Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Ecclestone Steps Down

So it seems that the Ecclestone surname isn't necessarily a ticket to outstanding business acumen say Mithila and Kunal in the last episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast. And by last, we mean the last of 2015. Happy New Year!

They wonder if the Lauda-Hamilton bromance was timed with Lewis-Nicole's split and if Toto is Formula 1's 'crying wolf'! Is Raikkonen capable of aiding Vettel's title challenge? Could Kevin Magnussen have helped save Jenson Button-Jessica Michibata's marriage?

They talk about Renault's smart $1.50 purchase of Lotus but believe the French manufacturer is displaying lack of smartness when it comes to their driver line-up. And lastly, on the second anniversary of his life-threatening accident, they pray for Michael Schumacher's speedy recovery. Tune in! (Season 2015; Episode 42)

Monday, 28 December 2015

Sebastian Vettel Is My 2016 Favourite, by Kyle Goodwin

There's always a temptation as soon as the Formula 1 season ends to go ahead and look to the next year to determine who the favourites will be.

Photo: Octane Photography
As recently noted in this site's top ten drivers of 2015, there's simply no arguing with Lewis Hamilton as the best driver of the year. His ten victories over the course of '15 made for a dominant run as he won his second consecutive Drivers' Championship title (and third overall). The British superstar has Mercedes on top of the F1 world, and in some respects looks about as dominant as Sebastian Vettel did just a few years ago driving for Red Bull.

But as was also discussed in the list, Hamilton actually fell off a little bit towards the end of the campaign. Admittedly, he already had his title sewn up heading into the final three races (which is a testament in itself to his superiority). However, in those last three races, Hamilton allowed team mate Nico Rosberg to gain serious ground on him. Rosberg looked to be the superior driver in those last few competitions, and while we all know that's not the case, the action on the tracks made for some creeping doubts about Hamilton's status heading into 2016. Throw in the fact that Hamilton has raised a few issues about his car, and those doubts only intensify.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: F1 at Christmas and the New Year? It happened...

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Now that you're in the week between Christmas and New Year, perhaps having some downtime, stop for a moment to imagine that the final F1 race of the season was due to happen. And if that isn't enough of a mental shift then imagine also it is a title as well as that and it has been months since the penultimate round that set all of this up.

Well, this has happened. Once again F1's rich history has come up trumps with something that to the modern perspective seems unthinkable.

And in my latest article for Grand Prix Times I look back at these F1 races in the Christmas-New Year week, as well as to the more numerous occasions of when the F1 season started in double-quick time in January for the first race, and why all of this outwardly odd scheduling happened.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Prost-Pastor Bromance

Alain Prost is rumoured to play a Niki Lauda-type role for Renault when they return as a manufacturer team to Formula 1 in 2016. Would this mean that a Prost-Pastor bromance is in the offing a la Lauda-Hamilton?

In a week when Hamilton revealed that he was dyslexic, Mithila and Kunal try and figure why he labelled his fellow drivers as 'squares', possibly the most non-aerodynamic of all shapes.

Apart from discussing the Sainz-Verstappen pairing, the duo also reveal why Kimi Raikkonen found Ferrari to be a 'happier' place in 2015. And lastly, can't Mercedes and Ferrari manufacture their power trains in China or India to make them more affordable? Tune in! (Season 2015; Episode 41)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas from Talking about F1

If your Christmas traditions are anything like mine then it'll include somewhere near its core Santa delivering you the Autocourse annual - motorsport's most authoritative record of the year just passed (you can buy it via the link below if Santa has let you down).

Me. In a Santa hat. As you will have deciphered.
So in this spirit and to keep you all ticking over during the Christmas period I've decided - humbly of course - to gather some articles of my own from the year, kind of like my own Autocourse, expect with more me. Obviously. And it won't set you back whatever is the Autocourse cover price these days. Here they are:

My final thoughts on the 2015 year

Tribute to the 2015 World Champion Lewis Hamilton

My Top Ten Drivers of 2015

My thoughts on every other 2015 F1 driver who didn't make my top ten

All of my race reports from the 2015 season can be found here

And here are my qualifying reports

And a few features too:

Has Sebastian Vettel finally converted his doubters?

Why was Red Bull so stupid in its engine saga?

Why life got tougher for Nico Rosberg in 2015

There, more than enough to keep you out of mischief during any down time that may be coming your way. And of course may I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and very Happy New Year. Be good to each other xx

And here's a Christmas tune for you...

