Tuesday, 22 July 2014

New F1 Times article: Act in haste, repent at leisure – unsafe releases in F1

Photo: Octane Photography
Following an incident involving Mark Webber in last year's German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring a range of, rather tough, measures were introduced to seek to punish those who left the pits without all wheels attached.

By now almost exactly a year on there is talk that teams - dissatisfied with how it's all worked in practice - are gathering around a move to row back on some of it.

Over at The F1 Times I look at the whole issue such as why the system that we have now for unsafe releases isn't working as well as explore what the best way is to minimise such a danger.

You can have a read via this link: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09138

Reflections on Hockenheim - missing Schu?

A German manufacturer dominating an F1 season, one of the dominant drivers is German, as is the world champion (of the last four years) in addition to two other drivers, and the German economy despite the calamity around it remains itself rather strong. This all should add up to a healthy turn out at the German Grand Prix?

Much of the Hockenheim running was in front of
sparsely-populated grandstands. Here's qualifying.
Photo: Octane Photography
Well, no actually. Apparently only somewhere in the region of 50,000 was in attendance for the race, way short of the Hockenheim's track's vast capacity of 120,000. Running on Friday, even on Saturday, had a grandstand backdrop that looked a lot like there'd been some kind of evacuation. Though F1's declining following ain't a new issue, this seemed to slide things over a cliff edge.

As intimated this isn't new, therefore plenty of theories as to what is driving it all didn't require much dusting down. High ticket prices, dissatisfaction with the regs and/or the sport's creeping gimmickry, the lack of competitive competition in turn related probably to the skewed financial distribution, the TV coverage disappearing behind paywalls, while some of course still haven't been able to resist bringing out what already seems like an old chestnut of engine noise.

But the broad theme is commonly-aired one these days and with good reason. The decline in following can be traced back to the mid-noughties too which may indicate fundamental issues at play also, such as perhaps F1 not embracing social media, there being generally more competition for people's attention and entertainment in the modern age or young people even falling out of love with the automobile more generally (there's a lot of evidence on the last point).

But still, and as McLaren's racing director Eric Boullier noted during last weekend in Hockenheim, that while the broad matter is a very real one there also are reasons to think that this particular case in Germany is somewhat peculiar.

Eric Boullier reflected on the matter
Photo: Octane Photography
'There are some countries that we can see like Austria where it is absolutely crowded; Silverstone was a success despite the Tour de France, Wimbledon and some other things, so I think it's going to be up and down depending on the countries.

'I also know that here there was a lot of fans for Michael Schumacher so maybe they are missing as well in the grandstands, so I'm not saying we are fine...(but) I don't think it's as dramatic as (some are saying).'

Boullier might be onto something on both points. Sight should not be lost that before Germany we just had two highly successful events in terms of fan turnout, three indeed if we throw in Canada before those too.

While on his second point, I had a little wander through one of the Hockenheim fans' campsites on the Thursday before the race and it was striking that even now Michael Schumacher and Ferrari bunting - be it in t-shirts, flags or other paraphernalia - predominate. Everything else was dwarfed by comparison; there was a bit of Kimi, hardly any Vettel, and no Rosberg at all that I could see. And while come race day Red Bull colours got more noticeable at the circuit I still reckon they were outnumbered by those in red.

And it fitted in with something I'd heard anyway that, despite their success (particularly in Seb's case), the next generation of German drivers haven't captured the imagination of their home public anything like in the way that Schumi did.

Has the retirement of Michael Schaumacher taken a lot
of the German fans away?
Photo: Octane Photography
And as Boullier also hinted at such things aren't new in Germany. '(On the face of it) it is very scary, but I have been told by the promoter that they (the crowd) are down about 10,000 people, which is not as dramatic as being grandstand half-empty because this is a huge stadium.'

I read somewhere too that two years ago at Hockenheim the Grand Prix race day crowd was but 59,000. While, since departing the old Nordschleife anyway when vast hordes would turn up in their campers, in years when Schumi wasn't around the German race's crowds weren't always that special in any case. Only with the rise of Schumi did we get a return to the bloated numbers not seen since the old Nurburgiring was left behind. I recall too Bernie grumbling one year during Schumi's first retirement about the low take-up of German GP ticket sales.

