Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Fifteen. That’s the number of points that Force India trails Williams in the Constructor’s World Championship (hence my super catchy headline 😉 ) If the Force India Formula 1 team gains 15 points over Williams within the next 10 races, they’ll finish fourth in the championship. Fourth! That means they’ll finish behind Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari; but in front of McLaren, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso, and the rest. That’s incredible.
The team that spent the first 24 years of its life in Formula 1 as Jordan went through a fast cycle of name changes in the mid 2000’s. In 2005, it became the Midland team. Not long after, they changed again to Spyker F1. In 2008, Indian businessman Vijay Mallya bought the team and rebadged the apparel to the name we know today. From the beginning, we’ve seen a relatively steady rise in performance, from back marker to solid-mid-pack. These days, especially the middle of the 2016 season, seeing both Force India cars in the points is no surprise.
WCC = World Constructor Championship
Breakout performances from Mexican driver Sergio Perez put Force India on the podium twice this year. Hulkenberg finished as high as sixth. And both drivers earned points in seven of the twelve Grands Prix. Perez has certainly led the charge, collecting 48 points, compared with Hulkenberg’s 33. In fact, performance from Perez piqued the interest of other teams. And rumors abound that he may sit in the Renault cockpit in 2017. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
In Germany today, Hulkenberg and Perez finished seventh and tenth, respectively, adding seven points to Force India’s tally. At Williams, Bottas only managed ninth and Massa DNF’d. Even more stark, in the last three grand prix, Force India scored 22 points, compared with Williams earning just 4. At this rate, Force India may well surpass Williams and take fourth in the championship. In 2016, Renault sits ninth with six points. As a factory team, they will certainly improve in 2017. But how much is a risk. Just ask Pastor Maldonado. My advice? Stay where you are, Sergio Perez. Ride the Force India wave for another year, who knows where it might take you.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Pascal Wehrlein, clearly. So say the numbers at least. First and most obvious, Wehrlein is ahead in the Driver’s Championship, 17th with one point verses Gutierrez in 19th with none. Gutierrez has a best finish of 11th. Dig one layer deeper and you see that Gutierrez clearly drives the quicker car. Haas currently sits 8th in the Constructor’s Championship, holding 28 points; Manor, on the other hand, clings on to Wehrlein’s single point and sits 10th. In fact, the two teams share the statistic of one driver delivering all the points.
But Esteban suffered bad luck this year, you say. So has Pascal. Gutierrez started the season with two DNF’s, but since finished every race. Wehrlein couldn’t finish on two occasions either. And here’s more numbers, Wehrlein averaged 16.6th place, Manor’s average 17.6th, Gutierrez mirrors that performance averaging 14.6th against Haas’s 13.5th. One clearly under-performs the other outperforms.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price http://jameypricephoto.com
“So the brake pedal going to the floor is not classed as a safety issue? Quite interesting. I think Charlie [Whiting, FIA race director] needs to read up on what is safe and what isn’t.”
That was Jenson Button over the radio after receiving a drive-thru penalty for banned radio communication with his McLaren Honda team. It is yet another example of the silliness of the FIA’s radio rules. Had driver coaching from the engineers gone too far last year? Perhaps. Fans of the sport don’t benefit from teammate one being told that teammate two is faster in corner x, so try a different widget setting. But those same fans do benefit from seeing more cars finish the race and fight for positions. They do benefit from seeing their favorite driver compete and pass others, or fight to defend positions. Drivers can’t do that when things overheat or brake pedals go to the floor.
The call for the men in the cockpit to handle it themselves fails to recognize the incredible, and frankly outlandish, complication of a modern F1 machine. Hundreds of settings and sensors and data points and variables that teams of engineers monitor, literally hundreds. Is that what we love about drivers? Their sensitivity to hydraulic pressure and a memorized matrix of troubleshooting tactics? No! We love them because they enter a corner faster than the next guy, or dare to brake later, or pass on the outside in dirty air. That takes talent and courage. Learning spreadsheets do not. I’m a bit fed up with rules.
