The Lonely Case of a Zimbabwean F1 Fan

I woke up to the morning news bulletin on ZBC TV about Callisto Pasuwa’s preparations for the Warriors’ next match against Malawi in the AFCON qualifiers deciding round. It dawned on me that there is a big F1 race coming up this weekend in Monaco that almost all of my compatriots are unaware of and wouldn’t care about. Yet they have been raving for the Malawi tie for about two months now!

Even my Twitter timeline is full of the soccer types. You can always rely on Tino or Lynn for the GGMU et al hashtags, amoung other Twimbos. These are people who talk about LVG as he’s a cousin or a neighbour as I’ve seen here today. I’m not hating on soccer fans. It’s just that I wish I had more Formula 1 fans at least in my casual circles.

I only have a single local friend who shares the same passion for F1 as I have. Though I have a former varsity cricket teammate I have deep analysis with every racing weekend, I watch all of my races physically alone. If I’m streaming or following live updates on my phone, the people around me won’t understand it when I raise a ZANU (PF) fist when Nico Rosberg out qualifies Lewis Hamilton by a tenth of a second.

With guys like Mr Ndlovu and Sozzled Raisin, at least I have people to share the experience with whenever they appear during a race. Bit I’m still to meet a group of Zimbos debating F1 as they do Messi/Ronaldo. I heard there is a motorsports-themed bar in the northern suburbs of Harare. Would love it if someone would point me in its direction.

I don’t buy the argument that F1 isn’t popular in Zim because it’s an elitist sport. Maybe we are just one-dimensional as a people and only follow sports which have local representatives such as cricket, rugby and soccer. But we do have a son of the soil, Axcil Jefferies, who races in GP2 which is F1’s feeder league. He even had a good race last year in Indie Lights, which is a decent achievement. But not enough for Zimbabweans to notice.

Anyway, there will be an F1 demo race organised by HIFA in September and I’ll hopefully meet more of my kind there.

Circuit de Monaco: Names of the Turns and Straights

Hillary Chinyere
Harare, 19 May 2016

After this week’s in-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, F1 teams will shift their focus to the race in the second smallest country in the world.

image

Picturesque Monaco Harbour, showing Nouvelle Chicane, Tabac and the Swimming Pool.

It happens to be my favourite track on the F1 calender, and the world’s darling too! In fact, you only need to spend a few minutes with me to know that Monaco the place is my dream location. Though we have seen many street circuits in Formula 1 history, Monte Carlo is like no other. I heard our neighbours South Africa were bidding for Cape Town to host its own Monaco-esque F1 street race, with Cape Town Stadium acting as their version of the famed “tunnel”. Speaking of which, Monte Carlo is easily the circuit with the most famous and prestigious landmarks of all tracks on any calendar.

I’m going to list them in the order with which they appeal to me.

The Fairmont Hairpin
Simply known as “The Hairpin”, Turn 6 is one of the most remarkable turns in F1. Fairmont is the name of the hotel situated next to it. It is the tightest and drivers have to apply maximum steering lock in order to make it around the about turn. It also boasts of being the slowest turn, requiring an average speed of 50km/hr which ironically is the speed limit on the streets of Monaco on regular days.

Nouvelle Chicane
A chicane is a series of tight turns in opposite directions in an otherwise straight stretch of a road-racing course, to reduce speed for safety reasons. In the hey days of the circuit, this particular chicane was called Chicane du Port. After significant alterations were made to it in the mid eighties, the chicane assumed a new name Nouvelle Chicane which is French for New Chicane. Turns 10 and 11 constitute the chicane. Nouvelle Chicane is very difficult to navigate without accruing penalties for many an F1 simulation game player.

Portier
The sharp double right-hander which leads to the tunnel, Portier was so named because of Le Portier, one of the Principality’s neighborhoods in close proximity to the track.

The Tunnel
The sweeping curve underneath the tunnel is the fastest point in the race, albeit with a 25% drop in downforce which is one of the challenges the tunnel pose on the drivers. On sunny days, the drivers’ eyes take nearly as long to adjust to the changing light as it takes their cars to come out on the other end. Upon exiting the high speed tunnel, drivers keep a tight racing line as they brake for the Nouvelle Chicane, to avoid losing a place to someone close behind.
The tunnel goes under the Fairmont Monte Carlo, formerly Loews Hotel Monte Carlo. This was necessitated by the unusual manner the hotel was constructed. Instead of building the hotel upwards from the ground, it was built into the Mediterranean Sea and a tunnel was required to allow free traffic flow.

Swimming Pool
Right in the middle of the harbour is the Piscine Swimming Pool complex of two chicanes; a fast one on the entrance and a slower one on the exit.

