Thursday, June 29, 2017

F1 Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one of the most entertaining races of the year. We usually reserve that honor for the Canadian Grand Prix but the drama in this one give it the nod. Unless something else comes along. This races was famous for more fractured relationships than make ups.

The juiciest chain of events was the Vettel Hamilton row. At the beginning of the season it was almost a drag to hear each of them talk about how it was an honor to be able to fight each other fairly for a title. They were more like karate students in the same dojo than the vicious ninjas in feuding clans they really are.

The Vettel Hamilton relationship before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was what the Rosberg Hamilton relationship should have been. Lewis Hamilton prefers fighting someone from an opposing team because he believes it will lead his team to favor him more rather than if he was fighting a teammate.

Drivers such as Kimi raikkonen, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, and Felipe Massa, lost out on what could have been productive races. Despite finishing above all of them the biggest loser in the race was actually Lewis Hamilton who finished 5th. He qualified first, he had a flawless and faultless race. Well Sebastian Vettel would not quite agree that it was faultless, but it was certainly flawless racing.

Despite all those good things from Hamilton, the person who sought to rile him ended up finishing ahead of him. Sebastian Vettel bumped into Lewis Hamilton while behind the safety car, and damaged his own front wing. Vettel believed Hamilton had brake checked him. To show his frustration he pulled up alongside Lewis and bumped into him sideways. Imagine you are Lewis Hamilton doing your best to have a good race and win and in less than a 10 second period you are bumped twice by the same person.

Vettel eventually got a 10 second stop and go penalty. In normal circumstances that delay should have given Hamilton an advantage over Vettel and allowed him to really close up the point deficit in the championship. But the decision to have Vettel serve the  penalty was given after Lewis Hamilton himself was ordered to stop to fix a headrest that was coming loose. This is part of the vehicle's crash protection structure, so a very serious malfunction.

So why wasn't Vettel's penalty more substantial, and why was it called after Hamilton's headrest issue even though it happened earlier. This is where the entertainment nature of the sport took over. The stewards clearly knew they had to penalize Vettel, but they did not want to be the ones to impact the nature of the championship, because this 1-2 was what everyone - including the stewards themselves - wanted to watch. Vettel was deliberately penalized just enough to allow him to still be able to battle Hamilton. Yet the 10-second stop and go was less than what it took for Mercedes to change Lewis' headrest. Hamilton came out behind Vettel.

In the grand scheme of things the stewards actually helped Vettel. For wanting to keep the fans glued to the race they allowed him to actually leave the race with a bigger championship lead than he arrived with. Penalties should not take into account the nature of the driver being penalized. Perhaps another non-championship contending driver would have had a much harsher penalty.

The FIA has realized the stewards' mistake in Baku and made a statement on Wednesday that the incident will be reviewed on Monday. Is there really a reason why they had to announce they would review the incident before reviewing it? And why wait till Monday. They could have made a decision on the incident and simply announced their decision today or tomorrow without having to announce a review date.

As most F1 connoisseurs know, the FIA president Jean Todt was Ferrari's principal for a number of years. There could be dynamics still at play there. Not only that but the stewards are again considering the ramifications of their decisions on the championship battle.

A weak decision could give Sebastian Vettel the confidence to romp his way through races knowing that he is a protected commodity valued by the higher ups. A strong decision could shackle Vettel and arm Lewis Hamilton to run unchallenged to the title. With Valtteri so far not quite Lewis' match the stake holders are weary of having an unchallenged championship run. Adversity is the spice of good sports entertainment, and so far only Vettel has the fire power to match Hamilton.

Scott Dixon vs the Penske Juggernaut

It was expected that the Penske Brigade will certainly be taking the top spot. With 4 fast cars it would be hard for anyone to break through. How could they loose? It was not an option. Especially with the Captain himself not being around, There's no greater sign of loyalty than doing right by your boss behind his back. Helio Castroneves, Joseph Newgarden, Will Power, and reigning Champion Simon Pagenaud each wanted to be the one to bring victory home to the Captain.

