Monday 31 August 2015

Monza Preview: F1's soul survivor

The modern F1 calendar, to put it euphemistically, divides opinion. But in this two-week period after the summer break these days you will hardly find a murmur of objection. The stops-offs for that brief spell suddenly become recognisable and wonderful; embody a lot of what F1 is, or should be. We've just been to Spa of course, and this weekend coming we'll be in Monza, the venue for the Italian Grand Prix. Right now a lot feels right in ordinarily-disputatious F1.

Inimitable Monza
Photo: Octane Photography
But even with this we have reason to believe that, in the latest act of the sport's folly, one indeed that likely outstrips all of the folly of before, Monza in F1 may not be long for this earth. In Belgium Bernie Ecclestone said there was a "good chance" that there won't be a new deal after the current one ends after next year's event. It's far from the first threat to the Italian Grand Prix here but this one is looking difficult to overcome. As ever the lack of financial wedge for Bernie and his friends at CVC Capital Partners is depressingly the problem. Heritage, schmeritage.

So what is it about Monza? Why does just about anyone whose heart has beaten a little faster for a racing car anticipate this venue's round like no other? On one level its a tricky one to explain as there are a few things not to like about it. The venue lacks the gleaming modernity of the newer ones. The place has never entirely shaken its vague feeling of chaos. Unlike Spa's its layout isn't all that much of a driving challenge these days either. It can't even really be counted upon to produce a wonderful race. But still it puts in mind the adage that if you have to ask then you'll never know...

New Grand Prix Times article: Romain's road, its resurgences and reminders

Photo: Octane Photography
There were many stories emergent from the Belgian Grand Prix, and one that should have got a lot of our attention but had some focus taken away from it by debates over Pirelli and other matter was the fabulous, yet bitter-sweet, tale of Romain Grosjean's run to third place in the Lotus.

It probably was the most unlikely podium appearance of 2015, and for Grand Prix Times I explain why Grosjean's great drive should not have been a surprise to us, as well as the reasons more generally why I'm glad that we have Grosejan in F1. His clear speed and skill is just the start of it. He stands for something bigger...

You can have a read of it all via this link:

Thursday 27 August 2015

Belgian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Lewis and Mercedes Re-establish Order

Photo: Octane Photography
Here is the latest of my regular Motor Verso race reviews, this time for the Belgian Grand Prix of last weekend.

It was a race that, unusually for Spa, was tepid in the entertainment stakes. But nevertheless the weekend's proceedings from on and off the track gave us plenty to talk about...

You can have a read of my thoughts on it all 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.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Test your reaction times for a chance to win a £150 Goldsmiths voucher

You'll no doubt have seen those reflex test machines used by F1 drivers and other elite sports-people, to hone their lightening reaction times. Inspired by these Goldsmiths has launched the new Tag Heuer Digital Testing Machine: a fun (and slightly addictive) game that measures how the reactions of the rest of us compare. In less than 30 seconds, it'll determine if you have the awesome reflexes of a F1 racer, or if you're really more of an amateur Go-Kart driver...

I had a go and only got a score of 19 which I'm sure you can easily beat.

And even better I have a £150 Goldsmiths voucher to give away to one Talking about F1 reader that takes part in the game.

To enter, all you have to do is log into Rafflecopter using your email address or Facebook account in the square below. Once you've logged in, you can gain additional entries too by:
The competition closes on 18th September 2015 at 23:59. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Inside Line F1 Podcast - The Case Of The Pirelli Right Rear Tyre

Pirelli's 'right rear' tyre shared the limelight with Lewis Hamilton at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix say Mithila and Kunal in the latest episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast. They talk about Grosjean's Belgian homecoming, Raikkonen's new lease of life, Williams' desire to not win and the yet to conclude Ferrari-Pirelli saga. Tune in and laugh along! (Season 2015, Episode 28)

Topics we discussed:
  • The eerie coincidence of the Pirelli right rear tyre
  • How Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg robbed us of an episode title
  • Honda finally matched Ferrari as Renault matched Mercedes – we had parity for the first time!
  • We reveal how Williams will test their new tyre mechanics BEFORE hiring
  • And how they tested FOM too
  • Congratulations to Romain Grosjean and Lotus; we hope their cars reach Monza
  • 'Driver of the Day' in Spa (Pastor Maldonado it to the list too!)
  • Our view on the Ferrari-Pirelli tyre saga
  • And finally, thoughts on Justin Wilson (note that this was recorded on Monday)
The Inside Line F1 Podcast is hosted by Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah. This Formula 1 podcast offers a unique humorous view on the sport. Follow us on Facebook and on Google+.

