#F1 Race Review: A Wet Suzuka Does Deliver A Race

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55

It’s a long lonely vigil in the middle of the night, waiting to see the shape of the tragedy. 4:21 EDT and there is yet no word on the condition of Jules Bianchi, aside from the brief FIA statement that he was unconscious and sent to hospital.Sometime between lap 42 and 45 the Marussia of Jules Bianchi ran through the tyre barrier and into the side of the digger that Brundle himself barely missed in 1994.

The first clue was the emergence of the Safety Car on lap 44 followed by the Medical Car, odd given the fact that Sutil was out of the car and moving. It was Brundle himself who spotted the bodywork first; his voice hushed and in shock given his own narrow escape in eerily similar weather.

Having seen it before there is a cadence to the slow drip of news, the race red flagged and gradually information filtering through the paddock and Twitter, but the one answer everyone is desperate to hear is still far away and by no means guaranteed. Thus a race that was full of overtakes, championship implication and strategic considerations was brutally put into its proper perspective; the hushed demeanour of the waiting room and library voices of the commentators reinforcing the seriousness of the incident and frivolousness of the rest.

Hamilton got his overtake and win, Vettel scored a podium and up and down the field there were breathtaking passes in the wet with only Alonso missing out, as his car mysteriously shut down after the first race restart on lap 3.

AS the night deepens, questions continue to rebound and echo through the commentariat. Honda’s insistence on an afternoon race and the use and deployment of cranes and recovery vehicles on track as well as the FIA’s insistence that there was nothing to be done will all be in play in the days ahead.

Prelude

Pouring bands of rain greeted the drivers as a sodden Suzuka soaked the fans. As is the case with tropical storms, bands of alternating heavy and light rain assaulted the tarmac, with the pitlane resembling a slip and slide and the riverboats plying their trade on the service road behind the grandstand. The parade went off without incident and as the repercussions of Vettel’s move continued to be debated throughout the twittersphere it was Vergne who added to the penalty phase of the season by opting for his 6th ICE after Max “the Kid” Verstappen blew up one of his last engines.

Despite what the drivers say in public, the prospect of spending several hours in an open cockpit in this weather can’t entirely be rainbows and unicorns. Full Wets were the order of the day during warm ups and the track was full as the formation lap approached. Hamilton was told to watch the rivers in the Esses and the buildup on telly was almost unnecessary as the weather itself provided the impending drama.

Act 1

The installation laps provide the first hint as Perez was off twice, in the Esses and Spoon, that a Safety Car start was imminent. Hembery was on to spout the fact that the full Wets clear 65 litres a second and it’s during the interview of Chilton that official word filters through that it was to be a Safety Car start.

AS the cars prepared to launch the rain could be heard bouncing off the mics. Immediately Hamilton was on the radio asking the Safety Car to add speed as the cars trundled round hopelessly trying to get temps and tyres up to snuff. Vettel radioed in aquaplaning at 80 kph and Ericsson did all a favor by spinning off and convincing Whiting to temporarily pull the plug whilst Lewis told the team to let Nico know he had no visibility and to be careful with stops.

With the cars snaking into the pitlane, where after some discussion it was allowed they were supposed to be, discussion turned to whether or not points were on offer as technically the field made the third lap through the pit lane, but the red flag fell in the midst of lap 2. Thankfully, it was all fairly pointless as no sooner did the drivers begin poking around for some dry kit then they were told it was to be a race restart in 10 minutes as the rain had lessened.

The cars resumed lap 3 behind the safety car and as the race engineers began to do their best meteorologist impersonations Fernando Alonso pulled his Ferrari over and parked it with a suspected electrics failure that is certainly not at all related to his current contract status with Mattiacci. The rest of the field trundled on and Mercedes told Hamilton to ignore his brake sensors as they were not working properly but he seemed to be thinking that they were right. Rosberg, too, was having telemetry problems though not much was broadcast.

By lap 8 the drivers were getting increasingly antsy to kick it off and equally creative in the lines they were taking in order to keep their tyres wet. Fortunately the Safety Car was in and after bunching them up Rosberg led them away through Turn 1. Rather than chase round, Button made the call to pit for inters and as Vettel harried his teammate Button emerged serenely and began turning laps almost as fast as the Mercs up front. Kvyat passed Perez for 9th and by the 11th lap it was clear that Inters were the way forward.

