Friday, 29 July 2016

Choppy Waters still ahead of Red Revival, by Ewan Marshall

Another week, another hurdle for the Prancing Horse to navigate. But are the latest developments at Ferrari cause for concern or simply part of the course in its search for supremacy?

Only a day after Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene called on critics to leave the team "in peace" to address its problems, news broke that its technical director James Allison would depart with immediate effect.

Maurizio Arrivabene and James Allison have parted ways
Photo: Octane Photography
Allison, who previously worked for Ferrari between spells at Larousse and Enstone-based Formula One team, is highly regarded within the motor sport world and was thought key in returning the team to glory. Initial signs were positive, with the Englishman helping extinguish memories of a winless 2014 with three victories last season.

Of course, tragic developments in Allison's private life have been well documented by other outlets. Whether this was instrumental in his decision remains speculative, however his expertise will surely be missed by Ferrari, and will be fought over among its rivals should he wish to make a swift return to the sport.

2016 was a year which promised so much for the Prancing Horse, even if talk of wresting the championships from the ever-dominant Mercedes team seemed highly unlikely.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Kimi Raikkonen Finally Wins Something

Kimi Raikkonen finally won something - the 'Driver of the Day' in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Did Max Verstappen's fans vote for him as a 'thank you' gesture for not overtaking their driver again? And of course, we applaud Lewis Hamilton's perfect race start - one that took him nearly 10 races to master. Not to forget, his 'international hand gesture' to a lesser known Esteban Gutierrez.

Nico Rosberg’s third (or fourth?) consecutive date with the FIA Stewards? Did they pull him up three hours after qualifying because they didn’t have better Saturday night plans? We tell why it is brave of Mercedes and Nico Rosberg to extend their contract by two full seasons. Pascal Wehrlein might not be the only one; the news of their extension has upset a hopeful Pastor Maldonado too.

Max Verstappen vs. Kimi Raikkonen, yet again. Martin Brundle termed Verstappen's defence against Raikkonen as 'junior formulae' like. Then we wonder why watch Formula 1 if 'junior formulae' racing can be this much fun! Also, Formula 1's ticket sales grew 6% in 2015. That's also the year Max Verstappen started racing - just saying!

P7 and applaud for Fernando Alonso's consistency. Are McLaren-Honda the best of the rest really? Anyway, who will have the last laugh - Alonso or Vettel? They've differed in their bets on Ferrari being THE team to beat Mercedes in the near future.

Ferrari's desperation in wanting to win in Formula 1 shows in their approaching Ross Brawn. We'd love to see them reunite and re-work their magic, but it seems highly unlikely. And will Williams sign Red Bull Racing's to-be-fired Daniil Kvyat?

It seems that the FIA tend to get more ridiculous each time we point our their ridiculousness. So its best we leave aside the recent 'radio rules' clarification, much like we did so to the 'elimination based' qualifying format or the double points system.

Our heart goes out to Bernie Ecclestone's family in the wake of the news of his mother-in-law (who is by the way younger than him) being kidnapped in Brazil. We try and wonder who these kidnappers could be - on a lighter note only.

Nico Rosberg and Mercedes' home is the upcoming German Grand Prix. While they will win, will he? We've got the second half of the season ahead of us and all to play for. Game on!

(Season 2016, Episode 25)

New Grand Prix Times article: Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari myths and realities

Perhaps the only thing that 'always' applies to F1 history - being as it is such a varied thing - is that we should 'always' be sceptical if someone claims something was 'always' the case.

Photo: Octane Photography
And this again has been useful again recently. When to some surprise and/or consternation Ferrari confirmed during the Silverstone weekend that Kimi Raikkonen was being kept on for another season, many sought to explain the decision by stating it was in keeping with how Ferrari had 'always' been. That it's always sought to have a strict number one and number two relationship in its pilot pairing, and it's always been conservative in its driving selection.

But as I explain in my latest article for Grand Prix Times these people need to brush up on their history, as if anything the opposite is true. And therefore the reasons for Kimi's retention likely lie elsewhere. You can have a read of it here:

Monday, 25 July 2016

Hockenheim Preview: Back in the old routine

Nothing really about modern F1 should surprise you. And the modern F1 calendar has desensitised us more than just about anything else apparently. Really, that there has been no French Grand Prix for near enough a decade, and that there is little sign of its return, should seem like something from a farce. But it's reality, almost to the point of being habitual. The British Grand Prix was about as absurdly in Bernie Ecclestone's cross-hairs for a while. These days even grand old Monza is under threat of being exiled.

After two years away, the German Grand Prix -
and Hockenheim - are back
Photo: Octane Photography
And it afflicts the German Grand Prix too, which last season became the latest to drop from the calendar with a conspicuous clunk. A wealthy and populous country, with a vast and prestigious car industry. A country that provides four current F1 drivers, one of whom has won four titles and another led the world championship table until last weekend. It also is the home race of the world champion constructor, which also just so happens to be a glittering motorsport and motoring marque. But disappear the race did. Only in F1, you suspect.

