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Tag Archive | wet

End of the road for Schumacher

Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix marks the end of the 2012 Formula One season, and with it the end of the most remarkable career in the history of the sport. Michael Schumacher is retiring, this time for good.

Schumacher’s stats leading up to his final race are:

Grands Prix: 307
World Championships: 7 (1994-1995, 2000-2004)
Wins: 91
Podiums: 155
Pole Positions: 68
Fastest Laps: 77
Career Points: 1560

Aside from the number of races entered (Rubens Barrichello holds the record with 326), all of those stats are records and most are likely to stand for the foreseeable future. In particular, Schumacher’s dominance with Ferrari, where he won five consecutive titles, will likely never be matched.

Schumacher retired from Formula One at the end of 2006, only to make a comeback in 2010 with Mercedes at the age of 41. The combination of Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Mercedes seemed, on paper, to be unbeatable. But it was not to be. A single podium finish – in Valencia this season – and the fastest qualifying time in Monaco are the high points of Schumacher’s three years with the Silver Arrows. And the pole position did not even count, as Schumacher had a penalty that demoted him to sixth on the grid.

Schumacher’s comeback can only be described as a failure, in that he has not achieved anything remotely like the success of his previous stint in Formula One. But it has certainly not been a waste of time. Seeing the biggest name in the sport come back and go wheel-to-wheel with drivers half his age has been enormously positive for Formula One. It has also shown a more relaxed and accessible Michael Schumacher to the world, a welcome contrast to the ultra-professional and sometimes cold Michael Schumacher of his first career.

Unfortunately, the sport’s most successful driver is unlikely to add to his success on Sunday. The current Mercedes car is far off the pace, so much so that the team has not featured in the points for the last five races. It would be a fitting end to a glittering career if Schumacher could stand on the podium on Sunday, but that seems impossible given the performance of the car. The only glimmer of hope for a strong result is the predicted wet weather, which could negate some of the weaknesses of the car.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it will mark the end of an era. By any reckoning, Schumacher is the greatest driver in the history of the sport. He will leave a gap on the grid that cannot possibly be filled, and his absence will certainly be felt in years to come.

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Pic tops FP2 at Spa

Rain can play havoc with the time-sheets, and today was no exception. Free Practice 2 was so wet that only 10 drivers set laptimes, and all of those laps were finished after the chequered flag fell. When the spray settled, Marussia’s Charles Pic emerged quickest.

Practice times are normally difficult to interpret, as the top teams often do not reveal their true pace until qualifying. Today’s laptimes are, as a result of the weather, practically meaningless. Marussia certainly do not have the fastest car. Pic’s time reveals nothing at all about the pace of the Marussia, although he will no doubt appreciate (and probably chuckle at) having his name at the top of the time-sheets.

The rain effectively made today’s running useless for all of the teams. No useful dry setup work could be done in the difficult conditions, and that includes testing of new parts. Lotus in particular will be frustrated by the lack of dry running, as they had intended to run their new “double” DRS device this weekend, but have had to abandon that plan due to a lack of calibration time.

Only one practice session remains before qualifying, which means that tomorrow morning should see a very crowded track as all of the teams and drivers attempt to cram 2 days work into the one hour session that is FP3. Ideally, that should mean a very close qualifying session, weather permitting.

Alonso on pole in Germany

Fernando Alonso has taken pole position for tomorrow’s German Grand Prix, in a brilliant display of wet weather driving.

Although there had been rain earlier in the day, the racing line in Q1 was completely dry, and the teams streamed out onto the track, fearing that the weather might affect the latter part of the session. The rain held off, which was fortunate for Michael Schumacher who only just squeaked in to Q2 with a last lap effort to put him 17th.

The rain came down just before Q2 started, which made the conditions difficult to read. All of the drivers who had made it into the session went out on intermediate tyres, but as the rain continued to fall the full wets became necessary, and the times soon stopped coming down. Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean were caught out by the weather, and did not manage to post quick enough times to make it through to Q3.

Q3 was very wet, so much so that Nico Hulkenberg aquaplaned into a spin in the high-speed turn five, and Michael Schumacher complained over the radio that the track was too wet to drive. Nonetheless, the drivers kept at it, and as the cars began to disperse the water the times started to tumble. Ferrari made a good strategic call to bring Alonso in for a fresh set of full wets, and he rocketed to the top of the time-sheets with only a few minutes to go. Right at the end, Alonso improved on his own pole time, which proved unnecessary as no-one else could challenge him.

The Red Bull pair of Vettel and Webber qualified second and third respectively, followed by Schumacher, who had a strong Q3 despite almost not progressing from Q1. Hulkenberg and Maldonado were fifth and sixth, followed by the McLaren pair of Button and Hamilton who seemed to struggle in the wet conditions. Paul di Resta came in ninth to complete a good session for Force India, and Kimi Raikkonen  rounded out the top ten.