Though the Mercs stayed out the best of the rest pitted though Vettel stayed out opting to keep track position for the moment. Bottas led Ricciardo out of the pits and into 9th and 10th trailing Button who had swiftly moved up to 8th with much of the rest of the field pitting out of his way. The following lap saw Massa and Vettel in – with the Williams just maintaining its edge over the Red Bull on exit. Rosberg was told that the Inters were slower, but that was likely ‘relative’ as he was pitted 2 laps later since it was becoming increasingly apparent that the Inter was the best tyre to be on. Vettel continued to harry Massa as Ricciardo trailed him with all three being within a second. Hamilton boxed lap 15 and his in lap was looking very good till a mistake in Spoon cost him all his hard work. He emerged 1.2 seconds behind Rosberg and set about chasing down his teammate, who was complaining on the radio of brutal oversteer.

The next lap saw Magnussen in as the Vettel-Massa-Ricciardo show continued. Finally, Vettel found a way past up the inside at the Hairpin as Ricciardo tried to follow him through at Spoon then up the inside at 130R and couldn’t quite pull it. As Seb disappeared up the road, Ricciardo was left to wrestle with the Williams. It didn’t take him long to figure it out as he took the outside into Dunlop and made it stick for good. The 18th lap saw the gap at the front starting to narrow as it appeared Hamilton’s car had the better balance in the wet. Vettel continued his assault by getting round Bottas, this time choosing the outside line through the hairpin. One lap later Ricciardo had caught up to Bottas and again he used the outside move going into Dunlop to take the spot away from the Finn.

Halfway to full points on lap 20 and the lead of Rosberg was down to a second and the running order of the top 5 was Rosberg, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, and Ricciardo – with Button’s strategic gamble having paid off spectacularly. Button continued to match Vettel’s pace as the Mercs were running slower than the midfield for once, gradually watching their cushion of time evaporate.

By lap 25 with DRS finally enabled the long slow duel between the Mercedes teammates to begin it’s culmination.  AS Lewis pushed ever closer Rosberg was again on the radio complaining of oversteer and it looked as if his tyres were really starting to go. With the pass all but made, Lewis ran off at Turn 1 at the start of lap 27, victim of a self-inflicted wound, in this case a late DRS release that caused the car to snap violently when the slot closed. Fortunately for Hamilton fans he lost little time and when he next had Rosberg in his sights 2 laps later he executed a beautiful pass round the outside into Turn 1. Clear of his teammate he quickly took flight, but both cars were potentially in danger as their duel had allowed the cars directly behind them well within their pit window.

Vettel boxed the next lap as Lewis pulled the gap out to 3 seconds and Perez took 10th place handily off Gutierrez. By the end of lap 30 another second had been added to Hamilton’s lead and it was becoming clear the Nico would have to come in soon. Mercedes left him out and Lewis continued to add to his margin. Button did box, however and had a painful 7 second stop that saw him also receive a steering wheel change. With the way now clear Vettel began to push through clean air towards Rosberg and Lewis began to encounter serious traffic as he began to pick his way through the backmarkers

Mercifully Mercedes brought Rosberg in to cover Vettel on lap 33 with Magnussen violating the track limits pretty thoroughly at Turn 1, apparently a popular place for sightseeing. Hamilton had a brief chat and seemed happy with his tyres, but the strategists were getting concerned with the times and brought him in lap 35 as he caught up to Gutierrez, who also pitted. Back out he was behind Ricciardo, but still well ahead of Rosberg. Heavier rain was reported in the pit lane as Lewis began to carve his way through the backmarkers whilst closing in on Ricciardo. Magnussen, determined to have some fun despite an earlier mechanical issue punting his race, decided to unlap himself on the outside around Ricciardo, prompting the Colgate Kid to come in for some fresh tyres.

