Monday 30 March 2015

Malaysian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso

Photo: Octane Photography
My latest Grand Prix review for Motor Verso is now available for your reading pleasure. In it I look at Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's stunning victory in Malaysia and what we can expect next.

You can have a read via this link:

As I mentioned before this will be a permanent feature from me on Motor Verso this season, so do keep an eye out for them.

On Motor Verso you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out weeklong test drives of the latest cars - as well as rather nice photos and videos of the machines too.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Malaysian GP Report: Red revival

It was supposed to take years. But it transpired that all it required was an hour and a half. Something thought in advance as good as impossible happened, in that the haughty Mercedes were faced down and beaten in a straight fight. And in today's Malaysian Grand Prix it was none other than Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari that did it.

Sebastian Vettel claimed a surprise win
Photo: Octane Photography
Even after Seb's stellar job in wet qualifying both driver and team were resolute that Merc's pace advantage of yore will not have disappeared. For it to have done so was simply is not the way of this game. Granted Seb speculated about a race victory, but that was (by my interpretation at least) said in the strictest context of the local notorious rainstorms shaking up the kaleidoscope, and being able to take advantage therein. But they didn't require anything like that. The red team might just have surprised even itself in Sepang's proceedings this time.

And make no mistake about it, today was different. Mercedes was beaten three times last campaign; but even Daniel Ricciardo who took advantage on those occasions would likely admit that each owed a great deal to the Mercs treading on their own tails. Seb was absolutely right to note that today he and his team 'won fair and square', and that was a first since the silver lot started its glorious run at the start of last season. As you'd imagine too the joy of driver and team afterwards was unconstrained.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Alonso, McLaren and 'inconsistencies' - is everyone actually telling the truth?

We start off confused and end up confused on a higher level.

So goes the scientific adage. And from hearing the words of Fernando Alonso in Malaysia's pre-race drivers' press conference, we can empathise.

Fernando Alonso - the centre of attention in Malaysia
Photo: Octane Photography
Therein it was the first we'd heard from Alonso directly since his pre-season testing accident in Barcelona, which had kept him out of both the final test and the opening round proper in Melbourne, on his view on what happened. It was a crash that already had elicited much mystery and no little speculation. To many it came with a certain whiff that there was a lot more to it than we knew.

Alonso's account given in the press conference was clear. But the problem was that it on the face of it seemed incompatible at various points with what his McLaren employers had claimed before.

Of course the response from some was predictable; presumably a few had been like a compressed spring desperate to be released. Some started from McLaren sympathy or from Alonso antagonism; there were a few commenting from the opposite predispositions too. The favourite hits of old were struck up - McLaren's lying again; Alonso's not a team player; that's him and Ron Dennis at loggerheads as predicted and ahead of schedule. One headline in Motorsport magazine's website - atypically shrill - stated that 'Alonso throws McLaren under the bus'. I even stumbled across a couple of predictions that Nando wouldn't last the season at Woking (I'll offer them evens that he will...).

Sepang Qualifying: Come rain or shine...

Not even the worst of Sepang's notorious weather could alter things. Nor even his team mate getting in the way. Nor even not improving his mark on his final run. It helped though that his first one - the one that won pole - was stunning.

Lewis Hamilton prevailed once again
Photo: Octane Photography
Yes, Lewis Hamilton prevailed in today's Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying session to take another pole position; his 40th ever. And if his winning out a fortnight ago in Melbourne was about his supposedly new-found skills of managing matters from the front with the smallest amount of rancour, today what was decisive were his long established party tricks - bravery, car control, improvisation.

