Friday 31 July 2015

History repeating for Mercedes and making life difficult for itself

F1 loves its parallels. Its coincidences. Its mirror images. And so it is now.

Go back 12 months and there are a few parallels
Photo: Octane Photography
Rewind 12 months almost to the day and we'd just had a Hungarian Grand Prix that took us into the summer break on the back of a thrilling afternoon's entertainment. It had a surprise victor, that driver's second win of the season, which cemented his position as best of the rest behind the two apparently dominant Mercedes in the championship table. Replace Daniel Ricciardo's name with Sebastian Vettel's now and the similarities compared with then are eerie.

And then chat burgeoned in the race's aftermath that Mercedes might even by fumbling between themselves let Ricciardo in for the title honours - the historical  pseudo-parallels of what Kimi Raikkonen did to McLaren in 2007 and Alain Prost to Williams in 1986 were pointed to knowingly.

It always was the longest of long shots for a few reasons, and so it proved in time. But even so it's odd that there seems far less audible talk to that effect now. Not only is Seb much closer at hand on points than Danny Ric was then (42 points to the summit for Seb now compared with 71 for Ricciardo at last year's summer break) he's also closer on general pace.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

What About The Red Bull Young Driver Programme? by Kunal Shah and the latest Inside Line F1 podcast

The 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix saw the most unexpected podium of recent times - Sebastian Vettel, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo. Max Verstappen who finished an impressive fourth made it a 1-2-3-4 finish for drivers who have graduated from the Red Bull Young Driver Programme - one of their best advertisements to date? (Read: Hungar(y) Games)

The top positions in Hungary were filled
with Red Bull graduates
Photo: Octane Photography
That's when I thought, what about the Red Bull Young Driver Programme? Red Bull have threatened to quit Formula One if they don't find a competitive engine, should that happen, what will they do with their impressive and much sought after driver training programme? And worse, what about the drivers who are currently in the programme? Questions not many have raised to date. (Read: Give Everyone Mercedes Engines)

Before I wonder further, let's agree that a driver training programme is most necessary - for drivers and for the teams. If you're a driver, you're almost always paying for your drive (karting, junior series and all the way up to Formula One). Yes, you could get scholarships and subsidised drives if you're the series champion (or thereabouts) from the season before, but securing a 100% budget to go racing without support from corporate sponsorships or driver training programmes is unheard of. Unless of course you're investing family wealth! (Read: Formula One Can Be Cruel)

Tuesday 28 July 2015

New Motor Verso article: Has Kimi oulived his usefulness?

Of course at this time of year F1's silly season - the frenzied chatter about which driver is going where for next year and who is to be without a seat when the music stops - is in full flow. And none of the stories are bigger than who is to partner Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari.

Photo: Octane Photography
The latest chat is that the Scuderia's retention of incumbent Kimi Raikkonen could be unlikely; certainly there is an ever-revolving cast of those touted to replace him.

In a recent article for Motor Verso I explored Kimi's and Ferrari's predicament. You can have a read of it via this link:

By the way, in case you're wondering I wrote this prior to the British Grand Prix but it wasn't published until after it. Hence the apparently odd chronology...

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Monday 27 July 2015

Hungarian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Seb is the man of the day

Photo: Octane Photography
Here is my Motor Verso review of the Hungarian Grand Prix just passed.

After a madcap race and a result that nearly no one anticipated it was again all a timely tonic for the sport as whole. And however crazy things were behind him the day certainly found a worthy winner in Sebastian Vettel who harnessed Rudyard Kipling by keeping his head when all around were losing theirs, benefiting from unforeseen Ferrari pace and his own imperious drive.

As for the usually imperious Mercedes? The less said about their day the better...

You can have a read of my thoughts on the race here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Hungarian GP Report: Vettel keeps his head when all about him are losing theirs...

Hands up who predicted that result? Liars. In today's Hungarian Grand Prix for far from the first time we were given a reminder that this game can never be said to be predictable no matter how unlikely that can be made to appear. That no matter what it doesn't take much either to set the whole thing in a very different direction. It's odd that we keep needing these reminders.

