Thursday, 5 July 2012

Torque Points - Britain 2012

By David Galton-Fenzi and Jem Ruggera

Have Red Bull Found The Key?
Newey is obsessed over the idea of having a blown diffuser. (Almost as much as his other obsession - taking over the world!) Despite the FIA’s best efforts at discouraging them; changing the regulations regarding exhaust outlet positioning and outlawing trick engine ECU’s that hot-blew exhaust gasses off throttle, Newey was like a dog with a bone and wouldn’t give it up easily.
Newey deep in thought....Narf!
Red Bull arrived in Australia for round one with, what looked like, an ingenious floor at the rear of their machine. From the picture below you can clearly see the tunnel (starting just behind the ‘Bull’ lettering) that was meant to channel the air inwards to be abused by the diffuser at the rear. The drivers found the car very difficult to drive though and it wasn’t until practice in Bahrain, when they dolloped a bunch of flow-viz paint in the area and found the air-flow coming back out the front of the tunnel, that they realized their lack of rear grip was actually being caused by this tricky floor. Red Bull immediately blanked it off and Vettel then went on to win the race. Easy, except Newey didn’t just let the idea die...
Red Bull’s arse end in Melbourne
Newey was sure he was onto something, (remember; dog, bone....and massive brain) so after going away for a complete rethink he had produced version 2.0 in time for Valencia. The differences are plain to see, as were the apparent performance gains. (Higher res pictures of all floors can be found here)
Version 2.0 - Valencia spec
Of the two drivers in Valencia, Webber’s weekend was not so straightforward. He lost the third practice session to a technical problem which cost him valuable setup time, and then in qualifying his DRS failed which, despite his best efforts, relegated him to the rear of the grid. Meanwhile, on the other side of the garage,  Sebastian Vettel’s pace was nothing short of extraordinary. He secured pole by a margin of three tenths, but most impressively, in the race he was consistently pulling away from the rest at the rate of a second a lap, unheard of in 2012, and probably would have won easily were it not for an overheating alternator.
So where did Vettel’s pace come from? Was it down to the inherent unpredictability of 2012, meaning Vettel had just got his car dialed in better than the rest, or have Red Bull and their walking brain, Adrian Newey, finally unlocked the RB8’s full potential? The other teams will be hoping, nay...praying, that it is the former, but the high speed sweeps of Silverstone should show us one way of the other.
Where is Kimi Raikkonen?
Like many pundits in the Formula 1 world, we have been expecting (and to a certain extent, hoping) that Lotus would provide F1 returnees Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean with the machinery capable of winning races in 2012. To many, this has been for sentimental reasons more than anything else. Lotus is one of the great marques in the history of the sport (check this article about Lotus in the swinging 60’s), and Raikkonen was the purists driver. Low-key, quietly hilarious and blindingly, blindingly fast. He was one of the great ‘manipulative drivers’, all straight lines and minimal steering input. Too many times in his McLaren days he was let down by chronic unreliability. His championship for Ferrari was recompense in many ways, and although he never returned to his best, DownUnderSteer was still very sorry when he departed the sport at the end of 2009.

Some moves to match the glasses?
But since he returned, while showing flashes of brilliance, and speed, there has been something missing from Mr Raikkonen. Is there a certain nervousness to the Finn these days?

In Valencia Raikkonen took far too long to make a critical pass in a fight for the lead and it compromised his chances of scoring the elusive comeback victory. We saw something similar in Bahrain back in April. After the final pit stops Raikkonen was flying, catching leader Sebastian Vettel hand-over-fist. At this stage the Lotus was looking planted, while all the while being very gentle on its tyres. Kimi closed down the reigning world champion relentlessly, moved into DRS range, got a run out of the final corner and was latched onto his tail down the main straight. Vettel was aggressively defensive into Turn 1, Kimi backed off, and never threatened again. Admittedly, the 2012 spec Pirelli rubber may have made further attacks difficult, but somehow, one suspects, if it had been Lewis Hamilton back there (or Kamui Kobayashi for that matter) the pass would have been nailed.

We saw another example of Raikkonen’s tardiness in Valencia. After Grosjean pulled over with alternator failure on Lap 41, Fernando Alonso led Lewis Hamilton, with Raikkonen hounding the Briton. From here though, Raikkonen was never in a position to make a decisive move. Indeed, he didn’t get past until three laps from the end when Hamilton’s tyres were utterly shagged and Alonso was comfortably up the road. If he could have taken Hamilton quickly, he would surely have been in a strong position to challenge the Ferrari. As it was, he scored another podium, which is perhaps what Lotus wanted after Grosjean's retirement. One does suspect though that the young Frenchman is beginning to wrest the upper hand away from Kimi. The next few races we head to more of the classic European tracks, including the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit - a true drivers track the Iceman has won four times. Kimi Raikkonen's hunger for F1 glory is still questioned in certain circles - now is the time to prove the detractors wrong.

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