Saturday, 30 August 2014

Taking youth to the Max

It's easy to forget now, but before Nico and Lewis's latest fankle it was the thing that we were all talking about. Often with a lot of heat; some self-disgust. That, as announced before the Spa weekend, next year Max Verstappen will be racing for Toro Rosso. That's Max Verstappen, not a year out of karting. Max Verstappen with at the time of writing just 26 car races on his CV. Max Vertsappen who's 16 years of age, and will be a mere 17 when he makes his F1 bow proper in Melbourne next March.

Max Verstappen was the centre of
attention for much of the Spa weekend
Photo: Octane Photography
Of course, plenty weren't happy with this. As compared with what has gone before in terms of age this is uncharted territory. Even with the sport's dash to youth in recent times this will not shave the record for youngest ever F1 driver but rip the body out of it, smashing the record by close to two years or to put it in perspective by upwards of 10%. They said surely Verstappen won't be ready - in terms of his driving or mental approach - and worse the premature throwing of him into the deep end has the potential to ruin what looks a promising talent.

I don't agree though. Not entirely anyway.

My instinct always in such situations is to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to at least afford them a chance.

And this isn't just out of compassion. About the only universal rule in F1 is that there are no universal rules. It loves to confound us. Plenty of fine F1 careers started out as teenagers - Alonso, Vettel, Amon. I'm also old enough to remember 2001 when many - including FIA President Max Mosley - wrung hands over the debutant in that year's campaign-opening Australian Grand Prix, who had but a solitary season of car racing, in his case in Formula Renault, and just 23 car races in total under his belt, fewer than Verstappen has now indeed (although he was four years older). His name was Kimi Raikkonen. Think he turned out all right.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Gimme some space

Let us rewind 37 years to the day. To the 1977 Dutch Grand Prix at fast flowing Zandvoort.

As was often so in that campaign the pace-setters were James Hunt in the McLaren and Mario Andretti in the Lotus, the latter especially. Andretti started from pole, but Hunt took the lead off the line. Andretti nevertheless looked easily the faster and swiftly was on Hunt's tail.

James Hunt - his view prevails today it seems
Credit: Gillfoto / CC
At Zandvoort the notorious banked hairpin Tarzan bend at the end of the pit straight was about the only realistic passing point, but each time through there Hunt blocked the inside. So fifth time around Andretti stuck it around the outside, getting alongside his rival. But as far as Hunt was concerned that wasn't on and he took his line on the exit like the American didn't exist. The inevitable followed, the pair collided, and Hunt was out on the spot while Andretti continued for a few more laps somehow unscathed before an engine failure put him out too.

Hunt seethed, with steam almost as visible from his ears as it was from the broken water pipe of his stricken McLaren he told Andretti later 'in Formula One you're not expected to pass on the outside'. It was a claim met with general incredulity, not least by the American who retorted: 'where I come from you pass wherever you can...I deserve that piece of real estate as much as you do, and so you have to drive accordingly'. He later added: 'He ignored me, drove right into me and is trying to blame me because I wasn't supposed to be there. I had him and he didn't accept it.'

But all these years on it seems that despite its apparent absurdity it is in fact Hunt's take that has prevailed. And we had our latest dollop of evidence in the Belgian Grand Prix just passed.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Quitting the boos

You don't need me to tell you about Nico, Lewis, Mercedes, Spa, collisions, punctures, fallout, yada yada.

The resultant wrangling, sometimes invective, has since been plentiful and shown little signs of abating. But within the shrieking prose there was something of a footnote, that on the podium after having later finished second in the Spa race Nico Rosberg was booed by many of the assembled fans. And in case you managed to miss somehow what the motivation was, a few chanted Lewis Hamilton's name as Nico spoke during his podium interview.

Nico Rosberg reception on the Spa podium wasn't all positive
Photo: Octane Photography
You'll also likely recall that booing of drivers on the podium (or rather, booing of a driver - one Sebastian Vettel) was a lingering presence for much of last season too, and led to a bit of agonising about it all. My own view on the matter hasn't altered with the change of target. Booing of F1 drivers is not something that I care to hear.

Of course, the stock defence of booing is that it is one's right, and I suppose to an extent it is, in that to my knowledge it doesn't break any laws nor any terms and conditions on the back of the ticket (not explicitly anyway). And due to this I wouldn't support any sort of coercive measures against those partaking in it. But all rights must be counterbalanced with responsibilities, and it is in this that in my view booing of F1 drivers falls down, and why I'd prefer that people didn't do it.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Belgian GP Report: Ricciardo rises above the rancour

There seemed something almost of the logical conclusion about it. It had been anticipated for months. And yesterday was the day.

Despite appearances Spa's race was a lot like the previous one from before the break in Hungary. Of course, there were differences in weather (Spa inaptly being the one without the precipitation), and the Hungaroring and Spa track layouts could barely be more distinct. But the similarities were there.

Just like in Hungary, Daniel Ricciardo triumphed in fine style
Photo: Octane Photography
Just like then it looked from the off that the battle for the win would be a matter for Mercedes only. But it went wrong. And just like then it was one Daniel Ricciardo who smoothly ghosted into prime position to seize the bone dropped from the Merc mouths.

'It went wrong' of course is only the beginning of it. Another parallel with Hungary was that Spa's race provided us with the latest thing to fervently debate over regarding this F1 season's chief theme of the Mercedes pilots. And this time it most definitely surpassed what had come before. That thing that had been anticipated, the major plot of territory in the Lewis Hamilton vs. Nico Rosberg battle for the title that had yet to be encroached, suddenly was invaded. They collided.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Spa Qualifying: Rosberg keeps rolling along

Whatever happens, whatever is thrown at him, he continues. Indeed, the more that happens around him, or is thrown in his direction, if anything his progress gets yet more inevitable. Like Ol' Man River, Nico Rosberg keeps rollin' along.

In a qualifying session Nico Rosberg
triumphed yet again
Photo: Octane Photography
He did it again today in the qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, winning out in his latest intra-Mercedes set-to and seizing another pole position. And - not unusually for this venue - rivers were appropriate as the track resembled one throughout, it being wet thanks to a downpour beforehand and staying as much for the whole session thanks to a few showers.

As ever the Nico Rosberg vs. Lewis Hamilton battle for supremacy was a close one; Nico pipped Lewis in Q1, Lewis pipped Nico in Q2. But in Q3 when it really mattered Nico immediately banged in a 2m 05.698 which proved to be enough to triumph. Lewis's own first effort was scrappy and just under a second slower; his second was better but still scrappy and two tenths shy. And Nico then as a coup de grace shaved a little more of his own time. Not that it mattered.

'It's always difficult on this track in the wet, so I'm really, really happy' noted Nico afterwards. 'The car was handling well and together with my engineers we fine-tuned it perfectly now in qualifying and really got there in the end. So, in the end I was really feeling comfortable and able to push, so fantastic.'

We're also now pushing four months since Lewis was last on pole, or indeed since he last started ahead of Rosberg. Of course each of the quali sessions in the meantime have had something of the odd about them, and so indeed did today's. Hamilton in the final part complained of brake 'glazing'.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

New F1 Times article: Mexico's return – it’s good to be back

"MexicoAutodromo" by (WT-en) Fabz at English
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File:MexicoAutodromo.JPG
It's hard to find F1 fans all that pleased with how the sport's calendar has evolved in recent times. And with Monza of all places being under threat the matter has got particularly cringeworthy just now.

But it's not all bad news, as a new round - though one not at all new - in Mexico at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is promised for 2015. In my latest F1 Times article I explain why the country's return is a good thing, as well as look at its chequered F1 past.

You can have a read here: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09228

Monday, 18 August 2014

Spa Preview: More to watch than usual

There's something about Spa. Something intangible. Somehow, no matter what else is going on (and usually it is a lot), when the F1 circus visits the Spa-Francorchamps circuit suddenly all feels right with the sport.

From asking drivers, engineers or fans for their favourite track this one in Belgium likely is to form the majority of answers.

There is something special about Spa
Photo: Octane Photography
Why this is has an intangible quality; probably it is not something that can be designed or replicated easily. There is an undoubted well worn, comfortable feeling about the venue. Spa has been grown organically rather than imposed from above.

Its heritage no doubt is part of it. The place drips with 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 all the way back 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 have been the first ever circuit motor race; before that city to city races were the norm.

New F1Plus.com article: Sorry, but Daniel Ricciardo is not going to be 2014 world champion

Photo: Octane Photography
During the summer break I keep encountering claims that Daniel Ricciardo is coming up on the blind side of the Mercedes drivers in the points table, and has a genuine chance to be 2014 world champion.

