Thursday 28 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Brazilian Grand Prix

Bull or Troll?
Prior to Sunday's race, running at Interlagos was pretty much a wash-out, the surface being to varying degrees wet throughout. And Pirelli had more cause than most to regret this, as it'd specially brought some 2014 spec slick tyres for the teams to try out. The Italian company - that seems to have offended the Goddess Fortune at some point in the recent past - thus was deprived of running and data on its developing product, and we know by now that it rather craves that sort of thing.

Pirelli - not having much luck right now
Photo: Octane Photography
Well, almost totally deprived of data anyway. As one team did do a lap on the new tyres (albeit a slow one) even in the streaming conditions, equipped with data gathering appendages and then telling its driver in a rather sinister tone that the required data had been got. Yes, this was Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.

A few watching on interpreted this as just the latest evidence of Red Bull being a step ahead; leaving no stone unturned in the purist of an advantage. Ross Brawn - one ordinarily you have to get up early in the morning to catch out - didn't think so however: 'We always work on the principle that bad information is worse than no information' said Brawn subsequently. 'With all due to respect, Red Bull may well have found something out that we don’t anticipate but we couldn't understand what you could learn in those conditions, even though it looked like they were trying to take profiles of the tyres and so on, it was difficult to see how it could be useful...'

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Brazilian Grand Prix

Maldonado maligned?
In Interlagos Pastor Maldonado succeeded in being even less popular than usual it seemed. Much of this of course was a hangover from the Austin goings-on of a week earlier, wherein after qualifying he - at the very least - heavily implied that his Williams team had done the dirty on him. And he wasn't the flavour of the month anyway, given he and his management apparently had spent weeks trying (successfully as it turned out) to extract him from his Williams obligations as well as that the Venezuelan made some not entirely flattering public comments about the team as they did so. I even read someone somewhere in course of last weekend describe him a 'vile'. While in the Brazilian race things didn't improve much as he finished the year in what some might say was familiar style, colliding with Jean-Eric Vergne in an incident wherein Pastor didn't leave much room and was lucky to avoid sanction for his part in it.

Pastor Maldonado - much maligned?
Photo: Octane Photography
But I for one wonder if Pastor, yes even Pastor, should be cut some slack on much of this. Some delving may make many of these matters not as straightfoward as appears the case on the surface.

Picking a fight with Williams is in the eyes of many F1 opinion formers rather akin to picking a fight with Paddington Bear. And Pastor more than most was on a hiding to nothing on that one.

But perhaps both of his 'crimes' against his employer can be thought of a little differently when viewed from another perspective. On the forcible extraction of himself from Williams, as Peter Windsor noted it's probable that Maldonado's considerable financial backers would have been reluctant to sign a cheque for year number four at the same team, particularly one that had rather stagnated over that period. A move therefore was to a large extent necessary for him to retain his USP.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Brazilian Grand Prix

Set for a turbo charge
The Brazilian Grand Prix wasn't short on farewells as mentioned. And among the most prominent of these was that it was the scene of the final bow of the current engine spec: V8 2.4 litre units which are to be replaced by V6 1.6 litre turbo hybrids next campaign.

This got rather a lot of ceremony: tributes in the TV coverage throughout the weekend ('let's listen to these engines one last time' seemed a common refrain), references on the internet to 'the glorious V8 era' as well as even some teams revving their units until they went pop, or very nearly pop, after the Interlagos race. But I for one refrained from offering a fond send off.

V6 turbo units are to return to F1 in 2014
Credit: Morio / CC
Partly this is down to the engines being got rid of; I can't say I have much love for the 2.4 litre V8 engines. Although towards the end they did have the virtue that they already existed, and were subject to a development freeze, in an age wherein most F1 cars weren't big on spare cash, as Martin Brundle commented the engines are also 'gutless', and their spec seemed to evolve only in a ham-fisted attempt to control costs.

Further, I am an unashamed enthusiast for the turbo units that await next year. The new engines are absolutely in keeping with a key part of F1 (and for a lot of motor sport more generally), that it improves the breed. The turbos with ERS and the like is exactly the sort of things the car industry is looking to develop right now and for the immediate future, with V8s precisely what they are not looking to. To quote Ross Brawn: 'We're not going to get manufacturers to come in with the V8 normally aspirated engine that we have now. No-one's interested. We've got to create fresh opportunities for new manufacturers to come in because who's going to come in and build a V8 18,000rpm engine? The new engine gives a fresh opportunity and it's a more relevant specification for manufacturers.'

Further thoughts on the Brazilian Grand Prix

Webber times it perfectly
The most prominent of all of the goodbyes in Interlagos was that of Mark Webber, as he's off to drive Porsches in LMP1 from next year. And it said a lot about him that even in the cynical, fractious paddock this was met with something close to universal emphasis and poignancy. For lots of reasons I - like most - am sad to be losing Mark Webber from F1, both as a driver and man (I outline the reasons in more detail in what I wrote in Further Thoughts from the Silverstone weekend, when Webber announced that he was off).

Mark Webber - walking away at the right time
Photo: Octane Photography
Yet from Webber himself in Interlagos - while there was appreciation at his send-off - there were few tears. I instead sensed that Webber was entirely at ease with his decision to step away from F1; entirely prepared for it. And for that, I'm glad.

Webber has admitted that the Pirelli tyres and the resultant modern endurance-type F1 racing and persistent rubber conservation is not to his taste either in terms of satisfaction or results (it's ironic that he's off to endurance racing to be able to push again), telling The Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago:

'The young guys coming through don't know any different yet but it has been getting harder for me on Sundays. High-speed corners are one of my strengths but that's where you kill the tyres. It's so frustrating. The guys will come on the radio and say "Don't push. Slow it down." You just feel like there's a lot of stuff falling through the net in terms of what you could bring. Vettel is seriously handy, don't get me wrong, but guys like Lewis have been hurt. He just wants to race every lap. And this, at the moment, is just not working for him.'

Monday 25 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Brazilian Grand Prix

Ev'ry time we say goodbye...
When it comes to the F1 season end to an extent we can't lose. If there is still a championship battle open then that keeps us occupied. If not, then there is something of an 'end of term' feeling; downbeat and free of care by the haughty business's standards. And so the latter was to a large extent in Interlagos.

The end of each year also is a time to say goodbye. And this time - on a few levels - there seemed more goodbyes than standard. In Mark Webber's case from F1 altogether; in Felipe Massa's case from a long-term employer, to resurface next year in new colours. Yet as is often the case there are those who finish the campaign not yet knowing which category they are to fall into, and this time - for various reasons that I won't bore you with - there are a few more unknowns than usual for this point. There are 22 driving slots on the 2014 grid, and I make it that eight of them remain unclaimed (officially anyway): those are one at Lotus, two each at Force India, Sauber and Caterham, as well as one at Marussia.

Latest word has Paul di Resta
missing out on a 2014 F1 drive
Photo: Octane Photography
The who goes where scenario - as usual - seems to change pretty much hourly, but the latest word is that of all the various candidates it will be Paul di Resta without a seat when the music stops. This I struggle with, even accepting that most teams are in 'survival mode' financially, and that di Resta doesn't bring finance. Di Resta's not the first (nor the last) to face such a situation, particularly not in recent times, yet I find it hard to believe that many other disciplines would you have someone who'd out-scored his team mate over a season, not too far off the rate of double their total, as well as in a Force India only got one point fewer than someone who had access to a McLaren, and that this would add up to the sack (and the two guys I mentioned would apparently be shoo-ins to get drives). For various reasons - which need not detain us here - di Resta doesn't win popularity awards, but only a churl would argue that he deserves to be dropped on talent or on his record. Strange indeed are the ways of the F1 decision-maker.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Brazilian GP Report: Seb's dry run

We've been here before. Eight times on the spin before today to be precise. And sure enough not even the Interlagos venue's legendary capacity for mischief did anything to upset his confident, preponderant strut. Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix, and did so in familiar style: seizing control of the race early and never relinquishing it, nor ever looking like doing so. In the end, the only thing that was unexpected was that the anticipated rain didn't arrive - well, not properly anyway. Not that greater quantities likely would have stopped Seb.

Sebastian Vettel: rounding off a
triumphant year with another win
Photo: Octane Photography
And as seems to be a race-by-race occurrence at the moment a couple more all-time records went Seb's way today: both Michael Schumacher's mark of 13 wins in a season and Alberto Ascari's record of nine on the bounce - a record before now which always had an untouchable, almost mythical, slant - were matched.

It underlines that Seb is on a pedestal right now, and that his rivals have long since been counting down the days to the season end and to the big shifts in regulations for 2014, which send everyone back to base camp, to put them out of their misery. But there are reasons to think those may not scupper Seb much either.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Interlagos Qualifying: Come rain or shine

You begin to wonder if anything can keep Sebastian Vettel from the top of the order right now. We've scratched plenty from the list of potential possibilities of this in recent weeks; on today's evidence of Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying at Interlagos we can scratch rain too. Such precipitation came down during the session, as it has pretty ceaselessly since the cars first started to circulate the São Paulo track yesterday. But the outcome remained the same. Sebastian Vettel claimed pole and imperiously.

In spite of the rain, Sebastian Vettel
claimed another pole position
Photo: Octane Photography
Vettel as we know has entered one of those virtuous circles that we get in sport sometimes, that he's operating with supreme confidence, reinforcing joie de vivre and borderline contempt for any obstacles in his path, and today it all had its latest reward. Attacking the perfidious track in a way that no one else did; looking planted while all others twitched and felt their way tentatively. And once again his lap times were on another level: his best seven tenths of a second under the quickest of anyone else; more than a second under that of his team mate.

Perhaps only half a metre of snow would be sufficient to stop him...

Friday 22 November 2013

Interlagos Preview: Seb on cloud nine?

You don't need me to tell you that for a good while now there’s been little to watch in F1 2013-style other than Sebastian Vettel's haughty preponderance. And as we stand before the season's final round it feels ever so slightly like the season's conclusion will be putting all of the Seb/Red Bull's rivals - long since having raised the white flag - rather out of their misery. Indeed it feels like the only thing that could put them out of their misery.

Sebastian Vettel looks set to continue
his run of wins, and a couple more
records will go his way if he does
Photo: Octane Photography
If it seems a while since Vettel was last beaten, that's because it has been. July to be precise, in the Hungarian round prior to the summer break. And now in Brazil yet another record lays vulnerable to Seb's run of success: Alberto Ascari's all-time mark of nine wins on the bounce, a record that for a long time had seemed as mythical and untouchable as the planet Magrethea. Seb in his extended spell of glory is all set to match it. He's also set to equal Michael Schumacher's high tide watermark of 13 wins in a season. And barring unusual occurrences surely he will.

But somewhere in there lies the rub, as if you're looking for a venue in which to avoid unusual occurrences Interlagos in Brazil is probably the last you'd pick. It has an intangible quality - always has - of being a place where things happen, from the sublime to the ridiculous. It has good claim to being the closest thing the sport has to the Bermuda Triangle.

History's examples run the gamut: Ayrton Senna's long overdue and highly emotionally-charged home victory of 1991, with just sixth gear remaining in the box, rain falling and shoulders spent; his follow-up win in 1993 when a freak rainstorm on the pit straight wiped out the dominant Alain Prost; advertising hoardings falling on the track in the 2000 qualifying session (one of which was hit by Jean Alesi's Sauber) which caused the session to be ended early; the madcap wet-dry race of 2003, wherein a freak river ran across the track at Curva do Sol, accounting for several cars, and Giancarlo Fisichella was an unlikely victor after a big crash involving Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso stopped the race ahead of time (and in what surely counts as an Interlagos special, Fisi didn't know about his win until a week later due to a timing glitch); Michael Schumacher's prodigious ascent through the field in his final race of his ‘first’ F1 career in 2006 after a gearbox problem in qualifying and then an early-race puncture sent him to the back, with the big finish of him putting the manners on his Ferrari replacement…; the mysterious technical problem that delayed Lewis Hamilton for almost a lap in 2007 and resulted in a freshman title slipping through his fingers, into the hands of the waiting Kimi Raikkonen; Lewis claiming the 2008 title for himself in the most dramatic of circumstances by passing a hobbled Timo Glock at the last corner, depriving Felipe Massa at home in the most heart-wrenching fashion; Nico Hulkenberg blitzing F1's frontrunners by claiming pole in 2010; and then of course last season’s corkscrew final act, which resulted eventually in Vettel seizing crown number three.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Postcard from Austin

'There's lots that we can learn from the American way of doing things'. The words of Sebastian Vettel, Formula One World Champion, after last Sunday's United States Grand Prix, the second to be held on Austin's Circuit of the Americas.

And you know what? Having been in attendance myself, I know exactly what he’s on about.

Photo: Octane Photography
There were plenty of sceptics about the Austin round in advance of its debut in 2012. Perhaps with justification: F1 has had plenty of attempts to conquer the States all of which had resulted in a an eventual retreat; some hasty, many cringe worthy. Illustrating this, Austin was no fewer than Stateside venue number 10 in F1 history. No other single country comes close to that total.

And of course Austin had a few problems of its own in the build-up, including delays (the race contract was even terminated for a while), financial problems, the forcible sidelining of Tavo Hellmund who was the driving force behind the project, to name but a few. Plenty of sceptics, as I said.

But as Mario Andretti has noted, Austin is doing a very good job of proving the sceptics wrong. And having been in Austin attendance this time, in the circus's visit number two to Texas, I had first hand experience of it so doing.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Off on a busman's holiday...

Credit: Earl McGehee / CC
Hello all.

Just so you know, for the next week-and-a-bit there's unlikely to be much new on the site. This is because I'm going on holiday - what might be called a busman's holiday - to the United States to take in this weekend's Grand Prix at Austin as a fan (not as part of the media), as well as will be stopping off in New York on the way.

I'll be back on the Wednesday after the Austin race at which point normal service will resume.

In the meantime, why not have a hunt through the archives on the site (there are topics as well as months/years in the right-hand column)? Or click on 'Looking back' above for my articles on F1 history? There's three-and-a-bit years' worth of writing on this site so there should be something to entertain you...

Also, I'll do my best to keep you updated on Twitter and Facebook with photos and the like from my trip. I doubt I'll have much chance to write anything for the site though when I'm away (but you never know).

Of course, if you're going to Austin yourself then do feel free to give me a shout via Twitter and Facebook too.

Toodle-oo for now.

Austin Preview: Making good on the audition

Twelve months ago F1 as a sport had its most important audition in a long while. And whaddaya know, it only went and nailed it.

F1's final frontier. Its unfinished business. Its itch that it just can't scratch. Call it what you will, but it has applied to the sport's relationship with America for years and decades.

Austin's Circuit of the Americas is an impressive facility
Credit: pdbreen / CC
F1 says it has a world championship, and indeed no season-long annual sporting event can be said to have the same global expanse. It also is not in the least bit shy of following the money. And yet for a generation or more it somehow has failed to establish a proper foothold in the world's biggest economy; indeed for much of that time the sport's turned its back on the place altogether. Despite repeated and varied attempts - some of which were successful only to be abandoned; others bordering on the cringeworthy - the rewards of the US market has always eluded F1 one way or another.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Kvyat deserves the keys
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend wasn't just about F1. The two feeder series - GP2 and GP3 - reached their respective season crescendos, and unlike F1 still had their titles hanging in the balance at this advanced stage. In the event the GP3 championship title was taken by one Daniil Kvyat. The same Daniil Kvyat who has recently been confirmed for a race seat at Toro Rosso alongside Jean-Eric Vergne next season.

Danill Kvyat - against expectations - is to
race for Toro Rosso in 2014
Photo: Octane Photography
Few at the time of the announcement saw Kvyat's selection coming; Antonio Felix da Costa as far as most looking in from out of the camp were concerned was a shoo-in for the drive. But perhaps it's one of those decisions that - if such a thing is possible - should simultaneously surprise us and not surprise us. We've seen before that when it comes to choosing those to promote within the Red Bull young drivers' programme that candidates can be skipped over, sometimes dropped altogether, rather pitilessly. We've also seen that the Red Bull collective is not shy of making decisions - such as with picking Daniel Ricciardo over Kimi Raikkonen to partner Sebastian Vettel in the big team next year - that do not appear the obvious ones to outsiders.

Many got cynical at Kvyat's accession, stating that it was all about money. There's a Russian Grand Prix next year after all, and someone worked out that in that vast country the soft drinks market was worth $14.5 billion in 2011. But just like with the Ricciardo decision, despite cynicism there is evidence beneath the exterior that this selection was in fact made for all of the right reasons.

Further thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Who goes where?
On the subject of silly season, this year's version still has a way to go. We're now firmly ensconced in November and only four teams - Ferrari, Mercedes and the two Red Bull collectives - have confirmed their driving line up for 2014. Many of those remaining haven't even confirmed a single member of their duo.

You'd have thought that Nico Hulkenberg
will now be confirmed at Lotus
Photo: Octane Photography
Much of the blockage apparently is due to waiting for the Lotus-Quantum-Hulkenberg situation to resolve itself. The Quantum Motorsports consortium is looking to buy a 35% stake in the team that would greatly ease Lotus's financial situation, and would in turn allow it to sign Nico Hulkenberg for next year (if it didn't come off it was thought that the team would instead go for Pastor Maldonado and his £30m annual wedge of PDVSA money). Over the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend Quantum chief Mansoor Ijaz said the deal was now virtually done, and that he supports the recruitment of Hulk, so there'd now be something seriously wrong if the rapid German doesn't end up there. And it should, you'd have thought, create a knock-on impact of a few other pieces falling into place elsewhere in this particular puzzle in short order. The resurgent Romain Grosjean is expected to fill the other Lotus seat.

Next up, McLaren which is most likely to retain its current line up, but its delay in confirming as much suggests it still hasn't given up on recruiting Fernando Alonso for next year (which would really put the cat among the pigeons). Murmurs persist that the team isn't too thrilled with Sergio Perez, and may even at Checo's expense fast track its young prodigy and FR3.5 champion Kevin Magnussen - whom Woking considers an excellent long-term prospect - into a race seat for next year (a few say that Alonso-Magnussen is the plan for 2015). And Perez dropping out of McLaren, with his Mexican commercial possibilities, presumably will create a ripple further along this particular game of musical chairs.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

When you're down, try positive thinking
In Abu Dhabi last Sunday, for the second time in a week a Grand Prix did not go all that well for Lewis Hamilton. There were plenty of parallels between his Buddh and Yas Marina afternoons: spending much of the race tucked up in traffic, while his team mate - quietly it seemed - left him far behind.

In some senses Lewis was unlucky this time: missing out on a probable higher grid slot with a suspension failure-induced spin on his final quali run, and then being boxed in at turn one which resulted in him being P5 compared with his team mate's P2, from where his race unravelled somewhat. But despite these the man himself wasn't happy at his contribution to it all, and made little effort to hide the fact afterwards, stating among a few other things: 'Clearly with Nico (Rosberg)'s result the car's better than I'm able to bring home with's the same every race, so it can't be other people's fault.'

Lewis Hamilton - down after the Abu Dhabi race
Photo: Octane Photography
It's not the first time that Lewis has used a microphone as some form of confessional; to self-flagellate. And in many ways it's refreshing, in that we get the real him rather than PR speak, as well as that he - almost alone - doesn't as a default at such moments dip into the plentiful pool of F1 driver excuses for underperforming. We all know them: 'would have done better with my team mate's strategy'; 'KERS/gearbox/brake (delete where applicable) issues'; and - the ultimate time-honoured whinge - 'traffic'.

But still, while it's admirable that he doesn't delude himself I occasionally wonder if Lewis can take it rather to the other extreme, and that his tendency to beat himself up doesn't help his driving. It's amateur psychology I know, and different things work for different people, but it doesn't seem too new age to suggest that positive thinking helps most of us to perform at our best.

Further thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Alonso - not quite stopping yet
F1 isn't the only pursuit with a silly season. Elsewhere however it often refers to something slightly different: unlike F1's equivalent of wild and frenzied speculation about who is going where for the next season in other walks of life it tends to refer to the content of media coverage - as the name suggests often rather silly, speculative coverage - when not much else is happening (political coverage during the summer recess is a good example). But perhaps F1 isn't all that different: it seems that in a situation such as now with the season's main prizes settled and the year in a state of drift to its conclusion - and let's face it, it's been so effectively for a while - many of those commenting on F1 become rather like mountain goats, having to survive on rather meagre sustenance for long periods, possibly tempted to turn whatever they can into something to keep them going.

And so it is with Fernando Alonso: with the latest drivers' championship gone elsewhere and his relationship with Ferrari having shown outward strain, many have said that he's lost some of his motivation. After all, his team mate Felipe Massa's qualified ahead of him in five of the last six rounds, the latest happening at Abu Dhabi when Felipe squeaked into the top ten shoot-out and did so at Fernando's expense, who was left to start in 11th.

Fernando Alonso - almost always the lead Ferrari in races
Photo: Octane Photography
But is too much being read into this? Probably. And it took Christian Horner (I almost said, 'of all people') to restore some sanity to the whole matter: 'Fernando's strength never seems to have been over a single lap' said Horner on Saturday evening after Yas Marina qualifying, 'but Fernando is so strong in the races. He won't be 11th at the end of the race, that's for sure.'

And he wasn't. Showing his habitual tenacity, brainpower and relentless pace he fought his way up to fifth by the end, clearing Massa as he so did. As he always seems to. Perhaps the only notable thing in it all is that some never learn; we've had demonstration plenty of times before that Fernando Alonso is a lot like the baddie in a low budget horror flick: no matter how often you think he's dealt with and it's safe to forget about him, he keeps thrusting back into the picture - complete with an accompanying jarring chord - to strike back.

Ten of the Greatest Drivers in F1 - a guest post by Maria Mcquire

Formula One is probably the most well-known and popular car race in the entire world. This series started in 1950; it is an international car race from the category of single seaters where 22 drivers and 11 teams compete for the fabulous trophies. There have been many great and fantastic F1 drivers since the start, but only a few can be the best. Here are a few details of some of the best F1 car drivers ever…

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost (and Thierry Boutsen)
after the 1988 Canadian Grand Prix
Credit: Angelo Orsi / CC
Ayrton Senna: He was a brilliant, ruthless, determined, fast and fascinating racer that Formula One has never seen the like of before or since. He himself accompanied a more professional approach to fitness and dedication to the sport. He was unquestionably the best driver ever in wet weather conditions. One only has to remember Donington in 1993 where Ayrton went from fifth to first before the end of the first lap!

Michael Schumacher: The unfashionable driver of F1, Michael Schumacher, considered as one the best F1 drivers by his constant wins, you either like or dislike. He won five titles with Ferrari during his time, in a seven-time world champion career.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Further thoughts on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The promise I made, started to fade
'He's done his job, he's scored points, he's scored podiums, they've earned millions in terms of prize money, millions in terms of sponsorship, it's wrong that they haven't paid him. Pay up, look big, and stand by your deals'.

If you watched the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on TV last Sunday you may recognise these as being the words of Martin Brundle, and on the murky matter that has lingered in Enstone shadows for months, one that suddenly had a lamp swung over it in the course of last weekend. Just what had been eating the Kimi Raikkonen-Lotus relationship: that the team had paid its charge 'zero Euro the whole year'. And, you know what? I agree absolutely with Brundle.

Kimi Raikkonen - driving for free
Photo: Octane Photography
From what I could tell most others agreed also. Though there was the odd yelp to be heard to the effect that 'yeah, but Kimi's loaded' to my mind that point is utterly irrelevant, and thankfully such yelps seemed isolated. The bottom line is that Lotus willingly and solemnly entered a contract with Kimi Raikkonen with various promises and obligations to Kimi agreed to therein, and hasn't stuck to it.

It should not be forgotten that employer-employee obligations, including those via signed contracts, work both ways. And I'm pretty sure that was Lotus in a boot-on-the-other-foot situation wherein one of its staff was not fulfilling its obligations to the team (e.g. by not turning up for work, or not doing their job properly) then Lotus would feel entirely justified in ditching them immediately. Same would go for a supplier to Lotus similarly not doing what it promised. Therefore the team should count itself lucky that Kimi didn't choose to dump Lotus just as readily.

Monday 4 November 2013

The best driver of my generation - Ayrton Senna

The Senna film frustrates me. More broadly, the hagiographic assessments of Ayrton Senna as driver and man that have predominated for close on 20 years frustrate me.

Why is this? Well, one thing it isn't is reflective of is tribalism: I grew up hero-worshipping Ayrton Senna. And perhaps appropriately I did so with extreme intensity; something close to mania.

Credit: Norio Kioke / CC
But Senna was not the saint portrayed in the film or anywhere else, nor was he the perfect heroic racing driver claimed in retrospect. And worse than such claims being inaccurate they also sell him far short. Senna was much more - more complex and more fascinating is his contradictions and unique imperfections.

Senna was often gentle, poetic, governed by conscience and humanitarianism; yet his F1 career was also characterised by astonishing ruthlessness and hard-nose, and an apparent inability to accept fault. Senna was supremely intelligent and rational - and surely no racing driver in history was as captivating, almost mesmeric, to listen to; yet he was also emotional, and capable of breath-taking spite, grudges and rages. And the contradictions applied to his driving also: to watch Senna in action was to watch the most delicate, almost ethereal, command of a racing car. He also was clearly concerned, and frequently vocal, on safety. But as we know his driving sometimes displayed extreme crudeness as well as what appeared a disregard for his or other drivers' preservation when around rival cars, particularly when around that of Alain Prost. What he did at Suzuka in 1990 was reprehensible.

Why though with all of these apparent drawbacks do I consider Ayrton Senna the best driver of my generation? I do because the flaws were all part of his unique tapestry which was also coloured by a quite extraordinary and inimitable driving genius.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Abu Dhabi GP Report: Wonderfully predictable

The tiny departure from the usual script resultant of yesterday's qualifying was corrected almost immediately. By the first turn we were rapidly back into a performance we've seen many times before: Sebastian Vettel out front; Sebastian Vettel in command. And, almost inexorably, an hour and a half later it was Sebastian Vettel: winner of the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

We've been saying for a while that we're in one of those periodic spells - that all sports get into and not just F1 - wherein only the very unusual can deprive one of the competitors of victory; we indeed didn't get the very unusual in today's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and sure enough just as night follows day we did get the anticipated victory for Seb.

Abu Dhabi was just the latest of Seb's familiar triumphs
Photo: Octane Photography
The race for first place as mentioned lasted as long as turn one. Vettel - unexpectedly - missed out on pole position thanks in part to a small error on his final effort. But Seb reminded all in today's race that they cannot count on such faltering, however minor, becoming a regular occurrence. He took the lead at the start, pole man Webber slipped behind Nico Rosberg, and everything from that very moment on in terms of first place seemed mere formalisation. Yet even if Webber had led off the line, such was Vettel's command on race pace you feel that almost nothing would have deprived him of the win ultimately.

In that familiar way of his, at the end of lap one Seb was just shy of two seconds to the good, and the gap grew almost inevitably from there. Then it multiplied as those closest behind (a relative term) peeled into the pits early, emerging in among those stretching out their initial stint, with overtaking never straightforward on this Yas Marina circuit. By the time Webber, by now ahead of Rosberg, cleared them Vettel had pitted himself (rejoining still first, natch) and was close to half a minute up the road. And despite apparently spending much of the race trying to go slowly, judging by the radio communications with his engineer, Vettel won in the end by 30.8 seconds. This was no less than another rout.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Webber's fitting farewell

Now, there was the fitting send off.

During Mark Webber's long goodbye from F1 talk of whether the hard charger would get such an apt farewell - one last great performance in his final act - before he goes off to drive his Porsche has danced in the air. It then gathered tempo as the destination of the championships to his team mate Sebastian Vettel and to his collective Red Bull became an inevitability - effectively and then actually.

Mark Webber took a stunning and unexpected pole position
Photo: Octane Photography
But today we had it, as in the final, vital throes of today's qualifying session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Webber only went and nailed it. At the very last moment he rode his Bull at its very outer limit and sneaked under what appeared an unbeatable time by Vettel. Seb it transpired had made a small mistake at turn 1 on his own final run, and thus Webber stayed on top. But despite this - and unlike in Suzuka when Mark beat Seb to pole after the latter had a KERS problem, something that Mark acknowledged - this time it felt like Mark genuinely got one up on his team mate as well as on everyone else.

And what's more he did in Seb's back yard effectively: the Yas Marina track is one that Vettel specialises at; one that Webber often struggles to get within howling distance of him on. But Webber absolutely pulled it out, and even could be said to have out-Sebbed Seb. Webber was a joy to watch as he flicked the car with real commitment in the twisty final sector of the lap, the sector on which Seb most of the time cannot be touched (with the one exception of by Lewis Hamilton).

Friday 1 November 2013

Abu Dhabi Preview: Same as it ever was?

There are various things that F1 should be about. Modernity. Awe. A sense of the future. And the Yas Marina circuit, the scene of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, has more of these than any other stop-off.

The iconic Yas Marina Hotel
Credit: Rob Alter / CC
In its short life the venue has no shortage of icons established already. Visually it is stunning: all gleaming, shimmering, towering architecture, the like that one would have more expected to see in the Utopian future presented in a sci-fi film. It has the Yas Marina hotel which the track passes under, shines in ever-varying coloured lights and attracts many a wide-angled camera lens. It's also the calendar's first and only day-to-night race, the changing dusk-to-night light level throughout a little reminiscent of Le Mans.

Despite there being no shortage of newer tracks appearing since, the Yas Marina track - now experiencing F1's visit number five - remains the sport's standard bearer in terms of modernity and facilities. All that attend concur that everything seems to be in place.

Mercedes-Benz #SoundWithPower - with Lewis Hamilton

To support the release of the new Mercedes E63 AMG, the German marque has released two short interview films, under the #SoundWithPower title. The interview films explore the relationship between sound and power, and the emotion instilled by the noise of an engine revving.

And here below is one of those said films, featuring none other than Lewis Hamilton. Lewis talks about his feelings and thoughts when behind the wheel and racing, as well as his stirring of his senses when his Mercedes engine fires up.

And here, if you're interested, in a similar ilk is Mercedes DTM pilot, as well as McLaren reserve and test driver, Gary Paffett.

More about #SoundwithPower can be found here. You can do your very own music video 'mashup' (though I'm not trendy enough to know what that is).