Heavier rain continued to fall and the circuit darkened. Lap 38 saw both Vergne and K-mag off into Turn 1 in replay and worsening conditions. Vettel followed up with an off-road experience of his own, collecting some gravel on the excursion. Ricciardo, having emerged behind Button, began to thoroughly chase him down. Lewis got a warning from the team about Turn 1 and to keep it in the black stuff as he had been turning fast laps. Meanwhile Ricciardo was throwing caution to the wind and had a serious go up the inside at the Hairpin on Button, who fought back and held him off. Not helping his cause, DRS was disabled the subsequent lap. Magnussen came in for full Wets and in the steadily worsening rain the stopwatches came out.

AND just like that it was Sutil into the barrier and Button, trying to get away with it again, having snuck into the pits for a set of full Wets while everyone circled under yellows. Back into 5th he was set for the end of the race.  Kvyat passed Raikkonen and then that was it; the Safety Car was out with the Medical Car. Consternation was immediately apparent in the voices of the commentators, as Brundle had gone off in the wet and very nearly been taken out by a digger used to recover cars. He then spotted the Marussia of Bianchi that had spun off and struck the recovery vehicle being used to extract Sutil’s Sauber from the barrier. The rest unfolded quickly. Whiting red-flagged the race as the cars sat parked in the pit lane and Lewis was declared winner, followed by Rosberg and Vettel on count back. Not that anyone cared so much.

AS the moments stretched an eerie and awkward podium took place, perhaps most jarring the music played at the end of the ceremony, entirely out of place. The drivers took their ceremonial swigs and wandered off subdued as the world that watched became ever more anxious. Bits and pieces emerged, no helicopter, ambulance. Voices dropped to hushed tones and as the sun came up on the East Coast there is still no definitive word, aside from the fact that Bianchi was removed unconscious, from the car and sent to hospital. The long vigil continues for his family, friends and fans, and as the rest of the world starts to roll on, still they wait for that one word.

2014 Drivers' Championship Graph Japan

2014 Constructors' Championship Graph Japan

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FIA Bianchi

Next updates may be several hours and will come from the Hospital following the conclusion of the current medical procedures being undertaken.

 

36 responses to “#F1 Race Review: A Wet Suzuka Does Deliver A Race

        • Yeah, that’s my issue with the missing video.

          Had there been a video footage for all to see, there could have been public outrage at FIA’s symbolic security measures in place. (Think Ratzenberger and Senna.) But without video of the accident, the incident shall most likely be swept under the rug by Charlie Brown and his Sleeping Beauty…

          As a thought exercise, how were F1 security measures improved as a result of de Villota’s accident (and subsequent death)? If that were made public, maybe today’s accident would have happened much more differently (although with drivers going at full speed under double yellows, they could have just as easily skid into the marshals or Sutil).

    • According to Whiting the requirement for double waved yellows is 0.5 seconds off your best sector time. That’s it. As Lewis described it “a big lift” roughly 30kph from other quotes I saw last night. IT’s possible that they will need a different flag and requirement if they want to keep the race going during vehicle recovery. LeMans used a limiter requirement last year I think and that’s what it might wind up being.

      • “According to Whiting the requirement for double waved yellows is 0.5 seconds off your best sector time. That’s it.”

        This is utter madness. So if I get this right, you set your best sector time under optimal tire/fuel conditions on a certain lap, but during the time of the double-yellows you’re circulating 2sec slower per lap. So basically under double-yellows it is conceivable to go full throttle since you’re nowhere near the best sector time target. Madness!!

        I thought the double-yellows were about “slowing down and being prepared to stop”. Is it me, or is there a logical gap between 0.5sec slower in the sector vs being prepared to stop? How much more idiotic can be Charles’ enforcement of the rules?

        • This was a clarification that took place in March. Whiting gave a presser and discussed that the normal 3 sectors were being sudivided. As part of that discussion and because the drivers requested it he simply put a number on “slow”. The being prepared to stop didn’t change AFAIK.

          Best sector time would come from the race, not quali and be reflective of conditions.

          • Yeah, but “being prepared to stop” must logically come from a speed where drivers can stop without slamming on their brakes to flat-spot the tires and skid uncontrollably. For instance, in the pitlane drivers are clearly at speeds from which they’re “prepared to stop”, and that works alright unless Nakajima is at the wheel. However, imagine if prior to pitting the drivers were at -30kph from their pit-straight speeds.. Madness, I say.

