Brazilian Grand Prix 2012 – The Cold, the Wet and the Championship Flame

The Formula 1 2012 season, has finally ended.

Against the changing conditions of mother nature – braving the cold, the wet and the slippery, a Briton was awarded the race victory, but another man – one who had battled ferociously throughout the duration of the entire race, sliding up and down the race pack, enduring not just changing track conditions but also irreparable damage to his car to bring his car home in 6th – earned something so much more.

Something prestigious, something illustrious, something that will be celebrated by generations to come.

Because Sebastian Vettel is Formula 1’s youngest back-to-back triple Formula 1 world champion.

In the ultimate Brazilian Grand Prix, F1 fans witnessed an epic finale that appropriately summed up the 2012 season: action-packed, unpredictable, and, for lack of a better word, absolutely crazy. In 2 hours of yesterday’s race, we have witnessed the order of the cars on the track constantly being reshuffled, as some drivers benefitted from the changing circumstances and stayed out in front, while others fell victim to the volatile conditions, and were left trailing behind.

The start of the race was heart-stopping, as everyone thought for 1 fleeting second that like SebastianVettel’s RB8, his championship hopes had crashed and spun just out of his reach, after a collision with the Williams of Bruno Senna at turn 4. Vettel, after having slid down the grid from P4 to P6 due to a slow start, had attempted an overtaking manoeuvre on Senna by taking the outside line, however, he had not expected Senna to be within such close proximity, and a swerve to the left took out Senna’s front wing and caused Vettel to spin on track. But the damage did not end there. In addition to the fact that Vettel was now the last car on track, his car had emerged with structural destruction to the area around his exhaust pipes – and Red Bull had told him that the damage was irreparable.

But there were some further up the grid who had positive starts to the race, as home hero Felipe Massa squeezed his way between race leader Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, as well as Fernando Alonso who charged through the grid and made his way to P4. The damp track conditions already proved to be a challenge as Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber spun off track in their struggle to maintain some grip on the slippery circuit.

By lap 8, Vettel, who after his incident had rejoined the pack right from the tail end, managed to climb his way back up the grid, making his way past the backmarkers and midfielders, and had already settled in a points-scoring position in P7. In lap 13, teammate Webber, who was in front of him, executed his role as a team player and swiftly let Vettel pass, earning a few words of gratitude from his team on the pit wall.

As the battle for the championship title continued between Alonso and Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India and McLaren’s Jenson Button were in a fight of their own – one for the race lead. While everyone else on track had pitted and emerged with intermediate tyres as the rain fell harder and stronger, Hulkenberg and Button were battling it out for 1st, still on slick tyres, with Lewis Hamilton quite a distance behind in 3rd. In lap 19, Nico Hulkenberg successfully took the race lead from Button, giving Force India their first race lead this season. Impressively, this fight for 1st took place an entire 45 seconds in front of the rest of the grid, almost two-thirds of the length of the circuit!

With the lack of grip posed by the slippery track surface, coupled with the car debris scattered all over the track from the various collisions, race control finally made the decision to bring out the safety car (Nico Rosberg’s tyre had been punctured by a piece of razor-sharp carbon fibre and Alonso had made complaints to his engineers of the precipitous track conditions). Button and Hulkenberg took this opportunity to make a pit stop, both exiting the pitlane in front of Hamilton, Hulkenberg in front of Button. As the lapped cars were allowed to unlap themselves, the cars fell back into order, the gaps between the cars gradually narrowing to less than 1 second. When the safety car finally re-entered the pit lane on lap 31, the cars charged along the circuit, Hulkenberg trying to establish a substantial gap between himself and Button, while Vettel, Kobayashi and Webber ran 3 abreast, which resulted in Webber “sacrificing” himself and running off the track to avoid a collision between himself, his teammate, and the Sauber.

The distance between Fernando Alonso in 4th and Vettel in 6th seemed to widen with Kobayashi in between, also with the prospect of a looming Felipe Massa behind Vettel. Massa overtook Vettel, pushing the championship contender down to 7th, and was intent on ensuring that Vettel was retained far behind Alonso to aid his teammate in keeping his championship flame alive.

