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.

Both Red Bulls pilots are still very much mathematically in contention, and Horner was correct to point out on the BBC post-race forum that things can change very quickly, and no one knows what lays ahead. Still, today Horner's attitude to team tactics seemed to soften a little. And just think of it this way: given two boring, trouble-free qualifying sessions and races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi for all concerned (and no attempts by Red Bull to make any driver 'swap'), the top three finishers in both rounds are arguably most likely to be Vettel-Webber-Alonso in that order, which gives Alonso the title.

One thing that will comfort Horner is that he can defer the decision to the last race, as one Vettel-Webber-Alonso result and one Webber-Vettel-Alonso result in the two races will give the title to the Australian.

Still, if Korea taught us anything, trying to second-guess Grand Prix results in advance is a mugs' game.

Mercedes masterstroke

Anyone who recalls Ross Brawn's era at Ferrari will be aware that he is a man who knows the rule book, and knows how to exploit it to his team's maximum advantge.

Ted Kravitz on his excellent 'behind the scenes' post-race report on the BBC website, revealed that Brawn's team had managed to pull another fast one on the opposition in Korea. Apparently during the red flag period both Mercedes cars were changed to a full wet set-up: suspension, tyre pressures etc etc were all changed to best suit the wet conditions. I wasn't aware this was allowed, and seemingly neither did Mercedes's opponents, as Mercedes reckon no one else thought to do this. It makes you wonder where the racy-looking Nico Rosberg would have finished up in the race had he not been wiped out by the errant Red Bull of Webber early on.

I suspect in a similar situation in the future all of their rivals will follow Mercedes's lead.

Let's stop the schadenfreude

Despite finding the Korea race highly diverting, one aspect of the race left a sour taste. This was the sight on the TV feed of McLaren mechanics, seemingly in unison, celebrating raucously upon seeing Mark Webber crashing, and reacting in a similar fashion when Vettel retired from the lead with an engine failure (we were also 'treated' to a Ferrari employee similarly outwardly pleased at Vettel's demise).

This was barely commented upon during the BBC coverage, other than Jonathan Legard seeking to justify it and Jake Humphrey being apparently amused by it. I was therefore gratified to hear Peter Sauber speaking out against the behaviour on show, saying: "They were scenes that didn't please me at all. Very unsporting." Nice to know I wasn't going insane.

I know we all do things in certain situations that we subsequently regret, but I found the reaction of the mechanics unedifying and, worse, reflecting badly on the sport. I'm also fairly sure that sort of reaction wasn't common in previous years (I can't imagine it happening on Ron Dennis's watch), and it was so widespread in the McLaren pit that it obviously is considered an acceptable reaction in that team. It's also not the first time this season that people at McLaren had behaved in an odious fashion towards Red Bull.

Peter Sauber was right to speak out - it looked appalling. Let's hope those in charge of both teams have a word and we don't see that sort of behaviour from those representing F1 teams again.


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  2. Peter Sauber - good guy. I'm, glad I wasn't the only one unhappy with this. I suspect that if it had been any team other than McLaren we might have heard a bit more criticism.

    Picture the scene - Abu Dhabi, ten laps to go, Vettel 1st and Webber 2nd. If they swap places Webber is champion. Do you think Vettel would move over......?

    Alonso as good as Senna? I guess if anyone would know, it would be Gerhard Berger.

  3. Thanks very much for your comments Superderek.

    Berger's comments on Alonso are high praise indeed. And for what it's worth I think there's validity in speaking of Alonso alongside the all-time greats. After all, only five drivers have EVER won more F1 races than him, and he's only had a front-running car for four of his seasons in the sport. I appreciate he's not everyone's cup of tea (I don't necessarily expect people to like the guy), but I do think he's worthy of the highest respect.

    On a Red Bull driver 'swap', you've got me thinking of a tantalising situation that could arise. If Brazil's top three finishers are Vettel-Webber-Alonso in that order, and with ten laps left in Abu Dhabi they are again running in that order, while Alonso will be champion unless Red Bull do a swap it's also the case that Alonso dropping out will hand the title to Vettel (on countback, if my mathematics are correct). Will that lead to Vettel not handing over his lead to Webber, just in case? Alonso's car could after all break down at the last corner. I'm glad it's not me managing that situation!

    Though, if Vettel has no chance whatever happens then I think he will choose to cede his place to Webber. He's got a long term future with Red Bull to think about after all. I suspect in any case it'll be done discretely, with a slower pitstop or something similar.

    As for your belief that the BBC would have been more critical had mechanics from a team other than McLaren celebrated other team's cars crashing or retiring, you might think so, I couldn't possibly comment!