Thursday, October 24, 2013

What to watch this weekend (Oct 25th - Oct 30th)

  • Formula 1 - Grand Prix of India; from Jaypee International Circuit in Greater Noida, near New Delhi. Practice. Friday @ 4:30am - 6am (NBCSN(HD))  live
  • Fifth Gear (UK). Mercedes G63 AMG. Friday @ 10pm - 11pm (VelocityHD) new
  • Formula 1 - Grand Prix of India; from Jaypee International Circuit in Greater Noida, near New Delhi. Qualifying. Saturday @ 4:30am - 6am (NBCSN(HD)) live
  • FIA European Rally Championship. France. Saturday @ 2pm - 3pm (VelocityHD) new
  • Formula 1 - Grand Prix of India; from Jaypee International Circuit in Greater Noida, near New Delhi. Sunday @ 5am - 7:30am (NBCSN(HD)) live; replay at 2pm
  • Top Gear (UK). Marathon of past episodes. Monday @ 4pm - 3am (BBC America(HD)) great replays
  • Motorweek. 2014 Cadillac CTS. Tuesday @ 8pm - 8:30pm (VelocityHD)
  • Chasing Classic Cars. Cannonball's Run. Tuesday @ 10pm - 10:30pm (VelocityHD) new
  • Top Gear America. Season 4 - Episode 6. Can cars float? Tuesday @ 9pm - 10pm (History Channel(HD)) new
  • Wheeler Dealers. 57' Chevrolet Bel Air. Wednesday @ 9pm - 10pm (VelocityHD)
Solid line up ahead, with new shows and more importantly the countdown to the end of the Formula 1 season. Last week we saw the end to the ALMS franchise, which will be rolled up with Grand Am into the IMSA 2014 TUDOR USCR Series (see video below). FIA F1 won't be going bye bye, but it will be saying good bye to V8 engines and hello to an all new turbo V6 setup which will bring Honda back to grand prix racing. With change comes new challenges and intrigue, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves. The Grand Prix of Japan was full of surprises, but was far from surprising simultaneously.

The story of FP2 was Spoon corner; this lovely yet quick bend caught a wide variety of drivers out. Perez barely put a rear tire off the track heading into it, locked up the rear and went right into the tire wall. Alonso lost it on this corner as well, but was fortunate and didn't hit anything. Vettel ran wide around Spoon too, getting the now trademark green dye of the fill grass on his tires. Kimi found himself in the kitty litter on the way through Dunlop curve, resulting in his need for a lift out. Suzuka is loved for the very reason that is pushing these drivers to the edge; it's an old school technical track that demands a lot from the driver to master. Earlier though, in FP1, Maldonado had an spin-out where his rear wheel fell off without any noticeable evidence of the wheel nut removing itself; a seemingly clean release of the most disconcerting kind. The FIA investigated and later fined Williams for an improperly fastened wheel nut. Maldonado went off track again in FP2, however on this occasion, all four wheels stayed on.

Q1 started with Redbull working to get Vettel's car together after a KERS battery failure in FP3. Additionally Adrian Sutil went into the barriers backwards during FP3, requiring a gearbox change, as if his season could go any more wrong than it has over the last three races. Esteban Gutierrez quickly hops out of his Sauber Ferrari in the paddock due to a flash fuel vapor fire that erupted before he headed out for his first run of Q1. On a sad segway, RIP Maria De Villota, who passed away at the young age of 33 from "natural causes", seemingly stemming from her terrible accident as a Marussia test driver last year. 

Webber is at the top early in Q1, but his pit is telling him to run again as the seemingly building wind gusts could impede a later run. Meanwhile Jean Eric Vergne's Torro Rosso rear brakes both catch on fire (along with his chassis), resulting in a red flag halting Q1 with 2:55 left. Everyone low in the qualy standings are getting a tough draw, as when the green flag comes there is traffic out the wazoo. Everyone high up is sitting in the pit to avoid the gridlock. Massa, facing a knockout, throws a mean lap down with the options, taking P2 in Q1. Maldonado just makes the cut. Grosjean takes P1 with a 131.9.

Q2 starts off with both Lotus's running 132.0xx. It appears they're both quite dialed in, accomplishing these times on the hard tires. The option/mediums start circulating the paddock -- Alonso, Hamilton and Button pop off 131.8xx's. Vettel throws down a 1:31.290 with the mediums, Webber following shortly afterwards with a 131.513. Grosjean puts mediums on and puts in a 131:565. Hulkenberg's strong outings continue this weekend, taking P5 in Q2. In the final seconds drivers are getting pushed down the order. Perez and Di Resta are out, but Massa out paces his teammate Alonso on a flyer, again, taking P6 ahead of Rosberg, with Alonso, Button and Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.

