Thoughts from the NBC Sports Network Broadcast of the Formula 1 Gran Premio De España (Grand Prix of Spain), May 12, 2013.
‘Nando’s Day: Fernando Alonso won in his home country, so you can imagine the parties that are STILL going on. Nando had a fun-tastic start, rolling from P5 to P3 with a balls-of-steel move around the outside of both Kimi Räikkönen and Lewis Hamilton into turn 3. The move had the announcing posse of Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey frothing. Matchett: LOOK AT FERRARI GO … LOOK AT IT GO!!! Pretty sure we got about five Matchett WOWs as well.
It’s definitely not a bunch of paint swapping and bashing, which is kind of refreshing. Onboard replays from the standing starts only re-enforced the mad skillz of the drivers, threading needles, filling gaps, staying out of each other (for the most part), impressive. There’s a relative lack of circus music in F1 these days.
From turn 3 on, Alonso and his team didn’t do anything wrong. The F1 booth squad plus Will Buxton on the ground in Spain did a good job of outlining the Ferrari strategy of push-push-push from the opening lap — screw all this stuff about saving tyers — and just put up enormous speeds and pit often (four times) for tires.
By Lap 3, the running order was Rosberg, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Räikkönen, Massa. Nico’s lack of breakaway speed kept the front five or so packed up, which kept it interesting and gave you the “only a matter of time” feeling.
When pitting started on lap 11, Fernado overtook Vettel in the pits and then inhaled Rosberg with a DRS (Drag Reduction System) aided move on lap 13. Fernando’s win sent his home-town fans into a cheergasm. Alonso’s pass on Rosberg cued his drop through the order with Vettel overtaking him on an over-under thing of beauty and Räikkönen following suit soon after.
Fernando may have gotten into some trouble for stopping on his victory lap to accept a Spanish flag from someone and then did a tour holding it up in his fist. Steve Matchett correctly pointed out that it's against the rules for a driver to accept anything from anyoneon his cool-down lap. Steve also thought the stewards should look the other way in light of the general merriment in Spain. But someone tweeted that Alonso and a team rep will, in fact, have to go before the Tribunal (FIA) to discuss this breach of the "Sporting Regulations" as Matchett so loves to say.
The win was Alonso’s second of the year (he won China as well) and 32nd of his career. Also a good result for Fernando's teammate, Massa, who started P9 and finished P3. Has sleeping/bad luck Ferrari risen again? More here.
Mercedes’ Go Slow To Do Well Strategy -- The overtake by Fernando was the beginning of Rosberg’s fall through the field as he and Hamilton tried to go slow enough to do well. Mercedes’ strategy seemed to be go slow(er) to preserve tires but not too slow to get mercilessly lapped. It didn’t work in Spain for Mercedes. Lewis radioed once “I just got overtaken by a Williams” (kind of like being passed by a Lotus in 2012 IndyCar terms) and “I can’t drive any slower.”
A former world champion, multi-race winner and rock star like Hamilton can’t be hip to going the speed of smell to save tires. Just not in his nature. Festival of Pissy Feelings there, I am sure. Watch for more DRAMA from Mercedes. Recall that Lewis bolted from McLaren Mercedes last year to drive for Ross Brawn and the Mercedes factory team.
Hamilton’s career with Mercedes is not off to a roaring start. In Australia he started P3 and finished P5. Malaysia: start P4 finish P3. China: start P1 finish P3 thanks to a team orders “do not pass Lewis” issued to Nico. Spain: start P2 finished P12 and a lap down. But then again Jenson Button and Sergio Perez aren’t exactly having a fun time at McLaren-Mercedes this year either.
Rosberg faded to P6 after starting on the pole. Here’s a story re: the Mercedes tyre-eating frustration.
Räikkönen the Tyre Master -- Kimi started P4 and finished P2 in part due to a great start but in mostly due to his continued ability to drive fast yet be easy on tyres. The option tyres in Spain weren’t the festival of shredding rubber they had been in previous races, where the softer compound would last for a massive SIX laps before they were crap. Kimi kept his pace up and manage to run the race in three pit stops, while most other competitors, including Alonso, made four stops. Kimi and Lotus have gotten their car to be fast and yet easier on tires, which is a winning combination in Formula 1 this year.
