Monaco F1 Grand Prix: Rosberg all the Way!

May 23, 25, 26, 2013

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, dominated the entire Grand Prix weekend to start at pole and then lead for 78 laps of the race. At the back of the field though, it was Russian Roulette with as many as six accidents – some mechanical and some avoidable!

Nico Rosberg dominated the Monaco Grand Prix weekend by leading in every lap that he ran.

Nico Rosberg dominated the Monaco Grand Prix weekend by leading in every lap that he ran.

How does one describe a Grand Prix race that stayed in a state of limbo until the 29th lap, barring the odd damage through an unfortunate crash or “racing incidents”? Three Safety Car periods and then a red flag that grinded the entire Grand Prix to a halt for over 40 minutes? Seven car casualties and crashes that changed the course of the championship?

Pretty damn boring and pointless I’d say!

On the narrow, twisty and highly dangerous street circuit of Monaco, overtaking is practically impossible. As a result teams are more dependant on working pit strategies to gain a minuscule advantage hoping to undercut the competition and gain track position.

A view of Pator Maldonado's Williams after he was hit by Max Chilton, Marussia.

A view of Pastor Maldonado’s Williams after he was hit by Max Chilton, Marussia.

The first pit-stop was made by Paul Di Resta of Force India in Lap 9, and yes that had more to do with team strategy rather than any racing exigency starting as he did at P17. The next stops were all after Lap 24 with Mark Webber, Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus (Lap 26) and Jensen Button, McLaren (also Lap 26).

However, following the horrific crash that Felipe Massa, Ferrari suffered at the Ste Devote corner in Lap 28, practically the entire field decided to pit and change tyres as was natural. But this also put paid to a lot of team strategies for the remainder of the race.

Sebastian Vettel summed up the remainder of the Grand Prix quite succinctly when he said in his syndicated interview to PMG: “When you’ve got two Silver Arrows at the front, you expect them to sail off into the distance, but it was more like following two coaches on a sight-seeing tour.”

There was also the small incident of both Red Bull Racing and Ferrari Teams driving the race “under protest”.  It started with leaks of Pirelli conducting a secret 1,000 km testing schedule with Mercedes – ostensibly on Pirelli’s new compound tyres for 2014 – having reached the paddock.

Analysts and of course, competing team principals suspect that the tests might have been conducted on the new construction hard tyres for the current season which were to be commissioned from the Canadian Grand Prix onwards.

The FIA has now got involved and will be investigating the matter thereby forcing Pirelli to postpone the release of the new construction tyres until the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Back to Monaco and it wasn’t for nothing that most analysts and fans were wondering whether such a fortuitous pre-race test after a disastrous Grand Prix in Spain would change the flagging fortunes of the Mercedes team. Everyone, however, knew they had great qualifying pace but had been dogged by excessive rear tyre wear and consequently very high degradation in tyre performance.

Not just did the Mercedes duo put in the maximum laps on their starting tyres before the Massa crash, but also ended up leading comfortably for the first 31 laps of the race. And had it not been for a simple, yet bizarrely amateurish mistake in pitting Hamilton late enough to make him lose two positions in the Safety Car period, Mercedes could have easily made it a one-two!

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, crashes into the barriers for the second time in the weekend.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, crashes into the barriers for the second time in the weekend.

But at the end, at least the die-hard fans of Merc, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were not disappointed.

Given the nature of the race, I too have modified the construction of the blog to stick with what was considered the “most exciting and fascinating” part of the race, that is, from the start of Lap 54 to the end of the race. So here goes:

Lap 54 to Lap 78

Lap 54 Perez ran Raikkonen off the track at the Nouvelle chicane but the Iceman managed to get back on the racing line and maintain track position. By Lap 55, the Force India of Sutil had started to swarm all over Alonso’s back and finally in Lap 57 in what is the slowest corner of the circuit – the Portier hairpin – went to the inside of the track and passed the Spanish driver.

However, it must be said that Alonso who was having a frustrating evening driving around with debris stuck in his front wing, lost concentration and provided Sutil ample room by moving wide to the right. This moved the Force India driver up one place to 7th.

At the 58th Lap the line-up was: Rosberg, Mercedes, Vettel, Red Bull, Webber, Red Bull, Hamilton, Mercedes, Raikkonen, Lotus, Perez, McLaren, Sutil, Force India, Alonso, Ferrari, Button, McLaren and Vergne, Torro Rosso.

Jules Bianchi, Marussia crashed out in the 60th lap but he was lucky to avoid the barrier and slid away into the slip road to crash sideways into the tyre barriers. Double yellow flags were out and DRS disabled. Vettel had by now stepped off the gas preferring to follow quietly behind Rosberg who in terms of championship points is a whopping 67 points behind. It was smart thinking.

Webber too cut out the histrionics and maintained a respectful distance behind his championship-leading team-mate. If there was anyone trying to race at this stage, it was Lewis Hamilton although he too was provided with the routine team warning to take care of his tyres!

Romain Grosjean, Lotus climbs into the Torro Rosso of Daniel Di Ricciardo.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus climbs into the Torro Rosso of Daniel Di Ricciardo.

In Lap 62 Romain Grosjean decided in a fraction of a second of madness that he had to get past Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso, but instead launched his Lotus right into the back-end of the impressive Australian. It was a totally careless accident from the Frenchman who, much like Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez was fast developing a reputation of being a reckless “kamikaze kid”.

Debris scattered all over the area meant that the yellow flags were out and the race temporarily suspended with the Safety Car out. Grosjean though, managed to get back into the pits, get a new nose assembly and a set of front wings! He rejoined the field in Lap 63 only to limp around at the back-end of the grid until Lap 65 and then get back into the pits with a broken floor, to retire from the race.

Normal racing was resumed at the end of Lap 66. All the leads had by now been wiped out thanks to the Safety Car but the leaders led by Rosberg made perfect starts to pull away from the pack. Status quo in terms of the Top 10 cars was maintained at this stage.

However, in Lap 69, the usual suspect, Perez, McLaren made contact with Raikkonen, Lotus even as they made their way into the Nouvelle chicane. Raikkonen was always going left, cutting off any space for the McLaren driver to pass but instead of slowing down and letting the Lotus take the racing line, ploughed into latter’s rear right tyre. The jury is still out on whether Raikkonen could have provided a bit more room to Perez or whether the latter should have backed off when he saw the daylight in front of him close.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Sergio Perez, McLaren bang wheels at Monaco.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Sergio Perez, McLaren bang wheels at Monaco.

The result was a smashed front wing for Perez and a rear tyre puncture for Raikkonen. With no choice left, the Finn was forced to pit in Lap 70! Kimi meanwhile, returned to the track in Lap 71 in 16th place. It was going to be the first time in 23 consecutive races that he was going to be out of the points table.

The blown front wing on Perez’s McLaren meant that he was beginning to lose downforce and consequently grip and very soon, Sutil made his move and passed him comfortably to take P5. However, the Mexican reclaimed the place in Lap 73 when he went off the road and came back on track in front of the German! This was getting ridiculous now.

More action from the Perez corner when in the very next lap, Sutil banged wheels with him at the Rascasse corner to push the McLaren into the left side barriers. Perez somehow stayed on course but was now aligned with team-mate Jensen Button who was not going to do him any favours given their recent history, cut off any room Perez had, to slide past him.

That was the end for Perez’s race as he struggled with brake problems and was forced to park at the side of the road, unable to get back into the pits. Poetic justice or what?

The mêlée pushed Arian Sutil into 5th place, maintaining Force India’s impressive performance this year and probably showing the German’s credentials as a superb F1 driver who had lost none of his skills in the two years that he was out of the sport.

With just under 3 laps remaining, Rosberg pulled away from the pack and a victory was well in sight and that too 30 years after his father Keke Rosberg had achieved the feat at Monaco – the first father-son duo to do so.

The real surprise though? Kimi Raikkonen still managed to finish 10th to complete 23 consecutive races in the points!

