F1 Grand Prix of Korea - Race

Why Vettel’s latest win was both refreshing and frustrating to watch

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Respect and admiration for a driver’s achievements does not necessarily mean one has to like it.

Case in point, I respected and admired almost everything Michael Schumacher did in his era of dominance from 2000 through 2004. But, purely as a fan, I couldn’t stand the notion that more than half the time, I went into a race knowing what result was going to happen.

It was going to be a combination of brilliance from Schumacher behind the wheel coupled with strategic calculations played to perfection from Ross Brawn on the pit wall, and of course culminating with the German and Italian national anthems on the podium.

And so, this Monday, we are still firmly entrenched in Sebastian Vettel’s era. A different era, for sure, in terms of how Formula One has evolved since then – but not different in one driver and one team’s ability to extract the maximum performance and results from its machinery.

The first half of this year, sure, the Red Bull didn’t have the single-lap pace of the Mercedes and relied as much on Vettel’s guile and determination as outright pace to secure wins. Four wins from 10 races heading into the summer break was still the most in the field, but it wasn’t as outright dominant as he had been in 2011 or as in any of Schumacher’s years.

Then the summer break happened, and for four consecutive races, Vettel Clinics were re-introduced to the field. Blitzing starts, often from pole, and with more than one second gained after the first lap or two (often two seconds plus), Vettel basically already had the race won. He had enough of a lead to where second place couldn’t use their DRS, and so long as Vettel sustained the gap and managed his tires (and a new, more conservative construction from Pirelli at that, this second half), it was game over.

Singapore and Korea were the culminations – the ultimate in ass-kicking with back-to-back “grand slams” of flag-to-flag wins from pole, with the fastest lap set.

The stat that stuck out most to me heading into Japan was that prior to this weekend, Vettel hadn’t not led at the end of the first lap since Hungary – a three-month stretch.

So as for his latest triumph in Japan, it was very refreshing to watch. A poor start left him third and needing to follow Romain Grosjean’s strategy, and needing to leapfrog his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. He played the cards right to when he emerged behind Grosjean, he willed himself past rather easily. Once Webber’s strategy was shifted to a three-stopper and he emerged too, behind Grosjean, he couldn’t make the pass in near the amount of time and his tire advantage was negated. Again, game over, Vettel wins.

But here’s why it’s frustrating. We’ve seen so many of Vettel’s 35 career wins where he had limited adversity to overcome, and he could control the race from the outset. Here, the deck was stacked against him, but he still found a way to win. How demoralizing must that be to the rest of the Formula One field who not only don’t have the cars to match a Red Bull, but a talent level behind the wheel also unmatched?

Why else is it frustrating? Fernando Alonso did just enough in Japan to postpone the inevitable, with a fourth-place finish meaning Vettel will likely clinch the title at another soulless Tilkedrome in India instead of at a historical, challenging circuit with a fervent fan base who is knowledgeable enough to appreciate Vettel’s accomplishments, rather than boo him.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that a driver who’s made the most of this new age of Formula One will clinch his fourth straight championship at a type of new age track he’s made a habit of blitzing.

Oh, and heading into India, he’s a perfect two-for-two there with wins from pole and 100 percent of the laps led.

Vettel is an all-time great, to be mentioned in the same breath alongside Schumacher, Fangio, Senna, Prost, etc., no question. You have to give him that.

But he is the face of this new, often unlikeable era of F1, where as the “villain,” his accomplishments perhaps aren’t appreciated in the moment as they will be with time.

That, more than anything, is probably why it’s difficult to like him right now even as he continues his assault on the Formula One record books.

Marathon, 72-minute Hungarian GP Q1 features 4 red flags, 3 crashes (VIDEO)

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.
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The FIA World Endurance Championship is at the Nürburgring this weekend for the Six Hours of the Nürburgring, but another FIA World Championship – Formula 1 – has put on its own endurance event in qualifying for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

What’s ordinarily an 18-minute session, Q1, took exactly four times that – 72 minutes – and featured a possibly unprecedented four red flags in the session.

The session was delayed 20 minutes to start owing to heavy rain that swept through the Hungaroring and soaked the track.

Teams then proceeded to get out for one lap of running on Pirelli P Zero full wet tires after the rains lessened, but then the rain came back and it brought out the red flag.

As such, because some teams got their timing better than others, the grid was jumbled:

Once the session restarted after a delay, then the red flags came out again for a series of accidents.

First up was Marcus Ericsson of Sauber, who shunted at Turn 10 and damaged his C35’s right front with nine minutes to go in the session. The Swede was OK and told NBCSN’s Will Buxton it was his mistake, but his session was over.

Ericsson was only the first to make a mistake. Next up was Felipe Massa, who made an arguably brave call to switch from full wets onto intermediates for Williams, then crashed off Turn 4. That occurred with 5:20 left on the 18-minute clock and brought out red flag number three.

“In these conditions you need to get the right tires at the right time,” Massa told Buxton. “I went to inters…and it looked reasonable, but the first lap would be difficult. But it was not me alone. I think it was correct what I did. But I aquaplaned in Turn 4. It was raining a lot. The conditions were not easy.”

