Saturday 29 June 2013

Silverstone Qualifying: Lewis tames the bull

From early on in today's Silverstone qualifying hour the formation of the first two rows looked set: it would be two Mercedes on the front row; two Red Bulls on the second. That is indeed what happened, but within that we had a relative surprise, in that it was Lewis Hamilton, not Nico Rosberg, who seized pole position. And what's more he seized it by a distance.

Today was once again all about Mercedes,
with Lewis coming out on top
Credit: Morio / CC
Why do I say this was a surprise? Well, for much of the weekend, including in the early throes of the qualifying session, it's been Nico, not Lewis, looking the happier in and out of the car. Both had complained about the W04's handling (though not its speed), but Lewis was the more persistently vocal, as well as was cutting a rather melancholy figure generally. And yet one can never underestimate Hamilton and his freakish driving skills, and they came good for him again today. Nico claimed provisional pole at the last, but only for a matter of seconds as Lewis immediately swept round Club to cut the beam close to half a second under his team mate's best. His engineer was fully justified in calling it 'a storming effort'.

Lewis still wasn't entirely content afterwards with his car's handling, stating: 'We've got a great car this year, and to fine tune it seems to be a little bit harder than what I've experienced in the past...we made changes going into qualifying, it's still not perfect but it helped'. He also noted that with his Merc 'sometimes it is like a wild bull - you try to tame it'. If this is so, he showed today that had he not been an F1 driver for whatever reason then perhaps his most appropriate calling would have been that of a champion rodeo rider. But Lewis nevertheless was pleased with his effort, and in particular that it was done in front of his home crowd: 'The crowd do make a huge difference, seeing them turn up in their thousands and seeing all the flags waving. I come here with an extra boost of energy, I just want to pay them back'.

Reading between the lines

It often pays when noting what is being said, to also note what isn't. Sometimes an omission is as telling as the prose.

And so it may be with Mark Webber in his words which followed the confirmation that he's quitting F1 at the year's end in to drive for Porsche in sportscars. Looking into his utterances which followed the Porsche announcement perhaps there are some revelations in there, that the words themselves didn't outline explicitly.

Mark Webber - waving goodbye to F1
Credit: Mark McArdle / CC
Webber has faced criticism of the amount of warning he'd given the team about his impending announcement. Team principal Christian Horner said subsequently that he was only given a few minutes' advance notice that Webber was going to confirm his future with Porsche, while others alleged that the ordinary members of the Red Bull team only found out about it via the media.

Webber nevertheless defended how it was handled, among other things explaining that: 'Dietrich (Mateschitz) has been completely up to speed with my thinking in the last six to eight months, so Dietrich has been absolutely on board and on message with where I’ve been at.'

And later, when outlining what we would miss about F1 Webber, among other things, noted: 'working with people like Adrian Newey'.

What's so strange about this, I hear you cry. And you'd be right, as the sentiments shouldn't surprise us in isolation. For all that we talk about Webber being a stranger here myself within the Red Bull organisation, it is known that he has had two key allies there, in the company's big boss Mateschitz and in the Technical Director and design genius Newey. Webber and Mateschitz are very close, indeed Webber often negotiated his deals personally with him. While Newey has always been highly appreciative of Webber's technical feedback.

Friday 28 June 2013

Alonso looking ahead?

Naturally, much of the focus at Silverstone yesterday was on the somewhat out of the blue announcement that this year will be Mark Webber's last in F1, as he's off to drive sportscars for Porsche from 2014.

Fernando Alonso - thinking beyond F1?
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
And yet it was something that Fernando Alonso said when asked about Webber's move that sticks in my mind. In the drivers' press conference the Spaniard said: 'I think he’ll have a lot of fun behind the wheel, as he’s doing now, with a little bit of less problems outside the wheel that we have now in Formula One. We enjoy 19 Sundays a year and the rest of the time is a little bit of a stressful time. With the new series I think he will have a little bit more fun.' It follows on from fairly similar sentiments uttered by Alonso in his excellent interview with Mark Webber on the BBC a few weeks ago - wherein he noted the stress of performing in F1 as well as the potential for greater enjoyment in other motorsport categories.