MONACO STATS AND FACTS

MONACO DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 25
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 18
3 Mark Webber Red Bull 15
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 12
5 Adrian Sutil Force India 10
6 Jensen Button McLaren  8
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari  6
8 Jean Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari  4
9 Paul Di Resta Force India  2
10 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus  1
OVERALL DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 107
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 86
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 78
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 62
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 57
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 47
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 45
8 Paul Di Resta Force India 28
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 26
10 Jensen Button McLaren 25
11 Adrian Sutil Force India 16
12 Sergio Perez McLaren 12
13 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari  7
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber  5
15 Jean Eric Vergne Torro Rosso  5
CONSTRUCTORS STANDINGS
POS. TEAM PTS.
1 Red Bull-Renault 164
2 Ferrari 123
3 Lotus-Renault 112
4 Mercedes 109
5 Force India-Mercedes 44
6 McLaren-Mercedes 37
7 STR-Ferrari* 12
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
*Torro Rosso

Barcelona F1 Grand Prix: Stats and Fun Facts

Despite being all about tyres, the Spanish Grand Prix provided its share of thrills and spills. Here is an overview of the key stats and facts.

Casa Milà at dusk in Barcelona, Spain. The bui...

Casa Milà at dusk in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Winner’s Time

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 1:39:16:596 (h:mm:ss:000)

Alonso was back at his best to win his home race.

Alonso was back at his best to win his home race.

Fastest Lap of the Race

Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari: 1:26:217 (m:ss:000)

Longest Tyre Stint:

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault: 21 Laps (3rd Stint – Hard Tyres)

Best Total Pit-Stop Time (3 Stops)

Jensen Button, McLaren-Mercedes: 57.296s

Best Race Pit-Stops (4 Stops)

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Ranault: 1:15:559s

AWARDS

Barcelona’s Best

  1. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari for an excellently paced and tactically perfect race.
Felipe Massa drive a great race to stay in the top 3.

Felipe Massa drive a great race to stay in the top 3.

2. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault for taking P2 after qualifying at P5.

  1. Felipe Massa, Ferrari for maintaining steady pace and showing tactical nous to finish 3rd.

Barcelona Surprises

  1. Paul Di Resta, Force India for  driving yet another superb race to finish at P7.
  2. The STR-Ferrari of Daniel Ricciardo which seems to be a vastly improved car this season.

Bahrain Flops

  1. The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg who started at the front of the grid and then went steadily down the field with high levels of tyre degradation and wear.
  2. Pastor Maldonado, Williams, for continuing to be practically invisible!

Team Radio Communication of the Race

Two nuggets from Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes make this a no-contest!

  1. “I can’t go any slower!” (When asked by his team to take care of his tyres and conserve fuel.)
  2. “I got overtaken by a Williams!”
PIT-STOP AND TYRE STRATEGIES: TOP 10 DRIVERS
POS. DRIVER TEAM START LAP STOP 1 LAP STOP 2 LAP STOP 3 LAP STOP 4
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari M 9 H 21 H 36 M 49 H
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus M 10 M 26 M 45 H NA NA
3 Felipe Massa Ferrari M 8 H 20 H 36 M 51 H
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull M 10 H 24 H 39 M 51 H
5 Mark Webber Red Bull M 7 H 20 H 36 M 50 H
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes M 10 H 27 H 47 H NA NA
7 Paul Di Resta Force India M 9 H 19 M 38 M 53 H
8 Jensen Button McLaren M 11 H 28 H 46 H NA NA
9 Sergio Perez McLaren M 10 H 23 H 38 M 50 H
10 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari M 10 H 24 M 39 H 51 H
M Medium H Hard
PIT-STOP TIME: TOP 10 DRIVERS
POS. DRIVER TEAM STOP 1 STOP 2 STOP 3 STOP 4 TOTAL
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 18.909 19.952 19.519 18.471 1:16:851
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 19.978 19.743 20.184 0 59.905
3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 19.490 19.373 19.326 19.001 1:17:190
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 18.606 18.708 19.551 18.694 1:15:559
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 19.668 19.151 19.170 18.931 1:16:920
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 19.414 20.032 19.352 0 58.978
7 Paul Di Resta Force India 20.615 19.792 19.822 19.481 1:19:710
8 Jensen Button McLaren 18.810 19.196 19.290 0 57.296
9 Sergio Perez McLaren 19.250 20.578 19.866 19.993 1:19.687
10 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 19.795 20.100 19.498 19.857 1:19:250
BARCELONA DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 25
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 18
3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 15
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 12
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 10
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes  8
7 Paul Di Resta Force India  6
8 Jensen Button McLaren  4
9 Sergio Perez McLaren  2
10 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari  1
OVERALL DRIVER STANDINGS (5 RACES)
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 89
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 85
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 70
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 52
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 48
6 Mark Webber Red Bull 42
7 Paul Di Resta Force India 32
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 26
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 22
10 Jensen Button McLaren 17
11 Sergio Perez McLaren 12
12 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari  7
13 Adrian Sutil Force India  6
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber  5
15 Jean Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari  1
CONSTRUCTORS STANDINGS
POS. TEAM       PTS.
1 Red Bull-Renault 131
2 Ferrari 118
3 Lotus-Renault 111
4 Mercedes 74
5 Force India-Mercedes 38
6 McLaren-Mercedes 29
7 STR-Ferrari* 8
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
*Torro Rosso

The Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix: Alonso Reigns Supreme at Home!

Although the Spanish GP was more about tyre management and pit stop strategies, it still provided an intriguing spectacle for die-hard F1 fans.

May 10, 11, 12, 2013

After the Bahrain disaster, Fernando Alonso was back at his best to win his home race.

Qualifying

Pirelli yet again brought the medium and hard tyre compounds for the Spanish Grand Prix. It was early Christmas for the teams even as the tyre maker offered an extra set of tyres for free practice as well. As in Bahrain, the compounds were expected to favour the likes of Red Bull Racing, Lotus and Ferrari although pundits were quick to dismiss the chances of Mercedes who have struggled with tyre degradation and unusually heavy wear in the season so far.

Q1 saw the exit of last year’s winner, Pastor Maldonado of Williams-Renault and his team-mate Valtterri Bottas, Guido Van Der Garde and Charles Pic, Caterham, and Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, Marussia.

The Mercedes team topped the time-sheets with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clocking 1:21:728s and 1:21.913s respectively. Interestingly, Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus put in a time of 1:22:210s on the hard compound tyres and that too after being held up by the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.

Q2 continued in the same vein with Hamilton waiting it out until the last minute of the session to top the time-sheets with a run of 1:20:001s followed by Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari and Raikkonen, Lotus. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Sergio Perez, McLaren, Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Romain Grosjean, Lotus and Paul Di Resta, Force India, made the cut while Jensen Button, McLaren was the one upset among the top drivers not to make the Top 10 for Q3.

With less than two minutes to go in Q3, a string of cars hit the circuit including Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton. Rosberg set the fastest time of 1:20:728s, followed by team-mate Hamilton who was a mere 2/10ths of a second behind.

Final Line-up: 1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), 5. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 7. Romain Grosjean (Lotus), 8. Mark Webber (Red Bull), 9. Sergio Perez (McLaren), 10. Paul Di Resta (Force India).

Race Laps 1 – 20

Rosberg got off to a decent start to maintain his pole position at the start of the race but team-mate Hamilton locked a wheel into Turn 1 and had to concede track position to Vettel who stormed his way from the outside to slot in just behind the leader.

Meanwhile, Alonso in the Ferrari blazed his way from the left side of the track to first lock wheels with Hamilton and then sweep past him and Raikkonen into third place. It was brilliant, fully committed racing from the Spaniard on a circuit where overtaking is difficult, if not impossible.

Raikkonen was down into 5th place, continuing his terrible streak with race starts. Down the grid, Perez and Massa battled it out for track position with the former pushing the Brazilian wide only to lose the place by the start of Lap 2. At this stage both the Ferraris were showing terrific race pace and seemed to be flying past the competition even without DRS enabled!

That duly happened in the middle of Lap 3 and immediately, Vettel began to close in on Rosberg while Raikkonen set about pressurizing Hamilton. But status quo was maintained well into the 6th Lap with the magnificent string of cars all within half a second of each other. At this point, 19 cars were separated by a mere 15 seconds!

