Friday 28 November 2014

Vergne and the margins between success and misery in modern F1

Here's a challenge for you. Try to explain to someone the general logic behind which drivers get retained in F1 race seats and which get ditched. Without sounding insane.

You'll no doubt be aware that it wouldn't be an easy task. And this week we had just the latest cruel rejection of a worthy competitor, that of Jean-Eric Vergne.

The Abu Dhabi race was indeed the last we'll see
of Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso
Photo: Octane Photography
It was a slightly on-off goodbye. He was officially out way back in the summer break when the fledgling Max Verstappen was confirmed for a Toro Rosso 2015 gig. But then when Sebastian Vettel's unanticipated departure from the Red Bull big team had the domino effect of Daniil Kvyat being promoted to replace him, some started to muse that Vergne could be retained after all so to plug the resultant vacancy. Indeed Franz Tost confirmed during the Sochi weekend that Vergne was back in the running.

But no. Before we know it we're back where we started, as Vergne himself confirmed on Twitter earlier this week: 'Despite a good season and 22 points, I'll not drive anymore for Toro Rosso in 2015. Thanks for those years. Let's go for another big challenge.'

Thursday 27 November 2014

TeamSport Infographic - F1 2014 season round up

You may recall last week in the build-up to the season-concluding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that TeamSport - UK indoor karting specialists - produced an infographic outlining the state of play heading into the vital round.

Now that the race and therefore the season has reached its conclusion TeamSport has been kind enough to produce a final end of season version, summing up the key stats for the year. This is below. Hope you like it.

More detail can be found here, and you can let TeamSport know what you think on Twitter.

#F1 2014 season
Source: TeamSport

Tuesday 25 November 2014

New article: Why Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari spell was no waste of time

Fernando Alonso said goodbye to Ferrari last weekend
Photo: Octane Photography
The season-concluding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a time to say goodbye, and the goodbyes came in a a variety of forms.

One of the most sombre though was that we finally received confirmation that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, after a five-year relationship, are officially over.

In the latest of my articles for I look at why the partnership did not deliver its minimum objective of a world championship, but also argue that despite this, from Alonso's side the Maranello stint was no waste of time.

You can have a read of the article via this link:

Monday 24 November 2014

Mattiacci - brought down by his own fire

Divorce is rarely easy of course. Neither are goings-on within Scuderia Ferrari. Bring the two together and you have...well, you work out the rest.

And there has been a lot of Ferrari conforming to type in its latest big soap opera; the matter indeed that had smouldered throughout the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend. And today we received confirmation that as is often so there was no smoke without fire. Marco Mattiacci is out; Maurizio Arrivabene, brand manager for Marlboro Europe and one close to the Ferrari team for some time via that sponsorship, is there in his stead. The Scuderia has its third (count 'em) team principal in the space of just eight months.

Marco Mattiacci is out of the Ferrari team
Photo: Octane Photography
So - apart from the obvious - what does this in particular tell us? Well to start with there's one thing we can fairly safely conclude that it isn't. That being that Mattiacci's flying visit was always part of the plan.

When he first arrived earlier this season many indeed reckoned it was an interim appointment, particularly given his gaping lack of motorsport experience. But over time fewer and fewer felt sure on this point.

As the BBC's Andrew Benson noted by mid-season Mattiacci was 'making a good impression among senior figures in F1 as a man who means business and looks like he can deliver.' That Mattiacci reportedly was backing the highly-rated new Technical Director James Allison to the hilt looked spot on too.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Abu Dhabi GP Report: In the end, in the beginning

Thinking logically, it was hard to see in advance how he could have been denied today. But in this game logic only goes so far.

Things indeed came right for Lewis Hamilton today
Photo: Octane Photography
Possibly in no other sport can so much go wrong as in F1, and so definitively. Indeed the man himself admitted that he'd spent the night before preoccupied with such possibilities. No doubt most of his fans did too. But for all that we remember the sport's dramatic last-race shifts, the probability remains that the guy who needs a mere nudge over the line manages it. And so it was today. Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and with it the 2014 World Drivers' Championship. His second.