Kimi also made a Large Attachments move on Sebastian Vettel on Lap 30(ish) in turn 2. Kimi cleared Vettel, dirt tracked a little bit, dumped brake dust out of his front wheels like he was kicking out chaff and then was clear. Vettel could not have been pleased to be overtaken thusly. After the final pit stops cycled through, Kimi finished P2. In his second year back in F1, Kimi has scored points in 30+ races in a row per the NBC Sports Network booth crew. He won the opening race in Australia, finished P7 in Malaysia, P2 in China and P2 in Spain. He’s now second in the driver’s championship standings, just four points behind Vettel.
The big speculation is … will Kimi go to Red Bull in 2014 to replace Webber, whose contract is up at the end of this year? The NBC Sports Net peeps have talked about it for the last couple of races. Apparently Lotus wants to scare up enough cash to get Kimi to stay. Kimi says he’d fine at Lotus, but he’s always open to offers. If Kimi wins the championship, which will be his second, it may turn into a Festival of Cash for him. Hard to believe he would turn down Red Bull to stay with Lotus if the cash was right, but it’s hard to predict what Kimi will do, besides be lovingly ambivalent about a lot of things.
Festival of Pit Stops — Per MotorSportsTalk.com, there were a whoppin’ 79 pit stops in Spain, with 12 of the drivers doing a four-stop race. Pirelli hopes to reduce the number of stops needed by the British GP, probably by making their tires more durable than wet butt wipe. Story here. F1 has been all about the tires this year, and some drivers and fans clearly think it sucks.
Pirelli has been trying to make their tires a bit more durable ever since the opening races where we were treated to supper slow mo of rubber chunks flying off tires like mud coming off spinning tractor wheels. It’s a tough balance for tyre companies. You want there to be a clear difference in performance between primary and option, but you don’t want the race to be a Festival of Pit Stops either.
If you don’t stop for fuel, which F1 doesn’t, then tire management becomes a big part of the race. How big is the key issue. A lot of drivers and fans think the crap tire approach is too artificial and takes the “go fast” element out of the race. I see that argument, but at the same time if you have a race that’s long enough to require a tyre change, then you have tyre management — to some degree — as part of the race. I think they’ve made progress from the early races of the year where the softer tire was crap and only lasted a few laps. Glad to year Pirelli is working on finding a better balance.
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Yellow -- As is the norm, there were no full-course yellows during the F1 race in Spain. Here’s the beauty of a yellow-less road race: you can follow the evolving strategies more easily. When yellows fly, things get disjointed, and it goes from multiple plot lines to chaos. I’m not saying chaos doesn’t have its appeal, but I get enough of chaos in the other series I watch (NASCAR and IndyCar). F1 is a nice yellow-free change of pace. Whereas a lot of yellow rewards the ability to adapt strategy on the fly, no yellow rewards disciplined execution of a plan from start to finish.
If you like road and street racing, cue the DVR or get up early to watch F1. It’s the best in the world, and this year it’s far more than a parade of multi-million-dollar, made-from-scratch cars.
Spanish GP Finishing order ..
|2||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus-Renault||+9.3 secs||4||18|
|3||4||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||+26.0 secs||9||15|
|4||1||Sebastian Vettel||R. Bull Racing-Renault||+38.2 secs||3||12|
|5||2||Mark Webber||R. Bull Racing-Renault||+47.9 secs||7||10|
|6||9||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||+68.0 secs||1||8|
|7||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||+68.9 secs||10||6|
|8||5||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||+79.5 secs||14||4|
|9||6||Sergio Perez||McLaren-Mercedes||+81.7 secs||8||2|
|10||19||Daniel Ricciardo||STR-Ferrari||+1 Lap||11||1|
|11||12||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber-Ferrari||+1 Lap||19|
|12||10||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+1 Lap||2|
|13||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||+1 Lap||13|
|14||16||Pastor Maldonado||Williams-Renault||+1 Lap||17|
|15||11||Nico Hulkenberg||Sauber-Ferrari||+1 Lap||15|
|16||17||Valtteri Bottas||Williams-Renault||+1 Lap||16|
|17||20||Charles Pic||Caterham-Renault||+1 Lap||22|
|18||22||Jules Bianchi||Marussia-Cosworth||+2 Laps||20|
|19||23||Max Chilton||Marussia-Cosworth||+2 Laps||21|
|Ret||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||STR-Ferrari||Accident damage||12|
|Ret||21||G. van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||Wheel||18|
Championship points: Vettel 89, Kimi 85, Alonso 72, Lewis 50, Massa 45. Next race is Monaco, 8 a.m. Eastern Sunday, May 26, on NBC Sports Netowrk.