While Scott Dixon the Championship leader could have been counted on to possibly get on the podium or even spring an upset - which he did, in this race it's really not what he did, but how he did it

Dixon defied the odds and won, not through strategy as he often does, but in this case it was just a case of out driving everyone else, especially the Penske cars that were heavy favorites. He was ruthless, daring, fast, and deliberate. Nearly all the spots he made up to get to the lead were acquired on track. Despite a Joseph Newgarden hot on his pursuit in the last stint Dixon did not waver. He made no mistakes. 

The Penske crew have to be wondering to themselves what happened, how was he able to get past all four of them to get to the lead. Does he simply have more fight in him?

It's rather an intangible factor, a subconscious programming the Penske drivers have in mind that Dixon seized upon. In the Penske camp they're jostling to be the one who at the end of the season Roger Penske will decide to back for the title run. Only then will the Captain throw his weight behind the intramural winner.They will fight just to the limit, to keep themselves from wrecking out of a race, and stay in the points hunt. But even then as proved last year, and previous years, even when someone is mathematically eliminated, they're usually still allowed to go for wins if they do not take out the title challenger....which has always made us scratch our head.

This strategy of self preservation makes Penske's fantastic four team vulnerable to Scott Dixon. Having been at his Ganassi team for the 15th year in a row, he is the team. He is clearly the #1 option until he proves otherwise. His team owner, mechanics and strategists have thrown their full weight behind him since the first race of the season. His bold moves in the race were taken with the team's unanimous approval. Armed with the knowledge that the Penske cars are still fighting for #1 status it opened the door for him to romp through their defense for the win.

As other examples you might notice that when Pagenaud and Newgarden raced for Sam Schmidt and Ed Carpenter respectively, they were more daring and decisive, because at those teams they were the undisputed #1's.

The mindset of a driver fighting for #1 status is rather different than from one already established as the only resort.

Friday, June 23, 2017

F1 Azerbaijan notes

Hamilton hammered
--Lewis Hamilton seems pretty inconsistent. Between the Monaco Grand Prix and now at Azerbaijan Valterris Bottas seems to get more out of the car than the 3 time champ. Hopefully qualifying and the race will be less bumpy. Singapore will have the same characteristics, so he will have to get on top of the gremlins pronto. 

Ocon the real deal?
--Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will be closely watched, especially if they qualify close to each other. Esteban Ocon will be feeling this is his chance to prove himself, so he really can not hold back any longer. So, we can blame Perez all day for the Montreal drama, but what should have Ocon done once he realized he was not going to be let through? The 4 time champion Vettel showed him the way loud and clear.

If anyone does not let you through you force your way through. In the end it comes down to that...the best make their own way. Since it would have helped Hamilton and Mercedes, Toto Wolf would have really taken notice, had Ocon been able to hold off Vettel or got by Perez and went after Ricciardo. Anything that would have limited Vettel's points haul. Ocon's expectations have just been raised.

Max vs Daniel
--As flashy and crowd pleasing and ruthless as Max Verstappen is on the race track, Daniel Riccardo has been getting the best of him lately. Ricciardo's 3 consecutive podiums just can't go unnoticed. When there are 4 faster cars and you are coming in 3rd for 3 races in a row, you are in the zone. Whether it's simply good luck for Daniel, or bad luck for Max, to truly be considered an elite, he will have to learn to snap Ricciardo's run of success with his own more successful finishes. The end of year result will matter. Max's crowd pleasing drives need to be tested for more serious endeavors.

Lance's Canadian stroll
--It seemed like a victory when Lance Stroll scored his first Formula 1 points by coming in 9th in Canada. However thing move fast in top flight sports. Everybody is looking forward to the next success. The whole team is wondering when he will score next. I mean, he can't just score when he feels good. if the car wasn't good enough it would be understandable. But Felipe is scoring consistently, and deep down the team knows that there are drivers who could achieve even more with the car than Felipe.

