Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

sunnuntai 20. maaliskuuta 2016

Australian GP: Rosberg took victory in a colourful race!

If Red Bull´s Kvyat faced a difficult qualifying yesterday, his race day didn´t turn out much better. The Russian´s RB12 was hit with an electrical failure already on the warm-up lap so his race was over before it even got started. There was a new formation lap before the lights finally went out. Williams´ Bottas had been given a 5-place grid penalty due to a gear box change so the Finn started to the race from P16. What a start it was for the red-suited warriors! Sebastian stormed into the lead from P3 and his teammate Iceman followed him in the first corner as Rosberg tried to prevent Hamilton getting past him. Unbelievable but true, the Ferrari duo had a double lead in the race! This seemed almost too good to be true! Rosberg was third and Verstappen fourth. The Dutchman had taken an impressive start and right from the beginning it seemed that Toro Rosso´s race pace was absolutely convincing. Hamilton had dropped down to P6 due to the first corner incident.

Hamilton was able to overtake Williams´ Massa quite easily and make it P5 in the race. But getting stuck behind Toro Rosso´s super talent Max Verstappen turned out to be another story. It was admirable to watch how this young Dutchman kept the reigning world champion behind him lap after lap! Rosberg was the first top driver to pit on lap 13. The German rejoined the track on the yellow-marked soft tyres in P5. Sebastian pitted a couple of laps later and his strategy differed from Rosberg´s tyre choice: Sebastian opted for another set of red-marked super soft tyres.

Ferrari´s race pace looked stunning and Sebastian even managed to overtake Hamilton on track before the Briton pitted for a new set of medium tyres, which was a surprise choice. Kimi also pitted on the same lap for a fresh set of super soft tyres. Unfortunately Rosberg managed to benefit from the undercut and got ahead of the Iceman.

On lap 18 there was a dramatic collision between Haas´ Gutierrez and McLaren´s Alonso. Alonso hit Gutierrez´s left rear tyre at the braking, which made Gutierrez to spin. Alonso´s car on the other hand first hit the wall and then rolled over several times and ended up on the gravel upside down as a complete wreck! It was a horrific looking accident but against all odds Alonso managed to get out of the car on his own and was unharmed. It´s unbelievable how safe these modern F1 cars are, some years back this could have been a fatal accident! Safety car was deployed and the race was red-flagged due to the massive amount of debris on the track.

Some 20 minutes later the re-start took place behind safety car. Both Sebastian and Kimi continued the race on the super soft tyres whilst Rosberg had switched to the white-marked medium tyres before the re-start. Ferrari had chosen an aggressive strategy to attack on the super softs. Ricciardo in his RB12 and both Toro Rosso drivers had opted for soft tyres. Tyre strategy turned out to have a crucial effect on the race results.

Only a few laps after the re-start the race got another dramatic turn. Kimi drove into the pits reporting about something gone broken in his car. On TV I saw smoke coming out from the rear of Kimi´s SF16-H and a moment later there were big flames coming out of the engine right above Kimi´s head. What a huge disappointment it was! Kimi´s race had started in such a promising way, the Iceman had the podium in his sight already... Hopefully this was an exceptional reliability issue for Ferrari and that it won´t happen again during this season. I´m so gutted for Kimi, everything looked so good!

Verstappen was driving a superb race in P4 until he pitted for the second time on lap 33. The team, however, wasn´t ready for him and the pit stop was delayed. The Dutchman rejoined the track in P11. In the heat of disappointment and frustration we heard very angry Verstappen on the team radio. Sebastian pitted on lap 36 for a fresh set of soft tyres and his pit stop wasn´t perfect, either. The team had difficulties to detach his left front tyre, which cost the German some extra seconds. Sebastian, who had lead the race at the beginning of the race, had to now settle for P4 when rejoining the track.

In the midfield Verstappen had an intense battle with his teammate Sainz and Renault´s Palmer for P9. We heard many heated team radio messages from Max, who considered himself quicker than his teammate and was absolutely frustrated to get stuck behind those two. Once again Max´s driving was very entertaining to watch as he has the passion, devotion and skills what Formula 1 needs! It´s utterly great to see how he takes the races with such passion and strong emotions. I like that a lot! Finally after many intense team radio messages both Sainz and Max managed to get past Palmer and the battle continued between the hungry Toro Rosso teammates. A little later Verstappen even touched his teammate in the heat of the battle, which lead to Verstappen´s spin but he didn´t lose any positions.

