Sunday, 20 April 2014

Flagging officials

The 2014 Chinese Grand Prix wasn't quite a thriller, but it had a bit a fun added after the act.

It turns out that the final two laps of proceedings didn't actually happen, despite all appearances. Instead the result was declared after 54 tours of the scheduled and completed 56.

Why? Well no it wasn't a result of us somehow suffering a collective hallucination. Instead, you may recall that on the final lap Lewis Hamilton said something on the team radio - replicated on the world TV feed - about a chequered flag. Many assumed simply that he'd mis-counted and expected the flag a lap early. But no, it wasn't Lewis that had mis-counted; he had been shown the flag a lap early.

How could such a thing happen? Especially in this age of precise computerised timing? Turns out - to borrow the catchphrase of a notorious UK newspaper columnist - you couldn't make it up. Sky has reported that 'It's understood that the mistake happened when the clerk of the course unfurled the flag to test it.' Oh dear.

Kamui Kobayashi - the one to miss out
Photo: Octane Photography
And as it turned out the effect of this was doubled, as under Article 43.2 of F1's sporting regulations: 'Should for any reason the end-of-race signal be given before the leading car completes the scheduled number of laps, or the prescribed time has been completed, the race will be deemed to have finished when the leading car last crossed the line before the signal was given.' So, results have been taken from the lap before the clerk of the course committed the goof up.

All can thank their lucky stars that there wasn't more of a consequence from this; imagine if Daniel Ricciardo had indeed passed Fernando Alonso on the last lap, or if Lewis Hamilton had broken down...

The only resultant positional change was that Kamui Kobayashi's pass of Jules Bianchi on the final lap for seventeenth place now counts for nothing. And imagine too if that fight had been over P11 or P12 rather than P17, given such positions would likely have been crucial to their respective team's constructors' placings, which of course the money is based on. Still, while it may not be probable it is still plausible that these placings could tilt the championship order balance one way or another, if there is a count back. If I was in charge of such things at Caterham I'd appeal this; after all the team wouldn't want to regret the matter in six months' time if this precise scenario was indeed to play out. And there seem parallels between this and the outcome of the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix; then as now an organisational goof up changing the result as it should have been, and which in that case was corrected subsequently days later.

There's also something of a parallel with the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. It's a race recalled primarily as Jean Alesi's first and as it transpired only Grand Prix win, and in response to this the locals got a bit overexcited and invaded the track - before everyone had finished their final laps... Mika Salo in seventh place turned onto the pit straight for the final time and upon finding the track awash with spectators decided to stop before he'd reached the finish line, so not to mow anyone down. Luca Badoer, who'd started the final lap some 50 seconds after Salo, had no such qualms however and charged past Salo's Tyrrell to cross the line before it. The stewards later didn't sympathise with Badoer and declared the final result based on the lap before, relegating Badoer back to where he belonged.

As for 'face-palm' moments involving the chequered flag, we all recall the one about Pele being brought in to wave it at Interlagos one year, and managing to miss the winner. But there are others.

Alain Prost's 1985 British Grand Prix win came
slightly sooner than anticipated
Credit: Lothar Spurzem / CC
In the British Grand Prix of 1985 the chequered flag was also shown a lap early, this time to leader and victor Alain Prost, and it was all down to a bit of old-fashioned British incompetence. It transpired that the official on the line had assumed that his manual lap chart was correct even though he had the computerised timing system close to hand. It wasn't correct. Prost however, as ever leaving nothing to chance, completed the final lap anyway, and little more was said.

My personal favourite tale comes from the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon in 1982. Despite the nomenclature the Swiss Grand Prix was in effect a second French race on the calendar (just as the San Marino Grand Prix was a second Italian Grand Prix effectively for years). Then, the home ticket of Alain Prost in the Renault had led for much of the way, but in the late laps second-placed Keke Rosberg in his Williams was hunting him down at a rapid rate.

As they were set to begin their penultimate lap the deficit was down to a few cars' lengths, but Williams' team manager Peter Collins at roughly that point spotted something. At the start line he saw an official apparently all set to wave the chequered flag two laps early - presumably to the aid of the home team! Collins however sprinted to the vicinity and manage to distract the said official long enough to allow Prost and Rosberg to flash by once more.

