Results for Round 02 are in… Francuis won this round, and this helped him move up to 9th overall after 2 rounds. Michael Filetti came 2nd this round, and is now leading the overall standings, by a healthy margin of 12 points – many congratulations!! Finally, M.Saar came 3rd which also helped him climb up to 8th in the standings. Last round’s winner, TakumaSatoforthewin could only manage 70th place this time round, which dropped him back to 7th. In the overall standings, apart from Michael who is leading the table, Raifosa is now up to 2nd and domino 3rd. This looks like it’s going to be a very, very tight championship indeed. Here are the results of the 2nd round:

Round 02 Classification

And here are the overall standings:

Fantasy League - Standings

These are the points that each asset scored this round:

Drivers Scores

Teams Scores

Engines Scores

Finally, here are the new, updated values for the assets:

The Stock Market after Round 02

 

What a thrilling qualifying session… One of the best I’ve seen in recent memory, with 4 tenths of a second covering 1st to 8th place… Yesterday we had predicted that pole would be around the 01:36.4 mark, so we were reasonably close (Hamilton’s pole laptime was 01:36.219), we are therefore able to confirm in a 2nd race in a row that the 2012 cars are about 1.6 – 1.7% down in performance in comparison to the 2011 cars. There are a few key observations I wish to make regarding today’s qualifying:

1. Hamilton lost a couple of tenths in the last corner of his pole lap, by locking the brakes and sliding, which means that the pole could have been as low as 1:36 dead. This is further supported by Vettel’s lap (01:36.634) on the hard compound, which is said to be around 0.5 seconds slower than the medium compound. Theoretically, therefore, Vettel could have also done a lap in the 01:36.1 bracket. In practice, however, this is debatable. Perhaps Red Bull weren’t very comfortable with the medium compound, and couldn’t extract enough laptime to justify starting the race with it. Vettel’s run on the medium tyre in Q2 was a bit underwhelming, and perhaps that’s what forced Red Bull to decide to gamble with the hard tyre in Q3. In hindsight, seeing the kind of lap time Vettel was able to extract, perhaps it would have been wiser to go for the medium compound, but it will all be judged on how the race evolves tomorrow.

2. For the 2nd time in a row Michael outperforms Rosberg in qualifying – even more comfortably this time. Both drivers have been fairly evenly matched throughout the practice sessions, Q1 and Q2, but Michael was, once again, able to dig deeper in Q3 and produce a very good lap. This is exactly the opposite phenomenon of what we were treated to last year, when Michael would reach his maximum in Q1 and Q2 but Nico was invariably able to get more laptime out of the car in Q2 and Q3 (you can refresh your memory by visiting our 2011 season statistical analysis). Michael’s lap in Q3 looked inch perfect, and I don’t think there was much more time that could be drawn from the car. In any case, it’s great seeing Michael at the sharp end of the grid, which at the age of 43 is simply a mind-boggling achievement. I simply can’t get my head around it.

3. Williams need at least one driver who knows what he’s doing. Before the season started I was of the opinion that Senna deserved a decent chance with a solid F1 team, but after what I’ve seen so far, I am reluctantly willing to admit that he just doesn’t cut it. Both cars should have been in front of Alonso and Perez, yet they both failed to make it to Q3. Maldonado’s mistake ruined Q2 for a lot of people, including Mercedes who had to use another set of medium tyres to get through. Pastor, speaking about his Melbourne mistake, said that he learnt from that mistake. Well, if mistakes are lessons, Pastor should have a couple of effing PhDs by now. The harsh truth is that neither driver can do what Williams desperately need: score points, consistently. It’s a shame having to watch Williams throw away a perfectly promising season. I presume it’s impossible to kick either driver out at this moment, so one can only hope that Pastor will try to minimize his mistakes, because his baseline, raw speed seems to be pretty decent. Senna needs at least half a second more in terms of raw pace, and I’m sorry but there’s no way in hell he can find that in himself. Please give Valteri a chance, Williams…

4. There is a huge gap between the top runners and the midfield. Ferrari’s best was still 1.347 seconds off the pace, and that’s utterly deplorable. Felipe performed better this time, his lap time just a few tenths shy of Alonso’s best. It was obvious that Felipe was extremely downbeat throughout the session, so credit where credit’s due: to be within a few tenths off Alonso’s best whilst under that amount of pressure is commendable. Alonso finished (just) ahead of the midfield pack, which is the best one can expect from Ferrari at this point. The only stand-out performance of qualifying from that midfield pack was Sergio Perez, who came very close to beating Alonso for midfield top-dog honours.

5. The order at the top is very difficult to call at this moment. Even McLaren are not in the clear. Although they secured their 2nd 1-2 in a row, their gap to Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus is too close for comfort. The in-season development pace will therefore be crucial in determining the outcome of the championship. Ferrari hope that they can be defensive in the first races and stage a comeback at the 1st European races, but I believe that’s overly optimistic. It’s a race between McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull, with a big question mark hanging over Mercedes’ race pace. Allegedly they have been focusing on race setup this weekend, so the race is going to provide us with a lot of answers, should it remain dry.

6. I have rarely seen anything as scary as Force India’s suspension wobble as Di Resta went over the kerbs of Turn 7. I hope someone with more technical expertise can explain why the front left suspension started wobbling so much. I wonder if it’s a case of a badly tuned interlinked suspension. The only sure thing is that Force India have taken a huge step backwards this season, and their goal to reach P5 in the constructors championship looks silly. They will have to overtake Sauber, Williams and either Ferrari or Lotus to achieve that. Given Vijay Mallya’s much publicized financial troubles, it doesn’t seem likely.

