Monday 27 June 2016

Red Bull Ring Preview - Last day of the season

F1, probably without meaning to, has developed a season. That is, a season within a season. A bit like tennis has a grass court season (though the phrase always amuses me given it seems to consist solely of Wimbledon and some warm-up tournaments for Wimbledon), F1 now is in the midst of a mini-run of tracks all rather cut from the same cloth.

The Red Bull Ring is the latest in a
run of 'point and squirt' challenges
Photo: Octane Photography
We had Montreal, then the new-fangled Baku circuit, and the run is completed this weekend with the Red Bull Ring in Austria. These are each made up mainly of straights, some long, separately almost exclusively by slow turns. Straightline speed, braking stability and traction are the chief discriminators. It's not a phrase I've heard in a while, but the parlance once called such challenges 'point and squirt'. So therefore it seems we are now reaching the last part of F1's point and squirt season. Doesn't really have a ring to it, admittedly.

Also showing how things can change, the image of the Red Bull Ring has over time shifted about as frequently as its name. Which is a lot. Of course, many of those of a certain age (which sadly I just sneak into) struggled for a time to forgive the place. Not so much for what it was, but rather - as was the case with the 'new' Nurburgring also - for what it replaced. In Austria's case it was the magnificent, undulating and fearsome Österreichring that graced the F1 calendar between 1970 and 1987, that was trampled underfoot by the new creation. While the beautiful Styrian scenery remained of course the A1-Ring - as it was re-named when the sport returned in 1997 - in contrast was achingly up-to-date, sanitised and standard. If only they'd built the new track somewhere else, we thought, perhaps up the hillside as ironically enough they did when the Österreichring itself was created in the stead of the even older Zeltweg venue.

Friday 24 June 2016

New Grand Prix Times article: The fall and rise (and further rise) of the F1 pit stop

The European Grand Prix in Baku was epoch-making. No really, it was. Well, sort of. As in the race Williams equalled the F1's best ever tyre change time, with a sub-two second time.

Photo: Octane Photography
The mark it matched was Red Bull's from 2013, and it's appropriate too as F1's previous with the pit stop is - rather than a steady rise - perhaps surprisingly something of an oscillating graph. Planned halts have risen, then fallen, then risen and fallen then risen again...

But in recent years the development of the F1 tyre change, progressively shaving time off, has been astonishing. Not everyone likes it, but in many ways perhaps the pit stop is where we see F1 at its purest.

In my latest Grand Prix Times article I muse on all of this and more. You can have a read here:

Thursday 23 June 2016

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Ban The DRS, Not The Radio

The radio ban is unfair, and Lewis Hamilton will agree. How can you expect drivers to race and solve engineering puzzles at 300kmph? For all the stupid rules Formula 1 has, DRS continues to live on. In this week’s episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, ban DRS and not radio, we say! And till then, Lewis will be happy to know that the radio ban does not extend to Snapchat!

Formula 1 went wrong with their map, letting a country that's more in Asia host the European Grand Prix. Guess money can buy anything in this sport! If Baku becomes a night race, we won't get to see the pretty castles - through we are no longer sure if they were just giant print outs of castles? We also deconstruct the entire incorrect engine mode saga (Mercedes, so stupid).

Formula 1's favourite bromance has gone further downhill after Lauda openly criticised Hamilton’s race at Baku. Nico Rosberg is not just copying Hamilton's car setup, but he's also copying helmet manufacturers. Hamilton has managed to get Mercedes to sponsor his acting films, smart guy. But just what does he have to do to get Penelope Cruz's attention?

Sebastian Vettel should be appointed as the Official Joker of Formula One - as Bernie Ecclestone's successor, we mean. Perhaps Heineken will consider a sponsorship with Ferrari because the team seems drunk all the time - they still think they can win the Constructors' Championship! Vettel made Ferrari change their pitstop strategy mid-race, so obviously it's him running the team and not Arrivabene. Could Sergio Perez have won the race if not for his gearbox penalty? Alonso is having a 'luxury retirement' at McLaren, is that why the team has just appointed a lifestyle partner?