15 laps before the chequered flag Hamilton managed to overtake Red Bull´s Ricciardo, whose soft tyres were already completely gone and the Briton made it P2. Ricciardo had no choice but to pit for a fresh set of super soft tyres, which meant an aggressive last stint to his race. Rosberg had a clear lead in the race, Hamilton was 2nd and after Ricciardo´s pit stop Sebastian jumped third. Sebastian started an aggressive hunt and managed to close the gap to Hamilton with his fresher tyres. With two laps to go the German was right at Hamilton´s tail but trying hard to find an opportunity for overtaking Sebastian braked too late and went wide, which meant the battle was over. Rosberg won the season-opening Australian GP with Hamilton second and Sebastian third. Ricciardo finished 4th in front of his home crowd, Massa finished 5th for Williams and Grosjean took superb 6th place for the newcomer Haas! This clearly shows that Haas have a lot of potential in their car and they have done excellent preparation work for their debut season in Formula 1. Hulkenberg finished 7th and Bottas 8th. They both tried hard to get past Grosjean´s Haas at the end of the race but it turned out to be mission impossible. The Toro Rosso duo Sainz and Verstappen completed the top ten.

I strongly believe Sebastian would have won the race if Ferrari had opted for a different tyre strategy. Although no one would have known how Ferrari would have worked on the medium tyres, which the team didn´t test at all in the free practice sessions. And then there was Sebastian´s own mistake when he was trying to make an overtaking move on Hamilton but even without the mistake overtaking Hamilton would have been extremely difficult. But one thing is for sure: Ferrari have definitely taken the battle to Mercedes´ front door!

Watching the podium ceremony made me in a good mood indeed. Sebastian´s ex teammate Mark Webber came to do the podium interviews and when Mark was interviewing Hamilton, Sebastian poured champagne on his former teammate! When Mark came to Sebastian to interview him, he joked that it has been a while since Mark has been on the podium last time. Although P3 must have been a little disappointment for Sebastian after the mega start (as he described it), he definitely hasn´t lost his great sense of humour :D

Already after the first race of the season Mercedes are leading the constructors´ championship with 45 points to Ferrari´s 15. Next round will be Bahrain in a fortnight. After yesterday´s farce in the qualifying the teams have now decided to abandon the new qualifying system and go back to the last year´s one already in Bahrain. Personally I would have preferred a system with running Q1 and Q2 with the new elimination system and Q3 with the old one. Can´t wait what will happen in Bahrain!

lauantai 19. maaliskuuta 2016

Australian GP / Qualifying: 50th career pole for Hamilton under the new system!

Finally the long wait is over and the 2016 F1 season is here at last! I looked forward to the season-opening qualifying with huge interest as the new elimination-style qualifying format was to be introduced. After FP3 I had high hopes of Ferrari being able to challenge the Silver Arrows for pole position as Sebastian had been only 2 tenths of a second down on Hamilton. I was thrilled to get up early in the morning to watch the qualifying live on TV. Oh how I´ve missed these Formula 1 weekends!

As expected, everyone rushed out on the red-marked super softs when Q1 got underway. Everyone wanted to set a competitive lap time as after seven minutes the current slowest car was going to be eliminated. Some drivers seemed to feel more pressure due to the new system than others. Rosberg for example went wide on his first run. After the first seven minutes Hamilton, Räikkönen and Verstappen were the fastest men on track. Manor´s rookie Pascal Wehrlein was the first driver to be eliminated soon followed by his teammate Haryanto. The Haas teammates Gutierrez and Grosjean would have made it into Q2 if only had they been sent out in time! The rules say that under the elimination process you have to set the lap time before the countdown clock halts. Only the final runner is halted by the chequered flag, not by the countdown clock. This caused some misunderstandings in some teams, like Haas and Sauber. Kvyat in his Red Bull was the fifth driver to be eliminated in Q1 and the Russian blamed poor tactics from Red Bull for his surprise exit. Both Sauber drivers were also out of Q2. At the end of the first segment Hamilton, Massa and Alonso were the top three drivers. Kimi was in P5 and Sebastian in P10.