                  

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Final thoughts on 2015: Car wars

Perhaps it says something about ripple effects. That it can take a time for reverberations to make themselves felt. But there was an irony around in the 2015 F1 season.

Rewind 12 months previously to the start of the 2014 campaign, F1 was about to undertake its biggest leap in technical regulations ever particularly in its move to a hybrid-type 'efficiency' engine formula and there was no shortage of those fearing the worst. Lots of it wasn't realised then, indeed some of the fears were silly, but some of it was prescient. It just rather oddly took a year to reveal itself.

Debilitating costs; dominance of a small number of manufacturers; soporific fare.

For more reason than one, the year in F1 was all
about Mercedes and Ferrari
Photo: Octane Photography
We got all of those this time. In more ways that one F1 in 2015 became absolutely about Mercedes and Ferrari. Only they offer competitive engines - and indeed come next year it looks like as many as 16 of the 22 cars will be so powered - therefore they have huge say in the sport's effective competitive order. It manifested itself precisely too - 'Mercedes - gap - Ferrari - gap - the rest' was a common sight on Saturdays and Sundays this season just finished, the two works teams won every race and the rest didn't really get within shouting distant of the podium's top step. The pair also have huge say, it is said, over its customers politically in terms of their votes on the sport's regulations and the like. Red Bull, even the powerful entity that is Red Bull, showed this year what happens if you get on the wrong side of them. It wasn't pretty.

Therefore in F1 2015 not even the usual last resort in the face of predictable results of pointing to meritocracy had the same effect as normal.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Motor-mouth Hamilton

After a three week break, the Inside Line F1 Podcast is back with their 40th episode of the 2015 F1 season! This season has been about Lewis Hamilton - his wins, losses, social media antics, music and the stuff he's said. Mithila and Kunal go about listing all that the three time World Champion has said in the last few weeks and all that the others have said about him.

Is Lewis Hamilton the new bad boy of Formula 1? Are his controversies attracting more attention towards and otherwise boring season (or sport)? And of course, can Mercedes survive without either or both of their drivers?

They discuss the supposed 'Spy Gate' and why the engineer who attempted it isn't too smart after all. And is Tag Heuer smart in moving their bucks from McLaren to Red Bull Racing for 2016? Our hosts explain how #DontCrackUnderPressure couldn't go hand in hand with #BelieveInMclarenHonda!

There's also a discussion on Renault and their umpteenth return to Formula 1 as a car manufacturer and how Toro Rosso could well be the team to be in rather than Red Bull Racing. Tune in! (Season 2015, Episode 40)

The Inside Line F1 Podcast is hosted by Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah. This Formula One podcast offers a unique humourous view on the sport. Follow us on Facebook: bit.ly/insidelineonfacebook and on Google+: bit.ly/insidelineongoogleplus

Follow on Twitter: Mithila Mehta (www.twitter.com/mith_m) and Kunal Shah (twitter.com/kunalashah)

Monday, 14 December 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: Why was Red Bull so stupid in its engine saga?

So after all that, Red Bull is remaining; it has an engine for 2016. And in a way that could not have more aptly encapsulated the futility of its prolonged crash, bang, wallop, it has ended up almost exactly where it started before it all kicked off.

Photo: Octane Photography
But it does leave the question 'why?' Why exactly those senior Red Bull figures, presumably very clever and certainly very successful people, persistently played their collective hand so badly? Whatever the rights and wrongs of what the team was trying to do (and we can debate those) it somehow created a situation where it every stage seemed to have no alternative options, beyond the nuclear one of leaving the sport altogether. No wonder it kept on getting rebuffed.

In my latest article for Grand Prix Times I attempt to answer this question, including wondering if, rather than Red Bull in this engine saga losing what it was that made it such an effective and successful organisation, in some sense it became too much of it.

You can have a read here: http://www.grandprixtimes.com/news/display/11001

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

My Top Ten Drivers of 2015: The Rest...

Photo: Octane Photography
Here are my views on those F1 drivers from 2015 who didn't make my top 10 ranking that I published a few days ago.

My top 10 drivers of 2015 can be read here.

Don't listen to what Mark Webber claimed about there not being the depth of talent in F1 that there used to be. This was possibly the most difficult task of whittling drivers down to ten that I can remember, and a number of them who you suspect would have got in, perhaps comfortably, in previous seasons this time had to miss out. This applied especially to, in no particular order, Romain Grosjean, Jenson Button and Carlos Sainz.