The real question is why did Lawrence Stroll bankroll his son into the team as soon as he could get an FIA Super License? Would it have hurt him to go to Formula 2 or World Series Formula for at least a year? Sure he was the European Formula 3 champion at the time, but since Stroll Sr was bankrolling his career instead of hoping for a team to sign him couldn't they have taken it a bit slower to make sure he was ready ? 

There is the possibility that in F2 or Formula V8 3.5 he might not crack the top 10 in standings, so that could drop teams' view of him, but he could have become champion as well. That's not the real issue.

Seats in F1 are so limited that even with funding, next year there might not be a seat available with a team of Williams' caliber that would take his millions. With a car such as a Sauber, Haas or a Renault an inexperienced youngster could find it impossible to score (see Jolyon, Esteban). In essence Stroll Sr had to get his son the ride at Williams when he did. The other 2 desirable teams were Force India and Torro Rosso, but Mercedes and Red Bull have their eyes on those for their own young drivers. One year too late and Stroll could have had to settle for Sauber, or Haas, whose cars do not work well on all circuits. Yes it's early in his career, but at least it's a real shot. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Risi at Le Mans

During the 5th hour of the Le Mans 24hr Mathieu Vaxiviere swiped the Risi Ferrari into the wall. At the time Pierre Kaffer was in a drag racing duel against an AF Corse GTE Pro 488 Ferrari.  The team TDS racing got a 7 mn stop and go penalty. How did the ACO come up with 7 minutes. Would it have been too much to round it to 10 minutes. So essentially he ended the race for a class podium contender and barely lost 2 laps himself. A trade anyone would take any day.

That TDS car should have sat for at least 10 minutes or more. I would also say the driver should have been excluded but it would have put too much strain on the other 2 drivers since it was only the 5th hour.

Not only Risi was taken out, but if you're state side and your main series is IMSA you have lost a top flight competitor. No GTLM Ferrari at Watkins Glen this weekend. Hopefully that changes in the entrt list but as of now, this is where we stand.

Can't they outfit one of the Scuderia Corsa cars in GTLM updates and show up to the race ?  We even hear their GTLM 488 never left shop and was not the car shunted at Le Mans. Come on Giseppe give us something.

Still dreaming of F1 or a sportscar factory drive Mathieu ?  Well it won't happen this way. You have a lot of making up to do in your next few races...whoever you race for and wherever you race.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2017 LeMans 24hr reaction

It could have happened exactly as we had predicted it, were it not for that
exploding Dunlop tire on the 98 Aston Martin.

We completely overlooked the JMW team. We just did not expect Will Stevens to do the lion's share of the driving. Even then he was flawless. He's auditioniong
for a factroy drive. LPM1/DPi, and GTEPro/GTLM managers take notice. But the
Scuderia Corsa #62 was also in the mix as we predicted.

Corvette should have won. They did not. When we saw Jordan Taylor get in the

car for what seemed like the last stint we didn't care who was in any other car
we began celebrating as if corvette had already won. He is the real deal. But
then they put in Magnussen. He probably wasn't doing the same lap times as
Taylor, so they then put Taylor back in. Jordan Taylor should have never got out
of the car. with all respect due to seniority, they messed up Jordan's rhythm
with the switch. What's that?...oh...yeah. We had heard a while back that Jordan Taylor was daunted by the prospect of having to fight off a Scott Dixon in the last stint of the Daytona 24hrs. But that was a few years ago. He has matured right? Or did Jonathan get to him?


As proof Johnathan Adam in a faster Aston Martin was unable to keep in front of Taylor, and even lost ground to him. But then a "racing incident" happened. Corvette Racing fans should just be happy that their team was able to prove its mettle once again on the world stage.