Q2 saw everyone coming out on super softs again. This time the elimination process started after six minutes Renault´s Magnussen being the first driver to be eliminated. Hamilton, Rosberg and Massa were the three fastest at that point. Magnussen was soon followed by his teammate Palmer and the McLaren duo Button and Alonso were also out of the final session. Surprisingly Williams´ Bottas was the fifth driver to be eliminated! What I also found surprising was the fact that the Force India duo Hulkenberg and Perez didn´t even go out and try to improve their lap times and escape from the elimination although there was still time left in the clock. Instead they decided to save a set of tyres for tomorrow´s race. At the end of Q2 Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel were the three fastest. Toro Rosso caught everyone by surprise by getting both cars into the decisive final session!

I was expecting to see an entertaining and thrilling final session but to be honest, Q3 turned out to be quite of an anticlimax. Once again Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel were the top three when the elimination process started after five minutes´ running. Red Bull´s Ricciardo was the first faller in Q3. The Toro Rosso duo performed impressively indeed as Sainz qualified 7th and Verstappen as high as fifth! Toro Rosso outqualified their sister team Red Bull fair and square! The Toro Rosso drivers were split by Williams´ Massa, who qualified 4th. At this point Hamilton had the fastest lap time with Sebastian 2nd, Kimi 3rd and Rosberg down in P4. But when there were still 6 minutes left in the clock, Ferrari decided not to send their drivers out but to save tyres for tomorrow´s race! I would have wanted to see the red-suited drivers challenging the Mercedes duo for the front row grid slots, not to give up like this! What a disappointing and frustrating moment indeed! And there was no shoot out for pole at all as Rosberg was also in the pits when there were 2 minutes in the clock! So Hamilton took his 50th career pole with a 4-tenth margin over his teammate forcing Rosberg once again to settle for P2. Sebastian qualified 3rd 8 tenths down on Hamilton with his teammate Kimi 4th. To be honest, it was quite disappointing to see such clear a margin between Mercedes and Ferrari. The winter tests gave a good reason to believe Ferrari would have closed the gap to Mercedes for real.

So what are my thoughts on the new qualifying system? The first two segments were exciting but Q3 was very much the opposite to what I had been hoping for. Not to go out in the closing stages of the qualifying to fight for better positions but to sit out the final runs and save tyres for the race is not what you expect in the pinnacle of motorsports! Seeing Sebastian walking in the pit lane in jeans when qualifying is still running creates an image I don´t want to see. I want to see him on track at the wheel of his Margherita fighting for pole as I know he has a chance to beat the silver cars! To make this new qualifying format to work, the drivers should be given enough tyres so that they could fight for every position possible and not to concentrate on how many sets of tyres they have left.
I´m sure there will be plenty of talks about this new qualifying system in the coming days and I wouldn´t be surprised to see some changes during the season.

What am I expecting from the race then? I´m eager to see how the new restriction on the team radio communication will effect the race. Hamilton has talked a lot about this change. It´s also interesting to see what kind of a role the tyre choices will play and how well the drivers get the tyres to work. I hope Ferrari are much closer to Mercedes in race pace in spite of the qualifying results. I would really love to see a wheel-banging battle for victory between the red and silver cars. It´s also interesting to see how Toro Rosso´s race pace will turn out. Of course 1-2 for Ferrari with Verstappen third would be nice  ... ;) ;) Can´t wait for tomorrow!

sunnuntai 13. maaliskuuta 2016

The 2016 season preview

On my previous blog post I wrote there was a surprise on the way. The surprise was this: I had arranged a surprise trip for my husband to Barcelona to watch the second pre-season test session at Circuit de Catalunya! My husband has been watching Formula 1 for over 20 years as well and he has never had a chance to see the F1 cars live. He will turn 40 in May so it was a perfect reason to finally make his dream come true :) He flew to Barcelona with his five friends on Wednesday evening and what a test day they got to witness on Thursday!