So, what to expect from tomorrow’s race? There are 3 key factors that will determine the outcome:

(a) Weather: If it rains, the race will become unpredictable and chaotic, because when it rains in Malaysia it really pours.

(b) Start: If Mercedes (Schumacher in particular) get one of their customary good starts, then it may create some opportunities for other teams to challenge the McLarens. I am not convinced that Mercedes have the race pace to be at the front and stay there, but I will be more than happy to be proven wrong. Vettel is a real dark horse starting from 5th, on the harder rubber.

(c) Tyre degradation: If the race is dry, I expect several teams to find themselves having to pit in earlier than ideally. I expect all front-runners to go for 3 pit stops, including Perez who was brave enough to go for a Q3 lap time on the medium tyres.

After such a thrilling qualifying session, with a different winner in each segment (Q1, Q2 and Q3) I am really looking forward to the race tomorrow. If it’s dry, we will be able to almost finalize our pecking order for the start of the season. If it’s wet, however, at least we will get some exciting racing… :)

There is a big question for each team to be answered in this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and provided that conditions remain dry (highly unlikely), we are seeking the answers to the following:

- McLaren: Will they be able to cement their superiority in a more “normal” race track?

- Red Bull: Is, ironically, qualifying their Achilles heel?

- Ferrari: Was 5th place in Australia a result that masked the car’s problems and how much will the new chassis help Massa?

- Mercedes: Will they be able to make the tyres work inside the optimum window and will this hurt their qualifying pace?

- Renault: Was Romain’s pace in Australia a fluke and can such pace be maintained in the race?

- Force India: Are they indeed at the bottom of the midfield?

- Williams: Will they continue to impress and is Senna really doing enough to justify his seat?

- Sauber: Can they repeat their Australian performance in much hotter temperatures?

- Toro Rosso: Will either driver start to gain the upper hand in a consistent basis?

- Caterham: Will they be able to finish the race in conditions much more difficult than Australia?

- Marussia: Can they come any closer to Caterham, seeing as the Hingham-based team hasn’t made the expected leap to the midfield?

- HRT: Yeah. Can they qualify?

Naturally, it’s unreasonable to assume that we can get any answers on Friday. However, we will be monitoring the teams’ performances over the weekend, and hopefully at the end of it we will be able to get at least some of the answers to the above questions. In the meantime, here’s a closer look at today’s running:

The 2011 Australia pole lap was 01:23.529 (by Sebastian Vettel). In 2012, Hamilton’s pole was 01:24.922, i.e. 1.4 seconds slower. That’s significant. In terms of raw pace, therefore, based solely on the Australian qualifying results, it seems that the F1 cars are about 1.68% slower than last year. Now, the pole lap in Malaysia 2011 was 01:34.870 (again by Vettel). If we apply this correction factor, we should expect pole for the 2012 Malaysian GP to be around 01:36.460 (provided, of course, it’s dry). The fastest laptime that we’ve seen in today’s Free Practice sessions was 01:38.021, recorder by Lewis Hamilton in the 1st Practice Session of the day. That’s about 1.6 seconds slower than the expected pole time.

Now, let’s go back to last weekend’s race. As we saw, pole was in the high 24′s, whereas the first laptimes at the beginning of the race were in the high 1:33s (to low 1:34s), which means a difference of (approximately) 9 seconds. Over 58 laps, this gives a fuel effect of, about, 0.150 seconds for every extra lap of fuel that a car has to carry. By accepting the same time penalty in Malaysia (which is not entirely accurate, but will do for the time being), we see that Lewis in his 01:38.021 lap must have been carrying fuel worth about 10 – 11 laps. At a consumption of about 2.6 kg / lap, that means about 26 – 29 kgs of fuel onboard.

It’s important to stress at this point the question of tyres, because although Lewis did his lap on the medium (softer) compound, Pirelli have changed compounds for 2012 and the Australian calculations and gaps are based on the soft (yellow marked) tyre. Biiiiiiiig disclaimer there… ;)

Red Bull’s long runs were very, very consistent. Webber’s 2 main stints in the 2nd session were:

01:45.312
01:45.248
01:44.893
01:44.310
01:44.444
01:44.568
01:44.407
01:44.369
01:44.505
01:44.681

And:

01:44.422
01:44.235
01:44.146
01:44.594
01:44.265
01:44.712

Vettel was also able to post similarly consistent laptimes. Button’s only long stint (below), on the other hand, was not that impressive, with the lap times experiencing a drop off towards the end of the stint, which seems to justify Vettel’s claim that, in terms of race pace, they are at the same level. I presume, however, that these 1:46 laps at the end have more to do with Button easing off than the tyres going off. From the (very) early look of things however, it seems as if Red Bull can post a challenge, provided they sort out their qualifying pace.

01:44.803
01:44.984
01:44.659
01:44.823
01:44.904
01:44.935
01:45.142
01:46.739
01:46.422

What about Mercedes? Well, their longer stints indicated that the problem of degradation is not entirely eliminated yet. Let’s look at the data carefully. I have eliminated the 1:46 laps from Button’s stint, for the reason I explained above. In the following table I am presenting to you the tyre degradation figures, i.e. the pure degradation effect (I have removed the fuel burn-off effect of 0.150 seconds per lap):

Degradation figures - Friday free practice

So, it’s way too early to make any predictions at the moment, but it looks as if Red Bull are nicely positioned for the race and need to sort out their qualifying pace, whereas I believe the exact opposite applies to Mercedes. Ferrari is difficult to judge because of the chaotic difference in performance between the two drivers… McLaren seem to be in the same good position that they were in Australia. I assume they are secretly hoping for Mercedes to do well in qualifying and create a buffer zone between themselves and Red Bull in the race.