In fact the rules regarding track limits also sparks ire. The beauty of racing is that it demands bravery, the aforementioned courage and talent, but also cunning to find the fastest way around a circuit. If a driver does that by traveling extra distance to maintain a higher speed, I support it with all my heart. If Formula 1, the FIA, or track owners don’t like it, make going that way slower not faster. I admit there are occasions where it’s simply not possible, the chicane after the tunnel at Monaco is a good example. But drivers avoid that because it’s logical and purposeful and the curbing highly unsettles the car.
The good news? The vast majority of teams have voiced opinions and their cry for change gets louder. The Hungarian Grand Prix thrilled in a few senses. Throughout the race Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg stayed within three seconds of each other. Hamilton came out on top for the fifth time at this track. Matching his Canadian GP record of five out of ten. He also took the lead in the Driver’s Championship for the first time this year, now ahead by six points. But Rosberg’s home race is less than a week away and he’s fast there.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price http://jameypricephoto.com
Q1 started and stayed wet, causing four red flags. One was a direct result of the weather. The other three, indirect as three drivers skid in to the wall: Marcus Ericsson from Sauber, Felipe Massa from Williams, and Rio Haryanto from Manor. Massa’s came after the second red flag and he was one of a few that decided to try intermediates on a still sopping track. But after the third red, several drivers felt brave enough to run inters and indeed the track was drying, perhaps not quickly enough for Haryanto. Q1 took nearly an hour and yet didn’t get through the entire 18 minutes on the clock.
By Q2 the sun was out and the track began to dry quickly. Williams was one of the first to dare to put on intermediates and Williams again tempted fate and bolted super soft drys about half way through the session. Bottas fared better than Massa and indeed made it to Q3 for his efforts. In the final few minutes, lap times dropped a second or more at a time, the track forming a dry line in near record time. As time ran out, all 16 drivers were out attempting a last effort run. As a result, Both McLarens made it to Q3, but Raikkonen and Perez failed to follow suit.
Q3 gave drivers an essentially dry track, but that did little to calm the spectacle. Fernando Alonso led a group of drivers, including Hamilton, and spun in the middle sector. That caused a local yellow, which forced that group, including Hamilton, to slow. Legally not allowed to improve his sector time, Hamilton couldn’t better his first lap in the session. But Rosberg wasn’t in that group, Alonso was clear and the local yellow withdrawn when the German got to sector two. Call Rosberg lucky. Call his performance redemption. I call it the best qualifying we’ve seen this year.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
I updated statistics through the British Grand Prix. Take a look. You know what caught my eye? Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg are tied in the Driver’s Championship with 26 points each, but Hulkenberg ranks 11th, Sainz, 12th. Do you think that’s right? Both have a single best result of P6, but the Hulk finished P7 twice, Sainz otherwise did no better than P8. Here’s the thing. Sainz average finish is 10.8 and has soundly outperformed his teammate, Kvyat. And that’s despite the Russian completing the first 4 races in the Red Bull, with a podium finish no less. Hulkenberg on the other hand is behind Perez by 21 points and has a 12.7 finish on average.
Something else to consider, Force India builds the faster car. The team is fifth in the Constructor’s Championship, and currently collecting over 7 points per grand prix on average. Toro averages only about 4 points per race. What that shows, Sainz carries Toro Rosso while Force India carries Hulkenberg. So say the numbers, at least.
It’s a shame the rules for championship order put Sainz behind, but he may have the last laugh. As I’ve said multiple times, we may see the silliest silly season in quite a while. Sainz has impressed. Big teams are looking. In fact, he was on the short list for Ferrari before they decided to retain Raikkonen for 2017.
Take a look at the statistics and tell me what stands out to you.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Nico Rosberg needs a hug. Already tense from yet another altercation with his teammate in Austria, Britain cut Rosberg open, rubbed salt in the wound, then poked it with a stick. In my view, he did nothing to deserve the treatment he received over the weekend.
Hamilton started the cut on Rosberg with blistering performance. Rosberg, nor anyone else, matched the Brit, Saturday or Sunday, wet or dry. Rosberg kept Hamilton honest, but never really posed any real threat. Mercedes then lacerated Rosberg further with a fussy transmission that gave him trouble late in the race. For whatever reason, the German’s box would stick in seventh gear. Via telemetry, Mercedes talked Rosberg through a temporary fix that allowed him to finish the race without losing any positions.