In am article over on F1Plus.com I outline however, albeit with regret, that for a couple of reasons especially Ricciardo's chances do not at all look realistic.

You can have a read via this link: http://www.f1plus.com/en/news/item/6457-sorry-but-daniel-ricciardo-is-not-going-to-be-2014-world-champion

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Jenson Button's knotted Williams past

Jean-Paul Sartre once said 'I hate victims who respect their executioners'.

Admirable though that is, perhaps he'd not last long in F1. Therein, realpolitik is often what prevails. Despite occasional immediate appearances suggesting otherwise, grudges often come a distant second.

As an example, I recall some years ago in what must have been the late 1990s watching a Grand Prix wherein the TV feed cut to Alain Prost - then boss of the team that took his name - sat on the pit wall. But who was it sat alongside him? None other than Cesare Fiorio. The same Cesare Fiorio that was Prost's boss at Ferrari; that infamously Prost didn't see eye-to-eye with; that Prost was instrumental (apparently) in forcing out. 'How could Fiorio bring himself to work with him again?' I thought in my naivety. Little did I know.

But of course it's not an isolated case. Far from it. This year we witnessed the long-assumed unthinkable rapprochement of Kimi Raikkonen and Luca Montezemolo. Heck, even the rumour of the incendiary Fernando Alonso and Ron Dennis pairing happening again while considered unlikely hasn't been laughed all the way out of court.

Perhaps it's just the sport's way - all's fair in love and F1 after all. Maybe they learn not to take things personally, even when knives are plunged into their back. Perhaps it's more simple than that and reflects F1's rather exclusive status, with a (very) finite number of places in it, the places really sought after even more so, meaning most are able to park such things in a mental recess if it entails not being the one without a seat when the music stops.

Jenson Button - subject to two tugs of love
"Jenson button usgp 2004 onstage".
Licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia
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It could all be just as well in particular for Jenson Button, on the subject of seats and making sure you have one. It's a hardly-concealed fact that his at McLaren for next year and beyond ain't certain as things stand; that McLaren's been scanning for alternatives. One such alternative mooted is the prodigious Valtteri Bottas (though quite what the Finn would get out of this is less clear to me). There has been some speculation that if that does indeed happen then Button could make the opposite journey, back to Williams. I didn't think it at all coincidence that he said some very nice things about the Grove team recently.

He has previous with the team too. We all know that Jenson made his F1 debut for Williams in 2000, but the previous is a little more knotted than that.

Jenson in his freshman year at Grove 14 years ago was to a large extent on a hiding to nothing, as he was there as a stopgap until Juan Pablo Montoya's CART contract wound down, meaning despite impressing his fate of being dumped at the season's end was mostly inevitable. The next year he drove for Benetton instead. There he experienced second-season syndrome in 2001, but managed to recover (the team now with the Renault moniker) in 2002, though not enough to avoid being ditched again, this time in preference for the incumbent test driver going by the name of Fernando Alonso.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

My favourite motorsport moment from the past 25 years

It likely unites most sports fans. The sense of injustice. And there was plenty around that day.

Year 2000 at Spa; Mika Hakkinen vs. Michael Schumacher. And I was there; my first overseas Grand Prix. Stationed on the Kemmel straight. Where it happened.

Mika Hakkinen in action in the year 2000
"Hakkinen". Licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Hakkinen.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hakkinen.jpg
In those days I was a Mika man. But an injustice sense came along with this. Always quick, but his McLaren team insistent on treading on its own tail. Schumi-Ferrari meanwhile led a charmed life seemingly.

But then latterly the fortune was with Hakkinen. In Spa he had the track to himself, claimed pole easily, Schumi down in fourth.

Yet there was the weather; overnight rain arrived. It relented eventually but the track was damp for the off.

Bringing Schumacher right back into the picture; he cleared the cars between in no time and nibbled into Hakkinen's lead.

Mika then gave him it all on a plate by half-spinning; Schumacher led and moved away. For me it all seemed tremendously unmerited.

But later Mika retaliated – track dried and qualifying pace returned he was with Schumi in the late laps. But in this F1 passing was near-impossible. Surely that was that?

No, up the same Kemmel straight Hakkinen bore down. He went for the inside. Schumacher repelled with an egregious chop. Adding to the injustice there already.

