Curly’s Corner: A Nerd’s Eye on Formula 1 – Bahrain & Chinese Grands Prix

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Max can win the championship.  But, he has to stop throwing away solid finishes. He has had the pace to podium twice and win once, and if he did (assuming he finished 3rd in Australia and Bahrain, and won in China), he’d be leading the championship right now.  The kid has speed; he just needs a little more patience. Source

China’s unique nature really helped Red Bull here.  They were able to stretch their ultrasoft tires within five laps of Mercedes and Ferrari on the softs.  Allegedly, the ultras were only good for as much as five laps, yet RBR ran them nearly three times longer!  Have RBR unlocked the secret to tire wear? Of course not. Adrian Newey’s Red Bull cars are traditionally terrible on tires, especially in the rear.  The RB14 (like many of its predecessors) places a lot of downforce on the front end, but much less on the rear. This tends to chew up the rear tires. But, a track like Shanghai is front limited due to the very long corners. So for a team like RBR, this evens out tire wear and can let them run longer on the softer tires, allowing them to attempt a risky one-stop strategy like they did in China. Fortunately, the timing of the Safety Car negated the need for that strategy.  

 

And, hats off to Red Bull for pulling off the double team stop , not just on Lap 18, but also during the Safety Car on Lap 31.  That was quite a bold move (pitting both cars on the same lap moments after each other), and quite high risk. If anything had happened during Verstappen’s stop, it would have ruined Ricciardo’s race as well.  But high risk is what we fans want to see in motorsports- that’s what makes motorsports exciting after all! So hats off to Red Bull for rolling the dice there. That gamble sure paid off.

 

Hamilton In A Funk & Mercedes Continuing To Slip

When Lewis Hamilton is hot, he is untouchable. But if he isn’t, Hamilton can’t get the best out of the car.  Hamilton is not hot right now. Mercedes even said as much this weekend saying Hamilton was “…not in the best place” in China. He really wasn’t ‘in the best place’ in Bahrain either. Well Lewis, it’s three races into the championship, clearly your teammate and rivals are in just fine places, so get with the program!  What it’s going to take to get Hamilton’s head back in the game is something only he can answer. Once again, Mercedes doesn’t seem to have the hottest car on the grid and while Mercedes could very well take the lead again as they continue to develop it, but Ferrari is looking to be an even tougher competitor than last year, plus there is the looming threat of Red Bull Racing.  If Hamilton doesn’t get his shit together soon, he’s going to be dealing with Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Vettel all trying, and succeeding, to beat him on any given weekend. It’s one thing to cover a single rival, but three at once is a bit tougher. Maybe it would help if Hamilton remembered his times at McLaren or his early years with Mercedes when he wasn’t in the best car on the grid, but could still win.  

 

When Does the Iceman Get Hot?

Kimi Raikkonen must get a hell of a salary to put up with the crap Ferrari gives him.  Keep in mind that Ferrari’s last driver’s champion was Kimi, back in 2007. So why on God’s green earth is he being treated as an obvious Number 2?  Kimi has been used as air support for Vettel and, to be honest, Kimi hasn’t shown the form in the last few years to really warrant equal treatment in Ferrari. This has helped Vettel to cement a strong Number 1 position, and this year Ferrari is exploiting that relationship to its fullest. In Hungary in 2017, Raikkonen was used as a blocker to allow Vettel the win when a problem with his steering prevented his wheel from being centered in the car.  In 2018, this has been even more apparent: in Australia, Kimi was pitted very early to force Mercedes to pit Hamilton and prevent an undercut (allowing Vettel to stay out longer, luckily long enough to grab a lucky VSC). Kimi claims he missed out on pole in Bahrain because Ferrari did not give him enough of a gap to Vettel and he could not get his tires ready for the flying lap.  

 

In China, the disparity was on full display. First, Vettel cut clear down on his teammate to prevent Kimi from getting the inside line.  Legal, yes, but also very unsportsmanlike to your own teammate, and the result was Kimi lost so much momentum he dropped from 2nd to 4th.  Then, Ferrari intentionally left Kimi out to dry when Vettel’s pit stop didn’t go as planned and he lost 2nd to Bottas. And, the real kicker was when the Safety Car came out on Lap 30, Ferrari intentionally left Kimi out even though there was plenty of time to pit him and hedge their bets on grip being an advantage over track position (he was in 6th at the time with a large gap to Nico Hulkenberg in 7th, so he had nothing to lose by pitting).  But if Ferrari had given Kimi fresh tires, it would have lead to a rather interesting radio call: “Sebastian, Kimi is faster than you, do you understand?.”

 

Bold claim ahead: If Ferrari hadn’t actively screwed Raikkonen, he would have won the race.  Pitting him on a normal schedule (instead of using him to slow Bottas) and pitting him again at the Safety Car would have given him the mix of track position and pace he needed to win.  That would have come at the cost of Vettel’s championship though. Source

If you know Ferrari and their history, you know this was never going to happen.  But. Ferrari needs to be careful about how they manage their Finnish driver. Kimi has finally found that missing piece that’s been absent from F1 the last few years and is driving like the Kimi of the early 2000s again.  He has been as fast if not faster than Vettel throughout the first three races of 2018 and has been intentionally held back by his own team for the benefit of Vettel. At some point, the Iceman isn’t going to keep putting up with it.  Why should he put in 100% if the team is just going to undercut him? Why should he help Vettel if Ferrari is never going to let him return the favor? If Ferrari turns off their Number 2 by mistreating him, it’s going to be impossible to fend off Red Bull and Mercedes.  We will be in for a repeat of 2017’s Ferrari implosion if Kimi doesn’t get some recognition and support.

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