Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015 Retrospective

So 2015 has come and gone, and frankly I expected it to be another waste of time. Nothing significant had changed at Ferrari -- Arrivabene and Vettel had both arrived too late to have significant input on the car's development, and with that in hand I didn't think that Ferrari would have any answer to any Mercedes-powered car, let alone the factory team running up front.

Shows what I know. Practically any other team would have killed to have had Ferrari's "bad year". A couple of wins, including the both pole and the win in Singapore. Second in the manufacturer's title, third and fourth in the driver's. And I believe Vettel's points haul rivals Alonso's from when Alonso was nearly champion a couple years back.

It was telling, though. The year that Alonso was nearly champion, we headed to Canada having had seven separate drivers as race winners for that year. This year we headed to Canada having had seven separate drivers as podium visitors for the year. Mercedes' reliability was epic, as was Vettel's machine-like predictability in picking up third. Although as a team fan I'm pleased with the result, it made for some dry racing.

Would Alonso have made out as well in this year's Ferrari? I'd like to say yes, but there's no way to know.

For the future, there's not much to say. None of the technical regulation proposals get me excited, and the fiddling around with a "cheap" motor and an equivalency formula just leaves me cold. The fact that the engines are hugely more efficient than what has come before is interesting, but really what draws people to the sport is the competition and the teams trying to come up with new technical solutions to close their gaps. Taking out in-season testing and engine development really puts a halt to that.

You really need multiple teams at the top with a fair chance to win on any given day, it makes the highs of winning higher and the lows of failing lower. You need a better reason for tuning in over "I wonder if Maldonaldo will run into anyone today?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Driver Skill Is Obviously All-Important

Your finishers, in China 2015:

If only Sainz had not fallen out and spoiled a perfect finish.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Best Of The Rest

A solid 3-4 finish is pretty good, especially considering the mess of futility that last year was.  I am pretty happy about it.

Thinking about it, I think the deficiencies, we can assume that the Ferrari engine is a huge step forward this year.  Maybe not "Mercedes" class -- although the engine is powering perenial back-marker Sauber into more reasonable competitive results, and we know traditionally their car isn't much good -- but still pretty good (the engine).  So from that, I think that the Williams car is inferior to the Ferrari car, which fits with my theory of the Williams merely being the best also-ran last year which benefited from the Mercedes dominance.  With the Ferrari resurgence, Williams is once again behind the serious leaders.  The other Mercedes team that benefited last year, Force India, is similarly unremarkable, and Lotus is really just coming to grips with things.  Clearly, the Mercedes is less of an advantage this year.

Renault is in big trouble, and not just because Red Bull is threatening to have a temper tantrum and go home.  Their engine is where the Ferrari of 2014 was -- which was nowhere.

Red Bull having a gearbox which is apparently made of glass isn't helping any either.  This is the first post-Newey year, but you'd expect them to have their act together a little better than this.

Honda is of course the worst of the worst, but that's because they are in their first year and anyways are showing a surprising amount of realism in their expectations.  I think Q2 is a reasonable goal for this year, judging from what's happened so far this year.

For me, I think this is as good as we can expect for this year.  Ferrari isn't going to take the race to the Mercedes week in and week out, but with reliability they can collect solid points and be there for when the Mercedes duo trip over each other.  Perhaps in the desert at Bahrain things might go better, and perhaps at circuits where engine power is less important (ie: Monaco) they will have a chance, but for me the titles are already out of reach.  And frankly I'm okay with that.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Well that was entirely unexpected.

Let's deconstruct it a little bit.  In hindsight, two things are clear to me.  First, the Mercedes is not as kind to its tires as the Ferrari is.  Second, Mercedes made two strategy mistakes, in not holding back enough option tires for Sunday, and in making the pit stop under safety car in the first place.

If we game this out a bit, then what would have happened is that after the safety car the Mercedes cars would have led, then pitted for prime tires.  Vettel would have made his only stop under green and come out behind the Mercedes.  Then when the Mercedes cars pitted again, they would be much closer together.  The Mercedes would be a faster car on fresher tires, but with the Ferrari handling its tires much more gently it might have been more interesting in the closing stages.  If Hamilton was truly unhappy with his car, he might have been persuaded by Vettel to make a mistake.  But I think that unlikely, I think Vettel would be more content to not risk his second place.

Mercedes' strategy mistake of not holding back another set of options is probably a direct result of the car being harder on its tires.

But all of this is affected in unpredictable ways because of the heat on Sunday.  Did the Mercedes suffer?  Hamilton's comments suggest that maybe they did.  They seemed to struggle a bit, while both Ferrari cars ran with good pace throughout the race.

Due to the heat I don't think we can call this solid competition yet, or even a championship horse race.  Lets wait and see how things play out in China, or better yet once the series returns to Europe.

But for now, I'll take it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Here We (well some of us) Go!

Boy F1 looked absolutely terrible in Australia, didn't they? Let's tot it up:
  • Bottas gets hurt, forcing Williams to withdraw a car;
  • Kvyat and Magnusson blow up on the out-lap to the grid;
  • and two Manor cars never turn a wheel all weekend.
Fifteen cars take the green light.  And then in the first lap we lose the two Lotus cars.  And then -- and then! -- McLaren almost limp home into the points with a hamster-on-a-wheel engine.  Eleven finishers, and it wasn't even raining.

F1 in general needs to get their acts together or they are going to be in trouble.