Malaysia's weather indeed did its typical worst, and not for the first time we were given grounds to suspect that the local weather Gods are possessed with a wicked sense of humour, as the flash rainstorm arrived at about the least convenient moment as far as the competitors were concerned. Dark clouds gathered and lightning could be seen nearing just as Q2 began. Typically there was a queue at the pit lane end before the green light preceding a mass scramble to get a time in before the wet stuff indeed came down in its time-honoured Biblical proportions. Lewis stuck in traffic only just made it through, but he needed no more luck after that.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast: Mercedes vs. Cricket

Here's the latest Inside Line F1 podcast. In it Kunal Shah and Rishi Kapoor look ahead to this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, explore other recent news such as the loss of the German round, as well as speculate on what might have been if Michael Schumacher still was driving for Mercedes...

The Inside Line F1 podcast is produced and hosted by Kunal and Rishi, and is one of the most listened to podcasts in India and Asia, They are looking to expand elsewhere, and here on Talking about F1 I'm delighted to help share it.

Kunal has been writing on F1 for eight seasons, you can visit Kunal's website at: and you also can follow him on Twitter here.

Sepang Preview: Sign of the times

Sepang was the future once. When the then-gleaming new venue for the inaugural (in the F1 World Championship at least) Malaysian Grand Prix arrived on the calendar in 1999 it was heralded immediately as a giant leap ahead; the new way of things. It was after all the very first of the Hermann Tilke-designed, built from scratch, vast towering facilities, in the creation of which it seemed little had been skimped.

Sepang is known for distinctive architecture, but also
sparse crowds
"Sepang f1" by Eriang87 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA
 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
And so it was to prove given that sort of venue so predominates these days. Many of the fingerprints that are clear here - a long straight book-ended by tight corners intended to provide overtaking opportunities, a high speed esses section, and giant and innovative paddock and grandstand architecture - have been found at nearly all of the new and Tilke-penned venues that have popped up since. Perhaps this association with what's new explains why even though this weekend will be F1's visit number 17, Sepang still feels a lot like a Johnny-Come-Lately presence.

Some even now consider Sepang as Tilke's best too, in layout terms at least. The track has every type of corner and plenty of challenging high speed stuff. But its popularity as a stop-off varies. Not least because of the sapping local humidity that draws the life out of competitors and observers alike. And perhaps further explaining the feeling of newness around the place the event hasn't really gone anywhere over its now lengthy existence. Like many of the new rounds the local enthusiasm seems kept well under control, the cavernous grandstands usually are sparsely-populated and the facility more generally gives the impression of not being used much between the appearances of the F1 circus. Ann Bradshaw indeed once commented that 'when you go back to it for a race, you feel the staff have arrived the day before, opened the offices, chased the spiders away and said here we go again'.

Saturday 21 March 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: Sympathy for Red Bull amid threats to quit F1

Photo: Octane Photography
Red Bull hasn't been winning any popularity awards lately. You only need to glance around some comments from rival teams, or from fans on social media and the like, to work that out.

In large part this is because since the team flopped in the season-opener in Melbourne team boss Christian Horner has been arguing for some kind of equalisation to allow the team to catch up, while Helmut Marko has hinted that the team might quit the sport. Talk which led to many branding them as sore losers and perhaps even hypocrites.

But for Grand Prix Times I outline under my breath why things aren't quite as simple as have been presented, and why I have some sympathy with the team's point of view.

You can have a read here:

Thursday 19 March 2015

Thank you Red Bull Racing - a guest post by Kunal Shah

(views expressed are personal; long read, so sit back and enjoy this piece with a can of Red Bull)

Thank you Red Bull Racing! Should they actually decide to quit Formula 1, I want to be the first fan ever to have thanked Red Bull Racing for their contribution and success in the sport. At times, I did wonder if I was watching Formula 1 or Formula Yawn, but in my long term memory, Sebastian Vettel will always be to Red Bull Racing what Michael Schumacher was to Ferrari, well almost! So thank you for all the good years of dominant racing where an energy drinks giant took the mighty manufacturer teams at task and beat them at their game. Thank you for adding and then almost taking the fizz out of the sport! And of course, thank you for the super content pool that you created for us fans! (Read: Mercedes is the new Red Bull Racing and Vettel vs. Schumi For No. 1)