In the meantime, I would like to share with you this amazing article. It’s the full verdict in the case of Force India Vs Team Lotus, on the issue of copyright infringement. I suggest you devote at least 3 hours, get a cup of coffee (or five), and read it through… the ENTIRE thing. It’s a mesmerizing, fascinating inside look into the process of designing a car, subcontracting companies, looking for performance, business relationships in F1, etc. It gives insight on several key people within F1, the way they work and the way they think. It’s completely myth-shattering at times, and it will help you understand a lot of the things that take place in the background of our sport. You will be amazed, trust me on this.

Take care dudes.

Ferrari announced that Felipe Massa will be driving chassis number 294 in Sepang, as opposed to 293 that he used in Melbourne. This, by itself, is not major news. Teams do tend to go through a couple of chassis throughout the year. What’s interesting however is the wording that Ferrari used to justify this decision. They said: “This choice was taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park”.

This statement striked me, because there have been no suggestions whatsoever anywhere in the press (printed or online) that Massa’s Australian predicament was down to a defect chassis, there was therefore no need for Ferrari to go public with that. Ferrari’s decision to use the words “clear up any doubts” implies that, to them, it’s not an issue and that this has been an internal confrontation, apparently between Massa’s side and Ferrari management. Ferrari, though, go a step further and state that: “Felipe knows he can count on the team to do everything, both from the technical and the operational point of view, to put him in a better state to show off his talents – even at the cost of extra work in these few days that separate the Australian race from the one in Malaysia”.

To me, this reads like a disclaimer a lawyer would have written, and definitely not a simple team announcement. I read it like a direct message to Massa: we give you everything, we even respond to unreasonable demands at the cost of extra work, so it’s up to you to deliver. I am not used to Ferrari conducting (thinly veiled) dialogue with their drivers in public, so I am very concerned that the above statement is a prelude to the oncoming Massa’s replacement. It appears Ferrari have had enough, and are willing to go public just to make sure everybody understands it’s not the car’s fault, but Massa’s. If the situation inside the team was harmonious, then I would have expected a very simple and to-the-point statement, such as “Felipe Massa will be driving chassis No294 in Sepang”, and nothing more. The way the statement is written can be useful when terminating a contract, because it puts on records that: (a) the team have gone over and beyond their normal procedures to assist Massa, (b) they have done so at an extra cost in terms of man hours and shipping and (c) Felipe is aware of that.

All this additional seasoning makes me suspicious.

The dust has settled on the season’s opening race, and there is a lot of head scratching going around the paddock. As was expected, the 1st race of the season opened the door to numerous more questions than those it provided answers for. You all know the results and you’ve all seen the race, so there’s no need to dwell on that, so we will move straight on with our analysis and opinion:

1. McLaren

Common wisdom from pre-season testing said that McLaren looked mighty in fast corners that required a lot of downforce, whereas they looked to be less impressive in slow corners that required good traction. However, in a track that is notorious for its slippery tarmac conditions and which is full of slow to medium speed corners, McLaren seemed to be in control of things. Had it not been for the Safety Car’s timing, in all probability they would have had both cars ahead of Sebastian Vettel. That’s ominous stuff ahead of Round 02 in Sepang, where McLaren are expected to hold an even bigger advantage over the rest of the field.

Jenson drove a methodical and clinical race, controlling the pace from the front. At the start of the race he built a comfortable gap to keep himself out of Lewis’ DRS activation range, he was clinical at the re-start after the SC, and towards the end of the race produced the fastest lap just to remind to everybody else who’s the daddy. Impressive stuff, almost Vettel-esque in its clinicality, especially coming from a driver who many expected to be playing second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton. He has, however, proved himself to be a shrewd, fast and consistent racing driver, who knows what he wants from a race and how to get it. He is constantly a couple of tenths down on Hamilton in qualifying, but in the races he’s been able to turn the situation around more often than not. Jenson’s last stint is characteristic of the way he controlled the pace: After the SC period, he slotted in the 1:29.8 – 1:30.2 bracket and then popped in a 1:29.6, 1:29.6 and 1:29.1 to end the race.

Lewis hasn’t been able, yet, to deal with the psychological penalty of coming from behind, or dropping down the order after a poor start. If he starts from the front and still leads after the 1st corner, he can be mighty, but he needs to maximize the opportunities that a race throws at him, especially when fighting further down the order. In Australia he was unable to challenge Button in terms of race pace, but he lost position to Vettel due to the safety car’s timing, which was unfortunate. McLaren appear to have the best package in 2012, therefore it’s up to Lewis to stamp his authority early on if he wants to be him winning a 2nd championship and not Jenson.

2. Red Bull

The good news for Red Bull is that Webber seems to have rediscovered his mojo. The bad news is that Red Bull, as a team, have lost it. During the last 2 days of pre-season testing, they introduced a radically different aerodynamic package, which included different exhaust outlets, and different sidepods construction, in an attempt to blow the floor, using the Coanda effect, essentially trying to copy McLaren’s solution and tailor it to their car. It was clear in the last 2 days that this didn’t work as well as they hoped, but the team persevered with it and raced it in Melbourne.

There are two ways of looking at it. The positive view is that Red Bull have had very little time to understand this package (they had reliability problems in the last 2 days of pre-season testing, and the majority of the free practices in Melbourne were wet), so they were naturally unable to extract the maximum out of it. The negative way of looking at it is that Red Bull have so much experience and depth in their aero department that this package really should have worked without the need for extensive testing. The fact that the drivers didn’t feel it was necessarily a step forward is not a very good sign.