The entire farce just about makes me want to look into this WEC thing.

What we learned, Misadventure-Down-Under edition:
  • Mercedes has resumed normal service after doing something else during winter testing.  The World Championship celebratory parties are scheduled back at the factory for the same time this year as last.  Thank you for standing by.
  • Ferrari has made a huge step forward.  Whether it is real will have to wait for a sustained effort from Williams, plus deferred judgement on Lotus, but podiums don't look impossible this year.
  • Vettel looked pretty good in the car all weekend.
  • Raikkonen can't buy luck.   A first corner squeeze and then two messed up pit stops.  Apart from those problems the weekend suggests 2015 will be better than last year.
  • The McLaren-Honda is just as miserable as testing suggested it would be and it isn't clear that there is enough change available to fix the problem.  Honda really got screwed by coming into the formula a year late, although if they'd done it properly and made a rocket everyone would be saying how much of an advantage being out the extra year was.  One wonders if Alonso's symptoms will perhaps linger a little as there are probably no points on offer for him this year.
  • The Ferrari revival is all-around -- Sauber's performance with the same motor in the back shows that this year they have it together.
  • Speaking about Sauber, I still don't care who does or does not drive for them.
  • Hopefully once Renault shows up their cars will make it to the grid without ingesting engines.  Riccardo and Sainz both seem to have used up one of their four engines for the year, as has Magnusson.  All told, between Renault and Honda, this is the kind of "reliability" we were afraid of last year, and last year it turned out incredibly well.
  • At this point, Manor isn't a real F1 team -- they just seem to have some pit/paddock passes they've stolen from somewhere.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Taking My Lumps: 2014 Predictions Revisited

So it is a little later than November, but still enough time to revisit my predictions for 2014 so that people can get on with the requisite pointing and laughing.

Your Manufacturer's Champion: I said: Mercedes. Score: +1.

Your World Champion: I said: Jenson Button. Score: +0. Mercedes had their act together and McLaren didn't, to the point where Williams was the Mercedes B-team.

I said:Ferrari might be third in the manufacturer's title. While I could hang my hat on might, I'm going to be honest and say when you score 60% of what the team ahead of you scored, you were not close. So score +0 for that one.

I said: Alonso if the car is fast and reliable, and Raikonnen if it isn't. Well I was right about Alonso but wrong about the circumstance. Alonso kept showing up and getting the job done, while Raikkonen seemed constantly mystified as to why his car didn't change direction in a timely manner. So I'll score myself +1 here because I'm falling behind.

I said I think Lotus will start the best, but Red Bull will overtake them by year's end. I'll count that as +3/4, since I was right about Red Bull at the end, and that Lotus would be scrabbling for finance all year.

I said: [...]the 2013 champion will be conspicuous by his absence at the sharp end for much of the year. Nailed it. +1.

I said: Williams will enjoy (relative) success for the first third of the year, then the bigger teams will improve faster than they do and they will fade down the stretch. Had that upside down. Williams came on strong at the end of the year as other Mercedes cars faded. Score +0.

The Mid-Field: I said: Williams, Force India, Lotus, and Sauber -- in that order at the end of the year. I got the order right, but Williams was higher up, and I didn't slot STR in anywhere. Still, I'm going to score myself +3/4.

I said: Force India might actually see a change of ownership this year -- wrong, this owner somehow keeps holding on with his fingernails, I really don't know why. Score +0.

I said: for Catarham and Marussia it is a pure lottery, one that will be driven by random unreliability between them and ahead of them on the road. That's a non-prediction, but still kind of true. I score myself +1/2.

I said: The FIA will go through all kinds of contortions to avoid granting the proposed entry for 2015 to the Haas team, perhaps even going to the extent of pushing the entry back to 2016. Haas isn't showing up until 2016, and the Romanians have vanished from the news. Score +1.

I said: With Ecclestone finally gone [...] yeah stop it right there, Ecclestone is still here. Damn it. Score +0.

Your 2014 Deadpool predictions:

  • Bernie Ecclestone no.
  • Force India ownership -- no.
  • Lotus ownership -- this one is trickier, since there was a large cash infusion. 1/2.
  • Marussia -- nailed it. Caterham is probably done, but they showed up for the last race and that counts at this point.
So our grand total: 6/12 for predictions, and 1 of 4 for the deadpool.

I know next year I don't put Ecclestone in the deadpool and he'll be gone. Just my luck.

So tune in again in the next forty days or so when we do this again for some reason.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Vettel: A Downgrade

I think when you line them up one to one, in equal cars, the driver you are always going to take is Alonso over Vettel.

I have not seen Vettel work in a struggling car, trying to get the most out of a car which can't win. Now he's clearly very tallented and has been well suited to the cars that Red Bull have provided him with over the last few years (excepting 2014, of course). But those cars have been winners.

Meanwhile you can't claim that Ferrari's offerings have been championship-winners-in-waiting. The engine in 2014 was a disappointment, the F138 looked gorgeous but couldn't deliver. A couple of cars have taken the championship to the end, but we can all agree that this was Alonso and not the car that was the foundation.

Alonso never looks like he's just circulating, he's always got his head down and his turn-in sharp.

There was a meme circulating around the beginning of the year which showed Vettel sitting in the 2012 car, and he had this look on his face like Alonso almost beat me in this piece of shit?! Surely taken out of context, but funny to think about. But probably not that far from the truth.

All in all, this driver swap is a downgrade for Ferrari.