Until recently Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel
 triumph was habitual
Photo: Octane Photography
So is Red Bull Racing bullshitting everyone with their threats to quit the sport? No! That would be my clear assessment of the situation. And no, I wouldn't be entirely shocked if they did. And if they really do, they will take four cars with them. Sigh! Barring Haas F1 Team's entry, almost every other piece of news in the last two years or so is about teams taking their cars off the much coveted Formula 1 grid. (Read: Your Chance To Own An F1 Team)

But it is time to keep emotions aside and assess this threat from a business (for me, Formula 1 is first a business!) and then from a technical point of view. Red Bull Energy drinks invests millions of dollars to run their Formula 1 operations – Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso. If I could be cheeky, the Formula One Management (FOM) too invests money in the lead team via a 'preferred' payment for every season they compete (rumoured to be $70 million or a nearly 80-90% of a mid-field team’s annual budget). For the uninitiated, Red Bull Racing gets paid to race in Formula 1, much like Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Mercedes. (Read: Racing First, Engineering Later)

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast: Formula One or Formula Rookie?

The latest Inside Line F1 podcast is here. Kunal Shah and Rishi Kapoor chew the fat over the season-opener just passed in Melbourne. And of course it provided much to talk about, from on and off the track. The podcast is lively stuff as always you can have a listen below:

There also is an Inside F1 podcast that I managed to miss between times, titled Oh No! Alonso!, which you can listen to here.

The regular Inside Line F1 podcast is produced and hosted by Kunal and Rishi, and is one of the most listened to podcasts in India and Asia, They are looking to expand elsewhere, and here on Talking about F1 I'm delighted to help share it.

Kunal has been writing on F1 for eight seasons, you can visit Kunal's website at: and you also can follow him on Twitter here.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Another reason why the Mercedes dominance shouldn't surprise

We didn't really need confirmation, but in Melbourne last weekend we got it away. The Mercedes advantage over all others is gargantuan. Indeed if there has been any change since its haughty 2014 campaign it has been to make its preponderance yet more crushing than before.

The Mercedes dominance in Melbourne was no surprise -
but also for more reasons than you might think
Photo: Octane Photography
No great revelation. But strange though it no doubt seems time was that it would have been a surprise, even with the team sweeping the board the previous year. As then a triumphant F1 campaign was viewed in its own way a curse as much as a blessing, because such triumph was thought to make it less likely that you'd prevail in the next season.

'Undoubtedly there is an infectious disease which afflicts every World Champion and team, and it's been going on for years. It's not right to say that the guy who's champion loses his edge, or that the designer relaxes, the mechanics lose interest or whatever. But somewhere along the line these things occur - I'm talking about decimals points but they add up.'

Monday 16 March 2015

First of my race reviews for Motor Verso

Photo: Octane Photography
I'm delighted to announce that I've expanded my writing portfolio for this new F1 season. I will be writing a review of every Grand Prix for motoring website Motor Verso, which will be available in the day or so after each race.

And my first race review, for the Australian Grand Prix just passed, is now published and you can have a read of it via this link:

The reviews will differ from the race reports that I put on this site in that they'll be shorter and more punchy, and I'll of course seek to keep the content in both original and to not duplicate!

More broadly on Motor Verso you will find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out weeklong test drives of the latest cars - as well as rather nice photos and videos of the machines too. Do check the site out if you can.

New Vital F1 article: Giedo van der Garde’s case against Sauber, and why it matters

Photo: Octane Photography
It was no great surprise that the first gathering of an F1 round in 2015 just passed was big on rancour. After all, there was no reason to think that causes of the predominant politicking of 2014 had been soothed at all since. But even so it felt rather rammed full of it.

And one matter taking the attention in the build up to the Melbourne weekend, as well as during a lot of it, was the curious case of Giedo van der Garde, and how sat his Sauber contract for this year.