Alonso’s second pole in as many races highlights his form, particularly in the wet, where he has been untouchable so far this season. The weather is expected to be dry for tomorrow’s race, which shouldn’t bother Alonso too much as the Ferrari F2012 seems to be quick in all conditions.

Silverstone – Alonso takes pole

Fernando Alonso has been the stand-out driver of 2012, as the only driver to have won two races thus far. But before yesterday, the Spaniard had not yet secured a pole position this season. That changed in a drenched Silverstone qualifying session.

The rain came down just before the start of Q1, as a result of which drivers queued to get out on track as quickly as possible – fearing that the rain would intensify and the track become slower. As usual, both Caterhams, both Marussias and both HRTs were eliminated in the first session. The big name to fall out in Q1 was Jenson Button, who was on a quick lap towards the end of the session but was the victim of yellow flags in the final sector when a Marussia spun on the start-finish straight.

As if the weekend hadn’t been wet enough already, the rain pelted down in Q2, to the point that several drivers found themselves passengers in aquaplaning cars. With just over six minutes remaining, race control decided that conditions were too wet for the session to continue, and put out the red flag. The session was stopped for over an hour before the track was safe for qualifying to resume, at which point the 17 remaining drivers streamed out to set times in the few remaining minutes of the session. Eliminated in Q2 were di Resta, Kobayashi, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Senna, Vergne and Perez.

Q3 saw laptimes dropping constantly as the track dried out. After pole changed hands almost every lap, Alonso emerged on top ahead of Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher. Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Grosjean rounded out the top ten. Grosjean had failed to set a time in Q3 after spinning into the gravel right at the end of Q2.

Kobayashi drops 5 places and Vergne 10 after causing collisions at the previous race in Valencia. Hulkenberg and Pic have gearbox penalties and therefore drop 5 places each. In Pic’s case that makes no difference to his grid position, after he did not qualify within 107% of the fastest time in Q1. The stewards have nonetheless allowed Pic to race, and he will start 24th and last.

The provisional grid after penalties is as follows:

Grid No Driver Team
1 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull
3 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
5 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari
6 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus
7 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams
8 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren
9 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus
10 11 Paul di Resta Force India
11 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
12 16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso
13 19 Bruno Senna Williams
14 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
15 15 Sergio Perez Sauber
16 3 Jenson Button McLaren
17 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber
18 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham
20 24 Timo Glock Marussia
21 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT
22 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT
23 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
24 25 Charles Pic Marussia

Driving in the wet

On Saturday, I had my first wet weather racing experience. A 125 superkart, slick tyres, and a very wet Killarney race-track in the morning presented a somewhat steep learning curve.

The kart is small and the track is big, which makes avoiding the large puddles quite easy. So aquaplaning was not a problem. The major issue was tyre temperature. Getting heat into the front tyres is essential to limit the inevitable understeer that occurs in the wet. Rear tyre temperature is essential for traction. But temperature proved elusive.

Until Saturday, I had no proper comprehension of the importance of rear tyre temperature. It became apparent in a straight line, at half throttle (maybe a little less) in third gear, when the power came in and the rear wheels spun up. The kart went a bit sideways, but a small correction sorted that out. Nonetheless, my eyes were opened.

Before getting out on the wet track, I had expeceted to be fighting the back end of the kart under acceleration and braking. The reality was that there was so little grip with cold tyres that I didn’t have the confidence to put the power down or brake hard.

In the dry on a warm day, driving smoothly has proven beneficial. It minimises driver effort, wear on the tyres and fuel consumption, and allows for incremental improvement in laptime as confidence builds. In the wet, that approach is useless, resulting in cold tyres, cold brakes, and no way of rectifying that situation. What is required in the wet on slicks is some aggressive, almost reckless warming of the rear tyres, and a complete lack of fear of spinning. Only then will there be enough temperature available in the tyres to attack the race-track.

At this point, it’s worthwhile talking about Formula One drivers. They drive in the wet, with over 750 horse-power available, and immediately get the maximum available out of the car in the conditions. Andallof them do it. In the dry, the difference in laptimes between the drivers is a few tenths. In the wet it’s the same, which is frankly astonishing. Occasionally a genius like Ayrton Senna makes everyone else looks silly, but such talent in the wet is the exception.

Driving a racing car is not easy. Formula One drivers just make it look simple because they’re that good at what they do. I’m an amateur driver, racing for fun, but the limited experience I’ve had on the track has already shown me just how incredibly talented F1 drivers are.

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