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I'm Matthew Somerfield, a freelance journalist focused on the technical elements of Formula One. It has been a pleasure to provide content via this site for the last 5 years, which has led me to several paid freelancing jobs along the way. I'm currently plying my trade with Motorsport.com and working alongside the legend that is Giorgio Piola.

This has seen the content here diminish as a result and I'd like that to change. In order to accomplish this I need your financial support, as I need to break free of the shackles of doing this part time. If you like the content I've been producing and want more of it I'd ask that if you can spare some change each month it'd go a long way towards transforming this site into the technical behemoth I know it can be.

As such I've set up a 'tip jar' over on Patreon and will continue to set goals and rewards based on our success - www.patreon.com/SomersF1

20 Nov 2017
Abu Dhabi Prixview 2017


It seems like only yesterday that Formula One rocked up in Melbourne but here we are at the final race of the season and whilst the championships are already tied up theres still scores to settle, a race to be won and knowledge to be gained.
The F1 circus is bought back to earth with a bump as it arrives in Abu Dhabi, which is located just a few metres above sea level, a completely different challenge to the ones faced at high altitude in the preceeding two rounds. The anti clockwise Yas Marina circuit is a relatively flat one too, with the main elevation change occuring in turn 3, as the rest of the circuit winds around the natural undulations of the landscape.

Pirelli have opted for the three most performance orientated compounds - the ultra soft, super soft and soft tyres, with teams naturally gravitating towards the softer options for their allocations. Renault being perhaps the Joker in the pack, having selected four of the Super Soft tyres for both of their drivers.

Tyre pressures are fairly innocuous, with minimums set at 20psi and 19psi at the front and rear respectively, whilst camber limits have been set at -3.50 degrees (front) and 2.0 degrees (rear). The cooling track temperatures as the race is set to start late in the day is part of the challenge of keeping the tyre in the relevant operating window.

The post event/season test, held on Tuesday and Wednesday is going to be of huge significance too, it's the first time that the teams will get hands on experience of next years tyres, giving them insight into construction and compounds. The Italian tyre manufacturer was deliberately conservative with their selections in 2017, as making decisions based on data from the teams regarding this years cars and the data from the 'mule' cars created and run by Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull in 2016 proved inconclusive.

Having helped to deliver the leap forward in laptimes that had been promised for 2017 we can expect those times to tumble further in 2018, as Pirelli lower the compound choices by a step - the hard becoming the medium, the medium becomes the soft, the soft the super soft and the super soft the ultra soft. This means the ultra soft goes a grade further, increasing performance beyond the current envelope. Going even further, the manufacturer is set to introduce a sixth compound, even softer that those, which will be run with pink branding and dependent on the results of a fan survey will be known as either the Mega soft, Hyper soft or Extreme soft (strangely enough there was no option for SoftyMcSoftFace).
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18 Nov 2017
Book review: Adrian Newey - How to design a car


Adrian Newey is the most successful designer in Formula One's history, responsible for race and championship winning cars at Williams, McLaren and Red Bull having cut his teeth with March and Leyton House.

The book charts his success, and failings, as he takes an open an honest account of his time in the sport. He carefully intersperses talk about the design detail of each car with stories about his life and times in a sport that he's devoted his life to - often at the sacrifice of those closest to him. This dilutes what would otherwise be a formulaic approach, as the book is structured around the cornerstone cars of his career.

It was certainly interesting to hear how the early years unfolded, as he explains with exceptional clarity his upbringing and educational struggles, followed by formative years at March including the  design of their Indycar chassis, all whilst race engineering for Bobby Rahal and the heady lifestyle of having to operate between the US and UK.

It's no secret that Adrian has followed an evolutionary design philosophy, something he's keen to expose as you leaf through the book, with his original designs very much the forebears of the modern machinery, each one adapted to suit the prevailing regulations. Of course each of these changes have eaten into the design envelope and whilst he's keen to thank the FIA for their relentless pursuit of increasing safety, you can sense his frustration at what he deems to be a malevolent undercurrent - almost like a target on his back with the regulator fixated on reducing his ability to innovate.

