On tap for this week:
- Ricciardo turns up the heat
- Alonso chooses words carefully
- McLaren goes backward again
- Can F1 engines crank up the noise?
- Quote of the Week: Vettel sounds off
- Force India success brings added value
When Daniel Ricciardo was named teammate to Sebastian Vettel last year, Formula One observers felt it wouldn’t take long before the reigning four-time world champion wiped the ever-present smile from the cheerful Australian’s face.
Four races into the 2014 season, Ricciardo’s grin remains and it’s getting under his Vettel’s skin.
About halfway through Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, a faster Ricciardo pulled up behind his teammate and Vettel got the order to let the Australian through.
After being informed by Guillaume Roquelin, his race engineer, that Ricciardo was quicker on newer tires and he should let his teammate pass, Vettel’s terse reply spoke volumes: “Tough luck.”
For the next two laps, Vettel positioned his car to thwart his teammate’s progress until Ricciardo aggressively dove to the inside on the start-finish straight and forced the German to go wide in the first corner. With Vettel struggling for grip on dirty pavement, Ricciardo powered past and quickly opened a gap. In the end, he crossed the line 20 seconds ahead of his teammate.
At the time of the order, Ricciardo was trying to reel in Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for the final podium position and the three seconds he lost behind Vettel certainly cost him a shot at a third place finish. The chequered flag flew for Alonso just 3.5 seconds before Ricciardo.
Red Bull tried to smooth things over after the race by insisting that Vettel obeyed the order while Ricciardo dutifully toed the party line.
“With Seb, we were racing and you always want to hold on to your position, but the team radioed and he let me through,” Ricciardo said after finishing ahead of Vettel in the second consecutive race where his teammate was asked to let him pass.
It’s not the first time Vettel has run afoul of team orders. Last year, Vettel thumbed his nose at his bosses in Malaysia when he ignored a directive to hold station behind his teammate Mark Webber, who was leading the race in the late stages. Instead, Vettel passed Webber and took the win, a move that made an already frosty relationship between the two even colder.
Formula One drivers rarely speak off the cuff; instead, they are highly sophisticated corporate spokespeople who think carefully about every word.
So, when the Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso made a point to single out former team principal and good friend Stefano Domenicali as the reason for his first top-3 finish in 2014, it shouldn’t be dismissed.
“I think this podium should be dedicated to Stefano, as everything we do up to July will also be the result of his efforts,” Alonso said after taking third in Sunday’s race and hinting that the departed team boss already had put measures in place to correct Ferrari’s early woes.
The much-liked Domenicali resigned last week after the Scuderia got off to a poor start in 2014 and was replaced by Marco Mattiacci, who was previously the chief executive of Ferrari North America. The new Ferrari chief has no experience in F1.
Interestingly, Alonso’s praise for his former boss came just days after he loyally urged the media to give Mattiacci the benefit of the doubt, although his choice of words was also worth noting.
“It’s too early to say if it will be a very good thing or very bad,” Alonso said on Thursday. “We are really hoping it will be a successful managing of the team and everyone is looking forward.”
By The Numbers
When rookie Kevin Magnussen took second in the season opener in Australia with teammate Jenson Button right behind him in third, things seemed to be looking up for the McLaren squad.
After struggling through the 2013 season with no podiums for the first time since 1980, Melbourne delivered McLaren’s first double podium since the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.
The pair followed it up with another double points finish in Malaysia, putting the team solidly in second overall among constructors behind the front-running Mercedes outfit.
Then the wheels fell off in the third race in Bahrain, where clutch troubles ruined both drivers’ races. Things didn’t improve on Sunday in Shanghai where the car’s lack of downforce – specifically its inability to produce enough front grip which is critical in China – meant neither driver was able to deliver a good result. The best it could do in China was an 11th place by Button, who finished a lap behind winner Lewis Hamilton.
As a comparison, the Force India of Sergio Pérez qualified behind both McLaren drivers in 16th position (Button was 12th and Magnussen 15th) and he managed to salvage a ninth place. Both teams use Mercedes engines.
Four races into the season, McLaren has dropped to fifth overall in the constructors’ race and is only seven points ahead of Williams. It may not be time to panic yet, but if things don’t change soon McLaren may be in for another long season.
Although Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone continues to push for louder exhaust sounds from the new 1.6-litre, turbocharged engines, he may not get his wish.
Ecclestone believes the ear-splitting scream from the previous normally-aspirated V8s was an essential part of the grand prix show and he wants it back. Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault met on Friday in China to discuss ways to change the F1 engine note, but there doesn’t seem to be much leeway to crank up the noise.
Essentially, the engine representatives told reporters in China that they would try, but don’t expect miracles. The problem lies in the simple fact that the turbo recycles the waste energy that comes out of the engine, which muffles the sound that eventually goes down the exhaust pipe.
Adding revolutions per second to boost the sound of the engine is not an option because the maximum fuel flow rate of 100 kilograms per hour all but limits them to a ceiling of about 10,500.
Quote of the Week
“Are you kidding? Honestly! Can you tell him to get out of the way? He’s got new tires, of course he’s quicker but two laps and then he is off.”
– A frustrated Sebastian Vettel complaining to his team over the radio on Lap 32 of the Chinese Grand Prix after Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi used his fresh tries to pass his Red Bull to unlap himself. Vettel also waved his hand in anger at the Caterham driver for good measure.
The Last Word
After the first four races of 2014, Force India is third in the constructors’ standings, and its driver Nico Hulkenberg is fourth in driver points, just ahead of four-time world champion Vettel.
To put this in perspective, the Force India team has one podium and 54 points so far in 2014, after scoring no podiums and a grand total of 77 points in all 19 races last year. In its history, the perennial mid-field team had one pole and one podium in 112 starts prior to 2014, both courtesy of an extraordinary performance from Giancarlo Fisichella in the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.
While great for the team, Force India’s success on track is also a boon to the team’s sponsors, which have been getting the exposure usually reserved for the top teams at a midfield price. For example, Dutch watchmaker TW Steel won’t be complaining about seeing more on-board camera shots that show its logo along the sides of cockpit.
“We’re naturally delighted with the team’s start to the season,” said Stewart Bain, the company’s chief commercial officer.
“From an awareness or visibility perspective, we’re certainly the happy beneficiaries of increased air-time for our brand logo.”
In China, Hulkenberg was the top Force India driver, bringing his car home in sixth.
The fast start has also helped attract sponsors, with the team adding two new partners to its stable with Auden Mckenzie, a pharmaceutical group, and Gatorade U.K. signing on since the beginning of April.
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