Then, on what all assumed was the final tour, Rosberg indeed found a way by, but come the end of the lap there was no chequered flag! According to Maurice Hamilton in Autocourse: 'The officials, now thoroughly harassed, were gesticulating with their colleagues in the control tower and, in so doing, missed Rosberg...'. Some dryly noted that instead they might have been now minded to put the flag out late in case Prost caught up again. Rosberg however kept going until he saw a flag, which duly arrived a lap later.

In other words, if you think today was bad...

Chinese GP Report: Lewis wins a race of one

Driving an F1 car can never be said to be easy. Even more acutely, winning a Formula One Grand Prix can never be said to be easy. But Lewis Hamilton today may have got about as close as you'll ever likely get to either.

From the get-go it was a race of one; even as he led into the opening turn Lewis's ultimate victory of the Chinese Grand Prix never looked in any doubt, reliability aside. And Lewis knew as much, admitting afterwards that he 'was racing himself'. Only he could have beaten himself. And he didn't. His only minor foot wrong was running off the track at the end of his first stint when in the outer reaches of his tyre life, but beyond that it's hard to pinpoint reasonably what else could have been asked of him.

Lewis Hamilton triumphed once again
Photo: Octane Photography
'I can't believe how amazing the car is...the results we're getting is a true reflection of all the hard work (of the team)' said a contented Lewis on the podium.

While whatever concerns he had in advance about the car's handling from Friday running (though he still topped the times), plus the nagging concern that there was no dry running on Saturday wherein he could test out the overnight changes, melted away in no time.

'After P2 (Friday practice) I had to make a lot of changes in anticipation for today even though yesterday was wet, but it worked perfectly...'

So long as the Mercs kept going it seemed Lewis's only credible threat in theory was once again from his team mate Nico Rosberg, but after turn one - not helped by coming into contact with Valtteri Bottas - he was tucked up in P7 while his stable mate was making good his escape.

Nico's progress up the order was a bit laboured too. He didn't make much hay in the first stint (only clearing Nico Hulkenberg), made more in the second stint as he cleared Daniel Ricciardo in the pits then passed Sebastian Vettel and closed on Fernando Alonso. And he indeed sailed past the Ferrari on the back straight early on in the final stint to claim second place. But by this point the haughty Hamilton was over the hills and far away.

Not for the first time this year Nico was left to put a brave face on matters subsequently: 'The whole weekend was really really bad for me, it was went just completely wrong in so many different respects, also in the race we didn't have telemetry...

'I just look forward to a normal weekend in Barcelona, full attack again.'

Rosberg still leads the drivers' table (just), which as much as anything is a reflection of how much the current points system punishes DNFs, and Lewis of course had one of those in the season-opener at Melbourne and Nico was able to clean up.

And already it's hard to see how the Mercs can be caught in 2014. They have a big advantage, but what in my view will likely really keep them out of the others' reach is the nature of the advantage - based as it is on long lead-in items such as the engine layout and the packaging around it.

Fernando Alonso amazed us yet again
Photo: Octane Photography
Nico however now needs to find something to make a fight of the drivers' title with his team mate; he can't rely on DNFs as a rule. And now, four rounds into the season we have two clear intra-squad wins for Lewis; one close run thing and one inconclusive. All in as things stand, the scales appear tilted Lewis's way.

Once again, the Silver Arrows made things rather appear like they were the sole LMP1 entrants with everyone else representing LMP2. And when Fernando Alonso reckoned after qualifying that he could be best in class as it were behind the Mercs over the race, the consensus was that assessment was a little on the, shall we say, optimistic side. But that's precisely what he did, managing to lead the Red Bulls home and occupy the bottom step of the podium.

'It was a good weekend, we did improve the car a little bit after the first three races, so we felt more competitive. And to be here in the podium is a nice surprise finally' said Alonso afterwards.

He wasn't quite giving up on the championship either: 'We didn't have the start of the season that we liked but we're still in the fight'. From anyone else that would sound like head in the clouds stuff, but not from Fernando.

