I’m Watching… (14/15 April 2018)

These are some of the things I’ve been watching.

Two busy weekends in a row! Apologies for 1700 words, this was a big week.

Formula E:  Rome ePrix

I was excited for this one though it started a slow burner. Drivers doing energy saving to get to the pit stop – it happens a lot in FE. I relate to why people switch off early thinking the series is boring, but they don’t understand it all kicks off in the second half! There was contact on the opening lap, Alex Lynn getting hit, resulting in a meatball flag.

Just as pit stops began there was a 4-car crash at the hairpin. All eventually got going. Nobody in danger, Race Control sensibly held any intervention until after the pit stops. Lynn came to a stop this time though – an awful weekend of barrier contact for him – so a full course yellow (virtual safety car) was thrown almost as soon as the last car got out of the pits.

What followed was fantastic! Race-long leader Felix Rosenqvist hit a kerb which broke his suspension, out on the spot, promoting Sam Bird to the lead. The four-way battle for the lead was great, Bird held off the battling trio Mitch Evans, Lucas di Grassi and Andre Lotterer who were passing and re-passing each other. Di Grassi got himself to 2nd. Sadly on the last lap Evans ran low on energy and slowed to finish 9th. Points leader Jean-Eric Vergne wound up 5th. And a lot more changed lower down the field!

TV direction was a bit messy, we missed many overtakes live and only caught some in replay. An area to improve. The decision by Channel 5 to bump the race to 5Spike was a disappointment – at least there was the option to watch in HD on Eurosport.

Result
1st Sam Bird (DS Virgin) 25 points;
2nd Lucas di Grassi (Audi ABT) 18 pts;
3rd Andre Lotterer (Techeetah – Renault) 15 pts;
4th Daniel Abt (Audi ABT) 12 pts;
5th Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah – Renault) 10 pts;

Points
119  Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah – Renault);
101  Sam Bird (DS Virgin);
82  Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra);
60  Sebastien Buemi (Renault e.dams);
50  Daniel Abt (Audi Sport ABT);

152  Techeetah;
118  DS Virgin;
103  Mahindra;
89  Audi Sport ABT;
88  Jaguar;

Next round:  Paris, April 28th.

Formula 1:  Chinese GP

Just like in Rome the first half of the F1 race in Shanghai was pretty uneventful after the first lap, where Max Verstappen got a better start on softer tyres to jump from 5th to 3rd, while Valterri Bottas also cleared Kimi Raikkonen. The order for some while was an equidistant Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Ricciardo.

There was more action at the back as Lance Stroll picked up 6 places and Sergio Perez dropped 6 places as the field negotiated the tightening opening corners.

Red Bull played an aggressive strategy, starting on softer tyres relative the others, even pitting both cars on the same lap with quick double-stacked stops executed perfectly. With Mercedes and Ferrari on the same tyres as each other, Bottas pitted earlier to get grip sooner, Vettel shadowing a little later. It worked for Bottas who jumped Vettel into the virtual lead.

Raikkonen was left out there long time, a sitting duck on long-worn tyres while the others caught him. The only option was that he was one-stopping to the others’ two, but they left it so late Bottas and Vettel passed him. With all needing one more stop it negated any advantage. I really dislike Ferrari screwing up their chances like this.

At halfway I noticed no cars had been lapped, the back of the field more competitive now. The media make a big deal of Williams and Sauber being terrible but really they are not that far off the midfield.

It all kicked off when Safety Car came out. Gasly ran into Hartley thinking he was being allowed through for the second time in the race (he wasn’t). Debris everywhere. Gasly later got a penalty.

It appeared the two lead cars weren’t given the chance to pit first, the SC popping out while they were somewhere near pit entry, no time to make the call. Verstappen dove in immediately, the following Hamilton did not and complained about it after the race, Ricciardo followed his team-mate for a second set of double-stacked stops from Red Bull.

Vettel, Bottas and Hamilton had to convert to a one-stop, Raikkonen too had made his stop by then but at least he had newer rubber than these three. The Red Bull stops were done before the field packed up behind the SC so they barely lost any places, they were sitting pretty.

And so the rest of the race was question of how soon could the Red Bulls pass the Ferraris and Mercedes. Verstappen was too impatient – again – and wound up in a tarmac runoff area after trying to pass Hamilton, letting Lewis and Ricciardo through. It happened again when Max caught Vettel later, contact at the hairpin spinning Vettel and attracting a post-race penalty for Verstappen. A victory lost in the first case, a podium lost in the second. Silly. As for Seb, he struggled with damage after that, got passed by Hulkenberg and Alonso and settled for 8th. Kimi caught Bottas near the end but no pass.

Daniel Ricciardo in contrast to his team-mate took his time and made decisive moves, to take the lead with plenty of time to spare.

Result
1st  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull – Renault) 25 points;
2nd  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes) 18 pts;
3rd  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 15 pts;
4th  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 12 pts;
5th  Max Verstappen (Red Bull – Renault) 10pts;

Driver points after 3 races:
54  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari);
45  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes);
40  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes);
37  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull);
30  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari);

Constructor points after 3 races:
85  Mercedes;
84  Ferrari;
55  Red Bull;
28  McLaren;
25  Renault;

Next round:  Baku, April 29th.

IMSA Weathertech:  Long Beach GP

Juan Montoya started on pole, managed a first-lap Safety Car period, after which he got caught and passed by former Sauber man Felipe Nasr in the Whelen Cadillac. Another Safety Car came at pit time, this pairing staying out while everyone else pitted. The only other man to stay out was Alexander Sims in the GTLM BMW which had already pitted under green. IMSA rules these days have the classes sorted together for restarts, so Sims dropped back and restarted in front of the rest of GTLM.

It was at this point I had to stop watching. This was about 40 – 50 minutes into the 100 minute race. The official http://www.imsa.tv stream buffered so frequently it was not watchable. You could only see 10 seconds for every minute or two of real time. Add in annoyances with the audio – loud music every 5 minutes got old very quickly – and I wasn’t inclined to stick with it. I could’ve switched to the radio and live timing, but was too annoyed by that point. I’ll wait for the YouTube upload.

[Results to follow next time, after I finish watching the race.]

Next round:  Mid-Ohio, May 6th.

IndyCar:  Long Beach GP

Alexander Rossi started on pole and was dominant all day long. Yet again this weekend the first half was pretty uneventful following a dramatic first lap.

This time it was Graham Rahal torpedoing Simon Pagenaud out of the race. He blamed the brakes locking “like they did before”. Perhaps it would be harsh of me to suggest that if they did it before he should make allowances… He got a drive-through which would be negated by Safety Car later on.

The choice was 2 stops or 3 and a surprising number went for the latter and did so early. Robert Wickens car stalled at his stop, did a slow lap and pitted again with some sort of software problem, the team unable to get it going again for about 6 laps.

After the first stops Rossi had a big lead. Scott Dixon took Will Power while in traffic.

TV missed a lot of passes that I saw happen on live timing. Unusual for an NBC Sports race.

BOURDAIS. All of a sudden out of nowhere through lapped traffic, Bourdais makes it 3 wide to pass Dixon and then dives another car – and doesn’t hit the wall! Incredible move!

He was judged that two wheels over the blue pit exit line was a foul. I disagree with the rule, but that’s the rule and he had to give Dixon the place back. At least it wasn’t a drive-through. Bourdais got mad and immediately re-passed Dixon.

Unfortunately his day got ruined by his team-mate Zachary Clamen de Melo hitting the wall. Not ZCdM’s fault. Bourdais and Dixon were in the pits when the Safety Car came out, Seb got waved through so he lost time but didn’t get a penalty, Dixon took service and was penalised. Bourdais came in again when the pits opened.

That put Bourdais in the pack, where he got speared by Jordan King making a GP2 move in a place nobody usually passes.

I totally lost track of strategy and somehow the back end of the field got shuffled up behind Rossi, so we had Veach, Rahal, Andretti and others in the top ten. They held their own though at the end and were just as fast as anyone else, so I guess they made the Safety Cars work for them.

Rossi was dominant all day and it would’ve been criminal had he lost this one. Power took 2nd, Jones and Veach were nice and clean, Rahal got 5th despite taking out a competitor.

Result
1st  Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport / Honda) 54 points;
2nd  Will Power (Team Penske / Chevrolet) 41 pts;
3rd  Ed Jones (Chip Ganassi / Honda) 35 pts;
4th  Zach Veach (Andretti Autosport / Honda) 32 pts;
5th  Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman / Honda) 30 pts;

Points
126  Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport / Honda);
104  Josef Newgarden (Team Penske / Chevrolet);
93  Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman / Honda);
88  Sebastian Bourdais (Dale Coyne / Honda);
83  James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson / Honda);

Next round:  Barber Motorsports Park, April 22nd.

Other

A huge amount of racing happened elsewhere, particularly in sports cars. I do watch ELMS and LM Cup on delay so I hope to catch up with those before it is time for Le Mans.

Coming Up

Next week see even more IndyCar, a natural road course this time, plus MotoGP goes to COTA. I’ll have a preview blog by Thursday night.

I prefer it when we have a small handful of races to focus on rather than everything at once!

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