Would Garcia or Mags have splashed the C7R in the gravel? They know the car's
outer limits more than Jordan Taylor, so we're pressed to say no, but they would first have to get past Adam in the rocket ship Aston. Could they have
gotten past him? The Corvette brain trust thought Taylor the better closer given how the race unfolded.

GTE Pro lived up to the billing as the most entertaining we called

In Daytona the Riley had no issues. At LeMans the mechanics got into a rhythm

repairing issue after issue. What gives? It may be that updated parts that were
meant to increase the car's pace just weren't reliable, and still yielded poor
pace. A double whammy.

Did we menton that Jackie Chan DC Racing and Rebellion and Alpine would be
fighting for top honors? Check.

Well G-Drive shot itself in the foot with both cars; but both of their cars had the lineups, and organization to fight up front.

Whenever we looked a the timing and scoring, Felipe Albuquerque was in the United Autosport car. He probably drove the maximum hours he could. But it worked for them. They almost made the podium. Ligier, Dallara, and Riley should begin development work for next year already. Or they would just have to be happy servicing Nissan, Cadillac, and Mazda DPis in IMSA. Because come next year if the pace doesn't pick up, some of the best funded non Oreca teams (SMP, United, Keating,...) will switch to Orecas for Lemans.

With an Oreca, United Autosport could have been on the overall podium given their 5th place overall with a Ligier.

Our personal gripe is that once the ACO saw the higher top speeds at LeMans
for LMP2 car they should have restricted them further. But then the teams might grumble at why they have to have a special restrictor just for Lemans which would be another expense for them. Those without machining capabality at the track would have to subcontract the task to fellow teams or an independent contractor...$$$.

This was just an unworthy display. What's the point of spending tens of millions

on a car that barely outdoes a car costing half of a million. Sure, in a shorter
race the P1's would have no trouble against the LMP2 brigade. But this was 24hrs and everyone knew this coming in.

The car we really feel for is the #9 Toyota. Lapierre drove too fast on his way back to the pits after his puncture. Had he put on the pit speed limiter and lost about 2 laps coming back to the pits, we think Toyota would have won it. But he knew about the fierce nature of the #1 Porsche's drivers. They put pressure on him to get moving. He wrecked the car. 

The #9 Toyota was far ahead of the #2 Porsche. The #1 would have retired later on and yielded first place to Toyota. Sure clutch problems could have crept up, but having fixed it on the #8 car they would have been ready, and done it faster.

It's ironic that when Mark Webber retires, his car finally wins the race...with another Australian in his place. Just his luck.

It sounds good coming from the the FIA president, but don't believe it. It's not good for LMP2s to share the overal podium with LMP1 cars. What if an LMP2 car had won it overall? None of the P1 teams would be happy.  It would mean the P1 regulations were a total failure, and a waste of resources.

Friday, June 16, 2017

2017 24h of Le Mans preview - LMPs


In LMP2, the battle will be all Orecas all the time. This glaringly demonstrates why all the WEC teams opted for the Oreca chassis. When you have a guaranteed spot for Le Mans you want the name that has won it in back to back years. Despite Ligiers having the numbers advantage the past 2 years, Orecas have won it on the trot and are looking to repeat.

Aside from an anomaly in the form of Indycar driver Mikhail Aleshin lodging his SMP Racing #27 Dallara between the Orecas in 10th place in P2, the first Ligier is 15th in the LMP2 qualifying and 4 seconds off the pole time.

Is there a chance there could be anything but Orecas on the podium? Well anything is possible, but the Oreca teams are some of the best prepared, with top drivers, and well funded teams. For most of them this is a round of the championship not just a one-off race for prestige. They will make sure there isn't nothing but Orecas on the podium.

How about the lone "Proud American" in P2. What are their chances? Daytona was impressive with a podium debut for the Riley chassis. They can bank on that same reliability to finish...mid pack. For a podium they would have to pick up the pieces if Orecas, Ligiers and Dallaras get tripped up. They would have to stay flawless (fuel and tires only), and be fast. However in all honesty unusual circumstances have to be present for any other brand aside Orecas to land a podium. It has to be a terminal malfunction that starts affecting a good number of the Orecas.

So who among the Orecas can taste Champaign? Well our favorite lineup is the G-Drive #22. Not only they have an Oreca, but their "Silver" driver, Jose Guttierez was dicing it up for a few laps with none other than Ricky Taylor who was driving the all-conquering Dallara-Cadillac during the Sebring 12hrs.  The rest of their line up is made up of memo Rojas who should really be ranked Platinum instead of Gold, and "Gold' ranked Ryo Hirakawa. Our other favorites are both Alpine cars, both Rebellions, the Manors, and the Jackie Chan DC racing cars. We figure any of them to be running for prominent places.


The #1 Porsche has an eye catching lineup. It's almost like the Dream Team car Audi had with Capello, McNish and Kristensen, and then later on with Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer.

Toyota is faster, but this Porsche will put pressure on the Toyotas to keep the pace up, and maybe even force them into errors. Another eye catcher is Nicolas Lapierre in the #9 Toyota. He wasn't brought back into the Toyota fold to make up numbers for the 3rd car. He has won the race back to back in LMP2 with different teams since he was sacked from Toyota. He has mastered the Le Mans "feel", and the secrets to winning the race. Toyota wants in on that success. I feel they will do it.

2017 24h of Le Mans preview - GTs

GTE am

My first memory of the lemans 24h was in 2006. I did not attend the race and
didn't even watch it. I did not even know about the race at the time. I lived in Detroit, and one day while driving past the GM headquarters, they had a
sign announcing their victory at LeMans in the GT1 class with the all new C6R.
Once home I looked up the information and the rest is history.

If you're reading this article, chances are you are not such a novice at the
sport. But everybody needs a guide sometimes. So here it is.

In GTE Am, we do not quite see any other team with more preparedness, more
experience, and stability than the Aston Martin Racing #98, A.K.A the Dalla Lana car. The have a competitive lineup, more experience together, a competitive car, a very experienced crew, and having mastered the race and suffered devastating heartbreak, we believe they have the ingredients to get "the feel" that would take them to victory.

Last year's defending champion, the Scuderia corsa #62 doesn't quite pack the
same punch this time around with Cooper MacNeil replacing Jeff Segal. But they
still are a very solid lineup (probably even better funded too). We have to say
the #65  Ferrari 488 being in the same team as the #62 makes them another contender, especially with their level of performance in the Weathertech championship.

The Larbre competition corvette is not entered in any season long championship, however this a team that has won the event 3 times in class and our gut feel is telling us they will be there if others have trouble. Unlike last year the Corvette in GTE Am seems to have the pace. Clearwater Racing's #61 car is also a  well rounded team. They lead the WEC championship in GTE Am. But we couldn't overlook their second car with a certain Alvaro Parente lurking in the crew.


In GTE Pro, the balance of performance is closer than last year. But we feel
IMSA would still have done better than the ACO. 

All teams are strong and the drivers are all stars. Ford is only here to win it and nothing else. Having watched the Chip Ganassi team over the years, they're just too clever, too well prepared, and equipped to not have a hidden advantage. They live for big races. With 4 cars and plenty of race permutations available, there won't be having any of the "Force India at the Canadian Grand prix" incident going on. The best strategy for victory will play out. 

Aside from the Fords however, the Corvettes and Ferraris with solid experience,
and years of strategy analysis at this race are our picks if Ford can't deliver. Aston seems fast, but we feel the race will yield a weak spot in their 8 years old chassis.

The GTE pro battle will be the one to follow for the biggest entertainment value. P1 has too few cars, P2 too many cars and unrecognizable teams, GTE Am will have a few bumbling deep pocketed guys who might make you think twice about the prestige of the race.  

GTE Pro regroups the best characteristics of the other 3 classes, and none of the drawbacks. The cars are easily recognizable, the drivers are the best anywhere in the world, and any team can win.