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Sun, 2005-Oct-30

The 2005 Formula 1 Season

Hugh Blemings, I think you've been out of touch for the entire F1 season. Michael didn't ever look like a chance. He (and Ferrari) won only the US grand prix, but even that was under special circumstances. During the early races the Ferrari media engine fairly succesfully pinned the blame on their Bridgestone tyres that proved to not at all give them the advtantage they had in 2004, perhaps because of the 2005 one tyre rule. Later in the season as Bridgestone seemed to improve it became clear that the car as a whole was underperforming in a field that included vastly improved Renault and MacLaren-Mercedes teams. Even the legendary Ferrari reliability seemed to fail them.

I made two predictions after the 2004 season finshed. I said that Michael and Ferrari would countinue their dominance in 2005. I was wrong about that, but I still think it was a fair call given the powerhouse that was Ferrari last year. The second was that Renault would win out over BAR-Honda, who they seemed to be racing last year. Honda was building mid-range cars with good horsepower. Renault were building mid-range cars with good mechanical grip. In 2004 it was clear that Renaults focus was starting to really pay off. They were starting to be able to drive around Hondas as they were coming out of corners, even though they couldn't match Honda's straight-line speed. I thought Honda wouldn't be able to follow Renault, and at least on that one I was right.

Between them, Renault and MacLaren took every first place other than that available for the US grand prix. Unfortunately Michelan had serious technical problems with their tyres that weekend which culminated in every Michelan-clad team refusing to start the race. The US ran with only three teams and six cars. Michael scored ten (10) points that day compared to Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen's zero. If that race's points are excluded Michael's ranking drops to number five in a field of twenty. If you also exclude the eight (8) points earned by his teammate Rubens Barrichello Ferrari drops below Toyota into fourth position out of ten on the constructors' championship.

Mark Webber's team BMW-Williams was also a much bigger force in last year's formual one than this time around. Twelve months earlier I think you would have heard derision at the idea that BAR-Honda could beat them. In fact, Williams didn't break out of the double figures in the drivers championship. I've heard some suggestion that Mark has been let down by a team that promised to be a lot better than it has been, but I've also seen something of a lack of subtlety to Mark's driving that doesn't put him in my highest regard. He seemed to end up with his and someone else's cars wrapped together a bit more often then I would expect of a such a promising driver. His passing moves seem more to me like pure aggression and hope rather than the skillfully executed manouvers of a clearly thinking sportsperson.

Overall I wasn't greatly impressed by the season. The aerodymanic rules were clearly not working. Race after race we saw faster cars packed up behind slower ones because they couldn't grip the road once they were close enough to try anything. Formula one is a form or motor racing that emphaises qualifying position and pit strategy over passing, however discouting the vehicle's engineering solution as deeply as these rules have done is ridiculous.

The 2005 tyre rules look like they'll be reversed for 2006. It think this is a good thing. The 2005 tyres seemed to wear well enough through a race, and that is a credit to both Bridgestone and Michelan engineering. I just felt that for a sport that is so focused on pit strategy that not having the option to use a new set of tyres on the way out of the pit meant the variation in strategy was poor. I think the racing will be more exciting once tyre changes are once again allowed.

I don't have any predictions for next year except that it will be even more political than this year and that the racing will be a little better. I can't pick who'll win. You have to back both Williams and Renault for their performance this year, but it would be foolish to discount a continually improving Toyota team or the money that could still be sunk into Ferrari or Williams. You can find 2005 was well as older results on the F1 website by racetrack, driver, or team.


Tue, 2005-Jun-21

Indianapolis '05

Well, what a race.

It was pretty exciting seeing six cars circulating around the track. One was emitting smoke from the starting line, so we all hoped to see attrition. The two Ferraris almost took each other out at the end of the second round of pit stops. That was exciting. Seeing water bottles explode on formula1 tyres and marshalls scooting across the track to retreive beer cans was a hoot.

My favourite part of the grand prix was a Michelan ad. Its slogan "A better way forward" really seemed appropriate.

So, my take?

As far as the sporting side goes, if Michelan has been able to squeeze extra pace out of their cars and give their teams an advantage by undertaking a stragegy that risked this kind of situation then Bridgestone teams have the right to see a reward for their conservatism. As for the race, it should have gone ahead and everyone agrees on that. It's just that noone can agree on how it should have gone ahead.

You can't just add a chicane to a race track less than twelve hours before the event and after final qualifying. You can't allow the Michelan runners to take points after a failure of this magnatude, nor can you allow them to interfere with the Bridgestone cars. In that sense the actual outcome serves the sporting competition better than any alternative... but to have a six car race in such a senstive place in the world and in this day and age of F1 is crazy. Should the Michelan teams have been able to use new tyres and start from the pit, and be awarded no points for their effort? I don't know. In the end, I don't see the points awarded to Ferrari on Sunday as a farce. They were earned through a better tyre strategy than those of their competitors.

