F1 – Kate’s Dirty Sister Likes It Wet!

In Formula 1 on 22 April, 2009 at 11:24 pm

So, the Chinese Grand Prix, eh?

Yet another wet race this year! Who needs Bernie’s joke suggestion of sprinklers at each track with a random spray time, when Mother Nature has so kindly provided us with the weather?

Someone on Twitter, who obviously is new to F1, said that they were appalled that they were running a race in the rain. A lot of other motorsports stop for rain. F1 only stops when the cars become boats, like they did in Malaysia…

By comparison, the rain in China was a lot milder, though admittedly, that’s not saying much… From the onboard cameras, it looked like driving down a motorway in a heavy thunderstorm, with no windscreen wipers and a constant stream of truck s coming in the other direction, spraying you with even more water… That’s what these guys are paid for. This is where their talents really shine out. It equalises the cars out. The cars are primarily designed for (and tested in) dry conditions. A wet track requires a very different set-up to a dry one. The tyres operate better, the warmer they are, and the rain and water on the track is constantly cooling them. What was a half second speed difference between cars becomes a couple of hundredths.

A few years back (when there were some seats in the paddock that could be bought in cash rather than by talent) a wet race would quickly show who could handle themselves in tough conditions. You would often end up with half the field going off, or taking each other off. This race had a lot less accidents than some I can remember. It shows how good the whole field is becoming. In the past, there were probably half a dozen drivers each season who would be able to take mid-field cars to the front of the pack. Michael Schumacher being the first who springs to mind, though I wouldn’t say he spent much time in a midfield car…  Jenson Button’s first win in Hungary 2006 was brilliant though…

Sebastian Vettel won at Monza last year for Scuderia Toro Rosso, in what was a midfield car. In the wet. He started on pole which helps (no spray from the car in front), but managed to fend off Hamilton’s McLaren, Kubica’s BMW, Alonso’s Renault, and the Ferraris. Many people say that the STR was really a Red Bull, but in fact it was the front half of a Red Bull, with a back end heavily modified to fit a Ferrari engine. Modified by what was the Minardi team. They may be badged as “Red Bull Lite” but they are still based in the same factory and have pretty much the same staff.

The 2009 Chinese GP was interesting. On paper, in the dry, the BrawnGP cars of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were faster, with Jenson being on the optimum strategy for the race (at least according to Mike Gascoigne on the BBC – standing in for Eddie Jordan, I hope it happens more often, his insight was far more useful and he had a great ability for explaining technical issues in layman’s terms). Fuel-adjusted, Rubens would have been on pole, closely followed by Jenson, then Jarno Trulli’s Toyota and then the two Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

Actual grid positions for the top ten were 1) Vettel, 2) Alonso, 3) Webber, 4) Barrichello, 5) Button, 6) Trulli, 7) Rosberg, 8) Raikkonen, 9) Hamilton, and 10) Sebastien Buemi.  The surprises there were really Hamilton and Raikkonen, as Ferrari and McLaren have not been doing so well.  McLaren tried out a new diffuser on Hamilton’s car (told you they’d be one of the first) and Ferrari ditched KERS, due to its unreliability in the first two races.  Kimi seems to get on better without the KERS, maybe because he can re-distirbute the weight more to his liking.  Massa wants KERS back.  I’ll do a separate KERS post soon, promise.

Then that beautiful Touch of Chaos that sometimes strikes F1 occurred. Sometimes it’s a dog or a mad priest running across the track. More often, it’s the weather. This wasn’t going to be a part-wet, part-dry race, this was going to be a full-on wet race, starting under the safety car. Toyota decided to start Glock from the pitlane, filling to the brim and going as long as possible, after all, the degradation on wet-weather tyres in the wet is very low, and he was going to suffer a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change as well.  BMW decided to do the same with Robert Kubica.

The drivers at the front had the toughest choice (apart from Vettel) as they were lower on fuel than those outside the top ten. The Brawns were in a pickle. The only wet testing they had had was those laps in Malysia, between the start of the rain and the stopping of the race. The Red Bulls had only really tested their interim car in the wet, and were also doing a lot of guesswork, but they had had the car that little bit longer in service.

Alonso was fuelled lightest, presumably hoping to leap ahead in the dry, and run light to an early first stop, using up whichever was the least preferred tyre compound.

As the Safety Car pulled into the pitlane after eight laps, Sebastian Vettel backed the pack up then charged for the line, rooster-tails of spray flying up behind him.   During those eight laps, Massa and Adrian Sutil (Force India) both slid off track.  Sutil, Rosberg and Alonso all pitted (laps 3, 6 & 7 respectively) for fresh (and warm) tyres and a full tank of fuel.

One lap later, Hamilton passed Raikkonen, during which we heard Kimi complaining that his engine felt sick (he would eventually finish twelfth).

Massa retired on lap 21 with engine problems, under the Safety Car, which had been called out because Kubica’s BMW tried to mate with Trulli’s Toyota…

It was hard to gauge what cars and which drivers were doing a good job.  Kovalainen ended up finishing ahead of Hamilton, despite being in an unmodified car.  Hamilton spun a couple of times too many…

Sutil put in another sterling wet-weather performance, just like in Monaco last year.  Unfortunately he spun out of sixth place and left the nose of his car buried in the barriers.  He ended up being classified 17th, six laps down.

There were only three other drivers classified as “Retired” – Jarno Trulli, Kazuki Nakajima and Felipe Massa.

All in all, a good finish for the third race in the season, and a wet one at that!

Really though, the race was between the Brawns and the Red Bulls.  No one else came close.  If there hadn’t been a couple of Safety Cars, Vettel might well have lapped most of the field!

Vettel, has now achieved maiden victories for two teams in less than a year.  First for Toro Rosso in Monza last year, and now for Red Bull in China.  Mark Webber achieved his best finish (second) and Jenson Button joined them on the podium in third (ironically getting one more point than he did for winning in Malaysia!).  The rest of the Top Ten were: Rubens Barrichello, Heikki Kovalainen, Lewis Hamilton, Timo Glock, Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld.

We have also learned that Sebastian Vettel’s sense of humour extends to naming his cars.  He says they are sexy things and like a woman, need to be treated right.  His STR4 last year was called Julie, and he started this year in Kate.  Kate unfortunately had a disagreement with Robert Kubica’s BMW in Australia, so Vettel got a new chassis (with a few aero tweaks that he felt made it even sexier) and so the label stuck to the dashboard of his second Red Bull reads “Kate’s Dirty Sister”!  They sure worked well together in China!

Bahrain is going to be interesting.  Ferrari and Toyota tested there in the winter, and should both have a good showing.  The Brawns are still going to be the cars to beat though, with the Red Bulls and possibly Nico Rosberg giving them a good run for their money.  Don’t discount either Alonso or Hamilton, as they get to grips with their new diffusers, and Kimi really has a point to proove.  After that, nearly every single team will have updates for Barcelona, and the real development battles begin.  It has to be said that Ferrari have the biggest mountain to climb.  With testing restricted to Friday on the race weekend, drivers like Alonso and Barrichello, who seem to have an uncanny knack for car set-up and development, are going to be crucial to their teams.  A part of me, though, wants either Button or Barrichello to fall sick one weekend.  Just so Anthony Davidson can have a play in the car that he had a hand in developing, and after his years as a test driver and third driver for Honda, he could really help the Brawns extend the gap further.

Until then, enjoy!

  1. Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

  2. Jenson Button is one lucky dude. Not only a good driver but he’s dating the hot Japanese lingerie model Jessica Michibata. She’s so hawt! Nice exotic looks.

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