Follow us on Twitter: Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah

Image courtesy (

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 25 August 2015

Why, this time, I struggled to sympathise with Pirelli

So it hadn't gone away. It merely had lingered, waiting for something to set it off again. And that something arrived in the course of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. Despite a few notable matters therein - among others Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes reasserting themselves; the fabulous yet bitter-sweet tale of Romain Grosjean and Lotus - there appears one talking point dominating all others. Yes, in a throwback right to 2013 Pirelli is in the doghouse once again.

Pirelli was under scrutiny once again
Photo: Octane Photography
As you'll be aware by now Nico Rosberg had a rear tyre burst at high speed in Friday practice which only by sheer fortune didn't result in his Mercedes hitting something solid. Then of course with two laps left in the race Sebastian Vettel's beautifully-driven one-stop strategy that looked near-certain to be awarded with an unlikely third place was ended by a spectacular tyre failure of his own on the Kemmel straight.

Pirelli of course has had its fair share of adventure in its time as F1's sole tyre supplier since 2011. Some misadventure. And regular readers of mine will know that I've been a fairly consistent defender of the Italian company and for a number of reasons. That it often seemed a soft target. That the sport and its competitors hadn't always done it many favours, such as in agreeing on tyre testing. That some of its criticism received has reflected sheer politicking from teams minded mainly of their level of competitiveness (see Red Bull in early 2013, despite subsequent attempts by the team to rewrite history as to its motives).

Sometimes the demands made of the company have been downright unreasonable - quintessentially I recall some FIA statement or other in that 2013 campaign demanding of Pirelli "assurance that there will be no repetition of the tyre problems" that were so notorious in that year's British Grand Prix at Silverstone wherein there were several blow outs. As Peter Windsor noted that gave Pirelli the unique status, and not just unique in F1, of never being allowed to make another mistake. There also is that whatever you may think of what might be termed the 'Pirelli formula' with its deliberate degradation built in, it only reflected the Italian company taking orders from above.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Belgian GP Report: Normality restored, abnormally

Spa must be losing its edge. We didn't get the usual thrills, tension and incident from today's Belgian Grand Prix. Well not over the first two places anyway. Heck we didn't even at any point of the weekend get the place's habitual rain...

Lewis Hamilton took a largely untroubled win
Photo: Octane Photography
But what we did get at this grandest of challenges in modern F1 was an imperious win, and a highly timely one for driver and team. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bounced all the way back to the top from its wayward Hungary and all that, and in the finest style. No one got near the Mercs today. And from the moment Lewis held off the then-nearest pursuer (the indecently-fast Sergio Perez) into Les Combes on the first time around the end result did not look in doubt.

So in other words normality was restored here, but in the most abnormal place for such a thing.

Lewis was aided too by that his team mate Nico Rosberg was one of the main losers off the line - he later said that his launch "sucked" - in this first start in which the new restrictions of pit wall assistance would apply. The upshot was that he was P5 on lap one.

Friday 21 August 2015

No Spa qualifying report from me...

"A beautiful photo on a beautiful wedding"
by - Own work. Licensed under CC
BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Hello all. Just thought I'd let you know in case you were looking that I won't be able to do a qualifying report for the Belgian Grand Prix this time, as I've been invited to a wedding (not my own, I hasten to add) which means I won't be able to watch the session. I will be back in place for Spa's race when normal service will resume!


Thursday 20 August 2015

The Arrows A2, and why it's in my F1 Dream Team

For how long did we all bemoan that F1 - as in the sport centrally - simply didn't get the new media? Or 'didn't get' it as in it almost totally ignored it? But in recent months it seems that F1, even F1, has learned, with it partaking in much greater activity on Twitter and the like.

And that isn't a dream. Although, in a certain particular recent sense, it is. With considerable novelty the F1 official Twitter account asked a few of the sport's luminaries, along with the rest of us, to name their own 'F1 Dream Team'. That is their dream car, team principal and driver pairing combination from the sport's history. And no, I couldn't resist it either. Dutifully I rattled the team of my dreams off. And whatever else you might think of it surely it gets something for originality.

The striking Arrows A2
"Arrows A2 1" by MPW57 - Own work. Licensed under CC
BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.
For me the starting point, the car for my dream team, was the Arrows A2. Now if you have a blank expression at this I can offer you the reassurance that you probably wouldn't be the only one. It's not a car that can be described as a classic by any of the standard measures. Not on the grounds of results - it only scored two points ever from two rather distant sixth place finishes. Nor on the grounds of longevity - it only was around for half a season, and in almost all of that period was merely serving time in a sort of F1 purgatory as the team, who'd long since lost faith, worked on its replacement. But is a car that has always fascinated me.

