2015 US GP Race Review

lewis usgp
Photo credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Official Facebook Page

Like a page-turner that keeps you awake at night

It’s a 13-hour time difference between Texas and Manila, so I stayed up in the wee hours of Monday morning to catch the race live on television. I needed a precautionary cup of coffee just to make certain that I wouldn’t be dozing off while watching the race, something which I admit to be privy to, at least for other racing series other than F1. On hindsight, I might not have actually needed the coffee as I was treated to a thriller at the Circuit of the Americas with lots of overtaking and driver-versus-own-car fighting on a track that was still drying and draining the copious amounts of rain that fell upon it throughout the weekend. On the heels of Hurricane Patricia, this year’s United States Grand Prix had all the elements to be remembered as a classic and when the checkered flag was waved, a champion was crowned.

Lewis wins his third career World Title

With three races to spare, Lewis Hamilton clinched the 2015 World Title. It’s been a stellar past three weekends for Mercedes, having won the F1 Constructors’ Title two weeks ago in Sochi and having crowned the youngest DTM champion with Mercedes F1 reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein just last week, the German manufacturer produced another champion of their own, with Lewis winning his second consecutive World Championship, the third of his career, equaling Sir Jackie Stewart for the most F1 championships won by a British driver.

His teammate Nico Rosberg looked set to win the race but a very rare mistake made by the German when, late in the race, he spun his rear tires accelerating out of a corner and almost lost control of his car, gave Lewis the race lead and eventually the win. Nico was visibly and understandably upset over his own mistake but still managed to gracefully congratulate his triumphant teammate (and rival) in the waiting room before the podium ceremony. However, while Nico was evidently in a somber mood sitting down at a chair, Lewis, perhaps still excited with his race victory and freshly-clinched championship, tossed Nico the cap worn by the 2nd place driver. The German threw the cap back at his teammate, visibly unimpressed by Lewis’s antics.

I understand Nico’s frustrations but I think it was unnecessary for Lewis to toss him the 2nd place hat when Nico was clearly in a serious mood. With that, I won’t blame Nico for the hat-throwing incident. But that’s just my opinion and I hope this incident doesn’t get further blown out of proportion by the media and that both gentlemen put this behind them and continue as formidable teammates and competitive rivals.

Rosberg conceded that he lost the race fairly but was still brooding over Hamilton’s aggressive maneuver on the first turn of the opening lap when, similar to what happened in Japan a few weeks ago, Lewis forced Nico out of the track. Although he dropped back a couple of places, Rosberg systematically fought his way back to the race lead, passing Hamilton at right around the halfway mark. Furthermore, Rosberg seemed to have the stronger race, managing his tires better than Hamilton, as evidenced by the comparative lap times after the first series of pit stops, pointed out by Fox Sports Asia analyst and ex-F1 driver Alex Yoong. All drivers started the race on Intermediate tires due to the damp track and switched to racing slicks starting from about Lap 20. Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel pitted a lap earlier than Hamilton and the two were able to quickly decrease their lap times in fewer laps than Hamilton did. On the restart after the second Safety Car period, Rosberg pulled away out front from his teammate and built a safe gap until his untimely error cost him the lead and eventually the win. Without the error, Rosberg would have easily been the one cruising to victory for the final eight laps instead of Hamilton.

Taking nothing away from the newly-crowned champion, Lewis drove a mistake-free race unlike his teammate, albeit struggling with slick tires on the challenging track conditions and of course, his questionable shoulder block-like move on Nico in the first lap. Lewis couldn’t have clinched the championship in a better way than standing on the top step of the podium at the Circuit of the Americas. Congratulations to Lewis, no less.

A recap of the midfield

Hamilton, Rosberg, and Vettel in that order rounded out the podium. Behind them, it was a joy to watch the middle of the pack scrap it out, as two Virtual Safety Car periods and two Safety Car periods helped bunch the field up to the extent that home country hero Alexander Rossi, effectively last place with his Manor MR03B at P12 after an abundance of retirements, finished on the lead lap.

In the opening stages of the race, the battle for the lead was intriguing, initially involving the two Red Bulls of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo ganging up on Hamilton. Evidently looking very strong running Intermediate tires on the wet track, the Red Bulls eventually dropped down when the track dried and everyone changed to slicks. Ricciardo tangled with Nico Hulkenberg in the middle of the race while Kvyat crashed to the inside wall at the exit of Turn 19–the incident which brought the second and final Safety Car period.

P4 and P5 respectively belonged to Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez after they both drove steady, controlled races. McLaren was supposed to be set for a strong finish when Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were running P5 and P6. Alonso struggled with his tires and finished out of the points at P11 despite the upgraded Honda engine that he ran while Button, not running an upgraded engine, weathered his pursuers to finish P6 ahead of Carlos Sainz, Pastor Maldonado, Felipe Nasr, and Ricciardo, rounding out the top ten finishers.