It’s interesting to note that Red Bull genuinely struggled for pace in qualifying. Ok, Vettel made a small error on his last lap, but that would have only been enough to maybe jump his team-mate. The Mercs and the McLarens were out of reach. All their Q3 lap times were around the 1:25.7 mark, consistently about 8 tenths of a second off the ultimate pace. The car, especially during qualifying, was not planted to the ground like we’ve used to see from Red Bull in the past and both drivers had to work hard for their living behind the steering wheel. Thankfully, things were better in the race, with Vettel snatching 2nd place from Lewis during the SC phase. Vettel was closing in fast on Lewis and although it’s not clear if he would have passed him in the end, his pace was excellent at this stage. It will be very interesting to see the gap that Red Bull will have to McLaren in Sepang qualifying. Judging by Australia, we expect it to be along the same lines, or even larger. Red Bull are now phased with a situation whereby they cannot rely on their superior qualifying pace to start a race from the front and control it, but they will have to scramble for points and podiums, the way McLaren did in 2011.

It will be fascinating to see if, and how quickly, the Bulls can turn this around…

3. Mercedes

A lot of talk has been going on over the last couple of days about the degradation levels that Mercedes suffered in the race. However, it is clear to me, that this is not exactly the case. Sure, Mercedes’ problems originated from their tyres, and they were unable to showcase their pace in the race. I think at this point it’s interesting to show to you the following figure, which presents the lap times from the 4 theoretically top teams.

Melbourne, Australia - Round 01 - Race stints

As you can clearly see, in both Schumacher’s and Rosberg’s case, the tyres didn’t suffer from extreme degradation – they just never worked. Their opening laps on each stint were not fast at all, and the laptimes didn’t increase dramatically throughout the stint; they rather remained level, and slow. This tells us that Mercedes failed to hit the operating temperature window for their tyres, and we guess is that the conditions were too cool for them. Apparently, they never managed to inject the tyres with as much heat as required, and as a result the car was sliding around more. This, naturally, brings about more degradation, but a massive drop-off in lap times is not what we are seeing here. Schumacher’s first stint for example, up to the point that he retired, was a very consistent and relatively slow stint: 01:34.4, 01:34.0, 01:34.3, 01:34.3, 01:34.2, 01:34.4, 01:34.2 – 7 laps within 4 tenths of a second.

I believe that this problem is partly associated to their exhaust solution. Mercedes and Red Bull are clearly using part of their exhaust gas to warm the tyres and maintain them in the proper temperature – Red Bull even have small channels on the floor, in front of the tyres, to divert part of the fumes away from the tyres to avoid overheating. Mercedes are, once again, caught off-guard in that department, with their exhaust solution being far more conservative (trying to blow the upper part of the diffuser). Mercedes understood that the spirit of the 2012 technical rules was that the exhausts should not blow the floor, end of story, and designed their system on that provision. Red Bull and McLaren, however, have obeyed to the technicality (position and angle of the exhausts and related bodywork dimensions) but still tried to divert the flow to blow the floor and the brake ducts, which as we were predicting in our off-season car launch analyses have grown numerous fins and appendages.

On the plus side, Mercedes were genuinely fast in Australia. Ross Brawn’s disappointment after qualifying is a testament of how far the team has progressed since 2011. Michael’s Q3 lap would have easily been good enough for P3 on the grid, had he not been a bit hesitant in the last corner (his Q2 run was a bit slower than Nico’s due to a big oversteer moment at the last corner). With regards to Nico, I don’t think he’d shown any superior pace over Michael. Cars are sliding about more in 2012, which definitely helps Michael. Nico is more “absolute”, very committed to a line, a breaking point, a steering input, a gear change timing, which means that when the car is working he’s very, very hard to beat in qualifying. In varying friction and traction conditions though, Michael should have the ever-so-slight edge.

So, what should we expect from Mercedes in Sepang? I believe that they will not face the same problems with tyres, simply because Malaysia is hotter. It’s a bit strange that Mercedes should suffer from too cold temperatures, especially considering that all winter testing was done in cold conditions, but it may have to do also with the nature of the track as well (very green, slippery tarmac and not enough high-G corners to heat the tyres up). It will all come down to translating their qualifying pace into race pace. If they achieve that, they should be marginally ahead of the Bulls, but I fear McLaren is out of reach at the moment. Both McLarens were mighty through the quick Turn 12 and 13, so they should be at the top in Sepang.

Having said that, we’ve seen strangest things in the past…

4. Ferrari

Oh dear, where to start. Alonso’s race pace was decent, but nowhere near good enough to fight with the Bulls and the McLarens, and the only reason he finished ahead of Rosberg was because of Merc’s tyres issues. The way he dropped back from the top runners in the last stint shown above is characteristic of the pace that is missing from Ferrari at the moment. Qualifying was disastrous, especially considering that Melbourne with the many long straights is not a place that you would expect to see big differences in lap times. These gaps will only increase in the twisty, high-G corners of Malaysia, where you need a very efficient car, well-balanced aerodynamically. Alonso drove brilliantly throughout the weekend and, although he was lucky to get past so many cars at the start. Going into the 1st corner he was 13th. Going out of it, he was 8th… And then 6th after a couple of laps, following Maldonado’s and Grosjean’s tangle. If we look at it objectively, Alonso finished where he started (after the argy bargy of the first couple of laps), with Maldonado breathing down his back and only Rosberg behind, due to the tyres issue as we explained. All in all, it was a storming drive by Alonso, who clearly, clearly deserves a better car than what Ferrari are giving him.

Alonso @ Turn 01 - 13th going in, 8th coming out...

