Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rosberg Rules Monaco: Mercedes Driver Takes Prestigious Street Race

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone/ Pirelli F1 Press

Accepted as a preclusion of racing action on a busy Sunday that also includes the Verizon IndyCar Series' Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600, the Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most treasured locales on the Formula 1 series circuit. A long-running event within a rich setting, the tight, slow race on the Monaco street course is a conspicuous contrast to the current Formula 1 tour. Whereas many tracks in the 2014 Formula 1 tour have giant run-off areas, the narrow roads of the streets of Monte Carlo leave little margin for error.

The driver in focus through much of this weekend's grand prix was the defending event winner Nico Rosberg. Following his signage of a new deal with the Mercedes AMG team through 2016, Nico Rosberg placed his vehicle on pole for this year's event. Recording a 1-minute, 115.989-second lap time in Q3, Rosberg was a little less than 6/100th of a second ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. The pole-winning result did come with some controversy as Rosberg caused a yellow flag by overrunning turn five. This action classified as an "error" resulted in Hamilton being unable to better Rosberg's time. Due to the stakes in qualifying at Monaco, there have been speculation the incident could have been intentional.

At the start of the Monaco Grand Prix, the tight circuit claimed its first victim early. Coming out of Mirabeau, Sergio Perez's Force India-Mercedes was tapped by the McLaren-Mercedes of Jenson Button. With Perez's car stricken, a safety car would come out bunching up the Formula 1 field. Sergio Perez would actually be the second driver to retire from the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. The Lotus-Renault of Pastor Maldonado did not start the race due to an issue with his car's fuel system.

Following the resumption of the race on lap four, a high-profile name would be next to fall on the streets of Monte Carlo. On lap seven, Sebastian Vettel reported drive problems with his Red Bull-Renault. A power unit problem was related to the early retirement of Sebastian Vettel. The 2011 race winner of the Monaco Grand Prix and reigning World Drivers' Champion after four straight titles, Vettel is winless in 2014 and will be buried in sixth place in this year's overall points.  

In the early part of the 78-lap race, Nico Rosberg was holding a lead over his fellow Mercedes AMG race car driven by Lewis Hamilton with the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in third. Racing action was interrupted again by a safety car on lap 26 when Adrian Sutil crashed into some remaining barriers. Many teams took the opportunity to make pit stops For Raikkonen, his chance for the podium finish was dashed when he needed to return to pit road. Dropped out of the top-10, Kimi Raikkonen was unable to score even a single Formula 1 point after what was a strong start.

Photo Credit: Force India

The fight between the Mercedes AMG remained alive through passed the halfway point in the Monaco Grand Prix. Into the later period of the race, top-10 contenders Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas ended their runs with mechanical problems. The falter by those drivers have led to the emergence of others. In the late stages of the 78-lap race, Romain Grosjean driving a Lotus-Renault and Jules Bianchi piloting a Ferrari-engine Marussia have climbed into the top-10.

It was in the last one-third distance of the Monaco Grand Prix that Nico Rosberg was able to pad his lead over Hamilton. The Mercedes AMG cars were separated by 9.2 seconds when the vehicles crossed the checkered flag. In the case of Lewis Hamilton, his plans for victory changed to defense of second place. Citing problems with vision, the Hamilton fought off the sole Red Bull-Renault in the event piloted by Daniel Ricciardo. The Mercedes AMG driven by the Brit edged out Ricciardo by 2/5ths of a second for the runner-up position.

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone/ Pirelli F1 Press

The big buzz amounting from the conclusion of the Monaco Grand Prix is the potential there may be some growing animosity developing between the Mercedes AMG drivers. A typical result of a top team having two capable drivers, each competitor realizes their main rival is under the same race team banner. Despite Lewis Hamilton winning three of the six races so far this 2014 season, Nico Rosberg has claimed an advantage in the drivers' points standing. Despite the speculation of a Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry, the Mercedes AMG team is benefitting from a mutual effort in widening their F1 Constructors' points gap that is now 141 points greater than second-place Red Bull Racing.

The third and final podium position was happily grabbed by Daniel Ricciardo. His second-straight podium finish, Ricciardo has been experiencing a slightly more consistent 2014 season with Red Bull Racing than his teammate Sebastian Vettel. As a result, Ricciardo is fourth in the overall drivers' standings and has so far outscored Vettel.

In fourth, Fernando Alonso driving for Ferrari was the last car classified on the lead lap. In fifth, Nico Hulkenberg is continuing on a string of consistency resulting in the Force India driver's fifth in the overall points. Climbing from deeper in the starting grid to take points-paying positions is veterans Jenson Button and Felipe Massa. Button's McLaren-Mercedes emerged from 12th to take 6th while Massa soared from 16th starting spot to come across the finish line 7th on the streets of Monte Carlo. Romain Grosjean captured four points for Lotus F1 Team with his eighth place result.

Achieving a feat that must have felt like a victory, driver for the Marussia team Jules Bianchi finished ninth. The first-ever points for the French driver, the result was also the first points-scoring run for the Marussia team. The McLaren-Mercedes of Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top-10 for the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

The next race on the 2014 Formula 1 calendar is the tour's first race in the Americas. The Canadian Grand Prix is set for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 8th.

2014 Formula 1
Monaco Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
6 22 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
7 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
8 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
9 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari
10 22 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes-Benz
11 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault
12 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
13 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault
14 4 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari
15 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari
16 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
17 25 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
18 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari
19 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
20 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
21 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
22 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May 1, 2014: 20 Years After the Passing of Ayrton Senna

Image used with Copyright Permission

May 1st, 1994, the start of a new month consisted of the third race on the Formula 1 tour for its respective year. Staging in Imola, Italy, the San Marino Grand Prix was being held in a season quickly redefining trends in Formula 1. However, it was that Italian Formula 1 race in 1994 that greatly shook the motorsport world. Now 20 years in the past, that race in known for the last moments of a man regarded as an inexhaustible source of talent and heroics. It was the day the world lost the great Ayrton Senna.

Back in 1994

Prior to the start of the 1994 Formula 1 season, new technical rules altered the path for which cars were being developed. Banning electronic driving aids delivered the first change for drivers of some teams. Masterfully executed by the Williams F1 team on their dominant FW15C race car in 1993, electronic aids such as an active suspension and traction control was used by Alain Prost en route to a fourth and final Formula 1 drivers' title. With Prost's retirement from Formula 1, the second-biggest change came when Ayrton Senna joined Williams.

A driver attached to McLaren since 1988, Senna left behind his Marlboro-sponsored car in favour of a Rothman-backed Williams-Renault. Seen as a potential dream teaming before the start of the 1994 campaign, the Formula 1 season started with Senna and his Williams-Renault struggling. Qualifying on pole for both the Brazilian and Pacific Grand Prix, Senna's two races wheeling the Williams FW16 ended with retirement. Having built a race car lacking the electronic driving aids, some attributed the removal of high-tech handling features as a challenge to developing a stable vehicle for Senna. For the 34-year-old Ayrton Senna, some additional pressure came from the fact his experience was being outweighed by the talent of a young Michael Schumacher who won first two grand prix events as title contender.

During Saturday for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend, Senna along with everyone part of Formula 1 was stunned by the death of rookie Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger. In a determined by sadly unwise move to gain a spot on the Formula 1 grid in Imola, Ratzenberger attempted to qualify with a damaged front wing on his Simtek when it broke causing a fatal crash into a concrete wall. Despite what was the first death on a Formula 1 race weekend since 1982, the grand prix was held with Ayrton Senna starting at the front for the third consecutive time in the season. Due to an early race crash resulting in a safety car period, the Senna and the field received their first green flag lap of the San Marino track on lap 6. By lap 7, as the Formula 1 cars were at full speed, the Williams-Renault of Ayrton Senna straight-lined a curve at high-speed crashing violently into a concrete retaining wall. A 135-mile per hour crash, the Williams FW16 was torn to pieces as the driver was subjected to extreme forces and flying debris. An emergency team arrived on the scene but Ayrton Senna could not be saved and was declared deceased later that day.

The reason and circumstances of the Senna crash is still a contentious issue. While a steering column break has been widely pointed to as the reason for the crash, Williams engineers at the time Patrick Head and Adrian Newey argued against it. Both engineers as well as the team's boss Frank Williams were even subjected to criminal proceedings in Italy. Some less supported claims point that the accident was the result of driver error or even suicide.

20 Years Later

Reliving the circumstances of that time described by Murray Walker as the "blackest day for grand prix racing that I can remember", the death of Ayrton Senna definitely affected a sizable population. When we look back him after 20 years, the viewing Senna's accomplishments is one that can not be done in a single type of analysis.

Statistically after 11 seasons in Formula 1, Ayrton Senna has true reason to be considered among the greats of the sport. A three-time World Drivers' Champion in Formula 1, Senna posted impressive numbers in his career. 41 wins ranks him third in all-time grand prix victories in Formula 1. His 65 pole positions stood as a record in the sport until 2006 when Michael Schumacher surpassed this qualifying number. With 68 poles, Schumacher's record-breaking pole resulted on the same San Marino circuit where Ayrton Senna's final race took place 12 years prior. Senna finished on the podium for just under half of the 162 races he competed in.

Image Used with Copyright Permission

However, basing Ayrton Senna's racing accomplishments on racing alone is somewhat hollow. On the track, drives by the Brazilian was what really captivated Formula 1 audiences. There was a near-win in wet conditions at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix driving a Toleman. Driving for Team Lotus, Senna's first win in the Portuguese rain in 1985 was regarded as a hard-fought victory. One year later, Senna held off the Williams-Renault piloted by Nigel Mansell by a slim 0.014-second margin. In 1993, the Ford-powered McLaren at Donington Park charged from fourth to first on the opening lap in a moment seen as one of the best performances in Formula 1. Of course, the on-track rivalry with other drivers have provided some of the greatest action in motorsports. While Ayrton Senna had some spirited battles with the Nigel Mansell on several occasions, clearly Alain Prost was Senna's greatest rival.

The Senna versus Prost battle ignited during 1988 when McLaren hired the Brazilian to companion with the Frenchman in their Honda-powered race cars. An adversary that brewed between the two drivers was a battle among titans that resulted in battle getting so nasty it divided the McLaren race team. A feud between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost reached a highpoint for the 1989 and 1990 Formula 1 seasons but their combativeness lasted until Prost's retirement after the 1993 tour. However, prior to Senna's death, the two had reconciled their bad blood to the point of friendship. Following the 2011 release of the documentary 'Senna', Alain Prost voiced displeasure that the relationship wasn't fully documented. It was stated in the documentary that Prost served as a pallbearer at his funeral and has served on the board of Instituto Ayrton Senna. 

If there was one positive thing that came from the tragic loss of Senna, it was Formula 1's investment into safety. Following the San Marino Grand Prix race weekend where Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed in crashes, steps were promptly made to slow down the race vehicles with mandated changes to the race cars as well as to the race tracks. In years following the fatal crashes, cars have been reengineered for greater driver survivability in a serious crash. Since 1994, there has not been a driver fatality in Formula 1.

Finally, we look at the personal impact Ayrton Senna has had to participants and enthusiasts of motorsports. In his native Brazil, Ayrton Senna was a nearly worshipped figure in his time fighting for Formula 1 victories. Not the first Brazilian Formula 1 champion (Emerson Fittipaldi captured the title in 1972 and 1974), Ayrton Senna has given his country a source of national pride and gave back through charitable causes. Outside of Brazil, Senna is still a source of fascination much in the same way as Elvis Presley. The driver's legacy has maintained popularity for the merchandise depicting his era among McLaren, Lotus, Toleman as well as Williams in Formula 1. This enthusiasm for Ayrton Senna has also been rekindled with the popular, award-winning Senna documentary.

Despite his tragic passing at the wheel, Brazilian race car driver has inspired the motorsport dreams of a new generation of racers. Even to this day, so many open wheel racing star has been heard embracing Senna as an idol.

His impact on the motorsport has been great. It's the desire of myself as well as many others that Ayrton Senna's life is seen as the spiritual uprising demonstrating the greatness that can emerge from us when we find our unique talents and pursue it tirelessly.