Australian Grand Prix Preview

The F1 circus makes its way from the low key desert of Bahrain to the hustle and bustle of the F1 crazy city of Melbourne, Australia.  For some this is the natural starting place for the F1 calender and we will see if many of the questions that were raised after the first round of the season can be answered.

The Circuit

The race is held on public roads that form the perimeter access roads to one of the city’s most enjoyed points of interest: Albert Park.   Set around the lake, the tree lined 5.3km track is a curious track that offers just a few natural places to pass, but often produces interesting and surprising races.  Most of the tracks pits complex are temporary and what is permanent is a sports hall  used as a basket ball / indoor football facility.

The track winds its way past parking lots, a cricket and soccer ground, a sailing club house and also runs parrallel to the cities busiest roads that link the bustle of the city centre to the relaxing and vibrant St. Kilda area.

Questions from Bahrain

The most obvious and most over debated subject from Bahrain is the question over F1’s excitement factor.

  • Can F1 cars pass each other?
  • Do the new tyre rules create a stalemate over strategy?

Unfortunately with Albert park not being a “typical” F1 track, it is had to say if we will be able to come to any better conclusions this weekend.

Questions marks over drivers

Michael Schumacher will be going in to this weekends race feeling a bit of pressure.  He was beaten handsomely by his younger team mate Nico Rosberg in Bahrain, and Michael will need to put him in his place if he is to avoid being asked questions all the time about if he has lost it and if he was right to return to the sport.  Of course, this is doing Rosberg no harm at all and his stock will continue to rise while he is seen to out perform the 7 times world champion.

Jenson Button, like Schumacher will want to correct the balance of power between him and his team mate.  7th place compared to Hamilton’s 3rd, highlights the 2009 Champion has some catching up to do.  Jenson will be hoping the team can find him some more downforce at the front of the car, and he will also be pushing for more flexibility on the tyre strategy after having the rug pulled from beneath him last time out in Bahrain.

Mark Webber is on home ground this weekend and while this usually brings added pressure, the Aussie will be looking for a more consistent qualifying and practice to give him a better chance of fighting at the front on Sunday.

The teams under pressure

Mclaren carries a fairly large question mark at this time over the cars ability to generate enough down force as compared to their rivals.  Both drivers struggled in the race last time out, but the team have said that they lost their way slightly in Bahrain buy not putting enough wing on both drivers cars. With their car enjoying the highest top speed down the straights, the team will be hoping that a simple set up fix will bring them closer to Redbull and Ferrari.

Will Ferrari’s engines that seemed to get a little hot under the collar in Bahrain manage to see out another race.  While the temperature levels will be nowhere near as high as Bahrain, Ferrari might have to limit revs during practice and the race to see them through to the end.

Vettle will be hoping that Redbull have confidently fixed the engine problem that the car suffered in Bahrain in the closing laps that robbed the German of 25 points.  They won’t have to use the same engine here but it will put a lot of pressure on the team should reliability strike them down again.

A word for the new guys, Virgin will be looking to get to the bottom of their dreaded hydraulic problems that dogged both drivers in Bahrain, and HRT will be looking to get Karun Chandhok out for first practice on Friday morning.

Ones to look out for

My tips this weekend are for Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton.  Webber now with the confidence of winning races in 2009 he should have the best ever chance for a home win on Sunday.  Lewis Hamilton goes really well on this track. Even last year when he was driving a pig of a car was he able to get the car up in to the top points positions (less said about the lie-gate post race the better) I just feel even without a truly competitive car the Briton can deliver a result here.

Bahrain Grand Prix Report

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10 passes team mate Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F10 at the start of the race.Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race Day, Bahrain International Circuit.

The start saw Vettle lead away from the lights from both Ferrari’s of Massa and Alonso, as the pack headed in to turn’s 1 & 2, Alonso was able to get the inside line for turn two and thus overtake his team-mate Massa.   Mark Webber’s Redbull then blew a large thick cloud of smoke, most probably due to an overfilled oil tank, which caused the chasing pack to be momentarily blinded.  Victims of this were Renault’s Robert Kubica and Force India’s Adrian Sutil, who touched as they went through Webber’s smoke at turn two, resulting in both drivers spinning across the track as the field ploughed they way through.

Lewis Hamilton was on the move as the pack reached turn 4 and was trying to go round the outside of Massa for 3rd place.  However the Briton left his breaking too late and Massa was able to defend him off, and which also allowed Rosberg in the Mercedes to snatch 4th place.

Despite not knowing anything about the cloud of smoke that his Redbull had created, Webber was down to eight having been jumped by Button at turn 2. However the Aussie was able to reclaim his 7th place when Jenson got out of shape midway through the new section of the lap.

So the order at the end of the first lap was: Vettle – Alonso – Massa – Rosberg – Hamilton – Schumacher – Webber – Button – Liuzzi – Barrichello. Unfortunately that was pretty much how the top of the pack stayed until the pitstops for tyres.