But then the crowd at Silverstone poured salt in the wound in bucket loads by booing the second place finisher loudly and sustained. Why? What did Rosberg do to them? Yes, Austria happened. And yes, people have varying opinions on whom to blame. But Hamilton came out ahead there too, and it’s over. In fact, Britain, an entire Grand Prix happened afterwards—right before your eyes. So why shame Rosberg with such collective distain? I found it disrespectful to the sport, honestly. And I’m not any kind of Rosberg fan boy. I simply revere any human being who achieves that level of success in that complicated of a machine. Bravo to Mark Webber for defending Rosberg and shame on Hamilton for not.
Later that afternoon, before Rosberg’s salty wound even fully closed, the FIA got out their poking stick and went to town. In their very finite wisdom, the FIA decided to penalize Rosberg, not Mercedes, for giving him the necessary information to make his transmission behave and finish the race. The stewards added 10 seconds to his race result. That action moved Rosberg from second to third, dropped his points gained from 18 to 15, and tightened his championship lead from four to one single point. The FIA accomplished nothing with these additional, confusing, irrational rules. I don’t like them. I think the sport suffers as a result. As do drivers like Sergio Perez and Nico Rosberg, stuck between a rock and a hardheaded place. They are the bookends. You either don’t finish the race, or you finish and get penalized.
Rosberg, if you can make it to Michigan, I’ll give you a hug. Otherwise, take solace in a most-likely friendlier crowd you’ll see next in Budapest. And friendlier still in Germany, a Grand Prix you won in the previous outing.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Shucking off any sweat remaining from the drama of last week, Lewis Hamilton dominates qualifying at Silverstone, and will start on the pole for the British Grand Prix. Hamilton dealt with a fair share of issues throughout qualifying. Rosberg beat Hamilton in Q1. And in Q3, the FIA disallowed Hamilton’s first time because he exceeded track limits. So when the 44 Mercedes set-off for the second time, it was do or die. Much to the joy of the large crowd of Brits, it was do. Hamilton’s fastest lap of the day actually came during Q2. His time of 1:29.243 beat everyone else by at least seven-tenths of a second.
During each qualifying session, the safety stewards cracked down on exceeding track limits. Other then the aforementioned Hamilton lap during Q3, both Kevin Magnussen and Fernando Alonso lost their respective fast laps at the time. This, in my opinion is a stupid rule. If you don’t want drivers to drive beyond arbitrary limits, make the edge of the track less arbitrary. How about a meters width of grass before you reach the paved run-off? Drivers won’t want to touch that, so job done. Even worse, the stewards decided to eliminate laps only if driver’s ruffled their track limit feathers in turns nine and fifteen. Some cars egregiously left the track in different corners, no problem. So the FIA took a stupid rule and inconsistently enforced it.
The FIA didn’t stop there. Complaining that teams are saying too much over the radio, they plan to penalize chatter that they deem outside the rules. The fuzzy, complicated rules. The rules that cost Perez a race finish in Austria because Force India couldn’t tell him about the car’s failing brakes. When the FIA decides to penalize someone for radio talk, especially if that penalty changes someones race result, I expect instant and harsh anger from fans and teams alike. Silly rule.
Ferrari just resigned Kimi Raikkonen for the 2017 season. He thanked Ferrari by out-qualifying his teammate and placed the car P5. In even better news, Raikkonen’s new deal means that I am not older than the oldest driver in the sport for another year. Phew.
Another point that’s worth repeating: Pole time of 2016 is three seconds faster than last year and the fastest time ever recorded on this configuration of Silverstone, which F1 started running in 2010. As you can see from the table below, the hybrid V6 now comfortably outpaces the V8 cars.
2016 pole lap: 1:29.287
2015 pole lap: 1:32.248
2014 pole lap: 1:35.766
2013 pole lap: 1:29.607
2012 pole lap: 1:51.746
2011 pole lap: 1:30.399
2010 pole lap: 1:29.615
The British Grand Prix will entertain, but how? Will Hamilton drive off into the proverbial sunset? Or will Verstappen win a second grand prix because Rosberg and Hamilton collect each other again? These days it’s a roll of the dice.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price.
