Saturday, December 06, 2014

2014: The Year of Mercedes

Mercedes on top
The year 2014 will be remembered as the season of absolute domination by Mercedes AMG F1 team in particular and Mercedes engines in general. The works Mercedes team or the "Silver Arrows", as they are fondly called by the fans, claimed the top spot of the podium in 16 out of 19 races in the season, thereby comfortably winning the Constructors' Championship, while the year-long battle between its two drivers culminated in the Driver's
Championship being won by Lewis Hamilton.

(...to be continued...)

Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 Season is "Go"

The 2014 F1 season got off to a thrilling start at Melbourne this weekend, though the high got tempered a bit because of a podium finisher's disqualification later after the race.

The build-up to the first race of the season was marred a bit by the shocking news of Michael Schumacher's serious head injury which has left him comatose till date. The winter testing provided confusing signs initially but later it emerged that Mercedes AMG Petronas team had the best package to take the chequered flag in the inaugural race & so did it happen. It was Nico Rosberg from the Mercedes team who took the win in Australia, while his teammate Lewis Hamilton was unlucky to retire after few laps, starting from pole.

V6 Turbo Engine - The heart of the season
A remarkable thing observed this year is the shift in the pit-lane buzzword from the "tyres" to the "engines". 2014 heralds the beginning of a new era in F1 which sees the return of the turbos. This season's cars are not powered by the normally aspirated V8 engines, but instead powered by the turbo-charged V6 engines. While the last couple of years' F1 chit-chat was dominated by the Pirelli's rubbers, this year the conversations are mostly on the power-unit, whether from Mercedes or Renault or Ferrari. Winter testing showed the dominance of Mercedes powered cars or the solidity of the Ferrari powered machines or the vulnerabilities of the Renault powered packages. The loss in the peak power (from 750 bhp to 600 bhp) is compensated by a new ERS (Energy Recovery System) which gives a power boost of around 160 bhp for almost half a minute per lap. The rule changes in the season are many - perhaps the maximum witnessed by me - in a single year. The gearbox has been changed from a 7-speed one to an 8-speed one. The fuel to be used by a car in a single race has been limited to just 100 kg from the previous norm of around 160 kg. This has been done to promote fuel-efficiency & present F1 as a more greener sport. EBD or the exhaust blown diffusers have been banned & aerodynamics tinkered with a narrower front wing & a lower nose. But this is also the first time in many years that you find a variety of nose shapes at different constructors.
The ugly "anteater" nose on McLaren
While Ferrari & Mercedes have a somewhat conventional looking nose, though some are branding them as "vacuum-cleaner" nose, most other teams have a typical "anteater" shaped nose which look very awkward at first sight. Lotus has the most unique "fork" solution with two uneven prongs. Another somewhat controversial rule added this year is that the last race of the season - at Abu Dhabi - will carry double the normal points of a race.


All these frenetic rule changes are aimed at attracting more fans to the sport who might have got put off by the utter domination of Red Bulls in the past few years. Whether or not more fans are attracted to the stands, no year passes by without attracting a few rookies to the sport. This year we have the highly rated Kevin Magnussen in a McLaren, Daniil Kvyat in a Torro Rosso & Marcus Ericsson in a Caterham. Kamui Kobayashi makes a return with the Caterham team, while there have been a few musical chairs within the drivers to the teams. Massa has gone to the Williams team, while Kimi returns to the Scuderia Ferrari stables. Maldonado moves to the Lotus, while Hulkenberg & Sutil swap places within Sauber & Force India. Sergio Perez moves back to a mid-field team - Force India - from a single year with McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo gets the most coveted seat left at Red Bull after Mark Webber vacated one of it at the end of last season.

These raft of changes both in the rules & in the driver' seats surely bodes well to mix up things at the front & the middle, but to what extent, only time will tell. Anyway, as in Australian Grand Prix, the hard-core fan will continue to be glued to the action. Bring it on!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

F1 2013 Season Preview

Pirellis will again play a major role
As we head into the first weekend of the 2013 F1 season, speculating on the pecking order has been rendered a hazardous task after a murkily inconclusive winter testing. As the rule-book remains largely stable this year, the gap between the teams has got ever so smaller, and even though we expected the big teams to have mastered the Pirellis by now, they still remain a tricky proposition.