Lastly, Red Bull Racing had a forgettable outing in Azerbaijan, but it seems that Daniel Ricciardo chose to forgive and forget while renewing his contract. Or is this a hint that Ferrari will renew the always struggling Kimi Raikkonen?

Tune in!

(Season 2016, Episode 21)

Monday 20 June 2016

European Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Nico's switch of fortunes

In the oddly-monikered European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, Mercedes was miles ahead on pace. But we all thought things would not be nearly that simple in the new circuit's tight inner-city confines. There would we thought likely be several prangs (and resultant safety car periods), while Sebastian Vettel could like in Canada take the lead off the line. But neither of these happened, so Mercedes, or rather one Mercedes, had the place to itself.

Photo: Octane Photography
It was a surprisingly tepid race, but F1, and Lewis Hamilton, found an unlikely source of drama nevertheless. A matter of switches on steering wheels. In terms of things for races to pivot on, for us all to froth over, F1 cannot be said to be predictable. Despite some immediate appearances.

I give my take on it all in my latest Motor Verso race review. You can have a read 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.

Sunday 19 June 2016

European GP Report - Tales of the unexpected

You can never second-guess this game. Despite regular appearances suggesting the contrary. Before qualifying for the inaugural European Grand Prix we were sure that it was going to be a Lewis Hamilton cruise. Not so, it was crazy (and Lewis certainly did not cruise). Before the race we expected it to be crazy, but it was a cruise. And a cruise for Nico Rosberg who led for the whole distance; never seen by the rest after scampering off in short order.

Nico Rosberg won as he liked in Baku
Photo: Octane Photography
Frankly the F1 drivers behaved themselves too much in the tight confines of Baku's streets. The repeated carnage and repeated safety car periods from both GP2 races was not even begun to be repeated, to the point that some wondered if all pilots had made a conscious, and cautious, effort not to repeat the frolics of their junior pretenders (not that, as someone pointed out, being more sensible than them was much of a bar to clear).

The safety car was never seen. No driver binned it (Felipe Nasr nudged a wall and continued at one point but that was your lot). Aside from Esteban Gutierrez love-tapping Nico Hulkenberg at the opening turn (both continued, natch) there were no collisions either. There only were four retirements and all were technical. You could say even that the F1 driver class was too good. Not that this amounted to much consolation on what was a soporific late afternoon.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Baku Qualifying - Failure has many fathers

The Baku City Centre track is one with many cousins. Any new circuit will attract comparisons, especially so these days for a number of reasons, but it's hard to think of a debut venue that ever has attracted as many as this one.

Nico Rosberg prevailed for pole
in a madcap qualifying session
Photo: Octane Photography
Street circuits almost inevitably are judged at least to some extent against the Monaco yardstick, and this one has with its tight and twisty section near the castle a particular Principality redolence. Yet in Baku too there is a flat out part that even dwarfs Monza's in length. Perhaps the combination made it more like Montreal. The wide open downtown streets made up of long straights and tight turns was a lot like Singapore some said; others thought there was a bit of Valencia in there. The smooth asphalt was reminiscent of Sochi's. Some even ventured outside F1 by stating the mix of a full throttle section near the sea plus an intricate and up and down hill section inland was a lot like Macau.

But in today's inaugural European Grand Prix qualifying session in Azerbaijan we can go full circle, back to the first comparison mentioned. The hour to set the grid was pure Monaco. All disruption, a matter almost of survival, not just from the walls but from traffic. As well as from yellow flags, even a red one, that can and did ruin attempts to set a mark. Cars venturing down escape roads has been a routine occurrence all weekend. At times it's looked a little like amateur hour. And many of the escape roads are so tight that cars could only reverse out of them, thus increasing the length of the yellow flag disruption. Laptimes banked counted for more than pace on paper. "There was a lot going on all over the place, and that's down to the track" said Nico Rosberg afterwards aptly. Things were crowded; disjointed; unpredictable. And it was reflected in the final order in large part.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Paddock Conspiring To Crown Lewis Hamilton World Champion Again?

