Sunday 29 January 2012

Looking back: Montjuïc - a street track like out of your dreams

Reality bites in F1. Organisers of both of F1's Spanish races, the Spanish Grand Prix in Montmelo near Barcelona and the European Grand Prix on the Valencia street circuit, have made it known in recent weeks that they'll need less costly deals if the events are to continue. This is not surprising given the state of the world economy, which has hit Spain harder than many. A deal will be done presumably to ensure Spain continues on the F1 calendar - you'd think it would have to given Alonso-mania - though it's hard to see how two Spanish events can prevail, especially in an age where Bernie's keen to reduce the European presence on the calendar and with many countries queuing to get on it.

Spain's history of hosting F1 races is a long one, the first ever Spanish Grand Prix in the formula was in 1951. But the latest threats to the Spanish races continues the rather hit-and-miss and nomadic existence of Spanish F1 venues over the decades.

Six different circuits in Spain have hosted F1 Grands Prix (including Valencia, which has always had the 'European GP' moniker). The first venue used was the attractive Pedralbes track, run through wide open avenues in Barcelona's suburbs. It was used twice in total (the other race there was in 1954), before the Le Mans disaster the next year, and its fallout vis-a-vis circuit safety, did for it. The Spanish Grand Prix then disappeared from the calendar all the way through to 1968, when it resurfaced at the rather torturous, twisty and unpopular Jarama track near Madrid. That venue held the race on and off until 1981, with its final appearance that year giving witness to the classic and lauded win under pressure by Gilles Villeneuve.

The Spanish race then disappeared again for a while, until 1986 when the Jerez circuit in the south of the country became its host. It was an impressive facility, arguably the first of the 'modern' F1 venues that populate the calendar so heavily these days. Similar to Jarama it was known for being tight and twisty, but its main problem was that it never began to pull in a crowd, due in large part to being situated rather remotely, far away from Spain's major population centres. It lost the race eventually in 1991, though made a couple of further appearances in the 1990s as a last minute replacement for drop-outs elsewhere, and it continues to be used as an F1 test venue. Jerez was replaced by the Montmelo track near Barcelona, and it seemed that finally the Spanish round had found a permanent home. This was further cemented later by Spain finally uneartheding a top-level driver of their own in Fernando Alonso. And this was a lot of the reason why Barcelona was joined on the calendar by the Valencia street circuit in 2008. The Valencia track hasn't won any popularity contests though, not helped by the fact that it has been dogged by undiverting races in its short existence.

But there was one Spanish Grand Prix venue in history that was a real hit. It was a street track like out of your dreams. Faster, more varied and more challenging than Monaco, more picturesque as well. That track was Montjuïc.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Rubinho: an appreciation of Rubens Barrichello

One of the final pieces of the 2012 F1 drivers' market fell into place earlier this week. Bruno Senna was confirmed as the one who'd fill the remaining available race seat at Williams.

Credit: Morio / CC
No-one doubts that Bruno Senna is a gracious, charming guy and also has potential as a driver, so it's difficult to begrudge him this first proper chance to prove himself at the sport's top level. But the flip side is that the move almost certainly ends the F1 career of Rubens Barrichello.

Do you remember the 1992 Australian Grand Prix? Gerhard Berger won in his last race for McLaren, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna had the last of their many altercations, putting both out, before Our Nige went off to drive Indycars and play golf. It was also the last race of the pre-Barrichello era of F1. Extraordinary to think, isn't it?

Indeed, Rubinho started a record 322 F1 races over a 19 year career, which works out as not far short of 40% of all of the F1 races since the formula's inception in 1950. His not being on the grid in Melbourne this March will indeed be something of a culture shock.

But it's not merely Rubens's longevity that ensured he left his imprint on the consciousness of the F1 aficionado. Rubens's enthusiasm for the sport and for driving was the stuff of legend. He often gave the impression of a fanatical motor sports devotee who happened to have found himself behind the wheel at the top level. And outwardly his enthusiam appeared undimmed throughout his near two decades in the sport. Allied to this Rubens, despite the odd emotional outburst (reflecting, incidentally, a genuine sensitive streak rather than a deliberately political nature), invariably displayed a ready smile and always a civility and generous nature, attributes far too rare in the F1 bubble. These all ensured that that Rubinho's popularity among the public and those the cynical paddock transcended that of almost anyone else. This was never better demonstrated when he won the 2009 European Grand Prix at Valencia. It was Rubens's first victory in getting on for five years, and as he cruised down the pit lane to parc ferme almost everyone from every team it seemed came out to greet him and applaud like it was their own driver who had won.

And moreover, Rubens left his imprint on us by being a bloody good racing driver. He would likely admit as much as anyone that his was never a talent from the top drawer, such as that of a Michael Schumacher, Alonso or Vettel. But he was firmly towards the top of the 'next tier', well capable of race wins and pole positions (he won 11 and 14 of each respectively) and without significant gaps in his armoury, and he could well have won a drivers' championship with a few cards falling his way.

Monday 9 January 2012

Retro F1: the 1993 European Grand Prix

The latest Retro F1 was held yesterday, watching the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park.

For those who don't know, Retro F1 is watching a classic F1 race in full on YouTube and chatting on Twitter as we go. And this race has very much gone down as an all-time classic.

The YouTube footage that we watched is below (or you can click here):

The Twitter chat, using the #RetroF1 hastag, can be read here, and in this post I have edited highlights of the chat below.

Righty-ho, I'm clicking play on the link now :) 1993 European GP in full coming right up!

@Parnelli98 Grid forming yet for #RetroF1? 
Grid is forming right now!
@mario_eb I'm already here waiting for #RetroF1 :) 
@hellasf1 Let's have a nice wet race! 
@ElenaF1 So, we will have a wet GP. I like the idea!!

And it’s the legendary Murray Walker and James Hunt partnership providing the commentary.
@SartoMutiny Excitable starter = nutter. #talklikejameshunt 

It's Easter Sunday 1993, and the British weather is living up to its usual Easter Sunday form, it's been raining on and off.
@SartoMutiny When all this was happening, I was in Blairgowrie. I think it was raining there too.

Thursday 5 January 2012

The next Retro F1: 1993 European Grand Prix, this Sunday at 1500 GMT

First of all, Happy New Year to you all!

You may be glad to hear that the fourth installment of Retro F1 is on the way this weekend. It'll take place this Sunday, 8 January at 1500 (3pm) GMT and we'll be watching the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park.

Retro F1 is when we watch on old F1 race in full on YouTube, and post updates on it on Twitter as live. The race we'll be watching this Sunday has rightly gone down as a genuine all-time classic. You possibly know what happened in it but it'll be well worth another watch nevertheless!

It will be great if you can watch along with us and have some Twitter chat as we go. The ones we've done so far have been really enjoyable with lots of welcome insight and contributions on Twitter from a wide range of people as we've watched.

I also put a write up of the Twitter chat on my blog after the event. That for the previous Retro F1 event 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.