Alonso is a driver who remains something of an enigma, certainly to those party to the English-speaking media. And before these comments I'd never really known of any indication of whether, when the inevitable day comes that his F1 career ends, whether Alonso would be more at the Michael Schumacher end of the scale, with little or no interest in taking part in other forms of motorsport, or whether he'd be more towards the Robert Kubica end, willing to try his hand at pretty much anything.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Silverstone Preview: F1's coming home

I'd like to think that I'm not one who is driven by patriotism. Not in F1 anyway, wherein nationalities mean next to nothing to me. But even I readily acknowledge that there is something very special about the British Grand Prix.

Crowds at Silverstone are always
large and enthusiastic
Credit: Richard Smith / CC
The Grand Prix at Silverstone very much feels like F1's home gig, and this is for a number of reasons.

This includes that eight of the 11 F1 teams are based in Britain, and seven of them are based in the area, as are a myriad of companies that supply them, in this sport's equivalent of silicon valley.

It's also in part because it was in Britain, and indeed at Silverstone, that it all started for F1 back in 1950. And the airfield track, despite inevitable changes in the meantime, retains much of its old character: rapid and challenging, with many flowing turns. And such characteristics, and that they are increasingly rare ones, ensure its popularity among the drivers.

But it's also special because of those who populate the spectator areas during the weekend. Very few rounds can match the British Grand Prix for the number, enthusiasm and knowledge of those who pay to watch. Many are there primarily to support the British drivers of course, but the atmosphere is almost always respectful at least. And in an age wherein such core support has had its back turned on it by the F1 itinerary, to be replaced more and more by rounds that owe more to the host Government's desire to 'brand' the country and boost its tourism rather than to local motorsport passion, Silverstone's atmosphere is increasingly welcome. Eddie Cheever, in the dark but recent days when the race looked to be under threat, summed it up: 'not having a British Grand Prix is like the Pope not going to the Vatican'.

Monday 24 June 2013

Chance for Lewis Hamilton fans to win great signed prizes

Here's something from Mercedes-Benz for Lewis Hamilton fans. It's the Mercedes-Benz #GoodLuckLewis competition.

Mercedes-Benz is creating a virtual Silverstone racetrack asking Lewis's fans on Twitter to tweet #GoodLuckLewis messages for the British Grand Prix in order to power his F1 car around the track, to help him qualify for Sunday’s race.

And everyone who tweets a good luck message to Lewis using the specified hashtag will have the chance to win some exciting F1 prizes, including: signed steering wheels, signed race suit, signed gloves and boots and a signed replica helmet. Sounds pretty good to me!

UPDATE 26/06/13: The competition is now live, and you can enter and get more details at: - note it's a slightly different link to what was on the site before.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Paul Di Resta appearing at Milton Keynes ASDA on Tuesday - your chance to ask questions

Are you a fan of Paul Di Resta? And are you likely to be in the vicinity of Milton Keynes on Tuesday evening this week? Or, even if not all of this applies, do you have a burning question you'd like to ask him?

If so, it's your lucky day, as Sahara Force India star and Whyte & Mackay Global Whisky ambassador Paul Di Resta will be making a pit stop at ASDA Eastlands Superstore in Milton Keynes on Tuesday 25th June from 6pm -7.30pm to meet with fans and sign autographs, ahead of the weekend's British Grand Prix.

And afterwards, Paul will be holding a Twinterview from 7.30pm-8pm where fans who can’t make it to Milton Keynes can ask him questions on @whyteandmackay. They can also use the hashtag: #AskPaulW&M

Paul Di Resta in action
Credit: Morio / CC
In a season wherein the fortunes of British drivers have been patchy, Paul is currently riding high: he's scored 34 points, scoring in every round apart from one, and equalled his highest ever finish of 4th place at the Bahrain Grand Prix. There are plenty of things you could ask him! And I'm sure you'll come up with a few.

