Sunday 27 November 2011

Brazilian GP Report: Webber picks up the pieces to win finally in 2011

Not for the first time in 2011, today's race in Brazil was all about the Red Bulls. But what did happen for the first time this year, indeed for the first time since July 2010, was that Mark Webber won the day.

Mark Webber finally took a win in 2011
Credit: Morio / CC
It was made possible by car problems for Sebastian Vettel, making it the second time in two races that Seb's been hobbled. Seb did his usual thing of blasting off from pole into a clear lead in the early laps. Indeed, he was 2.2 seconds clear of his chasing team mate Webber in second place after just two tours. But from the fifth lap Seb's gearbox developed a problem, which forced him to short shift in second and third gears. Webber thus was able to reel him in gradually, and on lap 30 Seb yielded the lead to him graphically. Still, such was the Red Bull advantage Seb managed to nurse the thing home in second place, behind Webber who won as he liked. Such a state of affairs, the other teams not even being able to out pace an RB7 with a sick gearbox, must have been rather galling to everyone else. But that's another thing that happened not for the first time today.

The win will be a relief for Webber, even if it was by default to an extent. Going through a 19 race season with the stellar RB7 underneath him and not to win a race would have been an unwanted record. Still, he was never far off Vettel's pace today and didn't put a wheel out of line that I could see. He even managed to 'do a Seb' by claiming fastest lap on the last time around.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Interlagos Qualifying: Delivering when you need to

So, there you have it. Sebastian Vettel claims yet another pole position. That leaves his final total for the season at 15. And this is a record.

Yes, it will be argued that the previous record total, set by Nigel Mansell in 1992, was achieved in fewer races, but it cannot be denied that the mark is fitting for the astounding and consistent qualifying performances from Seb this year. Time after time his qualifying runs in 2011 have been like flicking a switch, delivering a lap time as fast as it is possible for his Red Bull to go, and sometimes even faster, when it really matters; no matter the pressure or opposition.

The fifteenth pole of the season for Sebastian Vettel,
which is a record.
Credit: Morio / CC
Today was a continuation. It had looked fairly nip and tuck between Seb and the McLarens, as well as with his team mate Mark Webber, initially. But come the final, vital, session Seb simply moved to another level. He set a first time well beyond all others, and then bettered it.

The first two rows on the grid for tomorrow's race are in Noah's Ark formation. Mark Webber will join his team mate on the front row, and the McLarens occupy the second row with Jenson Button ahead. It's worth reflecting as an aside though that for all of Lewis Hamilton's struggles this year it's only 6 times out of 17 that Button's qualified ahead of the two. Fernando Alonso lines up in his usual fifth place.

Interlagos Preview: A great track, a close battle, and rain!

There are plenty of reasons why we could feel jaded heading into the final F1 weekend of the season. This year's drivers' championship was decided a full seven weeks ago. We're at the end of a long season, with 19 races, and it's almost the end of November - by a distance the latest finish of an F1 season in modern times. But none of us feel jaded, because this is Interlagos.

There's nowhere quite like Interlagos
Credit: Marlon Hammes / CC
It's impossible to think that any race at Interlagos will be a subdued end of term affair. It's a proper circuit, representing the best of old school F1 venues before the modern Tilkedromes become de rigueur. Challenging, undulating, and varied - Interlagos gives the impression of being drawn freehand, not designed precisely with computers and intricate measurements.

The circus was at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago and Interlagos, almost exactly, is everything that venue isn't, in bad ways and good. It doesn't have the gleaming architecture or the spacious, space-age facilities that are Abu Dhabi's trademark. Organisation at Interlagos has often been haphazard, it doesn't run seamlessly as it tends to do at the Yas Marina circuit. It's not, and probably never will be, a favourite of those who inhabit the Paddock Club, or for those who spend their lives trying to woo them.

But, unlike Abu Dhabi, Interlagos is a genuine favourite of F1 enthusiasts. This is partly because of the old-school charm previously outlined. It's partly also because it always attracts a large, noisy and passionate crowd of genuine F1 supporters through the gates, who are able to sit close to the action (overhanging the circuit at some points it seems). This has continued to be the case even in the absence of a consistently front-running Brazilian driver in recent times.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Turning a Renault 4 into a Lotus 2

For the second year in a row there isn't much doing in the drivers' market for the front running teams. The 'big four' teams - Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes - won't be changing their race line ups, barring something unusual happening, making 2012 the third season in a row that the familiar faces are occupying those seats.

Instead, we've had to look to the next team up in the constructors' table for our dose of driver market intrigue. It's just as well they've been providing plenty of this all by themselves, enough for the big four teams put together.

Renault have had a four into two conundrum for their 2012 line up (by which time they'll be called Lotus - do keep up at the back) for some time. The drivers in question, all currently on the Renault payroll one way or another, are Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean.

In recent days though something resembling clarity has descended upon the situation. First off: Robert Kubica, who appears to have been ruled out rather than ruled in.

Robert Kubica was mighty for Renault in 2010,
but looks likely not be with them in 2012
Credit: Morio / CC
Of course, in terms of pedigree Kubica is on a different level to the other three potential pilots, and all things being equal he'd be the first pick for a seat. But as is well known, all things aren't equal.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Abu Dhabi GP Report: Seb's pressure loss is Lewis's gain

Well, that was unforeseen. In a season wherein we've got used to Sebastian Vettel progressing confidently and often untroubled at the front of the pack, today his challenge ended after all of two corners, with a mysterious puncture.

Lewis Hamilton took a fine win at Abu Dhabi
Credit: / CC
This put Lewis Hamilton into the lead where he stayed for the duration, aside from pitstops. It would be wrong however to assume that it was an easy run to victory for him. He was under pressure all the way from a meteoric Fernando Alonso, but Lewis was fast and smart, keeping his McLaren at arm's length from the Ferrari while being sympathetic to his tyres to ensure their life, in a way that he hasn't always done this season. There are definite signs, on and off the track, that the mighty Lewis of old is beginning to re-assert himself. It bodes well for constructing another championship challenge in 2012.

Vettel led off the line from pole, which is sort of standard, but almost immediately he was broadside on the outside of the second turn, his right rear tyre without air. It was such an unexpected fate for Vettel that you briefly had to compose yourself in case you were imagining things. But Seb's afternoon was over: he hobbled back to the pits at a slow speed but his race ended there. The puncture was mystifying and still hasn't been explained by the team. There was nothing unusual in the line Seb took at the first corner, nor was there any contact or debris to be seen. At the time of writing the team were investigating the possibility of the car's bodywork rubbing against the tyre.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Never write off Seb on a Saturday

There are a few truths in life that are universally acknowledged. And increasingly the maxim that one shouldn't write Sebastian Vettel off in a qualifying session is threatening to join them.

Sebastian Vettel was masterful today
in claiming a surprise pole position
Credit: Morio / CC
Today's pole position was one that, by rights, shouldn't have been Seb's. The McLarens appeared to have the legs of him, especially Lewis Hamilton who was mighty as usual around the Abu Dhabi track in the qualifying hour, and didn't appear to do an awful lot wrong in his final runs. But what came next was classic Seb: he had the cool head to run significantly after the others on a clear track, put his Red Bull on a knife edge, didn't put a wheel out of place, and snatched the pole from McLaren's jaws by a tenth and a half at the very last of a gripping qualifying crescendo.

Vettel's run of poles may seem a bit samey to some, but it's surely impossible not to appreciate watching the master at work on a Saturday. He has that Ayrton Senna-esque ability to find tenths that aren't really there, and also like Senna, he's undoubtedly the driver of the age you'd choose every time to complete a qualifying lap to save your life. Try to remember the last time Seb made an error in a vital qualifying run and it's very very difficult - brushing the wall in Singapore in 2010, well over a year ago, is that last I could think of. I also couldn't think of many before that.

Friday 11 November 2011

Abu Dhabi Preview: The circuit that landed

There has been a never ending succession of gleaming new circuits debuting on the F1 calendar over recent times it seems. But even among these, Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina well and truly stands apart.

Yas Marina circuit - a venue like no other
Credit: / CC
It is very much the facility that landed, one that at first viewing you would have more expected to see in a sci-fi movie, with space ships ascending from and descending onto it, than hosting a modern day F1 event. More so than even the tracks that have been built since, Abu Dhabi seems to represent the future.

No expense has been spared it its creation. It forms part of the shimmering Yas Island, consisting of various attractions including Ferrari World and the world's fastest roller coaster. It is F1's first and only day-to-night race, and it has a icon all of this own in the Yas Marina hotel, which the track passes under, and shines in ever varying coloured lights which attract many a wide-angled camera lens.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Retro F1: the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

Today was witness to my second ever Retro F1 event. Retro F1 is where I watch a classic F1 race in full on YouTube, tweet updates as I go and have some Twitter chat (using the hashtag #retrof1) with like-minded people!

The race in question was the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, from the 2003 season.

If you want to watch the race in full the first part is here. And you can read through the chat on Twitter here. Highlights of the updates and chat is below:

Righty-ho, I'm clicking play now. Off we go.

We're clearly getting the Australian coverage, we'll be getting the James Allen/Martin Brundle partnership in the commentary.

A little bit of scene setting. This is round 3 of the 2003 season. In 2002 Ferrari dominated, but have struggled in first two races of 2003, and McLaren have won both. Kimi Raikkonen leads the table on 16 points, David Coulthard is second on 10, then Schumi and others are on 8.

@SartoMutiny Kimi looks about eight years old.
That's because he is, I think. 

Thursday 3 November 2011

The next Retro F1 - this Sunday at 1500 GMT

Good day to you all.

After the success of my first ever Retro F1 I've decided to do a second one. It'll take place this Sunday, 6 November, at 1500 (3pm) GMT, and I'll be watching the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix.

For those of you who don't know, Retro F1 is when I watch on old F1 race in full on YouTube, and post updates on it on Twitter as if the race is live.

It will be great if you can watch along and indulge in a bit of Twitter chat as we go. If you're anything like me, watching old F1 races is a real treat, and it'll be good to share thoughts through the race. The fruits of my first Retro F1 can be read here.

You can follow the chat with the #retrof1 hashtag here, and the link I'll be using to watch the race is here.