It wasn’t until the middle of Lap 7 that Raikkonen finally made his move on Hamilton; zipping to the inside of the Mercedes and making an opportunistic pass stick. Meanwhile, Mark Webber who had been languishing in P13 was called in to the pits in Lap 8 and loaded with a fresh set of hard compound tyres. The Red Bull strategy was to change things around and push hard from here on given that Webber still had a couple of hard sets of rubber available for the remainder of the race.

Lap 8 saw Hamilton struggle with brake and tyre issues and that made it easy for Massa to pass him and claim track position at P5. As was the case in Bahrain, the Mercedes was losing ground alarmingly. However, Ferrari chose to give up the position by pitting Massa at the end of the lap and getting him on to the hard compound tyres. Massa rejoined the field at P14.

More pit action was in store at the top of Lap 9 with Adrian Sutil, Force India and Romain Grosjean, Lotus limping back into the garage with mechanical failures. The race had ended for the French driver but the Force India crew were able to douse the smoke emanating from Sutil’s rear brakes and send him back out, albeit after what seemed like eons in the pits.

Alonso made his first stop at the start of Lap 10 and changed his tyre to the hard compound as did Mercedes’ Hamilton. They were followed in quick succession by all three leaders – Rosberg, Vettel and Raikkonen. Of these, only the Finn went back in on medium compound tyres.

Ferrari’s strategy of pitting Alonso earlier than the leaders bore rich dividends when he managed to get ahead of Sebastian Vettel at the pit lane apex in order to move himself in to P3 just behind Rosberg. The home boy was now storming down the tail of the German.

In the middle of the field, Jensen Button, McLaren had sneaked his way into P6 after a very early pit-stop at the start of the race. But Raikkonen on fresher tyres had started to gain on him and very soon passed him comfortably at Turn 10 to claim the position. At this point in the race, Esteban Gutierrez of Sauber led the race for the very first time in his fledgling F1 career followed by Rosberg who had somehow managed to ward off the marauding Alonso.

Meanwhile, Mark Webber who went down the field to P17 was back in P7 driving beautifully on his set of fresh hard tyres. It was clear that the Red Bull strategy of pitting him earlier than planned, was working perfectly and a podium finish seemed on the cards.

Alonso’s frustration at being stuck behind a persevering Rosberg finally came to an end at the start of Lap 13 as he swept past the German at Turn 1 driving the home fans to frenzy. With Gutierrez yet to pit, the legion of Alonso fans sensed that it was going to be his day!

That move was also the cue for Vettel and Massa to start attacking Rosberg and at Turn 6 blew past him to take P3. Massa too was now on the rear wing waiting to make his move from P5 which he duly accomplished in the next couple of turns.

Felipe Massa drive a great race to stay in the top 3.

Felipe Massa drive a great race to stay in the top 5 throughout the race.

Rosberg’s misery was not over because now Raikkonen started to gain on him. By Lap 15, the Finn made his pass on Rosberg to snatch P4. As in Bahrain, the Mercedes was now being gobbled up by the cars behind!

Within a span of a few seconds, the leader board had changed drastically with Alonso leading followed by Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen and Rosberg. But the race was now becoming increasingly about tyre management rather than flat out racing. All the drivers were now intent on saving their rubber rather than battling for track position.

However, Vettel and Webber in the Red Bulls were now flagging with Massa rapidly gaining on the German and Perez in the McLaren and Paul Di Resta, Force India starting to threaten Webber. Before that could happen, Daniel Ricciardo who until now had been driving a superb race, slotted past Di Resta to put himself in P8. Di Resta however, pitted in the same lap.

End of Lap 20: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 5. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 6. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 7. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 8. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari) 9. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 10. Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber).

Race Laps 21 – 40

Felipe Massa came into the pits at the top of Lap 21 for his second stop allowing Kimi Raikkonen to move into 3rd place. He was fitted with another set of brand new hard tyres and rejoined the field at P11. Race leader Alonso followed in the very next lap released. With a rash of pit stops at the middle of the field, Massa too managed to work his way up to P5.

The Ferraris were yet again back in contention for the podium spots considering that the current leaders, Vettel, Raikkonen and Rosberg (P4) had only made one pit-stop each and were due for tyre change. However, with Massa having opened up the slot for Raikkonen, the Finn was now flying in clean air and had come within 7/10ths of a second behind the current race leader, Vettel.

The German world champion made his second stop in Lap 24 and finally released Raikkonen to lead the race for the first time in the Spanish Grand Prix. Alonso meanwhile, was lapping some three seconds faster and had now come within 5.8 seconds of the leading Lotus.

Towards the back of the field, Webber started to make steady progress after easily passing an increasingly dejected Hamilton. To make matters even worse for him, Di Resta in the Force India breezed past with effortless ease. In yet another Mercedes-Red Bull shoot-out, Vettel blasted away from Rosberg in Lap 26. The Mercedes campaign after a great qualifying was now in tatters!

Raikkonen finally relinquished his hard-fought leadership position in the same lap to free up Alonso at the top of the field. Interestingly though, the Iceman was put back on medium compound tyres and rejoined the race at P4.

By Lap 30 Kimi was hot on the heels of P3 Vettel. The intriguing, edge-of-the-seat dogfight continued well into Lap 33 when the Finn finally made a stupendous pass on Turn 14 to wrest the position. Raikkonen was well and truly flying on his medium tyres but still 18 seconds behind the Ferrari of Alonso.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, yet again proved that he was the master of tyre management.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, yet again proved that he was the master of tyre management.

Alonso duly made his third stop at the start of Lap 37 yet again yielding the first place to Raikkonen but with the advantage of being on a fresher set of hard tyres overtook him on the main straight at the start of Lap 39. Raikkonen was now into 13 laps on the same set of medium compounds yet again proving that he was the master at tyre management.

End of Lap 40: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 7. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari) 8. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) 9. Jensen Button (McLaren) 10. Paul Di Resta (Force India).

Race Laps 41 – 60

Lap 41 witnessed a battle royal between Gutierrez, Sauber and Button in the McLaren. The rookie driver managed to hold off Button but had to finally concede the place towards the end of the lap when the 2009 World Champion slipped past him to put himself in 7th place.

The remainder of the field remained pretty much the same by Lap 44 with Alonso leading the race followed by Raikkonen (+7.656s), Massa (+9.252s), Vettel (+14.033s) and Webber (+8.937s). But Alonso was pulling away quickly from Raikkonen and widening the gap in every sector and Massa too was putting in some truly fast lap times to close in on Kimi.

Given the pressure applied by the Brazilian driver, Raikkonen was called in on Lap 46 for his third and possibly his last pit stop of the race. He was fitted with a brand new set of hard compound tyres and rejoined the field at P4 – the first time in the race that he was on the harder prime rubber.

By the start of Lap 47, Alonso was ahead of Raikkonen in P3 by 29.498 seconds and Massa by nearly 19 seconds, thereby making it a foregone conclusion that he could make his 4th pit-stop and still continue to lead the field quite comfortably. Massa and Vettel – both their cars on medium compound tyres – were due for their last stops with 19 laps still to go.

Alonso made his final pit-stop in Lap 49 and came back out on hard compound tyres and stayed ahead of Raikkonen and team-mate Massa at the pit exit.

The Ferrari team finally got Massa in for his last stop at the head of Lap 52 as did the Red Bull team with Vettel. Both went back on hard tyres and rejoined the race at P3 and P4 respectively.

Enjoying the traction and grip that the fresh rubber was affording Alonso, the two-time World Champion had opened up a 10 second lead at the top of the field ahead of the second placed Raikkonen. He increased that to over 12.6 seconds by the start of the 56th lap.

Paul Di Resta, Force India drove another brilliant race to threaten the likes of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.

Paul Di Resta, Force India drove another brilliant race to threaten the likes of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.

At the centre of the field, there were a couple of mini battles taking place between the Mercedes and Force India teams. Rosberg was defending 6th place from Di Resta while Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil were scrapping it out for 12th.

The other interesting contest was between the old suspects and team-mates Button and Perez for P9. As was witnessed in Bahrain, Perez was not going to let the more illustrious partner to dictate terms being as he was on hard compound tyres which were 4 laps fresher than Buttn’s. However, team orders were sent out to the Mexican driver requesting him to hold station

End of Lap 60: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 7. Paul Di Resta (Force India) 8. Jensen Button (McLaren) 9. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 10. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari).

