04

The sight of wrecked Ferrari is becoming far too familiar. What is also becoming too familiar is a 4-time World Champion getting into accidents under yellow flag conditions.  Source

Meanwhile, an emotional Max Verstappen stood at the top of the podium for only the second time in his career, and just a day after his 20th birthday. Quite a present, eh? Unlike his win in Spain over a year ago, Max won Malaysia on pure speed and talent alone. At no time was he under threat from Hamilton.  From my perspective, this was also the most mature race Verstappen has yet to run in F1. His pass on Hamilton was textbook perfect (unlike, say his botched pass of his teammate in Hungary), and when Hamilton tried to return the favor a lap later, Max held off the challenge beautifully and cleanly. He then managed the gaps and tires exactly as he needed to. He never put a wheel wrong. I’ll be honest, Max’s speed is impressive, but his racecraft has won no favors with me. His style of blocking (cutting abruptly across a following car under braking) really gets under my skin and he has a nasty tendency to run other drivers off the road when he is passing them. There is hard driving, and then there is unsafe driving and more often than not, Max falls into the latter category.  However his drive in Sepang is the stuff that World Championships are made of.  I look forward to seeing if this is a trend will continue, or if he goes back to his old tricks in Japan.

 

Random Thought of the Race

Front bulkhead of the Ferrari S70H. Source

It warms my heart to know that Scuderia Ferrari, the oldest, most successful Formula 1 team ever, a team with a half billion dollar a year budget, uses regular old zip ties to secure its brake fluid reservoirs to the chassis.  They have the facilities to make a super lightweight carbon fiber bracket, but nope, just zip tie the suckers on there. It’s good to know that even in this highly competitive, bleeding edge technology age of F1, there’s still room for a little shade tree engineering.

 

Post Race 

There are a few important takeaways from this race. First is that this should have been a track that reminded us how good Mercedes Benz can be. Every indication after Singapore was that this would be a damage control race for Ferrari. Yet Mercedes stumbled and stumbled badly. How much of this was due to weather (Mercedes is known to have issues overheating their tire, especially on fast tracks in hot ambient temperatures), and how much was due to Ferrari and Red Bull finding new pace is something we will have to look for in Japan.  

Of course, the flipside to Mercedes’ struggles was that with the Ferraris looking great, this should have been Vettel’s chance at making up major ground on Hamilton. But the bizarre turn of events, with two failed intake manifolds in two days ruined the weekend. There is no reason to believe without their intake problems, this would have been a Ferrari 1-2 and likely a Silver Arrow-free podium. However, there is still one variable to consider in that posturing and that variable is Max Verstappen. Let’s consider for a moment what happens if it’s Vettel and not Hamilton leading at the start of Lap 4. Verstappen claims the Red Bull was faster than the Ferrari on race day. So what happens when it’s Vettel leading Verstappen on Lap 4 heading into Turn 1?  My prediction is two cars go in and neither go out. That right there would have sealed the championship for Hamilton.

Also, a very odd turn of events for American fans happened on Wednesday. Formula 1 announced this would be the final year that NBCSN hosts Formula 1 in the USA. ESPN will be taking up the TV duties starting in 2018. There are some interesting reports and rumors tied to this. First of all, one of the reasons F1 and NBC could not reach a new deal was length of contract. NBCSN wanted something long term and F1 did not want that commitment. Liberty Media claims this is because they don’t want to be tied down as they try to grow their presence in the US. Combine this with Liberty’s push for more online content (more social media, free timing and scoring, the brand new e-sports league), and it’s pretty clear where this is going. Liberty Media has plans to move Formula 1 to online streaming only within the next few years. This makes a lot of sense for them. First of all, it gives them total control of video distribution. Second, it cuts out the middleman and allows them to gain all of the revenue from advertising. This will almost certainly be a paid subscription service, which adds an additional revenue stream for Formula 1. Formula 1 has been trying to move to a PPV model for 20 years, and with cable cutting becoming more the norm, F1 is trying to get ahead of the curve. How this effects you as a fan really depends on how you already consume Formula 1. Me? I’ve been streaming F1 on the NBCSN app on and off for four years now. In fact I watched the 2016 Abu Dhabi GP from the Atlanta airport on my cellphone as I waited for a flight to Japan. The future is here folks, and it’s pretty damn sweet.

There are a few unfortunate downsides to moving to ESPN as a broadcaster. For one, the people who stream F1 now will lose the wonderful NBCSN app and get stuck with the crappy ESPN app. Second, ESPN does not care about motorsports at all. In fact, they’ve been shlubbing off motorsports for years. Back in the 80s, ESPN was the home of motorsport. You could tune in to find everything from F1 to desert racing on ESPN. In 2017, the only racing on ESPN was the Indy 500, and really that is only because ABC entered into a long-term deal back in 2011. But that deal expires next year, and unless something drastic happens, 2019 may be the first time ever that the Indy 500 airs somewhere other than ABC, because again, ESPN wants nothing to do with motor racing. ESPN has been riding the wave of the NFL and NBA and has put all of their focus onto those two sports. Turn it on right now and I bet you’ll see a show dedicated to one of those two sports. However, Liberty Media’s roots are in ball sports and they have connections with ESPN. When NBCSN fell through, Liberty likely leveraged their connections with ESPN to keep F1 on American TV.  

Another thing that will suck is that there’s a good chance the current NBC hosting team will not move to ESPN. David Hobbs has bounced around networks for decades (in fact he called F1 on ESPN back in the 80s with Bob Varsha), but Leigh is pretty well set with NBC. The real loss would be Will Buxton and Steve Matchett. Steve may be bit of a nerd, but the man knows his F1. Same with Will- he has some killer insights into the sport and knows how to convey it to the fans. Losing either of them on American F1 TV would suck, not only because their lack of knowledge will leave a void in American F1 coverage, but also because it opens the door for Eddie Cheever to be an F1 commentator, and that would be even worse.

As we look to Japan, Vettel and Ferrari have to dig even deeper. They’ve given up the one race they can afford to lose: the rest of the season are now must-win races. Can Vettel keep his temper under control? Will Hamilton finally falter? Will Verstappen or Ricciardo act as spoilers? While the avenues for Vettel to win his fifth world championship are closing fast, the remaining options are going to be entertaining as hell for us fans. The Japanese GP is this weekend, so watch this space for our thoughts on how the season continues to shake out!

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Comments
rafa
rafalink
Thursday, October 05, 2017 6:52 AM
Damn, not only they are using a zip tie to hold fluid reservoirs but they didnt even trim it! It bugs me.
flip240
flip240link
Thursday, October 05, 2017 7:06 AM
Very true! Zip ties are fine, but you need to save those precious ounces and make them look pretty!
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Thursday, October 05, 2017 9:43 AM
Hey now this is F1, Ferrari might be using the extra weight of those un-cut zip ties to bring the weight balance of the car further forward. Maybe that's the key to getting the tires to work this year.
MaysEffect
MaysEffectlink
Thursday, October 05, 2017 8:05 PM
Its not that surprising why Mercedes struggled at this track. They have the longest wheel base, and the least amount of Rake in the car. It may not be that obvious, but almost every corner here does not play well with this design. Turn 2 being a huge one. It is a down hill corner with a rather steep apex decline. There are several corners that have rather uneven off cambered apexes that do not help long wheel base cars with low rake. Where as both the Ferrari and Redbull have high rake which plays better with corner pitch in the middle of the corner.

Looking on the onboards, you can see that both chassis were able to take a more aggressive early apex line into many of the corners without unsettling the rear on corner exit. When Hamilton apexed to early, the rear would step out.

This has nothing to do with tire temps or aero packaging. The wheelbase and rake design reared its ugly head. Mercedes may struggle a lot on a few of the upcoming tracks because of it.
MaysEffect
MaysEffectlink
Thursday, October 05, 2017 8:10 PM
Also Hamilton's lead is not a indication of major gap at all. One DNF and win for Vettel and he is easily capable of being within point of beating Hamilton. Hell Even Bottas has a marginal chance of taking 2nd or winning the title still.
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Friday, October 06, 2017 5:33 AM
I addressed the Hamilton/Vettel points lead and why I think it's not smart to bet against Hamilton. He has been incredibly consistent. By completing the Malaysian GP, he has now gone 20 straight races completing every single lap and scoring points. His worst finish this season is 7th at Monaco. Compare that to Vettel who is in pure catch-up mode. Not only is the Ferrari slower on fast tracks, but it is less reliable and Vettel is more emotional and prone to mistakes (i.e. Singapore). Anything *could* happen throughout the rest of this season, but Mercedes is on top of their game and so is Hamilton. Even if he does have a DNF, his pace and consistency can keep him in the points lead. The smart money is he becomes a 4-time world champion this year.

As for Mercedes and their struggles at Sepang, I will leave that to Valtteri Bottas: “For me, the main issue was mainly struggling more with the front end, which hasn’t really been the case many times this year. Now in the mid-corners I am losing a lot of front end. It is tricky to get the car turned, overheating the front left tyre, also four-wheel sliding in high speed corners. And for me in the race, if I tried to go quicker, I just slide more, and struggle more with the tyre temps. So it is all about just trying to manage and keep the temps under control in the race, and it is definitely not nice."

It's tire temps. Mercedes car is great on fast tracks, especially those with long, sweeping corners, and long straights. Despite the difficult 1-2 complex, the rest of the track is fast. It should have suited the Mercedes well. But with the high ambient temperatures, and rain throughout the weekend (remember it rained a few hours before the race, so the track was green. No rubber means less grip and more tire wear), the situation perfectly played to Mercedes' weaknesses. Now that lack of rake and long wheelbase are contributing factors to their tire struggles, but the fact of the matter is, Mercedes has had tire wear issues ever since they returned to F1 in 2010. In the last few years it has been masked by Pirelli's ultra conservative tire construction and the domination of Mercedes' engine, but the issue has still been there.
SM_Clay72
SM_Clay72link
Friday, October 06, 2017 8:20 AM
I appreciate this.

Goddamn have Ferrari had an incredible series of F-ups this year. I have never been a Vettel fan for his poor winner and poor loser behavior so though it is nice to see Merc challenged, I do not want to see another Vettel championship. He lacks the race craft of the other current top drivers (Alonso, Ricciardo, Verstappen now, maybe Hamilton though he has not shone in terms of passing this year). Hopefully with engine changes and all Red Bull can be a real championship contender next year. They still appear to have the most brilliant chassis package design, and some unreal talent behind the wheel. A competitive car for Alonso would be fantastic to see. It's painful to watch his talent go to waste in his prime. He should have more championships.

Keep this series coming!
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Friday, October 06, 2017 9:54 AM
Thank you! I really enjoyed writing it and I appreciate the feedback. You'll be seeing more after Japan this weekend.
stylngle2003
stylngle2003link
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 5:56 AM
Dang....I hadn't heard about the 2018 F1 season moving to ESPN. That is going to royally suck.

Great column, I'm glad there are more F1 nerds on MotoIQ.
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