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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chaotic But Unusual Season Opener At Melbourne


It was an unusual start to the 2013 Formula One´╗┐ season at Melbourne. Not the usual chaotic race, with safety car playing a role in bunching up the race field. Not the surprise strong showing a midfield team that rubs shoulders with the resource glutted front runners. So what we had today F1 circus returning where they left of at the end of 2012 season. Of course, it shouldn't be a surprise, since 2013 is a transitional year with minor tweaks to the 2013 regulations, where teams are already running with an eye on the 2014 season. 

Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus all had a strong weekend. Ferrari looking as the strongest front runner on the combined performance of its two cars, with both Alonso and Massa having strong outing. Massa showed good pace, throughout the weekend, in fact, was the leading Ferrari car, until Alonso outsmarted both Massa and Sebastian Vettel by going for an undercut on his second pit-stop. Massa tried to return the favor on his last stop, but it wasn't enough to emerge ahead of Alonso/Vettel. 
Red Bull cars that locked the front row after the chaotic qualifier which concluded on Sunday morning(in Melbourne), seemed to struggle when running in traffic, in the wake of dirty air of the cars ahead. Of course biggest weakness RedBull has in their car is in form of their Australian driver, who inspire of running in better condition, than his teammate on Saturday was not able to beat Sebastian Vettel to the pole. He was his usual self, when he baulked on the race start and soon had cars behind him swoop past him.
McLaren with their decision to develop pull rod suspension on their 2013 car, with an idea of possibly perfecting it for the 2014 car, are where Ferrari was this time last year. All the hype surrounding Jenson Button of him being able to read chaotic conditions around him, proved as good as the car under him, where he struggled in the qualifiers, chewed up his tyres in the qualifier, resulting in running compromised race. Perez must be repenting the decision to go for slick tyres in qualification, which eliminated him out of Q2 and sealed his fate for rest of the weekend.
Mercedes' duo showed a lot of promise pace wise, and I was expecting strong showing from both the cars, but reliability took the toll of Nico Rosberg, while Lewis hustled his car around to finish fifth behind his friend Massa. My highlight of the weekend was how he quietly relinquished his position against faster Massa, and the contrast in which he gave hard time to Alonso before letting the Spaniard through, while in the latter case, he was any ways headed for his pit stop. So there is no love lost between the 2007 McLaren team-mates, and their mutual admiration club in media, is just a backhanded way of undermining Sebastian Vettel, who has been dominant force since the 2010 season.
Coming to Lotus, Kimi won places on the opening lap, and then driver running in front combined with good Lotus car, that is kinder to its tyres meant his Lotus could  run on two pit stop strategy as compared to rest of the front runners. This pretty much was the difference between the Ferrari of Alonso that finished second and Kimi Raikkonen who won the season opener. Of course, Kimi was his usual self when leading the race, totally in control. Probably that's the reason, his pitwall asked his opinions rather than giving him instructions :-)
Romain on the other hand did a Mark Webber. He probably is still smarting from all the agressive starts he had last season, invoking the ire of critics and regulators. He fell in the clutches of the mid-field, and the fact that Lotus put new parts on his car only Saturday morning, that Kimi had already acclimatized on Friday free practices meant; he was fighting both the competition and the car during the race. He still managed to finish in the final point scoring position. Hopefully, he gets stronger as the season progresses and fights regularly for podiums and wins.
My driver of the week, Adrian Sutil was destined for greatness, and didn't show any rustiness, given his year away from the circus due to legal reasons. He made lots of places at the race start. His Force India car showed good pace as compared to the RedBull, Ferrari and Lotus cars around him, but the mandatory pit stops to comply with the tyre compound rule, resulted in him losing places after he emerged on the Super-soft compound after his last pit stop, but he still finished ahead of his teammate,  who has been in the car for two seasons now. Given that I have always considered Adrian as a fast but inconsistent driver, my rating of his Paul Di Resta took further beating. Paul continues to be another pilot who I think will last in F1 only due to good back scratching from the English-speaking  media,  just like Jenson Button and Mark Webber.
Finally, my team Williams, they were in Melbourne on back of loss of Sir Frank Williams' wife, and the team was determined to put a strong performance for Lady Williams, unfortunately both Pastor and Valteri had bad qualifiers and never recovered from that point. The street circuit in Albert Park every year takes toll of one driver who drifts slightly from the racing line and steps on the artificial grass; Pastor did the honors, in the corner which has seen race ends for Barichello and massive shunt for David Coulthard, in earlier editions of the race.
Valteri Bottas qualified 16th and end 14th, but two retirements ahead of him, were probably the reasons for higher finishing. Pastor has been downcast about the driveability of the car. Hopefully, his concerns were specific to the conditions this weekend and not the car in general.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

McLaren Honda Reunion?

With all the buzz around possible McLaren-Honda tie up for F1 engine project. I still can't help but wonder why Ron Dennis is shown toying with Cosworth in the tooned episode. Given Ron and his penchant for attention to details ( or control freak nature, as some like to put it), that revelation is not just a slip for entertainment.
 
At that point, I was suspecting that Ron was now focusing on the McLaren sports car projects, and he has never masked his aspirations to be a British Supercar Marquee like Ferrari in Italy and he might have been exploring options of using Cosworth F1 personnel ( who will be done in F1 yet again) for his project. That way, he will have more control of McLaren's future. 

Collaborating with Honda while good on paper, has same issues that he had with Mercedes, or that Sir Frank had with BMW collaboration. In these collaborations, the bosses of big car manufacturing company want to be in control, which has normally never gone well.
 

Even when McLaren was the works team of Mercedes in F1 there were strenuous periods, when Ron was heavily focused on the McLaren technology center project and later when Ron launched McLaren MP4-12C in 2009.
 

Of course, the examples of F1 team and car manufacturer relation going sour that I have listed above are always British/European team and European car manufacturers. Whenever the Japanese car companies tied up with F1 teams in Europe, the results may have not come through, but the F1 team bosses in Europe have been in control. Part of it can be attributed to the cultural aspects of Europe and Asia and part of it has to be with how F1 personalities like Bernie, and Ron always make their financial backers feel that F1 or the F1 team is doing these sponsors a favor by letting them be part of the gang.

So McLaren Honda may not be a bad idea, and may not be as bad for Honda as their previous F1 experience with some British bosses at Brackley, who turned the F1 project into a sinkhole.