Ferrari’s true pace was reflected in Massa’s abysmal weekend. At one point, just before his last run in Q2, you could tell from the body language of his mechanics that they’d rather be in a locked cage with a bear that hasn’t been fed for the last month than to have to endure what was coming next. To call his driving and the car’s balance pathetic would be an understatement. Unfortunately, Massa’s weekend can be summed up as follows: An under-pressure driver, well past his prime, overdriving a car, that’s actually a dog. It’s a shame because Felipe is a genuinely likeable person. The way he fought and, more importantly, the way he accepted defeat during his 2008 championship campaign was majestic. It’s a shame having to watch him fight like that to keep his position, like a fish wriggling outside the water.

This has the makings of a lost year for Ferrari, unless they pull something spectacular out of the bag, quickly. It turns out that our pre-season analysis and predictions weren’t that far off, actually, so it will be interesting to see if the Reds can overcome their internal political jousting and get back on form before the championship is, once again, out of reach. The question that Ferrari should be asking themselves is: Is Fernando willing to stay loyal to Ferrari, especially if Mercedes and McLaren dominate the next seasons, like the trend is suggesting?

5. Lotus

One has to applaud Romain Grosjean for pulling a spectacular lap out of the bag in qualifying, but his inexperience showed in the race, allowing Maldonado a clear run down his inside at Turn 15, and that’s not the best idea in the world. I had predicted that Romain would have the upper hand on Kimi, and I saw over the weekend the kind of scruffiness and inconsistency in Kimi’s laps that can only be associated with a long absence from the sport. It takes quite a while for the movements to become completely automatic again, and Kimi’s not there. Yet. He drove a solid race, and positioned himself well inside the points, but one has to wonder what the young Frenchman could have achieved, especially given Mercedes’ problems. Romain had never before raced in Melbourne in his life, and he spent the majority of the free practice sessions driving around in the wet. And then qualified 3rd. How’s that for impressive?

Lotus’ race pace is difficult to judge, because they went for a very long first stint with Kimi; their tyre degradation, however, was exemplary. Again, Sepang should be able to shed some more light in their car’s abilities, especially during the race. They seem to have a fundamentally quick car and their in-season development pace will be crucial to keep up with the big guys. Red Bull are already one major aero package down the road, and Mercedes are, allegedly, preparing their own to deal with the exhausts issue.

The rest

I was most impressed (as most of you, I presume) with Williams. Again, common pre-season wisdom suggested that Williams would struggle in slow to medium speed corners, with poor traction and mediocre mechanical grip. And, boy, was that not the case in Melbourne. Maldonado’s race pace was stunning. I lost count of all the mistakes he made and the places he gave up, yet his pace was such that he was able to recover time and time again. This was a lost opportunity for Williams to score big points. I don’t want to beat my own drum, but as we had predicted here, Williams look to be at the sharp end of what we call midfield. In fact, had it not been for Alonso’s heroics, we would be placing Ferrari below Williams in terms of pure pace (race and quali). Senna simply needs to do a better job, simple as that.

Sauber also appear to be in a very good shape, showing promising speed in qualifying and even better race pace. Kamui and Sergio are very talented, mature and promising drivers, who will bring the car home in the points, if the car is capable of that. On that aspect, they have an important advantage over Williams.

Toro Rosso is amazing. Just mentally replace Vergne and Ricciardo with Alguersuari and Buemi, and you have a copy of the 2011 season: A decent midfield team, running in the boundaries of the top 10, enjoying the odd point when there’s carnage ahead, with both cars usually running line astern. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues through the rest of the season, but I have to say that I was more impressed with Vergne, who had no previous F1 racing experience and managed to keep Ricciardo behind until the very last lap of the race.

Force India’s first race was disappointing, and they only managed a point after a crazy last lap, when Rosberg dropped from 8th to 12th. They have a very promising pair of drivers, although I am pretty confident that Nico has that extra “quality” above Di Resta. I’ ve always maintained that Di Resta was not, in fact, the rookie of the year in 2011 (my vote would have gone, wholeheartedly, to Sergio Perez) and that Nico Hulkenberg would, over the season, comfortably hold the edge in terms of pace. Let’s see if I’m right then, huh?

Finally, Caterham, as we have already said in our pre-season analysis, haven’t managed the leap required to reach the midfield battle, and are still the best part of a second slower than the slowest midfield runner. I was expecting more. Their cooling solution in Australia, considering the cool conditions there, was simply amateurish. What was it with all those gills and the big, gaping mouth at the back? Unless they don’t have enough cash to bring two types of cooling solutions for Australia and Malaysia, which I don’t believe is the case. Not much to say about Marussia.

As for HRT… I sympathize with their predicament. Not. This is your 3rd year on the sport, and your performance is simply disgraceful. You can’t call yourselves a F1 team and be slower than a GP2 front-runner. Get your act together, for the love of God.

Finally…

I guess that’s it for our post race analysis. If we want to give a few awards out there, then those would be the following:

Driver of the race: Fernando Alonso. For his entire weekend performance. For manhandling a temperamental, idiosyncratic car into submission. For punching way above his car’s weight. For fighting for places and points that he really shouldn’t be capable of.

Overtaking move of the race: Sebastian Vettel on Nico Rosberg, Lap 2. The approach to Turn 10 is notoriously difficult, because of the huge bumps right at the start of the braking zone, which unsettle the car and cause the brakes to lock. Outbraking Nico there, and passing on the outside, was simply staggering.

Daft moment of the race: Easy. Maldonado throwing away 6th place, a few corners from the finish line. By his own admission, he’d already settled for 6th after he failed to pass Alonso in Turn 3 (after the 2nd DRS zone). Williams desperately need drivers who can bring the car home in the points. Daft.

