Saturday 31 August 2013

Further thoughts on the Belgian Grand Prix

Ric in?
As I've said before, F1's 'silly season' isn't called that out of any sort of irony, in the same way as someone big-boned might be nicknamed 'tiny'. It's called it because it's usually silly. During it rumours about who is to go where for the following season ferment all around you: some have basis in fact, others are deliberate curveballs put about with an ulterior motive. Others still are simple speculation, someone putting two and two together and sometimes getting four, more often getting five. Occasionally getting 17.

Mark Webber - making mischief?
Photo: Octane Photography
By this time of the year, late summer, silly season is somewhere near its peak. And this year's seems to be of a fine vintage: what with a Red Bull vacancy created by Mark Webber's departure to LMP1, Felipe Massa's Ferrari overalls hanging on an immensely shaky peg, Kimi Raikkonnen appearing minded - for whatever reason or reasons - to move from Lotus and fill one of those gaps (or go to McLaren, or go back to rallying...), as well as of course the inevitably domino effect right down the grid of these moves. My personal favourite heard at Spa was that Michael Schumacher is to make his second return from retirement to fill the Red Bull vacancy. I'll, erm, believe that when I see it.

Further thoughts on the Belgian Grand Prix

Where it started for Seb
Sebastian Vettel's Spa win looked routine, but nevertheless something from the race, and from Seb's drive, grabbed my attention in particular. It happened on lap 15. I'll come to this later.

Many complain that Seb's dominance feels by now like it's being going on for ever. But, if we're to be pedantic about it, it can actually be traced back three years. Almost exactly.

Sebastian Vettel - back where it began for him
Photo: Octane Photography
Why the precision? Well, this is where the roots of the Seb we all are familiar with today sprouted from, in the Belgian Grand Prix of 2010. That was a day on which his race ruined by a collision with Jenson Button, entirely the young Seb's fault after losing control of his car attempting a passing move. It was the latest of a number of incidents, some of which were Vettel's own errors, that squandered much of the technical advantage conferred by the Red Bull that year. And after the race it was open season on Seb, with many - especially those from the McLaren camp - lining up to trash his reputation.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh afterwards in particular twisted the knife, 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 to the incident with Mark Webber earlier that year in Turkey, Whitmarsh said: 'I would rather he did it (collided) with his team-mates rather than do it with us'.

Friday 30 August 2013

Further thoughts on the Belgian Grand Prix

Raising the standard
That Sebastian Vettel was faster than everyone, and Fernando Alonso faster than everyone aside from him, meant that up front the cars didn't often get close to one and other in last Sunday's Spa race. Those behind it seemed were determined to make up the deficit though, with much dicing among them and a few dollops of controversy. One of the most notable of the latter was that Sergio Perez picked up a drive through penalty for seeing fit to to squeeze Romain Grosjean off the track while passing him as they proceeded along the Kemmel straight and into Les Combes on lap 8. Not everyone agreed with the sanction - Martin Brundle for example on the Sky commentary said he thought it harsh, while Perez's boss Martin Whitmarsh suggested that it reflected Perez being somewhat targeted by stewards these days due to previous controversy.

Sergio Perez - in the wars at Spa
Photo: Octane Photography
I don't wish to hammer Whitmarsh, as it's his job to defend his driver - but I thought the penalty was fair enough. Not only is the rule about leaving a car's width at the side of the track clear, moreover I really cannot stand to see drivers squeezing others in a straight line. This is because, for all of the massive strides in motor sport safety, it is exposed wheels coming into contact, surface to surface, that remains a conspicuous danger, particularly around a braking zone where speed differences could be especially great. Such contact will likely send a car airborne, and therefore its driver into the lap of the Gods. Indeed we saw in Saturday's GP3 race at almost the exactly same point of the Spa circuit what sort of carnage can follow such squeezing, when Jack Harvey egregiously did so to Carlos Sainz Jr. And the consequences could have been much worse even than that.

Further thoughts on the Belgian Grand Prix

F1 needs to talk green
For once Sebastian Vettel, basking in victory's glow, had to share the light. Perhaps even be left in the shadows. F1, with its strict management of the world feed, had just about managed to keep it from our TV screens, but there were plenty of still photos that the press and others replicated with relish in the days afterwards. Yes, Greenpeace protesters - unhappy with Shell's arctic exploration - had been able to unveil banners saying so both on the pit straight grandstand before the race and (twice) on the podium, as well as had one of their number abseil down behind the live podium ceremony. And Shell just so happened to be sponsoring the event, and as we know is in a conspicuous partnership with the Ferrari team.

The Greenpeace protest on Spa's pit straight grandstand
Photo: Octane Photography
The reaction that I sensed to all of this both in the media centre and among the sport's fans on social media was mainly dismissive however, as if all that was required in response was a contemptuous wave, to ignore them rather like you would a child throwing a tantrum. But such an attitude strikes me as short-sighted, as well as would be a manifestation of F1's persistent delusion that it exists inside a world of its own. I've thought for a while that F1 has been rather lucky on such matters, in that the green lobby, however we are to define it, has left the sport broadly alone. This is despite that F1 has in the past rather left itself rather open to attack from them on a few fronts. And Spa's race day demonstrated that, in spite of considerable security (and Spa's known for being among the toughest of the lot) as well as largely successful efforts to keep them off the television, the lobby doesn't have to do much to cause the sport significant embarrassment.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Further thoughts on the Belgian Grand Prix

Sometimes a puncture is just a puncture
The figure of Sigmund Freud is synonymous with the hidden meaning, and today the everyday language associates his name with the inadvertent revelation of the subtext; the real deep-down implicit meanings that perhaps we'd rather not show. But even he said (or rather possibly said, as the quote may be apocryphal) that 'sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar'.

Pirelli is getting little benefit of the doubt right now
Photo: Octane Photography
And perhaps those in and around F1 should take heed. Not so much about cigars, but rather about punctures. For as long as wheels on cars are inflatable they will puncture sometimes. Always have, always will. This may be because of debris, contact or even, shock horror, that the tyre supplier has made a mistake. Just as drivers sometimes make a mistake, as do teams. As do any of us.

Right now however, if Friday practice last weekend in Spa was anything to do by, all of this is barely being considered, at least by some.

There were sharp gasps in Spa's media room as, towards the end of the second practice session, Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull could be seen trundling into the pits with a rear wheel shredded. The tension got more acute when almost immediately – and with eery redolence of Silverstone’s one tyre failure following another – Giedo van der Garde crashed at Stavelot. Fernando Alonso noted afterwards that he too had experienced a puncture in that session, and it also was revealed that other cars had cuts in their rubber. Before you knew it, the F1 drivers were demanding reassurance from race director Charlie Whiting that Pirelli understands the problem.

New Rush clips to mark James Hunt's birthday

The much-anticipated UK release of Rush, the epic true-life drama directed by Ron Howard focussing on James Hunt’s exhilarating rivalry with Niki Lauda in the 1976 Formula 1 season, edges ever closer. And in celebration of legend James Hunt on what would have been his birthday, StudioCanal have today released a photo of Hunt (see right) as well as a new clip and featurette from Rush.

Here's a behind the scenes featurette below, including the thoughts of Ron Howard:

Monday 26 August 2013

Belgian GP Report: Seb's stroll

Spa is a place for the unexpected to happen, the unpredictable. And, while it might not have seemed that way, in a sense that’s what we got in the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel was a worthy winner
Photo: Octane Photography
In advance of the race all held onto their hats, knowing that this was Spa, which routinely provides an entertaining Sunday afternoon. Further, all held onto their umbrellas: the consensus was that rain was to play a central role, and therefore this additional variable would ensure nerve-wracking fare. But we know that Spa’s weather likes to be mischievous, to do what we least expect, and in the event it gave us the greatest misdirection of all by staying away from the race altogether.

This, with Sebastian Vettel sitting pretty in second on the grid, only Lewis Hamilton ahead who self-confessedly couldn’t match Seb’s dry-running pace, and those expected to offer more of a danger to Seb starting further back, meant the Red Bull pilot was hoisted into the status of firm race favourite. And with good reason, as he indeed strolled to the win.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Spa Qualifying: Order out of chaos

Spa and rain go together - that we know. Spa and entertainment go together also. So to take it rationally Spa plus rain should equal a double dosage of entertainment. And that indeed is usually the way of it. It was very much so today.

Today's was the sort of action-packed wet-to-dry qualifying session that Spa seems to have provided who knows how many times before. But even among these, or among qualifying sessions seen anywhere anytime, it is hard genuinely to cite one as dramatic, as nerve-shredding, with as many twists.

Lewis Hamilton eventually left them trailing
Photo: Octane Photography
But somehow at the end of it all the haphazard session provided a rather un-haphazard result by recent standards. Lewis Hamilton seized his fourth pole position on the bounce, and with Sebastian Vettel next up it is the third time in a row that those two have shared the front row in that order. But you know what they say: don't judge a book by its cover.

Only Harold Pinter it seems does dramatic timing as well as Spa's micro-climate. Having stayed away all day, though never seeming far away, rain arrived minutes before the red light went out for the qualifying session's start. This gave us one of those sessions in Q1 that we know so well, wherein the track gradually dried, and drivers could be at the top of the times only to be in the drop zone before anyone knew it. In the end, the big names survived, but there were still upsets. The unlikely figure of Giedo van der Garde, as well as the two Marussia pilots, were those with the chutzpah to try slick tyres near the end, and all were rewarded with rare progress from Q1. The reward was particularly great in van der Garde's case as he ended up placed P3 in the first session, which furthermore set him up for a fine P14 on the starting grid. That will no doubt please the Dutch hordes who are in attendance at Spa to follow him. And it all meant that the two Toro Rossos and the two Williams, along with Chrlaes Pic and Esteban Guiterrez, left the stage early.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Spa Preview: Back in the old routine

There's something about Spa. Somehow, no matter how much F1 exasperates us, no matter how many political vultures swirl around proceedings, when we visit Spa-Francorchamps suddenly all seems right with the sport.

There are lots of reasons why this is so. One is the heritage of the place, even today the Spa circuit drips with the feel of motorsport's very origins of fearsome road racing. And not for nothing: without exaggeration cars have been racing in the area for as long as road racing has existed. The classic triangular Spa circuit layout, some 15km compared to the current 7km, was first used all the way back in 1921, and the one used in F1 as late as 1970 wasn't much different from it. Furthermore, the first race at the Circuit des Ardennes in the area took place in 1902 - on a circuit that was a snip at 86km in length, before being extended to a mere 118km tour for the 1904 race - and is thought to be the first ever circuit motor race; before that city to city races were the norm.

Spa-Francorchamps is very special
Photo: Octane Photography
While the Spa track was shortened from its classic triangular layout in the late 1970s into broadly its current form, almost none of the spirit of the old track was lost in so doing. It is set in beautiful Ardennes forest, the layout is all dips, rises, long sequences at full throttle and challenging quick turns. And, increasingly rarely in a contemporary F1 venue, when cars are proceeding around the track it feels that they are going somewhere.

And in an age wherein F1 has dashed somewhat to new and clinical autodromes, often without much of a soul, more-and-more Spa's well-worn atmosphere has seemed explicit. It has stood as a totem of what can be achieved even within the modern myriad of constraints for an F1 venue.

Rush: New pictures

The UK release of the Rush film - that which tells the story of the classic Niki Lauda/James Hunt battle in the 1976 F1 season - continues to approach, 13 September being the date. And as of last Friday pre-order for booking cinema tickets for Rush opened at most cinemas.

And as the film's release approaches a few more images from it have been released. To whet your appetite yet further, here they are below.

Furthermore, if you want to find out where the nearest cinema is to you that's showing Rush, as well as pre-order your tickets, you can via the film's Facebook page here.

James Hunt's McLaren M23, in the rain

Niki Lauda - played by Daniel Bruhl -
prepares for a race start

James Hunt - played by Chris Hemsworth - and Niki Lauda
 - played by Daniel Bruhl - check out a BRM

Some BRM sketches

Carlos Pace's Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT45

Patrick Depailler's classic Tyrrell P34,
complete with six wheels

Monday 19 August 2013

Österreichring - a matter of perspective

There is a joke that psychologists like to tell. Two psychologists, who are old friends, happen upon each other in the street. Psychologist one asks psychologist two: 'How's your wife?' Psychologist two replies: 'Compared to what?'

I won't give up the day job.

But there is a reason that psychologists like to tell this joke. In psychology, as in everything, all is a matter of perspective, a matter of relativity. Nothing can be judged in a vacuum; everything must be judged in comparison with what is around it.

And so it is with the A1-Ring (or the Red Bull Ring to give its latest moniker), which the Red Bull company announced recently is to return to the F1 calendar next year. In itself, the A1/Red Bull Ring is a perfectly acceptable motor racing venue of the modern sort. It's set in fine, scenic surroundings; there is plenty of welcome (and perhaps increasingly rare) use of gradient. The Austrian Grands Prix it hosted between 1997 and 2003 tended to give us diverting races, with rather a lot of overtaking, in an age which usually didn't give us much of either. And set as it is in central Europe it is within relatively easy reach of large numbers of much of the sport's latent following - a following that's had the sport turn its back on it to a rather absurd extent in recent times, in preference for venues wherein local interest can be meagre. To be a little more brutal however, while the A1-Ring wasn't a grand feast of a track perhaps if you're used to a diet of workhouse gruel something a bit more appetising than that will always be welcome.

The A1/Red Bull Ring is back by the looks of things,
but I'm not too excited
And judging by the views of F1 fans that I've spoken to as well as those discerned from reading internet comments the track's return is a welcome one, I'd imagine for the reasons outlined above. But I've never been at ease with the A1-Ring entirely. I'd much rather, if it had to exist, that they'd built it somewhere else. Because when it was created it trampled on something really rather wonderful, about as grand a feast as the sport has offered in its long history. This was a track known as the Österreichring, which itself had been an F1 stop-off between 1970 and 1987.

Sadly, the creation of the new-fangled Austrian circuit meant the magnificent Österreichring was consigned to the history books and film reels forever. And, rather like the new Nurburgring and very much unlike the new Spa, the new layout - mainly straights separated by second and third gear corners - didn't begin to capture the spirit of the old (though at least they didn't commit the same act of heresy as the Nurburgring and give the Ersatz version the same blimming name).

Sunday 18 August 2013

Top UK Formula Student Team Races to Success

You may be aware of Formula Student, a wonderful innovation that allows the next generation of engineering talent to showcase and to develop their talent. It is a European competition for teams of engineering students from across the world to design, engineer and manufacture racing models, and is valued both within academia and within the motorsports industry (and its patron is Ross Brawn, no less). More details about it can be read here.

And I was delighted to hear that the engineering students at the University of Hertfordshire have defended their title as the best UK Formula Student team for the fourth year running at the Formula Student Germany competition in Hockenheim between 31 July and 4 August.

The successful University of Hertfordshire team
UH Racing's Formula Student team, part of the School of Engineering and Technology, came away from the 2013 International Formula Student Germany competition in 10th place overall out of over 100 world-wide competitors. The next UK team came 20th. UH Racing is currently ranked 23rd in the world out of more than 500 teams.

Dr Howard Ash, senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, said: 'It is a great achievement for the students to say they are the highest ranking UK team. I give merit to everyone involved, it really is a true testament to the excellent work we do here and showcases the best of UK student talent.'

The competition started with the static events, wherein the team finished 14th in cost, 17th in design and 35th in business. In the dynamic events, the team finished 13th in skid pad, 3rd in acceleration and 11th in the sprint event. Finally, the team finished 10th place in the endurance event which equated to 40% of the overall points, but this was with some drama as the car had to leave the track after hitting a cone and it overheated as it crossed the finish line.

UH Racing this year entered a single combustion car in both the 2013 Formula Student and Formula Student Germany competitions.

For further information visit the University of Hertfordshire's UH Racing website:

Tuesday 6 August 2013

RUSH: Latest trailer

The 1976 F1 season, and the James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda rivalry therein, is one that has gone into the sport's folklore. And as you're probably aware by now, its story has been given the Hollywood treatment, by Ron Howard in the forthcoming RUSH film. Below is the latest trailer, featuring footage from on and off the track that certainly I hadn't seen before, as well as an intro from Howard. If nothing else, it seems that both Hunt and Lauda have been captured perfectly by actors Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl respectively.

It's out in UK cinemas on September the 13th. I for one can't wait.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Looking back: 2002 - F1 goes bad

Whatever you think about F1 now - indeed whatever you think about F1 for as long as the sport continues to exist - you can likely be thankful that it wasn't 2002. Then we had an F1 in crisis, one that was wrestling with itself. The sport perhaps wasn't quite dying, but it was certainly experiencing unpleasant symptoms of illness, and increasingly was staring at its deformed self in the mirror with rather a lot of disgust. As the year progressed more and more felt that radical and immediate surgery was not only desirable but essential to ensure F1’s renewed health.

The sport had faced crises before of course, but unlike those, such as in 1955 and 1994, this wasn't about safety. It was about the sport simply not delivering. No one wanted to watch the 'show' that it was serving up; reflecting this viewing numbers both at the track and on TV dwindled.

Dominant Michael Schumacher won the title as he liked
Credit: Mathieu Felten / CC
In 2002 the sport endured a year of soporific races wherein the Ferraris were simply on another level, particularly so that of its lead driver Michael Schumacher. The potency Ferrari 'dream team' of this era, with the great Schumi backed by Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, engine man Paolo Martinelli and others, is well-documented. This was right in the middle of its scarcely credible run of five drivers' and constructors' championship doubles, and perhaps appropriately it was by far the most crushing among those. There were 17 races in 2002, and Ferrari won 15 of them. Only in five races at most did even a token challenge to the red cars last beyond a few laps, quite literally. Moreover, for Schumacher the 17 rounds divided up as 11 won, five second places and a single third place - a day on which his front wing was knocked off at the first corner thus sending him to the back. Never once did he fail to finish, nor indeed did he fail to finish on the podium. And his record could have been even more towering: of those five second places he probably would have won in Monaco had passing been remotely possible there, and the remaining instances of being a runner-up were to his stable mate Rubens Barrichello and at least some of them appeared rather ceded.

Again, single car domination in F1 was nothing new by 2002. We'd seen similar, most notably in 1988 with the McLaren MP4-4s sweeping the board. But then at least we had the intrigue of the two drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost facing off; now Schumi was on an intra-team pedestal. And moreover even with its domination, and with two drivers' and three constructors' title in the preceding three years, to ensure that it was Schumacher that prevailed with the drivers' title Ferrari managed races from the pit wall with a caution and micro-management that often entered the realms of the absurd. As a result the two red cars routinely cruised around at the front apparently at half throttle, its drivers under strict orders from their masters. Even the mathematical tying up of the drivers' title altered little, as focus then switched onto ensuring Rubens Barrichello's second place in the table, meaning we had the same again expect with Rubinho ahead and Schumi sitting dutifully behind. Almost nothing was left to chance; it’s no exaggeration to say that in 2002 one knew far in advance with almost complete certainty how a Grand Prix would unfold.

Further thoughts on the Hungarian Grand Prix

Long time, no GP
It's pointed out these days with increasing frequency, that the F1 calendar is a rather strange thing.

And in the here and now it's making itself known as such rather acutely. Partly this is down to last Sunday's Hungarian round being the only F1 meeting in a run of six weekends; which in turn is partially down to the new-fangled summer break (though few doubt that the hard-pressed fraternity, enduring a 19-race calendar 12 of which are long haul, could do with a rest), partially down to a reshuffle resultant from the New Jersey round being cancelled and not replaced.

The Hungarian race - somewhat isolated
Photo: Octane Photography
But also to those of a certain vintage there seems something rather of a parallel universe to have gone through the Hungarian round and still have a full nine rounds - half the season pretty much - remaining. Time was when a Hungary visit meant late summer, lengthening shadows, and an F1 season moving into its final act. Indeed, rewind just ten years to 2003 and after Hungary but three races remained: Monza, Indianapolis and Suzuka. Twice the championship was settled at the Hungaroring, though both in years wherein a single driver dominated (once Michael Schumacher, once Nigel Mansell).

Further thoughts on the Hungarian Grand Prix

Gaining an advantage
As mentioned, the Hungarian race was an entertaining one, particularly by the not always high standards of the Hungaroring venue. Especially as more than most races there ample examples of overtaking, much of it impressive, could be witnessed up and down the field. This however also gave opportunity for the killjoy tendencies of the stewards to put themselves on show, in response to arguably the best pass of the lot: Romain Grosjean seizing the scalp of Felipe Massa around the outside of turn four.

Romain Grosjean - unlucky with the stewards
Photo: Octane Photography
I, like just about everyone else you witnessed it so far as I could tell, reacted to the move with utter exhilaration, displaying as it did extreme bravery and aggression. It was the sort of move that made you catch your breath, perhaps even shut your eyes as the two sets of exposed wheels flashed alongside each other. Exactly what we want to see in F1. 'Respect for the that one' said the watching Martin Brundle, reflecting the sentiments of most of us.

But that wasn't good enough for F1's referees, who'd got out their microscope and spotted that Grosjean had left the track, as defined by the white lines, in completing his pass. By millimetres. Down came the gavel; a drive though penalty for Grosjean.

Further thoughts on the Hungarian Grand Prix

Lewis reasserts himself
Last Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix was all about Lewis Hamilton, winning as he did in fine style. And it has, almost unnoticed, contributed to a shift in the bigger picture: namely that Lewis is firmly re-asserting himself in the battle for intra-Mercedes supremacy.

Lewis Hamilton - getting on top
Photo: Octane Photography
Four races ago the talk was very different. Lewis remained ahead of his team mate Nico Rosberg on points - helped by Nico bearing the brunt of unreliability as well as Lewis benefiting from team orders in Malaysia - but the perception was that Nico was making the most waves. He'd claimed three pole positions to Lewis's one, as well as was the first this campaign to seize a race win for the Silver Arrows, in Monaco on a weekend wherein he'd taken Hamilton to the cleaners. And as is the way of many who follow F1, vultures pretty quickly started to circle Lewis.

But since then things have changed. Four race weekends have passed and in each of them Lewis has qualified ahead (indeed, he's qualified of everyone in the last three) as well as outraced his stable mate (only a puncture put him behind at Silverstone).

In the research industry there is a saying: 'if it's interesting then it's probably wrong'. In other words, if your outcome looks surprising then it's most likely that you've miscalculated in some way; at the very least it suggests you need to treat your conclusion with much additional scrutiny and caution. And so it applies to those who were questioning Lewis earlier in the year: to suggest that Lewis had overnight become slow, or else had been hoodwinking us into thinking he was quick all this time, simply was not credible.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Further thoughts on the Hungarian Grand Prix

Trouble at t'mill
At least the Alonso to Red Bull business served some tangible purpose, in that it smoked out confirmation of something that had been rumoured for a while: that not all is well right now in the Fernando Alonso-Ferrari relationship.

Luca Montezemolo - much to say
Photo: Octane Photography
And in case the subtlety was lost on anyone, Ferrari President Luca Montezemolo made sure no one missed it. His statement of the following day, telling us that when wishing Alonso a happy birthday he also 'tweaked his ear' on the matter of loyalty, in response to what is referred to as 'rash outbursts' and 'comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well'. Not one for party hats and balloons, clearly.

Looking through Alonso's public comments after the Hungary race it's difficult to see what got the boss's back up. Beyond the sort of stuff from Alonso on needing to improve the car that he's been saying for about the last three years, the only thing was something he said to Italian journalists in response to a question on what he'd like for his birthday, something that loosely translated to 'the car of the others'. But even so, and particularly given Alonso rather has a right to feel frustrated at the moment, the reaction from Montezemolo seems utterly disproportionate. And one that you suspect reacted, a little too much, to the Alonso to Red Bull rumour. To respond in such a prickly fashion apparently to Alonso's 'comments' seems a classic case of displacement.

Further thoughts on the Hungarian Grand Prix

A load of Bull
As Hungarian Grands Prix go, last Sunday's was a pretty good one. Yet even so its drama rather paled against that of the rumour that kicked off in the hours after the race: Fernando Alonso to Red Bull for next season. No, really.

Fernando Alonso was talk of the paddock after the race
Photo: Octane Photography
Alonso to Red Bull, for 2014 in any case, seems to fail the plausibility test, and spectacularly. At least it does for as long as Sebastian Vettel is in place at the Milton Keynes team. To pair Alonso and Vettel seems not so much asking for trouble but pleading for it; it's almost impossible to think of a modern F1 pairing that would more fly in the face of the 'don't put two bulls in the same field' maxim. There is also the not small matter that as far as everyone was concerned Alonso is just in year two of a Ferrari contract that stretches all the way to 2016.

The rumour seemingly is resultant of Alonso's manager, Luis Garcia Abad, talking to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in the Hungaroring paddock. Yet, managers talk to team principals all the time (it's possible the whole story's a result of someone putting two and two together - and getting 17), and in any case the official line was that the discussion was about Carlos Sainz Jr., another client of Abad's and in the Red Bull stable of young drivers.