Q3 starts off with Vettel getting radio concerns about a KERS failure requiring adjustments for his brake bias. He almost goes off the track, putting two wheels off in a quick drift, but still puts down a 131.3xx. Webber puts the hammer down shortly afterwards, breaking into the next echelon with a 1:30.975. The big hitters (read Lotus) scramble to adjust to the news that Vettel is having issues. Alonso and Hamilton come by with high 1:31s, but hit the pits again for new options. 1:56 left and everyone is working their tires up to temp for the final flyer for pole. After the smoke clears, not much changes; Webber takes pole for his final Suzuka F1 farewell, lowering his time to an incredible 1:30.913. This is Webber's first pole all season and his first time out qualifying Vettel this year. Vettel improved slightly (1:31.089), but whatever issues concerning his KERS system put a ceiling on his potential. Hamilton hustles to take 3rd (1:31.253) followed by Grosjean 4th (1:31.365), Massa 5th (1:31.378), Rosberg 6th (131.397), Hulkenberg 7th (1:31.644), Alonso 8th (1:31.665), Raikkonen 9th (1:31.684) and Button 10th (1:31.827). Hulkenberg is a contender, Webber seems to have gotten some good fortune and Massa is working on his 'Ferrari can kiss my ass tour' with another solid performance. That last bit is my own opinion of course, but I'm happy he's still fighting hard since getting a very stylish leather boot from Maranello. Oddly enough on this same story line, Alonso isn't so keen on Ferrari either. He's on record stating how he's had a car 8/10ths a second off the leaders pace for the past four years; it'll be interesting to see where Alonso decides to 'take his talents', if anywhere else, this off-season.

Race day in Suzuka, Japan is as beautiful and sunny as it's been the last couple days with strong wind gusts to match. During the warm up lap Massa complains of throttle issues and Rosberg has issues with his steering wheel electronics. Alonso is trying to make Vettel's road to the Driver's Championship as hard as possible, so immediate success is measured in if he can finish above 8th position. Vettel's KERS issues have seemingly been addressed last night, but will this be enough? 

The race started off with plenty of contact, Webber and Vettel both getting jumped by Grosjean and Hamilton, but Hamilton gets into Vettel's front wing and starts losing air by Turn 1. Further towards the back of the pack Bianci and Van Der Garde touch and fly into the kitty litter (much like Alonso's retirement on this same track last year), with Van Der Garde hitting the tire wall. Hamilton's right rear tire falls to pieces as he makes his way around the track to the pits, takes on the hard tires and heads back out with a new strategy from the back of the pack. Roman Grosjean is killing it (5/53), doing his best Vettel impression with a ~1 second lead. Vettel meanwhile isn't going fast enough to catch the front runners, in a major turn of events. Kimi isn't doing very well, in 11th 5/53. In additional bad news for Hams, the rear damage the destroyed tire did in some of his down force so he's running a second behind the leader.

By 8/53 Alonso is trying to chase down his stablemate Massa. Hamilton retires on lap 9/53, suggesting there was more damage than just aero. Hulkenberg is catching up with Alonso, but then pits for hards on 11/53. Ferrari's both stay out. Vettel seems to be getting into a grove and is starting to reel Webber in...then Webber pits for the hards on 12/53. Webber returns in 6th. Massa and Raikkonen pit for hards, Hulkenberg passes Massa when he returns to the field. Grosjean comes in for hards and gets a smokin' stop (2.6), comes out ahead of Webber. Rosberg pits for hards and is released right in front of Perez who's looking to pit; FIA investigating unsafe release. Alonso pits for hards on 14/53 to try passing Massa, but he still comes out behind Massa on pit exit. Perez and Button mix it up in a battle for 11th. Vettel pits from P1 for hards and comes out in 3rd behind Webber (15/53). Grsojean goes purple.

Ricciardo, who hasn't pit yet (hards) is holding up Hulkenberg in 5th, playing into Ferrari hands (20/53). On the front straight Massa is looking for his opportunity ahead a bit too much and gets passed in the DRS zone by Alonso. Hulkenberg finally passes Ricciardo into 130R in a ballsy maneuver, then Alonso works his way past into the front straight. Unfortunately for Massa, he's stuck behind Ricciardo which is leaving him open to the advances of Esteban Gutierrez. Massa and Gutierrez bump wheels, but Massa stays ahead (23/53). 