Mainly on the grounds of its striking looks. I think it first got my attention when watching the footage of that famous last-race scrap between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux in the 1979 French GP at Dijon. Of course it takes rather a lot to crowbar your attention away from that frenzied battle but on the final lap two cars can be seen up the track from them. As all head downhill to Dijon's first turn our viewpoint is of them at their full width, looking scarcely like any F1 machine as we know it. Indeed they may bring to mind instead some kind of unknown sea creature descending upon us. Really, even in an era known for its distinctive designs the Arrows A2 cannot be mistaken for anything else seen at the time, prior or since.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Is MotoGP Really Better Than F1?

Is MotoGP really better than F1? Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah wonder and try to decode why Niki Lauda thinks so. They also look forward to this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix and understand how and why are drivers lining up to race for the Haas F1 Team in 2016. Lastly, will F1 lose Fernando Alonso to another series? Tune in! (Season 2015; Episode 26)

Topics to look forward to:
  • Why is the Strategy Group meeting on a Tuesday? Ever wondered? We tell you why!
  • Will F1 lose Alonso to another racing series?
  • Ferrari vs. Mercedes – will that be the future of F1 w.r.t engines?
  • Despite our wishes, we tell you why Kimi Raikkonen might stay in Ferrari in 2016
  • We tell Wolff why Bottas should leave Williams!
  • Red Bull Racing – Mercedes seems like a possibility sooner or later. Will they get equal engines though?
  • If not, why would Mercedes not treat them equally?
  • Pirelli’s F1 budget is close to that of a midfield team. Why do they not run a team then?
  • FIA finally does some policing – thank you for saving two teams from the ruins!
  • We try and name the 10 drivers that are reportedly talking to Haas F1 Team for 2016
  • Yes, finally we tell you why MotoGP is better than F1!
  • On to Spa, we make our predictions. This is despite the new start procedures put in place to make the sport unpredictable

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 18 August 2015

Spa Preview: Predictably unpredictable

Some things never stand alone; their mere mention brings immediate associations. A few things bring plentiful associations indeed. And so it is with the Spa-Francorchamps circuit that F1 returns to this weekend for the Belgian Grand Prix. With it much comes to mind instantly almost as with Pavlov's Dog. Just about all of it positive.

There's nowhere else quite like fast and challenging Spa
Photo: Octane Photography
The picture postcard scenery of the Ardennes forest is one. The high average speed of the circuit's layout with many undulations and fearsome turns is another. Even with the sport's onward march ensuring that some of its previous towering tasks like Blanchimont are not quite what they once were, the track remains a considerable driver challenge. Indeed Daniil Kvyat spoke recently that the modern spec of F1 cars has indeed returned the famous Eau Rogue to being "a bit of a balls out corner". I guess you can call that irony.

And driving around Spa one gets the tangible sense that you are going somewhere. Not many F1 tracks do that these days. Spa remains a totem of what is possible even within the sport's ever-narrowing track design constraint, and sadly that is rarely lived even halfway up to elsewhere.

The heritage of motor racing in the area literally is as old as circuit racing itself, and pre-dates even the purpose-built autodrome. No wonder Spa feels organic; grown rather than imposed. No wonder either that visits here lend a familiar and well-worn feeling. And again increasingly few other tracks on the modern calendar do that.

New Vital F1 article: Why Honda might still get it right

Photo: Octane Photography
At the outset of this 2015 F1 season we had something new and exciting with us. That being the rekindling of possibly the sport's most famous and decorated team and engine supplier partnership from history, that of McLaren and Honda.

And yet half a season on it all on current standing can only be filed under 'major disappointment', with the down-on-power and unreliable Honda power unit the main culprit for this.

Many have given their view on what they think Honda is getting wrong, but using history as a guide - specifically the 1980s and early 1990s when Honda ruled the roost - I explain that while it's taking time to come right it's too early to write Honda off just yet. And that what everyone is assuming is the wrong way may in time turn out to be the right one. No really, stay with me...

You can have a read of it all via this link:

Monday 17 August 2015

Max Verstappen – From A Nobody To The Next Big Thing? by Kunal Shah

Apart from a low speed crash in a demonstration run in Rotterdam, Max Verstappen hasn't put a foot wrong since his announcement as a Toro Rosso driver in 2014 and debut as the sport's youngest driver. He's raced, entertained and handled the media without much or no pressure – the psychological benefit of being the only 17 year old in the sport, I guess. (Read: What's In A Name?)