Race Laps 61 – 66

The top 10 maintained their positions in Lap 61 as the time gaps between cars remained constant with Alonso taking full advantage of the clean air in front of him as did Massa who was driving wonderfully at this stage. The Ferrari strategy was to allow Massa to go as fast as he could in order to catch Raikkonen in 2nd place thereby making it a one-two for the Italian automotive giant.

The strategy was fraught with risk considering that Massa could blow his tyres in the bargain leaving him little leeway in the race in terms of pit-stops. The fight was all but given up with his left rear tyres showing heavy graining that resulted in him lapping almost three seconds slower.

In a race where ttres mattered, Guido Van Der Garde of Caterham lost one!

In a race where tyres mattered, Guido Van Der Garde of Caterham lost one!

Meanwhile, the joust between Rosberg and Di Resta continued through to Lap 64 when the Scot narrowly missed a passing chance on the main straight. At this point, Di Resta was a mere .339 seconds behind the Mercedes driver.

There were no last-minute spills or thrills in the final lap as all the cars held their positions leaving Alonso a clear winner followed by Raikkonen and Massa.

Although not a great race by any standards, considering that it was more about tyre management and pit stop strategies rather than pure racing, the championship had been spiced up just enough to keep all the front-runners – read Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso – within sniffing distance of the 2013 World Championship.

Final Standings: 1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 7. Paul Di Resta (Force India) 8. Jensen Button (McLaren) 9. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 10. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari).

Next edition: The Spanish GP Stats Sheet

Bahrain GP 2013: Stats and Fun Facts

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel may have made the contest one-sided, but there was enough excitement down the field to keep everyone watching hooked.  

Here are some of the highlights, stats and fun facts.

Bahrain fountain.

Bahrain fountain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Winner’s Time

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Ranault: 1:36:00:498 (h:mm:ss:000)

Fastest Lap of the Race

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault Racing: 1:36:961 (m:ss:000)

Sebastian Vettel stormed to an easy win in Bahrain.

Sebastian Vettel stormed to an easy win in Bahrain.

Pole Position

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes: 1:32:330 (m:ss:000)

Longest Tyre Stint

23 Laps: Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault

Best Total Pit-Stop Time (2 Stops)

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault: 43.988s

Kimi Raikkonen has mastered the art of managing the 2013 Pirelli tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen has mastered the art of managing the 2013 Pirelli tyres.

AWARDS

Bahrain’s Brilliant

  1. Sebastian Vettel, RBR-Renault for a tactically flawless race.
  2. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault for taking P2 after qualifying at P9.
  3. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault for taking 3rd after qualifying at P11.
  4. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes for a career-best 4th place on a two-stop pit strategy.

Bahrain Surprises

  1. Sergio Perez, McLaren-Mercedes for taking on team-mate Jensen Button and finishing at P6.
  2. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes’ first pit-stop which was neither here nor there!
  3. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes for leading the race albeit for 3 laps.

Bahrain Shunts

  1. Valtterri Bottas, Williams ploughing into Jean-Eric Vergne, STR-Ferrari, which resulted in the Frenchman driving into the Caterham of Guido Van Der Garde!
  2. Mark Webber, RBR-Renault for touching wheels with Nico Rosberg, Mercedes and getting summons from the race stewards.
  3. Felipe Massa, Ferrari’s joust with Adrian Sutil of Force India-Mercedes that practically wrecked the race for both drivers.

Bahrain Disappointments

  1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes for not being able to capitalise on his pole position and dropping down to 9th place.
  2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari for having a mechanical failure on his DRS flap on the rear wing which destroyed his race.
  3. Felipe Massa, Ferrari for suffering two tyre failures and a damaged front wing that kept him out of the points table.
PIT-STOP AND TYRE STRATEGIES: TOP 10 DRIVERS
POS. DRIVER TEAM START LAP STOP 1 LAP STOP 2 LAP STOP 3 LAP STOP 4
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull MEDIUM 10 HARD 25 HARD 42 HARD
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus MEDIUM 16 HARD 34 HARD
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus HARD 16 HARD 27 MEDIUM 42 MEDIUM
4 Paul Di Resta Force India MEDIUM 14 HARD 36 HARD
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes MEDIUM 10 MEDIUM 22 HARD 38 HARD
6 Sergio Perez McLaren MEDIUM 10 HARD 20 HARD 39 HARD
7 Mark Webber Red Bull MEDIUM  8 HARD 21 HARD 37 HARD
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari MEDIUM  7 HARD 8 HARD 24 HARD 39 HARD
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes MEDIUM  9 HARD 20 HARD 33 MEDIUM 44 MEDIUM
10 Jensen Button McLaren MEDIUM  9 HARD 21 HARD 34 HARD 46 MEDIUM
PIT-STOP TIMES
POS. DRIVER TEAM STOP 1 STOP 2 STOP 3 STOP 4 TOTAL
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 21.660 21.290 21.906 0 1:04:856
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 22.715 21.273 0 0 43.988
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 24.605 21.608 21.556 0 1:07:769
4 Paul Di Resta Force India 22.009 22.475 0 0 44.484
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 22.072 21.444 21.600 0 1:05.116
6 Sergio Perez McLaren 21.471 21.161 21.319 0 1:03:951
7 Mark Webber Red Bull 21.798 21.221 21.031 0 1:04:050
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 23.055 21.436 21.123 21.189 1:26:803
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 22.237 21.331 21.183 21.267 1:26:018
10 Jensen Button McLaren 23.093 21.894 21.696 21.230 1:27:913
BAHRAIN DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 25
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 18
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 15
4 Paul Di Resta Force India 12
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 10
6 Sergio Perez McLaren  8
7 Mark Webber Red Bull  6
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari  4
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes  2
10 Jensen Button McLaren  1
OVERALL DRIVER STANDINGS (4 RACES)
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 77
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 67
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 52
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 45
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 32
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 30
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 26
8 Paul Di Resta Force India 26
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 14
10 Jensen Button McLaren 13
11 Sergio Perez McLaren 10
12 Daniel Ricciardo Torro Rosso  6
13 Adrian Sutil Force India  6
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber  5
15 Jean Eric Vergne Torro Rosso  1
CONSTRUCTORS STANDINGS
POS. TEAM PTS.
1 Red Bull-Renault 109
2 Lotus-Renault 107
3 Ferrari  58
4 Mercedes  66
5 Force India  36
6 McLaren  16
7 STR-Ferrari*   7
8 Sauber-Ferrari   5
*Torro Rosso

 

The Formula 1 Shanghai Grand Prix: Surprises…and Delights!

The Shanghai Grand Prix was more about team and driver-strategy rather than all out racing and speed. Here is a detailed race review of the high-voltage tactical shoot-out over the weekend.  

(Race 3; April 12, 13, 14, 2013)

Fernando Alonso drove a masterful race to take the 2013 Shanghai GP.

Fernando Alonso drove a masterful race to take the 2013 Shanghai GP.

Qualifying Quandary

Qualifying was a messy, messy affair. With Pirelli offering only two tyre compounds – Soft and Medium – for the race, the teams were extremely tentative. The soft compounds were wearing far too quickly for comfort which forced the top 10 drivers to conserve them for the race.  For Q3, all of them, without exception, waited out a full eight minutes of the 10-minute session, before a few dared to put in a couple of cursory laps.

World Champion, Sebastian Vettel started his run in the last-minute in an effort to best Lewis Hamilton’s lap time of 1:34:484s to wrest pole position, but ended up on the grass after a brake failure that caused some damage to the set of medium tyres that he was to start the race with. Vettel scraped through in his only timed lap of Q3 to P9.  His team-mate, Mark Webber had it worse! His car was short-fuelled by some 3kg thereby relegating the hapless Australian to a pit lane start at P22.

After a none-too-impressive set of runs in Q1 and Q2, Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen put in a flying lap that clocked 1:34:761s to place him at P2. This was the first time since 2009 that the Finn was to start at the top of the grid. Team-mate Romain Grosjean too was impressive and garnered a respectable P6 start raising hopes of a high points finish for the Lotus Team in their assault at the 2013 Constructors Championship.