            “Best sector time would come from the race”

            Agreed, but it doesn’t really change the worse case scenario I was pointing out. There is a significant delta between fresh tires and worn tires, to the tunes of a couple of seconds. It is quite plausible that when a double-waved yellow happens your best lap time was 2sec faster, and that with worn tires and at full speed you’re still 0.5sec down on the best sector time for the affected sector.

            And what about rain, as it was yesterday? The difference between a little shower and a little drying can represent as much as a 5sec per lap swing. You may be doing 1sec slower in the affected sector, but still be at a speed amenable for a crash. Just ask Bianchi..

            Overall, I reckon, that is NOT an serious enforcement of “being prepared to stop”. Hence, as it is, double-yellows are simply irrelevant, as drivers effectively treat them as single yellow waved flags. So with no change in protocol, either bring up the SC or red flag the damn race.

      • “LeMans used a limiter requirement last year I think and that’s what it might wind up being.”

        And this year too, AIUI, and it seemed to work well. Of course we don’t know for sure that Bianchi was going too fast, it’s concievable he did lift because of the flag and was still caught out with the factors of increasing rain, rivers on the track, worn inters and fading light. Thoughts are with him.

  1. “It didn’t take him long to figure it out as he took the outside into Dunlop and made it stick for good.”

    That was pure masterclass from Danny boy.. Classy move, twice, through the S curves. Incredible..

      • I must admit I’m not sure I’m getting this: are you praising Irvine, or simply being sarcastic? (For info, Irvine didn’t get into the top60 of BJF’s all time classification.)

        • Heh, praising really, I remember his team orders pass there in 97, double ‘around the outside’ of JV and MSc.

          Tbh, I wouldn’t expect Irvine to be in the statistical top 60, but he probably shouldn’t be too far outside of that, maybe around the late 60s.

  2. “By lap 25 with DRS finally enabled the long slow duel between the Mercedes teammates to begin it’s culmination.”

    I was very surprised by this: isn’t DRS enabled only when the dry tire is in use? For all intents and purposes, the conditions were wet throughout the race. How come did Charlie Brown enable DRS?

    • I guess it’s allowed on inters, but not extreme wets.. extreme wet tyres being a slightly larger size. It’s probably a discretionary issue knowing how F1 rules are applied.

      • Yes. But I’m talking about the pit stop. And it was a big spark. Kind of an electrical problem. A current leaping over from rim to wheel gun. Really strange. But i didn’t see a replay so I don’t think the tv director noticed it.

        • I saw that, it was more sparks rather than an electrical problem. I think the gunman started to spin the wheel gun, before he had placed it on the wheel and it caused the soarks when it collided with the wheel nut.

  3. Great review, just a small correction required for the Lewis part,

    You say
    ”The 18th lap saw the gap at the front starting to narrow as it appeared Hamilton’s car had the better balance in the wet.”

    Nicos says
    “I was not happy with the balance but we had pretty much the same set-up.

    “Lewis must have had the same oversteer. I tried to tweak the balance, but we need to look into it.

    “I guess I struggled a bit more with it.”

    Six says
    Hamilton has had far better pace all season in the wet, today he kept his tyres better, was plainly faster so why say it was his car and not his driving ability to handle the car and conditions??
    especially when Nico admits this
    Anyway could have been worse, you could have said something like Lewis had the FASTER car today and thats why he won

    • Possibly I wrote it because it was my observation at the time, NAS. Car set-up is part of why Lewis (or any driver) is so “fast” and at Suzuka, in the wet, critical to good lap times. One can have better balance AND be a faster driver, they are not mutually exclusive.

      Rosberg was on the radio early complaining of lots of oversteer, Lewis was not, hence the balance comment. The oversteer caused Nico to munch his tyres sooner, thus the gap Lewis pulled once he got past. Lewis may be faster than Rosberg in equal equipment, but not 2 seconds a lap faster. If Lewis suffered the same oversteer to the same degree his tyres wouldn’t have lasted as long and he wouldn’t have pulled away as fast.

      Hamilton did comment that he wasn’t set up for the wet at the Saturday presser, but I wonder if he wasn’t putting us on a bit. He was not nearly as close to Nico in Quali and he kept having unusual understeery moments in the hairpin during that session. Also, his race pace was more inline with the RB’s who clearly did set up for the typhoon. Of course he has generally run more DF than Rosberg this season, judging by the speed traps, so it might just be that.