Not for the first time, van der Garde was one who signed a contract only for the team to act apparently like there wasn't one. But for the first time anyone could remember in F1 van der Garde pursued the matter, and vigorously, through the courts, something which threatened to create many sizeable reverberations. And the matter even now is far from closed.

In my latest article for Vital F1 I explore the whole issue, what caused it and why it really matters. You can have a read here:

Sunday 15 March 2015

Australian GP Report: Lewis keeps command

In reality it was a race of one. His team mate was close throughout, but may as well as been nowhere near.

Lewis Hamilton took an imperious win today
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton won the Australian Grand Prix, and from the get-go it never looked in doubt. Yes Nico Rosberg as mentioned for the duration was never far from his exhaust scent. But Lewis was toying with his team mate. After the first lap of green flag racing following an early safety car appearance he was 2.3 seconds up the road. As expected too the rest were nowhere - at least as far back as we grew very used to in 2014. Come the end an hour and a half later things hadn't changed a great deal.

In between times a pattern developed. Time after time Nico eagerly trimmed the gap ahead, but as soon as it got to around a second and a half Lewis immediately put the hammer down to streak clear again. It was a classic retention of command while taking the least out of your car, your tyres and your fuel - especially important in the current formula. And for Rosberg it was all an exercise in futility. For all that we associate Lewis with his right foot - his instinctive skills and relentless attacking style - as we witnessed increasingly in the course of last season these days he also can control a race like Jackie Stewart.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Melbourne Qualifying: Ever increasing circles

The opening qualifying session of the year always feels like a grand revelation. That the talk of pre-season testing - including both talking up and talking down - is shown sometimes pitilessly for what it was. The equivalent of what Warren Buffet called the tide going out to reveal who's been swimming without trunks. Yet even with testing's capacity for obfuscation it felt that today in Melbourne things were as expected. But more so.

The Mercedes was on top as was especially Lewis Hamilton
Photo: Octane Photography
You would have struggled in advance to find anyone that didn't think the Mercedes would be on top in Australia. Probably comfortably. But even with this the size of the advantage took the breath from a few stomachs. In the end the best of the rest in P3 took a full 1.4 seconds longer to complete its quickest lap. Anyone who was yet clinging to the notion of Merc relent in 2015 probably released their grip today. Indeed, it seems the rest haven't even done a great deal to trim the massive advantage of 2014. Maybe in fact it's grown.

And of the two silver cars' pilots it was Lewis Hamilton who was the one on top - and by a distance. Whether this was expected or not is a matter of contention. With his latest title under his belt there has been a developing consensus that Lewis would establish a clear upper hand this year. But then again it feels like we've been waiting for this for a while, and Nico Rosberg in and out the car in the off season looked a man determined not to let the matter settle anything like that easily. Then in Friday's practice he seemed to have a tenth on his team mate time after time.

Friday 13 March 2015

Formula 1 Greats Infographic by FA Wheels

With the new Formula 1 season kick off in Australia now upon us, London-based car wheel refurbishment business FA Wheels has created an infographic to celebrate the fact. It's below and details the five most successful Formula 1 legends from the last 30 years (apologies for some of the text being on the small side).

And if you want to pay FA Wheels a visit then you can here:

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Enter the Vital F1 Prediction competition

You may know that one of the websites for which I give my take on matters F1 is

Photo: Octane Photography
The site has plenty on it to keep you entertained, including news, a discussion forum and comment articles among many other things. It also has a prediction competition, which is back for the new F1 season, that you can enter.

It's fairly simple in that for each round you pick two drivers to score you points depending on where they finish. But while in some races it's the relatively straightforward matter of predicting who'll finish first and second that you aim for, in others it gets more tricky as you have to try to predict who'll finish in a precise position further down the order.

The rules and how to take part are in full here:

And if it helps encourage you then you'll get to take on me, as I'll be taking part in the game too (as 'Talking about F1' - duuuh). Not that beating me is much to get excited about.