Alonso and, as mentioned previously, Rossi were the only two non-points-scoring finishers after the race saw eight retirements, including both Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, as well as Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. It was disappointing to see Hulkenberg retire after what seemed to be a promising race weekend, when he showed how skillful a driver he is in wet conditions during the practice sessions and driving a strong race up until his front wing broke just before he attempted his overtake on Ricciardo, which resulted in contact.

The Toro Rosso boys continue to shine

On a few occasions, Verstappen found himself in P3 but his Renault-powered Toro Rosso proved no match to either Mercedes or Ferrari–no shame in that. Verstappen’s teammate Sainz drove a phenomenal race finishing P7 after starting from the very back of the grid. Sainz was opportunistic and scrappy yet patient, driving like a man on a mission, competitively challenging experienced veterans Raikkonen, Alonso, and Button throughout the race. The young Toro Rosso driver seems unfazed by his recent crashes in FP3 and the race in Russia and in Qualifying just a few hours before this race, turning in spectacular comeback performances. His attempt in Russia was curtailed by a brake failure but this time out in Austin, the young stud nailed it, bringing home with him a strong points-scoring finish, and perhaps some more bragging rights.

Max Verstappen heads up the hill for Turn 1 with teammate Carlos Sainz closely following behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen
Max Verstappen heads up the hill for Turn 1 with teammate Carlos Sainz closely following behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Photo credit: Scuderia Toro Rosso Official Website

Between the Toro Rosso drivers, Verstappen has stolen the spotlight early in the season with his audacious overtaking while Sainz was plagued with reliability issues. Having recently gained the luck that seemed to elude him, Sainz has made the most out of it by demonstrating that he is arguably as equally spectacular a racer as his 18-year old teammate.

Racing comes in the blood for these two young men. Sainz is the son of World Rally legend Carlos Sr., while Max is the son of former F1 driver Jos. In the junior ranks, Verstappen dominated Formula 3 and eventually gained backing from Red Bull close to his Toro Rosso debut at FP1 in Suzuka last year. On the other hand, Sainz has been backed by Red Bull for years and was last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 champion, earning his F1 promotion when Toro Rosso let go of veteran Jean-Eric Vergne. At the start of this season, Sainz was 20 and Verstappen was 17, although they have both celebrated their birthdays recently.

The Toro Rosso boys are bullish racers, to put it on apt terms. As seen in the Singapore Grand Prix where they ganged up overtaking the Lotus drivers, the two of them working in tandem proves to be fearsome despite being the youngest pair among all teams this year. Both still very young drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport, they have showed that they can compete with F1’s seasoned veterans and future legends. I expect a bright future indeed for both Sainz and Verstappen.

Photo credits:

Mercedes AMG Petronas Official Facebook Page

Scuderia Toro Rosso Official Website

It has sunk in: The Dodgers’ season is over

I followed the last few innings of Game 5 of the NLDS using a computer in the study hall at school. An illegal live stream was out of the question, so I settled for MLB.com’s Gameday. Without live pictures, there wasn’t much I could make out of the live pitch-tracker graphic other than pitch location, speed, whether or not it was hit for an out, etc.

I left home with the Dodgers in the lead 2-1 after the 3rd inning. By the time I finished a quick quiz in my first class and sprinted to the study hall, the score was 3-2 in favor of New York.

The Mets brought in their closer Jeurys Familia at start of the 8th inning to attempt a lofty 6-out save. I thought for sure the Dodgers could somehow muster up a couple of hits and produce the tying run, so I sat back and patiently waited for that to happen.

It never did. Groundout, flyout, lineout, strikeout–all six Dodgers hitters that came up to get a piece of Familia went down. I noticed that on the final at-bat, Howie Kendrick struck out on three straight pitches, all swinging and missing. Three red dots represented that on the Gameday graphic. The final out was recorded at the exact same time the school bell rang for my next class. I looked down at my blue t-shirt that proudly proclaimed “Los Angeles Dodgers” on top of the “LA” logo.

I went to my remaining classes, met up with friends, went home, read a book, watched TV. In the midst of all that, I’ve forgotten that the Dodgers just lost Game 5 and were eliminated. I haven’t even seen video of the moment the last out was made and it was when I clicked on a Deadspin article about Kendrick’s pathetic at-bat that I finally got to visualize the events.