      • Hamilton has always been one of the top rain drivers during his time in F1. His pass of Rosberg was not nearly as easy as it’s being made out to be. In fact it was the first time this season I’ve heard all the SkyF1 commentators singing Hamilton’s praises. It was Martin Brundle, I think, who said, “That one will have all the drivers talking.”

        With all the teams being asked about their practice or qualie setups in anticipation of race-day rain and with all commentators especially looking for signs of using a setup more conducive to rain, it is improbable at least that Brundle, Damon Hill, and David Coulthard, plus all the talking heads, missed signs that Hamilton was using a different setup than Rosberg during qualies.

        Hamilton, known to be a person who speaks his mind, admitted every day that he was having problems navigating the track, even admitting that Suzuka is a track that’s always been difficult for him. Hamilton’s honesty in admitting a driving frailty was hailed by both Hill and Brundle as “refreshingly different.” They then talked about how drivers loathe to reveal weaknesses of this sort but thought it was actually to Hamilton’s advantage to make such a public statement.

        So, to think he was “putting us on a bit” would be Hamilton acting against his personal makeup; if anything, he’s thought of as saying too much.

        And he certainly isn’t the driver to sacrifice a chance at a pole for a rain setup in Q3.

  4. How on earth is the top form of motorsport, self-proclaimed being of the highest technology, use standard issue construction diggers on active racetracks to move cars around?

    This was a terrible accident but an accident that has a simple lesson for me. Nothing on the track, including all support vehicles, can have structures that line up at the height of the area of a driver’s head.

    This is like the Villalobos testing crash.

    • If there are Marshall’s or safety vehicles on the course, the cars should be in the pits. Period.
      Slowing the cars down, be it by double yellows or safety car, just makes them harder to control, and more likely to crash, especially in the rain.
      The cars are designed to absorb impacts from other cars, and from specially built barriers, they are not designed to absorb impacts from 20,000 Lb tractors and flat-bed wreckers. The tractors/wreckers and the cars should never be on the track at the same time EVER.

      Last week I wrote a rant regarding the safety car in response to the podcast discussion.
      In it I wrote the following lines:

      “..Nothing will change until someone is seriously injured or killed.
      It makes me sad to have to write that sentence.”

      “Sad” does not correctly describe my emotions any more.
      I am fuming.

    • “How on earth is the top form of motorsport, self-proclaimed being of the highest technology, use standard issue construction diggers on active racetracks to move cars around?”

      The racetrack was nominally NOT active in that zone. The FIA waves double-yellows, assumes that all drivers comply, but no driver actually slows down sufficiently.

      I say institute a rule whereas all drivers MUST hit the pitlane speed-limiter whenever they enter a double-yellow flags zone. This shall ensure that all cars are at an appropriately slow speed in danger zones..

    • @av2290 this is exactly the issue Brundle raised post race. There may be solutions that don’t require the race to be suspended for removal, but it’s past time the FIA got on it. Part of the problem is the FIA kind of leaves solutions up to the racetrack and hasn’t standardized these procedures. They’ve been using that digger at that corner since 94 at least and this in some ways is just the law of large numbers hitting home.

    • It’s amazing that the FIA hasn’t standardized these procedures. Leaving anything to the locals putting on the race has always rendered bad and often catastrophic results.

  5. I don’t like Hamilton much, but he will be a deserving winner of this year’s championship.

  6. To quote my bombastic self, in a convo earlier this evening: “Pity though that the usual suspects will use it as leverage for another round of FIA-bashing, and others will use it for -bashing.”

    It’s so sad to tab to what’s still my favorite F1 site and get myself proved right again …

  7. Hey Carlo, historical question for you.
    Is it common for the DRS to be enabled while the cars are running on wets and/or inters?
    How many times since DRS came in, have they allowed its use in the rain vs not?
    It seems to be used at Charlies discretion, as it wasn’t turned on until lap 25, which was not appreciably different from the 5 laps before or the 5 laps after. There was still standing water on the track.
    I am not trying to start any controversy, I genuinely don’t know the answer and am curious what the numbers are. Thanks for any info you have.

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