But still, hope you're able to take part.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Melbourne Preview: Plus ca change...

Such is the speed that F1 moves on, and so rarely do its protagonists look back the way, it's easy to forget that the fraternity heads to Australia to kick off its latest annual campaign in a very different frame of mind than when it last did 12 months ago.

"2014 Melbourne Grand Prix (From Eureka Skydeck)" by Chris
Phutully -
13186495033/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia
Commons -
Then no one really knew what to expect. The sport had just undertaken probably its grandest alteration ever. Matters, not just in competitive order but also in how racing would be done, threatened to be very different. Perhaps unrecognisable.

Yet while last year's Melbourne season-opener felt like a gigantic leap into the unknown, what awaits us this time is expected to be of the familiar sort. Indeed so familiar that even last year most in advance felt confident that it would happen even among all the other flux. The fight for the win in Australia this weekend should - reliability willing - be a very private Mercedes matter.

Monday 9 March 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: Why does F1 love a conspiracy theory?

Photo: Octane Photography
In F1 our default it seems is that things are not quite as presented. That we're not getting the full story. That its mysterious forces are conspiring against us. And lately we've had our latest grand example, with Fernando Alonso's testing accident and subsequent lay off for the season-opener in Melbourne, which set a few hares running...

But it's nothing new. F1 it seems rather loves a conspiracy theory. It's been the way for decades. Though equally too it seems especially common in recent times.

In my latest article for Grand Prix Times I ask why us F1 observers are these days so determined to think conspiracy. You can read it here:

Sunday 8 March 2015

Talking about F1 2015 Team-by-team Season Preview

Photo: Octane Photography
Now with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix but a week away you no doubt have been inundated with 2015 F1 season previews. Not least on this site, as you've likely noticed that in the last week or so I've written a preview for each team.

In these I give my take on the prospects of every one of the ten teams as well as those of their drivers for the year ahead.

All of my team/driver previews are collated in one place too, which you can explore by clicking on the '2015 Team and Driver Guide' tab above. Something to keep you occupied until FP1 next Friday...

Friday 6 March 2015

F1 2015 Season Preview: Sauber - Reverting to type

Time was that you knew what to expect from Sauber. It was F1's pillar of the community. A solid midfield presence. It wouldn't stun anyone but it could be relied upon not to steer into choppy waters. But last year it rather failed to live up to billing, sliding down the order and even not scoring a single point which confined the team to finishing behind Marussia in the constructors' table in tenth.

Photo: Octane Photography
The C33 had rather a lot wrong with it. The team was keen to point its finger of blame towards the Ferrari power unit, which admittedly was nowhere near the Mercedes on anything. And the difficulties with it were compounded rather by the deal not being inked until October of the preceding year, giving the team next to no time to design the car around the unit, thus tainting the effort at source. It was perhaps this that it Head of Track Engineering Giampaolo Dall'Ara had in mind when he said in hindsight that the team's 2014 struggle was 'formed by circumstances before the season even began'.

Thursday 5 March 2015

F1 2015 Season Preview: Manor - Back from the brink

No one expected them to be here. Certainly not this soon. But by the looks of things, they are.

Photo: Octane Photography
In the course of last year Marussia touched both ends of F1's extremes. To begin with the hardy and popular bunch of racers continued its gradual creep towards midfield pace, adapting well to the new rules and benefiting from a Ferrari power unit. And Monaco of course was the zenith. In Jules Bianchi's hands it looked a Q2 contender only for a differential problem to strike in qualifying. But come the race - despite a five second penalty as well as unnecessarily adding five seconds to his solitary pit stop under the safety car - a feisty drive from the undeterred Frenchman was awarded with ninth place, thus breaking the team's points duck. Yes Jules benefited from attrition, but as outlined he was not without his share of bad luck that weekend.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

F1 2015 Season Preview: Lotus - From despair to where?