The Ferraris showed consistent performance during all three qualifiers and both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa slotted themselves at P3 and P5 respectively with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg splitting the pair at P4.

If there were any surprises, it was the vastly improved showing by Torro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo who came in at P7.

The last two positions – P8 and P10 – were taken by 2009 World Champion Jensen Button and Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber.

The major disappointments in qualifying were Force India, the team which despite showing a lot of promise and pace in the last couple of races, ended outside the top 10. Paul Di Resta ended his charge in Q2 to be placed P11 while Adrina Sutil slotted in at P13.

Race Laps 1 – 15

Hamilton made a decent getaway to maintain pole position at the start of the race. However, Kimi Raikkonen had an electronics failure and a resultant wheel lock that delayed his start and allowed the two Ferraris of Alonso and Massa to easily overtake and claim P2 and P3 respectively. When Raikkonen finally got going, he had to fight off the marauding cars at the back in order to somehow maintain his position at P4 – it was an excellent recovery.

There was a mêlée of sorts between the mid-runners with Grosjean (Lotus) and Rosberg (Mercedes) battling for the 5th place. Rosberg managed to hold track position briefly, and lost it to the Frenchman in the very next lap. The Lotuses were now running at P4 and P5.

Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta have an early mishap

Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta have an early mishap

Meanwhile, Force India’s race was going awry when Sutil knocked Di Resta off the track forcing the Scotsman to lose a couple of grid positions in the bargain. By the time Di Resta recovered and moved up a place, the two were running at P13 and P14 respectively.

At the back of the grid, Webber was the first of the drivers to pit (Lap 2). The idea was to get rid of his soft tyres and get on to the mediums with the hope of going longer and consequently work his way into the middle of the pack as other drivers pitted.

It was in Lap 5, that the Shanghai Grand Prix exploded to life. Alonso blasted in right behind Hamilton and used the outside race line to the Englishman’s left to take the lead in one swooping overtaking manoeuvre. Almost simultaneously, Massa cut to the right of Hamilton to take the inside line and zip past him to take 2nd place. Within a fraction of a second, Hamilton had lost two grid places and his race seemed to be headed downhill with Raikkonen now monstering all over his back wing!

His team-mate Rosberg was faring no better! Struggling with tyre-wear and hardly any traction on his soft compounds, the German was forced to concede track position – first to Hulkenberg and then to a rapidly advancing Vettel. The champion’s strategy of starting on mediums was beginning to pay dividends.

This forced the Mercedes drivers to double-stack in the pits! Hamilton was released first and he rejoined the race at P16 while Rosberg had to be content with P18. Meanwhile, Sauber’s rookie driver, Esteban Gutierrez ploughed into the back of Force India’s Sutil effectively ending the race for both. Sutil limped back into the pits with a broken rear wing and fire spitting out of his rear brakes.

Lap 7 saw Alonso make his first pit-stop while Massa decided to stay out thereby putting him in the lead for the first time. Raikkonen too came in for a tyre change in the same lap. The leader board now read Massa, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Sergio Perez (McLaren), Di Resta, Pastor Maldonando (Williams), Valterri Bottas (Williams) and Jean Eric Vergne (Torro Rosso). However, every one of them bar Vettel, was due for their first stop.

In the interim, Webber had worked his way to P14, but his medium tyres had started to wear alarmingly considering that his gear and rev settings were cranked up to the maximum in order to facilitate overtaking. He was asked to come in to pit on Lap 8.

Massa too was now lapping almost two seconds slower in some sectors and was asked by Team Ferrari to box at the end of Lap 7. The pit-stop was a disaster as it lost Massa 11 positions and he had to rejoin the race at P12.

This put Hulkenberg in the lead for the first time, hotly pursued by Vettel. The top two were followed by a steady Button, Perez and Di Resta. During the frenetic pit-stops and shunts, Alonso (P7), Hamilton (P8) and Raikkonen (10) had quietly moved back up the field and into the top 10. By Lap 9, both Alonso and Hamilton duly passed Vergne and Raikkonen glided past Bottas. The top 5 drivers at the 13-lap stage had not pitted for tyres even once but Di Resta now flagging considerably, was passed by Alonso who then began to threaten Perez’s 4th place. It was only a matter of minutes before Hamilton followed suit.

It wasn’t until Lap 14 that both Hulkenberg and Vettel decided that they had enough and made their first pit-stops for the race. When they were released, Vettel sneaked ahead of the Suber driver, thanks again to an excellent pit-stop (2.5s) by Red Bull crew pushing him back in at P9 while Hulkenberg rejoined at P11.

The Webber-Vergne (Torro Rosso) collision

The Webber-Vergne (Torro Rosso) collision

Just when everyone thought that the action for the first quarter of the race was over, Webber made contact with Vergne’s Torro Rosso ending the Frenchman’s race whilst himself suffering a badly damaged front wing! With the car losing downforce rapidly, Webber was forced to make an unscheduled pit-stop at the end of the lap to replace the broken wing.

End of Lap 15: 1. Button (McLaren) 2. Alonso (Ferrari) 3. Perez (McLaren) 4. Hamilton (Mercedes) 5. Raikkonen (Lotus) 6. Massa (Ferrari) 7. Vettel (Red Bull) 8 Webber (Red Bull) 9. Rosberg (Mercedes) 10. Hulkenberg (Sauber).

Race Laps 16 – 30

The start of the 16th lap was no different in terms of the chaotic action witnessed in the first 15 laps. It started with Raikkonen chasing down a much slower Perez whose tyres were by now shot to bits. As the Mexican slowed on the corner, Raikkonen went straight into the back of the McLaren which resulted in a damaged front wing and a broken car nose!

A small portion of the tip of the Finn’s car was ripped and flapping in the onrushing air. The worry for Team Lotus at this stage was whether this would seriously impact and compromise Raikkonen’s race but after brief chat over the radio decided it was best for him to soldier on without change in the team’s original race strategy of three stops. However, he couldn’t resist remarking, “What the hell is he doing!” It was classic Kimi!

Raikkonen duly completed a pass on Perez to get back into P4.

Webber loses his right tyre and retires to cap a miserable weekend!

Webber loses his rear right tyre and retires to cap a miserable weekend!

Meanwhile, Webber who had just pitted and rejoined the field began to lose pace and was sputtering down to a crawl. And just when every one thought matters couldn’t get any worse for him, on his limp back to the pits one of his rear tyres broke free from the wheel and began a precarious roll across the middle of the track and right in the way of the following drivers – one of them being a certain Sebastian Vettel!  (To make matters even worse, the race stewards later found Webber guilty of the accident with Vergne earlier, and have penalised him with a 3-place grid penalty for the next race in Bahrain!)

At the top of the grid, Alonso was now the race leader having overtaken Button, who remarkably was continuing on his start tyres and had now gone 20 laps without a change. Vettel continued his resurgent run and cleanly passed Perez to get back into contention for a podium. He was now chasing Raikkonen for P4, who in turn, was hot on Hamilton’s heels at P3! This epic battle continued into the pits when both drivers made their second stops on Lap 22. Vettel had by now passed a fast-fading Button to slot himself behind race leader Alonso at P2.

Hamilton and Raikkonen rejoined at P9 and 10 in that order but were on fresh new medium compounds. Very soon, they were all over the likes of Ricciardo but the slower cars bunched up in the middle were creating problems in terms of race pace for them. It took some doing before regaining their places at P4 and P5 respectively just behind Hulkenberg who was driving a terrific race to sneak his way back into P3.

A while earlier, on Lap 21, Rosberg made yet another pit-stop, a terrible one at that. He did not have to rue that mishap because he was forced to retire after a couple more laps with a mechanical failure.

On Lap 23, Button finally came into the pits behind Alonso who made his second stop of the race. While Alonso joined at P3, Button gained tremendously with his fewer stops strategy by re-entering the fray at P5. This put him just ahead of Raikkonen at this stage of the race.

Jensen Button, McLaren made his tyres work for 24 laps in the first stint.

Jensen Button, McLaren made his tyres work for 23 laps in the first stint.

The lead was back in the hands of the world champion, Vettel. In the middle of the field, former team-mates Button and Hamilton were locked in a dogfight which the latter won comfortably at the start of Lap 29. Using the faster pace of the Mercedes and the DRS zone, Hamilton clipped past Button effortlessly to get to P4.