Paul had this to say on it all: 'It’s been a really exciting year for me so far and I hope to build on the team’s successes over the remainder of the season. It’s always special to race on home soil; to know that the fans are behind me wishing me well helps to spur me on. The Whyte and Mackay signing is a great opportunity to get out and meet my supporters to say thanks and I hope to see lots of you there'.

For more information you can also visit:

Friday 21 June 2013

Mercedes's International Rescue - views on the outcome of Testgate

I guess that you could file that under 'anti-climax'. The matter of Mercedes having participated in an in-season tyre test with Pirelli had dominated F1 coverage ever since it 'broke' on the morning of the Monaco race last month. And as we anticipated the verdict of the 'Testgate' International Tribunal today it felt like awaiting the final act of an epic and grandiose opera, that was meant to surpass all that had come before. Absolutely nothing could be ruled out. Yet what we got was a modest rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

The International Tribunal did find Mercedes and Pirelli guilty today, but was apparently full of understanding of how they might have mistakenly and inadvertently concluded that what they were doing was kosher. And the punishment was mild: a reprimand for both (the F1 equivalent of a stern telling off) as well as Mercedes being barred from the forthcoming three-day young drivers' test - which seems more ham-fisted attempt at levelling up the balance than it does retribution (some, including Ferrari, have argued already that it doesn't even manage that). Widely anticipated sanctions, such as fines and points penalties, were shunned.

All at Mercedes may be breathing a sign of relief
Credit: Morio / CC
And for all of the expressions of confidence in advance of the Tribunal by Merc's Team Principal Ross Brawn, I suspect that he and his team will have heaved a massive sigh of relief at the outcome. The barely concealed relish with which Brawn and Mercedes accepted the verdict betrayed as much, as did the fact that its defence had already suggested that very same punishment as a suitable one (indeed, that it was suggesting punishments at all wasn't a sign of faith in its case). Niki Lauda's rather conspicuous distancing of himself from the matter indicated that he wasn't all that confident of the outcome either. And one hopes that the Mercedes company doesn't seek to spin this as a vindication in the coming days (and trawling around social media some of the team's acolytes have already started on that one): after all the team was found guilty.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Famous Five: Qualifying specials

2013 in F1 has been the year of the panic it seems. The year in which the fare has been unspeakable apparently, making a mockery of the sport, and completely at odds with (drum roll for the cliché) 'what F1 is about'. Much of this has been attributed to the gumball Pirelli tyres, and one particular charge laid against it all is the disparity between the one lap speed of the Mercedes (claiming four pole positions in a row) and its more meagre race day results, wherein its inability to look after its tyres has often, to varying degrees, resulted in a slide down the order when it really matters.

Perhaps at some level it reflects a generation brought up on the refuelling era and little overtaking, wherein the order set in qualifying would go a long way to dictating the order come the end of the race. Or else perhaps it reflects that in recent times, with
parc ferme after qualifying, 'feed in' from qualifying to the race has been much more direct than was once the case.

But nothing is new in F1. Nor is 'what F1 is about' nearly as pure or as simple as the anti-Pirelli brigade often imply. The phenomenon Mercedes has been experiencing recently is not unheard of: there are plenty of examples from history of those with a much stronger qualifying than race-day knack, and for a variety of reasons. Here are five examples.

Chris Amon, 1968
Mention the name of Chris Amon to a historically-minded F1 fan and the response you'd get probably is 'the best F1 driver never to win a Grand Prix'. Or else - in a related fashion - mention of his legendary ill-luck. The tags sell Amon short however. This is partly because his talent is such that he should be remembered as being an excellent driver, regardless of the lack of wins. And it also sells him short as there was a season that, with the odd card or two falling his way, the championship could have been his. That year was 1968.

Chris Amon, some years later
Credit: Lothar Spurzem / CC
The world championship was made up of 12 rounds that year, and eight times Amon in his Ferrari qualified on the front row. He led, or was well-placed, virtually everywhere it seemed. But it translated to only three finishes in the points, of which just one was on the podium, totalling but ten points at the season's end. This left him a distant tenth in the drivers' standings.

How did this happen? Well, it was down to a variety of things: unrelated reliability, the odd freak occurrence, and even the weather conspired against Amon on occasion. But, as was the story for Amon's F1 career more broadly it all could be filed under a peculiar concentration of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

As 1968 dawned there was little doubt that the Lotus 49s with their Ford Cosworth DFV V8 engines were going to be the ones to beat. This was bad news for Ferrari, whose V12 unit was left breathless by the Cosworth. Worse for Ferrari and Amon, Ford had decided to make the Cosworth unit available for sale to other F1 teams, meaning it wasn't just the Lotus leaving the Ferrari on the straights. Fortunately though the Ferrari 312 did have one thing going for it: its chassis was an excellent one. 'Funny, really, when you think that Ferraris usually have lots of power and lousy chassis' mused Amon later.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Bloggers' British Grand Prix Heroes with

In advance of the forthcoming British Grand Prix, asked several F1 bloggers, including yours truly, to vote for who in their view are the best British F1 drivers from history.

Britain isn't short of great drivers, and as such picking out the very best isn't a straightforward task. The result of ranking the bloggers' ratings of the top three are below in the infographic. You'll also see there's a lovely quote from little old me:

Image source: MoneySupermarket Car Insurance

The vote found a worthy winner: Jim Clark is also by my reckoning Britain's best ever, possibly the best ever full stop. Jackie Stewart was a close second in the rankings, and the people's champion Nigel Mansell completed the podium. Personally, I'd have liked to see Stirling Moss a bit higher (I placed him second behind Clark), and given all of his recent focus including via the Rush film I'm a little surprised that James Hunt is only tenth. But in my view the top ten is a pretty credible one. Maybe it shows that there is collective wisdom among F1 bloggers after all(!)

There are more details on it all here:

Friday 14 June 2013

Win tickets for the British Grand Prix and mingle with Mercedes - with the Mercedes-Benz #SocialReporter competition

Not yet got your tickets for the British Grand Prix? Or even if you do, do you fancy the opportunity to mingle with the Mercedes team that weekend? And think you're a dab hand when it comes to communicating on social media?

If so, your luck's in as Mercedes-Benz has launched a great competition. And if you win, you and a guest will be given tickets to the forthcoming British Grand Prix at Silverstone and be able to report back on the entire weekend as Merc's #SocialReporter. You'll also attend the AMG customer party at Woburn Abbey on 27th June and mingle with celebrities and members of the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team.

A great prize for any F1 fan, I'm sure you'll agree.

What you have to do is submit an entry that represents your definitive motorsport moment and pose that key question you've been itching to ask this season, and you could be the F1 Mercedes-Benz #SocialReporter. You can add as many pieces of content from as many social channels as you would like to.

This is one of many #SocialReporter events by Mercedes-Benz, and it starts with Formula 1.

The competition is now live, and submissions end on the 19th June, with voting taking place on the 20th – 24th June.

For more details and to submit your entries please go to and you can also follow and like on: &

Further terms and conditions are on the website. Sadly it's only available to residents of the UK, and those aged 18 years or over.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Further thoughts on the Canadian Grand Prix

Casting a shadow over Montreal
Fernando Alonso summed it up after the Canadian Grand Prix: 'Today there is nothing to celebrate'. The race was a reasonably diverting one, containing plenty of worthy drives and deserved results. But in the hours after the event suddenly few were in the mood for conviviality, as news filtered through that a volunteer track marshal called Mark Robinson had been killed in an accident when returning Esteban Gutierrez's stricken Sauber to the pits after the race.

We all owe marshals a debt of gratitude
Credit: Morio / CC
It may sound like a cliché, but it's no less true for that, that anyone who cares about motor sport owes marshals an immeasurable debt of gratitude. No exaggeration this: no marshals, almost no motor sport. Motor sport cannot take place without them there, and while if no one volunteered to marshal the top-level categories such as F1 could probably find the cash to pay track marshals those categories lower down certainly could not. Marshalling is something I do myself on occasion, and every time I do it the skills and professionalism that marshals always exhibit astounds me, as does the extent that many of them give up their time - some almost every weekend - in order to volunteer (I don't count myself among this on either count - I only marshal for a handful of days a year).

Seemingly the accident happened while performing the sort of task that any marshal does routinely, often several times in a weekend. As the Sauber was being returned to the pits by a pick-up vehicle Robinson, there to keep the car at a steady level and pointed straight ahead, stumbled while trying to pick up a dropped radio handset, and was then run over by the vehicle. He succumbed to his injuries later that day.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Canadian GP Report: Just like old times for Seb

We seem to have been here before. A few times before. Sebastian Vettel blasts off pole position and has the race in the palm of his hand within a few corners. He's several seconds clear before you know it, and the gap increases exponentially. From then on the race is under his command; he's always able to respond and immediately to whatever threat materialises behind. And he wins of course. Sounds very familiar.

Sebastian Vettel put in another masterful victory performance
Credit: Morio / CC
We saw it just about every time it seemed in the 2011 season, and on occasion in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 campaigns too. And we saw it today, and at a Montreal track that hadn't always been kind to him or his team. From a few corners in the only race for victory was between Seb and himself, and very strangely that nearly got the better of him. Usually Seb is like a metronome when out front, yet today he glanced a wall at turn four, as well as ran across the grass later at turn one, on each occasion not under particular pressure, and had either punished him more severely then I'd be writing a very different race report. But Seb got away with it, the win was indeed his and he now leads the driver's table by an increasingly beefed-up 36 points.

It's way too early of course to herald this as the start of another age of Vettel dominance. The race-by-race form of 2013 has varied, the grid here in Montreal was jumbled a little by rain, and come Silverstone things could look very different once again. But the pace of the Seb/Red Bull combination today will certainly be causing a bit of concern down Maranello and Enstone way. And even if it isn't the start of an imperious run Seb today continued to demonstrate that, whatever the case, he isn't likely to be gifting anything to his rivals this year. He's got the knack currently of maximising his result just about every time.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Montreal Qualifying: Seb's all that

It might be amazing to hear, but there are still those out there who think Sebastian Vettel isn't all that.

Yes I know, it seems astonishing given he's three world championships along at just the age of 25. It also seems amazing given the regularity with which he demonstrates fairly unequivocally that he is all that after all. But the arguments are familiar: he's over rated, it's all the car etc etc. Perhaps those that claim such don't watch F1 very much. Or else are otherwise engaged (perhaps washing their hair?) on the days such as today when Seb does underline a few of his talents with thick black lines. It of course couldn't possibly be the case that they are guilty of only seeing what they want to see - could it?

Sebastian Vettel blitzed another session in tricky conditions
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Yes reader, Sebastian Vettel did indeed emerge on top in today's Canadian Grand Prix qualifying session, and in so doing showed many of those talents that I made reference to. It rained on and off throughout the hour (no less than the fourth qualifying hour of seven in 2013 to feature precipitation), meaning the track was damp for the duration but at something of an varying level. This resulted in rather a lot of tip-toe progress as drivers, also no doubt with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve's nearby walls in mind, felt their way cautiously. Well, 21 of them did anyway. For young Seb alone the track seemed almost un-slippy, and despite the rotating top order that is often the case on such days he always seemed capable of blitzing whatever times had been set before, almost contemptuously. Sure enough, by the end of it all he remained on his pedestal.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Formula E: Electrifying Motorsport? - a guest post by Josh Evans

When it hits the track next year, the FIA Formula E Championship will be hoping to kick off a new era of environmentally friendly motorsport. But can it capture the fans’ imagination too?

The cars look like no-frills F1 machinery, though the crucial difference comes in the lack of an engine, with batteries mounted in the side-pods providing power. It’s already up and running, claiming to hit 60mph in under three seconds and with a top speed of 130mph.

The Formula E car
Credit: David Merrett / CC
So in a way it’s just a slower version of F1 with an alternative energy source – but it also plans to do some things very differently.

For a start the series won't race on traditional circuits, with all 10 ‘e-Prix’ set to take place on the streets of major cities like London, Miami and Rio de Janeiro.

And, as opposed to the three-day F1 schedule, Formula E will pack all the action into a single day. Drivers will practice in the morning, qualify at lunchtime and then race later in the afternoon. The events will feature a range of entertainment, including live music and DJs, with the racing forming only part of the package.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Montreal Preview: A heady mix of variables

F1 is at Montreal. And no matter what for one weekend at least all seems right with the sport.

There are lots of reasons for this (and I tried to outline a few of them in my recent article about the track), but a major one is that races around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve island venue tend to have a diverting, and often a rather madcap, quality; thus predicting what is likely to happen in them is a hazard-strewn task.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal - a popular venue
that provides entertaining races
Credit: magicfab / CC
Many variables go into this. It is a circuit that gives more scope than most to hustle a sub-standard car around (being as it is made up essentially straights, chicanes and hairpins) and thus run closer to the cars that are more benign. Walls are close at Montreal, meaning that mistakes are punished much more readily than elsewhere, while safety cars in races are also common, and these frequently bunch and sometimes jumble the pack. And adding to these variables is that the track's configuration is overtaking-friendly; it was considered this way even before F1's lively modern era of DRS and Pirellis. As if to underline all of this, it is one of the very few venues on the contemporary calendar that the haughty Red Bull team has never won at.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - a modern classic

Here's a little task for you. Go around your friends (those who like F1) and get them to name their favourite circuits on the current calendar. Spa is likely to come up a lot, as are Suzuka, Silverstone and Monza, while many of a certain persuasion may select Monaco and Singapore.

But there is another track that, despite not having the most immediately obvious qualifications to be included among this haughty group, despite appearing rather incongruous with the others mentioned, would be right up there in the forefront of people's minds too. Perhaps it would be cited more commonly even than any of the venues that I specified. This is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, the scene of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo and a typical
Montreal backdrop
Credit: Nic Redhead / CC
Why is this so? As I said it doesn't appear to have a great deal of overlap with the other popular tracks cited. It isn't the major driving challenge with fearsome turns that Suzuka and Spa are; it doesn't have Monaco's or Singapore's glitz and glamour; it hasn't been around since the year dot like Monaco, Spa, Monza and Silverstone have. But perhaps inadvertently we've gone some way to answering our own question. In my view, a central tenet of Montreal's appeal to the F1 fan is that it is different. Very much so.

The track is sited on a man-made island barely 150 yards across in the Saint Lawrence river (and TV pictures really don't give the full sense of the extent that the track is squeezed onto an island), and is surrounded immediately by lush parkland and flower beds, dusted with quirky, other-worldly architecture, with an exciting, vibrant, international city just a short metro ride away and providing the backdrop. The weather is usually wonderful, though there is just enough of a threat of rain to keep things interesting. The walls are close, meaning the passionate and knowledgeable fans - always there in great number - are close too, almost overhanging the track, while the local welcome is warm. Yes dear reader when the F1 circus pitches up in Montreal it certainly could not be mistaken for being anywhere else. And somehow when F1 is there for once everything feels right with the sport.

Perhaps also the passing of time and the parallel shifts of the F1 itinerary, with the sport's move to new (and sometimes tepid) venues mostly at rather identikit and cold Tilke-dromes, has added to Montreal's legend. Its status as a venue like no other, a venue with a quirky and refreshing sense of the distinct, as well as one with a warm, vast and passionate crowd in attendance, has got more acute over the years. It has now reached the point that as far as almost all of the sport's fans are concerned an F1 calendar without Montreal on it would be a greatly diminished one. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve can truly be said to be a modern classic.