The delicate matter of Aryton's death is also covered, as Adrian explains how the FW16, designed around the 'active suspension' concept, was difficult to drive and aerodynamically inadequate. He's relatively candid about the design changes that were made to accommodate the Brazilian, his role in this and the procedures that became commonplace thereafter but what really comes across is that feeling of mental turmoil that he carries to this day, haunted by the reality of losing a driver.

Technical explanation of some of the more intricate topics, such as active suspension, blown diffusers, etc come with diagrams penned by Adrian himself and give interesting and insight into the fundamental design challenges faced by a Formula One. He admits though that his role has since diminished, the advent of CAD and CFD relegating his now archaic drawing board methods to large scale conceptual ideas, rather than the very iterational minutia they are able to produce in shorter time frames. 

The introduction of the hybrid powerunits were a segue for Adrian, as he negotiated a new contract with Red Bull that would see him take on other projects outside of Formula One. He'd become disinterested by the now very political nature of Formula One's 'regulation games', being shaped by interested parties, rather than from an engineering perspective. The last part of the book covers some of the projects he's worked on during this time but not in huge detail, as you'd expect.

The book was clearly finished before he was called once more unto the breach this season, as the regulations have, for the first time, been relaxed in order that the laptimes be reduced. This has led to an enormous regulation change, primarily affecting the aerodynamic design of the cars and that had left Red Bull adrift of Mercedes and Ferrari. I suspect we can probably look forward to a second edition in the coming years, as hopefully he explains what went wrong, why he was redrafted in and what part he played in the teams recovery.

Formula One fans of all walks should not be dissuaded from reading this book, as even though it does have a technical approach it's layered with fascinating stories about his time in motorsport and the characters within that shaped it.
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14 Nov 2017
Ross Brawn's Brazil in Five

 Ferrari rediscover the winning formula
At Interlagos, Sebastian Vettel showed once more that Ferrari possessed the right assets required to fight for the world title, as they ended a barren spell dating back to the Hungarian Grand Prix just prior to the summer break.
However, despite the fact the Italian team was always competitive over the final part of the season, they never managed to make the most of the car's potential, for a variety of reasons.
On this occasion, all the pieces of the jigsaw came together: the driver, the car, the reliability, every element delivered to its full potential. On Saturday, Vettel missed out on pole position by a whisker, his lap just 0.038s slower than that of Valtteri Bottas.
On Sunday, a great start saw Vettel get the better of the Finn into Turn 1 and from then on he always appeared to be in control, even if he never quite shrugged off the attention of his pursuers.
This result means that Vettel now has a 22-point advantage over Bottas in the drivers' standings and is now almost guaranteed the runner-up spot in the championship, something that probably is of less interest to him than to the statisticians.
However, it is a morale booster for him and the whole team. Going into the winter break on the back of a win, with one more opportunity for victory remaining in Abu Dhabi, is always a fillip and we can look forward to a great battle at the final race.

 Hamilton powers through
For the second consecutive time, Lewis Hamilton did not finish on the podium, but the Mercedes driver should be well pleased with his afternoon's work.
A couple of weeks ago in Mexico, delight at taking the title would definitely have cancelled out the disappointment of only finishing ninth, whereas in Brazil, the champion elect's performance would have softened the blow of not getting to the podium.
Starting from the pit lane, after his qualifying crash on Saturday, Lewis staged an exceptional comeback, even leading the race on lap 30, before coming home fourth, right behind Kimi Räikkönen and just over five seconds behind his chief title rival, Sebastian Vettel.
It's true that a new power unit in Hamilton's Mercedes meant he could fully exploit the car's technical strengths, but his pace and aggression when it came to overtaking were impressive and worthy of a four times world champion. And, as he said himself, he had a huge amount of fun.