In lap 49, an avoidable spin by Hulkenberg enabled Lewis Hamilton, who by then had overtaken his teammate in 2nd, to snatch the race lead. However, unfortunately for Hamilton, Hulkenberg’s attempts to reclaim the race lead were futile as a careless manoeuvre caused him to clash with the McLaren, damaging Hamilton’s suspension and front tyre. An innocent victim of this collision, Hulkenberg rained on Hamilton’s parade as Hamilton’s hopes of ending his final race with McLaren on a high were crushed in that transient second of recklessness on Hulkenberg’s part. A stark contrast to the battle between Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher earlier on, experienced world champions, who knew how and when to compromise – to be on the offensive and attack aggressively but at the same time leaving adequate space for the opponent, or to withdraw and back off once acknowledging that the attempt would be either fruitless, or end in a preventable collision.

As this battle unfolded, more off-track drama was taking place. Kimi Raikkonen had lost grip and spun off the track, and he drove down a side road in the attempt of finding a shortcut back to the main track, but instead led him to the old Interlagos track of the 1970s! Meanwhile, Vettel’s intial tyre strategy backfired as he had to re-enter the pit lane a few laps after he had switched to the softer medium tyres, as the fickle weather conditions forecasted more rain to come. A late call, Vettel entered the pits before his pit crew had gotten ready, and had to endure a few extra precious seconds as his car stood stationary, awaiting a frantic mechanic who ran out of the garage carrying an intermediate tyre.

As the end of the race drew near, Jenson Button had once again regained the race lead, with crowd favourite Massa in second, and Alonso some 5 seconds away in 3rd. Unsurprisingly, Massa showed a sudden decrease in pace as the gap between himself and teammate Alonso rapidly decreased, before Alonso swiftly overtook Massa to claim 2nd place. This meant that in order for Alonso to win the championship title, Vettel had to finish in 8th place or lower. However, by this time, Vettel was safely in P6.

In response to Paul di Resta’s crash in the penultimate lap of not just the race, but the season, the safety car was once again deployed, ending the final race of the season on a somewhat anti-climatic note. As Jenson Button crossed the finish line, I personally thought that it was a nice touch that the first winner of the season won the final race, and to me, it felt as if we had come full circle.

But Jenson Button was not the man of the moment.

As Sebastian Vettel crossed the finish line, his team crew in the pit lane jumped about in euphoria, congratulating one another on securing the driver’s title once again this year, in addition to their constructor’s championship. Vettel’s radio was filled with the sound of Christian Horner’s voice, elatedly congratulating him on another job well done. Unfortunately, due to Vettel’s broken radio (which had malfunctioned halfway through the race), we heard nothing beyond a “oh my god, boys” (or something to that extent) before we were promptly cut off.

Parking his car in Parc Ferme, Vettel was flocked by cameramen and journalists alike as he stood up in triumph, waving his signature index finger to signify that yes, once again, for the third time in a row, he was Number 1. However, a distance away, a lone man in red stood dejectedly, and even with his helmet on, the crestfallen expression was evident in his eyes, as once again, the championship title was just out of his grasp, having lost it by a millimeter margin.

Happy as I am for Vettel, I feel absolutely and truly gutted for Alonso. Both men, I feel, are deserving of the championship title, and both have earned it in very different ways. This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix is an apt example of how both men have driven throughout the season: Alonso keeps a very calm and collected head, he achieves results through consistency, and although he struggles with a mediocre car that cannot compare with the McLaren or the Red Bull, his strength and resilience pulls through in the face of adversity (cliche, I know, but it is true!). Vettel, on the other hand, may not be as consistent, and he is more prone to mistakes (as seen from his collision with Senna, or his accidents in Abu Dhabi), but when he is pushed down to the back of the grid, he fights fiercely, he is predatory as one by one he hunts down the cars in front of him and battles to the top, defying criticisms that “Vettel cannot overtake”. This championship battle has come so close, it has been fought for with such passion and intensity, that I feel the utmost respect for these two drivers who have fought not just with their heads and minds, but with their hearts and souls. This is why these 2 men are double world champions (one now a triple world champion), and legends of their era in Formula 1 racing.

But, apart from the celebration that comes with the electricity and adrenaline of a championship decider, a teary farewell was also bid to one of the iconic figures in Formula 1, an inspiration, a pioneer of the sport – 7-time world champion, Michael Schumacher. In the past, with 68 pole positions and 91 race victories, Schumacher’s comeback might not have gone as well as he had planned, but nevertheless, Schumacher has proven in one way or another, the true legend he is in Formula 1. Last year in Spa-Francorchamps, he started from the back of the grid, in 24th position, but finished the race in a stunning 5th place. This year, he regained former glory as he clinched pole position in Monaco and stood on the podium in Valencia. He has held his head up in this era of F1, where the cars have become so much more developed and sophisticated, with fresh rule changes and track advancements, competing against drivers much younger than himself. Yet, Schumacher’s amazing defence skills are still intact, and he has made himself one of the hardest drivers to overtake this season. Schumacher lives up to his legacy as a 7-time world champion, and personally, as a teenager, I am grateful that he made an F1 return, because this gave me the privilege to watch him race, right before my eyes.

