Austria, F1, Saturday

Ps & Qs – Saturday in Spielberg

Saturday saw F1 fans and experts alike scratching their heads over a slew of penalties handed to drivers, and not for the first time this season. Thanks to the poor reliability of the Renault and Honda power units, several drivers have fallen prey to grid drops. While their validity as an appropriate punishment is debatable, the actual application of the penalties themselves have left many people confused.

The first differentiator is application of penalties in case of an incident (like Verstappen for Monaco) and car component changes (gearbox and power unit parts). In case of an incident penalty of grid drops, a driver must take the punishment only in the form of grid drops, regardless of how many races it may require.

Car component change penalties, however, are a different kettle of fish. On the surface it seems fairly clear – use more than mandated and a driver gets a grid drop. Unfortunately, this year it has been complicated by the FIA in order to minimize drivers being affected for several races.

From Article 28.4 of the 2015 F1 Sporting Regulations, for power unit component types (ICE, TC, MGU-H, MGU-K, ES, CE) that exceed the 4 unit/year limit, a grid drop penalty gets applied. So a 5th unit (and upward) of a single type will cost a 10 place grid drop. This however gets complicated by a 5th unit of a second (additional) type, which incurs only a 5 place grid drop. Then there’s out of cycle gearbox changes, which costs drivers a 5 place grid drop.

Let’s look at Jenson Button: He took on a 5th unit of the TC and MGU-H each in Canada. Thus he incurred a 10 place grid drop for the TC and a 5 place grid drop for using a second 5th component i.e. the MGU-H. Now in Austria, he took on a 5th ICE and MGU-K, each costing him a 5 place grid drop. He also took on a 6th TC, which cost him a 10 place grid drop, and an additional 6th MGU-H which, again, costs him only a 5 place grid drop. So a 5+5+10+5 sees him suffer a 25 place grid drop.

Now obviously with a field of 20 drivers, even a 25 place grid drop from pole looks odd. And so the FIA decided to use time penalties as a substitute for component related penalties that go beyond the number of occupied grid slots. Article 16.3 of the Sporting Regulations details this as well:

1 to 5 grid places untaken A 5 second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 5 seconds and then rejoin the race.
6 to 10 grid places untaken A 10 second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 10 seconds and then rejoin the race.
11 to 20 grid places untaken A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without stopping.
More than 20 grid places untaken A 10 second stop-and-go time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least 10 seconds and then re-join the race.

So poor Button (and team mate Alonso) who have will have more than 20 grid places untaken in their penalty will both serve 10 second stop-go penalties within 3 laps of the race start.

Now on to qualifying…

Grid for the Austrian GP (Penalties Accounted)

Qualifying surprised for a while before order was restored and the Mercedes team delivered a Hamilton-Rosberg 1-2. Both set their best on their first runs in Q3 before some synchronized spinning saw them ruining their final runs. This was tougher on Rosberg as the German had been 2 tenths up on his team mate’s time before pushing too hard into T8-9. Hamilton recovered some form, aided by his team’s suggestions of differential tweaks in the 2nd sector of the track.

Behind them Ferrari took the best of the rest with Vettel, who has been on strong form the whole weekend, minus a few mechanical niggles. Team mate Raikkonen wasn’t as lucky as miscommunication with the team resulted in the Finn being booted out in Q1. It’s looking harder for the Finn to keep up with his team mate, largely due to his awful qualifying performances.

At Williams, Massa outdid his much vaunted team mate to take P4, lapping 0.127s faster than Bottas to relegate the Finn to P6. The latter was unfortunate in starting his lap as Hamilton’s spin brought out the yellow flags. With upgrades Williams have this weekend, and their race pace, it is highly likely they could challenge Ferrari’s claim to P3 on Sunday.

Hulkenberg took a shock P5 for the Force India narrowly beating out Bottas by 0.41s. There’s something to be said for the Mercedes engines: with the Force India cars now running the same spec as the others, the gap between P5-6  was only 0.127s. Perez wasn’t one of those who fully utilized the engine (or the car) and will start 8 place behind his team mate.

Verstappen placed his car in P7 after mastering the changing conditions to usurp his team mate. The Dutch driver has been running a higher downforce car all weekend, while Sainz was forced to move from a low to high downforce setup thanks to the rain in Q3, a likely reason for his P12 starting slot.

Nasr had a strong performance qualifying only 0.019s slower than Kvyat and putting his car in P8 for the race while Ericsson could do no better than P11 starting spot. It was a surprisingly slim gap behind Massa’s Williams, with the bottom 6 being covered by 0.52s. A similarly close gap covered P11-15 with lap times covered by 0.36s.

Grosjean sat out Q3 with a hydraulics issue and will start P9, while team mate Maldonado lines up behind him in P10. Red Bull Racing continued their struggle at their home track with Kvyat and Ricciardo taking 10 place grid penalties to start P15 and P18, with the Australian due a time penalty in the race. They will be joined by the Mclaren drivers who will line up last after Alonso made it into Q2 with a new aero upgrade on the car. The Manors will have their best grid slots of the season, with Merhi in P16 and Stevens in P17.

(The penalties were applied in the order they were awarded to the drivers. Ricciardo and Alonso received their penalties on June 19, Kvyat, Button and Alonso – for a second time – on June 20)

Austria, F1, Friday, Uncategorized

Friday at the Red Bull Ring

What looked like a straight forward free practice day seems anything but…

Race Simulation Stints

The leader board in FP2 could lead us to believe that race day will bring about a fight between the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers. The race simulation lap times would have us believe otherwise:

Race Simulation Leaderboard

Race Simulation Leader Board

It might easy to think that Ferrari’s Vettel would be top dog, but in reality he didn’t string together enough laps for a true race simulation stint. The biggest surprise is how close Williams are to the pace of Ferrari and their pace relative to the Mercedes cars. Mercedes may have been running a detuned engine as they often opt to on Fridays and Saturdays, but it appears the top 6 have a good fight to see who makes the podium. The Lotus team might just end up delivering on their promise to make life difficult and improve on their double points finish in Canada

Behind the top 6, the upgrades to Force India appears to have produced results in the hands of Hulkenberg, while the Toro Rosso cars continue to outshine the Red Bull Racing cars. Despite a lack of updates, Sauber still look like they could battle for a top 10 finish. Gremlins affecting the McLaren and Manor car meant that only Will Stevens did a proper representative race stint.

Car Upgrades

Friday’s running also gave a glimpse of the updates several teams brought to Austria.

The Williams team brought a substantial upgrade consisting of

  • An updated rear wing with a dip in middle of the plane
  • A simpler ‘monkey seat’ winglet
  • A slotted barge board to improve airflow to the sidepods
  • A revised floor of the car
  • A new diffuser

Red Bull:
Red Bull brought a few upgrades in hope of a good show at their home race

  • A front wing turning vane/flap
  • Keeping with Canada, a traditional front axle instead of the blown axle used by Mclaren and Ferrari

Mclaren have brought a significant revision to the bodywork of the car, which is only being tested by Alonso this weekend as there isn’t a sufficient number of parts for Button as well. The most prominent of these changes is the new short stub-nosed front wing, similar to the ones on the Red Bull and Williams cars.

Lotus have brought a dipped rear wing, similar to the new one at Williams

Force India:
The biggest update for Force India is the new Mercedes engine that was used by Lotus and Mercedes in Canada. Other revisions include:

  • Front wing
  • Floor
  • Sidepods


According to Pirelli, tyre wear and degradation was low during both FP sessions, and is set to decrease for the rest of the weekend as more rubber is laid down and the cars slide less. The concern is a risk of rain throughout the rest of the weekend – particularly for tomorrow’s qualifying session – that could have a profound effect on race strategy, with the only up to data from the circuit existing from last year, when Austria returned to the championship.

FP1 Moments

  • Alonso lost power out of T8 around 7 minutes into the FP1. On screen graphics showed Alonso has taken 3 new 5th PU elements. That’s a 20 place penalty, most likely resulting in an in-race drive through. He was troubled by an electrical harness connection issue in FP1, and subsequently software issues with the gearbox.
  • Half an hour into FP1, Vettel’s car stuck when upshifted into 4th gear out of T1 and lost drive. Over team radio, the German said his car didn’t sound healthy and switched the engine off, remarking something didn’t sound right with the gearbox. A concern, given Vettel took on a new gearbox in Canada. The team later confirmed it was an issue related to the transmission to the back of the car, which was analysed and fixed.
  • A most amusing incident in the pits when Maurizio Arrivabene sauntered across the pit lane without looking and narrowly avoided being hit by the released car of Massa thanks to the Brazilian’s quick reflexes.
  • Several drivers including Hamilton, Verstappen, Kvyat complained of oversteer in medium to high speed corners, particularly struggling with T8.
FP1 Lap Times

FP1 Lap Times

(The fastest time in FP1 in 2014 was 1:11.295s)

FP2 Moments

  • Alonso an upgraded nose (short nose, passed in a recent crash test). Similar to Red Bull and Williams’ nose). Alonso had full bodywork upgrade running in FP2. In FP2, Mclaren stopped Alonso as a precaution after Button had a problem with an ignition plug.
  • Williams’ updates didn’t seem to be working as expected, down in P14 and P15. but their race simulation told a different take
  • Ferrari faced some issues getting their race simulation done as Raikkonen flatspotted the tyres he was meant to run his simulation on while Vettel ran a limited session after an another gearbox related issue in FP2. The team later informed Vettel it was a loss of gearbox oil and was found to be unrelated to the transmission issue suffered in FP1.
  • Several cars found themselves driving across the gravel as Sainz, Merhi and Maldonado had to make their escape down the circuit’s access roads.
FP2 Lap Times

FP2 Lap Times

(The fastest time in FP2 in 2014 was 1:09.542s)

Austria, F1, Preview

Anticipating the Austrian Grand Prix

Last year’s race was one to remember for Valteri Bottas – he scored his first podium in F1 after securing his first ever front row start and leading a race for the first time. Also a memorable race for Williams as they held a 1-2 in qualifying. Race winner Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes made the most of a 2-stop strategy, starting on supersofts, changing to the soft on lap 11, then to the soft again on lap 40. His strategy allowed him to win even though he started from third on the grid. Most drivers did a two-stopper last year, although three managed a one-stop ((Courtesy Pirelli).

The top speed in the race was set by Felipe Massa: 327.5 kph, while the fastest lap of the race was surprisingly set by Sergio Pérez – a time of 1:12.142 at an average speed of 215.874 kph.

2014 Austrian Grand Prix Race Speed Trap

2014 Austrian Grand Prix Race Speed Trap

Of the eight previous races held on the shortened Spielberg track, the pole man has won just three times. The race was particularly poor for the Red Bull sponsored cars at their home track: the three race retirements were Kvyat & Vergne for Toro Rosso and Vettel for Red Bull. A hard race for the Lotus cars as well, struggling with braking from a lack of prior running data at the Austrian track.

As in 2014, the track has 2 DRS zones, one after T2 (back straight) and the other after T9 (main straight).

So what can we expect from 2015?

• The only DNFs from Canada were Alonso, Button, and Merhi. Expect McLaren drivers to switch to new gear boxes in Austria, to make use of the free change in case of DNF.
• Merhi, Raikkonen, and Stevens have come to the end of a 6 race cycle on 1 gearbox and are expected to take on new gearboxes.
• Bottas has not taken a new gearbox since Australia, even though he is technically on a 7th race on his first (owing to not running in Australia) and is also expected to take on a new gearbox
• The Red Bull drivers are likely to take on new ICEs at Austria to beat suffering at Silverstone – this will cause them to incur, at minimum, a 10 place penalty, possible more if other components are changed
• None of the drivers are carrying a penalty over from Canada to Austria
• Sergio Perez is expected to take on at least a new ICE, TC, MGU-H and MGU-K after having run on only one set since Australia
• Alonso has stated he will have (at least) an ICE change in Austria and will likely incur a grid penalty translating into an in-race time penalty.


In terms of updates, Force India have brought several new parts (front wing, floor, sidepods) for Austria and both Hunkenberg and Perez are expecting to see a vast improvement in their performance for the weekend.

Mclaren have brought an aerodynamic upgrade, comprising of a shortened nose, new floor and revised wings, to Austria but the rapid pace of development has meant that only Alonso will get to try it. In effect, this provides a good opportunity for Mclaren to do a side-by-side comparison, with Button running the old spec aero package.

Williams have brought some new bits as well, which includes a new rear wing. Given Austria was Williams’ strongest race in 2014, they will be hoping to repeat their 3-4 from last year.

Ideally, each PU component needs to run for 5 races each to last the entire season without penalties.
Analysis shows that the Renault and Honda ICEs are being replaced after a similar race distance.
Below is the number of races each unit runs before being changed.ICE

If the above trend holds good,
• Ferrari will exceed their 4 units limit and start on a 5th at Singapore
• Red Bull Racing will exceed their 4 units limit and are expected to take on a 5th at by Silverstone
• Toro Rosso have already exceeded the limit with Verstappen and Sainz will take a 5th ICE by Silverstone
• Honda will also most likely take their first ICE penalties at Silverstone (Update: Alonso taking new ICE in Austria)
• The Mercedes powered teams are not likely to incur ICE penalties before the end of the season

Current power unit component status:PU

Teams tend to run high downforce in Austria, in order to generate as much aerodynamic grip as possible. However, since many of the corners are quite slow the majority of the grip is still mechanical grip coming directly from the tyres.

(Courtesy Pirelli):
Compounds in use for Austrian GP:tyre

Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 0.7 – 0.9 seconds per lap
Expected # of pitstops: 1-2

(Via FIA)
Turn 8 saw many cars exceeding track limits last year. Artificial grass has been laid behind the curb on the exit of T8.
In addition, the kerbs on the exits of T2,3,5,6,7,8,9 have been extended by use of flat sections of concrete.
Gravel on the exit of turn 5 now extends as far as the artificial grass.

(Courtesy Pirelli): The surface at the Red Bull Ring is low grip and low abrasion, with the track getting progressively quicker as the weekend goes on. Even though the asphalt is new, the track is quite bumpy in places, which makes it difficult to find consistent grip.
Turns 5 and 6 put considerable stress on the tyres on the right-hand side of the car.

The Red Bull Ring also has the shortest lap time of the circuits on the 2015 calendar, despite having only the 3rd shortest track length.

The 2014 GP was held in hot and sunny weather. The 2015 race is expected to have lower temps, with impact on tyre choice and strategy in the race
FP1: Thunderstorms (14-15 C)
FP2: Cloudy, possible thunderstorm (16-18 C)
FP3: Partly cloudy (13-14 C)
Qualifying: Thunderstorms (14-15 C)
Race: Mostly Sunny (18 C)
Rain during FP will hinder teams in gathering dry weather running data for the race proper.


When Ayrton first drove for Williams

I took this shot of Frank Williams and Ayrton Senna shortly before Ayrton’s first F1 drive – his Williams FWO8C test at Donington in July, 1983.  There was no thought of an official “media announcement” or anything like that – both of them actually needed quite a lot of persuasion to pose by the race truck!  Note Ayrton’s Porsche t-shirt06-15-2013_24

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Pirelli test secrecy – James Bond… or Johnny English?

Why have Pirelli done a U-turn on their previous meticulousness? In their hope of being re-contracted for 2014 and shedding the bad publicity they’ve had in 2013, perhaps they’ve gone a step (or two, if Ferrari broke rules as well) too far?

Adam Cooper's F1 Blog

In Friday’s Pirelli teleconference Paul Hembery did his best to dismiss suggestions that the Barcelona Mercedes test was a “secret,” notwithstanding the fact that neither the other competitors nor the FIA were informed about it.

The story only emerged after a third party supplier, someone seemingly not bound by the conspiracy of silence woven by Pirelli and Mercedes, mentioned it to the governing body.

Pirelli may blame the media for emphasising it, but the level of secrecy involved is an issue that the FIA will be looking at as it examines the Ferrari and Mercedes tests, and considers whether the contracted tyre company has fulfilled its obligation to maintain sporting equity.

“Some people have described the test as secret,” said Hembery on Friday. “Well, I don’t think we would have won any James Bond prizes, because we booked the circuit in our name, two days after an F1 race.


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Contract Conundrums

The 2012 driver merry-go-round hasn’t been the most exciting of recent times. Unlike past seasons, most front running teams sorted out their driver line-ups for next year early in 2011. Notable exceptions were Mark Webber & Jenson Button who signed contract extensions towards the end of the year, with Red Bull & McLaren respectively. Button’s contract duration remained a mystery till McLaren bigwig Martin Whitmarsh revealed it to be a  3-year deal at the Indian GP.

Nico Rosberg then proceeded to ink a contract with Mercedes GP for 2013 and beyond. This left only the mid-field teams to sort out their seats for 2012

Which all seems good and fine. But why have Rosberg & Button hitched their long term fortunes to Mercedes & Mclaren? This seemed a bit strange considering some plum seats would be up for grabs come the end of 2012. The current F1 hotcakes, Red Bull, have Webber out of contract at the end of next year. Ferrari may be looking to off load Felipe Massa, who’s contract ends next year. Another potential golden opportunity could be available at Mercedes, if Michael Schumacher doesn’t choose to continue. Their recent hoarding of top engineers indicates how serious the team is about their F1 ambitions.

Looking at Rosberg, it seems like he made a choice before one was made for him. While he has been highly rated for his abilities, he has not won a race since his debut in 2006 (106 race starts) and has only reached the podium 5 times in as many years. It is obviously appealing to Mercedes to have 2 top Germans in the team, but there were other German drivers available. Both Adrian Sutil & Nico Hulkenberg are looking for drives. While it’s easy to say that Mercedes preferred continuity, Rosberg himself admitted at Abu Dhabi on Friday that the contract negotiations had taken longer than expected. As has become the norm this year, Mercedes abstained from revealing the length of Rosberg’s contract which could indicate that there are clauses allowing Rosberg to leave if the team is not sufficiently competitive.

Coming to Button, Mclaren initially never mentioned his contract length either. So could his contract have performance opt out clauses as well? It is a less cut and dry in Button’s case as he has settled well at McLaren, better than most expected when he joined. There is a certain comfort for him at Mclaren (i.e. British driver in a British team) and he has trounced his team mate this year. But McLaren tend to stretch the limits  when it comes to sponsor commitments & promotion days, which has taken a toll on both drivers. It would have been interesting to see Button staying at Mclaren for 2012 and then move to Ferrari or Red Bull. He has already proven himself against one world champion, perhaps he could have proven himself against Alonso at Ferrari or Vettel at Red Bull.