F1 Chinese Grand Prix: Isn’t This When We Start Complaining?

f1-2014-china-hamilton-podiumThe only exciting part of this race was the banging and crashing at the start. For the third consecutive Grand Prix, it was Lewis Hamilton who won the race. Without an interruption from the safety car, Hamilton stormed away with his largest margin of the victory of the season. At least the race officials did something to keep us on our toes.

The race started with Hamilton on the pole alongside Daniel Ricciardo who outqualified his teammate for the third time this season. Vettel started ahead of Nico Rosberg who spun on a Q3 lap that otherwise would have landed him on pole.

f1-2014-china-startIt was an uncharacteristically slow start for Rosberg who nearly stalled without the aid of car telemetry back to the pits to help him set his revs for the start. Vettel vaulted into 2nd off the lights. Fernando Alonso made it into 3rd but made contact with the quick-starting Felipe Massa as he tried going around the outside of Ricciardo. Massa wasn’t the only Williams with a little argy-bargy as Valtteri Bottas was collected by Rosberg in Turn One. No terminal damage was done to any car but it certainly got the Williams to back off.

Up front, Hamilton stormed away at a pace of nearly one second per lap. Alonso held third behind Vettel until the exchange of pitstops. Alonso stopped before Vettel and used the fresher rubber to take second. Ricciardo went the longest of all and used his three-lap fresher tyres to catch Vettel. The team told Seb to let Daniel by a couple of times before the four-time defending World Drivers’ Champion complied.

Meanwhile, Rosberg used his far superior car to climb up through the field and make his way to third before the midpoint of the race. After the second round of pitstops, Rosberg was able to get by Alonso without much challenge. On five lap fresher tyres, Ricciardo made a challenge for the final step of the podium but couldn’t find his way to Alonso’s gearbox.

f1-2014-china-hamilton-checkered-flagThe most interesting part of the race was as Hamilton was crossing the line to start the 56th and final lap. He was shown the checkered flag one lap early. Of course, the FIA has a rule in place for such a situation. Sporting reg 43.2 says that if the session-ending flag is shown too soon, results will revert to the last lap the leader completed prior to be shown the flag. As such, with the flag shown on Lap 55, the results of the Grand Prix are final at Lap 54. The only change was a pass by Kamui Kobayashi on Jules Bianchi was erased from history as Bianchi is officially classified in 17th place.

Despite the error on the flag stand, it was Hamilton’s third win from three finishes this season and his 25th career win from 133 starts. That brings him level with Jim Clark who took 72 starts to achieve that mark and Niki Lauda who scored his 25th win in his 168th start (and had 171 starts in his career). Rosberg finished 2nd for the third straight race and holds a four-point championship lead. Fernando Alonso’s podium finish makes Ferrari the fourth team on the podium in four races.

Daniel Ricciardo finished 4th for the second-straight race. Sebastian Vettel followed his teammate home in 5th. Nico Hulkenberg fell from 3rd to 4th in the Drivers’ Championship after finishing 6th. Valtteri Bottas recovered from his early collision to finish 7th. Either the F14 T is garbage or Kimi Raikkonen really hates those brakes. He ended the day in 8th. Sergio Perez followed up his podium two weeks ago with a 9th yesterday. And Daniil Kvyat celebrated his upcoming 20th birthday with the third points finish of his career in 10th.

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Much to no one’s surprise, Red Bull lost their appeal of Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the 2nd place in the Australian Grand Prix. Much like the race stewards in Australia, the FIA’s Court of Appeal felt that Red Bull was obligated to adhere to the fuel flow rates measured by the fuel flow sensor rather than their own calculation.

Red Bull’s appeal was on the basis that the fuel flow sensors were inaccurate according to its own calculations and that it wasn’t mandated to follow solely the sensor because the technical directive from FIA Technical Delegate Jo Bauer to do so wasn’t an official FIA rule. The Court rejected that line of thinking.

In addition to the FIA representing its own interest in the appeal, a number of teams sent delegates to argue against Red Bull. The most strongly opposed to Red Bull and the most ironic was Mercedes AMG F1 who said that Red Bull should be given a harsher sentence for breaking the rules. The irony is that Mercedes gained a far larger and more long-term advantage from last year’s illegal tyre test than Ricciardo did from one race with a fuel sensor of disputed accuracy. One race won’t affect a championship. However, fourteen races with extra tyre data…

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f1-2014-china-ferrariFerrari went only three races before a change at the top. After a poor start to the 2014 campaign, Stefano Domenicali resigned from his post as Ferrari team principal. In his place, Ferrari appointed the car manufacturer’s head of North American operations, Marco Mattiacci.

For the Scuderia Ferrari, success is not an option. It’s absolutely mandatory. They haven’t won a Drivers’ Championship since 2007 and haven’t won a Constructors’ Championship since 2008. Sure, they’ve had three 3rd and a second in the WCC since then and Alonso has finished 2nd three times in the Drivers’ standings but that’s not success by Ferrari standards.

The big difference between Domenicali and Mattiacci is their experience. Prior to being named the Ferrari team principal in 2008, Domenicali had been involved with Ferrari’s sporting division since 1995. With his appointment to the F1 team, Mattiacci’s experience with racing and motorsport totals one week as of posting.

I guess that a big change was needed to spark some improvement in the team but I’m not sold on this being the right move. Someone with no experience in racing is expected to help set the direction for Ferrari’s flagship department and deal with the backroom politics of Formula One. As much as I’d love that job, I don’t envy the pressure that Mattiacci is under right now.

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The FIA has decided that rather than focusing on how to attain parity between the engine manufacturers, improve the racing or do something about the sad state of race stewarding, the most important thing for them to do is make the engines louder because that will solve all that ills Formula One.

The working plan is to revise the regulations for the tailpipe so that the width is optimized to make the engine note louder. The FIA has scheduled a meeting with the teams on May 6th to go over their proposal and finalize any plan going forward. It’s expected that any revisions would not be implemented for the Spanish Grand Prix but the test following the Grand Prix.

While IndyCar fans might be wondering how Formula One got their turbo engine noise wrong compared to their series, the inclusion of energy recovery systems is believed to have played a part in the reduced engine noise beyond that expected with the move to turbocharged engines.

Like I said at the start of this section of the post, I don’t really care about the engine noise. Sure, a nice sound would be great but most people at the track don’t seem to worried about the engine note. It’s just that the volume is down. If the FOM’s own TV broadcast would do a better job of sound mixing to give the engines a bit more life, I bet complaints would decrease massively. That would be going against Bernie’s wishes so that’s out the window. He wants changes so he’s going to sandbag the new regs where he can.

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f1-2013-spain-trackThe next round of the 2014 Formula One World Championship is in three weeks’ time. Rather than taking a break around Easter, they raced on Easter and had the break afterwards. I don’t understand the Formula One schedule sometimes. Actually, I do. It’s all about the money.

Anyway, the next round of the 2014 championship is the Spanish Grand Prix at the newly rechristened Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The addition of Barcelona to the circuit name is as a result of sponsorship of the track by the Barcelona City Council. The race was originally supposed to alternate with the Valencia street circuit but financial troubles means that it’s a Catalunya exclusive.

So, we all know that it’ll be a Mercedes battle at the front of the field. It’s just a matter of who will lead the rest of the pack. A dry race weekend might allow Williams to finally run at the head of the field as they looked to be good for during testing. Otherwise, Red Bull, Ferrari and Force India will continue to trade blows in the battle for second in the Constructors’ Championship.

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