Tuesday, 21 October 2014

New Vital F1 article: Mercedes reaps what it sows

Photo: Octane Photography
It of course has been inevitable for months. At least since the start of the season; arguably since long before.

But still, this shouldn't stop us pausing to pay homage. The matter in question being that Mercedes is now 2014 World Constructors' Champion, and wiped the floor with its opponents in so doing.

For Vital F1 I did indeed stop to pay homage to the Silver Arrows, as well as explored just why the Merc has been so far ahead this season, with much of the reasoning going way back beyond the start of this campaign.

You can have a read here: http://www.vitalf1.com/sitepage.asp?a=2636

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Double trouble

The day after the Russian Grand Prix - and Lewis Hamilton's latest triumph - my brother got in touch with me on Twitter with the following (and apologies to Nico Rosberg fans for his choice of nomenclature):

Alright, here's one. Imagine Lewis finished 1st in Austin with Britney second: Lewis leads by 24 points. Then the same thing happens at Interlagos: Lewis then leads Britney by 31 points. Under normal circumstances he'd be champ. Lewis retires at Abu Dhabi, Britney finishes second to (say) Bottas. Britney champion by five points. Britney ends the season with four wins to Lewis's eleven, and ends up champion. Imagine the seethe. Haha.

Lewis Hamilton has been doing more
of the winning at Mercedes this year
Photo: Octane Photography
And within this is a considerable thing left unsaid. That some of us might have even forgotten about amid the heat of an exciting championship battle. The notorious double points that awaits in the final round of the season.

This scenario imagined by my brother if played out would not so much break a record but smash it to smithereens. Lewis Hamilton claimed his ninth win of the season last Sunday, and no one has lost a drivers' title having won that many or even with one fewer than that (seven is the record, held by several drivers). So with the above chain of events the mark would be advanced by upwards of 150%.

I don't have any particular partisan leanings as to which Mercedes pilot indeed takes title honours this year, but at the broadest level there's always been part of me that likes the championship to go to the one with the most wins in that campaign. As implicit in this is that they've been the fastest, battling at the front and going for it, rather than hanging back and gathering points incrementally as might an accountant. Most of the time of course the winningest driver and champion in a season has been one and the same, but there have been odd occasions where it has not been so, with most wins (but not title honours) going to Stirling Moss in 1958; Jim Clark in 1964 and 1967; Mario Andretti in 1977; Alan Jones in 1979; a host of drivers got one more than Keke Rosberg's solitary win in 1982; Alain Prost in 1983 and 1984; Nigel Mansell in 1986 and 1987; Ayrton Senna in 1989 and most lately Felipe Massa in 2008.

As this shows it hasn't happened much lately, which certainly isn't a reflection of the points system which for a lot of that time has rewarded winning less than it had done previously - indeed the gap on points between race victory and first of the losers was reduced to an absurd two from 2003 to 2009. More likely it reflects that reliability has been much less of a factor in the last couple of decades, thus there is less to be had in itself just from making sure you are running at the end. Yet while I don't imagine that this was the intention of double points, it may be a consequence that it undermines rewarding the victor more than ever before.

Notorious double points awaits us in Abu Dhabi
"Abu dabi by night (crop)" by JiteshJagadish, rotated
and cropped by Apterygial - http://www.flickr.com/photos/
jiteshjagadish/5178451382/. Licenced under Creative Commons
Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abu_dabi_by_night_(crop).jpg#
mediaviewer/File:Abu_dabi_by_night_(crop).jpg
But then again as a digression if we take another of Bernie's notorious bright ideas and which curiously would have the extreme opposite effect to that which double points was (officially) designed for, the medals system - wherein the drivers' championship would be ranked as the medals table is the Olympics (i.e. most wins, if tied then most seconds etc) - with that Lewis would have wrapped up the championship definitively last weekend. Perhaps underlining and not for the first time the importance of striking a balance.

Most of us concluded this close to 12 months ago when the double points idea was firmed up, and the passing of time hasn't done anything to alter things, that whatever happens you hope that the effect of double points doesn't alter who wins this year's drivers' championship.

If it does we might then be tempted to conclude as Tony Brooks did at the end of the 1958 season wherein he had three victories to his name to Mike Hawthorn's one, and his Vanwall team mate Stirling Moss had four triumphs, yet it was Hawthorn who took the title, 'that's when I decided the World Championship title didn't really mean an awful lot.'

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Rights and wrongs

Following F1 it often can feel that you need as much knowledge of geopolitics, foreign policy and the international human rights movement as the sport's esoteric matters. And this in a pursuit that at its core is as simple as which car can complete a proscribed distance most quickly.

But it can be and frequently is turned into more, often much more, than that. Agonising over the countries the sport visits - whether it should be keeping such company - is a regular feature these days. And the long wrestled over first visit to Russia that took place last weekend was merely the latest case.