Photo: Octane Photography
Romain Grosjean is rated extremely highly by many and there apparently is Pirelli testing data that indicates he is the fastest guy out there, bar none, and consistently. In support of this we can cast our mind back to late in 2013 when he alone it seemed took the fight to far superior Red Bulls. Sadly for him though ever since the Lotus has almost never allowed him to build on that. This year's machine wasn't a disaster as in 2014, but with the team's desperate financial situation in-year development was near zero and there were other manifestations such as using race gearboxes in practice making grid penalties for broken gearboxes more likely (indeed this is precisely what happened to him in Spa). To make matters yet worse he had to sit out a number of opening practice sessions in order to give reserve Jolyon Palmer time behind the wheel.

But just like in 2014 on the solitary occasion that his car allowed Grosjean pounced on the opportunity, and superbly, by fighting through after a grid penalty to finish third in Spa. Perhaps his performances in the final two rounds of the year were about as good too. Also his intra-team qualifying match-up was the most one-sided there was, being 17-2 in his favour over Pastor Maldonado. What counted against him though was that in races Maldonado often looked the quicker, helped by his abilities in eking out life from the Pirellis. Crashes in Canada and Russia were black marks too. But the biggest problem for Grosjean is the creeping risk he'll become the sport's next Nico Hulkenberg in being ignored unfathomably yet repeatedly by those allocating the plumb drives, and indeed again none of them snapped him up for 2016. He does get a move though to the debutant Haas squad, and at least he'll have a good chance there of getting into Ferrari's eyeline.

Photo: Octane Photography
Nothing about Jenson Button's campaign should have surprised us. We know from his time alongside Lewis Hamilton that he relishes a battle with a top-liner team mate. We know too that in such match-ups he rarely gets humiliated, and is more than capable of winning out on occasion. And all of this is exactly what we got in 2015. Generally team mate Fernando Alonso did the better in races but seldom was Button left far behind while in Monaco, as well as in a few late-season rounds, he was the quicker. And although qualifying is considered his weakness he gave away nearly nothing to stable mate Alonso here too.

There's not much we can reproach him for in 2015, though even the ever-sunny Jenson in the desperate McLaren-Honda situation showed frustration like Alonso on occasion, particularly in comments on the team radio towards the year's end. He also clattered into Maldonado in China as well as seemed overly spooked by understeer in Spain. But his effort never seemed to drop, as indicated by that he ended the season as he started it, fighting off far faster opponents. Having repelled Sergio Perez somehow for 42 laps in Melbourne he held off Valtteri Bottas successfully in Abu Dhabi for a P12 finish he seemed delighted with. Perhaps we're guilty of underestimating Button, making the mistake of assuming that behind an easy demeanour and smooth style there is not special talent and considerable pace. As explained he is one who cedes little even to the very best. Perhaps even Ron Dennis, one not always convinced of him it seems, was converted this year as Button is retained for 2016, and indeed showed the confidence to play hardball over his terms. It was befitting of what he did behind the wheel.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

My Top Ten Drivers of 2015

Here is my personal rating of the top ten F1 drivers of the 2015 season, taking into account their performances as well as the machinery that they had access to. 

A run down of my views on the drivers who didn't make the top ten will follow in the next few days.

1. Lewis Hamilton
Photo: Octane Photography
Even in this most complex of games explanations can be disarmingly simple. Last season in a campaign that Mercedes had to itself Lewis Hamilton was taken to the wire for the title by his Merc team mate Nico Rosberg, in large part because for much of the season Lewis had the lion's share of the misfortune plus was oddly out of nick in qualifying. 2015 was, when it mattered at least, 2014 without those things.

And boy did Lewis take advantage. Ten victories in a season is hard to argue with, so is that anything up to seven of them were in nearly no doubt after just a few corners and indeed were reduced to Clark-like demonstrations. His ability to get tiny, yet massive, time on his team mate almost corner by corner was the difference. While in his less celebrated attributes his brain power and rationing of the finite resources of a modern day F1 machine were hard to fault.

Yes he had the best car and a team mate whose performances varied, but in F1 as in anything there is always much to be said for Getting The Job Done. And Lewis did that, wrapping up his third title with a win and three races ahead of time; you could even make a coherent case that this outcome looked in little doubt from his first few imperious laps in Melbourne's curtain-raiser race.