First retirement of the season went to Karun Chandhok who crashed on lap two, after spinning on a bump.  While the team would be disappointed to see the Indian driver lose vital running time, considering the amount of time the driver had on the track, it was perhaps inevitable that could happen.

Di Grassi was next to join him in exiting the race, having to pull off with suspected hydraulic failure.  Moments before the Brazilian pulling off the track, new boy Nico Hulkenburg had an embarrassing moment when he lost control of the rear of his car while under pressure from Buemi.

Back on track, and Vettle seemed to have perfect control of the race.  Perhaps enjoying a lighter fuel load that the two Ferrari’s behind him because of the fuel-efficient Renault, he was able to pull out a lead of around 5 seconds.

It was Mclaren & Mercedes who were first of the big guns to stop, bringing in Lewis Hamilton & Schumacher respectively on lap 16.  Rosberg moved to cover this next lap round, however lost out to Hamilton when his exit from the pit box was delayed slightly by Webber who was coming in to the pits at the same time as the German was exiting.  Button who also pitted at the same time as Rosberg and Webber was able to leapfrog the Redbull driver when the Aussie was delayed slightly with a sticking wheel during his pit stop.

Alonso was the first to stop of the first 3 to stop on lap 17, which then triggered Vettle to cover the Ferrari. This defensive style a seeming legacy of the new pitstop regulations, in which drivers are not wanting to allow their chasing rival to have too much time on new rubber.

Timo Glock brought the curtain down on the Virgin team’s first race on lap 18 with dreaded hydraulic problems that hampered them all through winter testing.  Bruno Senna was next to fall on the following lap with a Cosworth engine going up in smoke.

The second stint of the race started with Alonso managing to draw in Vettle, bringing down the lead to around 1 second. Massa still in 3rd was a further 2 seconds back behind Alonso. Midway through the race and we heard radio reports from the Ferrari team to both Alonso and Massa asking their drivers not to follow too closely or directly behind the car in front because they were suffering from high engine temperatures.

Then at the star of lap 34 the Redbull of Vettle crossed the line sounding very sick, and with Alonso right on his tail.  The team reporting back to Vettle that a suspected exhaust was causing a dramatic lost in top speed.  The poor Vettle was able to hold of Alonso for best part of a lap, until he had to reliquish the lead to Alonso at the last corner, and by the time the German had reach turn 1 of lap 35 he was 3rd with Massa gliding past on the straight.

It was bitter luck for Vettle who had driven a faultless race up to that point to have a seemingly assured 25 points in his pocket taken away from him by yet another mechanical problem.  However it was a question of if he would be caught by Hamilton, but whether the Redbull would finish in the points at all.

Vettle did a great job of bringing the car home, sticking it out, despite losing a podium position to Hamilton on lap 38 he was able to hold of Nico Rosberg to keep 4th place.

As the chequered flag dropped Alonso brought the Ferrari home to score his 22 victory and to claim victory at his first race for Ferrari, equalling Kimi Raikkonen and Nigel Mansell who also achieved the feat in the modern era. Massa completed a superb come back drive, taking 2nd place and Lewis Hamilton come home an impressive 3rd considering the problems with the cars handling that were mounting up over the course of the weekend.  Rosberg took first blood to his team-mate Schumacher to 5th place. Schumacher who had an un-eventful race came in 6th. Button took 7th on a day that indicate just how much work he and his new team need to do in order for the 2009 World Champion to mount a solid defence of his crown.

Credit also goes to Liuzz and Barrichello who took the final two points places, and Kubica will be disappointed  with 11th, but he did well to recover after being last at the end of lap 1.

Lotus took the plaudits for the new teams, in being able to get both cars to the finish, but Sauber will be disappointed in their form after being tipped as dark horses.

So it is on to Melbourne, Australia next for the 2nd round, Redbull will be looking to strike back after their disappointment  in Bahrain, Mclaren will need to improve the downforce on its new car and Mercedes and Schumacher will want to be nearer the sharp end of the field.

This was a poor spectacle of a F1 race, with very little overtaking or action, here’s hoping it was a one-off because otherwise this could be a slow old season.

1. Alonso Ferrari 1h39:20.396

 2.  Massa         Ferrari                    +    16.099
 3.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +    23.182
 4.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +    38.713
 5.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +    40.263
 6.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +    44.180
 7.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +    45.260
 8.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +    46.308
 9.  Liuzzi        Force India-Mercedes       +    53.089
10.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +  1:02.400
11.  Kubica        Renault                    +  1:09.093
12.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes       +  1:22.958
13.  Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +  1:32.656
14.  Hulkenberg    Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
15.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Cosworth             +     1 lap
16.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +    3 laps
17.  Trulli        Lotus-Cosworth             +    3 laps
Retirements                                Lap
De la Rosa    Sauber-Ferrari               30
Senna         HRT-Cosworth                 18
Glock         Virgin-Cosworth              17
Petrov        Renault                      14
Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari               12
Di Grassi     Virgin-Cosworth              3
Chandhok      HRT-Cosworth                 2

F1 2010 Season Preview – Team News

In Part 2 of our Preview of the new season, we now look at the 12 teams  in this years championship.