Vladimir Putin's appearance, and the reasons for it,
were predictable
"GranPrixRussia2014 winners" by kremlin.ru - www.kremlin.ru.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:GranPrixRussia2014_winners.jpeg#mediaviewer/
File:GranPrixRussia2014_winners.jpeg
I'll admit that the multi-faceted nature of F1, including the notorious political dimension, is for me part of the appeal. But when it reaches the politics of outside of the sport's boundaries it even from my perspective becomes rather wearing. Equally though it's unavoidable - everything is connected to everything else. Of course, at such moments we often hear the 'don't mix sport and politics' line. Would that it were but it's not the world we live in. Particularly not in a game wherein national governments are more and more footing the (vast) bill.

Sunday's pictures during the Russian Grand Prix didn't leave much to the imagination on that one, and I suppose if some good came out of it all it was in showing how absurd, or at best naive, the sport and politics shouldn't be mixed line is. Russian President Vladimir Putin's presence on the world TV feed, even appearing in the podium anteroom, a sort of appearance which I struggle to recall an equivalent of before, rather underlined it. The F1 race was being used by someone who in many eyes is a contentious figure as a means of lending himself greater legitimacy, and it could easily have been predicted that would be so.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Why, despite everything, I'm hopeful for the Russian Grand Prix

Confession time. I actually entered the Russian Grand Prix weekend in a hopeful state of mind for it. And ended it, despite everything, with reasonable optimism too. A position that for much of that time felt rather like one in a minority. But please, stay with me.

I ended the inaugural Russian Grand Prix with optimism
"GranPrixRussia2014 box" by kremlin.ru - www.kremlin.ru.
Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via
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File:GranPrixRussia2014_box.jpeg
The event as far as plenty were concerned was ill-starred from an early stage. Sochi as a town is small (some 350,000 inhabitants) and remote; Moscow being a three hour flight - or if you prefer a 24 hour car journey - away. F1 isn't well-established in the country either. All of which carry implications for it attracting a crowd and achieving viability.

Then of course there are some of the happenings within the country that cannot be defended, and that its notorious President Vladimir Putin clearly was going to associate himself closely with the race (as indeed he did). We can add to it the more recent events of 2014 - the Ukraine situation and allegations of Russia's contribution to it - which for plenty exacerbated the point and meant that up until the 11th hour some were talking of the race not taking place at all.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Russian GP Report: Russian stroll

Mario Andretti opined some years ago that - contrary to what us outsiders may assume - being in first place is actually the easiest place to be in a Grand Prix. There you have unique privileges, as out of all competitors you and only you are able to drive within yourself, merely at the pace of those who trail. To save your strength, your car, your fuel. It's a virtuous circle in other words. In F1, nothing succeeds like success.

Lewis Hamilton triumphed once again today
Photo: Octane Photography
And Lewis Hamilton benefited from it today. From the end of the first lap the tension in the inaugural Russian Grand Prix of the F1 era was over who would finish second at the very most.

As both Mercedes drivers had predicted the lengthy run from the start and subsequent big stop at Turn 2 (which despite names was the first turn as far as everyone was concerned) was vital. And indeed Nico Rosberg's launch was good enough for him first to draft and then get just ahead of his team mate and title rival on that run. But he seemed to get a bit overexcited at this and missed his Turn 2 braking point by what looked a distance. He ran well off into the benign tarmac run-off at the exit, which meant he'd have to give Lewis the place back. But even worse for him the resultant flat-spots on his tyres meant he had to pit at the end of the opening tour also, leaving him next-to last.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sochi Qualifying: Continuing the Lewis theme

You wonder if Nico Rosberg turned up to the new Sochi Autodrom earlier this week, and let out a groan.

Not a reflection of the quality of the track hosting the inaugural Russian Grand Prix per se. No one was entirely sure what to expect in advance, after all. Data for simulation had been hard to come by. And once they were actually circulating on it for real drivers were pleasantly surprised by the circuit's challenge apparently.

Today Lewis Hamilton continued his recent momentum
Photo: Octane Photography
But many had already noted the Abu Dhabi similarities. An ultra-smooth low grip surface, with plenty of short 90-degree corners. A track that Lewis Hamilton is mighty on. He hardly needed it given the recent momentum, but before a wheel had been turned it looked like advantage to Lewis.

So it proved. For most of the weekend he's appeared on another level, as much to Nico as to everyone else. And this continued into qualifying. Nico could shadow box, but he never looked likely to land a glove on his team mate and title rival. Lewis took the pole from him by a clear two tenths.

'Lewis was quicker all weekend really' said an honest Nico later.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Matters to emerge from the best and the worst

Perhaps it is fitting that at a time of extreme we are witness to the very best and the very worst. And so it has been since the unfortunate events at what turned out to be the conclusion of the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend, with the result of Jules Bianchi in hospital and what awaits as yet remaining unclear.

The F1 community has come together
in support of Jules Bianchi
Photo: Octane Photography
But from somewhere within this harrowing and regretful matter as I said the very best of F1 was displayed. What often can appear a highly disputatious sport really came together in support of Bianchi, his family and his team. Moreover the community of F1 fans around the word united similarly and moreover devised many touching ways of demonstrating collective messages of hope and goodwill.

Yet some sadly went rather beyond. Of course as noted last Sunday on this site after the Suzuka race it is in large part human nature after a shock and a trauma to seek answers, seek resolutions. But a few inauspicious actors exhibited the behaviour in an unattractive fashion - stirring up a hornet's nest of recrimination and reaction. There had to be fault, and culprits, and pronto. Something - maybe lots of things - had to be changed on the same timetable. This too even though the FIA investigation into the matter had barely begun and the establishment of facts remain at a similar stage.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

New F1 Times article: Fernando Alonso goes from saviour to scapegoat

Photo: Octane Photography
We've all been aware for a while that Fernando Alonso hasn't been thrilled with life at Ferrari. That he's been scanning for alternative options. Most likely we can understand it too, given that for most of his time there he's struggled with rather substandard machinery.

But despite this - and that by consensus Alonso's personal contribution has delivered much better results than the red cars have deserved - recent word has been that in fact Ferrari somehow is not happy with Fernando Alonso. Eliciting some bewilderment.

In my latest article for F1 Times I look into what might be going on; what might be motivating Ferrari's behaviour, and reminding us that in many ways it's nothing new from the Scuderia.

You can have a read here: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09436

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Sochi Preview: One to get through

You would forgive the F1 fraternity, and plenty of fans, if they felt that this impending Grand Prix weekend is rather one to be got through. Moreover one that they could do without. Not necessarily a reflection on the Grand Prix in question. Rather that as we know the harrowing conclusion of the Suzuka race just passed, with Jules Bianchi's accident and resultant injuries, reminded us in a harsh way that, as Mario Andretti worded it, motor racing is also this.

It seems equally harsh that there has been little opportunity for grass to grow under the sport's feet since; little opportunity to reflect, consider, pause in respect. As almost in a blink of an eye - and with the matter far from settled - all were ripped away for the lengthy journey to the next round taking place but days later. And indeed the racing goes on unabated, though we can take some succour from the knowledge that the racing going on presumably is exactly what Jules would have wanted us to do.

Bernie signs the deal, under the watchful eye of Vladimir Putin
"Russia Grand Prix sign" by http://premier.gov.ru -
http://premier.gov.ru/events/news/12574/photolents.html.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via
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/File:Russia_Grand_Prix_sign.jpeg#mediaviewer/
File:Russia_Grand_Prix_sign.jpeg
And while it's easy to miss among it all, at the sport's geo level this particular race meeting is an important one. At last a Russian Grand Prix is upon us - for the first time in exactly 100 years. Rather an important frontier for the sport.

Moreover it has been established following no fewer than three decades of trying on the part of Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

For most of this time there has been regular talk of a Russian/Soviet race, as well as visits by Bernie and apparent resolutions, all of which before now turned out to be false dawns. Indeed, a Grand Prix in the Soviet Union, to be held on the streets of Moscow, appeared on a provisional F1 calendar as long ago as that for the 1983 season (after a visit to the country by the same Bernie in 1982), only to be scuppered by various bureaucratic machinations. As it was the first Grand Prix of the F1 era in the Eastern Bloc was in Hungary in 1986, which had proved to be more accommodating.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Japanese GP Report: Dark clouds

At such moments the sights, the sounds, the feelings, can be horribly familiar. The incongruous silence when there should be noise; still when there should be buzz; restraint when their should be celebration.

We all know it, and the horrid sense of shock and then of uselessness as we watch on, desperate. And however much we love motor racing, it also is - and always will be - dangerous. The risk can be minimised, indeed it has been vastly as we know. But it cannot be uncoupled.

All drivers were understandably sombre after the Suzuka race
Photo: Octane Photography
Perhaps against expectations - and the expected vast quantities of rain indeed arrived - we had a motor race in Suzuka today for the Japanese Grand Prix. And for the most part we had a good one. One of remarkably good judgement by all of the drivers too, in addition to their considerable bravery and skill.

But it came to a rather abrupt stop on lap 42. As intimated come the commencement time of 3pm locally the track was very wet, which resulted in a start behind the safety car, a red flag then another safety car period. But the rain had relented before the time that the cars were released definitively. The circuit as a consequence was, if still difficult, suitable for green flag action.