And such a thing with a certain driver can happen, and happen anywhere. In Britain I often cite the example of Nigel Mansell, who really developed a mass following that far outstripped that of any British driver that has come since (as well as probably any of those before too), and I include Lewis and Jenson in that. And this in a country wherein plenty like to say that the F1 core following is a large and resolute one; less vulnerable than in many countries to the coming and going of home drivers. That may be so, but still Nigel, and Schumi, somehow had an ability to transcend the activity that they were in; bring in plenty who'd never before or after consider raising an eyebrow for a motor race. You've either got it or you haven't, clearly. They have it.

Monday, 21 July 2014

German GP Report: Everything's coming up Rosberg

You are Nico Rosberg. You are young; handsome; devastatingly intelligent. You also are a very fine Grand Prix driver. You're sitting atop the Formula One World Drivers' Championship standings, driving a mighty fine - nay untouchable - car brought to you by a prestigious German marque. In the past two weeks you've got married, your country won the World Cup and the said prestigious German marque has extended its contract with you.

Once again it was Nico Rosberg spraying the
champagne as victor
Photo: Octane Photography
And yesterday you won your home Grand Prix, easily, from pole. This extending your title lead by ten and adding a little more to the creeping sense that these months we are living through are your time in the sun.

Yes Nico, life's pretty good for you right now.

Indeed, the German race at Hockenheim wasn't really a race; not for first place at least. It was a lot like qualifying the day before, with his one rival in team mate Lewis Hamilton well dealt with Nico had something of an open goal. But again he volleyed the thing straight into the back of the net with some elan to emerge in P1. Some (including Rosberg himself) thought in advance that the mighty Valtteri Bottas-Williams combination might give Nico something to think about. But no - Nico smoothly and almost quietly moved clear lap after lap so that by his first pit stop after 14 racing tours he was ten seconds up the road. And untouchable.

Nico acknowledged later that just lately has indeed been a rather special time for him, though still he remembered to get his priorities in order when asked which bit was the best part. 'That's getting married. That's definitely the case. That was the best feeling' he said.

'But of course everything has been special. Really fortunate, just had a great… many positive things happening in the two weeks, or week and a half. Been really enjoyable, and also this weekend with pole and the win. Just awesome. Very, very special day today.'

Before long, Rosberg had turned it into a race of one
Photo: Octane Photography
Long before the end even the FOM TV feed director had acknowledged that whom the victor was to be was a foregone conclusion. As Nico waved his arm to acknowledge the chequered flag it felt rather like the first we'd seen of him since the red starting signal went out all that time before. Yet given the minimum of fuss that he goes about most of activities I doubt the man himself will mind too much though.

Much of the reason for the attention being away from Nico's demonstration run was that there was plenty of racing to divert us from second place downwards. The revised Hockenheim layout, despite its apparent deficit on popularity, actually has quite a good record on that one.

As might be expected much of the diversion came from Lewis Hamilton. We usually can anticipate this, but with Lewis Hamilton being in a very fast car and starting way down in P20 it encroached the territory of racing certainty, and racing we certainly got.

For the most part Lewis put into practice exactly what was required: firm, decisive, quick overtakes to complement his undoubted pace and spirit. There was one move however that I felt he was a little fortunate to get away with.

On lap 13 he slid past Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo in one move into the hairpin at the end of the long straight. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but it was via a rather brakes-locked, sliding-straight-on, car-barely-under-control moment with plenty of opponents around. It ended well for him and thus led to plenty of supportive whooping in response to the undoubtedly spectacular and edgy nature of it all, yet it struck me even so rather as an unnecessary risk for someone fighting for the championship, and who could barely afford a DNF (by the man's own admission, if he'd 'got caught in a collision with someone and lost points, that would have been really devastating').

Hamilton was fortunate to get away with this move
Photo: Octane Photography
The move rather seemed to be begging to have a front wheel ripped off - indeed he did hit Raikkonen, though the damage was to the Ferrari only - but mainly by chance so far as I could tell it didn't happen. What's more, given he clearly had stunning pace, was well on the way to a healthy points haul whatever and would have passed the cars in question shortly anyway (particularly so as neither was Merc-powered) it rather added to the skewed risk/reward calculation.