Now though after a year away it returns, back at Hockenheim. The gap came about due to that one of the alternating hosts, the Nurburgring, fell into financial bother. Rather topping off the absurdity the other host, the very same Hockenheim, didn't fancy stepping into the breach as it didn't want to make its financial loss from staging the race every 12 months rather than every 24...

Hungarian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Lewis's cruise control

Don't let the fact that his team mate Nico Rosberg was close at hand throughout fool you. This one was a cruise for Lewis Hamilton. A race decided in effect at turn one also. That it was the Englishman's fifth Hungarian Grand Prix win - a track that clearly is happy hunting ground for him - and that it was is fifth win from the last six rounds were outcomes that were more in keeping with what actually was going on.

Photo: Octane Photography
Not that the closeness likely did fool you if you were one watching Sunday's fare, as if one is to be euphemistic the race was hardly thrill a minute. Still there were plenty of worthy performances on show, not least from Lewis. He also now - in something that would have sounded astonishing just a few weeks ago - leads the drivers' table. Despite appearances sometimes, not everything in F1 is humdrum.

You can read my take on it all in my latest Motor Verso race review, which is here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Hungarian GP Report - Five star

It was all the fives for Lewis Hamilton. His fifth Hungarian Grand Prix win. His fifth win from the last six races.

Now you see it - Lewis Hamilton claimed yet another win
Photo: Octane Photography
And if his previous weekend at Silverstone had a lot of the 'red five' Nigel Mansell about it, this one was more like another, less celebrated, Williams pilot from the past with a number five on his car. Thierry Boutsen, who claimed one of his three F1 wins by taking pole at the Hungaroring in 1990, then simply repelling all attacks all race from those behind and never making a mistake, on this one of the toughest tracks to pass on.

That's loosely what Lewis did today. He didn't look the fastest out there the whole time - perhaps a legacy of his momentum lost from his Friday practice crash - but on the sinewy Hungary track position is not so much nine-tenths of the law but ten-tenths. Or should that be five-fifths? Lewis fully exploited that fact, controlling things out front and winning at the lowest possible speed. We shouldn't be too disparaging either, even the man Lewis reveres, Ayrton Senna, won more than one Hungarian race this way. That's the game here.

After qualifying in which Lewis had pole nabbed from under his nose at the last by his team mate Nico Rosberg, it appeared for the reasons above among others that it was going to be a long Sunday for him. Overtaking was off the agenda virtually, while Mercedes as we know usually gives strategy preference to the car ahead. That left the start, not always the most fruitful line of attack for Lewis this season, as about his only opportunity to get ahead. But this time, one way or another, it worked for him. His launch was great, better than Nico's, but he seemed to lose momentum in the second phase (the man himself said he was "just being cautious with the wheelspin" knowing he had a good launch) and Nico edged back ahead and Max Verstappen attacked from behind, as did the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo on the outside. But Lewis had the inside line and was able to claim the lead with a brave late-braking manoeuvre, and that oh-so nearly resulted in yet more contact with his team mate after he locked his rears. The day, suddenly, had turned.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Hungaroring Qualifying - Nico plays to the whistle

As they say in football, play to the whistle. Nico Rosberg played to the whistle in today's extended, fragmented and madcap Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session, and as his reward fired in a last minute winner. One rather against the run of play too. To borrow from the great John Arlott, a man who did football commentaries occasionally indeed, it was a strike so late so as to be positively posthumous.

One way or another, Nico Rosberg bagged pole
Photo: Octane Photography
Pole, which had looked too far from his grasp, is his. That is the bottom line, but boy did we have some adventure and counter-adventure in getting there. The strange way pole was won therefore had a certain aptness. In a sport not short of crazy, interrupted and extended qualifying sessions it is genuinely difficult to cite one from the past that was quite as extreme in all three as today's. It had started with something like a deluge commencing around 45 minutes prior to qualifying's scheduled start, and which was continuing with something like the same intensity both as that intended and the actual start times arrived. The first part of quali alone indeed took a whole 74 minutes thanks to rain delays and various stoppages due to the weather and accidents - almost as long as a Monza race... Even when the track became good for slicks the odd puddle and alternative hazard lingered.

Yet to cut a very long story short (one that one observer compared to War and Peace), Lewis Hamilton - a man who usually has the Hungaroring to himself - looked like he would again. A crash on Friday had threatened to lose him momentum and indeed this morning in practice he was nowhere. In a wet-to-dry qualifying too with times typically tumbling Lewis dodged a bullet by messing up his final Q2 effort and he only just survived by a tenth.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Hungaroring Preview: The 30th birthday of modern F1

The Hungaroring is important. No, really.

When a sceptical fraternity scanned its eyes across the all mod cons Mogyorod facility for the first time in 1986, perhaps not even they will have appreciated the fork in the F1 road that it signposted. One for the sort of venues the circus would up sticks in at least.

