Daily News and Comment: Friday 12th April 2013

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Marussia woes

In FP2 Max Chilton managed just 5 laps and stopped the car out on track. On returning to the pits he said, “In turn one I lost all propulsion so for safety reasons we have stopped. But maybe we can go out again”. The team did get the car up and running again but before long the 21 year old Englishman was unstrapping his harness and climbing out of the car again.

untitledPat Symonds, chief technology officer of Marussia, explained. “We have had a slightly strange problem. It looks as if there is a crack in the oil tan. At first we thought it was a normal leak, we can fix that is why we sent the car out again, but each time the tank when the car was under braking began to lose oil. We didn’t put a lot of oil on the track, but it was enough to alarm us which was why we turned off the engine”.

Symonds is confident the problem will be resolved, “That should be easy to fix, no problem.”

More interestingly John Booth made what appeared to be a coded message to Symonds during the team Principals’ FIA Press Conference. When it was suggested to Booth that it must be a boost for the team to now have Pat Symonds at the race weekend since his ban from the FIA had expired – John made it clear he hoped Pat would attend less weekends and stay at home to ‘make the car quicker’.

McLaren cautious

Jenson Button was more cautious today than earlier in the week about the actual progress the team has made with the troublesome MP4-28 for 3 weeks. After finishing FP2 sixth fastest Jenson told the media, “We can’t yet conclusively tell if the upgrades we brought to this race have improved the car. They’re perhaps not as big a step forward as we’d expected – the issues with the car are still there – but the car does feel a little bit better.

“We’ve worked very hard over the last few weeks to bring the new parts here – which is great. Today’s been all about putting mileage on those parts; now we need to sit down and look at the data this evening. I don’t think we’ll be fighting at the front this weekend, but we’ll definitely be fighting someone.”

Button, who suffered a front-left tyre delamination late in the afternoon session demonstrated clearly the intense nature of degradation with Pirelli’s Soft compound, which is in use at the Shanghai circuit for the first time this season.

untitled“I feel we’ll be using the Prime tyre quite a lot in the race,” the 2009 World Champion went on to explain. “The Option tyre transforms the car completely; over one lap, there’s a lot more grip, but then you start to lose time over each successive lap.”

Sergio Perez managed just 16 laps – half that of his team mate – but then he did appear to be more interested in getting a sun tan than recording lap times as he visited the beach a couple of times during FP2. Clearly the mechanics spent unnecessary time clearing out the gravel from various nooks and crannies in the car and ensuring no significant damage was done.

McLaren’s new driver had this to say. “It’s been a very difficult day for myself with the crash in FP1 and then I went off in FP2. We don’t really understand what happened in FP2, it was a big moment and I don’t understand what really happened. I was not pushing at that moment so I’m not very confident with the car and that makes things difficult.

Tomorrow we will start from zero and I’m confident we can get into Q3. I had a lot of wear and I’d been doing quite a lot of laps. You can imagine that my front tyres had quite a lot of wear and they were losing temperature and then as soon as I hit the brakes I locked a wheel and hit the barrier. There was not much damage and we managed to fix the car and come back [in FP2].”

Martin Whitmarsh added, “Today was a very busy day for the whole team – we spent both practice session running lots of tests, evaluating a number of new parts and gathering useful data.

It’s too early to say yet whether any of that work is conclusive – there is still an awful lot of data to be analysed by the engineers this evening – but, as always, I’m confident that we will take a step forward in performance tomorrow.

It’s clearly been an incident-filled day for Checo, but it’s all useful learning. I’m sure he’ll quickly put it behind him and focus on having a stronger day tomorrow.”

Red Bull criticism continues

Former F1 driver John Watson who called for Vettel to receive a 1 race ban from his team has lambasted Vettel and Red Bull today. Watson says of Vettel’s emotional – nigh on tearful – apology in Sepang and his subsequent retraction,

“It’s as though Bambi has turned into a werewolf.”

untitledWatson is further and particularly critical of Christian Horner saying his attempt to deal with Vettel had been “embarrassing. Ross Brawn had a similar issue at Mercedes-Benz but was very clear and authoritative,”said Watson. “Christian Horner’s been left looking rather ineffectual to be honest.”

Horner was questioned over Vettel’s subversion at the team principals’ press conference. He proceeded into a monologue asking himself several rhetorical questions in the process. “In that race he didn’t do as I asked. Was I happy? No. Did he apologise? Yes. Has he learned? Yes. Would he do it again? He explained yesterday – but there is history between those two drivers”.

“It is not something new, it has been there for four/five years. They are one of the most successful partnerships in F1 history. “Is my leadership undermined? I don’t think so”. I have led the team from the time Red Bull entered to the sport to those three titles, there have been lumps and bumps along the way, but they drive the team forward.”

If you begin to unpack this rhetorical masterpiece, there are mantra’s used which mean nothing. Horner tries to demonstrate his leadership is not undermined because he ahs led the team to 3 previous world championships. Yes we  know Christian… but that was before. Is it NOW undermined?

The answer to the question “Will Vettel do it again?” was gobbledygook. “He [Vettel] explained yesterday – but there is history between those two drivers. It is not something new, it has been there for four/five years. They are one of the most successful partnerships in F1 history.

What Vettel said yesterday was that in fact he would do it again – so how can Horner assert his young driver has ‘learned from the experience’. What has he learned? To tell the team to sod off and do what he thinks is the best thing to do?

I know that within the team there are those who do believe that Christian Horner has indeed been damaged by this. Further, contrary to popular interpretation, the abandoning on team orders is in fact a shot across Vettel’s bows because it has been team orders that have served him far more than they have mark Webber.

untitledYet behind the Horner/Red Bull mantra there were hints that this matter is beginning to take its toll and is not just  another wave for the team from Milton Keynes to ride or survive and all will be normal again.