At that point next lap it was same again, only this time backmarker Ricardo Zonta occupied the middle of the road at a gentle pace. Schumi went to his left; Hakkinen for a tiny gap to Zonta's right. In an exhilarating flash the three were briefly abreast.

You had to make a point of comprehending. The big screen showed Mika's on-board, and nothing ahead. He had the lead, and kept it for the short remaining distance.

Justice, for once, was done.

The article is my submission to be one of ten official bloggers of the Autosport International Show 2015. The theme chosen for this is 'My favourite motorsport moment from the past 25 years'.

The Autosport International Show is Europe's largest motorsport show, and takes place at Birmingham NEC every January. More details on it, including on purchasing tickets, can be found here, and you can also follow the show on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

New Vital F1 article: Time for Bernie to go

Photo: Octane Photography
Earlier this week all of a sudden Bernie Ecclsetone's bribery trial was over. Leaving us with the other-worldly feeling that all of the anticipation stretching on for months, and years, would in fact amount to nothing. And the man himself before the day was out was telling all of his absolute intention to return to work and carry on as before

But should he? For VitalF1.com I explain why, despite the ending of his trial, it's high time for Bernie to depart the F1 stage.

You can have a read here: http://www.vitalf1.com/sitepage.asp?a=2493

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

New F1 Times article: The top 10 drivers of the 2014 season so far...

Photo: Octane Photography
Everyone loves a top 10 drivers' ranking don't they? They're all the rage.

And given we're in the midst of the sport's summer break as well as (roughly) at the 2014 season's mid-point I thought it a good moment to - for F1 Times - give my personal ranking of the drivers so far.

You can have a look at the order and my reasoning for each via this link: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09188

Monday, 4 August 2014

Long time, no GP

The article has been supported by voucherbin.co.uk, a site which provides links to discount vouchers for a variety of High Street stores. Check it out here: http://www.voucherbin.co.uk/

In the Hungaroring paddock weekend before last there was a definite end of term atmosphere. And with reason, after months of whirlwind activity the sport was off on its summer holidays - compete with bucket and spade and rubber ring. Possibly. Whatever was the case no one would have to think about FRIC, team orders or any other of the sport's uniquely esoteric matters until reconvening at Spa in late August.

The Hungarian race was the last we'll
see of F1 cars for a while
Photo: Octane Photography
The roughly month-long summer break is in itself a new thing, introduced in 2009, and gratefully received by a fraternity experiencing a calendar both growing (in 2003 and the years immediately preceding 16 or 17 races was the norm - now 19 or 20 is, and the 2003 season ended in mid October rather than late November) and featuring much more in the way of long haul travel (again back in 2003 but six rounds were outside Europe, now 10 are and indeed last year there was 12). Quite the unprecedented attack of generosity from Bernard Charles.

Thus we now are in a full four weeks with no F1. And the associated withdrawal. But it's a marginal improvement at least on this time last year when the Hungarian round was the only F1 meeting in a run of six weekends; which in turn was partially down to the summer break, partially down the New Jersey round being cancelled and not replaced, thus leaving the summer months more generally with a rather sparse look.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Jules Quest

Rewind to last Saturday afternoon, and the first part of Hungary's qualifying session. Lewis Hamilton was out; Pastor Maldonado was out - both victims of technical maladies ending their sessions before setting a time. The remaining four of the six drop-out slots would therefore surely be taken by the 'B class' of two Marussias and Caterhams each, given they appeared way off the back of the pack as usual. This even with the soft tyre looking much quicker than the medium that all of the haughty A class had set their times on. Cool your jets in the garage and save the softs for the next part.

Jules Bianchi's Hungary qualifying lap was stunning
Photo: Octane Photography
But there was a tiny flaw in these best laid plans. That flaw being they reckoned without Jules Bianchi. At the very last he put his Marussia on its end and grabbed the final spot to get into Q2 of P16 all for himself. Further it was the revered scalp of Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen - straggling at the back of the A class - that was bagged.

We can criticise Ferrari for a misjudgement - and indeed plenty have - which gave Bianchi his opportunity to pip one of its cars, but looking at the lap times one can begin to see perhaps why the squad's supposedly very clever people were caught out. Put simply the prodigious Frenchman pulled a rabbit out of the hat.