Todya's was a highly unlikely podium trio with
Sebastian Vettel on the top step
Photo: Octane Photography
Reports from Friday's practice and Saturday's qualifying now seem like they're from another age. They said the Mercedes were on another level; that Lewis Hamilton was on another level of the two Mercedes. And indeed they were. But when it really mattered you'd hardly have known it. Neither Merc driver made the podium, the first time this had been so since the final round of 2013. And it was Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari that won, and not only won but one way or another dominated. This from a Ferrari team that was supposed to be slipping away from the pace, and some even thought were about to slip into yet more internal turmoil as a consequence. From a Ferrari that looked to be struggling at least as much here

What challenges there were to Vettel evaporated one by one and it was the two Red Bulls, with Daniil Kvyat ahead and getting his first ever podium place, that followed him in to complete the podium. Plenty of adventures happened along the way too.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Hungaroring Qualifying: Hamilton's home from home

"I'm starting to think this might be my favourite track" said Lewis Hamilton yesterday. Really the only question that should arise from this is why it took him so long to come to that conclusion.

Lewis Hamilton once again was untouchable
at the Hungaroring
Photo: Octane Photography
Last time out in Silverstone we heard a lot about Lewis's home round. But even though his record there is a good one in every aspect aside from geography this one in Hungary is his real back yard fixture. For as long as he's taken F1 cars around the Hungaroring he's been like a candidate in a US Presidential election carrying their home state. Here Lewis can make a car dance in a way that no one else can. He did it again today in seizing pole position - his ninth this year and his fifth at this circuit ever. And it was a triumph more decisive probably than any of those previous ones.

As ever the precise causes of Lewis's alchemy at this track isn't known, probably not even to Lewis himself. But with its layout necessitating an acrobatic yet precise approach its low grip surface usually requiring a sliding tail to be tamed we can begin to formulate our most probable answer.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Godspeed Jules Bianchi

Here's the latest Inside Line F1 podcast. Mithila Mehta joins Kunal Shah to reflect on the sombre news of the passing of Jules Bianchi confirmed in recent days. They discuss the young Frenchman's legacy as well as the wider issues of safety in the sport.

As well as this they also look at the race for a Ferrari seat next year and what we can expect in the forthcoming Hungarian Grand Prix. As ever you can listen below:

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.

Monday 20 July 2015

Hungaroring Preview: The new, old world

Have you ever looked at the modern F1 calendar, and wondered about that sort of track that gets added to it almost exclusively these days it seems? That which is purpose built from ground up especially to hold an F1 event? That which is super safe, has gleaming facilities, and all is bankrolled by the national government keen to 'brand' the country?

The Hungaroring round has become a fixture
Photo: Octane Photography
And have you in turn wondered which venue was the first of these? That set this trend in motion? Well (after you've got out a bit more) the most likely answer is Hungary's Hungaroring, the scene of the latest F1 gathering this weekend coming.

The track made its bow as an F1 host in 1986, constructed in just the seven months prior on a greenfield site not far outside the city of Budapest. And 29 years (gulp) on it's easy to forget what a complete step into the unknown this represented at the time for both the F1 circus and its hosts, and this was in more ways than one given the fraternity was venturing behind the Iron Curtain into the 'Eastern Bloc', which Hungary was then part of, for the first time and when contact between 'east' and 'west' was close to non-existent. Never one to pay heed to impediments Bernie Ecclestone held a long-standing desire to host a race therein, and indeed as early as 1983 a street race in Moscow appeared on the provisional F1 calendar. That plan foundered on insurmountable bureaucracy but by 1986 Hungary, always the most outward-looking of the Eastern Bloc countries, stepped up to the plate and Bernie was happy to pitch a ball their way.