Casino
The full name is Casino Square, for the Monte Carlo Casino and the park in front of it. It’s significant to me for being the casino in Ian Fleming’s James Bond’s Casino Royale.

Mirabeau
Broken into Mirabeau Haute and Mirabeau Bas, which is Turn 5 and Turn 7 respectively. They are both right-handers, sandwitching The Hairpin. The turns were named after Le Mirabeu, a 70’s hotel which was converted into a residential building in 2007.

Tabac
A fast left-hander given the name after a tobacconist who once operated on the apex of Turn 12, the first one after Nouvelle Chicane.

Others
No part of the circuit appeals to all fans the same, so even though I’m aware of the significance of certain turns and stretches, I have my special ones listed above. However, Saint Devote, Beau Rivage, Massenet, La Rascasse and Antony Hughes are very popular as well.

I’m sure one day I’ll have a lap around the Monte Carlo street circuit on foot! After sipping a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bordeaux region of neighbouring France, of course.

Verstappen Wins Spanish Grand Prix as Rosberg and Hamilton Crash

image

Max Verstappen was brilliant all day, breaking a few records in the process.

Hillary Chinyere
15 May 2016

Max Verstappen broke records on his way to clinching his first race win at the Spanish Grand Prix. I enjoyed the race, even though it was a result of the Mercedes pair of championship leader Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton crashing in the first lap of the race.

In as much as Verstappen’s win is amazing and one to remember in future, I’ll take it as that: a win. It was apparent from the free practice sessions that the Red Bulls were more suited to the Catalunya track than the Ferraris. As a result, P1 was Red Bull’s for the taking since Mercedes was out of the picture. Max’s win came down to strategy rather than skill, in my own opinion. Max and Kimi only got ahead of Vettel and Riccardo because they went on a two-stop pit strategy whilst the latter pitted thrice.

I cannot wait for Monaco in two week’s time. I cannot wait to see Lewis Hamilton finish behind Nico again. Monte Carlo has so much in store for us!

Alonso Breaks Into Q3 as Hamilton Takes Spanish Pole

Hillary Chinyere

Saturday, 14 May 2016

On a track Ferrari were expected at least to be within a tenth of Mercedes’ pace, Lewis Hamilton took pole position ahead of teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg. The pole must have been sweeter for Lewis as Nico had been dominant the whole of the weekend thus far.

I was shocked and a bit disappointed to see them being displaced to the third row of the grid by the new Red Bull pairing of Daniel Riccardo and Max Verstappen. In the end, the faster Ferrari of the day (Raikkonen’s) was a full second slower than the Mercedes.

“For me, it’s a bit of a surprise about Ferrari. I expected them to be much closer to Mercedes.” – Alain Prost

My highlight of the race was Fernando Alonso’s tenth, McLaren’s best since it ditched the Mercedes power unit. The other one was Max’s fourth, impressive by all measures, particularly for a driver who has just been promoted to a premier car of Red Bull’s magnitude. I also found interesting the comments made by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner that Max’s performance justified his promotion and Kvyat’s demotion to Toro Rosso.

Here’s the how tomorrow’s grid looks like:

1 Hamilton 1:22.000
2 Rosberg 1:22.280
3 Ricciardo 1:22.680
4 Verstappen 1:23.087
5 Raikkonen 1:23.113
6 Vettel 1:23.334
7 Bottas 1:23.522
8 Sainz Jnr 1:23.643
9 Perez 1:23.782
10 Alonso 1:23.981
11 Hulkenberg 1:24.203
12 Button 1:24.348
13 Kvyat 1:24.445
14 Grosjean 1:24.480
15 Magnussen 1:24.625
16 Gutierrez 1:24.778
17 Palmer 1:24.903
18 Massa 1:24.941
19 Ericsson 1:25.202
20 Nasr 1:25.579
21 Wehrlein 1:25.745
22 Haryanto 1:25.939

There goes my top five prediction for the race:

1. Hamilton
2. Rosberg
3. Vettel
4. Kimi
5. Verstappen

Is Daniil Kvyat’s Career in F1 Over?

By Hillary Chinyere

Harare, 11 May 2016

i.jpeg

Vettel and Kvyat on the Chinese GP podium, after clashing earlier during the race.

Last Sunday, during the 2016 Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, the youthful Russian supposedly miscalculated his braking point as the cars were approaching the tight right handed Turn One and he tapped Sebastian Vettel into Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. As Vettel was trying to figure out what had happened to his car, Kvyat hit him again (harder this time) from the rear, sending him into the tyre barriers and out of the race. This led to widespread condemnation of Daniil from F1 fans, with some already drawing parallels with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, famed for his abilities to crash into other drivers (Kvyat will cause even more chaos at TR being a mid-pack torpedo!).

The Putin Curse

The fans’ sentiments also remind me that the Russian has never been ‘loved’ since his entrance into F1. What has he done to be so hated in the F1 world? He is only 22 years old, in his third season and he outscored his teammate Ricciardo at the end of the 2015 season. We may argue that it doesn’t count for much but he was also on the podium at the previous race, Chinese Grand Prix! He made a ‘mistake’ at Sochi, but hey who hasn’t? There could be something else, maybe he isn’t a hard worker or doesn’t give useful feedback to the garage, but I doubt that you can be at a top team and not excel in those areas. Maybe he slept with someone else’s wife? I could be stretching it but I think it is because he is Russian. I saw lots of socialist digs at Pastor Maldonado and it’s hard not to relate it to Daniil’s case. Maldonado is now a closed chapter in Formula 1, do fans now have a new heel who tickles their moral indignation? Are people just stuck in their ways?

There seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm for things Russian, particularly in the West. One may argue depending on their political affiliation, that Russia has not in recent times necessarily endeared herself to so many outside the (and within) country. Interestingly, the same argument could be applied to some countries in the West. I am of the opinion that the harsh realities of the dichotomy in the political landscape between East and West, has perhaps crept into the psyche of so many in the West and a few in the East and that is why someone as harmless as Kvyat gets far more flak for someone who isn’t even in the spot light and possibly viewed without as much endearment as many from different places on the F1 grid.

Questionable Entry Into F1

Many expected Carlos Sainz to be promoted to Red Bull ahead of Kvyat when the exit of Sebastian Vettel created an unexpected vacancy last year, supposedly because of Russian financial backing. If that is true, then Daniil is a pseudo-paying driver and that is something that is looked down upon in as far as the driver’s image is concerned, when it comes to his perceived talent.

Paying drivers have never been liked in F1. Think Pastor Maldonado, Max Chilton, Pedro Diniz, Vitaly Petrov, to name a few. It is not their apparent inferior talents that make pay drivers receive less love but the fact that they get seats ahead of arguably better drivers, in most cases ending the careers of the latter. A recent example is Japanese Kamui Kobayashi who was dropped for lack of sponsorship. However, some F1 legends had to start their careers as pay drivers, the most notable being Juan Manuel fangio. The Argentine, a five-time world champion in the 1950s, would probably never have made it to Europe without the backing of the government of Juan Peron.

Red Bull’s PR Faux Pas

Dropping Kvyat less than halfway into a championship over a racing incident proved to be a massive PR disaster for Red Bull. Their actions including but not limited to their indifference to fans’ reaction to their constant slaying of Renault in the past, makes me wonder if the team indeed get a kick from being the dark lord. While I’m indifferent to the team, a lot of fans will percecute them for dropping Kvyat mid-season, and majority of them may not even be Kvyat’s fans, as I said above. In contrast, Haas’ team principal Guenther Steiner publicly defended his driver Esteban Gutierrez after his Lap 1 clash with Nico Hulkenburg in the same race.

Esteban.jpeg

Even if Gutierrez had a race-ending crash, his team stood by his side.

On the Verstappen issue, I honestly don’t understand the rush to move to a senior team. Front row seats in F1 are brutal and there is a lot at stake for those teams. Either you perform or you are out. So, either Max throws caution to the wind (by choosing not to spend 1 or two more years in the mid-field to hone his craft) choosing to rush toward a front seat at an age less than 20 or he prepares himself for a brief F1 career if things don’t go as planned. And that happens quite a lot in F1. I admire Max’s talent, and him having a short career will be quite unfortunate to everyone including those who looked forward to a more mature racer whose talents would have brought more excitement to the sport in the near future.

Some More Conspiracy Theories

I got told late last year that Helmut Marko wanted Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull seat for this current season & that ever since he got overruled on it he’s been looking for any outside reason to drop Danii Kvyat to get Verstappen in the car.

It became apparent fairly recently that Helmut Marko is still really close to Vettel and despite Kvyat’s podium in China he still laid into him and sided with Vettel on the Sochi incident and still talks about Vettel as been part of the family, with whom it is said to be just as unacceptable to have contact with as his Red Bull or Toro Rosso peers. So Vettel’s words with Christian Horner after the incident would have carried more weight than we had initially thought.

At Least Kvyat Isn’t One of Red Bull’s Rejected Drivers (Yet!)

I still rate Kvyat as at least a podium-quality driver and would love it if, after being released by Scuderia Toro Rosso, he replaces Felipe Massa at Williams for the 2017 season. Daniil has a good 17 races to prove himself worthy of driving the white car or any other cars on the grid for that matter. Otherwise, he’ll join the long list of damned Red Bull alumni of Christian Klien, Sebastian Buemi, Scott Speed, Sebastien Bourdais and lately Jean-Eric Vergne.

Lewis Makes History With Belgian Pole

By Hillary Chinyere

Durban, 23 August 2015

vanhu

The Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton with Valteri Bottas of Williams on the qualifying podium, Belgian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton last evening became the first F1 driver after Michael Schumacher during the 2000/1 season to get six consecutive pole positions in the same season. This happened on the backdrop of an eventful free-practice session in which his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg blew out his rear left Pirelli tyre. Hamilton now leads him 10-1 in poles thus far this season.

This is how the grid will appear this afternoon:

Row 1 1. Lewis Hamilton 1’47.197
(Mercedes)
2. Nico Rosberg 1’47.655 (Mercedes)
Row 2 3. Valtteri Bottas 1’48.537
(Williams)
4. Sergio Perez 1’48.599 (Force India)
Row 3 5. Daniel Ricciardo 1’48.639
(Red Bull)
6. Felipe Massa 1’48.685 (Williams)
Row 4 7. Pastor Maldonado 1’48.754
(Lotus)
8. Sebastian Vettel 1’48.825 (Ferrari)
Row 5 9. Romain Grosjean* 1’48.561
(Lotus)
10. Carlos Sainz Jnr 1’49.771 (Toro Rosso)
Row 6 11. Nico Hulkenberg 1’49.121
(Force India)
12. Daniil Kvyat 1’49.228 (Red Bull)
Row 7 13. Marcus Ericsson 1’49.586
(Sauber)
14. Kimi Raikkonen No time (Ferrari)
Row 8 15. Felipe Nasr 1’49.952
(Sauber)
16. Will Stevens 1’52.948 (Manor)
Row 9 17. Roberto Merhi 1’53.099
(Manor)
18. Max Verstappen** No time (Toro Rosso)
Row 10 19. Jenson Button*** 1’50.978
(McLaren)
20. Fernando Alonso**** 1’51.420 (McLaren)

Romain Grosjean was given a 5-place grid penalty for gearbox change. Max Verstappen, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were handed 10, 50 and 55-place grid penalties for power unit component changes.

DRS Has Outlived Its Welcome

By Hillary Chinyere
Durban, 11 June 2015

kimi

Kimi Raikkonen spins at the hairpin during the 2015 Canadian Grand Prix as his car was in the wrong throttle map after his pit stop. Along with DRS, this is a demonstration of how automated the cars have become.

A Bulawayo girl asked me a couple of days ago if I drive, since I’m an F1 fan. Does one need to get an Oscar before one could watch movies? That was my response, in silence. In the same vein, I do not need to be part of a Grand Prix to be bothered by what takes place therein.

At the end of the golden era of F1, the regulations of the day and the introduction of Hermann Tilke-designed tracks, overtaking became somewhat foreign to the sport and was relegated to some remote fantasy in the fans’ minds. The so called Drag Reduction System, DRS is essentially an adjustable rear wing which can be used to facilitate overtaking.

Under Formula 1 rules, the driver of a following car can adjust the flap of his rear wing under certain circumstances. When two or more cars pass over designated zones on the track, if a following car is measured at less than one second behind a leading car it will be sent a signal that will allow its driver to deploy the car active rear wing. The flap is lifted up at the front and pivots about a point at the trailing edge of the wing, so that in the event of a failure, the flap will drop down into the default, high-downforce position.

I’d rather see some good racing with less overtaking than average racing with a shed load of ‘passing’. I think the problem with the whole DRS concept is that it is presumed that a lot of passing regardless of how it’s done or how easy it is would equal great racing.

There was a time when the thought of missing an F1 session irritated me, yet recently I’ve found myself not been bothered about potentially missing a qualifying session or having to go do something else during the race, especially when the early laps have shown DRS to be overly effective.
Seeing the typical easy DRS pass does nothing for me, I find it unexciting, disinteresting and bordering boring. It is not what I enjoy watching and if anything takes excitement away from the race rather than adding to it.

The biggest problem with DRS for me however is that it hasn’t solved any of the underlying problems regarding turbulent air, or more precisely the cars over-reliance on aerodynamics. We saw at Spa that cars would still drop back Sector Two due to that problem a problem that has no chance of been improved as long as DRS is around because DRS is “working”.
Pre-DRS we had people looking at real solutions, aero changes were proposed and adopted, circuits such as Abu Dhabi were talking of making alterations but those changes were shelved in favour of DRS which was said to be cheaper.

Let me watch some Senna and Prost videos to rid my mind of the technology-driven toys of 2015.