It would have taken the unusual to deny Lewis, and while there were such unusual goings-on come the race they in fact fell in his favour. The very get-go was our first hint that today was going to be Lewis's day. The start of his title rival Nico Rosberg with too much wheel spin was far from ideal, but Lewis's was a peach. Launching like a rocket into a clear lead and Nico already having to cling to the end of his vapour trails. 'It was the best start I can remember having, it felt incredible' noted Lewis later.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Nico refuses to go quietly

'Nico is not going quietly' mused Damon Hill afterwards. And he was spot on. It's been a recurring theme of F1 in 2014. Along with that whatever else has occurred, on the Saturdays Nico Rosberg has been the man. In the season's final Saturday in Abu Dhabi he was the man again, claiming another pole position.

Nico Rosberg once again was the one smiling on a Saturday
Photo: Octane Photography
And this was a scrum won against the head, as for much of the weekend it seemed Lewis had matters well in hand. The Yas Marina track is one on which he specialises, and it looked that way again. In Friday practice he was king, and while Nico sudden pulling out of a time three-and-a-bit tenths quicker than Lewis's in Saturday morning's FP3 put a timid kitten among the pigeons, come the qualifying session it seemed order had been restored. Lewis was quicker in Q1 and set a mark a whole half a second under Nico's best in Q2.

But Q3 is the thing, and therein Nico whizzed around first with a 1m 40.697, almost six tenths under anything he'd done before. And whether related or not Lewis suddenly got scruffy, locking a wheel on two on the way to cutting the beam some three tenths over Nico's time.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Lewis Hamilton vs. Nico Rosberg in 2014

You are being spoiled today as here we have a second infographic for your perusal in anticipation of this weekend's vital championship showdown in Abu Dhabi. This infographic created by sports spread betting company Spreadex below focusses on the drivers' title protagonists of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

You'll see that it outlines their respective histories as well as a variety of stats comparing their 2014 campaigns with but one round remaining. Hope you like it!

Spreadex Hamilton v Rosberg F1 Infographic 2014
Infographic brought to you by Spreadex, leading provider of sports spread betting in the UK.
Click here for the full size image (1600 x 7000 px).

TeamSport Infographic - F1 2014 round up before Abu Dhabi

As you'll no doubt be aware by now the season-concluding, and championship-deciding, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix awaits us this weekend. And TeamSport - UK indoor karting specialists - in anticipation of this have produced the infographic below, which details the state of play as we head into the vital final round, with the top six in the drivers' championship detailed. So you can have no excuse for not being genned up.

More detail can be found here, and you can let TeamSport know what you think on Twitter.

  #F1 2014 seasonSource: TeamSport

Monday 17 November 2014

Abu Dhabi Preview: Between cup and lip

There is many a slip between cup and lip as the saying goes. And how appropriate it may seem to the season-ending and championship-decisive round that awaits us in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton holds the aces this weekend
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton to this end holds the aces. He knows what he needs to do to guarantee for himself the drivers' title of 2014. And that seems well within the probable outcomes. But in this game such situations come with a massive disclaimer, as possibly no other sport encompasses a wider variety of things that can go wrong, that which come seemingly from nowhere, and which have nothing to do with whether the protagonists get it right or get it wrong. The Goddess Fortune of F1 can be, and has been, particularly cruel.

And if she decides to be cruel to Lewis this time then the path to the title will likely open up to his team mate Nico Rosberg. At no point will this be too far away from many minds. The tension throughout the Mercedes camp will this weekend fill the air like molasses. Even the imperturbable Niki Lauda admitted in advance that 'it's going to be difficult'.

Saturday 15 November 2014

How I learned to stop worrying and love Caterham's crowdfunding

It's not a lot, but it's something. Something at least for now.

Rather like the Monty Python and the Holy Grail character, Caterham yesterday exclaimed that - despite wider assumptions - it isn't quite dead. Not yet anyway. As the team that (along with Marussia) has missed the last two rounds amid financial woes and administration and that many expected never to see again will indeed be present in the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, thanks in large part to money raised via a 'crowdfunding' scheme.

Against expectations, Caterham are due
 to be seen in Abu Dhabi
Photo: Octane Photography
The scheme was announced at the start of last weekend and its target was to drum up was £2.35m to get the squad to the season-closing Yas Marina race meeting. And while at the point yesterday that Caterham declared itself alive and kicking again only around 80% of it was raised (just over £1.9m), that level in itself helped apparently by a few sizeable contributions late on, reportedly too some sponsors have been found to make up the shortfall.