On Thursday (March 3rd) it was Kimi´s last test day behind the wheel of the SF16-H. And it turned out to be the most productive day for the Iceman with 136 laps completed that day! It was also the only day when Kimi didn´t face any technical issues as all his previous three testing days had included a few hours´ wait in the pit garage due to a technical failure. Now that all eight test days are over, what kind of conclusions can be drawn of the pecking order? Two things have caught my eye during the winter tests: First of all Mercedes are frighteningly reliable. The Silver Arrows completed the mileage of almost 19 Grands Prix in just eight test days! They had no technical worries in spite of a transmission failure for Hamilton in the second test. The new W07 turned out so bulletproof that Hamilton and Rosberg split the test days not to get physically too tired due to the massive amount of laps they did. Their true pace is still kind of a question mark as they did no running either on the super softs or the new purple-marked ultra soft Pirellis.  Secondly, Ferrari are convincingly fast. The honour of the fastest lap time both on the softs and on the ultra softs fell to Ferrari´s Kimi Räikkönen. Ferrari have made a lot of changes to their power unit. In addition to that they now have a new front suspension as well, which is of the more popular push-rod design. The Italian-based team had some technical issues in their SF16-H and once again they always seemed to hit Kimi´s car. But their pace seems promising indeed. But whether it´s enough to take the fight to Mercedes, we´ll find out in a week... Behind these two it will be tight. Williams will be strong for sure and McLaren have made a significant leap forward from last year. The American-based Haas team made a good first impression proving more reliable than I had expected. I´m convinced once the reliability is there they could be fighting up in the midfield. Toro Rosso also managed to complete a huge amount of mileage and with the Ferrari power unit on their car they have a good chance to get the upper hand on Red Bull... But nothing is certain until the season gets underway. The real pecking order will take a few races to materialise.

One major topic has been the new Halo cockpit device, which Ferrari ran both on Thursday and Friday in the second test. It has provoked differing responses among the drivers. Sebastian Vettel is one of the drivers, who are in favour of the concept. He stated that the aesthetics of such a device are secondary to its purpose. Although he added that "it´s not the picture you are used to seeing for F1". The reigning world champion Hamilton judged the concept strongly and said it should at least be optional for the drivers and that he was willing to accept the risks involved in F1 racing and wouldn´t use such concept in his car. I agree with Sebastian that safety comes first. The Halo device doesn´t look so great but the one used on the SF16-H was just the first prototype developed by the team. Red Bull have also developed their own version of the head protection device, which they will introduce later on during the season. So who knows how the final version will turn out. And the eye adapts to new things pretty quickly. It was kind of same with the stepped noses a few years back: many judged them at first but soon everyone´s eyes adapted to them.

Another topic has been the new elimination-style qualifying format, which will go ahead in Melbourne next week. The 3-session knockout system remains, but instead of a specified number of drivers being eliminated after set time periods, the clock will soon start ticking each session. Q1 will run for 16 minutes and after seven of them the current slowest car will be eliminated. This process will repeat every 90 seconds until 15 cars are left. Q2 will last for 15 minutes and after six the 90-second elimination periods will start again until only eight cars are left. Q3 will see all eight running, but after five minutes six further cars will be eliminated over 90s periods. At the end only two cars will be left fighting head-to-head for pole. The new qualifying format has provoked differing opinions. The drivers were quite satisfied with the old system but the change was introduced to give races an added twist by introducing a situation whereby the top runners might get caught out by circumstance. Only the time will tell, whether this will make qualifying more exciting and spice things up. On paper it looks good but what about in chaotic rain-hit conditions... Qualifying should be about who´s fastest on track whether it´s dry or wet, not about grid based on coincidence and fortune. But let´s not judge it before seeing how it actually works at Melbourne next week, can´t wait!

The most important question in terms of the 2016 season is: Can Hamilton win his third title in-a-row? I have a hunch he can´t and I don´t say this only because I´m not a fan of his. Without any doubt the Briton was in a class of his own almost the entire last season. The success, the sharp edge, however, slipped through his fingers when he secured his world championship in US GP and in the last races of the season he got beaten by his teammate Rosberg. Now the fight starts all over again but is Hamilton running a life style, which enables his 100% concentration on hard training and racing? Hamilton has extremely active social life and it isn´t a secret that he likes to party and that he has done it a lot during the off-season. Psychologically it´s a line drawn in water when success starts to crumble. I believe if you are not 100% committed to Formula 1 and Formula 1 only, you lose your edge and your chance for the championship. To be honest, I wouldn´t mind Hamilton losing his edge as I hope, trust and believe this will be Ferrari´s year!