Lewis Hamilton may have won in Canada, but it was the second time this season he was gifted a victory. First by Red Bull Racing and now by Ferrari – it seems like the entire paddock is conspiring to have Lewis Hamilton as World Champion again! Pity Justin Bieber wasn’t around to celebrate with Lewis on the podium.

Max Verstappen or Carlos Sainz Jr. - which future World Champion had a better race in Canada? And Kimi Raikkonen could learn a trick or two from Verstappen's brilliant defence over Nico Rosberg's charges in Canada. What’s common between a Formula 1 race and the Amber Lounge bar menu? We tell you.

Speaking of conspiracies, Daniel Ricciardo had a slow pit-stop again (and we are not surprised). Should he jump ship to Ferrari? Given his recent slump, is it game over for Nico Rosberg this season already? His four consecutive race wins seem too far away.

Formula 1 pitches its tent in Baku this weekend for the European Grand Prix. We tell you what to look out for and the best seats in the stands. We also pray it's an exciting race, because they say it'll be around for ten long years.

Tune in!

(Season 2016, Episode 20)

A New F1 Circuit Coin Collection by Rosland Capital

It is often said regarding F1 that, for good and ill, nothing about it should surprise you. Yet occasionally there is indeed an actual surprise and for good.

The silver and gold F1 coins in their display box
Seasoned followers of the sport may have concluded a while ago that they'd seen every form of F1 memorabilia possible, perhaps ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. But premier precious metals asset firm Rosland Capital has, even so, managed to come up with something not only still sublime but also a lot less run of the mill than usual. In every sense...

Beginning today Rosland Capital is releasing and distributing The Formula One Collection, a new limited edition series of F1 themed coin collections that will commemorate the sport as a whole and particularly some of its best-known circuits.

The coins are in 2.5-oz Gold and Silver and will feature all 21 circuits that make up the 2016 itinerary, in calendar order, around the official F1 logo (the gold coin can be seen below to the right).

The gold coin commemorating all
21 circuits on the 2016 calendar
There also is a one-quarter ounce gold coin that will be available in different packaging options to celebrate four of the most prestigious modern-day Grands Prix specifically: Britain, Italy, the United States and Brazil (the British GP coin is shown below).

The coins are legal tender proofs, indeed the obverse of each coin features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II together with the legal tender value of the coin. They also are minted by one of the world’s finest mints, Swiss-based PAMP. Each coin also will include a certificate number, statement of metal fineness, weight, proof of quality statement, and signature of the PAMP assayer.

If you're able to stump up to purchase one or more of these, or would like more information about them, Rosland Capital has a special page on its website that you can check out: Note these coins are only available from Rosland Capital in the US and UK.

Keep an eye on Rosland Capital's Facebook page too for each F1 collection being officially announced.
The special British Grand Prix coin
The reverse of the silver coin, in its packaging
The British Grand Prix coin in its card
The front of the silver coin, in its box

Canadian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Montreal Momentum For Lewis

The theme of wildlife was everywhere in Montreal, and not just with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel's playful jibing afterwards on the subject of seagulls...

Photo: Octane Photography
Appropriately to the place too there was a lot of Groundhog Day about the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. Not least that for the second race in a row it was a tight and intense battle for the win between two drivers in fine form; that again Lewis was the one to win out, in so doing tearing another shred from his team mate's title lead; and again Lewis was aided by his foe's team getting things wrong. But even over and above these the echoes of the recent past were far from over.

I give my take on it all in my latest Motor Verso race review. You can have a browse 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.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Baku Preview - Old wine in a new bottle

In following F1 you would be forgiven for feeling that you need as much familiarity with geopolitics, foreign policy and the international human rights movement as the sport's esoteric matters. And this in a pursuit that at its core is as simple as which car can complete a distance most quickly.

