Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Illusion Of Improvement

So one more thought on Valencia.  I've seen a bunch of self-congratulatory blather in the media from a bunch of teams which normally don't feature in the points talking about how much they improved for this race.  The problem is that A) this race saw higher attrition than we normally would see, and B) the attrition was sharply biased towards the normal front of the grid, benefiting far more drivers than normal.

Consider that if Vettel and Grosjean's Renault engines not gone bang, your podium top three would have been Vettel- Alonso- Grosjean.  Pretend that Maldonaldo and Hamilton had kept their heads rather than running into each other, and suddenly Schumacher's impressive third becomes a less-impressive seventh -- still his best result of the season but less than we've expected. Webber plummets to eighth.  Many of the rest of the accidental points scorers get pushed back out into the cold.

So personally I'm not as impressed with the improvement these teams are claiming.

Yes, you have to be in the right place to profit from other people's problems, but so many of these places benefited from the abnormally high attrition rate that you can't seriously claim drastic improvement.

Now in the old days of F1 when the attrition rate was regularly higher, with fewer than 14 cars routinely running at the flag, seeing improvements was legitimate because you could count on the attrition rate continuing to be high.  Today, when usually we only loose one or two cars, and sometimes not even that, you can't count on cars ahead of you falling away.

(I'm not counting the absence of either Massa or Button as a contributing factor, since while in the long run it is, in the recent past it has unfortunately been business as usual for these two drivers.)

Monday, June 25, 2012


Oh, man.  You had to like that, especially coming back from a disappointing qualifying -- although one that was a tactical error instead of a problem with the speed of the car.  Starting from 11th and making it to the front with really only one gift -- Vettel's alternator failure -- and then holding it.  Hamilton never really looked like getting on with the Ferrari once it had eased past.  Alonso put on a clinic for us on Sunday, and as a result, it is Ferrari Monday.

I've said before, you have to be near the front in order to capitalize on other people's misfortunes.

Quick notes from Sunday:

  • Was I the only one who noticed that the Valencia podium featured the three former Ferrari world champions -- Alonso, Raikkonen, and Schumacher?  And a guy from Ferrari?
  • Oh, and Schumacher's climb through the defenseless at the end of the race was great to watch -- and he was well placed to benefit from the bad luck of those up the road from him.
  • Nice comment from Saturday: "Can you seriously contend that Massa is now rubbish if he's merely 8 hundredths behind Alonso?"
  • The Renault alternator failures remind me of a story from the 80s, when the engines were much less reliable and failures were far more common.  After one session which featured an explosive on-track failure, a team put out a press release blaming the problem on an "electrical fault".  Deep background research confirmed that this was merely PR spin -- in that what had happened was that the crank shaft failed, jamming a cylinder through the engine block, knocking the alternator off.  Yeah, "electrical fault".
  • In my opinion Senna got jobbed for the collision with Kobayashi -- being realistic it was a racing incident; if one was eager to apportion blame, one could argue that Kobayashi stuck his nose into a hole it was never going to fit in when Senna positioned for the next turn.  A cut tire was punishment enough -- the drive-through was insult to injury.
  • In the same vein I don't think that the collision between Kobayashi and Massa was actionable, even though it put paid to Massa's afternoon.
  • I also think the Maldonado-Hamilton incident was, at worst a racing incident.  The only reason why you could argue Maldonaldo had left the track prior to t-boning Hamilton was because Hamilton had pushed Maldonaldo off it.  Hamilton's punishment of the instant retirement was fitting.  Maldonaldo being awarded a after-the-fact drive-through penalty was more of the same jobbing.  Frankly if you put these high-speed cars into the concrete-lined gerbil maze that is Valencia, some of them are going to run into each other.
  • I'm getting tired with the BBC blather pack -- after Alonso was in front, the commentary was all about how the Ferrari was going to eat its tires and have to stop again, leaving the way clear for Hamilton to take victory.  It was only after several laps of this that the commentators remembered that Alonso's tires were changed at the safety car -- the same point that Hamilton and Raikkonen's were -- and that the cars behind the leading three seemed unlikely to be able to catch up.  
  • Although that did turn out to be wrong, as Maldonaldo caught up to the McLaren and probably would have had sufficient time to pass the McLaren had he not banged into it first.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Hindsight being what it is (ie: always 20/20), one could argue that it should have been obvious that the attempt to single-stop Alonso to victory was never going to work.  The pit lane in Canada is too short, and the tire drop-off too severe, to manage to fend off a competitor in a ligher, much-fresher-rubbered car.  And in fact that is what happened.  Hamilton caught Vettel with ten to go, and Alonso three laps later.  And the Ferrari was powerless to resist as the McLaren went flying by.

You could argue that, only Red Bull apparently came to the same conclusion that it was worth a go.

So instead of wondering how McLaren got it wrong, we are left wondering how McLaren got it right when Red Bull and Ferrari both decided to single-stop.  Again, hindsight makes the McLaren choice obvious.  And I can't prove it, but I didn't feel good when Alonso kept going past again and again without stopping.  It just didn't seem possible.

It was a gamble, sure, but it was a gamble that turned a sure-fire second (worst-case third) into a fifth-by-the-skin-of-his-teeth.  Not quite Raikonnen's free-fall in China from the podium out of the top ten over the course of one lap.  But the problem is that with any non-trivial amount of running left to go, tires will beat track position.

In the old days this wouldn't have been true.  Without the benefit of DRS, ridiculous tire performance drop-off, and rules that act as an impediment to blocking, we would have been treated to a three or four lap duel between Hamilton and Vettel.  And maybe Alonso would have managed to further keep Hamilton back.

But we'll never know.  This is the Formula 1 we have.

Quick comments:

  • Nice that Massa recovered to collect a single point.  He was definitely on it until his early spin.  Now his performance level in general is improved, hopefully the results will start to come.
  • For all the preseason angst about the new car, Ferrari seems to be the most consistent of the regular runners.  Sure, luck helps, but you have to be near the front to capitalize on opportunity.
  • Bizarre podium that was only made possible by both Vettel and Alonso's teams making the wrong choice.  If they had both pitted, we probably would have had less drama (ie how low will the Ferrari go?) and a more "establishment" podium.  Oh, and Alonso would probably still be leading the Championship table.
  • Schumacher has 5 DNFs in 7 races?  Sure, some are mechanical, but some are... self-inflicted.  Unless he catches fire the rest of the season (which seems unlikely as Rosberg's performances have been dropping off lately because the rest of the teams have been doing a better job of car development than has Mercedes) I'd say the odds of him coming back are slim.