Sunday 19 December 2010

Looking back: 1981 - F1's strangest season

The recently ended 2010 season is commonly accepted as a great one. When thinking of great F1 seasons some readily spring to mind, such as the dramatic championship finishes of 1964, 1986 and 2008, or the competitiveness of 1974, 1997 and 2003, or even the drama and controversy of 1976 and 1989. The season of 1982 however tends to rise above others in such debates. It after all can boast no fewer than 11 different winners (for seven different constructors) in 16 races, no individual winning more than two of them. This all was alongside multiple acts of drama on and off the track, conducted in an atmosphere of extreme acrimony. Such is the myth that surrounds 1982 that it even had a specialist book about it written and published a quarter of a century later, by the sadly recently-departed Christopher Hilton.

However I feel that the season which preceded 1982, 1981, is somewhat forgotten about, and has a strong claim as a memorable and dramatic season. It can certainly match 1982 for controversy and acidity. Indeed, much of the 1982 politics were simply a continuation of those in 1981! The 1981 championship battle was tighter and went to the wire to a much greater extent than 1982's did. Plus the on track racing action (easy to forget in all of this) was generally much more diverting in 1981. It seems to have been lost in time somewhat that most of the races in 1982, i.e. the hour and a half on a Sunday, were soporific spectacles. And 1981 isn't far off 1982 in terms of variation of winners, no driver won more more than three races, the world champion totalled but 50 points, and in the final drivers' table no fewer than five drivers were within seven points of the top of the table. Eat your heart out 2010.

Even if one maintains that 1981 was not among the sport's greatest seasons, it certainly has a claim to being one the sport's strangest. It started with a race that never was in South Africa, attended by only 19 cars, the races were participated in by a field of cars, for the most part, in flagrant breach of the rule makers' flagship regulations, and it ended in a car park in Las Vegas, wherein the three contenders stumbled disastrously over the line, and Nelson Piquet claimed his first World Championship by a point, almost in spite of himself.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Whisper it, there's been an over-reaction to 'Crashgate'

Last week, 'Crashgate' had what hopefully was its last hurrah, with Nelson Piquet Jr and his father being awarded 'substantial damages' from Renault, who had accused the Piquets of lying over the affair.

'Crashgate' of course is what the media and others commonly refer to as the incident in the Singapore Grand Prix of 2008, wherein then-Renault driver Piquet, in a pre-arrangement his team, deliberately crashed his car to initiate a safety car period, to the end of helping team mate Alonso leapfrog several cars on the way to victory.  Whisper it, I can't help but think that there's been something of an over-reaction to the whole case.

The language of the apocalypse has been in plentiful supply in the 'Crashgate' reaction, making front pages as well as back. Simon Barnes in The Times declared it as 'the worst act of cheating in the history of sport', and most others weren't much milder in their assessment. And time doesn't seem to have been much of a healer, as the case's recent re-emergence in the media has shown, with ESPN F1 editor Martin Williamson calling it 'one of F1's most sordid affairs' and 'nobody...has come out of this with any credit'.

But was it as bad as is commonly accepted? Calling it the worst act of cheating in any sport ever is surely excessive (what, worse than East German mass doping of children in the 1970s? I'm sure the list of worse acts than Renault's in Crashgate is almost endless). Calling it a 'race fix', as many have, is also inappropriate as a race fix would surely have involved other teams, and pre-arrangement of the whole final race result. I instead see it as little more than a crude attempt to take advantage of an imperfect rule that existed in F1 at the time (i.e. the closure of the pit lane at the start of a safety car period, giving massive advantage to those who had already pitted). F1's equivalent of the professional foul in football, to use a rough analogy.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Final thoughts on 2010: F1 mostly looking rosy

Hopefully the 2010 F1 season will be viewed in years to come as a watershed rather than a blip. It was a season wherein F1 was strangely at ease with itself, and delivered a level of on track action not seen in years, and a championship battle of a competitiveness probably not seen ever.

Given F1's capacity for false dawns and for shooting itself in the foot, I feel slightly reluctant be so positive about F1's state, but at the topline level 2010 was a great season for F1.

On the track it was the year of the Bull, with the Red Bulls continuing their almost uninterrupted upward trajectory over their six year stint in the sport, by claiming the drivers' (for Vettel) and constructors' championship titles. Indeed, their competitive advantage, particularly in aerodynamics, was compared by some to some of the Ferraris in the Schumacher/Todt/Brawn era, and to the Williams FW14s. The car's pace advantage, particularly through the quick corners, appeared to indicate a fundamentally different approach from their rivals.

That they didn't finally claim their championship crowns until the very end of the season was down to a number of well-documented factors, including unreliability (for Vettel), driver errors and having two competitive drivers taking points off each other. But it also reflected the resurgent Ferrari and McLaren teams' ability to pounce on any slight opportunity that Red Bull presented them with.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Looking back: 1979 - not the march de triomphe for Ligier

OK, I'll admit it. I first had the idea to write something on Ligier's 1979 season sometime after the Brazilian Grand Prix this year, in which Red Bull had refused to 'nominate' one of their drivers for the championship or to impose team orders. It was to be a cautionary tale of a frontline team with two competitive drivers losing out on a championship by allowing them to race each other, to the point that they damaged each other's hopes.

The Red Bulls then inconsiderately won both the drivers' and the constructors' titles. But the story of Ligier in 1979 is sufficiently compelling to be worth recounting nevertheless, and the lack of team orders is but part of it.

To cut a long story short, the Ligiers ran away with the opening two races of 1979, before gradually fading to become also-rans by the season's end with, on the face of it, an unfathomable rate of decline. As is usually the case in F1, the reasons for this decline are not straightforward.

Sunday 21 November 2010

My Top 10 F1 Drivers of 2010: The Rest...

A big draw back with compiling a top 10 of drivers is the arbitrary way you have to draw a line under the tenth driver. In an attempt to redress that, here are my thoughts on the 2010 F1 drivers that didn't make it into the top 10. 

Kamui Kobayashi came oh-so-close to pipping Felipe Massa for tenth place in the list. He started the year with a promising reputation, after two impressive, if wild, drives for Toyota at the end of last season. This year Peter Sauber's reputation for picking out a young driver (see Raikkonen, Massa etc) seemed to be under threat for a time, as Kobayashi struggled to get to grips with the sport and only maintained the 'wild' part of his 'fast and wild' persona. Three first lap accidents in the first eight races pointed to this, as did the fact he was hardly blowing away his team mate. His season gradually turned around though, qualifying in tenth in Spain and finishing tenth in Turkey. But the real watershed was his run in Valencia, running a long stint on the primes (in a way that became fashionable) before a late dash on the options including impressive outbraking maneuvers on Alonso and Buemi. His progress was underlined by being firmly quicker than Nick Heidfeld when he arrived in the team, as well as the faith Peter Sauber has shown by making Kobayashi his lead driver for 2011, guiding the rookie Sergio Perez. If nothing else, his overtakes usually provide a diversion in dull races.

Alongside Kobayashi, Pedro de la Rosa, who was surprisingly brought into a race seat for the first time since 2006, was safe enough as you'd expect, as well as gave his team mate a good run for his money pace-wise. Like Kobayashi, he struggled initially with car unreliability, though as things improved he scored his only points of the year with seventh place in Hungary. However, there had been some signs of tensions within the team and de la Rosa was dumped after the Italian race. His replacement, Nick Heidfeld, while typically keeping his nose clean, seems to have continued his uncanny ability to position himself away from potential drives. Having spent last winter holding out for a Mercedes seat that never came, he didn't really ever completely get on Kobayashi's pace in his five races, and now finds himself without a drive for 2011. A pity, as there's probably none better at bringing the car home, and he's rarely been embarrassed pace-wise by team mates such as Raikkonen, Massa, Kubica and the like. You'd think he'd be perfect for one of the new teams.

My Top 10 F1 Drivers of 2010: Six to Ten

Following on from one to five below... 

6: Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica is another who may be disappointed with where he's ended up in this list. To an extent, if we're purely to judge drivers on what they achieved with the equipment at their disposal then Kubica would certainly be placed comfortably within the top five. But there also has to be a premium on fighting at the front for wins and the championship when judging drivers, the pressure is of an entirely different level (and pressure does funny things to all of us).

These considerations aren't to take anything away from Kubica, who, after a slightly underwhelming and frustrating 2009 in the lame duck BMW (in which he was outscored by team mate Nick Heidfeld), successfully restored his formidable reputation this year. Like Alonso, he appeared to successfully build his team around him and galvanise them, ending what many thought was a terminal decline. Some in the Renault camp rated him better than Alonso in this regard - high praise indeed. Also like Alonso, he seemed to be getting the absolute maximum from his machinery, and consistently. Unlike Alonso, he didn't pepper this with mistakes, I cannot recall an error of Kubica's costing him points this year.

Kubica's finishing and qualifying records are models of consistent brilliance, and he didn't miss an opportunity to give the front runners hell when such moments arose. He qualified in the top three at the three circuits where the driver has the biggest potential to impact the outcome - Monaco, Spa and Suzuka. At Singapore, Silverstone and elsewhere he showed that there's nothing wrong with his abilities when wheel-to-wheel either.

Consistent, good with the team, bloody quick - with all due respect to Renault it's unfathomable why none of the 'big four' have found a place in their line-up for Robert Kubica.

Saturday 20 November 2010

My Top 10 F1 Drivers of 2010: One to Five

Top 10 drivers' rankings are all the rage these days. So I've decided to compile one of my very own. Just as a cowardly disclaimer, these are of course purely personal selections and I'm prepared to accept that there may be very defensible reasons for an alternative order.

This is the top five, the remainder are to follow. Here goes...

1: Fernando Alonso
One of the many reasons that the 2010 season was a great one was the return of Fernando Alonso to where he belongs - at the business end of the grid. It just shows what we'd been missing (and what a waste it was) in his last two years struggling with a mainly mediocre Renault.

After his Renault interregnum, preceded by a well-documented McLaren soap opera, Alonso finally had the opportunity to remind us all of his talent and why he is rated so highly in the sport. On track his brilliant tenacity, intensity and, less well-documented, his extreme pace were relentlessnessly on show. However, you could argue that Alonso was even more impressive off the track, building the Ferrari team around him as he had in this championship years at Renault, and providing the team with direction, motivation and technical feedback that they have been missing for a while and have historically responded so well to. This, more than anything else, emphatically reversed what many had seen as Ferrari's terminal decline post-Todt, Brawn, Schumacher et al.

It took an while for this completely come to fruition though. After an impressive win on the opening day in Bahrain, his season entered something of a mini trough. Ferrari were breathless behind the pace of the Red Bulls (and to a lesser extent, the McLaren f-duct) and their first serious round of technical upgrades in Spain made the car slower if anything. Worse, Alonso made a succession of uncharacteristic errors, probably trying to make up the gap single-handed, such as jumping the start(!) in China and pranging a barrier in practice at Monaco, consigning him to start at the back. Between times though the tenacious performances were there for all to see, and his run at Malaysia was perhaps the most impressive of anyone all season, running all day at comparable pace to Massa, Button and others without a clutch from the get-go.

In many ways, Alonso's season turned after the Turkish race. After an underwhelming race, quite a bit behind his team mate, he had the confidence to give his team a very public technical 'hurry up'. From that point on Alonso never failed to be a contender. Canada could have brought victory but for being mucked about by backmarkers, and then a technical upgrade introduced in Valencia leapfrogged Alonso's Ferrari into sniffing distance of victory. This was all Alonso needed.

Unfortunately, bad luck in Valencia and Silverstone meant few points from both rounds, leaving him 47 points from the top of the table. There was some concealed laughter as Alonso still maintained that he would be champion this year, but the laughter subsided as he went on to record a series of brilliant performances, claiming four victories and seven podiums in the last nine races. His victories at Monza and Singapore were vintage Alonso, and few can claim to match them for quality at any point this season. Only a disastrous team call on strategy in the final round cost him what would have been a stunning title won not in the best car. The driver of the year in my book.

2: Lewis Hamilton
It seems strange to think that this is only Lewis Hamilton's fourth year in the sport, such is his establishment in the top order. This year was no exception to the previous ones, Lewis's flair, aggression and stunning pace were consistently on show, and he underlined his long won crown of F1's best and most exciting racer, with a seemingly never-ending succession of overtakes.

For much of the season Lewis also allied these considerable talents to a new restraint and maturity. Examples include his patient probing of the front running Red Bulls in Turkey ending in their self-inflicted implosion, never giving the quicker Webber a moment's peace in running to second at Silverstone, and the marvellously calm and measured victory in changeable conditions at Spa. Abu Dhabi, Suzuka, Canada - the list of prodigiously quick and mature performances seems endless and the story is the same.

These were also achieved with a threat from within. Team mate Jenson Button arrived in the McLaren team as world champion and a considerable threat. His easy charm getting his feet under the McLaren table very rapidly, and further pressuring Lewis with two impressive early-season wins in changeable conditions. From Spain onwards however Jenson rarely saw Lewis on the track.