At the same time the deadline for the scheme, originally the end of yesterday, was moved to nine days hence; something I'm told is above board. Perhaps all surmised that there was no harm in keeping it open.

If you need brought up to speed as to what 'crowdfunding' is, well it's quite the new big thing in our age of the online community. It's a means of raising funds for projects that (presumably) would struggle to be funded otherwise - ordinarily those starting-from-scratch - via an accumulation of voluntary pledges of cash from individuals. The pledges of course can vary in size, right from pocket change to fairly vast sums. Often too the pledge is in return for a 'reward', perhaps some kind of name credit or something more tangible (though apparently equity and credit crowdfunding exists out there too).

New F1 Times article: Should we be asking what the point of Bernie is?

Photo: Octane Photography
You'll be well aware of the sport's various financial woes, and its various manifestations, that have dominated discourse in recent weeks. You'll also be well aware of the related frenzied debate over F1's future and what it should look like.

And you'll also likely know that the fingerprints of a certain Bernie Ecclestone is all over many of the matters of moment as well as over a framed future F1 that doesn't appear to have much wider support.

In my latest article for F1 Times, given recent goings-on I ask should we be asking what the point of Bernie is? You can have a read here:

Wednesday 12 November 2014

What did the Raikkonen-Alonso battle in Brazil tell us? Nothing.

Let me tell you a story.

It is an F1 race, in 2014, and in the closing laps. The two Mercedes are way off ahead in a tight battle for the win, but down in sixth place we have Kimi Raikkonen. He is in the process of executing a two-stop strategy, but bearing down on him from behind is his Ferrari team mate Fernando Alonso, who instead has stopped three times and is benefiting from being more freshly-booted.

Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso in battle
Photo: Octane Photography
With ten laps left Fernando is right with Kimi, but rather than meekly cede the place Kimi is fighting for it for all he's worth. Clearly there are no instructions coming from the pit wall. Not that they'd likely be heeded anyway. For several laps the two feisty racers tough it out, getting alongside each other at several points, but Kimi time after time is able to position his car so to remain ahead.

That is until there are four laps left when Nando is able to get by; where he stayed. But still with the time lost squabbling Alonso had to abandon any vague thoughts of attacking Sebastian Vettel ahead, who'd passed Kimi himself shortly before Alonso arrived on the scene.

You would be forgiven for thinking that I'm referring to the race in Brazil just passed last weekend. But forgive me, it was a deliberate attempt at a bum steer. Actually what I described is from the Spanish race earlier in the year. Round five. In May.

Monday 10 November 2014

The previous of the penultimate round

What is it, in years in which the drivers' title race goes to the wire, with penultimate rounds?

The thought occurred to me before the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix just passed - that distinguished by Nico Rosberg abruptly reminding the hordes of doubters that he's not surrendering in the world championship battle - that it all seemed a bit familiar. That next-to-last rounds have a knack of this. Confounding expectations; shifting momentum almost onto its head.

If Nico Rosberg's win in Brazil seemed a bit familiar, you had
some good reasons for thinking so
Photo: Octane Photography
And I was fairly relieved to discover subsequently that I wasn't imagining things, as after a think I was able to come up with a fairly extensive previous for this sort of thing. If it seemed familiar, that's because it was.

The penultimate round from history that the Interlagos race really put me in mind of was that from 20 years ago, that one held in Japan in Suzuka. And in teeming rain. Then Damon Hill played the Nico Rosberg role, coming into the race still with a mathematical title chance but as far as plenty were concerned as something of an interloper. The other guy - in this case one Michael Schumacher - was the one by consensus cruising to the honours, and then as now the closeness on points at this late stage from many perspectives owed to peculiarity. Subtract unreliability and conspiracies regarding collisions and trips down escape roads and add instead Schumi being disqualified from two races and banned from two more. Each of which Hill took maximum points from.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Brazilian GP Report: All apologies...

Well Nico it appears that many of us owe you an apology.

We all knew the statistics heading into today's race, of the ratio in 2014 of your poles to wins. Indeed we didn't let many opportunities to mention them pass. Moreover someone pointed out that of all the times that you'd started on pole with your team mate and title foe Lewis Hamilton alongside this campaign you'd triumphed but once. At Monaco...