As intimated and without over-egging matters when F1 arrived for its debut event there it was a leap into a new world, or a new world leaping into an old one depending on your perspective. Reflecting this Martin Brundle for one has spoken of the incongruous hush of the vast throng assembled in the stands as all prepared on the dummy grid before the freshman race. The event was however considered a success. The facilities were immaculate, the sun was warm and most of all the mentioned vast throng on race day was made up of a staggering 200,000 people, including some from East Germany, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. It also benefited from a fine and occasionally lairy battle for the win between Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna - no love was lost between those two countrymen.

Sunday 19 July 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - The Joke Is On McLaren

Here's the latest Inside Line F1 podcast. This time Mithila Mehta joins Kunal Shah to look at the McLaren Honda team, its grand promises and its (so far) lack of results. They also discuss who might drive for Williams in 2016 as well as the lack of a German Grand Prix among a few other matters. It's entertaining stuff as always and you can have a listen below.

Note too that this was recorded before the sad confirmation yesterday of Jules Bianchi's passing.

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.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Jules Bianchi 1989-2015

Death has a larcenous nature. Sometimes it is possessed with a wicked sense of irony. Always it is possessed with exasperating cruelty.

Jules Bianchi 1989-2015
Photo: Octane Photography
And sadly it is in the attendant nature of motor sport that it has in its pursuit been the scene of fine young people taken away early and against our collective wills more than in most activities. Often in their prime; often too when much stretched out ahead of them.

Overnight we heard that Jules Bianchi was the latest to leave us, and on these terms. A consequence some nine months on from his accident in last year's Japanese Grand Prix. And as is ever the case in such situations the dual senses of gloom and shock are hard to lift.

This is even though we know that those such as Jules choose their life in motor sport in the full knowledge of its potential dangers. Indeed Jules would have been more aware of this than most, coming from a family that already knew what is was to lose one to motor sport. This is even though in this case the period between the accident and his ultimate passing was a lengthy one as mentioned. This is even though Jules' father had warned us in the weeks before that hope was looking sadly meagre; that death may have to be considered. Even though his father reminded us that "it's not what Jules wants, being in a hospital bed. It's not his life...".

It still hurts when it happens. Because we still held out hope. And we knew that this was a man and driver taken way too soon. One, on both counts, with so much more to give us.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Thoughts on the GPDA survey

Lately F1 it seems has gone rather research potty. And among these it was that of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, which in the days before the Monaco Grand Prix took the initiative to release a high-profile fans' survey amid much fanfare, that has made the greatest impact.

Seeking to find out what F1 fans think is a welcome move
Photo: Octane Photography
You may or may not be aware that I'm someone who has ten plus years' experience of working professionally in market research. So with this I'd like to think that combined with my F1 knowledge (stop laughing at the back) I can offer a few insights on this.

The first thing to say is that - even though I would say this - the awakening to market research is a welcome one. Any responsible organisation seeks to find out what its audience thinks and factors it into decisions, so F1 simply is doing something most of the rest of the world worked out long ago. And research has many benefits, not just that it ensures decision-making can be informed but it also often is good for shifting decision-makers who wouldn't ordinarily be shifted. Which given the famously unshifting (non) decision-makers of F1 presumably was a lot of the point of this exercise.

But with this there are common pitfalls with doing surveys. It's an activity rather like rising a bicycle, in that it outwardly can appear simple to the uninitiated but it is in fact easily got wrong - sometimes with painful consequences - by those who try to dive right in without guidance.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Silverstone with questions to answer on guide dogs

I don't know about you, but I often find it tempting to treat mainstream media reporting with a rather large dosage of caution. Particularly when the subject matter is one that appears close to home. And so it was yesterday when news articles appeared in the self-same mainstream media claiming that a blind F1 fan was not allowed to attend the recent British Grand Prix with their guide dog (see here, here and here). 'Surely it can't be so?' I thought. Surely the fourth estate must have misinterpreted something or other? Well it seems upon some digging that they might have something here. That the Silverstone circuit quite possibly has acted illegally and at the very least has got questions to answer.