Indeed, had this list been complied after the Belgian race Lewis would have been a decisive number one, as well as would have claimed one of the most impressive world champion wins, not in the quickest car, the sport has seen. However, in subsequent races Lewis's season and performances slipped at precisely the wrong moment. He put himself out of the race halfway around the first lap at Monza, ill-advisedly sticking his nose down the inside of Felipe Massa when in a strong position. This was followed by another DNF at Singapore, again making contact with another car, this time Webber. It was harder to attribute to blame for this one, but with the championship at stake squeezing Webber to the extent he did was at least impolitic. These two bouts of nil points let his rivals back into title reckoning which they never relinquished, and his run was topped off by a smash in Suzuka practice, putting him on the back foot for the weekend that his championship chances, by his own admission, realistically faded away. Twice in the late races he was frightened off the road by Alonso.

Still, the old Lewis returned in Korea, where he somehow manhandled a difficult car to finish second place, and in Abu Dhabi where he harassed leader Vettel's quicker Red Bull throughout.

Lewis demonstrated this year that he is a formidable competitor, has suitably matured over his time in F1 and is at least as good as any of his rivals. If McLaren provide a car worthy of his talents in 2011 then watch him fly.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Thoughts on Ferrari's Abu Dhabi strategy

Lots of people have had their say on Ferrari's race strategy employed in Abu Dhabi. The details of the strategy call and its consequences are well-documented, and to cut a long story short, Fernando Alonso, running in fourth place, was pitted early, on lap 15, nominally to 'cover off' Mark Webber, who pitted four laps earlier. But as it transpired it was a gross misjudgment, consigning Alonso to be held up by traffic for the rest of the day, meaning he could finish no higher than seventh, when he needed fourth place or higher to claim the title.

In an age where we are used to sharp-end F1 teams showing precision and judgment beyond our individual comprehension, such an error at the business end of the season with the championship at stake has resulted in considerable fallout. A browse around internet forums and Twitter has shown calls for various heads on plates, such as those of Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and team boss Stefano Domenicali. A particularly egregious Italian Government Minister joined in on the act, calling for di Montezemolo to step down for the team's 'demented strategy'.

I'm glad di Montezemolo treated him, and his demands, with the utter contempt they deserved. Di Montezemolo is a proven quantity, and the only people that would celebrate his resignation are Ferrari's rivals.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Abu Dhabi GP report: Vettel times it to perfection

Well, few of us saw that one coming. Sebastian Vettel is 2010 F1 world champion.

It's astonishing as it required him overturn a 15 point deficit to Alonso in the last race. It's also the first time he's led the championship ever, let alone this season. This seems an amazing stat as he's consistently been the fastest package this year, and he would have won the championship long ago but for various bouts of unreliability. For these reasons it's hard to argue that he is not a deserving or worthy champion.

Indeed, the most impressive thing about his performance in 2010 is the way he recovered in fine style from his troubles mid season, including after Spa where there seemed to be a concentrated effort to destroy him mentally from certain quarters (you know who you are, Whitmarsh...). He responded to this in the best way, with his best driving form of the season, and he was fastest everywhere from Singapore onwards.

He continued this pattern in Abu Dhabi. From pole, and getting a bit tight with Hamilton in the first corner, he led and won comfortably. And the question of who would win was resolved definitively after the first stops, wherein he managed to clear Kubica's late stopping Renault, which got in Lewis's way for several subsequent laps.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Abu Dhabi Qually: Advantage Fred

So, the crunch qually session of the season comes and goes, and it's distinctly advantage Fred for the title. In a session wherein the Ferraris looked slightly off the pace of the Red Bulls and (good heavens) the McLarens, he undertook something of a save at the last moment to claim P3. Even better for the Spaniard, this isn't behind a Red Bull front two as usual, which would have been his doomsday scenario, his main title rival Mark Webber lines up fifth tomorrow.

Indeed, Fred seemed very satisfied with his afternoon/early evening's work, describing the qualifying result as 'great', and himself as 'very happy'.

It was a curious session, about the only thing that went to expectation was Seb taking pole, having been comfortably fastest, as he has been pretty much everywhere it seems these past couple of months. Webber was curiously off his team mate's pace. Rather than his usual smidgen behind Vettel's pace, he was upwards of half a second slower.

Those reliable judges of winners and losers, the bookies, share Fred's confidence, making him odds-on favourite to clinch the title tomorrow. Webber's odds have drifted out as far as 7/1 with one bookmaker. Most actually now have Vettel as second favourite to win the championship. Still, no points will be awarded until the end of the last lap tomorrow.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Abu Dhabi Preview: It all comes down to this

It's what Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson calls 'squeaky bum time'. At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend everything will be decided, after 19 races and several thousands of miles on the track (and no doubt tens of thousands of air miles). If things go wrong there will be no other chances. I'm glad my own involvement won't extend beyond spectating.

Four drivers travel to Abu Dhabi with a chance of the drivers' championship: Fernando Alonso (246 points), Mark Webber (238), Sebastian Vettel (231) and Lewis Hamilton (222). The mathematics of resolving the championship are never-ending. Of the more likely outcomes, Alonso needs to finish in the top two to guarantee the championship for himself. A Webber victory with Alonso in third place or lower will win the title for the Australian. Vettel winning the race will only result in the championship if Alonso finishes fifth or lower.

Lewis Hamilton's chances, 24 points behind with 25 on offer, are mathematical only it has to be said. Realistically he needs all three other championship contenders to either not finish or be seriously delayed.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Brazilian GP Report: Red Bull make good their escape to set up last race showdown

Normal service was resumed rather rapidly on race day in Brazil. After the double six thrown by Nico Hulkenberg by taking a surprise pole ahead of the four main title contenders in a wet-dry qualifying session, the potential for him to add an extra variable in the race waned rapidly after the red light went out.

The story of the race was how quickly you could clear Hulkenberg's Williams. Vettel did this off the line, and Webber followed suit a couple of corners later at Descida do Lago. The Bulls then scampered off into the distance and were gone for the day. Alonso eventually followed past the Hulk at the same spot as Webber on lap 7, but even by this time he was upwards of ten seconds down on Seb at the front. Lewis, who seemed to be having some sort of crisis judging by his radio communications, didn't manage to pass the Hulk until the pit stops, by which time he wasn't within ten seconds even of Alonso.

Seb looked utterly in command throughout, and swept to victory from the front in that way he does to a nicety. Webber pedaled hard to keep up, but just didn't have his team mate's legs. Alonso did his usual formidable best to put them under pressure, but the Bulls always seemed to have something in hand, and Fred had to settle for third.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Interlagos Qually: The incredible Hulk

Wow - there's nothing like a bit of rain to shake up F1. And Interlagos, continuing it's tradition of being a place where the unusual happens, threw up a great qualifying session, with Nico Hulkenberg snatching pole position. And it looked like he was on a different track to everyone else, taking pole by over a second in the end.

The Williams have usually been competitive in wet conditions this season, were the first to make the call to change to slicks as the track dried in the final qually session, and got their timing perfect for when the Hulk would complete his laps. But even with those nothing should be taken away from Nico, whose performance was stunning. It also is perhaps the first time he's showed some real confirmation of the considerable potential he had attributed to him when he arrived in F1 at the start of the season. Let's hope it's the first of many.

It's also timely for both driver and team. The Hulk, despite steady improvement throughout his rookie season, has recently been dogged by rumours of his being replaced at Williams for next year, with GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado and his money bags conspicuously on the horizon. Williams have also been under financial pressure recently, so the associated publicity with the pole will be highly welcome. It's also their first pole position since Nurburgring 2005.

Interlagos Preview: Rain makes things interesting

Thank goodness for rain. Some of it fell between practice yesterday and practice today, and it'll clearly be at least damp for today's qualifying hour at Interlagos. This will make things interesting.

For most of Friday it appeared that the Interlagos weekend was going to follow the pattern of that pretty much everywhere else, at least in recent races. The Red Bulls appeared to have the legs on everyone. Further, of the two Red Bulls Vettel was a smidgen ahead of Webber, continuing the theme of the last couple of races. It seems astonishing how Seb seems capable of consistently outpacing his team mate by that tiny, yet massive, margin. Further continuing the recent pattern, Alonso was brooding not far behind the Bulls, and poised to take advantage of whatever opportunity they present him with.

However, the weather will make things a lot less straightforward. It is tricky to draw conclusions from the practice session just passed, given that times tumbled as the track dried and Webber and the two Ferrari pilots didn't complete many laps. But certainly the Ferraris and the Red Bulls both looked strong even in the wet (perhaps showing that quick cars in the dry are often still quick cars in the wet), so shuffling of the established order in qualifying may be limited. And it doesn't currently appear that we'll get the monsoon-type conditions that we did last year at Interlagos

Friday 5 November 2010

Racing between the lakes - the Interlagos circuit

There are many reasons to dislike the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, or Interlagos as it's better known (literally meaning 'between the lakes'), where the Brazilian Grand Prix takes place this weekend. Its surrounding urban sprawl is claustrophobic and not 'in keeping' with the image that the F1 fraternity likes for itself. Its pit and paddock facilities apparently belong to another age, power failures and timing screens being wiped out are common. Organisation is usually poor. In the year 2000 the qualifying session had to be stopped three times because of advertising hoardings falling onto the track, one even being hit by Jean Alesi's Prost. Then there's the track itself: for most of its existence the bumps have been treacherous and dangerous. Indeed, the Saubers had to withdraw from the 2000 race, due to the bumps accounting for the structures of their rear wings. A succession of resurfacing jobs consistently failed to solve the problem (though the surface laid in 2007 is a big improvement). Walls are close to the track, even on fast sections such as the uphill blast at 'Boxes'. Its pit entrance there has always had an outward resemblance to a death trap. Eddie Jordan in 2001 commented on Interlagos that 'They could do with doing something with the track, in terms of knocking the place down and starting again'.

The Interlagos circuit.
Some of the outline of the old track can be seen.
Credit: Marlon Hammes / CC
Yet, the Interlagos race for many who follow F1 (me included) is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the year. Why is this? Well, unusually for a modern F1 venue it is a proper racing track. Its undulating variety of fast and medium turns provide a genuine driving challenge. Further, each year it seems to prove the adage that if you give drivers a proper racing track they'll give you a proper race. The amount of overtaking in an Interlagos race, mainly under braking into the Senna 'S', seems to outnumber the rest of the season combined. This was notably seen in Button and Hamilton's drives through the field last season.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Looking back: F1's first foray with the safety car

The safety car is very much the part of the fabric of F1 these days. Indeed, it led 24 laps of the 55 laps of the Korean race last weekend, and has led 78 F1 race laps this season. That's more than double that of Felipe Massa!

Having been an integral part of the racing scene in the USA since the year dot, the safety car was introduced to F1 in its current form midway through the 1992 season. Minimising disruption of TV schedules from race stoppages was part of the reason for the move, though a desire to potentially 'spice up the show' in a season in which the Williams FW14Bs (more to the point, Mansell's FW14B) were running away with virtually every race also concentrated minds.

Less well known is that there was an earlier attempt at bringing the safety car, or 'pace car' as it was known then, to F1 races. Given their experience, it's little wonder that the idea was abandoned for almost two decades subsequently.

The year was 1973, and up until that point stopping races wasn't the done thing. Races continued unabated pretty much no matter what, even in incidents of extreme horror such as Lorenzo Bandini's fiery and fatal accident in Monaco in 1967.  Not including the 1950 Indy 500 (technically part of the F1 world championship at the time), the first F1 race to be stopped ahead of time was the 1971 Canadian Grand Prix, which ended a few laps early because of rain and mist.

Monday 25 October 2010

A few adjuncts from Korea

Red Bull not unreliable, contrary to popular belief

The Autosport website's post Grand Prix reviews, available to subscribers, are excellent. Given I'm a total nerd I particularly enjoy their 'Stat Attack' articles, which are a collection of stats and records established before and after each Grand Prix.

One thing that leapt out of their article after the Korean race was that the Red Bulls, contrary to what seems to be a commonly accepted belief in F1, actually have a very strong reliability record. For one thing, the Red Bulls, prior to the Korean race, were the F1 team who had gone the longest without a mechanical failure - the last one was Vettel's expiring brake disc all the way back in the Australian race. Indeed, Webber has not had a mechanical DNF this season (both his non-finishes were caused by accidents). Korea also ended a 22-race points scoring streak for the team, and going into the race the Bulls were one of only two teams who had scored in every race this season (McLaren is the other).

OK, there's an element of lies, damned lies and statistics here no doubt, and such stats ignore cases such as Vettel's brake problems in Barcelona and Monza, and his spark plug problem in Bahrain, which precluded better results in each case without actually stopping him. It's also the case that Vettel's three mechanical DNFs this year compare unfavourably with the two for Hamilton one for Alonso and Button. But for all we talk about Red Bull as being unreliable, and Adrian Newey 'pushing things to the edge' more than other designers, the numbers don't back up the point.

What Red Bull do next

A question probably still ringing in Christian Horner's ears since the Korean round is what he does now in terms of 'backing' Webber over Vettel for the title. Two rounds are left, with a maximum of 50 points available, and Webber trails championship-leading Alonso by 11 points, and Vettel trails Alonso by 25.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Korea GP Report: Fred cleans up as others fumble

Turns out those who set their alarms were rewarded, eventually. After well over an hour of false starts and touring behind the safety car (occasionally enlivened by driver politicking via their radios), what do you know, once the Korea race got under way proper it turns out to be a great one.

Fred took P1, and all of a sudden he looks to be in a strong position leading the championship table, with but two races left. Everyone laughed when mid-season he told all he would win the world championship this year, but now the only one laughing is Fred himself, as he gave us a demonstration of via the radio having taken the flag.