Max Verstappen - a steady mix of talent and personality
Photo: Octane Photography
A steady mix of talent and personality have the young Dutch racer positioned well to be discussed as possible driver replacements for senior teams such as Red Bull Racing (should Daniel Ricciardo leave) or even Ferrari (in place of Kimi Raikkonen) overlooking seasoned and much in the waiting drivers such as Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg. For the teenager, the last year has been dramatic to say the least. (Read: Ferrari Should Replace Kimi Raikkonen In 2016)

But this drama wouldn't have been so had he selected the Mercedes offer over the one made by the Red Bull Young Driver Program. As admitted by Mercedes, he would've been racing in GP2 this season while waiting in the wings until Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg chose to leave and create vacancy. At this point, one has to don their hats off to Red Bull Racing for giving the youngster a chance of a lifetime and an irresistible offer to race in Formula One when almost everyone was convinced that it was a step too premature in Verstappen's motorsport career! (Read: Thank You Red Bull Racing)

Friday 14 August 2015

New Motor Verso article: F1’s Age Old Matters

"NigelMansell" by Stuart Seeger -
202558636/. Licensed under CC BY
2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://
It's a fact not often picked up on, that in the course of his F1 career Nigel Mansell's date of birth changed. Gilles Villeneuve's age also was a moving target it seemed. And why? Well you can probably have a reasonable guess.

For Motor Verso in my latest article published there I return to one of my hobby horses, that of our attitude to the age of F1 drivers.

You can have a read of it via this link:

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.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Summertime Madness

Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah get together this week on the Inside Line F1 Podcast to discuss the summertime madness that the F1 teams, drivers and fans are going through during the forced summer break. Tune in! (Season 2015; Episode 26)

Topics discussed:
- Haas F1 Team and their driver options. Why would anyone want to drive for them though?
- Haas hasn't approached Maldonado yet? We wonder and list the benefits of having Pastor in your team.
- We take the blame for Pastor's 'Crash-tor' image.
- Why F1 needs a GP in Finland.
- Pirelli's super super-soft tyre for street circuits AND why testing in Singapore doesn't make sense
- Red Bull Racing and their power unit options – almost everyone wants to offer them an engine
- Renault's confusion about remaining Red Bull Racing-Renault, Renault-Renault or no Renault is puzzling. But not to Sauber.
- Lastly, we try and rate which driver is have the 'best summer break' possible! No prizes for guessing the ONE driver who is unbeatable on track and off it.

Friday 7 August 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: The top 10 drivers of the 2015 season so far...

Photo: Octane Photography
We know that top tens are very much en vogue these days and now that we're in the midst of F1's summer break as well as at roughly the halfway point of the 2015 season in my latest effort for Grand Prix Times I've compiled my own top ten drivers' ranking for the season so far.

In addition to the ranking I've written something on how in my view each of the ten selected drivers have done this year and outlined my reasoning for placing them where I did.

You can have a read of it all via this link:

Feel free to let me know why I'm wrong or even shock horror if you agree with any of it...

Sunday 2 August 2015

Did Hungary show that Mercedes was wrong to snub Alonso?

In his summing up of the recent Hungarian Grand Prix the BBC's Andrew Benson wrote: "A friend who works in F1 remarked recently how lucky Hamilton was to have as his team-mate in the dominant team Rosberg - rather than Fernando Alonso.

Did Hungary show the down side
of Mercedes snubbing Alonso?
Photo: Octane Photography
"After a weekend like this, when Rosberg's limitations were exposed while Alonso, in the midst of McLaren-Honda's dire season, finally had a chance to show his class and hauled his car to an excellent fifth place, you can see what he meant."

Quite. Indeed neither Merc pilot had a good day in Hungary. Both compromised their races with contact with other cars, while in Lewis Hamilton's case you can add that he had a trip through the gravel on lap one and in Nico Rosberg's odd conservatism on his tyre choices. And if we are to pick up Benson's friend's counterfactual and run with it, whatever you think of Alonso it's hard to imagine he'd have replicated Lewis's impetuousness on lap one apparently seeking to get back places lost at the start pronto. It seems unlikely also that even with Hamilton chasing him down mid-race he'd have forgotten as Nico appeared to that he still had two Ferraris to beat up ahead, and that he was on a converse strategy and the race would therefore come back to him. He may have made the team's choice for him in putting him onto softs for the final sprint. He's done that sort of thing before after all.

New Grand Prix Times article: Revealing the risks and rewards of F1 - Jules Bianchi's sad passing has put new perspectives on old debates

Photo: Octane Photography
All in F1 of course in the last fortnight have had to come to terms with the sad confirmation that Jules Bianchi indeed succumbed to his injuries sustained in an accident in last year's Japanese Grand Prix.

And such a happening cannot fail to change how we think of things, and put new perspectives on existing debates in the sport. Among these the debates around the risks that are an inevitable part of F1, and how they are dealt with, are about the most prominent.

In my latest article for Grand Prix Times I outline the considerations and contradictions of he sport's risk and reward debate, and why the sport has landed on the solutions that it has. You can read it here: