An Ignorant American on the "Spainish" GP 2018
Also some subtle political commentary, a story about moose guts, and a review of F1 TV Pro.
Hola y bienvenidos de regreso al Americano Ignorante! (Get it? Spain!)
Part of being a brand new F1 fan is that every race weekend stretches your knowledge and appreciation of the sport. The "Spainish" Grand Prix (sic) was the biggest stretch for me so far. Yes, there were offs in practice, a safety car to start the race, and overtakes, but Barcelona served all the chaos as a first course of tapas and got it out of the way up front. The real paella came in the form of aero development and a fairly technical race that was all about tire strategy and defense. Tapas, paella… some sangria would be nice to finish, right? Besides being hungry for Spanish food right now, I'm also glad that Spain was the 5th race I've ever seen and not the first. I'm hardly an aficionado and a lot is still beyond me, so I needed the absolute knockouts of Bahrain and Baku to get me hooked on the sport and invested enough to care about races when they run a little on the "classic" side. But those other races did their job, and I did mine by spending some time every off-week filling in my F1 knowledge gaps, so Spain still ended up as a very entertaining weekend. Here are my ignorant ramblings about it.
The cars that arrived in Barcelona were fairly bristling with the fins, blades, ridges, lumps, and cavities of new aero. The high point was probably McLaren's new nose, although Woking had a tough weekend all around as Alonso didn't move up from 8th and Vandoorne's car took a dive and DNF'd him. A lot of the other teams' aero changes were much more subtle, minor tweaks and adjustments in hidden areas on the car, engineers looking for secret ways to lower drag. Nothing all that glaring or obvious or worth mentioning really... ha! just kidding, the Ferrari cars came out looking like that one aunt we all have who always wears the giant, gaudy plastic earrings! Those hanging mirrors were trashy, and judging by Ferrari's absence on the podium for the first time this year, they offered no distinct advantage. So they were useless AND ugly. I join the rest of the internet mob and say the FIA is right to ban them, and good riddance. Be better, Ferrari. To me the most interesting piece of new aero was something that Force India ran in the first few laps of FP1 and then removed. It looked like a pair of box wings just forward of the rear tires. In aviation, box wings create incredible lift for the space they occupy, but they also provide really great control surfaces for guidance systems, and are how the US guide our smart bombs when we knock down all of Iraq’s infrastructure every 12 years or so. If Force India were allowed to move those box wings with actuators as they navigated the track, they could align their car perfectly into and out of every corner and achieve perfect control and truly ballistic speed. But although moving aero helps you to efficiently disrupt your enemy’s cousin’s wedding in the hills of Afghanistan, it remains illegal in F1. I’m really curious to know how those box wings performed for Force India and if they’ll bring them back at some point.
Speaking of highly destructive American military technology, when Grosjean’s Haas car came back onto the track in a cloud of smoke in lap one my mind immediately started playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries like I was watching Robert Duvall’s scene from Apocalypse Now. What in the world was Grosjean thinking? After Baku, Gasly called Magnussen the most dangerous driver in F1 (which was kind of insulting to Max at that point), but I wonder if he’s changed his mind after Grosjean annihilated his Torro Rosso and Nico’s Renault. That was downright murderous and it was quite a relief to know that no one was seriously injured. What a testament to the all the drivers’ professional abilities that so many made it through that gauntlet unscathed. Grosjean definitely deserves the grid penalty for Monaco, yikes.
The other downright sickening sight of the weekend was Hartley’s car coming apart on the crane after his crash in FP3. I’ve done a fair amount of hunting, and seeing Torro Rosso spill itself like that reminded me of when my dad shot a moose down in a little swamp area and we had to lift it out with a tractor. The moose was gutshot and when we raised it up onto the road all of its viscera dumped out in a pile. Just gross and kind of tragic. Huge respect for the Torro Rosso wrenchers for getting Hartley back in a working car for the race, and a shrug for Hartley for still finishing 12th in a race with 6 DNFs.
Congratulations to Max Verstappen on a podium finish, but especially for not being this week’s terrorist at the tea party. I imagine that after Baku, Horner and Jos sat down with young Max and said, “You know that if you actually finish the race without crashing, sometimes they let you win it.” Max then thought it over for an awkwardly long time before he said, “What if I crash just a little bit?” Horner and Pops looked at each other in disbelief and frustration, but apparently Max had a plan. A little, tiny crash that wrecks some aero for Max and a 3rd place finish and some points for RBR, and everyone’s happy because everyone gets what they wanted. We’ll see if that strategy can hold up for the rest of the season. Ricciardo’s 5th place wasn’t bad, but I still think Red Bull has more to give and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Max and Daniel next to each other on at least one podium this year. Some chaos will be required, but chaos is always part of the game.
Ferrari had a really disappointing day, not just Kimi’s DNF and Vettel’s somewhat shocking absence on the podium, but the loss to an absolutely dominant Mercedes has to sting. The two top dogs seem to have switched position, at least for Spain, and I finally got to see a happy Lewis Hamilton after a really commanding win. Apparently Lewis only counts it a victory if he takes pole, disappears over the horizon, and crosses the line with 20 seconds between his car and the next one. Those are high standards, but Spain was his race and he got what he wanted, and the whole Mercedes team really brought something extra to Barcelona that I hadn’t seen yet. Both championships are wide open right now, and if things keep going this way it will be an exciting season right up to the last race.
In the midfield, congratulations to Magnussen on an awesome 6th place finish, to Sainz for beating Alo in front of their home crowd, and to Leclerc for a noble 10th and a point. I (and my daughter) had higher hopes for Perez in Spain, but the track doesn’t favor the pink car and there wasn’t enough disaster up front for the midfield to really have a shot at a podium. Good for him to land in 9th anyway. With Ocon, Vandoorne, and Raikonnen failing to finish due to car trouble, it seems like parts are starting to wear out and every lap after this moment is a high-speed run into the unknown. So, I’ll continue to support my daughter’s Perez fandom and watch with anticipation as the rest of this unpredictable season unfolds.
Finally, I have to say something about F1 TV Pro. I’ve been excited for the launch of F1’s streaming service since before Melbourne, and I was totally stoked to try it out for Spain. And it was terrible. The best thing about it was the spinning Pirelli buffering wheel, which I saw way too much. The UI wasn’t what F1 had promised, especially the ability to select multiple cameras simultaneously. The “live” streaming was unwatchable so I had to just watch everything an hour or two after the fact as usual. There were some redeeming qualities, like the archive races – my infant son and I watched the monsoon-like Spa 1998 while he took a nap and enjoyed it (pro tip – if you want your partner to actually encourage you to watch sports, train your child to only be able to nap with the noise of the sport in the background; I was basically ordered to go watch some F1). Overall, F1 TV “Pro” was something of a disappointment, and I hope they keep debugging it until it becomes as great as it could be. Right now, though, it’s a $12 USD/month nothing-burger.
Anyway, Spain was fun to watch and I’m really interested to know what Mercedes brought to Barcelona that they haven’t had in other races so far this year. Let me know what you think in the comments. Monaco is next up and I couldn’t be more excited – the classic European city circuit with these drivers and these cars is going to be a guaranteed thriller!
Hasta la vista fanáticos, nos vemos por allí (I know Spanish, in case you haven't picked up on that yet).
PS - If you like this stuff and you haven’t done so already, come join the Ignorant American F1 tribe. Name aside, we’re very nice people most of the time.