Of course that he emerged on the other side largely unscathed led to most thinking that was that. But if his race had ended there one could only begin to imagine the fallout. Bad old impetuous Lewis would have been the mild part. It put me in mind of a variation of the words of French Marshal Pierre Bosquet upon witnessing the undeniable bravery yet also recklessness and ultimate futility of The Charge of the Light Brigade: it is magnificent, but it is not F1. Not fighting for an F1 title at any rate. Lewis would be best advised to quit while he's ahead on giving into such temptations.

Earlier he'd had contact with Adrian Sutil at the same corner, which wasn't Lewis's fault at all (it looked like Sutil was being dozy) while later he also at that point of the track had contact with Jenson Button, born of a misunderstanding wherein Jenson's wide line led Lewis to believe that space was being made for him.

Jenson, with all of the enthusiasm of a parent contemplating his errant teenage son's latest piercing, asked afterwards 'Why would we let anyone through? I don't know if you've noticed but a lot of drivers do that line to get a good exit from the corner'. He retracted later on further viewing however, and understood why Lewis might have thought as he did.

Bottas impressed again, and he and Williams
are aiming even higher
Photo: Octane Photography
Whatever was the case though that last rub came back to bite Lewis, or at least nibble at him. The resultant lost front wing endplate increased his front tyre graining according to Paddy Lowe, which necessitated an extra stop. It didn't help either that the final stop came early, anticipating a safety car after Sutil spun that against all expectations (and apparent logic) never materialised. It all meant that there was one car between him and his team mate still not vanquished by Lewis by the end yesterday. That of Valtteri Bottas.

Ah yes, Valtteri Bottas, who underlined in thick black lines once again that he really is the real deal, who'll surely win races and championships if there is any justice. In Hockenheim he in what appears now regular phenomenon left all but the works Mercs behind and while Lewis despite everything got right with him with eight laps remaining, finally after a long drive from behind Lewis met his match. He never passed, nor really looked like passing, Bottas. The Finn was aided by being one of the quickest through the speed traps but being imperturbable helps also.

This meant Williams leapt over Ferrari into third place in the constructors' table, and according both to Bottas and the team's Head of Vehicle Performance Rob Smedley this is the least of the squad's ambitions. Red Bull is next in the sights - an achievable aim given the Grove car is the marked best of the rest behind the silver lot right now - while Smedley reminded us that despite the fallow years 'the ambition of this team is to win the world championship eventually'.

There was much fun behind too. A lot of it involving the effervescent Fernando Alonso, who once again appeared to have missed the 'F14 T isn't very good' memo, undertaking a typically tenacious-in-the-extreme run to fifth. Few disagreed when afterwards the Spaniard rated it as his best drive of the year: 'very pleased, very happy probably as Austria was the best race so far in the season for me, and now probably (it's) this one' he said.

Alonso battled Red Bulls for much of the day
Photo: Octane Photography
On the way he battled with either Red Bull, with the same spirit but thankfully shorn of the radio petulance from either party in Silverstone. The one with Daniel Ricciardo near the end - with Alonso attacking on newer, softer, tyres - was especially one to behold. Alan Jones watching from afar called it 'the battle of the two-never-give-ups'. It certainly looked every inch that, between the new(ish) boy and the old(ish) hand; both with maximised spirit but the ultimate in control and respect.

Alonso had some kind words for Ricciardo afterwards too: 'Daniel fought very good, a lot of respect, always very clean, and I enjoy'.

Ricciardo had to settle for sixth - just, after a photo finish thanks to Alonso fuel-saving on the final lap - and this after sinking to P15 from the off thanks to being caught behind an accident between Felipe Massa and Kevin Magnussen at turn one. While Sebastian Vettel was further up the road, finishing fourth.

Thus another win goes to Nico Rosberg, continuing the sense that Nico and victory have an almost magnetic attraction right now. Of course Lewis has had more of the misfortune lately but it would be harsh to call this all a cruise and collect from Nico; after all in two stats that may surprise Lewis hasn't outqualfied his team mate since the Barcelona round in early May, while that also is the only dry qualifying of any in which he's emerged ahead of the two this campaign. And whatever has happened in the meantime, almost never has there been that much between the Mercs on pace.