We may also be bidding farewell to some other drivers, such as Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi, who have yet to secure seats for next season. Kovalainen, together with Petrov, brought Caterham to finish in 10th place in the constructor’s standings, a difficult feat especially with the threat of the Marussias. Kobayashi obtained his first podium finish this season, fittingly in Suzuka, Japan, in front of his home crowd. Hopefully, we will see these drivers again next season, because it would be such a shame to lose such talents in F1.

Also, next year, we may only see 11 teams in the pitlane and 22 cars on the starting grid, as HRT ceases operations due to financial drawbacks. Although typically a backmarker team on track with a relatively slow car, HRT has proved to be a resilient team, weathering the harsh criticisms, car development limitations as well as the sheer pace and competitiveness of the faster teams on track. If HRT does not receive financial support in the coming months, the Brazilian Grand Prix would have been the last time we see the HRT cars in action, as the drivers and pit crew pack their bags for one final time as they head home.

As F1 takes a break for the next 3 months, let us bask in the exhilaration and incredulity of the 2012 season – there have been many ups and downs, unexpected feats and accomplishments from the underdogs, and brilliant comebacks by drivers who have had to brave the harsh criticisms of cynics. It has been an adventure, a roller coaster ride with the gradual ascent to victory and the rapid plunge to unexpected retirement, 360-degree loops of uncertainty and danger, and now, we have arrived at the end, as we slow down to a gradual halt, after being swept up by a crazy whirlwind adventure, with our hearts beating at lightning speed and adrenaline still coursing through our veins.

Let us thank the drivers, teams and management for providing us with such a hectic, chaotic season, adding flavour to our lives and bringing smiles to our faces and tears to our eyes as we watch history being made, champions being crowned and legends blazing trails in their wake. Thank you for fighting, thank you for never giving up, thank you for always believing; thank you for being our inspiration, our motivation, our role models; our family, our friends, our sport.

In short, I direct this to everyone – the teams, the drivers, the officials, the various race organisers and the fans:

Thank you, for a great season.

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Brazilian Grand Prix 2012 Qualifying – A Preview of the End

Tomorrow, it all ends.

In the lead up to tomorrow’s finale in Sao Paulo, Brazil, today’s qualifying session at the Interlagos circuit proved to be a fitting dramatic preview of the upcoming action we will definitely see in tomorrow’s race.

The first qualifying session was slightly wet, as a light drizzle resulted in a slippery track surface, causing some of the drivers to struggle with grip. Initially, the backmarkers emerged from the pits as they proceeded to complete their flying laps. As Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock manoeuvred around each other, do not forget that this weekend we will not only see the battle for the WDC but also for 10th place in the constructor’s standings, between Marussia and Caterham.

As the track slowly dried, the lap times slowly dwindled as the frontrunners also left the pit lane for their flying laps. An incident involving Romain Grosjean and Pedro de la Rosa saw Grosjean scraping the barriers, causing damage to his front wing. He nearly disrupted teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s flying lap as his wrecked front wing flew across the asphalt, however Raikkonen’s experience allowed him to anticipate this potential accident and swiftly steer out of the way of the flying debris. Unfortunately for Grosjean, he failed to qualify for Q2 and will start on the grid in P18, after failing to improve his lap time after a quick front wing change in the pits. The incident between de la Rosa and Grosjean however, is currently being investigated by the stewards and action may be taken against de la Rosa for hampering Grosjean’s lap.

The second qualifying session saw the 2 Ferraris topping the time sheets for the first 7 minutes of the session, however, interestingly this was before the McLarens and Red Bulls had set any timed laps. As Hamilton completed his first timed lap in Q2, his lap time of 1:13:398 was almost an entire second faster than the lap time set by Alonso. Vettel, however, responded with a lap time of 1:13:209, using the slipstream behind Felipe Massa’s Ferrari to boost his lap time. As the front runners emerged from the pits and the lap times continued to tumble, the Ferrari’s went from the top to the bottom of the front runners, as Alonso and Massa narrowly missed the relegation zone and finished Q2 in P9 and P10 respectively, despite maximising the performance of their tyres.

