, all the other cars would have overtaken his). It reminded me of Verstappen’s front wing, lost during Friday’s practice. Kyvat’s, too. Nine races into the season, the drivers all seem to understand the capabilities and limitations of their respective engines. That their front wings are delicately attached and their tyres rapidly expendable, however, it seems they are still wrapping their heads around.

Do you know what week it is?

It’s Formula 1 week. Which happens every two weeks during Formula 1 season, except in August when the drivers have, gasp, the month off!

Formula 1 week means I have Formula 1 to look forward to on the weekend. Sometimes I study the circuit and learn a bit about it – the corners, presence or absence of hairpins, the descriptive terms the drivers use for it, and since F1 is so heavy on history and heritage, past notable events on that circuit.

Two weekends ago, we went to Belushi’s to see the first race ever to be held in Azerbaijan. During qualifying, I kid you not, a cat made its way onto the circuit. Yes, way to get squashed by cars doing 200mph. The cat was safe, but at first I thought the picture (it appeared on @F1’s instagram feed) was photoshopped. It wasn’t.

Did anyone see the interview with Hamilton after Canada? Vettel, super excited to have come in second, bombed Hamilton’s victor interview, saying in a very jovial manner that the reason he came second was that he’d slowed down for two suicidal seagulls that were on the race track and that didn’t budge as he approached. But that Hamilton hadn’t, lol. This resulted in search for the footage of the seagulls (I think it was on Sky Sports, not sure), but each time, Vettel was like, nope, not there, not that. And finally, there they were, two white specks on the track as his Ferrari sped towards them!

So, yeah, F1 is hilarious at times. And it’s great to see the drivers smiling and having a good time at it. There have been many good drivers joining in the past few seasons, like Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat, or Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (who effectively blocked Rosberg from achieving any podium aspirations at Gilles-Villeneuve (Montreal GP), and was voted driver of the day for that race).

Oh, Toro Rosso means Red Bull in Italian by the way, go figure. Two teams sponsored by the same company — they also have some of the most beautiful livery I’ve seen. What is the car with the orange and blue livery? It is a very bold statement that happens in the middle to back of the track, and it’s quite beautiful to see.

I also wanted to mention that it was cool to see Force India’s Sergio Perez on podium in Baku. He was so happy, he couldn’t even hide it. In a sport dominated by European drivers and the occasional Brazilian, Perez was just too happy to be flying Mexico’s flag.

Love and chicanes,

Minku