Thanks for tuning in…

Hey! Back from rafting, and I am nursing a terrible, terrible cold. I tried to go to work today, but I had to call it a day very early… So, fellow fantasy league companions, the results for the 1st round are in, and they are just as interesting as the race itself. A lot of surprise results, a lot of good points going to unexpected teams / drivers, and it all bodes really well for an exciting and unpredictable season…

With no further ado, many congratulations to TakumaSatoforthewin, who obliterated the competition by scoring 54.27 points, i.e. 6 points more that the next best who was Jeanrien (47.23 points) in 2nd place and Belgian Underground (46.47 points) in 3rd place. 12 people in total managed to score 40+ points and got a very good start to the season. Myself, I ended up 43rd (27.61 points), so it seems that “inside” knowledge of the competition rules and regulations doesn’t always pay off… At the bottom end of the table, we had a few negative results; ozaziz and Hamza who posted their teams after the 1st Friday practice session had begun, received the minimum points scored, i.e. -15.58 points. They will be able to start scoring regularly though, based on their selections, from Round 02 onwards. Enough with the talking, here’s the Standings table (click on it to get a larger version):

Fantasy League Round 01 - Results & Classification

As you can see, I have broken down your scores, so you know how each asset from your team has contributed to your overall score (drivers, chassis, engine). Also, you will notice that the values of each team are no longer the same. The reason is that, after the 1st race, the values of each asset have been changed. I remind you that you are not allowed to make any changes to your teams at this moment. However, after round 04 (Bahrain GP) you will be allowed a limited amount of changes, so it’s generally a good idea to keep an eye on how the values change and how to plan your strategy. Here are the new values after Round 01:

The Stock Market - After Round 01

Finally, I thought it would be interesting to post how each driver, team and engine scored, analytically. In that case, you will be able to identify how the score was distributed across the field, which assets exceeded expectations, and which failed you miserably…:

Drivers Scores - Round 01

Teams Scores - Round 01

Engine Scores - Round 01

So, that’s it for Round 01 of our Fantasy League – see you all in Malaysia, Sepang. Hopefully today I will also be posting later on the analysis of the Melbourne race, or tomorrow the latest.

Take care :)

Hello guys and girls!

I am sure you are all very pumped for the first race of the season. Friday practice sessions were a bit of a let down, because rain masked the true pace of the cars, but I am sure tomorrow we will get a lot of answers to our questions… Unfortunately, I will not be around for the next 3 days; I will go rafting at the beautiful mountains of North-Western Greece. I will still watch the action (of course!) but I will not be posting anything until Tuesday.

HOWEVER: On Tuesday, you should expect a full statistical analysis of the race, in an attempt to analyze the teams raw pace and see where everybody stands. We will also be making some predictions for Sepang (race 2) based on our analysis, and we will have a few other, juicy features lined up. So stay tuned. I am sorry that I will not be posting anything, but I thought it would be more decent to let you know in advance, instead of letting you visit the site over and over again just to disappoint you… :)

On the subject of juicy features, one of them will be the results of our awesome Fantasy League. We have had a lot of participants over the last 1 1/2 months (111 to be precise; or, if you prefer, the age that Bilbo Baggins passed the Ring of Power on to Frodo and left Shire for ever)… In the meantime, I’ve promised you a few stats with regards to your selections, and here they are. First, your selections in one table (drum roll please):

2012 Abulafia F1 Fantasy League Participants

And here are the League stats… In total, you have spent 5.402 billion dollars to the stock market, and the average team value is 48,673,423$… 56.58% of your budget went into drivers, whereas you spent 29.75% of the budget on team chassis and 13.67% on the engine. The driver who dominated your heart and was selected the most was, by far, Kimi Raikkonen with 34 selections, followed by Heikki Kovaleinen with 22 and Jenson Button with 19. At the other end of the spectrum, no one selected Charles Pic or Narain Karthikeyan, whereas Sergio Perez (surprisingly!!) and Pastor Maldonado (less so) only received 1 selection each. With regards to teams (chassis), the pick of the lot was McLaren with 29 selections, followed by Lotus (24) and Red Bull (19). At the other end, no one selected Marussia or HRT, whereas Ferrari and Williams (how the mighty have fallen) only got 1 selection… Finally, with regards to engines, Renault (Red Bull) topped the tables with 24 selections, followed by Renault (Lotus) with 18 and Mercedes (Mercedes) with 16. At the other end, no one went for the Cosworth (Marussia), Ferrari (Sauber) only got 2 selections and Cosworth (HRT) managed to convince 3 of you (apparently cash depleted).

And here’s the table to go with the above:

Abulafia F1 Fantasy League - 2012 selections

And with that, I leave you for now. See y’ all back on Tuesday, with lots of updates, analysis and opinions!!

I hope you enjoy the 1st race and take care… :)

The 2 Friday sessions ended with Jenson Button topping the 1st one and Michael Schumacher the 2nd. Although the first one largely took place in dry conditions, the 2nd practice sessions was wet / damp for the majority of the time. Button set a fastest lap time of 01:27.560 in the first session, which was about 8 tenths slower than the fastest lap time set during the 1st Friday practice session of 2011 (01:26.831 by Mark Webber). Michael’s fastest lap time (in a drying track and on medium tyres) in the 2nd session was 01:29.183, i.e. 3.3 seconds slower than the fastest lap time of the 2011 2nd Friday session (01:25.854 by Jenson Button). Friday running times are notorious difficult to read, and it’s easy to understand that no meaningful conclusions can be drawn. Brundle has said that Mercedes looked mighty fast in the 2nd session, but as you can see from our comparison with the 2011 times, it’s way too early to get excited – the times will tumble a lot during the weekend, although the first indications are that the 2012 cars are slower than the 2011 cars. We will wait to see if this trend continues in Free Practice 3 and qualifying.

We remind you that the best lap time during the 2011 Saturday free practice was 01:24.507 (by Sebastian Vettel), whereas pole was 01:23.529 (by Sebastian Vettel again). We therefore expect the laptime to slowly tumble towards low 24s or even high 23s.