The third and final qualifying session of not just the weekend, but also the entire 2012 season. Lewis Hamilton flew around the track, setting a time of 1:12:850 – the first of the 1:12s of the weekend. The McLarens proved to be quick in the final qualifying session, as both Hamilton and Button secured a front-row lockout in the first 5 minutes of the session. Unfortunately, Vettel did not have such a smooth qualifying session as under steer at the hairpin turn cost him valuable time, which saw him finish the lap in P6. Finally, as Q3 drew to a close, all cars were out on track, and the top 10 grid positions for tomorrow’s race were determined by the one lap shootout among the 10 cars on track. Mark Webber stunned all by producing a lap with a time of 1:12:581, snatching provisional pole away from Hamilton. However, Hamilton swiftly responded, and once again claimed pole position, as his teammate joins him on the front row, forming the fourth McLaren front-row lockout of the season. Vettel could not qualify higher than P4, and shares the second row of the grid with his teammate Webber, on the dirtier side of the track. Worryingly for Ferrari, championship contender Fernando Alonso only managed to qualify in a mere P8, while his teammate and home hero Felipe Massa starts on the 3rd row in P5.

And so, with today’s qualifying session, arises a number of questions: how will Webber and Massa help their respective teammates in tomorrow’s race? Will Webber give way to Vettel? Will Massa try to impede Vettel in the opening stages of the first lap, enabling Alonso to catch up and bring the title fight to the chequered flag? Or will Ferrari pull a stunt similar to the one in Austin, and cause Massa to incur a penalty that will move Alonso higher up the starting grid? With an 80% likelihood of rain showers tomorrow, and Fernando Alonso on a wet set-up, will he be able to gain the upper hand and challenge Vettel to the championship battle all the way to the finish line, to the last minutes, even seconds of the race, or will Vettel easily sweep the title from the start with Alonso safely behind him?

Of course, while this championship battle unfolds right before our eyes tomorrow, amidst the action of the title fight, we must not forget the farewells that will also be bid tomorrow – Michael Schumacher, who retires once again from Formula 1, has affirmed that this will be his last race in his F1 career, after 91 historic wins and 7 world titles. Lewis Hamilton, who bids a teary and sentimental goodbye to his team of more than 10 years, whom he refers to as his family, as his home. The future of certain drivers also seems dangerously hazy and cloudy, such as Kamui Kobayashi and Heikki Kovalainen, who currently have not secured any seats for the 2013 season, and as Kovalainen ominously claimed, his qualifying lap in Q1 may well have been his final qualifying lap with not just Caterham, but also in Formula 1.

Tomorrow’s race will be action-packed, it will be saturated with a myriad of various emotions, and it will be one that we probably will not easily forget. Tomorrow, the 2012 season ends, after 20 races, 8 months, and 8 race winners; tomorrow, only 1 man will emerge as Formula 1’s only youngest triple world champion.

The Championship Contenders – Stripped Down to Style (on PureF1.com)

My second article on PureF1.com is now up on their website!

In a nutshell, I briefly analyse and compare the driving styles of the 2 championship contenders, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, in the lead up to the final race in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Please note that this article was written from a fan’s point of view, and I am in now way a technical analyst or expert, hence my opinions may not necessarily tie in with everyone else’s, and may neither be entirely technically accurate.

Please read my article and tell me what you think, I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

You can read my article here: http://puref1.com/2012/11/22/the-championship-contenders-stripped-down-to-style/

Austin Grand Prix 2012 Qualifying – The Battle Begins

As the 2012 Formula One season draws to a close, the F1 circus has rounded up in Austin, in a race that could be a potential championship decider – a heated battle between Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

The battle for the championship title seemed to swing into Vettel’s favour, as he clinched pole position in the inaugural Austin Grand Prix, clocking a time of 1:35:657.

Qualifying was crucial – racing on virgin asphalt, a slippery track and unfamiliar territory, it was imperative that the drivers start the race in a good position, especially on the clean side of the grid, during the lead up to the first sloping, precarious hairpin turn.