Nico Rosberg - against many expectations - triumphed in the
Brazilian Grand Prix
Photo: Octane Photography
We didn't think you had it in you. Well, you did.

OK, you did have a conspicuous dollop of luck along the way. But you needed no more than that, looking fast and precise throughout, even in the breakneck final stint when Lewis with the smell of blood in his nostrils stalked you from behind. Even as the lap times dipped down to scarcely credible levels. You looked utterly in command.

You could argue too that you made your luck, what with the pressure you were exerting with your pace possibly drawing the crucial error from your rival.

But whatever was the case in a weekend when you simply had to deliver, and deliver against just about all expectations and previous, you did. And how you did it, topping every single session of the weekend. Including, today, the important one.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Interlagos Qualifying: Fightback or more of the same?

I suppose it shows the importance of getting the whole picture. Understanding the context.

On the face of it the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend thus far could hardly have gone better for Nico Rosberg. He's topped every single session. And come qualifying having again headed the times in Q1 and Q2 he also topped matters in the important part to take pole. In an exciting session he pipped his team mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton, the latter apparently being pressured into a crucial error.

Nico Rosberg claimed pole once again
Photo: Octane Photography
For what it's worth too it now means that Nico has claimed the sport's inaugural 'pole trophy', for prevailing most on a Saturday in a season. But there was little abandon about the place. Everyone knew what the bigger consideration was.

That of Nico Rosberg's nine pole positions won in 2014 prior to today he has only converted two to victory. That Lewis overturning his team mate's qualifying advantage in the race has been lately like an F1 equivalent of Groundhog Day - Bahrain, Monza, Suzuka, Austin. The names roll off the tongue.

Will Nico prevailing today prove to be an in-the-nick-of-time start of a fight back or simply more of the same? This will matter. A lot. And it was on everybody's minds afterwards.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Interlagos Preview: Remembering where we are

The Mercedes is miles ahead, and in just about all circumstances. While one of its pilots Lewis Hamilton these days has the air of one unstoppable, batting away challenge almost contemptuously. He's won the last five races, and hasn't been beaten since August. Moreover plenty now are talking about Lewis taking his title number two this year with a heavy sense of inevitability, given that only unusual results can now deprive him.

More of the same this weekend? Not necessarily.
Photo: Octane Photography
So, the victor in the Grand Prix this weekend can be taken as read, right? Well, no actually. Or not necessarily at least.

This is because there is a conspicuous ray of hope for those looking for a change, not least among them Lewis's slightly on-the-ropes team mate and title rival Nico Rosberg. That if you were to pick a venue in which the unusual is likely to be delivered then the one we're to visit this weekend - Interlagos in Brazil - is probably the one you'd pick.

It has an intangible quality - always has - of being a place where things happen, and those things being from almost anywhere on the scale of plausibility. It has good claim to being the closest thing contemporary F1 has to the Bermuda Triangle.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Boycotts and ironies

This game lacks nothing for political intrigue. And even by its usual standards we're getting rather a lot of it right now.

So it continued in Austin last weekend; indeed if anything it was therein more exasperating than we'd been getting used to in the days and weeks beforehand. As Mark Hughes noted for Motorsport, come the red light going out on Sunday it felt like 'a race broke out amid the arguing about the sport's future'.

It was thought for a while that Sauber and Force India as well
as Lotus, may sit out the Austin race
Photo: Octane Photography
F1 indeed was oh-so nearly hit for six by a boycott (and well done to everyone who got that esoteric reference. Not that Geoffrey of that ilk hit too many sixes). With two teams not reaching Texas at all due to financial maladies, rumours circulated that three more - Lotus, Force India and Sauber - feeling a similar pinch would sit out the race, perhaps by parking after a lap, in order to make their feelings known on the same matter.

It was a rather odd affair, as the concept smouldered without anyone apparently wanting to admit to rubbing sticks together. Force India got closest to it though, with Bob Fernley confirming after qualifying that a no-show was 'on the table'.

Monday 3 November 2014

United States GP Report: Lewis swoops yet further

It was just like qualifying, only very different.

Just like in Austin's qualifying session we were reminded starkly on the United States Grand Prix race day of things we perhaps too readily forgot. Particularly in thinking we knew what the final act contained in advance. But it couldn't have been more different as matters at the sharp end were turned utterly on their head.