At the same time, the top end of the grid was seeing a fantastic battle between Vettel and Alonso or pole with the Spaniard relentlessly attacking the former. His opening came soon enough when on one of the later turns, he cut to the inside of Vettel and blazed his way past to snatch the lead. His tyres at this stage were nine laps fresher than Vettel’s.

Hulkenberg who was at P5 by this time having been passed by both Hamilton and Button now decided to get back into the pits to change his tyres to the soft compounds with the view to do a quick middle stint and probably get back to the top of the leader board. The stop dropped him back to P8.

End of Lap 30: 1. Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Vettel (Red Bull) 3. Hamilton (Mercedes) 4. Button (McLaren) 5. Raikkonen (Lotus) 6. Di Resta (Force India) 7. Massa (Ferrari) 8. Hulkenberg (Sauber) 9. Grosjean (Lotus) 10. Ricciardo (Torro Rosso).

Race Laps 31 – 45:

This is probably the most sedate phase of any Grand Prix race (by F1 standards that is!). The cars are evenly spread out with the leaders enjoying comfortable distances between them and the middle of the pack. If there are any apprehensions for those at the top of the grid, it is about encountering the back-markers that have been lapped or then making an untimely pit-stop and ending up behind the pack of middle runners. In both cases, accidents or being held up by the slower cars is common.

Back in the thick of the action, Lap 31 saw Raikkonen on the tail of Button and passing him easily on the last turn of the Shanghai circuit.

Vettel pitted on Lap 31, his second stop of the race and as he went out again, encountered Massa’s thundering Ferrari. The champion, however, stayed ice-cool to execute the pass just on the turn after the pit lane exit. On the very next turn, he simply blazed past Force India’s Di Resta. His sights were now trained on Hulkenberg’s Sauber in P5. That pass was easily achieved on the DRS straight and Vettel in a short span of less than a lap was comfortably ensconced at P5. The champion was back driving at his very best!

Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber led the Shanghai GP 2013 briefly, but ended up at P10.

Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber led the Shanghai GP 2013 briefly, but ended up at P10.

During the same time, Raikkonen had narrowed the gap with Hamilton to within 1.2 seconds. The Finnish legend gave up the chase temporarily and made his third pit-stop on Lap 35. When he returned he had lost 4 grid places to P8, but was one of the first to get on to a fresh set of rubbers among the top runners. It was clear that Raikkonen was going to stay on the new set of medium compounds for 21 laps until the end of the race. His longest stint had been saved up for the last leg of the Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, Vettel had started to close in on Button, whose only second set of tyres were now running out of grip and life. The German had far superior traction and on Lap 36, put the hammer down in the DRS zone and made the pass stick. Massa by now had faded away from the top five now decided to take a final gamble by pitting before team-mate Alonso on Lap 37. Hulkenberg too came in for a change of compounds and settled for a final stint on medium tyres.

By the start of Lap 38, Alonso had opened up a 13.4 second lead from Hamilton 19 seconds from Vettel, 21 seconds from Button and 30 seconds from Raikkonen. But the Spaniard was due for a final pit-stop.

It was Hamilton, however, who decided to relinquish P2 to come in for his last tyre change with a view to make an all-out final charge to the finish line. On release, Hamilton joined in just behind Kimi Raikkonen in P6 which meant that the Mercedes pit strategy was spot on.

In quick succession, both the drivers swept past Ricciardo who by staying out late was in 4th place, thereby relegating him to P6. At the lead, Alonso was absolutely flying by now and extended his lead to 19-odd seconds from Vettel, 24 seconds from Button and 30 seconds from Raikkonen. With all of them yet to make their final stops, Alonso and Team Ferrari were pretty confident that he would rejoin the race yet again in the lead. It was near perfect pit-stop strategy from the Italian outfit. The Spaniard was finally called in for his last tyre stop at the end of Lap 40 and came out to rejoin at P2 just behind Vettel.

By lap 42 it was Hamilton who was doing all the flying having just set the fastest lap of the race. At the top of the grid, Alonso, now on a set of fresh medium compound tyres, swept past Vettel to regain the lead at the start of Lap 43. It was enthralling stuff!

IN Lap 44, Raikkonen finally made his move on Button, overtaking him to claim P3. It was only a matter of time before Hamilton was going to do the same to his former team-mate and after a short chase on his fresher rubber, eased past Button on the sweeping Turn 4.

Driving with a broken car nose, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus holds off Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Driving with a broken car nose, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus holds off Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

End of Lap 45: 1. Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Vettel (Red Bull) 3. Raikkonen (Lotus) 4. Hamilton (Mercedes) 5. Button (McLaren) 6. Di Resta (Force India) 7. Massa (Ferrari) 8. Hulkenberg (Sauber) 9. Ricciardo (Torro Rosso), 10. Grosjean (Lotus).

Race Laps 46 – 56: End Game!

With the last 10 laps of the Shanghai Grand Prix remaining, drivers had enough clean air between each other. It looked like the order at the end of Lap 45 would be maintained but there was the small matter of Vettel and Button having to pit for their final tyre changes, and that was going to jumble up the leader board yet again! There was speculation at this stage on whether Vettel would continue on his fraying medium tyres to complete the race with just two stops in order to claim a 2nd place podium finish. Button too looked like he might hold position and risk the final 10 laps on the same rubbers.

While Raikkonen and Hamilton continued on their epic racing saga at P3 and P4, Button eventually came back into the pits for his final tyre change on Lap 50. He conceded P5 to Di Resta and by the time he came back on track, he was down to P7. In Lap 51, Team Red Bull called Vettel in for his final pit-stop and sent him out on the soft compounds for a final concerted assault on the podium position runners. The radio message as he rejoined the field was, “Race to the finish!” It was going to be offense from the German, a fight to the finish. He moved past Di Resta to get P4 and then began his attack on Hamilton by setting the fastest lap of the race.

With two laps to go, Vettel was still around 6.5 seconds behind Hamilton but gaining rapidly thanks to the faster soft compounds that he was on now. Quite expectedly he cut the lead between the two down to 4 seconds by Lap 55 and 2 seconds in the final lap! Hamilton was under tremendous pressure from the German now.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel blazes his way across the track in the last lap

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel blazes his way across the track in the last lap

Fernando Alonso eventually cleared the line to take the chequered flag with Raikkonen comfortably cruising into second place; fittingly too because this was Ferrari’s 500th Formula 1 race.

But the Hamilton-Vettel dogfight still had some sting left in the tail. Into the last straight, Hamilton’s wheel locked up emitting plumes of smoke even as Vettel closed in for the kill. In the final few paces, Hamilton barely scraped through at P3 with the 3-time World Drivers Champion a mere 2/10th of a second behind in 4th place!

Shanghai had delivered!

Final Standings: 1. Alonso (Ferrari) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Hamilton (Mercedes) 4. Vettel (Red Bull) 5. Button (McLaren) 6. Massa (Ferrari) 7. Ricciardo (Torro Rosso) 8. Di Resta (Force India) 9. Grojean (Lotus) 10. Hulkenberg.

Next edition: The Shanghai Stats Sheet

Part II: F1 Season 2013 – It’s time for Predictions!

Featured are the two drivers – Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes – who have the best chance to turn the tables on the top seeds in the current season.

That Kimi Raikkonen is a cult figure in the Formula 1 Grand Prix firmament and has a legion of fervent, and passionate fans as is evident from this picture. A view of the “Kimi Grandstand” before the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012.

That Kimi Raikkonen is a cult figure in the Formula 1 Grand Prix firmament and has a legion of fervent and passionate fans as is evident from this picture. A view of the “Kimi Grandstand” before the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012.

3. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus (Finland): 2012 Season – Wins 1; Podiums 7; Points 207

Season 2013 (2 races): Wins 1; Podiums 0; Points 31

 When Kimi Raikkonen announced his return to the Formula 1 fold in 2012 after a three-year hiatus, there was a sense of euphoria among thousands of his loyal fans. And yet, there were some apprehensions as well. The question on most peoples’ lips was whether he would be the same force that he was when he walked away from it all after bagging one WDC title with Ferrari in 2007 and two runners-up finishes in 2003 and 2005 with McLaren respectively. Would he be competitive enough after such a long sabbatical especially considering that he was mainly rally driving for the Citroen Junior Racing Team, dabbling in a bit of NASCAR in the U.S. before ending up racing trucks in the Camping World Truck series!

