Monday, August 06, 2007

Formula 1 is exciting (except on track)

In what I can only describe as an "inspired" decision, I chose to not watch the Hungarian Grand Prix. Instead I had to "make do" with some terrifically engaging racing in the form of World Superbikes from Brands Hatch, the X Games rallycar super-special and AMA Superbike (and even though it's not racing, the fascinating skateboard vert competition from the X Games).

By all accounts the F1 race was as dull as I expected it to be. In a form of motorsport where passing is as rare a filthy race transporter, a track where passing is virtually impossible pretty much consigns the race to Dullsville from the get-go.

However, when I came to check the news this morning it appeared as though it was a weekend filled with drama, centered around the English tabloids' favourite sportsman, Lewis Hamilton.

By all accounts, Lewis made an error in the final session of qualifying, when he ended up being first on track, against the wishes of the McLaren team. This messed up Fernando Alonso's strategy for the session, potentially bagging Lewis an extra lap (I'll admit I'm unclear on this point so hopefully someone more familiar with the story can fill me). During the final pitstop of the session, Alonso waited an extra few seconds in the pitbox, even though Lewis was waiting. Alonso was thus able to get one more flying lap, and Lewis was not. What followed was a delightfully colourful radio exchange between McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and his young protege that ended with Lewis telling Ron to "go fucking swivel." Nice.

Damage control was immediately in order and Ron rushed to the driver weigh-in, determined to alleviate the situation. Sadly for F1 pundits who live for this stuff the two drivers simply ignored each other. A dose of Senna/Irvine-style scrappage would have added to an already dramatic story.

Ron and Lewis apparently made up but Fernando refuses to talk to his team-mate. Stories are already circulating about how the Spaniard is talking to Renault about returning to them for 2008. It seems safe to say that in this war of egos, Lewis seems to be winning.

As a result of his pitlane activities, Alonso was docked five places and started the race from sixth. Unable to challenge for the win, he had to make do with watching his nemesis Hamilton take victory and extend his lead in the championship.

Once again, F1 proved to be truly compelling, a place where money, ego and technology are the three main driving forces. The racing thankfully took a backseat (again), which is good given that even when it is exciting, it is far less exciting than most of other forms of motorsport. I'm now convinced you can be a fan of the sport without ever watching a race, especially if you enjoy spy novels, boxing, CAD/CAM software and/or reality shows.


Anonymous said...

There are two F1 fan's in this office, including me.
We always have a nice chat about the weekend's racing on Friday PM and Monday AM.
But this Monday EVERYONE joined it.
It's clear we all love a bit of handbags here in England. Especially when our new blue eyed boy (his eye's aren't blue, I know, but you know what I mean) is involved. And winning.

Everyone seemed to let the fact that another English motorsport hero is on his way to the Superbike's World title with a cracking double victory.
FAR superior entertainment indeed.

Kropotkin said...

It's even more dramatic than that. Ron Dennis has apparently said that Alonso will be free to go at the end of the season. There have even been reports from Spain that Alonso doesn't want to finish the season with McLaren.

I don't watch F1 at all (well, except for the start, then switch on 2 minutes before the end to find out who won), but there's certainly been a lot of drama. Perhaps the most exciting way of following Formula 1 these days is through the pages of the gossip columns...

Nicebloke said...

Exactly my point! Great minds think alike LOL!

Sutho said...

My question is this however, why were the F1 Stewards involved in a purely internal McLaren debacle? If McLaren can’t get their cars out of the pits in a certain time, then that’s their problem. No other team was impacted by this. Let them sort it without Big Brother.

Anonymous said...

Why do I feel the need to leap to F1's defence? I have been as critical as anyone of the way it is going and the mess it's in. I'll just have to write a post about it, I guess - any adequate answer would be far too long for a comment.

Especially as I have taken it upon myself to attempt an explanation of the extra lap in qualifying business. This may take some time and those not interested would be best advised to go on the the next comment.

It's all about the third phase of qualifying. In Q3 the cars have to be fueled as they will be for the race (don't ask me why - only the FIA know the reasons for their cretinous rules). The teams are permitted to replace the fuel they burn during Q3 so it becomes effectively a fuel-burning phase. Since the lighter the car, the faster it can lap, the idea has become to burn off as much fuel as you can before going for a blinder of a lap right in the dying seconds of qualifying.

McLaren are so super-efficient that they noticed that they could squeeze in an extra lap for whichever of their cars was ahead in Q3 - yes, the timing has become that precise. To ensure fairness between the drivers, they have a system of alternating this slight advantage between Alonso and Hamilton and the Hungarian GP was supposed to be Alonso's turn for it.

Unfortunately, Hamilton's car was ready to head down the pit lane to wait for the start of Q3 before Alonso's was (the teams try to be at the head of the queue so that they have a few seconds more time to burn fuel - it is also an obvious advantage to be at the head of the line since you drive your laps in clean air). Policy in that case is to let the first car readied join the queue straight away rather than hold it until the other is ready; the order can then be adjusted in the first lap of Q3 by the lead driver letting his team mate through.

Off they went and the team radioed Hamilton to let Alonso through. For reasons known only to himself (although we can surmise), Hamilton chose not to do so and ignored several later instructions to the same effect. McLaren were now in a position of having their cars in the wrong order, which effectively screwed their strategy.

Hasty calculations were made to try to get back to the plan and a part of that was to hold Alonso longer than necessary in his first pit stop for tyres. I presum they did something similar with Hamilton's, although it hasn't been mentioned.

Come the second and last pit stops, the team had it all figured out: they would keep Alonso in the box for 20 seconds (changing tyres takes only 6) and thus delay Hamilton sufficiently to prevent him getting in his stolen extra lap. The problem was that Spanish blood was boiling at the injustice of it all and Alonso took it upon himself to add a further ten seconds to his wait in the pits, thereby leaving insufficient time for Hamilton (who was queued behind him, waiting for his tyre change) to get around and do a last flying lap.

There are several lessons in the story, the most obvious being that Q3 is a joke and F1 should go back to a much simpler qualifying system. Another is that it is possible to be too efficient - McLaren's devotion to split-second timing and accuracy has led them to become inflexible to changing situations. Instead of trying to get back to the original plan, they should have accepted the status quo, got their two drivers on the front of the grid and then roasted Hamilton after qualifying, applying whatever penalties to him they saw fit.

It is not their fault that the stewards chose to become involved, however. Had the FIA kept its nose out (it was internal team problem and none of their business), there would have been a minor paroxysm of fury in the British tabloids that would have disappeared in a day or so and that would have been that. Instead, we have an ongoing saga of bad blood, rumours of drivers leaving and yet another possible court case.

It really is time that F1 attended to the way it is governed and got rid of the idiot running the show.bjkzrgx

Kropotkin said...

Things just keep getting worse. Now a Spanish journalist has threatened to "torch his wheels", unless Hamilton starts treating Alonso with respect. New depths are being plumbed ...

Kropotkin said...


El Pais are saying that it was a joke, and that Guasch was talking to a "fake" Hamilton.

Nicebloke said...

Thanks for the explanation Clive. My confusion came from the very point you made: why it was that McLaren were unable to react to the situation as it unfolded, instead of blindly sticking to the computations...