How quickly things change. You often have to make a conscious effort to remind yourself that only 15 months ago the Lotus was by consensus the second best car out there. Last season by comparison could hardly have been more different, with it running habitually off the back of the midfield, and looking evil as it did so.

Photo: Octane Photography
As Autosport noted, in the preceding two seasons Lotus averaged 16 points per race. In the whole of 2014 Lotus totalled ten. But for all that the Enstone cars were good ones in those years of points plenty, they concealed rather a lot of trouble just below the surface. Namely that there wasn't enough money around. The loss of a number of key technical staff - not least James Allison and Dirk de Beer to Ferrari - gave us an early hint at it all. Then Kimi Raikkonen blew the cover completely by announcing late in 2013 that he'd been paid 'zero Euro the whole year'.

Then with mightily inconvenient timing the regulations changed fundamentally, rendering the fine Lotus car irrelevant and sending the team back to base camp technically. Then the new car was late arriving. Then the E22 that the team eventually came up with was awful. As Ernest Hemingway said of bankruptcy, Lotus's decline happened gradually, then suddenly.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

F1 2015 Season Preview: Toro Rosso - Growing its own

We know what most of us would say if we heard the name of Toro Rosso in a word association test. Red Bull's B team. Where it tries out the latest eager things from its young driver programme. But over recent years the squad's gradually becoming about more than that.

Photo: Octane Photography
While it was a not particularly concealed fact for a time that Red Bull was willing to let the team go at the right price, more recently the company has been trying more to make a proper go of Toro Rosso. Not least in developing its own aero department and programme. As recently as 2008 it essentially took its designs from the big team.

The team has been growing, particularly over the last couple of years, and it has been doing so under the technical leadership of one of the most highly-rated guys out there in James Key. It is currently in the process of moving factories too to a larger, more consolidated, facility.

Monday 2 March 2015

F1 2015 Season Preview: Force India - Getting away with it

Perhaps a few of us are guilty of not giving Force India due credit. Not that long ago when Vijay Mallya took over the team, and gave it its identity, it was back of grid fodder. Since then the team's year-on-year improvement has been a near-constant - only the minor blip of its 2013 results spoil it slightly. And continuing this the 2014 season just passed was its best season so far under its current guise, with a record number of points, its first podium finish since 2009 and equalling its best ever constructors' placing of sixth. We know that like Williams it benefited from the majestic Mercedes power unit (and in Force India's case its gearbox too), but the Silverstone squad still ran ahead of the far larger and similarly-powered McLaren operation for much of the season, only slipping behind with four races to go.

Photo: Octane Photography
As expected given the team's relative lack of development budget and resource, it slid down the pecking order as last season went on - a Force India bugbear. But this time it wasn't entirely down to that. Part of the reason for its early good showing was that it produced a solid - you might even say conservative - car with plenty of cooling. The team admitted this was a deliberate ploy so to ensure points in the early races, vital for a team of Force India's resource level. But that excess of cooling made the car harder to develop aerodynamically, especially at the rear. A big mid-year aero upgrade simply didn't work. The team's rather long-in-the-tooth simulation tools was considered one of the culprits too.

Sunday 1 March 2015

F1 2015 Season Preview: McLaren - Known unknowns

'The big question mark is McLaren with Honda. They have obviously got the potential to do very well.

Photo: Octane Photography
'That is probably the one that everyone is going to be watching to see what sort of step they have made and what they bring to the table. For the rest, there will be standard steps. They (McLaren) are the one team that is probably more unknown. Ferrari have the opportunity to make a good step. They underperformed last year but there is probably no real strong signs they will gain a second (to close the gap to Mercedes), whereas McLaren could gain that second if everything gels with Honda.'

So said Daniel Ricciardo, just before everyone headed out for the start of pre-season testing, on the subject of who if anyone could possibly, somehow, challenge the Mercs in 2015.