With such a prelude to the season opener at Melbourne, the initial part of the season promises to be as surprising & entertaining as the last season when we got seven different winners from the first seven races! The big five - Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus & Mercedes have all topped the times on some day or the other in the winter testing but none have dominated enough to be billed as the favorite going into the season opener at Melbourne. There is a feeling within the F1 community that some teams in the top-five - Red Bull especially - might be sandbagging their true potential, but it is quite clear that both Mercedes & Ferrari have taken a step forward compared to the same time last year, while McLaren might be genuinely struggling. Lotus continue to be strong as they were last year & Red Bull is again expected to be the benchmark team.

The mid-field is expected to be as close as last year, with Force India looking to have taken a step forward. Among the back-markers, there will be no HRT cars this year & the fight will be tooth & nail between the Caterhams & Marussias.

Schumi retires while Sutil returns 
Among the drivers, there are as many as 5 rookies this year. Esteban Gutierrez replaces compatriot Sergio Perez in the Sauber team, while a Finn Valtteri Bottas replaces Bruno Senna in the Williams team. Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde joins the Caterhams while Marussia will have an all-rookie line-up of french-man Jules Bianchi & the british driver Max Chilton. Among the five, Bottas & Bianchi look the most promising, but we will have to wait & see their true colours. There have been some high-profile driver movements within the grid. Lewis Hamilton has chosen to fly from his nest - McLaren, to the lap of the Mercedes AMG team - a bold decision indeed, but here's wishing him greater success. Sergio Perez has filled in the vacancy at McLaren. Michael Schumacher has bid farewell to the sport for the second time, while Adrian Sutil rejoins his old team - Force India. Nico Hulkenberg has moved on from Force India to Sauber.


(...to be continued...)

Friday, December 28, 2012

End of Year Review: 2012

Alonso: So near, yet so far...
What a fantastic season we had in 2012, perhaps the most competitive of all time & nail-bitingly close till the end! Fortunes fluctuated wildly throughout the season for most teams & drivers, with Sebastian Vettel & Red Bull coming out on tops in the end. Though the accolades for the championships go deservingly towards  Newey & Seb, the most standout driver of the season undoubtedly was Fernando Alonso, & I don't think even Seb would contest that claim!

The magic of the season started with the first seven races producing seven different winning drivers, & the leading driver after that - Alonso - being from the 5th fastest car - Ferrari. We got some sort of sanity back after that till the mid-season break & it was looking increasingly clear by that time that Alonso was well on his way to a third drivers' title unless a miracle stopped him. And not too unexpectedly, given the start of the season, a miracle happened again. A turnaround in the fortunes of Red Bull & Sebastian Vettel in the second half of the season meant that Alonso was denied being the youngest triple WDC & that honour was taken by none other than Sebastian Vettel.


Kimi: A welcome win
Just at the restart of the championship after the mid-season break, misfortune struck Alonso on the very first lap of the Belgian Grand Prix when he was a victim of a collision involving Grosjean & Hamilton. Button won that race comfortably with Vettel & Kimi taking 2nd & 3rd. Hamilton took the next win at Monza with a cool & calm drive, prompting talks of McLaren gaining the upper hand in championship. But, it was not to be for long...Hamilton got unlucky in the next race & Vettel was quick to take this opportunity to claim victory at the Singapore Grand Prix. That win proved to be a turning point of sorts for Sebastian Vettel as thereafter he took commanding back-to-back wins at the Japanese, Korean & Indian grands prix, while Alonso had to retire once again at Japan on the first lap. Remarkably though, Alonso still remained in the hunt. The winning spree of Vettel came to an end at the thrilling Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where, to the relief of numerous Kimi fans around the world, came the first comeback win for Raikkonen, & in his typically inimitable style. The next race, a new venue in the United States - Austin, was another thriller with a win for Hamilton & a close 2nd & 3rd for Vettel & Alonso. The title race still hung in balance tantalizingly, as the championship entered the final round at the Interlagos circuit. An amazingly chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix gave the win to Button, the title to Vettel & a heartbreak to Alonso after gutsy performances from both Vettel & Alonso.     