In a familiar tale, Lewis Hamilton prevailed in the race over
team mate Nico Rosberg
Photo: Octane Photography
Things looked good for Nico Rosberg in advance of Sunday's action, him having the day before taken a fine pole position with a time close to four tenths ahead of his (admittedly bad brake-hobbled) team mate and title antagonist Lewis Hamilton. But delving deeper there where causes for his concern, and not just that Lewis - and Lewis with a healthier car - was likely to be a formidable foe. Of Nico's nine poles this year only twice has he converted it to a win. And this was a statistic he didn't improve on.

Early in the race things looked good though. Lewis was indeed up to speed but in the first stint on soft tyres Nico was able to just stay at arm's length up the road. Indeed Lewis hit the cliff with his tyres slightly earlier and as is his right as the one ahead Nico pitted first, and after this had all shaken out his advantage was a balmy three seconds.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Austin Qualifying: Rosberg's Replicated Reminder

How many times do I have to tell you? If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times.

You'll most likely recall exasperated instructions of that ilk from your parents during childhood. The F1 following doesn't really have its own authority figure, but if it did then it would be this sort of thing passing their lips with regularity. And we would have been reminded rather sternly once again today.

Perhaps against expectations, it was Nico Rosberg who
 prevailed in Austin's qualifying session
Photo: Octane Photography
Again in advance we thought we knew better. That we had it all worked out. Lewis Hamilton had the momentum in the intra-Mercedes battle for the drivers' championship. He was free-wheeling straight towards this year's title.

But F1 likes to catch us out. F1 in 2014 particularly. And Nico personally has reminded us more than once herein that he in ideal circumstances can match and even beat the rapid guy across the garage, as well as that he has no intention of surrendering the honours meekly to his stable mate. He reminded us of all of this again in his run in Austin qualifying today, prevailing decisively for pole in a quick and polished style that has been a recurring pattern on our Saturdays this season.

The perils of the Party of Five

It appears that I may owe you all an apology.

I had thought that Bernie Ecclestone and the cabal of top F1 teams were merely selfish, complacent and blinkered. In the course of yesterday though I instead was met with the creeping realisation that I may have overestimated them; that rather they are idiotic and wilfully destructive. While remaining selfish.

What I had assumed was merely lethargy may well actually have been strategy.

Are the 'big five' teams planning on a takeover?
Photo: Octane Photography
We all know the state that F1 is in with its finances. We know its manifestations, particularly those of recent days and weeks. We even know in large part why it's happening - that cost control has flopped and what cash there is is massively concentrated among a few at the top. To the point that a couple of teams get each year guaranteed Bernie money just for being them that exceeds what the teams at the back spend on everything in a season. That it persists in large part because the teams - particularly the said big ones via the infamous Strategy Group - get a major say of the sport's governance, with the myriad potential for vested interests therein. All teams look out for number one; turkeys don't vote for Christmas (as was pointed out on Twitter by the inimitable Fake Charlie Whiting, can you imagine Man United getting a say in the laws on how throw-ins are taken?). And that the FIA has been neutered, only getting a third of the say on the sport that is supposed to be its own. As well as that Bernie seems oddly protective of the deformed model he's helped create.

Sebastian Vettel: What To Expect In 2015, a guest post by Charles Bell

It's been a strange year to say the least for reigning World Drivers' Champion Sebastian Vettel. Following a 2013 campaign that helped cement Vettel as one of the greatest F1 drivers in history, expectations were sky high heading into 2014. However, the season just never seemed to get rolling smoothly for Vettel.

Vettel's pairing with Ricciardo this year has
led to many surprises
Photo: Octane Photography
As F1 fans are aware, the first jarring event for Vettel's 2014 campaign actually came at the end of last year, when long-tenured teammate Mark Webber retired from F1 for good. Still, it seemed to be an adjustment that Vettel would likely work through with ease, until he began to be plagued by shaky reliability from the start of the season. And that became the story more or less throughout 2014. As various issues forced retirements and sub-par finishes, Vettel faded from the top of F1 even as new team mate Daniel Ricciardo launched himself forward into what now looks like a guaranteed third-place finish on the year.

But can we expect a revival of sorts for Vettel when the calendar turns to 2015? It's hard to say, but this may just be the most fascinating storyline in F1 moving forward.