During the first qualifying session, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean set the fastest lap time for the first 10 minutes of the session, however, his time was no match for Sebastian Vettel’s 1:36:558, a time that topped the time sheets for Q1. Displacing Lewis Hamilton from the top of the charts, his Q1 lap time was an entire 0.5 seconds faster than the McLaren’s. The Williams drivers also delivered outstanding performances, with Senna in P5 and Maldonado in P6. However, misfortune befell upon HRT, as a fuel problem on Narain Karthikeyan’s car added to the list of HRT’s woes, as Karthikeyan parked his car on the gravel, walking away in disappointment as his car was lifted by a crane to be brought back to the garage. The most shocking moment was, however, when Nico Rosberg very narrowly missed the relegation zone, as his lap time teetered perilously on the boundary of the top 17 Q1 lap times. Fortunately for him, he could breathe a sigh of relief as Daniel Ricciardo’s final lap failed to beat his time, and he managed to squeeze his way to a spot in Q2.

During the second qualifying session, Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton dominated the time sheets for the first 10 minutes, before Sebastian Vettel emerged from the pits to once again, set the fastest lap time in Q2 with 1:35:796. The Red Bulls dominated in Q2, with Mark Webber setting a time of 1:36:298, followed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, with a time of 1:36:549. Towards the last 3 minutes of the session, Jenson Button encountered a throttle pedal problem, forcing him to retire to the pits in P10 as the McLaren mechanics frantically tried to fix the issue, with the hope that there would be sufficient time for the Briton to go out on another flying lap and secure a spot in Q3. Unfortunately, as the clock continued to mercilessly count down, Button was knocked into the relegation zone and will start in P12 on the grid, behind both Williams cars. Once again, Nico Rosberg executed a lacklustre timed lap as he not only failed to clinch a spot in Q3, but also qualified in P17, the last of the cars who qualified in Q2. Wearing a downcast expression, the disappointment was evident as he retired into the garage, while teammate Michael Schumacher finished in P8, guaranteeing himself a place in Q3.

With the final 10 minutes of qualifying, there was a constant reshuffling of the drivers on the time sheets as lap times continuously shifted. Initially, Grosjean set the fastest time, before being overthrown from the top of the charts by Webber, then by Hamilton, then Vettel. All eyes were on the McLaren and the Red Bull, as the Briton and the German challenged each other, fighting ferociously for pole position, each driver continuously improving his lap time. However, pole position was eventually clinched by Vettel, who consistently set a series of purple sectors, setting the pole lap of 1:35:657, which Hamilton – despite coming very close with 1:35:766 – could not beat. Hamilton, with his 10th consecutive front row start, also managed to split the 2 Red Bulls, potentially impeding their quest to attain the WCC trophy this weekend.

Tomorrow, all eyes will not only be on the front of the grid, with Vettel, Hamilton and Webber, but also on Fernando Alonso, who will start 8th on the grid (after Romain Grosjean’s 5-place penalty for a gearbox change). The Spaniard definitely underperformed during qualifying, as his time saw him start at the back of the front running cars tomorrow on the starting grid, while he usually qualifies within the top 5 cars in other races. Based on past races, Vettel’s driving style is to establish, maintain and build a gap between himself and the rest of the pack once starting in pole, allowing himself to comfortably cruise to victory with 20 seconds to spare. Hence, if all goes well for Vettel and Red Bull tomorrow, the chances of Vettel winning the Austin Grand Prix is very high. This means that Alonso will have to fight tooth and nail to finish in 4th, or even attain a podium finish, in order to prevent the WDC title from falling into Vettel’s hands.

The Austin Grand Prix will not just be a battle for race victory, but also a fight to attain glory, prestige and heightened eminence, because tomorrow will decide whether a young German will claim his 3rd consecutive WDC title, or if this year-long battle between the navy blue Red Bull and the scarlet Ferrari will be prolonged even further, to the last race of the 2012 season, in an ultimate showdown in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

The Podium Problem (on Pure F1.com)

Hello everyone!

I am pleased to say that I will now be writing for PureF1.com, a website where you will be able to find anything and everything F1-related. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I will be abandoning my blog – I will continue posting on my personal blog, but you will be able to find other articles written by me (which may not be posted here) on PureF1.com.

I will be posting the link to my articles that I have written for PureF1 on this blog, so be sure to check them out too! I will file these under a separate category (“PureF1.com Articles”) which you can find under the “Categories” drop-down menu in the sidebar.

Thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement, I really appreciate it!

With that, here is the link to my first PureF1.com article, titled “The Podium Problem”: http://puref1.com/2012/11/12/the-podium-problem/