The new round will take place near Baku's sea-front
By Elkhan Jafarov - My computer, CC BY 3.0,
But it is a sport also that over time has developed a weakness for keeping bad company. And with this it tends to have at any moment at least one round that causes particular discomfort, for reasons that reverberate way beyond the circuit's perimeter. For a while it was Bahrain. Then for a time it was Russia, which with its president appearing in the podium ante-room after the race left little to the imagination. Others such as China have had their associated murmurings.

Now we have Azerbaijan, debuting on the F1 itinerary this weekend. And beware judging a book by its cover. The image presented will be one of an oil-rich capital of Baku, all high-end boutiques, smart eateries and elegant architecture - classical and modern - next to the lapping Caspian Sea. Indeed there have been plenty of efforts already to project that image. But, as was the case in those other host countries mentioned, beneath the veneer things become rather less savoury.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Canadian GP Report - That nagging sense of familiarity

Some metaphors just refuse to quit. We said yesterday that in the Canadian Grand Prix's qualifying session, on an island known for groundhogs it was Groundhog Day. And the day after contained a few more goings-on with an unmistakable nag of familiarity about them. Just like last time out in Monaco a few things went Lewis Hamilton's way in the Montreal race. But just like last time out he put in a consistent and fast, largely flawless, drive to take advantage. Just like last time out he won the day.

For the second race in a row Lewis Hamilton won out
Photo: Octane Photography
The upshot of all of this is that his championship deficit to his team mate and antagonist Nico Rosberg, a towering 43 points just over a fortnight ago, has been slashed to nine. He does have probable engine penalties to come, but his sudden sense of momentum is undeniable. As is the accompanying, and about as sudden, sense that you wouldn't now stake much against him bagging another drivers' championship this campaign.

And the latest part of this swing came about in familiar style too, as also just like in Monaco Nico had a difficult day in traffic, and was consigned to tiddler points only. And it was related again to ceding a place to Lewis, though this time it was not so willing as it had been in the Principality.

The parallels were far from done. In another echo with at least one previous round Sebastian Vettel's launch from the second row today was stunning, his Ferrari vaulting past the front row Mercedes duo in a blink to lead. This left the Merc pair side-by-side going into turn 1, Lewis on the inside. Lewis took a shallow parabola in the turn, and after a slight touch Nico who had been seeking to stick it out on his outside was forced off, a little like at Austin's first turn last season.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Montreal Qualifying - An appropriate place for groundhogs

In a place known for them, today on the Île Notre-Dame for qualifying for the latest Canadian Grand Prix we got Groundhog Day. For what seems the nth time in 2016 we entered a qualifying session clinging to the hope that Mercedes might have something to think about. The recently-resurgent Red Bull and upgraded Ferrari had looked good in Saturday morning practice; a multi-make battle for pole looked like might just be in the offing.

Lewis Hamilton once again - and one way or another -
claimed pole position in Canada
Photo: Octane Photography
But in what is about as regular an occurrence this season Mercedes dashed such hopes. And in that recurring way it did it at the same point it almost always does it - during Q2 the silver pair made their stride clear of the rest. Suddenly they were half a second or more clear; for all others it was a battle for third at the most. You could start to set your watch by it.

And at around this point too the local specialist Lewis Hamilton made his own move. The times tumbled throughout the session but Lewis's 1m 13.076 in Q2 sent a few reverberations around. Still, Nico Rosberg's time was a hair's breadth off it. Then in the first Q3 efforts Lewis shaved another couple of tenths off for a provisional pole mark of 1m 12.812, though again Nico was well within a tenth of it. Some even started to talk of the all-time track record of 1m 12.275, from 2004, being vulnerable.

The record was safe though, in part as things ended on a curious, anti-climactic note. Lewis didn't improve his time on his final run, but on this occasion Goddess Fortune smiled on him. As even by then Nico had abandoned his own final lap, after getting turn 1 very wrong. Lewis then Nico will be tomorrow's front row. Lewis didn't have much luck in the early part of this campaign, but he's getting some of it back more lately.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Which F1 Driver Goes Where In 2017?