But as the cliché goes, you can take a man out of racing, but you can’t take racing out of him! Raikkonen’s comeback was made possible before the 2012 Season when Lotus-Renault (the re-branded race management of Team Renault),  got him back into the fold. The man himself probably missed the adrenaline rush of being in the fastest cars in the world and so might have even settled for a lesser pay packet to get back into the F1 Grand Prix Circus (although he would be loath to admit it). You can check out the Iceman’s second coming by Lotus F1 at http://www.kimiraikkonen.com. It is truly a must for all Kimi die-hard fans!

And boy! What a phenomenal return it has been! Even after three years away from the mainstream, Raikkonen simply waded back into the frenetic, high-octane world of Formula 1 and glided his way to one win and seven podium finishes and a staggering 207 points to end the season on P3. The feat is categorised as “staggering” only because the car at Raikkonen’s disposal – the Lotus E20 – was way behind in race pace in comparison to the Red Bulls, McLarens and even the Mercedes’. And yet, he managed to beat two former world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button, quite comfortably.

The season’s crowning glory came in Abu Dhabi when he held off a marauding Fernando Alonso to win his first race in 2012. It is a testimony to Raikkonen’s sheer driving ability, acute spatial awareness and incredible race control that he managed to score points in that car in each race of the season bar one – at Shanghai, China where he finished at P14. Every other race was within the top 10 and there were 19 of them in all!

What was even more creditable was that he was the only driver to complete all 20 races without a single accident or mechanical failures. It is another matter though that his car had begun to sound like a hollow, damaged drum by the time he hit the brand new circuit in Austin, Texas. Raikkonen had literally worked his car and all the available engines for the season, into the ground! Contrast this performance of his younger team-mate Romain Grosjean’s results for the season wherein he had all of seven retirements through crashes and mechanical glitches!

So what does Kimi Raikkonen need to do this season in order to win the World Drivers Championship? Well, he has started terrifically by winning the Australian Grand Prix and then managing to somehow stay in the points (7th position for 6 points) in the Sepang Grand Prix, his qualifying penalty of three grid positions notwithstanding. A total of 31 points means that he is just 9 points adrift of Sebastian Vettel and already second in the driver’s points table. With the first win out-of-the-way, Raikkonen needs at least a couple more P1 finishes to throw in the gauntlet at Vettel and Alonso. And it is possible this season.

The Lotus-Renault E21 is showing fantastic pace in the dry, even faster than the Red Bulls or the Ferraris. Second, even as the likes of Vettel, Webber and most of the drivers are going to town criticising the rapid degradation of the new Pirelli tyres, Raikkonen has shown the way in their careful preservation and management. On the James Allen on F1 website (the Bible for us F1 fans), Lotus’ Technical Director, James Allison said that unlike what people believe about Raikkonen being a very fast driver; it is his patience over tens of laps that characterise his current version as an F1 racer.

To amplify the point, he revealed that when Kimi was behind the two race leaders at Sepang, he deliberately maintained a one second distance behind them, so that he had the benefit of clean air around him, which in turn, prevented his car’s tyres from overheating.

Allison has said in a podcast that Kimi lost traction on the wheels only twice during the entire race at Melbourne. And that even in the final laps (where he set the fastest lap time of the race), his tyres were only half worn! So much so for tyre degradation!

Given dry conditions, Raikkonen is going to dominate in the season that is unfolding even if the car he has does not have great pace in qualifying. Lotus is expecting a lot more updates in the days and months to come, so that would be one area that they will address specifically. But qualifying pace or not, it takes Raikkonen to spot one gap in the field at the start and he has the talent to simply blow his way into a top three slot. From there on, he is normally unbeatable only because the level of control he exercises is masterful.

Standing ovation for Raikkonen after his win at bu Dhabi in 2012.

Standing ovation for Raikkonen after his win at Abu Dhabi in 2012.

Raikkonen in his second coming is a lot cannier and a more measured. As a bottom line, all this is great news for true-blue racing fans because we can expect to be treated to some masterful driving on the most grueling and competitive race tracks in the world.

4. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes (Great Britain): 2012 Season – Wins 4; Podiums 7; Points 190

Season 2013 (2 races): Wins 0; Podiums 1; Points 25

On his day, there is no better sight than Lewis Hamilton blazing his way like a silver arrow at the front of the grid. Such is his pace and control that he is capable of opening up significant leads in a matter of mere seconds. It is often said that the 27-year-old Englishman knows only one gear to drive in – overdrive! He possesses incredible control but his blazing, blasting style of driving can end in heartbreak and that too in a few crucial races when points in the bag matter the most.

Easily one of the fastest drivers in the world, Hamilton has also been plagued with a mixture of bad luck and myriad mechanical problems with his McLaren MP4-27. Season 2012 could have seen Hamilton challenging the eventual winner and leaders and even dominating the standings had it not been for five crippling retirements.

In Germany, (Hamilton’s 100th Grand Prix start) he had a punctured tyre in Lap 3; in Belgium Romain Grosjean made contact forcing him to plough into Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez thereby ending the race for all four drivers; his gearbox failed at Singapore, followed by another mechanical failure at Abu Dhabi when he was comfortably in the lead, and finally in Sao Paulo, Nico Hulkenberg made contact with Hamilton forcing the two-time world champion to retire from P2 in his very last race for Team McLaren!

The sum total of all the mishaps suffered by Hamilton meant that he lost at the very least between 50 and 75 points which had a significant impact on the final standings in Season 2012. Had Hamilton completed all races like say Kimi Raikkonen, he would have finished third overall and could have even challenged Alonso for second. Even then his stats for the season were extremely impressive with over 75% of his total points (190) coming from wins and podiums! In a car that gave both McLaren drivers a lot of grief during the year, those are remarkable figures.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton (Photo credit: Dwonderwall)

As the season drove to a close, controversy erupted when Hamilton was said to be unhappy at McLaren owing to contractual differences with the team principals (McLaren apparently refused to hike his salary for the 2013 Season), Hamilton finally joined Mercedes even after he was rumoured to have approached Bernie Ecclestone for getting him a seat at Red Bull Racing. This was subsequently vehemently denied by Hamilton but true to form, he was yet again at the centre of an unnecessary controversy.

Analysts wondered whether all this would have an impact on his performance in the season. If the first two races of the season have been any indication, Hamilton is back to doing what he does best – making the most of a machine that cannot as yet be categorised as really quick. He finished 5th at Melbourne and 3rd at Sepang netting him a total of 25 points so far (adrift by 15 points from the leader Sebastian Vettel). But there are encouraging signs that Mercedes will be a serious top 3 contender in 2013 with both Hamilton and Rosberg showing excellent form. The two have pushed Mercedes within 3 points of the second place held jointly by Lotus and Ferrari in the Constructors Standings.

A lot of Hamilton’s assault on Vettel’s stranglehold atop the F1 food chain will depend on his ability to curb his naturally aggressive instincts. Much like Alonso and Raikkonen, he will have to nurse, cajole and coax his car into providing the best possible performance within its limitations and chalking up points consistently over 20 races. He has started well and that is half the job done because the worst fate that can befall a race driver is to have mechanical problems or accidents early in the season. It tends to play with their psyche in a negative way and adds way too much pressure when the time comes to playing catch-up.

If you race fans have noticed, this season Hamilton seems to be taking it a whole lot slower and easier. He seems calmer and has been pacing his sessions a lot more sensibly. Gone is that instinct that pathologically drives him to blitz the time-sheets, be it in the practice sessions, qualifying or then in the race. Instead, he is now driving well within himself and selecting his moment to unleash the beast for a few flying laps when it matters, say in qualifying. He was also raring to have a go at Vettel and Webber towards the end of the race at Sepang but a curt instruction from Ross Brawn from the Mercedes telemetry station and his own new-found sense of maturity, saw him conserve fuel and his tyres and safely bring home the car in third place.