It seems that a few technical upgrades have helped the Ferrari F14 T, plus the Shanghai track characteristics and temperatures probably suited the machine. But still, that podium finish seemed almost purely about Fernando. It's just the latest reminder of the magic that he offers behind the wheel, and moreover serves up just about every time. You almost grow bored saying it.

A couple of other world champions out there have a bit to ponder however. First off Sebastian Vettel. He seized second place off the line and even though he lost that place to Alonso at the first round of stops, Red Bull falling for what struck me as a rather signposted undercut, Seb still looked on it.

His day however unravelled very quickly. He fell back from Alonso in a deliberate attempt to preserve his tyres (as he didn't have the straightline speed to pass). But he fell back rather more than what would have looked strategic, and with the additional tyre wear he was experiencing the Red Bull team was caught rather between two stools of two and three-stopping. When Rosberg moved past Seb disputed the position which - while spirited as well as was entertaining for us watching on - probably was less beneficial to him than simply bowing to the inevitable. And the time lost in the scrap put his more freshly-booted team mate Ricciardo - who'd succeeded in stretching out his first stint - onto his tail.

Sebastian Vettel was frustrated once again
Photo: Octane Photography
Then came the call; just like in Bahrain Vettel was asked to let Ricciardo past. But unlike in Bahrain Seb, having ascertained that unlike then he and Ricciardo were on the same strategy, didn't comply. His response, literally, was 'tough luck'.

Ricciardo did pass shortly afterwards, which all concerned including Vettel himself insisted was a deliberate yield, but you would have been forgiven for thinking it appeared that Seb had simply run wide inadvertently, too busy looking in his mirrors when under attack from his stable mate.

And from there on Seb rather sank, unhappy on his worn tyres as his pitwall occupants decided on a two-stopper after all, rather to the chagrin of its champion driver. Come the end he trailed Ricciardo home in fifth, some 24 seconds afterwards. Christian Horner admitted afterwards that Vettel's 'not been able to read' this year's variety of Pirellis, and this was an area previously a strength for him. 'I was just too slow' said Seb, brutally.

While Kimi Raikkonen was never a factor today in the other Ferrari, finishing eighth and - most traumatically - some 50 seconds plus after his team mate. Yes, he missed FP1 after technical troubles. Yes, reportedly the F14 T isn't handling to his liking. And, oh yeah, Alonso's very good. But you feel that even with these the deficit shouldn't be adding to that much.

But in another developing theme for 2014 Daniel Ricciardo impressed us yet again. He lost places off the start, running P4 early on, but as mentioned smartly extended his first stint and then reaped his reward by running on fresher tyres than those around him for the rest of the day. He moved past Vettel as mentioned, and later showed plenty of spirit in hunting down Alonso for the final podium slot. He reckoned with another lap he'd have 'had a sniff', but then again Alonso gave the impression of letting out the rope as far as he dared.

For Ricciardo though surely his first (proper) top three finish, and better, only is a matter of time.

But as mentioned, Mercedes sweeping the 2014 honours already seems a lot like a matter of time too. As, increasingly, does Lewis Hamilton capturing firm control of the drivers' title fight.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Shanghai Qualifying: Continuing the themes

Shanghai is a city evolving at a supersonic rate. To the point that when the F1 fraternity pitches up each year it finds there an awful lot that is almost beyond recognition compared with what was 12 months previously. But today's qualifying session at the Shanghai International Circuit wasn't in keeping with the city just down the road. There wasn't a lot that was new; instead it seemed a continuation of various themes already familiar in the fledgling 2014 campaign.

Lewis Hamilton - on top again in the wet conditions
Photo: Octane Photography
For the third qualifying session from four in 2014 rain fell, pretty much for the duration. But just like before it didn't make much difference to the outcome, not for Lewis Hamilton anyway. Three times the rain has fallen when it matters on a Saturday; three times Lewis has claimed pole position, leaving all others far behind.

This was the pattern of the whole of China's quali hour - and further repeating the pattern of before Lewis had clear pace in hand on everyone, which extends in the wet, where his almost freakish bravery, commitment and car control can be put to best use. And sure enough come the end of today's session he had a positively mammoth six tenths of a second on the rest.