After another restart, Rio Haryanto in his Manor capped off the marathon Q1 with a wreck at a near identical place as Ericsson. He shunted the Manor with 1:18 left on the clock, bringing out the fourth red flag of the session and mercifully, the session to an end.

The three drivers who joined Ericsson, Massa and Haryanto in the Q1 drop zone were Haryanto’s teammate Pascal Wehrlein and the pair of Renault F1 drivers, Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen.

Summing up quite how chaotic Q1 was the usually mild mannered, far-from-salty Scuderia Ferrari Twitter account, which had this to say:

No Haas F1 2017 driver talks until after Monza

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 22:  Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 and Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 pose with the new car outside the garage during day one of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 22, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Haas Formula 1 officials will not make any decision regarding the team’s 2017 driver line-up until after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid for the first time in 2016, his cars driven by Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez.

Grosjean has led Haas’ charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its points. Gutierrez is yet to break his top-10 drought dating back to the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix.

Grosjean is expected to remain at Haas for 2017 after Ferrari opted to retain Kimi Raikkonen, blocking off a possible move up the field for the Frenchman.

Gutierrez said earlier this week he has a deal for 2017, but would not expand when asked if it was with Haas.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner confirmed that talks would he held off until after Monza.

“We decided to wait, to talk internally even about drivers until the European season is over so after Monza, because at the moment we are quite happy with what we are doing,” Steiner said.

“So we don’t want to get distracted or get the drivers distracted by talks, what will happen, what will not happen.

“We just wait until after Monza and then we sit down and try to make a decision as soon as possible so we keep that stability going.”

FIA to take ‘zero tolerance’ approach to track limits in Hungary qualifying

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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FIA race director Charlie Whiting has informed all Formula 1 teams that a “zero tolerance” approach will be taken to track limits during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Track limits proved to be a sticking point over the British Grand Prix weekend, with a number of drivers being accused of going off-track and gaining an advantage.

Lewis Hamilton had his initial pole position time deleted at Silverstone, only to respond and go faster with a clean lap.

The FIA announced heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that electronic sensors had been installed at Turn 4 and Turn 11 at the Hungaroring to catch drivers putting all four wheels over the white line defining the track limits.

A number of drivers were seen to be running wide during practice, prompting Whiting to issue a note to teams ahead of qualifying.

The note reads as follows:

Track Limits in turns 4 and 11

Further to the discussion in the drivers meeting yesterday evening I would like to confirm that:

a) We will be adopting a “zero tolerance” approach to cars leaving the track at turns 4 and 11 during qualifying. Please note that this will be judged by the use of timing loops in the kerbs and, to ensure that we see no false crossings, we would like to make it clear that the loops are set up to register a crossing when a car is approximately 20cm beyond the white line. Every lap time achieved by leaving the track will be deleted in accordance with Article 12.3.1.d of the Sporting Code.

b) During the race, and in accordance with Article 27.4 of the Sporting Regulations, any driver who is judged to have left the track three times at these corners (when counted cumulatively) will be shown a black and white flag, one further crossing will result in a report being made to the stewards for not having made every reasonable effort to use the track. As discussed, this is likely to result in a drive-through penalty for any driver concerned.

However, if we are satisfied that a driver left the track at these points for reasons beyond his control, having been forced off the track for example, laps times will not be deleted during qualifying nor will such a crossing be counted towards a drivers total in the race.

A similar approach was taken during qualifying for the GP3 support race in Hungary, resulting in a high number of lap times being deleted.

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports App from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rosberg edges out Verstappen to lead final Hungary practice

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg gave Mercedes a clean sweep of practice sessions in Hungary by topping FP3 on Saturday morning, edging out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by two-thousandths of a second.

Rosberg led second practice on Friday afternoon, and spent the majority of the final session at the top of the timesheets as drivers enjoyed the final runs ahead of qualifying later today.

A fastest lap of 1:20.261 on the super-soft tire gave Rosberg P1 at the checkered flag, but his advantage was far less comfortable than he would have liked.

Red Bull arrived in Hungary expected to run Mercedes close, but failed to match the German marque for pace on Friday.

However, Verstappen managed to turn up the wick and produce a stunning lap that was just 0.002 seconds slower than Rosberg’s, giving Red Bull hope of getting in the fight for victory this weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo followed teammate Verstappen in third place, four-tenths of a second further back, although he did not complete a qualifying simulation on the super-soft tire late on, instead preferring to focus on race runs.

Lewis Hamilton could only finish fourth-fastest in the second Mercedes, half a second shy of Rosberg, while Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel followed in P5 and P6.

McLaren’s strong start to the weekend continued as Fernando Alonso ended practice in seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez of Williams and Force India respectively.

Renault made a giant leap forward from Friday as Jolyon Palmer finished 10th and teammate Kevin Magnussen ended practice 12th-fastest, the pair split by Felipe Massa.

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports App from 8am ET on Saturday.