Sadly, not everyone who wanted to got to
attend the British Grand Prix
Photo: Octane Photography
The coverage while not especially expansive on Silverstone's side of the story did mention that a guide dog at the event would be a "health and safety" risk as the fan was told "someone could fall over her golden retriever".

The first stop in seeking to work out whether this is indeed the case was provided by the reports also citing a Silverstone spokesperson saying "their rules about animals at the British Grand Prix are set by the Motor Sports Association". And from looking at the 2015 MSA yearbook here it is indeed so that on p89 under its 'Common Regulations for Circuits and Venues' we have 2.1.2. stating: "In the interests of safety, animals should not be admitted to Race, Speed or Kart venues, but if present they must be secured inside a vehicle or building whenever practice or competition is taking place."

Saturday 11 July 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: Living an F1 less regulated: If we want fewer penalties we too need to change

We want fewer penalties in F1, right? That's one of the most consistent messages from the various debates about the sport's future path. That the sport is too regulated; the powers-that-be too nanny-ish.

Photo: Octane Photography
But the reaction of some to Mercedes's infamous 'dummy' pit stop in Britain suggested something else. That there are a few out there, contrary to what we seem to what at the aggregate level, who don't require much encouragement to start shrieking for penalties. And they seem to have got their way with Charlie Whiting since promising sanctions for those who try similar dummies from now on.

In my latest article for Grand Prix Times I outline the contradiction of this, and that if we want the stewards to butt out then the rest of us - fans, teams and drivers - need to change too.

You can have a read here:

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Latest episode of A Racer's Experience - the British Grand Prix

Here is the latest A Racer's Experience episode in which Matt Nicholas and I discuss last Sunday's British Grand Prix at Silverstone. In addition to the long overdue entertaining race we discuss the rumours that Aston Martin is to enter the sport with Red Bull, the future of Lotus as well as the absence of the German round this season and look ahead to the Hungarian Grand Prix.

You can have a watch below, our slot begins at about 8:25.

The episode also features Adam Alexander talking about the NASCAR Xfinity and Sprint Cup weekend in Daytona.

The Truth About Overtaking, by Kunal Shah

The excitement quotient of a Formula 1 race is directly proportional to the number of overtaking moves in that race. This seems to be the logic the powers in the sport used while agreeing to install and then finally installing a DRS in every car. I beg to differ. (Read: What's Wrong With Formula One)

Photo: Octane Photography
If DRS is a joke, that there was an 'Overtaking Working Group' a few years ago is the bigger joke. For those needing a refresher, the OWG was formed to help come up with solutions to increase 'overtaking' in the sport. And of course, the DRS is their addition to the sport. (Also known as the 'adjustable rear wing' in its earlier days)

I decided to pen this post for multiple reasons. First, to set the record straight and express what I believe is the truth about overtaking. Second, because I had one of the Facebook pages on Formula 1 throw up a post that claimed that the Hakkinen-Zonta-Schumacher moment at Spa was possibly the greatest overtaking moves in modern times - a moment of inspiration. Third, the executive summary of the GPDA fan survey - finally some data!

The best way to explain my view on overtaking is by comparing it with foreplay and climax. I am happy to see cars battle with each other for laps on end without an overtake actually taking place because once the act is over, the excitement drops. Of course, the act is more fun if your favourite driver comes out on top (pun not intended), but that's beside the point. The DRS fast forwards to the climax even before the act starts. And no, I didn't get inspired by Bernie’s 'F1 is like sex' quote! (Read: Ban The Grid Girls)

British Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Order Out of Chaos

Photo: Octane Photography
The latest of my regular Motor Verso Grand Prix reviews is here and it's for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone of last weekend, that while it had a usual-looking outcome had also considerable adventures in getting there. Perhaps F1 isn't so awful after all.

You can read of my review here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Monday 6 July 2015

British GP Report: Lewis channels his inner Nige

You know the one about not judging a book by its cover. A top three of Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg-Sebastian Vettel from the British Grand Prix just passed does not in itself do much to quicken the heartbeat. Rather it seems a result standard, almost monotonous, for the 2015 season to the point of being recitable with ones eyes closed.

