Monday Motor Sport Report

What the FRIC, it’s Mercedes again

GOING into the German Grand Prix there was some – admittedly tiny – hope that, with the leading teams forced to scrap FRIC suspension systems deemed potentially illegal by the FIA, the Mercedes’ Silver Arrows-dominated 2014 season might be tossed towards the unpredictability we crave as race fans.

FRIC – Front to Rear Inter-Connected Suspension – has been around in various forms for a long time in Formula One, linking the front and rear suspension of the car with the target of keeping all four corners of the car at a constant ride height under braking, acceleration and during cornering. In essence: superior all-round stability and mechanical grip, with the benefit of easier tyre wear.

A further benefit of FRIC is that cars can be run very low and with very consistent aerodynamics. The suspension can also be stiffer without compromising the overall driver comfort.

In F1 circles there was a feeling, supported by race wins, that Mercedes had created the best of the modern FRIC systems.

In practice at Hockenheim, those earlier hopes that Mercedes might suffer from the hasty suspension revisions were quickly dashed when the Silver Arrows were fastest.

Still, Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull was closer than usual. Until Saturday.

Qualifying quickly dashed the Red Bull optimism. Championship leader Nico Rosberg took pole unchallenged after his brash team-mate Lewis Hamilton suffered an unusual brake failure and crashed out, leaving him 16th in the order.

The Merc-powered Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were second and third on the grid, the McLaren-Merc of Kevin Magnussen fourth, and Ricciardo fifth, ahead of reigning world champ Sebastian Vettel for the seventh time in 10 races this season.

In other words, except for the aberration of Hamilton’s qualifying crash, it was business as usual…

But the race was literally turned on its head moments after the start of the race when Felipe Massa’s Williams flipped after a clip from Magnussen, which also hurt Ricciardo’s race after the West Aussie was forced to take avoidance, dropping to 15th. Wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was on the outside and the collision happened; I had to avoid it,” Ricciardo said later. “From then on I just got on to the radio and said let's make an amazing recovery and make ourselves proud today. And I think we did that. We fought hard and we didn't leave anything on the table.”

As Rosberg skipped off into the distance, Ricciardo fought tenaciously back into the points, holding out the equally aggressive Hamilton until the Red Bull pitted for his first tyre tops. A technical issue requiring an in-cockpit re-set was another unwanted distraction for Ricciardo.

A stunning torrid-yet-fair scrap for fifth between Alonso and Ricciardo was a highlight of the latter part of the race, with the Spaniard squeaking in by the small margin of 0.08sec after many changes of position.

“These are the moments and battles that I personally thrive off and enjoy,” enthused Ricciardo. ”Fernando is known to be a tough racer and I thought, who better to have a good fight with. I was on the Primes and he was on fresher Options and I gave it the best fight I could and, well, nearly!”

Alonso was quick to heap praise on the Aussie.

“He’s driving fantastically and today he was battling very smart – always taking the slipstream off me after I pass him and braking very late, attacking very late and never missing a corner.

“He was very, very smart, very respectful with the rules and it was a great fight.”

At the front, it was so easy for all-the-way winner Rosberg, who extended his lead in the championship.

Hamilton, who made contact with three cars during the GP, was thwarted by the poised Bottas in his efforts to nail another Mercedes one-two while Vettel fought hard for his fourth.

Rich kudos for the top six, five of whom drove their hearts out chasing a bloke who had his Merc on cruise control. The loss of FRIC didn’t matter a fig. That was Merc’s ninth win from 10 races.

Power podium at Toronto Indycars

QUEENSLAND’S championship contender Will Power managed a podium in a mad weather-affected race two of the Indycar Series double-header on the streets of Toronto at the weekend, but a modest result (ninth) in the first race means he has slipped back further from series leader Helio Castroneves.

In race one, France’s Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chev) converted his first pole for seven years into his first victory in seven years, ahead of Castroneves (Penske Chev).

England’s Mike Conway (Ed Carpenter Chev), always a threat on street courses, prevailed among some varying tyres strategies in the wet/dry second race to grab his second win of the year from Tony Kanaan (Ganassi Chev) and Power (Penske Chev).

Sydney’s Ryan Briscoe, driving a Ganassi Chev, finished 12th and 11th in the two races.

Surprisingly, one-time powerhouse Ganassi Racing is yet to win this year. Kiwi Scott Dixon’s success last October at Houston was the most recent for the team, which has 94 Indycar victories.

Atko wins in China, but Pedder and Evans frustrated in foreign outings

KEEPING his hand in while he awaits a return to the World Rally Championship with Hyundai, Chris Atkinson  has scored a handy victory in the three-day Zhangye Rally, a round of the Chinese Rally Championship held in the north of the world’s most populous nation.

Australian rally championship goer Scott Pedder also competed in China, driving a 2WD Golf, but had a troubled weekend.

Pedder took 2WD honours on the opening day despite early fuel dramas.

But day two was over almost as soon as it began: “Going into the very first corner of the first stage I had no brakes at all, and the car went off the road,” reported Pedder. He got going again but fired off soon afterwards.

Fellow Aussie rally star Eli Evans also spent a weekend away from the local scene, competing at Rally Estonia, used by many leading drivers as a warm-up for Rally Finland.

He also had a troubled opening day, overshooting on the fourth stage and collecting a length of barrier under his Honda Civic Type R.

“Apart from the time we lost, we also got a penalty for going through the fence,” said Evans.

“After service we won the next stage but then on the sixth stage, a tightening corner over a crest, I just got it wrong and smacked the bank with the front of the car. It was a pretty hard whack and we damaged the radiator.

“The roads are amazing, extremely fast; you can see why drivers contest this rally in preparation for Rally Finland. I reckon the average speed is probably about 120-130km/h and very challenging, with lots of crests. The roads are wide so I have to keep reminding myself to stay in fifth and sixth gears instead of going down a gear for corners like I would in Australia.”

Evans finished day one in sixth after the penalty was applied, and 27th outright.

The second day began with some fast times before Evans misjudged a fast jump over a crest and cracked the radiator on a heavy landing.

“It is disappointing, but at the same time I was happy with how the rest of the weekend was going. I’m disappointed because I wasn’t able to execute what I came here to do. We showed we have the speed and the car performed really well.”

Gilbert shows speed

AUSSIE Mitch Gilbert qualified an impressive sixth in a hot field of 28 young tearaways contesting the GP3 championship supporting the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

But the Trident team driver’s reward from two races was an unsatisfactory 14th and a technical-related non-finish.

“My first race was tough,” said Gilbert, who suffered massive tyre degradation.  “I'm learning loads, though.”

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