This included his teammate Nico Rosberg, who in perhaps another developing theme for this year was in these treacherous conditions at least left gasping by Lewis's pace. He never looked capable of running with him today, and spun at the last corner of his final effort as if to emphasise the fact. By this point though Lewis was cruising back to the pits to dry off - pole assuredly his.

And he was rightly satisfied with his efforts: '(You get) definitely the most (satisfaction) when it's raining. It is so slippery out there, trying to find the grip, not making mistakes and really pulling it together, especially with these guys (the Red Bull drivers) pushing you. It was a tough session, I really enjoyed it, the car was feeling great'.

And just like those previous times when the elements have made themselves felt on a Satuday the colours of the next guy up was exactly the same. Once again the fine-handling but under-powered Red Bulls used the wet stuff on track to sail all the way to front-running waters. They managed to split the Mercs, being the two next to up after Lewis and both ahead of the other Merc belonging to Rosberg.

Daniel Ricciardo amazed us yet again
Photo: Octane Photography
Another pattern developing already in this new campaign is that Daniel Ricciardo is just refusing to quit amazing us; he did it again today, snatching second place on the starting grid with a stellar late effort. We could see what he meant when he claimed on his way back to the pits that 'there wasn't anything left in that'.

Lewis appears set fair for the race, even though he admitted subsequently that, given the rain, he hadn't been able to ascertain how effective overnight set-up changes had been in the dry conditions which are expected tomorrow. While the Red Bulls' long-run pace yesterday was impressive, it still wasn't quite with the Mercs, particularly not in the early laps. And even if they can stay with the Silver Arrows it's not at all clear - given their straight line speed deficiency - how they can get ahead.

Even Sebastian Vettel noted that 'in wet conditions we have a bit more of a chance, in dry conditions they're (the Mercedes) still quite quick and a little bit too far away'. But he remained positive: 'We'll try. I think we're in the best positions to try and give them a very hard time tomorrow'. Lewis however noted that the weather isn't too much of a consideration for him: 'we'll have a good race either way'.

Rosberg generally was a little bewildered at his rather scrappy time of it today in his stable mate's distant wake: 'just generally not quick enough today, that was the main issue, and struggling on the brakes...trying a little bit too hard'. He still should progress tomorrow if it is indeed dry, and indeed sounded the happier with his lot yesterday when the rain stayed away. So perhaps all is not yet lost for him.

As has also been the way in wet qualifying sessions this year Fernando Alonso was next up after the Mercs and Bulls, pedalling hard to seize P5. The car didn't quite look as good in the wet today as it did in the dry yesterday, but Alonso's more positive that the car tomorrow in a dry race can get closer to the podium fight. 'Tomorrow hopefully in the first couple of laps we can keep this fifth position and go with the train with the leaders. Hopefully we'll be a little bit closer (to a podium finish) than what we've been in the last races. Fifteen days ago we were fighting for ninth and tenth and this is not enough. We know that Mercedes is probably out of reach in dry conditions but hopefully with Red Bull we are not too far (away).'

Kimi Raikkonen however had another day not being able to follow in Alonso's footsteps, and he missed out on Q3 altogether, upwards of a second slower than the guy across the garage. Both McLarens had their day ended at this point too, either driver bemoaning a lack of grip.

Jean-Eric Vergne is always one to watch in wet conditions
Photo: Octane Photography
In a rare variation from the norm the Williams showed up much better in wet conditions today than had been so before in this campaign, benefiting from new development pieces, and Felipe Massa will start sixth tomorrow with Valtteri Bottas next up.

'It's maybe the first race that we have some new pieces on the car and it works, and it shows a good improvement on the car' said Felipe afterwards. 'So it's pushing the factory I'm doing all the time...the car has good potential that we need try to use...It shows a good improvement on the car. It's still not great, it's still struggling on the rear but a lot less, so the rear is more stable so you can push more'. Both Williams pilots are also confident of improvement tomorrow.

Next was the ever-impressive Nico Hulkenberg, then the ever-impressive in the wet Jean-Eric Vergne, and the top ten was completed by Romain Grosjean.

Yes, you read that right, a Lotus made it to Q3. The E22 as we all know arrived in the 2014 season under-cooked, but we've seen incremental evidence that it's just about starting to catch up with itself.

But even though the weather is expected to fine up tomorrow for the race the continuation of familiar themes is likely to extend. The Mercedes will likely be untouchable, and while the battle between its two drivers will probably be close, Lewis Hamilton is set as the guy to beat.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Chinese GP Betting Preview - Can Lewis throw a knockout blow in round 4? By Andy Morgan

An exhilarating encounter in Bahrain showcased one of the best inter-team battles in recent memory. Now it is time for the 11th Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit to flourish and host round 4 of the 2014 F1 season, fast becoming a memorable fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Two successive 1-2s and maximum points for Mercedes has consolidated the strong advantage Lewis and Nico are currently enjoying. It would be a major shock to see any of the chasing pack significantly push them this weekend, particularly as the lengthy straights emulate Bahrain and suit the power-packed Mercedes engine.

Will Lewis be in the picture again in Shanghai?
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton in China will be targeting three consecutive wins, a feat never achieved by the 2008 World Champion in his Formula 1 career. Yet the exciting display at Bahrain proved to the world that Lewis will not be strolling away with world title number two. Only a majestic defense drive kept Nico and his fresher, softer tyres at bay.

Lewis admitted that Nico was the quicker man in Bahrain, confirmed by the German's pumped up, steely manner on the podium. Nico is likely to carry that intensity and determination into the weekend, looking to avenge the previous two defeats to his former karting teammate.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Race Week London and Prince's Trust F1 memorabilia auctions

If you're planning on attending the British Grand Prix this year or else are likely to be in the vicinity of London in early July, then you may be interested in Race Week London. It takes place on Thursday 3rd July, three days before the British Grand Prix, at the Royal Artillery Gardens in the City of London.

The event is a six acre festival of motor sport which includes among other things:
  • live Formula One car demonstrations;
  • a concourse of 50 F1 cars from over the last 50 years for fans to peruse - Ayrton Senna's 1984 Toleman and Michael Schumacher's 1994 Benetton will be among those on display;
  • a motorsport forum held in conjunction with Sports Pro which produces the annual 'Black Book' Formula 1 guide;
  • live F1 simulators;
  • a Q&A and meet and greet with F1 drivers;
  • a F1 drivers' cricket match;
  • and much more. 
The team behind the event is the same which has produced the 'Grand Prix Ball' over the past four years.

Full details of the event and details of how you can buy tickets can be found on their website: http://raceweeklondon.com/.

Furthermore, as part of the build-up to Race Week London in each Grand Prix weekend until the British Grand Prix there will be an online charity auction of limited edition Formula 1 memorabilia, in aid of the Prince's Trust - a Youth Charity founded in 1976 by The Prince of Wales which helps disadvantaged young people.

And the auction for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix is live until Tuesday morning. You can check it out at www.gpballauction.com.

There's plenty of very interesting F1 bits and bobs to peruse, though if you want to bid for anything you'll need deeper pockets than I have...

You can also find out more, and get latest updates, on Race Week, the auctions and the Grand Prix Ball via the following links:

Twitter:
Race Week: @RaceWeekLondon
Grand Prix Ball: @GrandPrixBall

Facebook:
Race Week: https://www.facebook.com/raceweekevents
Grand Prix Ball: https://www.facebook.com/grandprixball

Web:
RaceWeek: http://raceweeklondon.com/
Auction: http://www.gpballauction.com/
Grand Prix Ball: http://gpball.co.uk/

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

New F1Plus.com article: Age old matters

Photo: Octane Photography
Ever wondered why F1 drivers seem a bit younger than used to be the case (and are convinced it's not just you getting old yourself)?

It's something that I've noticed too. And over at F1Plus.com in a new article I outline that modern F1 drivers get older 'quicker' than used to be so (and least as far as perceptions are concerned), as well as that the paddock employers look for youth in their charges much more than was once the case. I also explore the reasons why this is.

You can have a read by clicking on this link: http://www.f1plus.com/en/columns/item/5748-age-old-matters

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Shanghai Preview: Things that happen for a reason

We all know that everything happens for a reason. Well, in F1 it does anyway.

China. A nation of 1.3 billion people and by common consent the coming force of the world economy. Bernard Charles Ecclestone didn't require much encouragement to get right in there.

Indeed he was in there earlier than you might think, with the country's Zhuhai circuit nominated as reserve race on the F1 calendar as early as 1998. Its facilities though never quite came up to snuff.

The architecture at the Shanghai International
 Circuit is stunning
Credit: Emily Walker / CC
But by 2004 everything was in place, with a gleaming new Herman Tilke designed facility completed for F1 to do its thing on. Reflecting the considerations of the start of the preview it was likely no coincidence that the track was cited just outside the country's economic centre of Shanghai rather than near the capital Beijing. And that year when everyone pitched up for the first ever Chinese Grand Prix its importance, and the reasons for its importance, was lost on few, as reflected by these words from Jean Todt: 'This has been a historic day for Formula 1, making its first appearance in the world's most heavily populated country which for the past few years has been experiencing a period of amazing economic growth'.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A weighty issue

I'm going to say something that may surprise you. Bernie Eccelstone has been right in saying the current formula is absurd and that urgent change is required. Luca Montezemolo too.

No, really. The only problem however was that they both have been saying it for the wrong reasons. Forget the fuel limit and flow regulations, the engine noise, the apparent complexity of the new formula or (before Bahrain at least) the supposedly tepid action served up on-track. The matter really requiring urgent action is what the 2014 F1 driver apparently is required to do to keep their weight down.

Jean-Eric Vergne has admitted to being hospitalised before
the Malaysian race
Photo: Octane Photography
From an already extreme situation in previous years drivers now appear to feel obliged this season to reduce their weight even further, and - aside from no doubt making their lives highly unpleasant - to unhealthy and potentially dangerous levels.

For a good few years it's been the case that upon laying eyes on an incumbent F1 driver it strikes that there isn't an ounce of fat on them; that they seem made up of bone and not a lot else. But many of the breed in the 2014 campaign have looked even by previous comparison conspicuously gaunt and pale, redolent of one in the process of recovering from a serious illness.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

New F1 Times article: Haas – too much home comfort? Thoughts on the proposed Gene Haas F1 entry

Credit: CC-BY / CC
Last Friday we had the unusual experience of F1 news that just about everyone was happy with. American NASCAR team owner Gene Haas confirmed that his application to join the F1 grid with a new team in 2015 had been successful. And indeed the FIA confirmed this itself later in the day.

For F1 Times I outlined my thoughts on the matter, and while accepting that the news is highly encouraging I also ask if there are a few causes for concern.

You can have a read by clicking on this link: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/08743

Saturday, 12 April 2014

More to Ricciardo than we realised

How often do we say of F1 drivers employed in a team stuck in midfield or at the back: 'I wonder what such-and-such would do in a better car?' It's a tempting question to ask, but as often as not it's all illusory. Away from F1's headline acts the glare of scrutiny is less intense. The pressure is lower, and pressure is able to do funny things to all of us. Perhaps inconsistency and other foibles are less widely-noticed.

And the F1 teams, who as we know have much more evidence to work with than most of the rest of us do watching on, often know as much. Reflecting this too often those who do develop a good reputation in mid-pack and who get their step-up can then disappoint; one thinks of Giancarlo Fisichella, Heikki Kovalainen and others.

Daniel Ricciardo has had an even more ready
than usual smile this season
Photo: Octane Photography
But the evidence of his first three races after getting the keys to a Red Bull is that Daniel Ricciardo is one of those plucked from the midfield who is fully deserving of his step-up, and is showing every characteristic of one making good on it.

At the time it was confirmed not everyone backed Ricciardo's selection by the Red Bull A-team, in the stead of the apparently more qualified Kimi Raikkonen; indeed the odd interpretation not flattering to the Red Bull management was aired. I can say with reasonable conviction that I supported Ricciardo's promotion more readily than a lot of people did, but even I have been surprised, albeit pleasantly, by how he's done since getting his big break; both in the quality and extent of his repertoire as well as in the speed with which he's put it all to good use.