Lewis Hamilton emerged as the home victor
Photo: Octane Photography
Believe me though this was no standard tepid fare for this campaign; there were a good few adventures in getting that top order. In the nick of time and in front of a huge crowd of 140,000 F1 delivered a fine Sunday's entertainment. Perhaps it's a demonstration of what a few people have been arguing that current sport doesn't have cancer, more a headache. And today it only required an unusual start and later good old fashioned British summer weather to stir things up sufficiently.

Many of the locals will be happy with the victor too, home representative Lewis. As previously noted there are a few parallels between him and the quintessential British fan favourite of yore in Nigel Mansell. To cite a few overarching examples they share stunning pace and aggression, a tendency to wear their heart on their sleeve as well as an uncanny ability for drama and intrigue somehow to follow them.

Rather like with Our Nige too Lewis appears to have a knack of things going his way somehow at this Silverstone venue. That whatever else happens to him here he descends straight to victory like a heat seeking missile. Anything the race threw at him this time, and it was a lot, Lewis one way or another emerged from the other side looking yet more in command. And in another parallel the win meant Lewis matched Mansell's three F1 triumphs at this circuit.

Saturday 4 July 2015

Silverstone Qualifying: Lewis pauses Nico's progression

It all looked like it fitted so neatly.  The progression was perfect. Nico Rosberg winning three out of the previous four rounds. Nico Rosberg finally in Austria last time out beating his team mate in a straight fight. Nico Rosberg talking of developing his game; finding a missing piece. Nico Rosberg making a fight of the world championship.

Despite everything in advance, it was once again Lewis
 Hamilton on top in qualifying
Photo: Octane Photography
And Nico Rosberg being on top at Silverstone for this British Grand Prix weekend. And this rare loot to be claimed from his stable mate and chief protagonist Lewis Hamilton's very home patch of all places.

It looked that way for the most part. In both Friday practice sessions Nico was well on top of Lewis and of everyone else, the impediment of the German missing much of the first one with mechanical problems swiped away dismissively.

All the while he didn't even sound terribly pleased with how his car was handling, while Lewis had admitted that he was "in trouble" if he did not find "a lot" more pace. The Englishman was ahead in Saturday morning practice times but Nico had missed a lot of it with a gearbox oil leak. By qualifying the previous order indeed appeared to have been restored.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Ferrari Should Replace Kimi Raikkonen in 2016 by Kunal Shah, plus the latest Inside Line F1 podcast

I am annoyed with Kimi Raikkonen.

After his much hyped reunion with Ferrari in 2014, a single podium finish is all that he has managed to date. He was comprehensively beaten by Fernando Alonso last season, and is facing drubbing in the 2015 Formula 1 season by his friend and team-mate Sebastian Vettel. (Read: Mercedes Should Reconsider Nico Rosberg For 2016)

Kimi Raikkonen has struggled to match his world champion
team mates
Photo: Octane Photography
I am annoyed because Raikkonen has robbed us of a classic fight between two World Champion team-mates - a rare possibility in modern day Formula 1, especially given how the 'number 1' driver of the team almost usually has a say in the selection of the 'number 2'. Maybe Alonso knew a thing or two about Raikkonen's fading talent before 'allowing' Ferrari to sign him in 2014? Before you take a dig at me, I know that Raikkonen was brought on board to challenge Alonso and the Spaniard didn't have a say (for a change) in selecting his team-mate. (Read: Thank You McLaren)

Is it the modern formula of Formula 1 that Raikkonen is yet to come to terms with? I wouldn't know. But I do know that almost every other driver (if not every) has managed to adapt. Is the older Raikkonen unlike his younger self who managed to adapt to Formula 1 (and a far challenging formula in 2001) after just 23 single-seater races in a Renault series? Your guess is as good as mine. But the consensus is and Raikkonen knows that he is running out of time to renew his contract for 2016. (Read: Vettel The Champion, Raikkonen The Entertainer)