Yes, Fred took advantage of Red Bull fumbles to take the win, but there's always been an art to staying out of trouble to win races, particularly in these conditions, and Fred put them to full use today. He was never far behind the Bulls in any case.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Korea Qually: Red Bull pull two rabbits out of the hat at the last

Whoever devises Red Bull strategy must have nerves of steel. In a tight qualifying session in which both Red Bulls, Alonso and Hamilton looked on the pace, and just when it looked like it was Fred's pole, having improved his already P1 time on his final run, Vettel and then Webber each leapfrogged him at the very very last.

Lap times have been tumbling all weekend as the new Korean track cleans up and rubbers in, and it could be that getting their laps in last was vital to the Bulls squeaking ahead of Fred.

As expected, the Bulls lost time compared with the others in the first sector of the lap, which is dominated by long straights, before making the time back, and often more, in the twisty stuff in the remainder. The speed and challenge of the sweeps in the latter part of the Yeongam lap has pleasantly surprised everyone, especially the in the Red Bull camp you'd think, given they play utterly to their strengths.

Friday 22 October 2010

Korea Preview: Close call at the front, as one dog doesn't bark

Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night time"
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

One dog in particular did not bark in Korea today. Contrary to common expectations, including by certain bloggers who should know better, the new track did indeed hold together. This bodes well, as on previous occasions of F1 circuits breaking up wear and tear had become apparent by this point of the weekend, and most cars did something like a race distance in the course of practice today.

Indeed, many drivers were pleasantly surprised by the Yeongam track and facility. While the surrounding scenery remains rather sparse (it's in effect to be a street circuit built in reverse, with surrounding buildings to be built after the circuit, rather than before hand) there have not been significant complaints, and there have been many plaudits. Schumi commented that 'I must say the circuit is very demanding, very challenging, very good. I really like it', while Mark Webber admitted that 'I’m clutching at straws to criticise anything'.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Breaking up is never easy

This weekend the F1 circus has a new venue, at the Korean International Circuit in Yeongam. But it turns out that the new facility for the inaugural Korean Grand Prix may if anything be too new. Anticipation of the race had for some months focussed prominently on whether there would be a race at all, with preparation of the track and facilities behind schedule.

Bernie admitted in the Guardian yesterday that until a few weeks ago cancellation of the event was a real possibility: 'Last month I didn’t think it would be finished. And it would have been cancelled then – for sure'.

However, things came together (Bernie's public 'hurry up' of Korea's preparations seemed to concentrate minds) and FIA race director Charlie Whiting approved the track 10 days before the first practice session is scheduled to start. This somewhat stretching the FIA's usual 90 day deadline for such an approval.

This hasn't done a great deal to calm nerves in certain quarters, particularly given that the final layer of track tarmac was laid on 9 October, but 13 days before F1 rubber hits the road. Some therefore doubt the extent to which the tarmac will have 'cured', and will therefore hold up to the rigours that 24 F1 cars (and support events) will impose upon it. Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld among others have aired their concerns publically, such as that the track may break up, as well as that oils used in the construction of the track may not have dissipated, both of which have the potential to make the surface treacherous.

Friday 15 October 2010

Russia GP a reality

Say what you like about Bernie, but he's nothing if not persistent.

It appears that a Russian Grand Prix will be on the F1 calendar in 2014. This after three decades of trying on the part of Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

For most of this time there has been plenty of talk of a Russian race, visits by Bernie and apparent resolutions, all of which 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 in the Eastern Bloc was in Hungary in 1986, who had proved to be more accommodating.

Momentum for and interest in a Russian/Soviet race seemed to be diluted for a while after that, despite the occasional murmur. That was, until the turn of the millennium. In the noughties more venues were touted and advanced to varying degrees before petering out, including in Moscow (again), St. Petersburg and Pulkovo Airport. For many onlookers the prospects of a Russian Grand Prix were ranked somewhere alongside that of a Grand Prix in New York - another ubiquitous but apparently unattainable venue in Bernie's vision.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

An intriguing development of the past few days is the thickening plot surrounding Felipe Massa and his relationship with Ferrari.

It all kicked off, publically at least, in the build up to the Japanese race when Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo said: 'I have waited for Felipe with great perseverance in the last four races. I want a strong Massa who will shave points off the rivals...Those who race for Ferrari don't race for themselves, but for the Ferrari team colours. One who wants to race for himself will have to face the team'.

Curious stuff. Particularly given that, on the track at least, Felipe hadn't done an awful lot wrong in those four races. He scored a 3rd and two 4th places (in two of those races indeed taking points off championship rivals) and also came in 8th in Singapore after a mechanical failure in qualifying, absolutely not his fault, consigned him to start at the back. The inference could be taken that Massa's off track relationship with his team, particularity in regard to his his willingness to assist team mate Fernando Alonso's title bid, has become severely strained. We can also infer, going by di Montezemolo's stated chronology, that the problems are traced back to Hockenheim in July, the scene of 'team order gate' of course, wherein Felipe was required to cede a likely win to Alonso.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Japanese GP Report: Red Bull get it right

It's always nice when your predictions come true. Admittedly, I wasn't really sticking my neck out by suggesting that the Red Bulls would run and hide at Suzuka. Long fast corners, which are in bountiful supply at Suzuka, play right into their hands, and they have all season, and the result wasn't in doubt once Kubica left proceedings early. But this is the first time this campaign that the Bulls have converted one-two on the grid into one-two in the race, which says something of their maddening inability to turn pace advantage into hard results this year. It's made it more fun for us watching on though.

Fernando Alonso and the McLarens did well to at least keep the Red Bulls honest. Fred came home third, within three seconds of the Bulls, and will be glad to have limited the damage to his championship position. He and Vettel are now level pegging in the table, 14 points behind Webber (with 25 points for a win) with three rounds left. Indeed, all three of them will be pleased enough with their weekend's work: Webber will be pleased to stretch his lead ever so slightly, and Vettel will be happy to be right back in the mix, and back on form. In a weird way you wouldn't bet against any of them for the title. Webber does need to beat Vettel somewhere to be world champion, and the way Vettel's now going that won't be easy.

Suzuka Qually: As advertised

Nothing can go wrong for them now, can it? The Red Bulls have locked out the front row as was expected from a dry session, with a clear pace advantage, approaching half a second a lap, over everyone else.

As also expected, Seb is the quicker of the two and takes pole, though Webber ran him a bit closer than practice times had indicated, being around seven hundredths slower. Given a trouble free run the Red Bulls should score a one-two later today, but this is Red Bull we're talking about!

It'll also be fascinating to see what Webber's approach will be in the race. Will he see following his team mate into second place, and reversing the momentum on Alonso, as a good day's work, or does he see his team mate as as much of a championship threat?

Saturday 9 October 2010

Suzuka Preview: Opportunity Red Bull

We have to wait a little longer for qually at Suzuka. Heavy, incessant rain on Saturday, which created track conditions which rendered the cars virtually undriveable, means that the session now will take place on Sunday morning, 10am local time, finishing four hours before the race start. There was some prevarication as the scheduled time for qually came and went earlier today, and the fans waited patiently as surely only the Japanese can, before the powers that be finally gave into the inevitable.

All the indications from the running on Friday were that, if dry, the Red Bulls are untouchable. Their performance through fast, long corners has been well-established this season, and such corners are plentiful at the Suzuka track. Their grip and change of direction, in the esses section especially, is something to behold.

While this will be of some relief to Mark Webber, whose championship lead is a precarious 11 points, it'll be of less comfort to him that his team mate Sebastian Vettel again looks mighty, continuing his recent improved form and being consistently the quicker of the Bulls. Vettel won this race at a canter last year, and Webber himself has admitted that Vettel has the edge on him around this track.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Thoughts on Peter Warr

Like many people, I was very sad to hear of the passing of Peter Warr earlier this week.

Bernie was absolutely right to say that 'When Peter was in Formula One he helped me to build it to what it is today'. Peter Warr's F1 team management career ran from 1969, when he was asked by Colin Chapman to take the team manager role at Team Lotus, all the way through to 1989, taking in spells at Wolf, Fittipaldi and back again to Lotus along the way. His career encompassed the transformation of the sport from something of a gentlemanly pastime to the professional event recognised around the world that we're all so familiar with today.

Further, in this time Warr was not just another team boss, he distinguished himself as one of the most effective team managers in the sport, often in difficult circumstances.

I personally became aware of Peter Warr when I first followed the sport in the mid 1980s. I was an Ayrton Senna fan (and not one of the posthumous converts that seem to be so numerous!), so Warr therefore was a key figure in my F1 initiation, as Senna's team manager at Lotus. While Lotus's decline throughout the 1980s is well documented, it should be recorded that Warr's team did astonishingly well with the resources available to them in this time.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Looking back: F1's first visit to Suzuka

Next weekend the F1 circus visits Suzuka for this season's Japanese Grand Prix - a track that all true fans of F1 eagerly anticipate seeing the cars on.

Such is the classic and challenging nature of Suzuka's fast sweeps, and its lack of modern sterility, it's easy to assume that the likes of Moss, Clark and Lauda pounded round the circuit in years past. In fact, the track was only used as a World Championship venue for the first time in 1987.

Indeed, the date of the track's opening stretches even further back - to 1962 (no gleaming new Tilke facility being brought onto the calendar here). It was designed by John Hugenholtz, who also gave Zandvoort to the world (he designed Jarama, Nivelles and Zolder as well - but for the sake of the point I'll ignore those!). But despite the staging of a couple of 'Japanese GPs' in its early years, Suzuka remained criminally undiscovered by much of international motor racing for the first quarter century of its existence.

The history of bringing an F1 race to Japan was equally haphazard. The track at Fuji, who were always more proactive than Suzuka in bringing international motorsport to Japan, held the first two F1 World Championship events in the country in 1976 and 1977. The first visit has gone down in folklore as the scene of James Hunt and Niki Lauda's championship showdown, held initially in monsoon conditions that resulted in Lauda quitting a couple of laps in on safety (or sanity) grounds. This left Hunt to dramatically claim the crown by taking third, having to pass cars frantically in the late laps, after a pit stop to replace a blown tyre.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Number crunching from Singapore: Nando and Seb on a different level

I've had a little gander at the lap times from last Sunday's Singapore GP (because I'm sad).

They show us what we already knew: namely that Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were on a different planet to everyone else. But I thought the numbers were so striking that they're worthy of repetition here.

Alonso and Vettel exclusively shared the 26 fastest laps set by anyone at the Singapore race, as well as between them set 35 of the 36 fastest laps (these 35 laps were as equitably shared as is possible, Alonso set 17 of them and Vettel 18). That one rogue non-Alonso/Vettel lap of the 36 was set by Robert Kubica, who made a late stop for tyres and therefore benefited from running with a light fuel load on fresh tyres. And even there his fastest tour (1:49.255) was well over a second shy of Alonso's best (1:47.976) and of Vettel's (1:48.141).

Sunday 26 September 2010

Singapore GP Report: Fred shows that when you're hot you're hot

As is no doubt said in pool clubs roughly every fifteen seconds: when you're hot you're hot. Fernando Alonso in Singapore won his second race on the bounce, and is beginning to look like he may do something crazy and bag his third world title this year. I called Fred a 'dark horse' for the title last week, and am now wondering if I was under-selling him.

This was a smash and grab exercise by Fred in the very best sense of the phrase. Make no mistake about it, this should have been a Red Bull win (or more to the point, a Vettel win), and their failure to do so can be traced back to their being out fumbled for pole position on Saturday. Alonso tends to go into imperious mode when leading races, and he put those skills to their best use in Singapore, despite Vettel's best efforts to put him under pressure.

In reality both Alonso and Vettel were mighty in Singapore, with no one else seeing them. Just like the last race at Monza, we were treated to a tight, tense battle at the front between two drivers at the top of their game. Another parallel was that Webber started in the pack, looked racy, made some nice moves, and scored good points (this time for finishing third) that he may look back on as being key for his championship aspirations.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Singapore Qually: Fred pulls a rabbit out of the hat

Well I absolutely did not foresee that. Fernando Alonso pipped Sebastian Vettel to pole for tomorrow's Singapore GP, in a weekend that, up until that point, Seb looked like he had it taped.

The Red Bulls, at least in Vettel's hands, continued their strong pace in the first two qually sessions. But in the third, wherein only two flying laps can be squeezed in, apparently both were compromised by the same piece of traffic on their first run. Then, with the pressure on, seemed to not able to max out their second. Seb ended up second, and Webber fifth. Christian Horner admitted that his cars 'slightly underperformed' against their potential in qualifying.

If Fred gets off the line first tomorrow, and it stays dry (and the latest weather forecasts look relatively benign) who'd bet against him bringing the win home? He's looking more and more like the focused and metronomic Alonso we know from days of old. What's more, all the momentum seems to be with him currently. The one false note in qually for Ferrari was struck by Massa, who'll line up last tomorrow, his car having stopped with what may have been an electrical problem in the first session, having not yet set a time. Reliability problems are the last thing Ferrari needs right now.

Singapore Preview: Vettel's to lose?

So there you have it - looks like the claim from the Red Bull camp that Singapore would see them return to setting the pace wasn't spin after all. On the basis of practice they're the cars to beat, benefiting from their extreme levels of downforce and ability to ride the kerbs.

And even among the Red Bulls Vettel looks hard to stop, consistently being a number of tenths quicker than Webber. It's already looking like Seb's race to lose. Just a guess, but perhaps being the hunter, rather than the hunted is easier psychologically, and allows Seb to throw the car around with abandon (vital at Singapore).

If anyone is going to get close to the Red Bulls it looks like it'll be Alonso and possibly Hamilton. Further rubbering in of the track, after rain (yet again) before practice may bring them closer, but it'll probably require something special even by their standards to get pole. Beating Webber to second may not be out of the question though. Button looked off the pace in practice 3, and cannot afford to lose much ground this weekend.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Why I think it's Webber's title (probably)

It's all the fives in the F1 championship fight right now. Five races left, five drivers within a win of each other at the top of the table. But you know this already.

So, what is likely to happen next? I make no claims of being a clairvoyant, but I'll do my best.

A good place to look for clues is in the five remaining tracks, given that the characteristics of these are likely to be the biggest discriminators of pace in the remainder of the season.

Next up, this weekend, is Singapore. This looks like Red Bull country, given it's a tight, confined, bumpy street track, in the Monaco mold (and the Red Bulls, Webber in particular, were strong there earlier this season). Indeed, the Red Bulls have been insisting for a number of weeks that Singapore will see their return to the front. They probably will, though Hamilton and Alonso have good records there and certainly have the acrobatic skills needed to push their cards around that track competitively (and remember that Alonso probably would have been on pole at Monaco had he not pranged a barrier in practice). There is however rain forecast, in which case all bets are off.

Suzuka follows that, and in a dry race the Red Bulls will likely disappear, with their unrivalled pace around the fast sweeps. We're possibly due a wet race there however (and when it rains in Japan it really rains), again all bets will be off in this scenario. Still, both Red Bull pilots will see the next two races, if dry, as a great opportunity to put clear blue water (or should that be clear energy drink?) between them and their rivals. If Red Bull pull it off then with three races left everyone else could be on their knees.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Return of the Kimster?

Just when it seemed that the annual drivers' market silly season was getting boring, what do you know, Kimi Raikkonen has apparently thrown his hat into the Renault ring, to potentially partner Robert Kubica next season.

Bit of a bolt from the blue this one, coming just months after the mood music appeared to be that Kimi was content to stay in rallying, having had a quietly impressive debut year.

As has been pointed out, by Jonathan Noble on the Autosport website and others, there may be all sorts of Machiavellian sub-plots behind this apparent move, both from Renault and from Kimi. But in my view the move, on balance, just about makes sense.

No one doubts Kimi's natural talent. In my view it's greater than anyone in the current F1 field, including even Lewis Hamilton (whom I think has astonishing natural ability). Anyone who recalls the races in Japan in 2005, Spa in 2004, and others, has little doubt of Kimi's potential and genuine star quality.

Kimi has shown on occasion that he's bloody quick, and in ideal circumstances can beat all comers. He has won one world championship after all, and could have won three with better reliability from his McLaren in 2003 and 2005. If it was me making the decision at Renault I'd conclude that on driving potential, Kimi surely has to be considered by far the best bet when held in comparison to the other contenders. Surely Kimi, even at half cock, will be at least the equal the likes of Petrov or Sutil?

Sunday 12 September 2010

Monza GP Report: Forza Ferrari and Fernando

We just never learn do we?

After the last race, in Belgium, we were convinced that the championship was now a two-horse race, with Vettel, Button and Alonso out of it. But, just as a week is a long time in politics, an hour and a half on a Sunday afternoon is a long time in F1. Monza's results, with Alonso first, Button second and Vettel fourth, and with Webber 6th and Hamilton leaving with nil points, mean we have five drivers within a win of the top of the table once again, with five races left. Woo hoo.

The race was tight and exciting, in true Monza style. Jenson got the jump on Alonso at the start, helped by his extra downforce (though Alonso's start wasn't vintage either), and from that moment on Fred never gave him a moment's peace. We were treated to the sight of two top-level drivers, running at the limit, and never putting a wheel wrong from what I saw. The soft tyres held on magnificently, and it was a full 36 laps into the 53 lap race that Button blinked first and pitted (the team apparently gambling that the new tyres would give him an advantage). But Alonso pulled a fast one on the next lap, and squeaked ahead after his stop, holding Jenson off at the first chicane with some brio.

From that moment on the podium positions, with Massa third (holding on to the front two well, despite the odd hairy moment), weren't in doubt.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Monza Qually: Fred makes the tifosi very happy

Fernando Alonso took pole position for tomorrow's race at Monza. Not only this, he did it with a surprising pace advantage over his rivals. It's also Ferrari's first pole since about 1961, or something. And in Italy of all places.

The conventional wisdom had been that this would be a McLaren track, and Jenson Button performed with some vigour to complete the front row, just over a tenth back. He's gone with a larger rear wing and an f-duct, showing admirable calm in the face of people who should know better (like me!) telling him it was the wrong way to go. If anything it was Lewis who chose the wrong path, as he lines up fifth, having faded away in a curious fashion in final qually.

Jenson's extra downforce may give him a strong run to, and under braking for, the first corner tomorrow, though on the flip side, he's been slow through the speed traps and anyone that gets a sniff of his slipstream will sail past him.

Monza Preview: Tight at the top

Lewis has topped the times in this morning's final practice session at Monza prior to qualifying. He probably is favourite for pole, though Monza may not quite be the McLaren walkover that has been predicted. There doesn't appear to be much between the top three teams. The top five cars were covered by just over two-tenths of a second this morning, and Webber probably would have been right among them had he not stopped out on the track (for the second session in a row).

Red Bull are possibly pleasantly surprised by how close they are to the front (having told all in advance that this weekend was a damage limitation exercise), and Vettel was but a squeak behind Hamilton in second place this morning. The extent to which Webber has been impeded by his reliability problems yesterday and today remains to be seen, however.

Ferrari also appear to be doing their usual trick of finding something at Monza, neither car was far away and Alonso may well have topped the times this morning but for being mucked about by Kamui Kobayashi on his last run.

Thursday 9 September 2010

FIA get it right on Ferrari and team orders

This may come as a surprise to you, but the FIA got it right today in their ruling on Ferrari's team orders in the German race earlier this year.

The World Motor Sports Council decided not to add further punishment to the stewards' $100,000 fine handed to Ferrari at the event itself. Better still, they announced that the team order ban will be reviewed. Let's hope that this is the beginning of the end of the drawn out 'team order ban era' of F1.

Don't get me wrong, if I could wave a magic wand and make team orders disappear from F1 then I would. I'd much rather see team mates battle on the track than have the outcome decided by their pit wall. I also appreciate that to the uninitiated (and the pure) it would seem tremendously unfair for a team to ask a driver to give up a position. But team orders have always been part of the sport. As has been documented, it used to be not uncommon back in the 'golden age' of racing when men were men etc etc for drivers to go so far as to give up their cars for team mates who had broken down. Indeed, Peter Collins in the final race of the 1956 season even went so far as to give up on a chance of winning the championship himself so that team mate Juan Manuel Fangio could take over his car.

The team order ban was only brought in as a knee-jerk reaction to an egregious case in Austria 2002, and it owed more to pandering to public opinion than to the sport. Team orders are an inescapable part of F1. Teams invest lots of money and time to win championships, and winning comes higher in their list of priorities than the 'show' alone, which is the way it should be in a competitive endeavour. In the pursuit of this, teams will occasionally feel it necessary to swap the positions of their cars out on track. One has to accept team orders as part of F1 or find something else to do with their Sunday afternoons. Further, any attempt to ban team orders is unenforceable, and forces teams into various charades when team orders are applied, as was seen at Hockenheim.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Why the lack of real grid girls?

I spent last weekend at Brands Hatch doing my marshal thing at the DTM. Had a jolly good time thanks for asking.

One of DTM's distinguishing features (kind of) is that there are two female drivers on the grid, in the shape of Susie Stoddart and Katherine Legge. This reminded me of the question that is often asked of me (and others) by the uninitiated: why there are no female drivers in F1.

I have to say it's a good question. Historically there have been very few, only five in the history of the World Championship, and only two who have started a race.

Busting some myths

For one thing, I believe we can relatively quickly dismiss the Vitantonio Liuzzi claim that women aren't psychologically or physically equipped to take part in F1. The psychological claim can be dismissed out of hand, and I'm not convinced by the physical argument either. There are many female fighter pilots, astronauts etc etc operating at the top level of their professions. Hell, there are even female weightlifters in the Olympics. Further, there is evidence that women with their lower centre of gravity etc are actually better equipped in general to deal with extreme G-forces. So I can see no reason why women can't develop the physical fitness required to operate in F1.

Supply and demand

In many debates in professions in which women are underrepresented, such as in politics, there is discussion about whether the shortfall of women is down to supply (i.e. women aren't putting themselves forward to participate in the same numbers as men) or demand (i.e. the profession itself is making it disproportionately difficult for women to participate and to 'get on'). The supply point is probably worthy of more investigation in F1 and in motor sport more generally. Part of any supply problem is cyclical in that there being so few female drivers will likely mean that many other females won't see race driving as an option for them.

Saturday 4 September 2010

The (possible) return of the ground effect - hurrah!

I was intrigued by the article on the Autosport website on the latest working group ideas being touted to improve overtaking in F1. This may seem unlikely, given such working groups are convened and their outputs applied on a daily basis, it seems. But this time, just maybe, it could be different. This is because, for this first time I can remember, the return of the ground effect is being 'actively considered'.

I feel that the near absence of ground effect on F1 cars, that is achieving downforce from air flow passing under the car, is a major part in the difficulties of cars to run close to each other, and therefore to pass. I'm told that ground effect is less negatively impacted by the 'dirty air' from the car ahead, and also will relatively speaking reduce the reliance on air flow over the top of the car (which both creates and are negatively impacted by dirty air). I don't think it's a coincidence that the point in history when overtaking levels in F1 fell off a cliff loosely coincided with the 'plank' being attached to the underside in 1994, and the stepped underside introduced at the start of 1995, both of which combined to virtually eliminate ground effect.

Of course, a lot of things have to happen first before this becomes a reality, and no one has ever got rich by predicting what the FIA and F1 teams end up agreeing on (and it won't happen until 2013 at the earliest). But, here's hoping, a bright future with racing cars racing each other may lay in wait.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Stewards continue to baffle

A bit more musing on the Spa race.

You may recall Martin Brundle mentioning in the BBC commentary, as the cars were poised on the starting grid waiting for the green light, that Felipe Massa had overshot his starting slot by a couple of metres.

Well, what do you know, amateur footage has appeared on You Tube (better move quickly before Bernie twigs). Felipe looks bang to rights.

While I'm generally a fan of stewards butting out, it does seem odd that this wasn't even investigated, let alone punished. Even some kind of warning or fine to ensure no one would seek to use this sort of stunt as an advantage in future (as with Hamilton setting his fastest qualifying lap on fumes in Canada, and thus running out of fuel before getting back to the pits) would have been something.

Monday 30 August 2010

Does the Vettel collision fall-out confirm this season's battle lines?

The collision between Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button was a major talking point from the Belgian GP at the weekend. However, for me, it was the response to the incident from McLaren that was more intriguing.

Martin Whitmarsh missed several opportunities to keep his mouth shut on the matter, describing Vettel's move as 'more reminiscent of junior formulae', his punishment (a drive through) as 'pretty light', as well as essentially calling Vettel too error-prone. And not missing an opportunity to refer back to the incident in Turkey, wherein Vettel collided with his team mate, Mark Webber, Whitmarsh added: 'I would rather he did it (collided) with his team-mates rather than do it with us'.

Ted Kravitz in the BBC's TV coverage of the Spa race recounted to us how a number of McLaren mechanics apparently went out into the pits to perform a 'passive aggressive' stance as Vettel completed his drive through. Even the normally mild-mannered Jenson had a pop, calling Vettel's move 'weird' and alleging that Vettel was 'rattled' and 'confused'.

You could argue that all of this reflects no more than a highly-competitive team expressing disappointment at having one of their cars taken out of the race at the business end of the season by, let's face it, a rather ham-fisted move. Yet this reaction is also the latest in a lengthy succession of needling emanating from Woking and in the direction of Milton Keynes.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Hamilton wins jolly diverting Belgian GP

Well that was a diverting hour and a half. I'm sure there must have been dull races at Spa, but somehow it's hard to imagine a race there not being entertaining. Once again, the combination of proper race track that racing cars can actually race on, plus changeable weather throwing the odd spanner in, gave us a classic.

A big well done to Lewis, who not for the first time drove like a king. He took the lead off the line, and retained command throughout, no matter what the weather threw at him or what went wrong behind him. The win was also timely, given some reckon that the remaining tracks, after the next race at Monza, may not suit the McLaren.

It's reasonably clear that Lewis is driving better than ever, with all the speed there as always but with the former (occasional) impetuosity apparently curbed. OK, he had a bit of a moment in the rain down at Rivage, which on another day could have wiped a front wheel off, but I'm prepared to forgive him for that.

It was also a good day for Mark Webber, who, after bogging down horribly at the start, stayed out of trouble and came second. The other championship contenders failed to score for a variety of reasons, so today may well be pivotal in turning the championship from a five-horse race into a two-horse race. Were getting perilously close to both McLaren and Red Bull having to ‘back’ a driver for the world championship, and Spa's result may have forced their hands. Still plenty of twists and turns ahead though, no doubt.