The Hungaroring, now on its 30th anniversary,
represented a big shift in F1 venues
Photo: Octane Photography
As if you were to muse over the sort of track that dominates the calendar these days, particularly the newer events, no doubt a few things would come to mind. Purpose built from the ground up just for F1. Super safe. All clean lines and vast architecture, with an accompanying sense that pretty much everything has been thought of. And all is bankrolled by the national government keen to 'brand' the country. But with it comes an attendant nag that something intangible - the well-worn charm, and much of the challenge too - has been lost in the transition.

Well of these Hungary's Hungaroring, the scene of the latest F1 gathering this weekend coming, was likely the very first (contrary to some belief Jerez which debuted earlier that year doesn't count as it hosted a motorcycle race first). And it's especially important this time, as this visit marks its 30th (gulp) anniversary as a Grand Prix venue. Modern F1 - 30 years young. A disquieting thought.

Friday, 15 July 2016

British Grand Prix Talking Points encapsulate sport’s wider dilemma, by Ewan Marshall

The British Grand Prix always feels like the halfway point in the season, a circuit which lays bare the current pecking order and sets the tone for the remainder of the year. It has often been the scene of great controversy as well as fond memories. Sunday proved no different, providing a microcosm of all that's good and not-so-good about the sport.

The safety car start caused consternation
Photo: Octane Photography
Attending a Grand Prix is not cheap. Therefore, it is always disappointing for fans at the circuit when the start of a race and the hustle of the opening laps are abandoned in favour of the safety car. Unfortunately this is becoming all too frequent in modern day Formula One. Although Pirelli provide teams with a wet weather tyre, these seem to appear more for demonstration than to be driven in anger.

Yes there was plenty of standing water in parts before the lights went out on Sunday, but it was evident after only a handful of laps that the drivers were ready to go racing and that the cross over between wets and intermediates was already starting. Instead, the safety car over stayed its welcome and deprived us all of a chance to see the 'great leveller' bring out the best in the field. The fact that around half the pilots pitted for new tyres immediately after the green flag said it all, with the rest following suit a lap or two later.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Making of the Silverstone Grand Prix Trophies

After another great Silverstone Grand Prix that concluded with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen on the podium collecting the trophies we wanted to bring you the story behind the creation of the trophies that were awarded this year.

The four F1 trophies presented on the
Silverstone podium last weekend
The company that was lucky enough to design and create the trophies for this years British Grand Prix was Kent based trophy company Aford Awards. The trophy makers worked hard for nearly four months on designing and manufacturing the trophies to make them fit for the world's top racers.

The Brief 
The process wasn't an easy one, with the brief provided stating that the trophy needed to resemble a cup and be as large as possible, as long as it fitted with the F1 guidelines. There are strict rules within F1 regarding branding on trophies, however, Silverstone were eager to incorporate their well-known logo into the overall design of the trophy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

British Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Lewis's Home Advantage

Some drivers definitely have it; others definitely do not. As for Lewis Hamilton? He's firmly in the former camp. It's the ability to exploit home advantage that I'm on about. Lewis won at Silverstone yet again. Not for the first time either he looked untouchable for the most part.

Photo: Octane Photography
Not even the worst of the British summer weather could interrupt his march, nor could the stewards - who included his kindred spirit Nigel Mansell among their number - taking a qualifying time off him. The drama instead was behind him, particularly around Nico Rosberg and the plot thickening on the notorious new radio restriction rules. And, oh yeah, that only a solitary point separates the two Mercedes pilots in the table now.

You can read my take on it all in my latest Motor Verso race review, which is here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Inside Line F1 Podcast - HAM & VES, F1's Dream Team?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, what rock stars! Both drivers were on top if their game at the British Grand Prix. Can any constructor manage to pull off the dream team pairing of Hamilton and Verstappen?

Hamilton nearly collided with the Safety Car, clearly he is most susceptible to crash with another Mercedes when it is leading! After Max Verstappen's gutsy overtake on Nico Rosberg, his popularity among British fans has risen exponentially. Speaking of popularity, Verstappen won the 'Driver of the Day' award again - seems Verstappen and his fans outperformed Hamilton and his fans!

The radio ban continues to make news, after Nico Rosberg was penalised for breaking rules. Will breaking the radio ban become the newest strategic weapon for teams? If so, which team will be the first to do so? Rosberg also visited the stewards for the third time in eight days, what’s going on there.

Rosberg was endlessly booed on the podium, revenge for fans or bad sportsmanship? Niki Lauda breached the bro code by trash talking Hamilton and then conveniently 'retracted' his statements. Kimi Raikkonen signed a new contract with Ferrari and happy to have disappointed some people by doing so (this includes Kunal!). Honda finally admitted that no other F1 team wanted to partner with them and we wonder why (not!). Lastly, Formula 1's legendary driver Pastor Maldonado found a way to bring himself in the news again.

Tune in!

(Season 2016, Episode 24)