The man I feel most sorry for is Tiago Monteiro who placed third. He deserved to enjoy his first and probably only podium for the forseeable furture more than he was really permitted to by circumstances. As for the politics, I'm sure the americans are furious and not just the fans. I'm sure that the FIA and the rogue teams will continue sniping. It's unclear who will bear more of the brunt: The FIA for not putting on a show, or Michelan for not coming to the track ready to race. A 70% retirement rate on the formation lap just doesn't look good anywhere or at any time.


Sun, 2004-Jul-04

The French grand prix at Magny-Cours

It's shaping up to be an interesting race tonight at Magny-Cours, to be aired on channel ten at 10:30 Brisbane time. There is only a 1.1 second gap between the qualifying positions at the front of the grid and position 12 where Australian Mark Webber starts the race, yet a full .3 of a second of that is made up between first and second positions.

Spain and Renaut's Fernando Alonso heads up the grid ahead of series leader Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari. Michael's teammate in a nearly identical ferrari is stuck down in tenth position. That's our old favourite Rubens Barrichello of Brazil. In his defence, he was unable to participate in pre-qualifying due to hydrolic problems.

The big news of this race and the previous race in America is the fate of Michael's brother Ralf Schumacher.

After a 300km/h impact with a concrete barrier Ralf was originally cleared by race doctors of Indianapolis and transported to his Germany for observation. It was only there that doctors discovered multiple fractures in the 29-year-old's back that may have prevented him being transported at all if they had been discrovered earlier. In addition to the scare it has put into Ralf, his teammates at Williams, and his many fans, his broken back guarantees he stays out of formaula 1 for between two and three months.

Replacing Ralf at the wheel this week will be Spain's Marc Gene who is in a respectable eigth place on the grid.

The race in Indianapolis was a bit of a mechnical bloodbath. Webber with his new engine suffered a terminal oil leak and was unable to finish the race, but was in good company. Only nine runners made it to the finish line. According to the race results, we had two engine failures, two gearbox failures, one disqualification to Juan Pablo Montoya for failing to clear the grid quickly enough when his car failed to start and he made a mad dash to his backup car, and an amazing six contestents out due to accidents. Many of the accidents were related to debris on the road from earlier incidents.

One of the things that makes the french grand prix interesting is the new cars or vehicle modification that tend to come out about this time of year. By this time most teams have gathered sufficient data to begin some major changes in their push towards end of season glory.

Magny-Cours is a 70 lap race with plenty of ways to run it. It's a favourite of drivers and we'll hopefully see some really interesting pit strategy. The narrrow separation of the top 12 drivers may indicate that the front runners are carrying more fuel than usual, or may indicate that advances have been made by some of the mid-level teams. Watching this unravel will be one of the thrills of this race.

Sun, 2004-Jun-20

My sporting interests

Well, it's that time of the week again. It's Sunday, and tonight is a formala 1 sunday night.

Tonight's race is the american grand prix, a fairly recent addition to the list of formula 1 tracks but not quite is recent as Barian which ran for the first time this year. I won't be staying up for this one, though. It's just a little bit late in the evening Brisbane time.

The american grand prix started running at Indianapolis in 2000, and is a big part in the attempt to broaden the f1 appeal from a fairly European focus. It should be a good race, with Rubens Barrichello in pole position next to his star teammate Michael Schumacher. From past experience we can say that it will probably end up with a Ferrari 1, 2 result again but there should be some action further down the field. Our own runner, Mark Webber is running an experimental engine which could help him show off his magnificent driving skills. He's with Jaguar, a mid-level team, but has managed to achieve consistent results since his 2002 debut and late 2002 to early 2003 move to the Jaguar family. The danger with a new engine is that it may not be reliable under race conditions.

My recollection of the american track is that it is quite wide with a lot of high-speed sections. A powerful engine could really make the difference on this circuit. Opportunities for passing should also be fairly common so lapping of back-markers may have a little less impact on the race leaders than on other tracks.

Why do I watch the formula 1 (when we already know Schumacher will win :) )?

Formula 1 is one of my favourite spectator sports. It's the one I'll watch as religiously as indoor lawn bowls. I do enjoy the real battles for position as a faster competitor shaves a tenth of a second per lap off his rival. I love seeing someone with a car that he knows is in trouble fight to keep it on the racetrack and remain just competitive enough to stay in the points. Oh, and you've got to love the blow-ups and the less serious accidents. The real reason I watch the Grand Prix, though, is pit strategy. I just love watching those masters at work. Do you pit two times, or three? How much fuel do we carry into qualifying? How many safety cars do we bet on coming out onto the racetrack. How do we change our strategy once something unexpected happens? There are some awesome strategists in formula 1 and I booming well love watching them at work.

Well, that's my first sports entry in this blog. I hope my gentle readers have enjoyed it. Perhaps I'll follow it up sometime with some Super Series bowls commentary (did anyone see Kelvin Kerkow's match yesterday? Awesome).