The main news is that Brawn GP, the drivers and constructors champions of 2009 are no more, they have now been brought out by Mercedes, giving the team that nearly folded this time last year a much-needed stable financial grounding. One of the most depressing stories of 2009 was the constant threat of withdrawal from the sport of some F1’s teams and Manufacturers. In the end, BMW and Toyota have decided to the sport behind and Renault, who stay in F1 in name have been brought out by a new investor.   However, with a new year brings positive news and new additions to the grid.  Firstly the BMW team have been saved by former team manger Peter Sauber, and will be known as Sauber going forward, and there are 3 brand new teams that will be joining the big boys on the grid on Sunday.

The historic Lotus name returns after its last race in 1994. Despite the team being based in Norfolk like the original Lotus team, this carries very few ties with the dominant team Colin Chapman built up through the 60’s and 70’s. Backed by Malaysian investment, Mike Gascoyne is the experienced figure-head that has helped formalised and design the car, and will be vital for the teams development.

Despite being a sponsor to the Brawn team last year, The Virgin name returns for 2010 with its own team.  Richard Branson has paid for the naming rights of the team which was formerly Manor Motorsport. The most important factor about this team is that the car will be the first ever F1 car to have been designed completely on computer and without using a wind tunnel to aid and improve the car’s aerodynamics performance.  Through using just CFD (Computation fluid dynamics) the team aims to compete competitively while reducing costs needed to have their own wind tunnel.

The third and final team coming to F1 this year is the HRT team (Hispania Racing Team).  This is a Spanish based team that looked like it was not even going to make the start of the season.  It was going to be called Campos however funding for the team never arrived and it was saved at the last moment.  The car and team are completely untried has not even turned a wheel in testing. Friday morning in Bahrain will be the first time the team, car and drivers would have all been in the same place at the same time and will surely be the tailenders for the first park of the season at least.

Another legendary name also returns, Cosworth will provide engines to the 3 new teams and Williams this year.

F1 2010 Season Preview – Driver News

This weekend marks the long awaited return of the FIA Formula One World Championship.  When the red lights go out on Sunday it will mark the start of the 61st Championship.  The new season is eagerly anticipated for many reasons and the winter has seen an unprecedented amount of news.  Here is a preview of how the start of the 2010 season will look a lot different to the end of 2009.

Firstly Jenson Button moves from his old team to join fellow Brit Lewis Hamilton at Mclaren. Jenson’s motives for leaving Brawn have been much debated, and whatever the reason, he will face a terribly tough time up against Hamilton who has pretty much built the Mclaren team around him. How Button settles in to his new team and performs against Hamilton will be one of the season long plots that will add constant pressure to the team despite who is performing best.

2 times World Champion Fernando Alonso leaves Renault, where he endured a horrible 2 years that was dogged with terrible cars and controversy, to join Ferrari to try and resurrect the Italian teams chances of returning to the front of the pack. He will join Felipe Massa who returns to the cockpit after suffering serious head injuries during the Hungarian Grand Prix and having to miss the second half of the season. Will the Brazilian be able to return to his good form or will the edge have been taken off the 2008 runner up, remains to be seen, but testing seems to indicate he will be fine.

The biggest headline since the chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi in November is that 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher makes his return to the sport.  He joins the team that helped win last years World Championships and which was Brawn but is now called Mercedes.  In fact Michael joins pretty much an all out German team, with Nico Rosberg taking Rubens Barrichello’s seat.

Despite the driver changes at Mercedes, Mclaren and Ferrari, Red Bull have kept Mark Webber, and Sebastian Vettle, who will be hoping that consistency along with the Adrian Newey’s new car design will help them kick off the new season on the front foot, as they seem to be the team to beat during the second half of the 2009.

2010 will see one of the most competitive fields in decades.  There will be 4 different former World Champions on the grid, sharing 11 different championships between them.  However there are easily 8 drivers with a realistic chance of winning this years championship.  We have lost 2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who left Ferrari to drive rally cars this year, which is a shame to lose a talent but it seemed his heart just isn’t in it at the moment.

Other noticeable driver moves sees Rubens Barrichello move to Williams, where his team mate will be promising young German Nico Hulkenberg.  Timo Glock move to Virgin, ex Mclaren driver Heikki Kovalainen move to the new Lotus team with F1 journeyman Jarno Trulli.

The legendary name of Senna returns to F1 this year, with his nephew Bruno Senna.  It will be an emotional and evocative image seeing the yellow helmet in racing again, but we will have to get used to seeing it at the back of the field for a while at least until Bruno is given a better car as his HRT Cosworth has a lot of catching up to do.