Howie swinging at a slider spiked to the opposite batter’s box. Howie missing on a vulnerable slider hung right down the middle. Howie waving, missing at the final pitch and the subsequent celebration of Familia, arms thrown up, hopping up and down in front of the pitching mound as his teammates rush over to him. The crowd at Dodger Stadium, amped up while they willed Kendrick to get a hit, was immediately silenced.

The sight of the Mets celebrating on Dodgers home turf and of Kendrick walking away from the camera shot brought it all home to me. It sunk in. For the third straight year, the Dodgers were advancing no further in the playoffs. A return to the World Series would have to wait for another year.

Actually, I already had concerns about the Dodgers for this year’s postseason. While I had no complaints at all about their adequate offense and reliable defense, it was the lack of pitching depth that limited my hope at World Series glory. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are two of the best starting pitchers in baseball nowadays but if it’s Brett Anderson and Alex Wood or Mike Bolsinger following them in the postseason rotation, there’s not much to hope for, at least in my opinion.

Anderson had some brilliant performances in the regular season but he was still prone to those really bad outings that average pitchers tend to scatter arbitrarily throughout their season. That bad outing came up in Game 3 where he gave up four runs immediately after the Dodgers gave him a three-run lead. Because of that, Kershaw was summoned on short rest to pitch Game 4, which he dominated. Greinke started Game 5 on regular rest, pitched effectively, but was out-dueled by the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who can now claim to have beaten two of baseball’s best pitchers in the same postseason series. Kudos to the talented young pitcher.

The Dodgers couldn’t go deep into a postseason pennant race for three years now because of a lack of pitching depth. Having the two best pitchers at the top of the rotation just isn’t enough anymore. Ryu Hyun-jin was out for the year with injury and his presence in the rotation as the number-three guy was surely missed. Even in the previous years when the Dodgers used Ryu as their Game 3 starter, they’d still throw in Kershaw for Game 4 on short rest.

As much as the Dodgers have money, they have consistently stayed away from signing that big fish pitcher that occupies the free agent or trade market. Over the years, they traded for Joe Blanton, signed an aging Josh Beckett, an injury-prone Brandon McCarthy, and Anderson. They took Alex Wood and Mat Latos before the trade deadline this year, the latter of which turned out to be a disastrous signing. I really don’t think the Dodgers can go far into a playoff run if they keep signing average pitchers to follow Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu.

For strong postseason teams, there’s no room for hit-or-miss starting pitchers occupying the middle of the rotation. I’m hoping Greinke signs back and Ryu makes a healthy return next season. As for the possible number-four starter, I have hopes for Brandon Beachy getting back to his once dominating form and emerge as a key piece in the rotation. If not, I’ll wait for McCarthy to return from injury or for Wood and Bolsinger to develop into effective pitchers. Ultimately, I’m hoping that by next year, I’ll have supreme confidence in a stable Dodgers pitching rotation.

I now have an almost one-year wait for a retake of the postseason and a shot at the World Series. Until then, I can’t wait to watch an exciting fight for the title this year between the remaining four promising teams.

Friday Night Lights – Day 1 at the Singapore Grand Prix

I intended my review of the Singapore Grand Prix to be the inaugural post for my blog, but because I finished my review of the race in Japan before I even started on this one, I decided to defer this and post in installments.  This is my first time in live attendance to a Formula One race weekend. I’ve opted to dedicate one post per day of the Grand Prix weekend so Part 1 is essentially Friday evening where I watched the first two free practice sessions.  Continue reading “Friday Night Lights – Day 1 at the Singapore Grand Prix”

Russian GP Race Review

Lewis Hamilton is victorious and extends his championship advantage as teammate Nico Rosberg suffers early retirement due to a mechanical issue with his throttle. Moreover, Rosberg drops to third place in the championship standings behind Sebastian Vettel, who delivered another superb result for Ferrari this weekend. Mercedes seems to have been plagued with reliability issues after only one driver has seen the checkered flag in three of the last four races. In Monza, Rosberg blew an old and stressed engine late in the race while in Singapore, Hamilton had a power-related problem. After his teammate’s unfortunate end to his race, Hamilton stood as the lone Mercedes driver on the podium, along with Vettel and Force India’s Sergio Perez.  Continue reading “Russian GP Race Review”

2015 Japanese Grand Prix Review

I have finally decided to start my blog, in an effort to bring my passion for Formula One racing together with honing my writing skills. For my first post, I review the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix. I watched the race intently on television, like I always do, but this time I actually took a pen and jotted down some notes on a small piece of paper. After the race, with the highlight reel in my mind still fresh, I gave it a shot and wrote the majority of the content of this post, which I returned to a few days later to iron it out and put it up here only now. So here goes my rookie effort. Comments and suggestions are most welcome.  Continue reading “2015 Japanese Grand Prix Review”