Is Lewis Hamilton a good teammate? Those relationships never seem to end well. In his formula 1 history, he’s had a few of them. In fact, here’s a table:
Each one of these pairings started joyous, or at least professional, and ended strained, or worse. 2016 is the first year that Hamilton has the same teammate four years in a row. When this partnership started in 2013, Nico Rosberg and Hamilton were friends and they immensely respected each other as drivers. But once Mercedes built the clear front-runner in 2014, the two sparred, aggressively, and the friendship began to erode.
Then came the 2014 Belgium Grand Prix. On the second-lap the two collided with each other. Mercedes, and most everyone else, blamed Rosberg, but clearly both drivers played a role. From that point on any faint resemblance of a bond between the Mercedes duo vanished, Rosberg and Hamilton no longer friends, but work colleagues.
At the time of Spa, 2014, Rosberg led the championship. Now in 2016, we see similar circumstances. Rosberg is ahead, hungry for his first title. But he feels massive, unrelenting pressure from Hamilton. So far, Rosberg has raced better this year than ever before, his drive in Baku was brilliant. But after the incident in Spielberg, he and Hamilton collided three times, including Spain and Canada.
Who’s to blame? Rosberg, most say. But I’m less certain. I think, in aggregate at least, both drivers deserve equal blame. And both require an equal tongue thrashing from Toto Wolff. In my view, Rosberg defends with extreme aggression and Hamilton overtakes with comparable extreme. Roles reversed in Canada and Rosberg ended up in the grass, lucky not to damage the car.
Maybe it’s as simple as this: Hamilton is faster, Rosberg needs to deal. Or maybe Hamilton refuses to respect his teammate, and uses his status as team favorite to steer blame towards that teammate. Hamilton is faster, undeniably. But could he be better.
Oh, by the way. Great race!
photo courtesy of Jamey Price
The suspension carnage we saw at the Red Bull Ring convinced me the street course at Baku must have made a deal with Spielberg to finish its work. The destruction at the European Grand Prix seemed eerily absent as most everyone expected to see many more chards of carbon before that checked flag flew.
Alas, this time round we have curbing, not walls to blame. Dietrich Mateschitz recently repaved the Ring, and installed new curbing as well. That combination, along with yet another new tire pressure mandate, managed to put unforeseen stress on suspension members as no less than four different teams suffered failures:
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull, practice
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, practice
- Sergio Perez, Force India, qualifying
- Daniel Kvyet, Toro Rosso, qualifying
To pump up the drama further, rain started falling near the end of Q2, putting an abrupt end to the already stunted session as both Toro Rosso cars failed spectacularly. Kvyat, with the aforementioned suspension failure, caused a massive crash and red flag period. Kvyat was unharmed. And Sainz Jr. blew a power unit, which resulted in local yellows in sectors one and two as the clock ticked to zero. But almost miraculously, rain stopped before Q3. This made for order-shuffling drying conditions and in the last four minutes, teams even switched back to dry weather tires.
In the end, Lewis Hamilton nabbed the number one spot, besting Rosberg by over half a second. The top Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel, secured fourth, but he, nor anyone else, could compete with Force India. This time Nico Hulkenberg timed things right and took the third position, shaking off any disappoint from the last GP. Jenson Button put on a marvelous last lap to qualify fifth, beating Raikkonen by one-thousandth of a second.
Frankly though, none of these laps impressed as much as Pascal Wehrlein, who not only got the Manor into Q2 for the first time, but solidly so, he will line-up tomorrow 12th on the grid. Manor lacks the downforce of the top teams, but enjoyed some of the best straight-line speeds in the field. Rio Haryanto will start 19th.
Both Rosberg and Vettel received five-place grid penalties for replacing gearboxes. That means Hulkenberg actually starts along side Hamilton on the first row. And Button alongside Raikkonen on the second row. If Hamilton bogs the start, the Hulk could well lead the pack in to turn one.
No matter what happens tomorrow, Austria put on quite the show today. And left us with interesting questions. Will the FIA do anything about the carbon cracking curbs? Will more weather come and continue to shake up the field? And, had it been dry all-day Saturday, just how fast would pole time been? Last year’s was 1:08.455. This year we beat it by over half a second, and the track was damp.