Auto Manifesto

September 28, 2008

F1: Singapore Grand Prix

Good start to the race, fairly clean. Most drivers were using the harder tires. Kimi Raikkonen started setting fast laps within the first 10 laps which was sooner than has been usual.

The race was uneventful until Nelson Piquet’s crash which brought the Safety Car (SC) out, and closing the pits to refueling. The rules stipulate that when the pits are closed cars may not be refueled. If they are refueled, the driver will be assessed a 10 second stop-and-go penalty, which means he will have to come back to the pits and then remain stationary for 10 seconds. In effect, the penalty is more like 25 seconds when accounting for pit entrance/exit time (depending on the track and pitlane layout).

The intent of the rule is to prevent a mass dash for the pits when there is a SC period. But the effect is that it ruins race strategies and artificially shuffles the order of the field. Furthermore, when the SC period occurs during a fuel window (lap 17-ish today) then some drivers are about to run out of fuel, so they have to pit and incur the penalty. Then they have to pit again to serve the penalty, and if this happens to multiple drivers as it did today, has it really cut down the pitlane traffic that much?

This rule does not work well and should be eliminated or changed.

Felipe Massa’s electronic “lollipop” gave him the green light before the fuel hose was removed causing him to leave and rip the hose off the machine. Good thing for the back up hose as Kimi Raikkonen was stacked behind him in the pits and could not have otherwise been refueled. Massa had to stop at the end of the pitlane, losing a lot of time before his crew could come and remove the hose. That effectively ended his race.

To make matters worse, as we’ve seen before, his speed is fragile. By that I mean he is very fast, as evidenced in the first part of the race when he led with a sizeable gap. But once things don’t go well he begins to compound his mistakes and loses pace. Here we saw him start missing chicanes, struggling to pass backmarkers (admittedly this track is not easy to pass on) and then he spun and hit the water barrier.

Adding to the team’s disappointment, Raikkonen launched over a chicane and crashed into the wall so neither car scored any points. McLaren took over the constructor championship lead with Lewis Hamilton’s 3rd place finish.

The way the Ferrari team is performing is not the way of a championship winning team. I will be very surprised if they take the driver’s title this year, though they have a better shot at the constructor’s title.

Renault, on the other hand, have no hope of either title but they showed everyone today how it’s supposed to be done with Fernando Alonso winning from 15th position due to a little bit of luck, good strategy, and a car that seems to be well-suited to this track.

The venue is absolutely fantastic. It looks like something straight out of a movie or video game. The track needs a few revisions to make the racing better such as lower curbing, wider chicanes, shorter configuration, better pit entrance, and smoother pavement in a few spots. Also the marshals in Singapore need better training. One was knocked down by the front wheel while frantically rolling away Rubens Barrichello’s Honda. But overall F1 nailed it. This is a great preview of things to come.

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