Of course, plenty of racing remains - nine rounds and 250 points, with a few tracks Lewis excels at awaiting within it (one of which is the infamous 'double points' get-together). But as we stand now in mid-summer it's looking more and more like we're witnessing the summer of Nico Rosberg's F1 career.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hockenheim Qualifying: Let's twist again

F1 in 2014 is the year of the plot twist it seems. Thought that Silverstone last time out had shifted the momentum? Wrong, as yesterday in Hockenheim's qualifying session it shifted back.

Nico Rosberg triumphed again in qualifying
Photo: Octane Photography
Whatever you may think of Lewis Hamilton, it's hard to deny that in the intra-Mercedes battle for the drivers' title this campaign he's had rather the bigger share of the bad luck. Two weeks ago, with Nico Rosberg dropping out in the Silverstone race leaving Lewis to help himself to a 25 point swing, seemed to go a long way to tilting the balance back.

But in Hockenheim qualifying the balance rebounded. There seemed little to choose between the two Merc pilots on pace for most of the weekend, and we all settled down for another close, edgy scrap for pole. But it ended quickly, as a racy looking Hamilton had a front brake disc fail on him at the Sachs Kurve in the first session, sending him into a violent smash in the barriers that left him sore in more than one sense. He already had a strong lap time but being unable to compete in Q2 or Q3 meant that P16 (which converted to P15 thanks to someone else's penalty) was his maximum.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

German GP Betting Preview - Nico to bounce back at his 'home' Grand Prix, by Andy Morgan

After fantastic results for @F1BetPreview, including four winners out of six this year, the teams head to Germany at the midpoint of the season with rivalries heating up throughout the leaderboard.

FRIC or no FRIC, Mercedes is set to dominate again
Photo: Octane Photography
In the constructors' order the two points gained by Jules Bianchi in Monaco for Marussia are still enough to hold Caterham and the disappointing Sauber off in ninth position. Lotus and Toro Rosso are fighting closely for seventh while a fascinating scrap for third continues: McLaren, Force India, Ferrari and Williams are within touching distance of each other and the difference in prize money between third and sixth will motivate the teams in their persistent development of their cars.

Red Bull is the only team, other than the dominant Mercedes, relatively on its own but in the drivers' fight the four time German world champion Sebastian Vettel will not want to be beaten by his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo who sits 28 points ahead.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Hockenheim Preview: Differences and similarities

Things change, clearly. Including stuff that's already happened.

If that sounds silly then I assure you history is a living thing; never is it settled. That's because it is dependent on interpretation, and the perspective of that interpretation, what it's compared with, can change as time passes. And so it is with the Hockenheimring, scene of this weekend's German Grand Prix.

We're very much in the era of Hockenheim mark two, and while it would have been an absurd thing to say for a long time the previously-used Hockenheim mark one layout is these days viewed with something resembling widespread affection. As an example, in 2012 I recall stumbling across one circuit guide describe the current version as 'scarcely a shadow of its former great self'.

Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg Luftbild.JPG
The revised Hockenheimring divides opinion
Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg Luftbild" by Schlurcher
talk) - Own work.
 Licensed under 
CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Modern day Hockenheim is quintessential Tilke, with short medium-to-low speed turns predominant, as well as a lengthy straight book-ended by slow turns, designed to promote overtaking (which it is often successful at, to be fair).

Yet the cuddly tenderness common now wasn't at all the prevailing view of Hockenheim mark one in its own time either. For much of then it was considered a circuit without a soul. Little on or off the track quickened the pulse. Nothing much seemed to happen there, least of all in the races. Its prized image is one that has grown almost entirely in hindsight.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Button's up?

Explaining F1's strange ways to the initiated often is a trying task. One such of F1's strange ways is that if a car is under-performing an incumbent driver who really should be getting our sympathy due to having to endure the thing often in fact finds their personal reputation suffer by association. It seems that many within the sport and looking on forget the one about the challenges of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Jenson Button had to bat away more questions
about his future at Silverstone
Photo: Octane Photography
And rather exacerbating the effect of it is that teams often after a difficult year are minded to replace a driver (or two) as part of its response, to aid the sense of a new dawn for the following campaign. As David Coulthard - perhaps thinking of close to home experience - noted towards the end of least year, McLaren is particularly prone to such behaviour.