From today’s press conference:

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) We will have six World Champions in this year’s championship but no Italian drivers. Most of you raced in Italy in go-karts or drove for an Italian team. May I have a short explanation about this situation, why it’s so difficult for the Italians to grow up and come into Formula One?

DR: (Speaks mock American-Italian!) If you watched Family Guy you probably know what I’m talking about.

Yes we do, Daniel.

Discussing Michael Schumacher’s driving style is challenging, because his career spans 3 decades or, if you prefer, 23 years (including the 2012 season) – 20 years if we take out the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons. Considering that the official F1 championship started in 1950, this means that Schumacher’s career covers 31.5% of the time that we had a F1 championship. To get a better understanding, Schumacher has raced (and won) against drivers representing many generations of F1 drivers; to name but a few: Stefan Johansson, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Jean Alesi, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Eddie Irvine, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel… It’s fair to say that people come and go in Formula 1, but Michael is always there. Which makes the fact that he’s still competitive and he’s still racing at (near) the top, an extraordinary feat, unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the history of the sport. There are F1 drivers that joined the sport as promising rookies when Schumacher was already an established figure, and are now retired old-timers, like Jacque Villeneuve, Olivier Panis, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine, Jos Verstappen, Mika Salo, Giancarlo Fisichella, etc… It sometimes hard to understand: no one would consider Jacques Villeneuve, for example, for a race seat in 2012 – it would be a folly. Nevertheless, Jacques joined F1 in 1996, i.e. 5 years later than Michael, and has retired in 2006 (i.e. 6 years ago and long overdue), yet Michael is still racing, which is a testament of a unique combination of sheer talent, determination and love for the sport.

That’s quite a long introduction to the subject of driving styles, but people need to understand that Michael has driven a large variety of F1 cars in his time, and, as we explained in our previous blog, a driver needs to adapt his driving style (sometimes drastically) to suit different cars, tracks and tyres characteristics. It would be silly to suggest that Michael is now using the same “style” as his did when he was racing the 1991 Benetton. However, there are things that never change, and they have to do more with the way a driver deals with the physics involved and his setup preferences. For example, Ralf Schumacher was a late braker; Jarno Trulli was the opposite. Jenson Button brakes earlier than Rubens but he is more progressive. Mika Hakkinen prefered a later turn-in than David Coulthard. Senna blipped the throttle in the middle of the corner, Schumacher was never really off it. Kimi Raikkonen is superb in weight-transfer situations. Ronnie Peterson couldn’t even park a car without power sliding it, etc, etc. The most important thing though that defines a racing driver is his feel for the limit, and we will expand later on that.

The principles of driving a F1 car haven’t changed dramatically from the past. Prost has said that the ideal setup is one with an inclination towards understeer, which preserves the rear tyres and makes the car predictable in fast corners. What Schumacher (and other great drivers in the past) has been able to do, is to drive with the same efficiency and speed cars that were not perfect, or to his absolute liking at all times. We mustn’t forget that Michael’s most spectacular season was 1997, when he fought for the championship in a car that was desperately temperamental, against much stronger opposition, and he would have won it had it not been for his radiator failing in the last race at Jerez, while leading the race.

Michael drove some difficult and temperamental cars in his career. People tend to forget that cars in the 90′s and early 00′s were completely different beasts to contemporary F1 cars, which are extremely well designed, predictable, and have huge amounts of driveable downforce. We have now reached a point that a driver can make little difference in lap times (certainly much less than in the past). The cars don’t twitch under breaking, don’t power slide, you can’t miss a gear change and you can’t over-rev the engine. But it was a different story back then. Up until 1998, Schumacher used to out-qualify his team-mates by 1 -1.5 seconds on average, each year. In fact, he out-qualified every team-mate he ever had from the end of the 1991 season until the start of the 1996 season, with the exception of the 1995 Belgian GP when it started to rain and Schumi hadn’t set a lap in the dry. He qualified 15th and still went on to win the race in spectacular fashion. Can you imagine spending almost 5 years without being out-qualified by another driver driving the same car as you? The reason I have mentioned these old times is because it makes much more sense to talk about Michael’s driving style up until circa 2004 than it is to talk about today. And I am afraid that I will have to follow Peter Windsor’s advise and not post any footage this time, because it’s illegal according to FOM (you can however search for yourselves in YouTube and find many gems).

So, what was it that made Schumacher so special? First, it was the purely visual element; Michael was a spectacular driver to see, especially in a hot lap, from the outside. It was a bit like watching ballet as opposed to bull fighting. The car was dancing around, but in a very premeditated, pre-calculated fashion. And if we watch his onboard laps, it’s easy to understand why. Michael, despite popular misguided opinion, was (and still is actually) a driver who prefers understeer, because he simply understands that this is where the lap time is coming from and that this is the ideal way to set up a car. In fact he is arguably the best driver in the history of the sport when it comes to dealing with understeer, as many team-mates he’s had in the past have attested to (Brundle, Irvine and Rubens). Ferrari, as a result of this, had always been (since 1999) a very stable and well-balanced car throughout Schumi’s reign, that always tended to understeer rather than oversteer at corner entries.

His main advantage was that he was able to carry huge amounts of speed into a corner, by using a gradually increasing steering lock as opposed to gradually decreasing left-foot braking. The interesting bit was that he was able to slide the car at the exact apex of the corner, timing this brief transition from understeer to neutral-steer to perfection. This transition wasn’t a result of something he did (e.g. wheel movement or application of brake) but it was more a natural transition from one state to the other that simply relied on physics and car setup. What was spectacular about it was the timing, since this slide would almost always take place on mid corner, so when viewed from outside it was a very fluid and natural movement, as if the car slid just this tiny bit in order to embrace the apex of the corner.