 Massa bows out in style
It was a special weekend for Felipe Massa. The Williams driver is retiring from Formula 1 at the end of this season and this was his final race in front of his home fans.
I was pleased to see him get a good result and seventh was the best he could hope for, given the growing performance gap between the top three teams and the rest of the field. It was good to see him fight with grit and determination throughout the race, especially in the closing stages when he was battling with his former team-mate Fernando Alonso. I'm sure Felipe was really happy to beat him to the chequered flag.
I've known Felipe since he came to Ferrari as one of the rising young stars of Formula 1 and I watched him grow up alongside Michael Schumacher, going on to confirm his place as one of the quickest drivers of his generation.
I well remember how happy he was to win the race in Interlagos in 2006, wearing a race suit in Brazil's national colours and also, two years later, the pride and dignity he showed at this same circuit when he had to deal with the terrible disappointment of seeing the world title slip through his fingers, after, for a few brief moments, it had been within his grasp.
I also recall the concern felt in Budapest in 2009, when he was the victim of a serious but unbelievable accident, followed by the delight of seeing him back behind the wheel, just as competitive as ever, a few months later.
Felipe is a great person, honest and sincere, with a wonderful family around him and I'm sure that being on the podium after the prize-giving, along with his son Felipinho will be a moment he will never forget.
Of course, there's still the race in Abu Dhabi to go, but symbolically, his new life as a driver and a person, starts now. Felipe, I wish you all the very best from the bottom of my heart.

 Bulls' late season charge falters in Brazil
Ever since the end of the European part of the Formula 1 season, Red Bull has become steadily more competitive, taking two wins and four further podium finishes. It's true that reliability problems have cost them results, but at every race, they've had the pace to fight for a place on the podium, at the very least. However, in Interlagos, for whatever reason, Red Bull was a long way off its Mexican level of performance, where Max Verstappen dominated proceedings.
Here the Dutchman finished fifth, over 30 seconds behind Vettel, while Daniel Ricciardo produced a great climb up the order from 17th after a first collision to sixth place at the chequered flag. However, the gap in performance to the front runners was somewhat demonstrated by the fact that the Australian finished 43 seconds behind Hamilton.
Verstappen's race fastest lap will bring little consolation, even though the 1.11.044 is a new race record for this track. In fact, with nothing to lose in terms of position, the Dutchman was able to lap at this pace by fitting a new set of tyres for the closing laps.
While this performance was an exception for the team his season, both Red Bull drivers never ran the risk of finishing lower than sixth, given that the gap to those behind them, a trio made up of Massa, Alonso and Perez – finished 20 seconds behind Ricciardo. That highlights that there is too big a gap between the three top teams and the rest of the field. But that's a wider topic for discussion for another day.

Racing with real passion
Over 140,000 spectators (141,218 to be precise) attended the Brazilian Grand Prix over the weekend, an increase of 10% over last year. It's a significant number, especially given that both the Constructors' and Drivers' titles were already decided.
The fact that so many fans wanted to bid farewell to Felipe Massa at his final Brazilian Grand Prix played its part, but above all, it confirms that Formula 1 is still incredibly popular in this country. That also explains why Brazil has one of the biggest television audiences in the whole world.
There is a great Formula 1 tradition here, with multiple world champions in Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Emerson Fittipaldi, as well as many other top drivers such as Rubens Barrichello and Felipe, with whom I had the pleasure of working. Interlagos, too is a special place that generally produces spectacular racing.
However, the most important thing is the passion of the fans, which you can feel more than at almost anywhere else on the calendar. And let's not forget that the fans are the most important part of this sport we all love.
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12 Nov 2017
Trumpets Brazilian GP race report


Ambient 28° 
Track 60° 
Humidity 34% 
Wind 2.0 m/s

Prelude

Cerulean skies bathed the paddock in unrestricted sunlight, the brilliant glare of the Brasilian firmament bouncing pointillist light off every available surface in stark contrast to yesterday's qualifying session, announcing a brand new day had dawned.

