Monday, April 20, 2009

Conclusions From The Chinese GP

Sunday 19th April 2009

F1 continues to write a page-turning script...

Red Bull Diffuse Briatore's Burning Complaint
Pity poor Flavio. Scorned for the bitterness of his comments against the paracarro and his pensioner team-mate, the Renault boss was further ridiculed by events in China. In the dry, Brawn would, most probably, have been in a class of their own, but the wet rained spectacularly on Briatore's lament that the World Championship had been decided by Tuesday's FIA hearing. No matter that the RB5 is particularly effective in the wet, its non-diffuser speed in general is proof that the legality of a two-tier diffuser need not be decisive.

Brawn, by some accounts, have welcomed the diffuser furore because it has distracted attention from the other parts of their car that they believe are critical to their current performance advantage. If so, Briatore has erred from a sporting as well as reputational perspectice by taking the bait to Brawn's red herring.

Vettel Change His Status
Vettel is no longer a star of the future; he is a star of the present.

(And possibly, we suppose, a history maker having claimed the first grand prix victories of two different F1 teams in less than a year. Has any other driver recorded that feat previously?)

Brawn Think Long-Term
Team Brawn's joy and celebration at finishing on the bottom step of the podium in a race that, in normal circumstances they ought to have won with comfort to spare, can be interpreted in two ways. The first is disconcerting, the second ominous:

1st) As the reaction of a small team made good, still thinking small when they should be thinking big.

2nd) As a team thinking of the bigger picture, appreciating that World Championships are won with podiums as well as victories.

The good news for those of a Brackley allegiance is that the small print of Ross Brawn's own race summary suggested the latter. Too experienced to expect F1 to be a tale of the expected, the team leader's response to the vagaries of the Chinese weather was philosophical rather than disappointed, resulting in the sensible acceptance that third and fourth place still constituted a decent result.

This may not have been Brawn's day but neither was it a bad day and any disquiet at the failure to maximise their points potential can be balanced against the likelihood of another strong showing in Bahrain.

Back The Driver Who Is Beating His Team-Mate
Nonetheless, it is still arguable that Button's result was even better in terms of his own World title ambitions than third and foruth was for Brawn in their quest to win the Constructors' Championship. Because the evidence of China was that the battle between the two Red Bull drivers is significantly closer than that between Button and Rubens Barrichello, a situation that can only strengthen Button's position as favourite for the title - especially if Red Bull retain the right to pose Brawn's hardest questions.

Just How Fast Are Red Bull?
General consenus even in the wake of Red Bull's 1-2 was that victory could not and would not have been achieved but for the rain. But is that viewpoint exaggerated?

In the second segment of qualifying, when every car runs at their maximum with a minimum load of fuel, Webber and Vettel were out in front by a considerable margin from the two Brawns. Qualy 3, however, offered an alternative viewpoint, as did Ross Brawn's post-qualy lament that both of his cars had suffered in Qualy 2 due to low tyre temperatures. So the Guessing Game goes on...and a non-event procession in Bahrain would be something of a relief if it revealed the exact composition of F1's current pecking order.

Three races in to the 2009 season, there are plenty of pointers but very few definitive answers.

Weightings Don't Ease The Guessing Game Burden
An addendum to the previous point: One fresh expectation for the 2009 season was that the post-qualy weightings, published by the FIA, would reveal not merely who was the 'real' winner of qualy but also how each race would unfold in terms of strategy and pit stops.

Or so we thought.

While the weightings do indeed give an indication of strategy, the story told is far from complete and apparently subject to last-minute revision. Take, for instance, the tale of the two Red Bulls in China. If the post-qualy weightings were prescient, then the 646.5kg Webber would pit after the 644kg Vettel. Instead, Webber stopped before Vettel.

And then there's the mystery of how Lewis Hamilton's McLaren could carry the KERS device, which weighs between 30 and 50 kgs, and still run five laps longer than the non-KERS-carrying Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen when their post-qualy weighting revealed a discrepancy of just 5.5kgs. Is the McLaren an exceptionally light with a massive fuel tank? Is the Ferrari a relatively heavy car with a relatively small fuel tank? Is the KERS device removed from the weightings procedure? If so, why? It's a puzzle.

If It Aint Broke...
It made for a good headline but the claim that Adrian Newey suddenly cancelled his flight to Shanghai on Tuesday in the wake of the FIA rulng to return to the Red Bull factory to begin a redesign of the RB5 should be treated with considerable sceptisim. Are we really to believe that Newey's drawing board wasn't already swamped with fresh designs that would enable the team to install a twin-diffuser?

That Red Bull had more reason than any other team to hope that the diffusers would be ruled illegal is not in dispute. In that alternative F1 world, Red Bull would be out in front by a second a lap and they wouldn't face the aggro and complication of having to redo their rear wing. Such is the particular difficulty of finding room for a twin diffuser on the RB5 that the team were implying until a couple of weeks ago that they would carry on with a single unit. Given their position and the reported complexity of the task, the change now being considered represents a significant risk. Remember, Brawn believe that their diffuser design is just one of a number of reasons why they are out in front. And as Red Bull prepare to change a number of parts on their RB5 in order to install a second diffuser, they risk losing the magic ingredient that made them winners in China. If it aint broke...

Nelson Makes A Fool Of His Boss
It goes without saying that Nelson Piquet's seat at Renault is in jeopardy. It has been since this time last year. What makes the statement worth a repeat is the claim of Flavio Briatore on Friday that "The drivers in our teams have been and are World Champions". Piquet's performance in Shanghai suggested that the only World Championship he could ever win would be in figure skating.

Pete Gill

Source : Planet F1

No comments: