Friday, September 28, 2012

Silly Season ends? No wait..

Well , it has finally been confirmed Lewis Hamilton is off to Mercedes AMG Petronas replacing Michael Schumacher. The last Formula One Super Star who had made a big switch was Fernando Alonso from Renault to Ferrari , but back then the move was hardly a surprise and was famously known as the "worst kept secret in Formula One".

This move however although antecedent with many rumours hinting it , does seem surprising even after its official confirmation. It questions the main motive of Hamilton leaving McLaren , a team who have given him the fastest car of the pack circa Hockenheim and in terms of pure performance has been beaten by only the Adrain Newey designed Red Bull Racing in the last two years.

Some say he switched as a result of the change in the engine regulations for 2014 , but this doesn't seem logical. Mercedes supply their engines to Mclaren and surely no matter what I do not not think that 2014 will be an engine dominated season considering that aerodynamics still play such a vital role in the sport.

Caterham can be seen as a good example of this, having changed from Cosworth to Renualt this year , they still are quite weak to challenge Torro Rosso and are currently even behind Marussia in the championship.

For sure engines will play some part in the outcome of the championship but this is definitely no big decision such as Senna leaving McLaren in 93 as a result of the inferior Peugeot engines and going to the much powerful Renault powered Williams. The engines remain the same for him and I would anyday bet on McLaren having a stronger Aero-package for 2014 since the aerodynamic regulations as of now are expected to remain as it is.

And even if this was the case and that he predicts as such;  why move in 2013 and not 2014 ?

With the current pace of Mercedes abysmal and them effectively going backwards in terms of development despite bringing a new Coanda-effect exhaust at the last Grand Prix in Singapore. With no major rule change going in the next season except for the FIA effectively nullifying any advantage Mercedes had and banning the Double DRS system , 2013 predictably will be another disappointing year for Mercedes.

In stark contrast you have McLaren who arrived in Australia with the fastest car of the lot , and currently are  the performance benchmark. Without any major change in regulations , Formula One tends to have the same teams head the level of performance relative to the previous year , since most cars are an evolution of the its predecessor. Ever since 2010, its been a three way battle between Red Bull , McLaren and Ferrari. A championship for Lewis this season albeit possible is hard to achieve , however 2013 would have definitely seen Lewis Hamilton as World Champion had he stayed on in McLaren.

Despite what everyone was hinting at ,Mercedes was quick to dismiss that Nico Rosberg will act as the number two driver to Hamilton, assuring him of equal status. Rosberg might struggle at times to keep pace especially in qualifying but in no way will be a Felipe Massa to Fernando Alonso. Neither will any development favor the British driver , considering his team-mate is after all racing for Deutschland in a Silver Arrows ! Hence any indications of him being the team leader for Mercedes AMG Petronas are all KAPUT.

Great expectations are placed on Hamilton with critics forecasting analogies such as Hamilton reinvigorating Mercedes the same way Schumacher did at Ferrari and what Fernando Alonso is currently doing. I doubt it, his leadership and development skills have been in question in his 6 years at McLaren but despite what may come Hamilton will be quick but will Mercedes be ?

Hamilton's vacant seat has been taken by Sergio Perez , at just 22 years of age this is the perfect opportunity for him to develop into a multi-race winner and who knows fight for the championship. Another driver who will be fighting at the front come 2013.

Analogies between him and Kimi Raikkonen can be drawn up with both moving from Sauber to McLaren and both being relatively young whilst doing so. At McLaren, Perez has Button to partner , not such a threat as compared to Fernando Alonso had he stayed on and ultimately made his move from the Ferrari Driver Academy to a race seat at Maranello.  The "giant killer" of the current season has had heaps of praises for his many great drives this season and I expect him to be strong and probably even win before Button does next season.

A Ferrari Academy driver being stolen by the "garagistes" McLaren surely would have disgruntled the Tifosi but would Ferrari really have given Perez away with such ease ? Or was he simply not in their agenda ; telling signs of a Vettel to Ferrari move in 2014 ? With the silly season at its fever pitch , its anyone's guess.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Post Race Analysis: 2012 Belgium Grand Prix

Four weeks of no Formula One ended finally with a comeback to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. A tough start to the weekend with a Belgian monsoon affecting running on both Friday practice sessions meant  a lot to be done on regarding setup and tyre strategies for qualifying ,albeit weather permitting. Saturday saw bright sunshine which continued throughout qualifying and the race on Sunday ; an anomaly at Spa-Francorchamps.

Jenson Button drove a very well "balanced" lap to put himself by a good margin on pole with Sebastian Vettel shockingly missing out from Q3, he would require 2 fingers to signal his grid position. Kamui Kobayashi drove superbly to put his Sauber on the front row of the grid as well with Pastor Maldonado delivering another surprising performance. Enthralling pace by Button ,especially considering he out-qualified Hamilton by 8 tenths ! Lewis has never been outpaced by any team-mate by such a margin in his Formula One career. He was absolutely devastated. 

He later ever so publicly rued this on having a different rear wing as compared to Jenson for the session . To add more insult , he later tweeted the team's telemetry analysis highlighting how he lost time on the straights. A little immature in my opinion.   The telemetry had details such as ride height , speed carried through corners etc . Essentially a report card of  both car's performance which in the hands of rival teams can effectively reveal their "Formula" of speed. Quite brash and immature in my opinion .

Race day on Sunday saw quite a few drivers moving back in the grid due to gearbox penalties received. As four weeks of utter boredom and distraught for Formula One fans finally ended , the 5 red lights illuminated and we were set for an action packed Belgian Grand Prix. 

And CRASH ! 

Romain Grosjean got it ever so wrong , weaving right in order to get the inside line of La Source squeezing Hamilton twice . Lewis had no where to go , the Lotus and McLaren collided with each other resulting in an absolute carnage of carbon fiber . Fernando Alonso and Pastor Maldonado meanwhile had both made good starts and were riling up an attack on the fore-runners down the Kemmel Straight but alas he picked up in the chaos and came ever so close to being decapitated. Essentially a sitting duck in the crash , it almost seemed jinxed that he would not equal Michael Schumacher's record of 24 races in the points. Really gutted for him and all his fans. The aftermath of the crash saw Lewis Hamilton absolutely livid with Grosjean and for 

As Jenson Button stormed at the front to build a conformable lead at the front , leaving a trial of a plethora of overtaking moves down the field The biggest winner after the first couple of laps was Mr. 300 Grand Prix's , although his pace eventually died down during the course of the race. Mercedes are a slow car , there is no doubting that . There was promise in the early part of the season with their Double DRS which was supposed to bear fruit in low downforce circuits such as Spa but to no avail . They are miles off the pace and have no excuse for such abysmal performances. 

The Driver of the day would a tough decision between Sebastian Vettel who started 11th and the race winner Jenson Button . Vettel was superb with his overtaking moves round the outside of the bus stop chicane , I suppose its one of those corners where there is a lot of grip on the outside off the traditional racing line , similar to the outside of Turn 1 at Suzuka. Vettel was Alonso-esque in maximizing the potential points after Alonso's failure . He benefited with a one-stop strategy and never put a foot wrong in the race. 

The King of Spa had a very disappointing race, never getting his tyres on. He was matching Vettel in his final stint even tough he was on considerable fresher tyres.

Interesting race for the Championship however as Fernando's lead has been cut down to 24 points . Vettel is now the straight contender in the fight . Even though McLaren has made it back to back victories , both their drivers have never capitalized as a whole when their car's performance has a par above the rest. This is something which they really need to do in order to overthrow Red Bull in the Constructor's Championship ; its a straight fight between them with Lotus and Ferrari fighting for the 3rd and 4th positions.

Looking forward in a week's time for the home of Ferrari and Italian motorsport , Monza baby !

The championship so far

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Flying "Safety" Lap of Spa-Francorchamps

A video of F1 Medical Delegate Gary Hartstein at Spa-Francorchamps , clearly the G forces were getting to him. The sound of that "industrial" engine in the Mercedes SLS AMG hurtling through the Ardennes is just a symphony. Never really realised how steep the entry to Rivage was and how long Pouhon actually is.

Telemetry Analysis of Lewis Hamilton

I must admit as an Formula One fan , the science and hard data of the sport entices me as much the noise , beauty and blistering speed. The harmony between the science and the passion is what makes me love it more anything else. To see numbers coming to life on the track as pure speed takes my breath away.

All credit to McLaren to enunciate this in no better way than to share some good hard data on Spa, Silverstone and Monaco of no other than Lewis Hamilton.

What is telemetry?

Telemetry is basically the system by which engineers in the garage or control center of a team can monitor the various elements of the car during a race or test session. Sensors on the car are used to detect Speed, G -forces , Engine RPM , Usage of the brakes and throttle , Gear Shifts , Steering input , temperature gauges , suspension and wheel displacement etc.

All these elements are usually plotted on a graph against the lap-time which makes it easy to read for the team and the drivers. The software used for creating this graphical analysis is Advanced Telemetry Linked Acquisition System or ATLAS . Due to all teams using the FIA mandated McLaren Engine Control unit as a means to standardize data gathering and to avoid teams masking the use of banned devices such as traction control and two way telemetry(where the changes on the car can be made while it is racing on the track) , the use of ATLAS has been standardized as well.

Telemetry between team-mates is compared at times ; especially where a slower driver is losing time. It also plays a vital role in the setup of the car , hence gaining such data from any team is a real treat. The systems working on the car for the purpose of telemetry have become so advanced that a team can predict a lap time based on it. The FIA can adjure telemetry on any driver in the case of a collision or accident to rule out driver error. Telemetry data was used to implicate Renault in the Crash-Gate saga of 2008 at the Singapore Grand Prix.

The graph usually has time increasing as a component on the X axis. The data shared by McLaren has the following traces which increase with the Y - axis :

Purple (Top)
Shows us the Engine RPM.

Red (Stepped)
The stepped binary graph-like trace show the gear the car is travelling in. A down step means a downshift , an up-step means an upshift. Formula One cars have a 7 speed gearbox .
Its interesting to note the small fluctuations which are caused by the gearshifts when the RPM drops ever so slightly.
Traces the steering input of the driver , this is probably the most interesting bit if we have to compare driving styles between drivers . Driver coaches usually use this to discuss unwanted spikes and corrections to improve a drivers skill behind the wheel. McLaren have declared the data belongs to Lewis. It'll be interesting to notice the subtle corrections and habits in his driving style.
Up = Right. Down = Left.

Throttle Input of the driver is measure here. Full throttle is achieved when the trace reaches the uppermost flat line . This is another key aspect of deciphering a driver's driving style.

Car Speed, very interesting to note the mid-corner speed . This would have been useful to compare different styles as well since some drivers who tend to be on the smoother side usually carry lesser speed into the corner and focus on a better exit speed while others focus on a higher mid-corner speed losing a bit on the exit.

The bottom purple line indicates the brake input.

Eau Rouge(Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps) 

The Racing Line picked up by the telemetry through Eau Rouge.
The Purple line indicates the position of the car and the black lines show us the confines of the track.

Eau Rouge : Seems easy.
"How hard can it be ?"

The data starts on the entry to Eau Rouge , Lewis here shifts to 7th gear(Bump in the Top Red line) . Usually a driver would use 6th to get more torque up the hill and then change to 7th as he exits but this can change due to a variety of factors such as wind speed or even saving the tyres and engine. As he shifts up there is no drop in speed ( a seamless shift , testament to modern F1 cars), the revs drop a bit.

A quick look at the racing line taken here by Lewis shows us perfection , he has minimized the time taken and maximized the speed , ensuring a good exit speed as well. He's taken a large chunk of the inside kerb was taken by steering left , Hamilton does this to straighten the car as much as possible for the next corner within the limits of the track  so as to use lesser steering angle. Any speed unnecessarily lost here due to an excess lateral load on the tires or excess scrub will obviously hurt the top speed attained at the end of the following straight . This is how tenths are gained. He's hit the inside apex of Eau Rouge and is steady with his approach through the right hand kink and smoothly kisses the exit apex of Radillion. All this while he is flat out as indicated by the bottom red line in other graph.

His speed and RPM does drop a little every though he in on full throttle you may ask. This is due to the sheer steepness of Eau Rouge , even though its easy flat it does take some revs off.

Did I mention that this telemetry would probably be of a length of only 2 seconds and he's doing all this while being succumbed to 5G !

Massenet and Casino (Circuit de Monaco)

Racing line through Massenet and Casino. 

Negotiating the most "on the limit" corners of Formula One.

Things get a little crazy here. On the approach to the quick left hander , Massenet he shifts up till 7th gear , gaining speed and on full throttle. We can then notice his breaking as the first green circle from your left ; Lewis leaves the throttle , dabs on the breaks the speeds plummet ( that's a drop of around 100 kmph in 1 second)  , he downshifts to 4th, he now is easing off the breaks gradually , feeling the grip on the car till he has the confidence to get back on the power again. He is very steady with his throttle increase (mark of a skilled driver).

We then notice inside the Golden Circle a significant anomaly to Lewis's smooth throttle input, a valley of sorts. If we correlate this with the blue line highlighted inside the golden circle we can deduce that he might have been a micro-second of a correction. The steering angle suddenly goes static even though he was going to turn right.

The speed increases slightly until Lewis is on the breaks again for the entry of Casino , steering now on quite some lock as he turns right.
Another anomaly is the sudden rise in revs as he exits Casino ( Red Circle) , this was caused by a bump at the exit of Casino , correlating with the steering trace we see a another nice oversteer-moment.

Two things really astonish me here .

Firstly, I've highlighted his throttle and brake inputs in the green circle. There is absolutely no lag in getting off the throttle and getting on the breaks , seems easier said than done since we're talking microseconds here. He's losing no time in reducing speed as he comes off the throttle, making even inch count on the track.

Secondly, look at the apexes he hits through Massenet and Casino. We're talking about Monaco here, there area no run off areas. He's brushing the barriers here at 240 kph , lap after lap . A momentary loss of concentration here and there is no coming back.

Becketts (Silverstone)

This is where crowds usually come to see a Formula One car in full force . The high speed complex of  Maggots and Becketts at Silverstone is another favorite of drivers. These corners are taken at 280-300 kph. This is where downforce really makes a ton of a difference.

McLaren claim that Lewis’s approach is to send the car in as fast as he can, then deal with it later. If he’s got the grip, he’s away; if he hasn’t, he’s got the talent to deal with it. It’s a win-win situation for him. 

That's typical Lewis Hamilton for you and that's what makes him a great racing driver. To be able to take those risks and those speeds ,being subjected to 5G lap after lap is just sheer brilliance.
Through Maggots , then Becketts and the exit through Chapel onto the Hangar Straight

As he enters Maggots reaching a peak speed of 295 kph , he has a "mini" lift with which he drops about 20 kph itself with that showing just how much downforce these cars carry. He's full throttle for the next mini left hander and then for Becketts he lifts of completely and just feathers the brakes , he does to counter the lateral loads on the car,stabilizing it to avoid any nasty surprises. He's communicating with the car , telling it to prepare itself for the next fast right hander as he comes off the throttle once again and then quickly straightens the car up quickly, shifts up through the gears to 7th and steadily reaches full throttle. Again here he tries not to scrub off any speed which may affect his top speed at the end of the Hangar straight which follows consequently.