And so the walls may now be closing in on Jenson Button. For the second year in a row McLaren is in the doldrums. More cruelly and unlike the obviously-disastrous-from-an-early-stage 2013 this season started with promise. The MP4-29 had an encouraging pre-season, featured the most interesting technical innovation in its rear suspension blockers, and of course had the apparent free pass of a Mercedes engine. Then a double podium in the first race meant things appeared firmly on the up; if the team didn't look like Mercedes it at least looked a lot more than it had in a while like McLaren.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Living an F1 less regulated

Most of us are aware of Gilles Villeneuve, Rene Arnoux, Dijon in 1979, and all that. Even if it was well before your time you've probably seen the footage. Even if you've not seen the footage you'll likely have heard it referred to. It has gone into folklore, the F1 standard bearer for a thrilling wheel-to-wheel scrap. Motor racing in its purest, and most scintillating, form (footage is below if you're one of the unfortunates who hasn't seen it, or for the rest of you who'll likely enjoy watching it again).

Then Gilles and Rene got out of their cars afterwards and fell into each other's arms. Heck, Rene had even ran off the track at one point of the battle - no one cared. But the world's changed clearly, as has F1.

EXTRAORDINAIRE duel - Villeneuve Arnoux - Dijon79 by PAUL1902

In last Sunday's British Grand Prix Fernando Alonso soared past Sebastian Vettel as the latter was on his out lap after his final stop, in a brave and spellbinding overtake that most of us will carry with us for a long time. And that was just the start as the pair then knuckled down to dispute the place. And keep disputing it. F1 was taken to its very edges of attack and defence.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why Niki Lauda was wrong on Silverstone's barrier delay

Niki Lauda has had a lot to say recently. Having adopted apparently the role of keeper of the F1 flame (I'm sure he won't mind the potentially touchy choice of phrase - or at least potentially touchy to those less resolute than he).

And this is no bad thing for the most part. Candid, brusque, firmly commonsensical. Often his contributions are welcome, such as his recent comments on the stewards' 'over-policing' of F1's on-track battles, or in his criticisms of Kimi Raikkonen 'balls out' return to the track last Sunday, which in both cases many thought were bang on. Sometimes his comments amuse, such as that drivers should sort out their disputes like Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar did. Which those who have long memories or else have seen the YouTube footage know means, um, via fisticuffs.

Niki Lauda - had plenty to say at Silverstone
Photo: Octane Photography
Following last Sunday's race at Silverstone in my view he got it wrong however. It was all to do with the extent of the delay before re-strating following the red flag brought about by Kimi's misadventure, resultant of the time taken fixing the resultant barrier damage. 'This over nursing of F1, being over cautious, over-controlling, drives me mad' Lauda said. 'And this little guardrail issue is another example.

'There are too many people involved in making F1 as safe as the roads, which is wrong. They should have fixed it quickly, do something instantly and then 10-15 minutes later the race would have gone on.'

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

British GP Report: What a difference a day makes

We really should learn, but we don't. No matter how often we are reminded.

Spot the difference from qualifying - Lewis Hamilton
celebrates victory
Photo: Octane Photography
Twenty-four hours - indeed the hour and a half of a race (though in this peculiar case you can add close to an hour's delay from a red flag on the top of it) - is a long time in F1. And another thing that we keep forgetting is that whatever happens in practice and qualifying - however extreme, whatever their apparent importance - exactly no points are handed out until the chequered flag falls.

And so it was at Silverstone. How different was the Lewis Hamilton of after qualifying and after the race. In the former, having thrown away what looked a pole position his by right through nothing other than a gross personal miscalculation, facing a seemingly decisive five-place starting deficit to his team mate and championship antagonist Nico Rosberg, seemingly extending a periodic spell wherein little would go right for him, he was bewildered, uncommunicative, almost shell-shocked. Aptly he noted later that his 'world was crumbling beneath' him.