Vettel: Youngest triple champ
It was a fitting, nail bititing end at Interlagos to a great season of formula one in 2012. It is apt to feel sorry for Alonso, but ultimately Sebastian Vettel became a deserving youngest ever triple world drivers' champion. Sergio Perez & Nico Hulkenberg (& to some extent Grosjean) emerged as the drivers to watch out for in future. Critics of Vettel might say that the difference for Red Bull was created by Adrian Newey, but in the end Vettel showed that he had the nerves to absorb the pressure & concentrate on the singular goal when coming from behind in the second half of the season. Hats off to him & the team at Red Bull.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Indian Grand Prix - An Eye-witness Account

On the last weekend of October 2012, a long cherished dream of mine finally got fulfilled! I was able witness live an F1 grand prix right from the trackside & not through a television. It was a revelation indeed, as witnessing a grand prix right in front of your eyes is very very different from watching it on television. The second edition of the Indian Grand Prix finally afforded me a chance to be there & hear that - an ear-numbing experience!

I first arrived on Saturday morning to soak up the atmosphere & to get a feel of the stands & the view. It was a good experience with a sparse crowd cheering up the practice session & the qualifying session. I arrived all dressed up as a Williams-F1 fan, though nowadays I don't follow any of their drivers. I used to be a Williams fan during Montoya days. The guy on the seat next to mine had come all the way from Mumbai to watch the event & I had a nice time in his company. We ate & drank together & had a nice time that day watching real F1 cars & F1 stars in front of our eyes. A good precursor to the race day which was to follow the next day.

Me after the qualifying session
My new found friend in the stands & I had decided to come on the race day much before the scheduled race time so that we could watch the drivers' parade too. Arrived in time I did...all dressed up in a black F1 t-shirt & a scarlet Kimi Raikkonen cap & watched some of the support races together with my friend, but misfortune struck me unknowingly. After the last of the support races had finished & there was about an hour to go for the driver' parade, I thought of just having a look at rest of the circuit through one of the organizer's circulating buses. I was told that the bus returns to the starting point in about half an hour, & I merrily hopped in hoping to return to my seat in time for drivers' parade. But it was not to be...the bus was so slow that it took more than an hour to return, & by the time I could get back to my seat, the float carrying the star drivers around the circuit had already crossed the stand where I had my ticket. I really cursed myself & my fate so much after that, I could not focus on the happenings around me. In no time, the warm-up lap of the race had started & I got back to my senses again after seeing the drivers & cars whiz past me. The adrenalin was building up for the first lap of the race as all of us were hoping for some great wheel-to-wheel action at Turn-3, which was right in front of us. But Sebastian Vettel led the pack from the first lap down to the last without ever ceding the lead. There was some good action behind him for us to enjoy, though! The duel between Webber & Alonso for P2 & the perennial hot-pursuit by Kimi on Massa was quite absorbing. Schumi fans were in for some disappointment as he got a puncture in the first lap itself, though that allowed us to view him for better length of time while passing in front of us. All in all, the race went off much as per expectation, as Vettel & Red Bull were victorious once again.

It was great fun cheering for Kimi every time he went past us biting on the tails of Massa's car. He once overtook Massa at Turn-3 just in front of us, but Massa again went past him on the long straight after that. We also egged on Narain Karthikeyan to keep pushing every time he passed by.

Me after the race
Overall it was a fun experience, & something that I will remember for a long, long time. The ear-shattering sound of the F1 cars & the amazing speed is to be seen to be believed. And perhaps the one sour experience of narrowly missing the drivers' parade be the excuse for me to buy a ticket once again to watch the race "live" next year too!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Mid-Season Review: 2012

The first part of the 2012 F1 season has been like none other in recent memory. So many teams have won & so many drivers have tasted success already! And some unexpected few have been so close to victory.

Alonso: A third championship in sight?
A glance at the leader-board might suggest that Alonso has dominated among drivers & Red Bull Racing have dominated among constructors...but the real story has been far from it. Yes, Alonso has driven exceptionally well in a car which is not necessarily the fastest always, & he has got a substantial points lead in the drivers' chart, but more than anybody else, he himself is aware of the threats from Vettel & Kimi, or even for that matter, from Webber & Hamilton. In the constructors' championship, Red Bulls just cannot take anything for granted, even though they have a comfortable cushion at the top. What a refreshing change from last season!