Lewis self-admittedly undertook "a small tweak" in his qualifying approach and the outcome was devastating with him taking 11 poles in the first 12 rounds. Some of his qualifying laps were stunning; a couple of poles were won against the odds too. It all ensured that his races were much more straightforward than those in the previous campaign. But the man himself noted the difference with last year also owed something to the assurance of having that 2014 championship to his name - not for nothing did Lewis state that his second title won then actually felt a lot like his first, given it was his first subsequent to fleeing the nest from McLaren.

Ironically it was after his title was assured that the most conspicuous doubts crept in. First of all Rosberg was already establishing a run of pole positions on him, then started to finish races ahead of him too. Did Lewis relent, even by degrees, after the championship was won? Or had Nico finally found something that Lewis couldn't match? Lewis spoke of a technical change to the car from Singapore, roughly when matters switched. He remains firm favourite for the 2016 title, but in the late weeks of 2015 that status softened ever so slightly.

2. Sebastian Vettel
Photo: Octane Photography
So last year was a blip then. And more to the point, Sebastian Vettel is all that after all.

Not that really it should have been too much of a surprise. We know about the success from his time at Red Bull, which both in its extent and the age at which it was achieved reads more like fantasy than sane motorsport record. We also with this know the hit parade of his doubters however: it was done with a series of fine cars they say; at a team in which he was cosily ensconced and had priority service guaranteed; that the (very good) blown floors suited him peculiarly. The doubters were emboldened by his 2014 struggle too. But the more discerning observers knew that his run of scarcely-credible stats there wasn't all about those those matters mentioned; that Seb was making a contribution all of his own. His stunning pace and confidence enacted consistently and immediately as if flicking a switch; his extraordinary mental capacity; his holistic and industrious approach. But the persistence of those doubts ensured too that he'd only get his full appreciation upon leaving the Milton Keynes squad. And so it proved. This debut season in red underlined in thick lines what Seb is about .

Indeed we might even have seen him improved even further in 2015. Almost never was the Ferrari a match for the Mercedes but Vettel virtually every time could be counted upon to give as little away as possible and maximise the result. And in the two races the Ferrari was on top, in Malaysia and Singapore, Seb drove the ball into the net with aplomb. Just like he did in Hungary on a day when it seemed he alone had his head screwed on. His fleeing the Red Bull nest seemed to add stacks of maturity overnight, and throughout this year Seb out of the car just like in it was one of the paddock's most assured and authoritative figures. He even managed to slip right in and right away at the Scuderia; his calmness, ready smile and willingness to knuckle down were appreciated quickly there.

His error-strewn races in Bahrain and Mexico were curious aberrations, as was flooring it to pass Roberto Merhi under red flags in a Canadian practice session. But otherwise the graph plotted of his performance barely wavered from a sky-scraping level.

Surely only churls and contrarians will now be maintaining that in Seb we do not have a rounded and close to complete F1 performer. And not for the first time we're left to consider that at his age there likely is to be improvement yet to come.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Another Kind Of Hat-Trick

My final race review of 2015 for Motor Verso, for the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, has now landed.

Photo: Octane Photography
It was another race that was far from thrill-a-minute, but was one that continued the big story of late 2015 and left it unchecked as we headed into the off season, that of Nico Rosberg's imperious form.

And for all that F1 seems in a state of unchanging drift at the moment it may come as a surprise to think that Austin, Nico's cap throwing and all, was only just over a month ago. Things could hardly be more different for him now.

Here's the link to my review: http://www.motorverso.com/abu-dhabi-gp-2015-review-another-kind-hat-trick/

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.

New Grand Prix Times article: History suggests Rosberg's late form won't help in '16

Photo: Octane Photography
In a rather sparse final stretch of the 2015 F1 season, with the championships long since decided, there has at least been one big thing for us to talk about. Nico Rosberg's new-found victorious form. Not only because it intrigues in itself but also that the consensus view is that it'll likely help him when it really starts to matter again when the 2016 season kicks off. He'll benefit from some momentum and all that. Makes sense?

You'd think so, but in my latest article for Grand Prix Times I have a delve into F1 history looking for some parallels of this sort of thing happening before and find, perhaps surprisingly, in that rather maddening way of F1 history there aren't many clear parallels out there of improved form late in one season heralding a championship in the next.

You can have a read of my trawl down memory lane via this link: http://www.grandprixtimes.com/news/display/10958