And a brand new power unit for Lewis Hamilton, who, it was being speculated, might be running some 2018 lower burning oil spec parts in anticipation of the rules change for next season. Thus a pitlane start for the man from Mercedes which will at the very least keep him from the usual first lap mayhem and hopefully provide the viewer with a fairly large amount of entertaining racing to boot. He will be joined at the back by the Toro Rosso lads and the Williams of Stroll, with penalty-palooza fellow sufferer Ricciardo starting further up the grid in the carbon fibre danger zone of P14. The Red Bull v Macca preview with Vandoorne just 2 places higher could also provide some early fireworks, though Stoffel seemed somewhat less than stellar in these tropical environs.

Pirelli is on the one stop train today, calling for a one stop switch from Supers to Softs starting around lap 26. Those whose strategy gets ruined could go alternate, with a 2 stop, first 2 stints on the Supers, going 22 laps a piece, and then banging it home with the Softs. 

Helmut Marko was out and soothing the waters of what looked to be an incipient fistfight between Franz "the Manic Maniac" Tost and Cyril "I'll Beat 'Em All" Abiteboul in the Toro Rosso- Renault grudge match.

Brutally soaring temps may tell the story of the race, with teams blistering Front Lefts massively in the hot practice sessions (which were not as hot as today) and race strategists will be on edge waiting for the telemetry and shots to start streaming in as a last moment conclave of technicians around the car of Raikkonen added to the drama of the start....


Summary

Lights Out!!!! Rocking start from Vettel and he as they approached T1 Bottas turned in but it was too late and off the Ferrari streaked with the lead of the race. Big Spin for Ricciardo though as contact with Vandoorne punted him and it was out to the back of the pack for the Red Bull, as he got his car pointed the right direction and underway again. Worse, though for Vandoorne, who lost his front wing in the tangle. It was Magnussen who had the worst of it, day done as he was the third player in that little drama. Out came the Safety Car, but even as this happened Ocon and Grosjean came together, both cars slung off track by their coming together. Under the SC, Ricciardo reported no damage though he did stop for a new set of tyres, as under replay the Grosjean/Ocon incident was thoroughly dissected and it was clear RoGro just oversteered and spun into Ocon, singlehandedly bringing the young Frenchman's record of 27 finished Grand Prixs to an end with a dual puncture  

Gasly and Hartley had managed to keep their noses clean and the result was they were up to  P10 and P12, with Hamilton up to P14 as lap 2 slowly entered the history books and the recovery and clean up began in earnest.

Lap 5 saw the SC in and it was time to go racing as a good restart from Vettel, but even better from Massa to get P6 from Alonso. Raikkonen threatened Bottas and Hamilton was hard up against Stroll. Taking advantage of the outside of the same corner that ended his qualifying session, Hamilton was by 2 cars and off in pursuit of Ericsson in P11.

Ricciardo despatched Wehrlein fairly effortlessly for P15 as Vettel at the front was purpling the timing screens, taking fast lap and out of DRS from Bottas.

Lap 8 saw Lewis ahead of Ericsson and just 10 seconds back of Vettel. Sensing blood in the water, he kept his foot in it and Gasly was his next victim, putting the Mercedes into the points and back into the podium chase.

Another lap, another pass as Sainz was the next victim, though he reported some engine issues that were being investigated. But at the front it was Raikkonen quietly doing the work, into DRS of Bottas as Lewis made short work of Hulkenberg. Ricciardo, too, was being quite efficient as he was up to P12 after his first lap adventures.

Perez proved to be a more formidable obstacle, and it was almost, but not quite down the front straight on lap 13, meaning another lap of work for the Mercedes man.The following lap, it was again the defense into T1 as Perez covered the inside and Hamilton just hung it round the outside, to take the place. Perez stayed in it through the next turn but was unable to dislodge Hamilton, but not before providing a few shots for the highlight reels.