“I sat down with Dietrich after the race, just he and I, and discussed it. He wants to see the drivers race, which is fundamentally what we have always tried to do – and we even saw it here last year when the drivers went wheel-to-wheel. He’s a purist, he’s a racing fan but the objective is for the team to win the Constructors’ World Championship so of course there has got to be communication and instructions regarding how we operate a race, strategy, tyres, and all of those aspects”.

So Dieter has apparently called time on the micro manipulation of the drivers – good for him. Yet within this next paragraph I believe may be the key for a fairly different style of radio communication on Sunday.

“But what we won’t do is interfere with the drivers racing each other. They will have the information and they will know what they are expected to do with that information – whether they choose to do that is something else! But they will have all the information that they will need.”

This surely has to mean the team will no longer be able to manipulate their entire strategy around promoting Vettel’s  best interests. He has been the one to gain the most from the directives in the past. As Horner says there will be a pre-race strategy, but rarely do those go exactly to plan – every pit stop lap number called in advanced of the race will be spot on? No way.

It has been here in the evolving strategy during the race where Vettel has benefited and will he do so now? Is Horner saying he and Mark can make their own calls? If so will we see the driver who calls for a change in plan first get first crack at the pit stop regardless of track position?

This new ‘whether the drivers choose to do that’ or something which seems fraught with potential for big time misunderstanding.

Yet this is good news. I have criticised teams since we’ve had the new Pirelli’s for being too conservative. If Vettel is going to back himself to drive the rubber of the wheel rims – pit get new tyres – and go do it all again – and then see where he ends up. Fantastic… maybe this will be the lad’s rehabilitation.

Does the start to an F1 season get any better. I’m grinning from ear to ear in anticipation – don’t know about you.

Grosjean ‘unlucky’ again

For the 3rd race weekend in succession Romain has been hit with mystery handling problems causing handling problems and a lack of performance. A resigned Frenchman said, “It’s the third Friday of the season and the third time the same story. We went to the updates this morning and it was terrible then we went back to the last race specification and it was worse – from bad to very bad.

untitledAll we can see is a lack of performance in downforce. We need to see now what we can understand. We cannot run the same set-up as Kimi because it doesn’t work.”

This smacks of the problem Di Resta had during the Eastern races toward the end of the 2012 season. Grosjean ran Raikkonen setups successfully in 2012, and proved to be light on tyres too. So the problem is deeper than aero setup – it has to be a chassis issue. I believe Lotus do have a spare chassis in China so we will see whether they believe this may be at the root of Grosjean’s troubles.

Webber FIA extracts

For those of you who don’t get the FIA press conferences, we’ve extracted the Mark Webber sections from yesterday and here they are. To be honest nobody else said anything of particular interest. It would have been great had someone asked Sutil could he recommend somewhere to go out for the night – but they didn’t.

An emphatic Rosberg

It looks like he’s backing it up on track a day after he gave this interview

4 responses to “Daily News and Comment: Friday 12th April 2013

  1. “What we won’t do is interfere with the drivers racing each other…”

    So what are you doing when you keep one driver out for an extra lap on worn tyres in order to benefit the race position of the other ?

    Mr Horner has morphed from team principal to team apologist.

  2. Contrast with the rather clearer account from Ross Brawn on his team orders issue:

    “There is no hierarchy in the team. Both drivers have exactly the same status. Inevitably in a hard racing season on driver may start to get the upper hand and that may become a factor to take into account towards the end of the season. We would expect a driver who perhaps didn’t have a great chance to win the Drivers’ Championship towards the end to help one who perhaps does. I think that’s our expectation of the drivers. Certainly we don’t have any different status between the two drivers. In terms of our situation in Malaysia, I think there are some similarities with Christian’s situation. We had… certainly Lewis was very tight on fuel and Nico was low as well. Not as bad as Lewis but still not in great shape. So it seemed that it could lead to a problem where we had both drivers racing each other, because one gets past and then you can slipstream and use the DRS and start saving fuel when you get past and I could foresee a situation where it could get very delicate at the end and for me there wasn’t a great deal to gain, because we were third and fourth and no threat and no real opportunity to catch the cars in front. Fortuitously our driver, because it mainly affected Nico, respected the request and did what he was asked to do. But it’s a very emotional situation when you tell a driver he has to back off. He has the bit between his teeth, he’s charging and he feels he has an opportunity, that’s what they’re there for. As I think I said afterwards I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t been upset, because they’re very, very competitive individuals and that’s what we pay them for. But it’s a very delicate situation and I’ve been there several times. I think what we mustn’t do is push it underground. I think if we have clandestine team orders then that makes us look far worse than accepting the situation we have, which is that it’s both a team sport and an individual drivers’ sport and the teams will try to find the balance between those two objectives. And they don’t always marry easily. We want our drivers to race. The rule is don’t hit each other and that’s all we ask of them and we want them to race. We have demonstrated many times that we’re happy to let our two drivers race. But there will be occasional circumstances where the risk is very high and for the good of team we’ll make a team decision about what we need to do…”

  3. I don’t understand why Webber “didn’t deserve the win”, according to Vettel. Isn’t that rather like a mugger saying his victim didn’t deserve to keep his money, because he let me get away with stealing it?
    What sort of penalty do drivers incur if they ignore/didn’t see waved blue flags? I wonder if the other drivers will show their displeasure at Vettel’s unsportsmanlike behaviour, by holding him up on track.

    • Hi Mike. I’m not sure that is what Vettel meant “did not deserve to win”. It could also have meant “did not deserve to be protected by team orders”.

      Either way the fact that he thinks he can make that decision fits in nicely with your analogy about the burglar: Hello the new Vettel –

      Sebastian Vettel

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