Saturday, 16 April 2011

There's no hope, Vettel again

Sebastian Vettel looks set to cruise to his fifth consecutive win in China tomorrow after taking a resounding pole position today by just under three quarters of a second from Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, resplendent in their new orange suits.

You can't help thinking it was only electrical problems that prevented a Red Bull lock-out of the front row. The rest of the field can only hope that the same problems beset Vettel tomorrow.

Its a very long time since we've seen a car with such a time advantage over the opposition and while race pace seems to be more evenly matched I am sure Vettel will emerge on top. Nico Rosberg, Alonso and Felipe Massa rounded out the top six and a game effort from Paul di Resta sees him start 8th.

There doesn't seem to be any rain on the way so we can't bank on that intervening, for the sake of the race we'll have to hope Jense and Lewis get off the line quickly and make it worth the early start. Tyre wear doesn't seem to be as high as in Malaysia but on the plus side with the mammoth back straight with the banked turn before it the DRS should be more of a factor.

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Hamilton 3. Button

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Since when did Formula One become confusing?

Sebastian Vettel cruised to his second win in two races, I say cruised because he did so without (we are led to believe) the help of KERS, the Red Bulls seem to have a great deal of pace in their pocket and the rest are trailing in their wake.

However I think there are more important issues afoot, Formula One has suddenly become infinitely more confusing than it used to be. I'm not sure if its a case of a lack of on-screen information, or the different variables that have been introduced, but I am sure it is now a much tougher sport for the layman, and even the ardent fan to follow.

I don't think it is clear enough who is running on which tyre, there should be an on-screen graphic detailing which tyre is currently in use by any given driver. Given the extent to which the rubber affects performance this year I really think this is a critical element of understanding the sport.

Anyway, back to the racing. Vettel was never really troubled by the Mclarens and although the Ferrari's appeared to have good race pace they were nowhere near. A good drive from Nick Heidfeld saw him snatch third place and Renault's second podium in as many races.

The main point of controversy came between Hamilton and Alonso, who clipped the rear of the Brit's Mclaren. Hamilton was adjudged to have moved too aggressively to defend his position and Alonso was penalised for hitting Hamilton. Hamilton whinged that while he suffered a one-position penalty because of his penalty Alonso did not. A bit like Valencia 2010 then Lewis when your drive through cost you nothing...what goes around comes around. Seriously though, I don't think Hamilton deserved a penalty on this occasion.

Vettel is now 24 points clear at the top of the standings and it is getting more and more difficult to look beyond him and Red Bull cruising to the 2011 titles. But there's still a long way to go!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Pray for rain

Alright, this one was pretty close, a darn sight closer than I expected it to be, but I still think tomorrow's race will be Vettel's to lose. The only thing that will inject some much needed intrigue will be a spot or two of rain.

The Mclarens and the Red Bulls look a country mile ahead of the rest, the onboard footage of Mark Webber towards the end of the session told the story of a man totally at one with his car - contrast that with the footage from Schumacher's car where he seemed completely at sea. Webber seemed able to put the car wherever he wished and tomorrow I fully expect the front two rows of the grid to sail off into the distance, leaving the rest to fight over the scraps.

Ferrari again struggled, Alonso gamely put his red car in fifth spot but fully six tenths off Button, Stefano Domenicali and his lads need to find something, and quickly, if they are to be considered title-challengers.

If the rain does fall, and I think some is predicted, it will be interesting to see how Red Bull's 'wedge of cheese' configuration copes. I suspect it might make the cars a little difficult in heavy rain. Hamilton and Button should come to the fore in wet conditions, and it might level the playing field just enough for Alonso to come into the picture.

Again I can't help thinking the overtaking zone has been put in the wrong place, someone inside down into turn one will be easy pickings straight into turn two - into the last corner would've been preferable or perhaps even into turn three.

Tyre wear rates may come into the equation as well given the high temperatures, if the Pirellis begin to grain early in a stint we'll hopefully see a bit more overtaking action. All in all I think it will be tough for anyone to break the Mclaren-Red Bull stranglehold currently in place, but I for one hope they do!

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Hamilton 3. Webber (boring, I know - fingers crossed for rain!)

Friday, 8 April 2011

Red Bull, Mclaren on top again

Friday practice at Sepang saw normal service resumed with the Red Bulls and Mclarens at the front. Only where in Australia it was Vettel and Hamilton leading the way, here it is Webber and Button taking over at the front.

The Mercedes and Ferraris are next in terms of pace but well over a second shy of Webber, Felipe Massa comfortably outpacing Alonso which hopefully marks the beginnings of a welcome return to form. Thereafter the Williams, Toro Rossos and Renaults look a bit shy of raw speed.

Most of the teams reported serious tyre wear issues, the extreme heat of Malaysia compared to the pleasant 18-19 degrees in Melbourne are probably partly to blame for this and the surface may be more abrasive. Also the preponderance of high speed sweeping turns at Sepang will put enormous strain on the rubber. So while the predictions for four and five stop strategies (necessities?) in Melbourne didn't materialise by and large, they may well do this weekend.

Come qualifying I still think Vettel will have the pace to leapfrog the three ahead of him in practice, and ultimately I think the Red Bulls will be too strong for the silver cars, and everyone else, this weekend. That said, a sprinkling (is it ever a sprinkling in Malaysia?) of rain and we could have an interesting race on our hands.

Qualifying prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Hamilton 4. Button 5. Alonso 6. Rosberg

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Can Ferrari bounce back?

Even the least optimistic Ferrari fan would have been hugely disappointed with their teams' showing in the Australian Grand Prix, fourth place for Alonso, half a minute off the leader, and a very anonymous performance from Massa does not constitute a good weekend.

I am no technical expert but it seemed to me that the root cause of Ferrari's issues in Australia were the cool temperatures, they appeared to have difficulty generating the necessary heat in their rubber. They were also just generally down on pace, weather it was problems in set up or a more fundamental issue is not immediately clear.

The most obvious thing Ferrari have in their favour this weekend is that Malaysia will be hot, very hot (today its 34 degrees). Its also one of Alonso's favourite circuits. So there should be fewer issues as regards warming the tyres. However the nature of the circuit is not all that different to Australia. Melbourne is a relatively high speed circuit with fast-ish corners and a couple of fiddly bits, Sepang probably places a higher premium on your car being effective through fast, sweeping bends, but its not fundamentally different, and neither is China, the next race.

So if Ferrari's problems are indeed of the fundamental kind then its difficult to see how the fortnight since Australia will have made any difference. However their winter testing pace was such that I don't buy that they have such a fundamental problem. I think it'll be a case of finding a set up which works, and quickly, and they will be back on the pace of the Mclarens, if not quite the Red Bulls. Felipe Massa pulling his finger out wouldn't hurt either.