The silly season of F1 is upon us. Big question is, which driver will go where? Will Kimi Raikkonen retain his Ferrari seat? Fernando Alonso won't reunite with Ferrari, he's clear about his relationship goals with them. And how long before Alonso signs up for Chip Ganassi Racing?

Is Mercedes feeling peer pressure to push their young driver Pascal Wehrlein? Or is Nico Rosberg secure for 2017? If Felipe Massa doesn't get an extension, perhaps his best retirement option would be to only groom his son for F1, inspired by Jos Verstappen!

Sainz, Bottas, Button, Perez, Hulkenberg and Grosjean – plenty of drivers sniffing around for an upgraded cockpit. Pastor Maldonado doesn't look like he's going to get a drive, which explains why he’s been practicing being pit crew instead. Is he paying off a team to hire him as one for '17?

There is lots to look forward to at the upcoming Canadian Grand Pix. The last time Ferrari won here was 2004 – when Max Verstappen was only six years old! Irrespective of which Mercedes driver emerges on top, we that predict Justin Bieber will definitely be on the podium. Perhaps Max Verstappen will crash into the wall of champions just to prove a point (though if anyone needs to prove that point, it's Rosberg). Tune in!

(Season 2016, Episode 19)

Monday 6 June 2016

Montreal Preview - In the spirit of Gilles

You've probably noticed by now that the folks in and around F1 don't always agree on everything. Or more accurately, that they don't agree on very much at all.

But despite appearances there are some things about the sport on which there is close to unanimity. And one such thing is that its annual visit to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix, the latest of which is this weekend, is one to anticipate eagerly.

The inimitable Montreal venue
Photo: Octane Photography
There are many reasons for this. Captivating drama and action are positive expectations at this race. The layout ensures plenty of overtaking opportunities. The nearby walls - the track being rather a street circuit without the buildings - can and frequently have punished even small errors. It even has its own 'Wall of Champions' which as its name suggests has ensnared a few of the best of them. Safety cars and carbon shards are a common feature in races here, and these have turned many-a Montreal race onto its head. As a result, outcomes here are not so easy to predict.

Further varying matters is that this track with plenty of straights and big stops has long had a reputation as a car breaker - tough on brakes, gearboxes and these days energy recovery systems - and is especially prone to this if the temperature gets up. While on the subject of the weather that also, appropriately, varies more than at just about any other modern day venue and the full range - from hot and sunny through to cool and wet - is possible and can even be witnessed within the same race weekend. If rain does arrive then all bets are off, the madcap 2011 race providing some sort of guide.

Sunday 5 June 2016

New Grand Prix Times article: Lewis, Daniel and the case for stewards butting out

Photo: Octane Photography
After the Monaco Grand Prix just passed I thought we'd seen a good race, characterised particularly by a captivating battle for the win between two excellent drivers.

But no, I kept encountering people online who thought it was all a sham and the victor Lewis Hamilton should have had the book thrown at him for...missing a chicane once.

Strange. As it doesn't at all square with what we seem to want in the cold light of day, which is for stewards to butt out as the sport is over-regulated. In my latest article for Grand Prix Times I explore this apparent contraction as well as reiterate the case for stewards indeed letting drivers get on with it.

You can have a read here:

Thursday 2 June 2016

Formula 1 Match-Ups by Car Leasing Made Simple

Us F1 fans love to compare the merits of different drivers, including those from different eras. It's not always an easy task though, and Car Leasing Made Simple has tried to resolve some of it by comparing the career statistics of three pairs of pilots from F1 past and present that often are compared: Michael Schumacher and his fellow countryman and Ferrari leader Sebastian Vettel; Lewis Hamilton against his current Mercedes mentor Niki Lauda; as well as Nico Rosberg versus his dad Keke.

It also outlines a few auxiliary stats and facts then has a quiz for you to enjoy. It's all below for your pleasure...

F1 Match Ups
F1 Match Ups by