Hamilton’s machine may not possess the heavy artillery required to destroy the Red Bulls’ charge at the top of the grid. But there is no way that he can be written off as a title contender especially considering the driver problems being faced at the Austrian team garage and the terribly designed, uncompetitive car of his former team, McLaren. If he manages to keep his head as he did at Malaysia, Hamilton could well be one of the top three drivers vying for the title in 2013.

Part I: F1 Season 2013 – It’s time for Predictions!

Just two races into the season and the champions, Red Bull Racing are in complete disarray on both management and driver fronts; there’s an unsaid but palpable unease over at the Mercedes garage, and the second driver at Ferrari seems to driving the pants off his more illustrious counterpart. That’s the top six of the seven contenders right there for you! Add the mercurial Finn from Lotus to the mix and you have a most intriguing of Formula 1 season at hand. 

The following is a three-part review of the seasons profiling two contenders each. Once we get through that we’ll look at the final `Predictions Table’ for both the Driver and Constructors championships.

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A live shot of Sebastian Vettel (P24) taken from an Apple iPhone at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

1. Sebastian Vettel, RBR (Germany): 2012 Season – Wins 5; Podiums 11; Points 281

Season 2013 (2 races): Wins 1; Podiums 2; Points 40

Despite a podium at Melbourne and a win at Sepang, the 3-time World Drivers Champion is an unhappy camper these days. A furious team-mate, more-than-just-miffed bosses, and the loss of a large dollop of goodwill around the paddock are just some of the fallouts of Vettel “disregarding team orders” and passing team mate Mark Webber after a fairly intense bullfight in the dying laps at Sepang. The question on every fan’s mind, as a result, is whether this will have a bearing on the German’s charge towards the fourth World Driver’s Title in 2013.

The answer is simple: Of course it will! Fact is that however much the team principals try to bring about an amicable rapprochement between their warring drivers, the seeds of mistrust have been sown far too deep to be quickly ripped out – starting with their infamous Turkey-shoot in 2010, carrying on to Silverstone in 2011 and culminating in the race-start stampede at Sao Paulo in 2012.

Fact also is that Vettel will be driving this season with a bull’s eye painted on his diffuser. Not only will Webber, now in his last season with Red Bull, want to reassert his importance in the team, he faces the strongest possible competition from the likes of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Felippe Massa who are all showing ominous form in their 2013 race packages. Given Vettel’s current state of mind; his possible apprehension with team orders on the one hand and his burning desire to remain world champion on the other, it doesn’t take an F1 expert to predict that this year is going to be one intensely tumultuous roller coaster ride for him.

So what is the silver-lining for the 25-year old? Vettel polarises opinion among pundits and fans. There are those that love him and those that love to hate him. But that is only because there are, clearly, two distinct but diametrically different Vettels that everyone is confronted with in a race season.

The first one is almost childish, petty, selfish and arrogant to the point of considering himself the anointed one, above the team or team-mate. This is the Vettel one usually gets to see when he has pole and then does everything in his power to keep it that way, or then is stuck in midfield and would scrap, scratch, bite and claw his way to the front of the grid. No threat is brooked and he is not averse to railroading his team-mate if required in order to maintain his dominance and supremacy. This is the bully, the heavyweight champion who believes in winning at any cost – even if it meant chewing off the ear of an opponent! Yet, no one can deny his skill and concentration levels when it comes to controlling a race from the front. And more often than not, he wins.

The other Vettel is the one that turns up every now and then at an Abu Dhabi Circuit or the one at São Paulo at the end of the season – gallant, fearless, determined and simply brilliant. In this avatar, Vettel is irresistible and a sheer joy to watch. At Abu Dhabi, he qualified at P3, but was pushed down to P24 for the race owing to his car showing insufficient fuel after qualifying. It would have been a body blow to any driver on that grid. Undeterred, Vettel pushed gallantly from the back of the grid, blowing past the back-markers to reach a respectable P12. That’s when the second tragedy struck. A damaged front wing forced him to pit yet again and he restarted at P18. What followed was yet again an exhibition of the highest quality of pure racing. In a spectacular display, the defending world champion cleared the field notch-by-notch, to end up at P3. It was a race wherein that result has to be categorised as nothing short of miraculous.

The Brazilian Grand Prix was yet another reflection of the true champion qualities that Sebastian Vettel possesses. A shunt with Bruno Senna of Williams in the very first lap of this crucial championship race turned Vettel a full 180 degrees – his car’s nose pointing the wrong way – and resultantly relegating him to the end of the field. But Vettel was not one to give up at this stage and promptly turned things around. Sound pit strategies and a steady race pace and amazing control in the rain, saw Vettel come in at P6 and netting him the required number of points to stay at the top of the driver’s standings.

That then is the story of the two Sebastians. A lot of his fortunes in 2013 will rest on which of them turns up on each of the race days over the next eight months. In just two starts this season, he has shown both personalities in equal measure, which does not auger well for him or the team – the race wins at Sepang notwithstanding.

2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari (Spain): 2012 Season – Wins 3; Podiums 10; Points 278

Season 2013 (2 races): Wins 0; Podiums 1; Points 18

Fernando Alonso started season 2013 with the same kind of tenacity and consistency that saw him come within a handful of points of the 2012 World Driver’s Championship. His performance at Melbourne was outstanding even as he chased down a dominant Kimi Raikkonen in the last few minutes and laps of that Grand Prix.

Last season, Alonso was severely handicapped by a terribly designed car. The Ferrari F2012 was essentially a jalopy on wheels that did not stand a chance to win a single race had it been in the hands of a lesser driver. But under Alonso, what started out as a snorting, misbehaving pony was gradually cajoled, coaxed, tuned and pushed until it meta morphed into a thoroughbred and began to purr, glide and then run like the wind on the race track by the end of the season.

It was virtuoso stuff and Alonso produced some spectacular results in 2012 – 3 wins and 10 podiums with that lame duck of a chariot! The thought on every racing fan’s mind was, “Give this man a decent car, and just imagine what he might be capable of!” No question that everyone expected him to easily replicate his Renault heroics of 2007 and 2008, but on a much, much more grandiose and dominant scale considering he was driving for Ferrari now.

On the face of it, all prayers were answered at the start of testing at Barcelona in February 2013 after Ferrari took the wraps off the spanking new Ferrari F138. Pre-season testing in Spain proved that the latest Ferrari package was vastly improved, better-looking and much faster than its 2012 sibling. The verdict among race fans and analysts was almost unanimous in that Alonso had his first solid opportunity since 2008 to wrest the WDC. And if Australia was an indicator, Alonso was well and truly on his way to achieving that goal.

But things and matters still aren’t all that rosy for the 32-year-old Spaniard. Contrary to expectations, the sheer race pace of Alonso’s Ferrari F138 is still up for question. Then there is the little matter of his team-mate, Felipe Massa, not only out qualifying him in the two concluded Grand Pris but looking distinctly more threatening in the races. At the start of the season, it is Massa who seems more likely to actually win a race than Alonso. But that perception may have been exaggerated by Alonso’s crashing out in the very second lap of the Sepang Grand Prix in Malaysia. With the requisite updates on the way and the car being continually tweaked and tuned, it shouldn’t be long before Alonso comes into his own and even begins to dominate the front of the grid.

So what does Alonso require to do in order to beat Vettel to the post this season? For starters, he can’t afford another DNF. Given the minuscule difference in points between the top two, Alonso has probably already reached the maximum limit in terms of races he can afford outside of the points table. He had only two of that last season and so will need to eschew bravado and risk of the type he took in Malaysia in order to stay in contention for the rest of the season. Two, and for this he will need all the help from his race engineers and pit crew – is to somehow get ahead of Vettel early in the season and open up a substantial points gap between him and the German. Easier said than done, but we all know how desperate Vettel can get when he is a follower and not the leader! Also, leading the table could have a liberating effect on Alonso freeing him from the pressure and tension that he was under throughout the two previous seasons.

Alonso has all the tools and weapons in his armoury to dismantle the German juggernaut and hold off challenges from the likes of Lotus, Mercedes and McLaren. This season he will need a little more luck than has been bestowed upon him of late. Couple that with his remarkable consistency and what was a struggle in the last season could end up being a canter to the top in 2013.

Next Edition: Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes