Monday 29 September 2014

Suzuka Preview: Big in Japan

They don't make 'em like they used to.

Such an claim isn't always true, but it sometimes is. And it seems to apply with particular regularity to the F1 circuit.

Suzuka is a popular venue - for many reasons
"Six F1 at Suzuka 2013" by Norimasa Hayashida - http://
set-72157636691519286/. Licensed under Creative
Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://
Of course, some of the new-fangled venues are better than others. But none has got even close to creating the quickening of the pulse that drivers and aficionados alike experience when cars circulate Suzuka, the scene of this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

Why is this? Mainly it's that its layout is dominated by rapid, challenging, snaking turns, the sort that separate the great from the good, the sort that would most likely be laughed out of court were it proposed from the ground up these days.

Very much unlike the modern circuit type there aren't vast expanses of run-off areas for drivers to veer into and to use as a benign get-out if they get it wrong. The track is narrow also; the ideal line like a tightrope. Therefore precision at Suzuka is vital and even a slight error can end your chances.

Saturday 27 September 2014

New F1 Times article: Bad things come in threes – A view on three-car teams and F1's costs

Photo: Octane Photography
There have been plenty of bones of contention in this F1 season, as you'll no doubt be aware by now. But Adam Parr, the ex-Williams CEO and chairman right after the recent Italian race reminded us starkly of what probably is the biggest issue of all for the modern sport, and one that perhaps we hadn't given enough attention.

Parr spoke of the prospect of three-car teams in the near future, and entangled in this is the persistent financial struggle of many F1 teams, particularly towards the back, as well as persistent failures to control the sport's costs.

In my latest article for F1 Times I explore the whole issue, and what should be done about it. You can have a read here:

Friday 26 September 2014

Lapping loitering

The Singapore Grand Prix and the safety car are pretty much inseparable. In every race ever at the Marina Bay track it has appeared at least once. On occasion its presence here has been, um, notorious. But while this year the safety car appearance wasn't quite so controversial as, you know, that, it still caused a bit of chatter. Simply in the length of time that it was out there.

On lap 31 the safety car was deployed, after Sergio Perez's front wing detached following contact with Adrian Sutil which resulted in carbon fibre shards scattered all over the track. Come lap 35 the debris was cleared - which in itself seemed a bit tardy, given the marshals were oddly bereft of brooms, but that's another story.

The safety car took a long time to disappear
Photo: Octane Photography
But almost that same amount of time again was then added onto the safety car lull, as on the same tour in accordance with the way of things the lapped cars were allowed to go ahead of the queue in order to get their lap back. Not until lap 38 - by which time most of the lapped cars had caught up the back of the pack - did we have green flag racing again.

The safety car interlude took up some 15 minutes, 15 minutes in which the global audience didn't have much to watch. And from what was at core a rather trivial incident...

The rule of allowing lapped cars to unlap themselves under a safety car has come and gone over recent times, which rather underlines the extent that the value of the practice is marginal. In mid-1992 the safety car was introduced (or reintroduced if we are to be pedantic). In 2007 the rule of letting lapped cars unlap themselves was brought in. In 2010 it was ditched, mainly on the grounds of the time in which we could be racing that was wasted by it. For 2012 for some reason it was brought back. And it remains.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Road to Redemption at Singapore

The Singapore Grand Prix just passed wasn't really up there in the entertainment stakes with some of the other races of this campaign. Not before the near-inevitable safety car appearance at any rate. Nevertheless it contained some reason for cheer, for a few drivers at least. This was because it contained a rather odd concentration of strong performances from those who really needed them. And pronto.

Photo: Octane Photography
First off is Felipe Massa, whose refuge at Williams this season after Lord-knows-how-long in the graveyard shift at Ferrari has often had something of the out the frying pan, into the fire about it. A few noted that other than replacing Fernando Alonso's name as the team mate trouncing him with Valtteri Bottas's it was hard to see the join. His place at Williams for 2015 never seemed under serious threat, but still what remained of his reputation was continuing to take a bit of a battering.

Massa however got his first podium for his new team at Monza two weeks beforehand, yet while that was a worthy effort some mused nevertheless that his team mate and therefore yardstick Bottas was severely delayed at the start. But none of this applied in Singapore, with Massa putting in a fine run to fifth place, leaving his much-vaunted stable mate way behind. And for all that he bemoaned having to drive 'like a grandmother' in order to keep his tyres in shape late on, he did so to much better effect than Bottas, who gave us a striking demonstration of what hitting the cliff looks like (Massa's tyres were a lap older too).

Tuesday 23 September 2014

New article: Lewis Hamilton – the perfect Ferrari driver

Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza recently, and on the podium got a warm reception from the assembled tifosi.

Some reckoned this was down to the fans taking sides in response to Lewis's clash at Spa with Nico Rosberg, but I wondered if it reflected a little more than that...

Over on I explain (though I hasten to add not as any sort of addition to what has been a very silly season) why, for a number of reasons, Lewis Hamilton is a perfect Ferrari driver.

You can have a read via this link:

Sunday 21 September 2014

Singapore GP Report: Singapore Swing

Everything has changed, changed utterly.

If Monza changed the sense of momentum, Singapore today changed the mathematics.

Today's was a perfect result for Lewis Hamilton
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton indeed won the Singapore Grand Prix, and even better from his 2014 world drivers' championship point of view, his stable mate and title antagonist Nico Rosberg didn't trouble the scorers at all.

For all of the learned comment about what laid ahead in this particular mano-a-mano fight, and of Rosberg's continued advantage, it remained fact that Lewis was within a single race of getting on top of the table in his team mate's stead. It just required everything to go his way. Today it did. The maximum 25 point swing means he all of a sudden leads the drivers' standings by three.

Indeed Nico's race barely started. The first sign of trouble was when he rather than head to the grid after his reconnaissance headed instead back to the pits, and to be wheeled back into the garage. After some frenzied activity including changing his steering wheel he made it into his starting slot. But the problem clearly was unresolved as he then was left on his mark as everyone else proceeded on their warm up lap.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Singapore Qualifying: Fine margins

Sport has an incredible reductive quality. F1 often particularly so. No matter what all have to be strung out into a pecking order. And often it is based on the most infinitesimal, absurd, margins. For more than one reason this hung heavy over the qualifying session for the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix today.

Indeed more broadly it felt a lot like a grand departure from the 2014 season. The one in which we'd got used to comfortable - sometimes positively contemptuous - single team domination. But one specific part of the qualifying hour remained very familiar. That the Mercedes in the end were the ones on top.

Lewis Hamilton was once again smiling
Photo: Octane Photography
The best lap times on the screens even over the lengthy and challenging Singapore lap were within a few tenths for several competitors. No fewer than four teams looked at times genuine contenders for pole. The top nine times in the final reckoning weren't too far over half a second apart. Throughout unlikely cars popped up in unlikely places in the order. But still the Mercs managed in the end to trump them. Even on the matter of closeness.

And not only was it closer than usual, the Mercs took a bit longer than the norm to assert themselves in their habitual position. In a madcap final qualifying part the unlikely figure of Felipe Massa topped things after everyone had done their first runs. It was a worthy effort, and it certainly excited most watching on, but to some extent it was illusory. The Mercs down in P6 and P7 had set their times on scrubbed tyres, and had nice fresh ones awaiting them for their final efforts.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Singapore Preview: Monaco for the new millennium

We all know the one about F1's gradual shift eastwards in recent times. It hasn't necessarily been universally loved either. Perhaps with good reason; plenty of the new Grands Prix have failed to really capture the imagination. Some have been cringeworthy.

The Singapore Grand Prix is a stunning event
"1 singapore f1 night race 2012 city skyline" by chensiyuan -
chensiyuan. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-
Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
But there's one such latterly-established race that can hardly at all be considered a failure. Indeed instead it is a favourite, and in but visit number seven already it feels like part of the furniture. That the sport just belongs here and would be rather diminished without it. And the race is this weekend; the Singapore Grand Prix around the Marina Bay circuit.

As for why this is, there are several reasons. But an overarching one is that it all just seems very F1. Or rather what F1 at its best would like to be. It is a glittering, vibrant event in which the visuals rarely fail to look stunning. For several reasons, the venue feels a lot like the Monaco for the new millennium.

Just like Monaco, Singapore is a city state that is a quintessential F1 host, to the point that in the latter case you wonder at quiet moments quite why a Grand Prix wasn't established here decades ago. It is glamorous, dripping with money and tearing towards the future, and perhaps most importantly never fails to fully embrace its F1 visit.

Monday 15 September 2014

Why, despite everything, there's reason for optimism at Ferrari

His departure was a lot like the man. Unorthodox, dramatic, no doubt rubbing a few up the wrong way. After a summer wherein rumours that he was about to quit, perhaps already had done, lingered throughout. A matter of days after requiring the world's media to gather outside the Ferrari motorhome for Lord-knows-how-long in the midday heat of the Monza paddock amid much anticipation only to tell them there was nothing to see here. It was confirmed: Luca Montezemolo was on his way out of Ferrari.

Luca Montezemolo was a man in much demand at Monza
Photo: Octane Photography
Such a step is not to be underestimated, and not just because Montezemolo's current stretch at the team extends to 23 years. He wasn't loved universally, indeed his interventions more latterly were treated by a few as the mad ramblings of an embarrassing elderly relative. As if Mrs Rochester had been let out of the attic. And such is the way of these things it took his departure for exactly what his contribution was to be expressed. His place at the very centre of Ferrari's lengthy history, indeed as one of the most central figures in modern-day Italian public life more generally, is incontestable. Bernie wasn't too far off in placing him somewhere within the bastion of the Commendatore.

There probably was justification for Montezemolo's dividing of opinion. But his effectiveness and achievements are absolutely not to be belittled. First of all as Sporting Director - team manager at the F1 team's coalface - in the early-to-mid 1970s, where he turned an outfit that appeared to the outsider to be slipping from the sport and causing the most minor of ripples as it did so to being F1's pace setters within six months; champions within 18. Only Jean Todt can be said to have been as successful in the role. You could make a case that not even he was.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Why does F1 love a conspiracy theory?

Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

All concerned were justified in being incredulous afterwards. When the chequered flag fell in Monza those in the Mercedes camp no doubt heaved a sigh of relief. They had got their first one-two finish since June. Moreover they had got their first race devoid of any sources of bitterness and rancour since early May.

Lewis Hamilton's Italian Grand Prix win was
only the start of matters, in some ways
Photo: Octane Photography
That's what they thought anyway. As you'll know by now they didn't get it. Some had managed to find a source of bitterness and rancour. In how the lead switched from Nico Rosberg to Lewis Hamilton at mid-distance of Sunday's Italian Grand Prix proceedings, thanks to Nico outbraking himself at the first chicane, under pressure from a rapidly closing Lewis (who as Mark Hughes has outlined was faster in the Monza weekend for a few reasons). The resultant delay was more than enough for the latter to seize the lead, which proved decisive to the final result.

Not much to see it seemed; it looked to the unaided eye a genuine error. Indeed it was one that Nico made earlier in the race too (though he didn't lose a place that time). Plus he made similar errors in the races in Canada, Austria and in Hungary earlier this campaign, as well as in Hungary's qualifying (though in mitigation the Hungaroring ones were both in the wet). He came very close to the same in Spa, managing to give himself large flat spots on his tyres instead - which given the problems they caused him there may have swayed him to take the escape road this time. He did it in Monaco quali too, but perhaps we best not go there.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Italian GP Report: The day the story changed?

Of course, it was only one race. But it may well prove to be so much more. Lewis Hamilton won out in the Italian Grand Prix today, and gets no more than the usual 25 points for it, as well as only a seven point swing to the table top. But again it may prove to be so much more.

Lewis Hamilton was the one celebrating victory
Photo: Octane Photography
It felt a lot like that way. We know about the story that has persisted for Lewis for much of this campaign and in this title battle that is a very private matter between him and his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg. The feeling that no matter what little would go right for him. In today's Italian Grand Prix at Monza the story may well have changed.

But in the early pages however the tale looked an incredibly familiar one. No one needed have worried about Lewis and Nico navigating the first chicane side-by-side after everything that had happened, as Nico even by that point was way ahead. There even was a couple of cars between.

Pole-sitter Lewis's start was a stinker, due according to his engineer to a 'muddle' in his race start system, which seemed in the early laps to be slowing him too. Nico's lead rapidly was pushing four seconds. Already it looked a lot like it was all over bar the shouting.

Saturday 6 September 2014

Monza Qualifying: Lewis finally gets it right

We'd waited rather a long time for this.

Very nearly four months indeed. Or, to put it another way, eight rounds. Or to put that another way not far off half of the season.

Finally Lewis was the one smiling after a qualifying session
Photo: Octane Photography
Yes, today for the first time since for the Spanish Grand Prix in early May Lewis Hamilton took a pole position. For the first time since then he got one over his team mate Nico Rosberg on a Saturday. For the first time since then indeed he got it spot on in the vital throes of the qualifying hour.

And it could hardly have been more decisive. As is their way this campaign the race for pole in Italy appeared nip-and-tuck between the two Merc pilots, and while as expected the Williams were relatively close at hand still the fight for ultimate supremacy looked reserved for those in silver.

But the nip-and-tuck aspect was changed abruptly and utterly in the first part of the crucial Q3. Nico first off set what seemed a perfectly respectable 1m24.552s. But Lewis came round and stopped the watch way under it at 1m24.109s. The reverberations could be felt throughout the Monza royal park, including presumably in Nico's spine.

New Vital F1 article: How F1 speeds are changing throughout 2014

Photo: Octane Photography
Back in the balmy days of the Spanish Grand Prix in early May this year things were very different.

The Nico Rosberg vs. Lewis Hamilton seethe hardly was an issue astonishingly, but still the sport had something to fuss over. And in Spain it was that the cars under the new for 2014 regulations seemed too slow.

At the time I thought there were a few reasons not to worry so much; that Spain's headline picture was a bit unusual. And now several months on it was a good time to look at the lap time numbers throughout the season to see if they back me up.

You can have a read of what I found over on Vital F1 via this link:

I'm sure you'll agree that I missed my calling as a scientist...

Wednesday 3 September 2014

New F1 Times article: Has Mercedes created a problem for itself?

Photo: Octane Photography
My latest article for F1 Times is on a familiar subject. Yes, Spa, Nico, Lewis, collisions and all that.

Mercedes has since reacted to it all, and while the team's response had a lot going for it, it may also may have stored up some problems for the future. I outline what Merc should have done, and do so by taking inspiration from football manager Brendan Rodgers.

How so? Well you'll just have to read and find out won't you?

You can have a read via this link:

Monday 1 September 2014

Monza Preview: F1's soul survivor

The modern F1 calendar, shall we say, divides opinion. But in this period after the summer break these days you will hardly find a murmur of protest on the subject. It feels a lot like an oasis. We've just been to Spa of course, and this weekend coming we'll be in Monza, the venue for the Italian Grand Prix.

But even more than for Spa Monza's status as a revered, perhaps irreplaceable, presence in the sport is resolute. And was underlined by the reaction to Bernie's musing a few weeks back that the stop-off could be dropped. Incredulous was only the beginning of it.

There's something about Monza
Photo: Octane Photography
Also more so than Spa too the reasons for Monza's status might not be obvious to the uninitiated. The venue lacks the gleaming modernity of the more new-fangled ones. The place has never entirely shaken its vague feeling of ill-disguised mild chaos. Unlike Spa's its layout isn't all that much of a driving challenge, being as it made up essentially of straights separated by chicanes with only the Parabolica turn much of a discriminator. Also unlike Spa it hasn't always produced enthralling races in recent times. And the locals while unquestionable in their passion aren't necessarily universally welcoming (as Ayrton Senna might for one have told you).

So what is it then about Monza? Well, you don't really have to ask.