To accomplish that, Schumacher was rarely off the throttle completely, and even when he came back on it, he was very progressive and gentle – the first since many generations of drivers to achieve that. Popular belief, again, has Senna blipping the throttle inside the corners, in an on-off manner, and that’s true, but what many people don’t realize is that almost all drivers in F1 were just like that back then. Hakkinen, Berger, Coulthard, Alesi, Hill, Herbert, etc all used on-off throttle in the corners, but Michael was the first driver to take car control-by-throttle-usage to that different level. As a result, this slide at the apex of the corner, (which some have called “4-wheel drift” but I prefer to call neutral-steer), gave Michael a very significant advantage in positioning the car for the exit, by straightening the car very early. Michael never used extreme reactions to correct this slide, because it was all premeditated, just a small decrease of the initial steering lock, usually to the neutral position, which again made the transition from the apex of the corner to the exit extremely fluid and, to the onlookers, to appear as one movement. Not only the car, but the front wheels and the steering wheel were in perfect position to put the power down for the exit.

As a result of the above, Michael was indeed the first driver in the history of the sport to have maximized corner entry, apex and exit at the same time. If you like, he was the first driver to apply the fast-in, fast-out driving style. In fact, in order to be entirely accurate, we have to say that there were times when his apex speed was not the absolute fastest because of all the things that were going on at this stage, but overall he would be much faster than anybody else exactly because he didn’t have to compromise any speed either at corner entry or at corner exit. This relentless, absolute driving style required a very necessary ingredient: a very good and consistent feeling for the limit. Like we discussed in our previous blog, Alonso was able to drive the way he did in 2003 – 2006 because he had a very good feeling of how much the car was going to slide and at what exact point it would regain its grip. For Michael it was the same story, only more so, because he had to maximize all parts of the corner. His incredible, instinctive feel for the limit allowed him to drive like the way we described, using the slide to position the car and hardly ever using all the kerbs at the exit, simply because he was so nicely positioned for the straight that he didn’t have to. The only driver that has approached, ever since, this kind of driving style perfection is Lewis Hamilton, but not nearly as consistently as Michael who could do that one lap after the other, for an entire race.

This uncanny feeling for the limit came to the fore every time the track conditions were wet. Schumacher’s wet races from that era are legendary, and he used to thrive in changing weather conditions when you had to trust your instinct on how much grip is available before you commit yourself to a corner. His most spectacular race ever was the Spanish Grand Prix of 1996, when he lapped the entire field up to 3rd position, and then just cruised around to collect the 10 points (for victory, at that time); this remains the single most convincing display of natural talent and dominance I have ever seen in a F1 car. Of course there are many more examples of wet race dominance, like Spa 1997, Spa 1998, Monaco 1997, Nurburgring 2000, Spa 1995, etc, etc. Back then, when the track was wet, Schumacher wasn’t aiming to win the race, but to humiliate his opponents, something for which he paid dearly on occasion, like for instance in Spa 1998 when he crashed at the back of David Coulthard while trying to lap him. In addition to that, Michael was an extremely cunning racer, who could adapt to almost anything that a race threw at him. In 1994, for instance, in the Spanish GP, he lost all gears (from a 6-speed gearbox) except 5th, with 40 laps to go, whilst leading the race. Michael used this feeling for the limit and his knowledge from driving heavy sports cars to bring the car home in 2nd position, including 2 pit stops where he had to get the car going in 5th gear… When he mentioned that he’d lost all gears but 5th in the press conference after the race nobody believed him, and Benetton had to show to the press the telemetry from the car in order to convince them.

So, there you have it. If I had to characterize Michael according to his driving style, I’d call him the great Calculator. Watching him drive in his prime was like watching art. It was this spectacular visual element that made me want to become more involved with the sport and understand what’s hidden behind it. A lot of people tend to disregard Schumacher’s achievements, by arguing that he had subservient team-mates and superior machinery. These opinions never made me angry; they made me sad instead, because it is sad to not be able to appreciate the beauty that Michael has brought to the sport. Appreciating Michael as a driver has made me love the sport even more, and it is simply depressing that other fans are missing on that.

And what about today, I hear you ask. Well, Michael today is not the driver he used to be, by any stretch of the imagination. And this is painfully obvious in his driving style, which is a far cry from his driving style of old. The problem does not lie in reflexes, because this has never been Michael’s strongest point. There have been slightly better drivers than him in that department in the past; it wasn’t just quick reflexes that made Michael faster than anybody else. What is missing, at this point, is this tremendous feeling for the limit - this sense that every move, every correction and every slide is a calculated, analyzed and premeditated action. You can see that from his onboard laps; Michael is more hesitant, his movements are not fluid and his reactions are edgier. Michael’s reactions are just that: reactive. It’s true that the Mercedes W01 and W02 didn’t help, but Rosberg was much more stable and fluid in his driving and, as a result, faster. This loss of feeling was also obvious in qualifying, not because Michael was slower than Nico, but because it took him 2 or 3 laps in each qualifying session to find his groove, whereas Nico was bang-on-the-money from his 1st hot lap. A better car, as we all hope that the W03 is, will surely restore some of his confidence and will allow him to drive better, but it will not be able to restore all the characteristics that made Michael such a unique talent in the history of motor sport.

Schumacher has lost so much of his talent over the years, he is 43 years old and has spent 3 years away from the sport. The fact that he’s still with us and that he outraced Nico in 2011 is a testament, if one was needed, to a truly spectacular and unique driving talent. It also speaks volumes for his love of the sport, for Michael truly adores F1; he’s a hardcore petrol head through and through. And, just for that, we can but love him.