The traditional powerhouses - Ferrari & McLaren - have had somewhat contrasting seasons so far. While Ferrari, especially in the hands of Alonso, have performed well over the pre-season expectations, the McLarens have not been able to build upon a dream start to the season. Lewis Hamilton has made a turnaround to his fortunes compared to last year, & now must be feeling better with two wins, but with many more pole positions he really should have won more. The turnaround in the fortunes has unfortunately been true for his team-mate Jenson Button too. Despite winning in the season opener at Melbourne, his form has gone down in the rest of the races. The defending champs - Red Bulls - have not at all been as dominant as last year, & thankfully so, inspite of me being a huge Adrian Newey fan. I had enjoyed their win in 2010, but a repeat of their 2011 domination would have been a big turn-off & generally bad for the sport. They still lead the constructors' standings, mind you, but the way the others are giving them a run for their money has really been the highlight of the year so far.

The team that has really got people up on their feet this year has been the Lotus F1 Team. They are yet to win a grand prix but their race-day performance has been nothing short of a revelation, especially from their relative rookie Romain Grosjean. Former champion - Kimi Raikkonen - has performed exceedingly well too & has got very close to a win on at least two different occasions. Kimi has shown no signs of rust from his two years' sabbatical from F1 & looks as motivated as ever! He just needs to find his feet in qualifying, & then a race win will not be too far!  
The Lotus boys have performed well...Grosjean has been a revelation
It would be quite rude to label the wins of Maldonado in a Williams & Rosberg in a Mercedes as mere flashes in the pan, but the way in which both of them have gone down the hill after that is appalling! No doubt Williams is now a shadow of the team it used to be, but the Mercedes team is among the most well-funded teams on the grid & a lot was expected from them this year. Rosberg duly delivered on its potential at Shanghai but thereafter their engineers have not been able to come on top of the tyre degradation problems. Schumacher was able to garner a couple of highlights in the season with a pole lap in Monaco (only to be penalized for an indiscretion in a previous race) & a podium in Valencia, but apart from that his season has been quite forgettable. I really wonder whether he will have the motivation to continue if the rest of the season also goes like that.      

In the midfield, Sauber's Sergio Perez's near-win at Sepang had prompted rumours of him being in the running for Massa's seat at Ferrari, but he too has been unable to find consistence. Force India & Toro Rosso have been performing much below their last year's standards.

All in all, the lesser has been the consistence from the teams, more has been the unpredictability from the races, & better it has been for the fans. The only thing missing has been Lotus' win, which I hope we will see sooner than later. But, for the drivers' championship it will be hard for anybody to bridge the lead that Alonso has already taken. He is a wily old fox & can play by percentages & does not generally give in to the rush of blood that many of his rivals do. Its Alonso's championship to lose now! Let's see who can pick up the gauntlet

The romance of  Eau Rouge ceases to subside

After the mid-season break, we head to the ever enchanting Spa-Francorchamps & the roaring Monza circuit. Its hard to wait to witness the action on the great Eau Rouge, the La Source hairpin, the Rivage, the Parabolica & the Lesmo curves. Come soon Spa & Monza...we have been missing you!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Whoopee!!! An F1 Memorabilia from Valencia!


Ferrari fan? or Raikkonen fan??
It was a pleasant surprise for me when I got to know that a big F1 fan in my office - Mr Ratnam - was planning to go on a holiday to Valencia, coinciding with the European Grand Prix that weekend, & before going he asked me if I wanted something from there, to which I replied: "...any small F1 souvenir will do...", & see what he brought for me - an official Ferrari merchandise F1 cap with Kimi Raikkonen's name on its crest! Another "whoopee" moment for me...the first one being when I got an official Williams F1 cap from another colleague - Sjoerd, about which I had blogged about three years back!   


Mr Ratnam is an Alonso fan, & I am a Kimi fan among current F1 drivers. At the race in Valencia, both Alonso & Kimi were on podium, & it was a great race indeed. So, the joy of an Alonso win & Kimi taking 2nd place there paved the way for some magnanimity from Mr Ratnam, culminating in a great souvenir for me! I was really excited when he handed it over to me after returning to India...so part proudly & part blushingly, I became a bit of a cynosure among the colleagues sitting nearby in the office that day! :)
  
Can't help sharing some photos...do have a good look!


A Kimi Raikkonen fan indeed!! Here's a closer look!