Bahrain recap: Tire tests, rare DRS failure, hot/cold temps made for wild race

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Amid a backdrop of complaints and concerns about this seasons Pirelli tire compounds, the Bahrain Grand Prix delivered one of its most exciting yet.

Whereas the Chinese GP used the soft and medium compound tires in cooler conditions, giving a delta of nearly one and a half seconds per lap between the two, Pirelli’s choices for this race were a lot closer in performance and durability levels.

The medium and hard tires worked well here and, in the extreme heat of the desert, seemed to be the perfect selection.

The two compounds offered a choice of strategy, though of the top 10, only Ferrari’s Filipe Massa opted to start on the hard tire. It could’ve been an inspired move by the team to cover both scenarios, but we’ll never really know as a disastrous race for both drivers ended their hopes.

A rare DRS failure while running second on lap seven meant an emergency pitstop for Alonso. The DRS rear wing flap is designed to stay closed if the system should fail, but on this occasion the hydraulic actuator managed to push the flap beyond its normal 50-millimeter opening limit. This meant that, whereas the airflow over the wing would normally force the flap shut, being ‘over-center’, the aerodynamics had the opposite effect and held it in an open position.

Mechanics were able to push the wing back into its closed state at the stop, fit new tires and send him out without major time loss, but inexplicably appeared to fail to tell Alonso not to use the system and the same thing happened a lap later. Another stop to close the wing and the loss of DRS meant the predicted challenge for the win was effectively over. He did well to salvage eighth.

After a slightly strange looking tire failure for Hamilton on Saturday morning, Filipe Massa suffered a similar looking delamination to his right rear in the race, followed by a major blow out on the next set not long after. Pirelli were quick to suggest debris on the track had caused all three issues, but will investigate further in the coming days. One thing’s for sure, following much recent criticism, the last thing the Italian tire manufacturer needs is the perception that the rears weren’t capable of withstanding the heat and demands of the Bahrain circuit.

The ambient temperature, always pretty warm, did fluctuate this weekend, as did the wind speed and direction and the effect on different teams cars was notable.

Kimi Raikkonen was ominously quick in Friday practice, yet in the cooler temperatures of Saturdays qualifying struggled considerably more. The high race day temperatures meant the car came back to him and teammate Romain Grosjean and both managed brilliant podiums from lowly grid slots. Conversely, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg worked well on Saturday to gain pole position, but found himself with a different car altogether in the hot race. Teams are still learning about the critical relationship between tire temperature and their performance levels and more importantly, how to manage them through driving styles or technical developments. Most teams now use adjustable brake duct slots to allow some of the enormous heat from the brakes to escape and soak into the wheels and tires when needed. Many of the leading teams also use a passive, hydraulically linked suspension arrangement to control the cars pitch and, or roll during braking and cornering, allowing the car to be more aerodynamically stable and less aggressive on its tires.

Kimi showed in the race that the ability to make the tires last and do one less stop than the rest can be a huge advantage.

McLaren found strong headwinds on the main straight for the race a help as they were running a shorter top gear and would’ve otherwise been held back by the rev limiter and therefore vulnerable in the DRS zone. As ever setup is always a compromise and this is something Red Bull have used in the past to aid qualifying, whilst they work on the basis that they can get so far out in front that they won’t be under attack by DRS.

Others found the strong cross winds at the higher points of the circuit unsettling the cars on turn in.

With Barcelona three weeks away (May 12) and closer to home for the teams, we can expect some significant upgrades and developments on the way.

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Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”