W04

The 2013 Japanese Grand Prix

Today’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit produced the kind of unpredictability and tension that have been lacking from the sport in recent months. Despite another Vettel win, the rest of the field was very much up for grabs.

japanese_gp_2013_01

Spa-Francorchamps may have the must stunning backdrop and Monza the most interesting heritage, but Suzuka without a doubt, has to be the most exciting circuit in Formula 1. Beloved by the drivers and fans, Suzuka Circuit was originally intended as a test track for Honda (which they still use today). The track was designed in 1962 by John Hugenholtz and features an out and back, figure-8 design. Suzuka is a brilliant mix of high speed straights, flowing S-curves and tight hairpins. Its design can yield high rewards for the most precise drivers, however making a mistake can prove costly, as we all witnessed throughout the weekend.

F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race

Sebastian Vettel arrived in Japan with the Driver’s Championship all but clinched and would’ve been crowned today, had it not been for a 4th place finish by Fernando Alonso. Red Bull Racing’s prowess experienced a few glitches early in the weekend with a KERS problem on Vettel’s RB9. The absence of KERS may have given Mark Webber the break he needed as he secured his first pole since Korea in 2012.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The RB9s of Webber and Vettel had lackluster starts from the front row. Amidst the scramble, Vettel made contact with the W04 of Lewis Hamilton past the pit exit. A solid performance from Webber however was not enough and a change in tire strategy saw him pit 3 times and eventually lose P1 to his teammate. Following the race, Webber kept things upbeat but there was little doubt his team let him down. After pitting for the first time in lap 12, Webber was back in on lap 26 which meant a 3rd stop was all but certain. Had the engineers kept the driver out for another 5 laps, Webber likely would’ve taken the car to the end and won his first Grand Prix of the season. A 2nd place finish was the best consolation for Webber, but a disappointing result in contrast to a win that should’ve been his. It was interesting to hear the panic in Vettel’s voice during radio transmissions as he was held up in traffic towards the end. With Romain Grosjean and Webber shrinking the gap, Vettel’s response was a departure from his usually calculated demeanor.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The day saw another fantastic drive from Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. After an excellent start from P4, he took the lead into turn 1 and proved to be a difficult challenge for Webber throughout the race. It’s been a massive evolution for Grosjean over the last 12 months. In 2012, he was branded a lunatic by his rivals after causing numerous racing incidents. Fast forward to 2013 and Grosjean is beginning to exhibit the level of skill and maturity that Lotus will need in a leader following the departure of Kimi Raikkonen next season.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The unpredictable nature of racing at Suzuka provided some excellent shuffling across the field. Nico Hulkenberg and his Sauber teammate Esteban Gutierrez were quick all weekend and out drove the likes of McLaren and Scuderia Ferrari for much of the race. Gutierrez achieved a stunning 7th place finish with his teammate Hulkenberg just a head in 6th.

GP Spanien 2013

Hulkenberg has become one of the heroes of Formula 1 and there are rumblings that he’s close to inking a deal with Lotus for 2014. The combination of the German and Romain Grosjean would be fantastic to watch and a great opportunity for Hulkenberg who’s never gotten the big break he so deserves.

GP GIAPPONE F1/2013

Fernando Alonso’s frustration with Scuderia Ferrari continued throughout the weekend. While it seemed unlikely he would ever leave the team, never say never. The F138 continues to struggle against its rivals from Mercedes and Red Bull Racing and a much deserved 4th place finish was the best Alonso could do at Suzuka.

GP GIAPPONE F1/2013

His teammate Felipe Massa performed well in qualifying and started from P5. Ultimately he secured the final World Championship point finishing 10th overall.

Penalties and mechanical errors contributed in large part to a disappointing weekend for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton qualified behind the Red Bull’s on Saturday, just before sharing a stone-soaked handshake with rival Vettel.

japanese_gp_2013_09

Despite Hamilton’s PR-friendly Twitter feed, his dissatisfaction with Mercedes’ performance is written all over his face. Hamilton suffered another blow today after getting clipped by Vettel at the start of the race. A tire puncture sent him to the pits after lap 1 and the subsequent damage to the W04’s brakes ended his hopes prematurely.

japanese_gp_2013_10

His teammate Nico Rosberg was handed a drive-through penalty after leaving the pits early and nearly colliding with the incoming Sergio Perez. The penalty contributed to an 8th place finish and not the kind of result Mercedes were looking for.

Jenson in his cockpit

As beloved by the Japanese fans as Jenson Button and McLaren are, their support did little for the team who are in their worst slump in over 20 years. Button spent a majority of today’s race trading places with his teammate Sergio Perez, who was unable to break into Q3 on Saturday.

Sergio in action

McLaren have declined to answer questions about their driver lineup in 2014 but at the moment no one is safe. While it’s likely Button will continue on with the team, Perez’s fate is more uncertain.

F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race

Overall an entertaining Japanese Grand Prix and one that fans certainly needed. It’s unlikely the rest of the season’s “Tilkedomes” will provide the same brand of racing and Vettel will certainly get his crown by Abu Dhabi. On the other side of things, inconsistent calls from the stewards continue to plague the sport. At some point they forgot it’s called “racing” and an emphasis on safety and over policing the drivers have many up in arms. Today’s controversial penalties provided for some very candid and blunt driver interviews in the media scrum following the race.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Japanese Grand Prix - Practice Day - Suzuka, Japan

There are just 4 races to go in this 2013 season! Formula 1 heads to the Buddh International Circuit in 2 weeks for the Indian Grand Prix.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix

With Formula 1’s campaign across Europe in the books, the teams are back in Asia for the season’s final push. Today’s Singapore Grand Prix proved to be a lot of things, but one of the sport’s most exciting events surely isn’t one of them. Before we look back at how the race unfolded, some points of contention…

GP SINGAPORE F1/2013

As American Formula 1 fans are well aware, the sport just doesn’t have the following in this country the way it does throughout the rest of the world. The blame could be pointed in any number of directions, whether it be FOM’s world feed or the shadow of its former self that NBC Sports has become in less than half a season. To put it simply, this weekend’s broadcast was infuriating to watch. After securing Barclay’s Premier League matches, NBC Sports has completely diverted its attention away from Formula 1 and it’s greatly impacted the way we watch the sport. Saturday’s “live” Qualifying didn’t air until nearly 24 hours later (Sunday 1 AM EDT). For fans who like to get their results by watching the broadcasts, it meant an entire Saturday of avoiding the Internet. Then there was the race itself and the severe under underutilization of NBC Sports’ man on the ground, Will Buxton. Viewers of SPEED will recall Buxton scrambling amongst drivers and team bosses for last minute interviews leading into the race’s start. Now F1 Countdown has become a glorified studio segment with repetitive tire explanations and rumor-fueled cross talk amongst the hosts. Respect to Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, they love what they do and know their sport well, however the issues stem more from a production staff who don’t seem to have a clue. The entire reason for having Buxton at the race is to be our eyes at the track, our window into the event. Lately his role seems that of a 30 second sound bite, than the knowledgeable and frankly excellent reporter he is. Add to this the enormous amounts of commercial breaks, including one that cut right through the middle of the podium ceremony and resumed with Sebastian Vettel in mid sentence. The moment interviewer Martin Brundle finished speaking with Kimi Raikkonen, NBC Sports was eager to fade into yet another commercial break! Today’s broadcast saw no post race interviews from the media scrum or any kinds of final thoughts from the studio before it was off to more Barclay’s coverage, which has completely dominated the network in recent months. Depending on most people’s cable provider, NBC Sports is a premium channel that most are paying upwards of $170 a year to have on their TVs. So again, why must we be treated to such a half heated attempt at Formula 1 coverage? Are you listening Sky Sports?

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

The Singapore Grand Prix is the longest, most physically demanding race on the Formula 1 calender. The high heat and humidity take their tole on the drivers and most come away looking positively ravaged. This weekend continued with Sebastian Vettel’s total domination of the sport. After securing pole in Saturday’s Qualifying, Vettel led every lap of the race and finished with a massive lead. As the season progresses, it’s becoming abundantly clear just how dominant a driver the German really is.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

Despite what people may think of the man himself, one has to begin to think that he really is that good. Most fans aren’t sold however and the booing continued at today’s podium ceremony. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and other supporters including Niki Lauda have been vocal about their distaste of the new trend. It makes the occurrence that much more awkward when fan favorites Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are met with unanimous praise.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

If fans want to boo anyone it should be the FIA and race stewards for their incessant meddling and absurd penalties (more on that later). A fourth consecutive Driver’s Championship is all but clinched by Vettel at this point, much to the dismay of Alonso who seems to give everything he’s got week after week.

GP SINGAPORE F1/2013

If Vettel is the current winningest driver in Formula 1 then Fernando Alonso is undoubtably the best starter. While the Ferrari driver has struggled with pace in Qualifying, he makes up for it at the start. The way things began in Singapore were no exception. After starting from P7, Alonso secured P3 by the end of turn 1. If Ferrari’s hiring of Raikkonen for 2014 has affected Alonso, he surely didn’t show it on the track as he continued to get the most out of his F138.

GP SINGAPORE F1/2013

His teammate Felipe Massa also showed good pace this weekend and finished 6th overall. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the Brazilian since the team’s announcement of his replacement and it become clear that Massa will drive his own races for the remainder of the season.

Despite dealing with back pain throughout the weekend, Kimi Raikkonen showed no signs of faltering today.

Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore. 19th September 2013. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus F1. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team. ref: Digital Image _Q0C4670

After failing to make Q3 on Saturday, the Lotus driver had an exciting bout with McLaren’s Jenson Button, resulting in one of the best passes of the season. It was a rare departure from the usual procession we’ve grown accustomed to on Singapore’s narrow layout. He finished 3rd overall, much to the delight of Ferrari who have signed him for a 2 year contract starting next season. Things didn’t fair so well for Lotus’ other driver, Romain Grosjean.

Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore. 19th September 2013. Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1, talks to the media. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team. ref: Digital Image _79P5087

After a fantastic showing in Qualifying, he started in P3, only to experience a pneumatics issue that ended his race on lap 37. Grosjean will be keen to take the reigns as the team’s Number 1 in 2014 and hopefully Lotus will be able to overcome their current financial woes.

singapore_gp_2013_09

It was a frustrating showing for Mercedes this weekend. Nico Rosberg had the pace on Saturday and started from P2. As the race wore on, fatigue set in and Rosberg found himself in the crosshairs of his teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

singapore_gp_2013_10

Hamilton spent most of Practice and Qualifying frustrated with the team’s tire strategy and started from P5 behind Red Bull’s Mark Webber. The two Mercedes drivers found themselves in a scrum with McLaren and each other in the later laps of the race. After doing away with the MP4-28s, it was Rosberg who led the team to the finish in 4th, with Hamilton close behind in 5th.

singapore_gp_2013_12

It seems as though Hamilton’s slump has carried over from Monza as the driver has continued to struggle with the W04. Fighting for World Championship points is a tough pill to swallow as the driver’s main rival continues to win.

The woes of McLaren are far from over. After a brief stint in 3rd, Jenson Button held off the Lotus of Raikkonen for as long as he could.

singapore_gp_2013_13

The subsequent overtaking by Webber and the Mercedes boys made it abundantly clear that McLaren are no longer in the same league as their rivals. Despite Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh’s best attempts at creating a mood of uncertainty over the future of his drivers, it’s truly the car that’s failed them this season. McLaren have subsequently created a position with absolute job security in the role of Whitmarsh.

Sergio Perez on track.

As the team struggles for points against mid-fielders like Force India, retaining Perez and to some degree Button, comes into question. Major offseason changes will most certainly happen in Woking, but the current management is clearly a major contributor to this lackluster season. Button and Perez finished 7th and 8th respectively.

For all of Red Bull’s success with Vettel, things have unfolded quite differently for Mark Webber. The Australian is competing in his final season with the team and the usual trend of mysterious mechanical failures have plagued any chance of going out on top.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Previews

Yet again, Webber was unable to finish the race, this time due to a gearbox failure. The breakdown happened on lap 60 after one hell of a push from Webber to P4. In one of the more sporting instances Formula 1 has seen in quite a while, Fernando Alonso pulled off during the cool down lap to give his friend a lift back to pit lane. It was a display of camaraderie and sportsmanship that shows just how much Alonso has matured since his days at McLaren. What could’ve been the shining event of the Singapore Grand Prix, was quickly muddied by a bureaucratic FIA who will stop at nothing to assert a firm hand over the sport.

GP SINGAPORE F1/2013

Many have argued in favor of the FIA’s ruling which will see Alonso get his first reprimand of the season and Webber a 10 grid spot penalty in Korea, after entering the track without the stewards permission. It’s a good cop, bad cop scenario where the FIA are only thinking in the interest of driver safety, but it’s a decision that does nothing for their stiff, old world public image and one the sport contends with far too often lately.

GP Spanien 2013

The first of a new 5 race deal with Singapore is in the books. Despite the event’s stunning location, it will be nice to see the drivers on proper circuits from here on out. In a scheduling switch, the teams will head to Yeongam for the Korean Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Mercedes W04

It has been an interesting offseason for Mercedes who have seen massive power shifts in both the front office and in the driver’s seat. In what was easily the biggest off track story of 2012, Lewis Hamilton announced that he would leave McLaren and head to Mercedes, to take spot of a retiring Michael Schumacher. Many are still questioning if Lewis’ decision was the right one.

In his first public appearance since joining the team, Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg were out to unveil Mercedes’ 2013 contender, the W04.

w04_01

It’s tough to see any difference between the W03 and it’s successor apart from a slight nose job. Like all of the other teams, the W04 is an “evolution” car and will certainly look different come race day.

w04_02

According to Mercedes, the W04 is the result of “many thousands of hours of work”.

w04_03

w04_04

The W04 may have more of a burden than any other car on the starting grid in 2013. Mercedes have made big claims since acquiring Hamilton. Their 2012 season fell flat after the first few races and much of the responsibility will be on the shoulders of Ross Brawn if this car follows a similar path.

Granted no racing has been done, but I still don’t understand the move from Hamilton’s perspective, apart from having more free time due to less sponsorship constraints. There’s also the strange hiring of Niki Lauda as Mercedes’ special informant. Between Brawn, Lauda and Toto Wolff, this team has way too many captains and I think it’s only a matter of time before this ticking time bomb goes off. There have already been rumblings of a Brawn departure from the team. None of this is good news for Hamilton who left McLaren to get away from the “drama”. I expect 2013 to be a very interesting season for Mercedes and we’ll all be following them closely.

Photos courtesy of Mercedes.