Alonso was next up, but the damage was being done, as Lewis was now 15 seconds back of Vettel. As he asked for this info on the radio, his engineers suggested that Ferrari might be on a different strategy than expected.

At the front, Raikkonen had backed off, as his tyres were beginning to cause him issues and Bottas was quietly pacing Vettel, around 2 seconds back as the race began to settle.

After a bit of a lull, it was lap 19 that saw Hamilton on the gearbox of Alonso, reeling him in and taking brutal advantage of DRS and diving up the inside of T1 and putting Massa squarely into his sights. "There is a Willams in the back of the Mercedes" cried Nicholls, on the BBC hilariously but presciently transposing team and PU, a bit prematurely though as it turns out it was several more corners for Hamilton to get the job done.

Mercedes radioed in that Bottas should start to close the gap and off he went, but it was Lewis resetting fast lap, into the low 1:13's for the first time and chasing down the gap to Verstappen. Grosjean collected a 10 second stop and go for putting Ocon out of the race, despite the Frenchman pointing out he may have collected some damage in T1 and there having been little to do

Lap 26 saw the start of the predicted pit window, but with the Safety Car having closed things up, the usual gap to the midfield. Lap 28 and regardless, Mercedes pulled the trigger, with Bottas out in between Hamilton and Alonso and the undercut putting pressure squarely on Ferrari.

This brought an immediate response and Vettel was in and out, followed by Verstappen as the dominos started following. Just half a second gap for Vettel as he rejoined, but Bottas was unable to keep up and by time they got to the DRS it was more than a second between them, opportunity gone.

With the dominos done, it was Hamilton, 4 seconds up on Vettel now leading the way, while Ricciardo, having worked his way past Perez, was in P5, the 2 long runners in amongst the leaders. Raikkonen was the big loser, the gap to Bottas out to nearly 6 seconds, his tyres having taken him out of the scrap at the front before the first pit stop.

The pit window for Hamilton lap 33 extended back to Ricciardo, with Perez well out of the way, the question now being how long to go before diving off the Softs. As late as possible would be the classic answer as Vettel, for the moment, seemed happy to circulate at the same pace and conserve for the end of the race.

Bottas, by contrast, seemed to be struggling a bit on the Softs, at least early on, as he had dropped nearly 3 seconds to Vettel since he boxed. By lap 38 he was running around the same pace and had stemmed the bleeding, but clearly the Ferrari had some pace in had, whilst the issue was less clear with Valterri.

Hamilton's front left was looking dodgier and dodgier, lap after lap, as the chase now seemed to be Sainz chasing down Hulkenberg, with the Toro Rosso of Gasly playing mobile chicane as the Renaults attempted to work their way into the points and gain ground on their WCC rival. 
Alonso, meanwhile, was firmly fixed on chasing down Massa, as his onboard computer worked out the highest possible finish and then the bone chilling car, as Hartley was instructed to retire the car and the little icicle of fear was stuck deep into the heart of all the teams running Renault PU's.

Lap 44 and it was Hamilton into the pits, to set the race into its final stage. Ricciardo followed suit, and it was P5 and back of Verstappen with 10 seconds of free air to roll into before catching up to the Dutchman. The 18 seconds to Vettel seemed a bridge too far, but it was 0.5 seconds in just the first sector that Lewis took and by the end of his first lap on the Supers, nearly a full second was off the gap to P1, with 26 laps to go.

The following lap was another second done, while at the front Vettel answered by bringing his pace up, though he couldn't match the lap times being set by Hamilton. Happily enough for Vettel, Lewis wound up getting stuck behind Stroll and dropping some time, as the traffic of the midfield began to play an increasing role in the long chase ahead. 2 seconds was the estimate of damage done, by Hamilton's account.

It was back to normal service then, into the mid 1:12's for the chasing Mercedes as Raikkonen was the one turning up the wick, also into the high 1:12's as Bottas got the hurry up from the pitwall. Grosjean was boxed to serve his penalty and as lap 55 turned over, it transpired that 2 penalty points would accompany the time loss for the HAAS driver, a baffling call as from every angle shown it appeared to be nothing more than a racing incident.  

Bottas had upped his pace per instructions, but it was Alonso who had finally worked his way into DRS on Massa that was the immediate focus. The straight-line speed of the Williams was problematic for the Mclaren, as no matter how close Fernando got, the gap remained unclosed down the straight into T1.

Lap 59 and it was Hamilton into DRS and though Verstappen covered off T1, Lewis took his second bite of the apple, and into T4 executed a flawless (though DRS aided) pass. 10 seconds, 11 laps to the front and Raikkonen very much aware of the approaching Hamilton, who, having cleared Verstappen, was into the 1:11's and chunking a second a lap out of the gap to the Ferrari in P3, 4 seconds up the road. 
Verstappen, having been left behind, was arguing desperately for a second stop to go back to the Supers, as they were much easier to drive. Despite a certain lack of evidence he could make up the time loss, his wish was granted and through the pits he went, back out into P5. Hamilton had halved the gap to Raikkonen during that sideshow.

Lap 66 and under a second to Raikkonen as they entered Sector 2. DRS open down the straight, down to half a second as they entered T1 and then a big lockup put a dent in his plans. Not enough to square the tyre, but leaving him too far to finish the move into T4.

The following lap it was down to half a second and again a lock up into T1, but he kept it close as they chased down the esses, but again not enough for a T4 pass as Hamilton's tyres were definitely past their prime and the rear of the car was becoming ever more pendulum like as Lewis was desperate to keep it close through the middle sector. As a distraction, Stroll's tyre, about which he had done much complaining since a huge lockup, finally let go at the end of lap 68, and he was forced to limp it back to the pits, down to the carcass. 

And that was the story, as the last laps headed to the books, Hamilton needed about 3 more laps of tyres to get the job done and claim a podium. Vettel for the win as the checquers fell, followed by Bottas and Raikkonen. Halfway back the lap, Alonso pulled the trigger and a mad battle for P7 kicked off, and through the middle sector Alonso did all he could, but it was not enough and in his final Brasilian GP, Massa successfully defended P7 as they crossed the line.

Vettel was pleased enough to toss off some donuts on his way round and the Ferrari win they so desperately needed was put into the books. With Raikkonen's excellent defense of 3rd, it was a Ferrari heavy podium. Questions about Bottas' pace will remain with him, as he was unable to take it to Vettel when the opportunity presented itself. Still, there was room for it to have been much worse and on a blistering hot day P2 and pole position is a clear sign of progress on his side of the garage.

The first lap mayhem destroyed the much anticipated race in the midfield, and Ocon, in particular, will have rued the qualifying performance that saw him not making Q3 as it left him in prime position to be a victim of the carbon fibre triangle. Toro Rosso will have been happy enough not scoring any points, as Renault just managed 1 in the form of Hulkenberg leaving a lot of work to be done for Renault to overtake them in the last race of the year.

More troubling for Renault, in the form of Viry, will be renewed reliability concerns with yet again another retirement and this despite the engines being run with wider margins after the disastrous results in Mexico. According to Horner, the restrictions costing them 0.2-0.3 seconds per lap and forcing them to burn their tyres trying to make up time in the twisty second sector.

It was a lost opportunity by Hamilton, though, that ultimately shaped the narrative of the race as  his crash in qualifying set the terms for the penultimate race of the season. Ferrari victory notwithstanding, the lack of their prime opponent at the sharp end of the field ultimately robbed the race of much of its meaning and drama at the front, a lack that was noticeable, despite the heroic charge through the field by Lewis.  

Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

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