Webber is reeling Grosjean in, now within 1sec (25/53). Vettel, trailing those two is being told to stay patient, but is still locking up here and there trying to catch up. Webber comes in to pit on 26/53, so it appears that Redbull is trying to make their passes in the pits. It's odd Webber came in so far ahead of Vettel, so it's possibly they're on two different strategies. Vettel, still out, is chasing down Grosjean. Webber comes out in 3rd, 15 seconds back. Grosjean pits on 30/53, coming back out in 3rd. By lap 33/53 Vettel is losing time to Grosjean, who is flying, taking 3/10ths out of him per lap. This may play back into Webber's hands, who appears to be on the short end of the RedBull strategy stick currently. By lap 35/53 Vettel is still losing time to Grosjean, but he stays out. It appears his pit is trying to make this last stop as short as possible to have the best tire strength possible to fight it out for the finish. Massa speeds in the pit lane on his last stop, so his drive through penalty is going to hurt his current 6th position quite a bit; comes back out in 11th. Vettel finally stops for hards on lap 38/53, bypassing the mediums. He comes out in 3rd behind Grosjean and starts the hunt. It appears that Webber, currently 1st, will be going onto mediums for his final stint. A bit further back on the track, Raikkonen is reeling in Alonso for 5th (39/53). Hulkenberg is still holding onto 4th.

Vettel passes Grosjean on 41/53 on the front straight, his newer hard tires the take the edge this time around. Now we talk pit deltas. If Webber comes in, there's a good chance he won't be able to take the win. His gap on vettel is 14 seconds, but the pit delta is about 22 seconds and will mediums be enough for him to pass Vettel before the end? Will the RedBull pit let him pass Vettel? Welp, Webber comes in on 43/53 for mediums. Time for a 10 lap firefight for the race. Webber is now 5 seconds back from Vettel, 3 seconds back on Grosjean who presumably needs to stop again (43/53). By 45/53 a small blister appears on Vettel's left front. Webber is taking hearty chunks out of Grosjean's time. Vettel is running into lap traffic, the pressure intensifies. Webber gets within reach of Grosjean, but there's no where to pass (47/53); he's losing time. Roman isn't going to pit either, too little time left. Vettel is sounding frustrated on the radio, stuck behind 3 lapped cars on 49/53. Webber still unable to pass Grosjean on the straights, almost like Webber's DRS/KERS isn't working. By lap 50 Grosjean and Webber come upon the same lap traffic Vettel did previously.

Webber finally gets Grosjean on lap 52/53. Rosberg has low fuel, but is stuck behind Esteban Gutierrez who is trying to get some championship points for himself and team. Vettel takes the checkered flag, Webber comes in second and Grosjean third (and pulls off and stops right past the finish line). Alonso follows in 4th, Raikkonen 5th, Hulkenberg 6th and his Sauber stablemate Gutierrez takes 7th, Rosberg 8th, Button 9th, Massa 10th. The question is if RedBull subtlety sabotaged Webber's change of winning by having him pit so early for that second to last set of tires when he was still in a good place gap-wise. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that RedBull wanted Vettel to win this race and despite the x-factor here, which was Grosjean holding Webber up, this appeared to be one last "Vettel is our guy" jab in the ribs before Webber leaves the team. Then again, Mark was slowed by Grosjean for about 4 laps so it's up for debate. Regardless, this makes five straight wins for Vettel and Grosjean has a hell of a race. What did we learn? Sauber Ferrari put in work for 6/7 finish, Massa sabotages his own possible strong finish, Alonso did himself a service by taking 4th, Hamilton's bad luck lead to a retirement and Suzuka was one of the best races of the season. Renault power plants sweep the podium and there are only 4 races left.

The current standings are as follows: Vettel, Alonso (-), Raikkonen (-), Hamilton, Webber (-). Vettel has all but sown up the Driver's championship and barring a DNF in India he'll be crowned there. The Manufacturers championship P2 is the real battle, with Petronas Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari neck and neck; this contest will probably be determined by the last race of the year. Enjoy your weekends.

Video courtesy of Drive.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Car Pron: 2014 BMW M5 Competition Package: A Better Driver's Car? (MotorTrend)

MotorTrend's Carlos Lago checks out the 2014 BMW M5 Competition package to see if it improves upon the base F10 M5. Video courtesy of MotorTrend.