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For me, the race wasn't particularly interesting (in fact I fell asleep half way through and had to watch the second half on replay) - although Rosberg's recovery from near the back of the field to take a second place was admirable and one must congratulate Mercedes on locking up the Constructor's World Championship so early in the season. It was unfortunate for poor Marussia that they had to retire Chilton so early in the race, but that's not really out of the ordinary either. For mine, the strange things were the ones happening off the track.
For example did anyone else find it a little odd that Russian military hardware was featured in the skies at a time when there is real military action going on elsewhere in Russia? Also number of paddock and media representatives were tweeting that FOM had directed all personnel to be silent during the Russian national anthem (ironic given in Australia the FOM feed at the time of the anthem was visual only with the local host commentators talking animatedly over the top), and there have been stories through the week of security at the track entry points confiscating strange items like Berocca, tissues and pens. And for mine, the strangest of all was to see Russian President Putin featured prominently during the pre-race and post-race activities at a time when he is not particularly popular with the rest of the world for some of the decisions his government has been taking. Although there was one funny moment pre-race when I spotted someone on the grid decked out in the rainbow colours of the gay pride movement - obviously someone making a statement about what was such a polarizing issue leading into the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier in the year.
What did people think of the new procedure (which I understand is now to be a permanent feature of pre-race) whereby all race drivers assemble at the front of the grid for the national anthem? I did notice Hamilton was the only driver who didn't remove his hat (and he did keep his ear plugs in). It was nice to see the drivers huddle in a show of solidarity with Jules Bianchi who remains in a critical but stable condition in a Japanese hospital following the accident in Suzuka, many of them had noted it was difficult returning to their cars this weekend.
And so we're now faced with a three-week pause in proceedings with the circus reconvening in Austin, Texas for the USGP. F1infocentre will have a number of boots on the ground and we look forward to bringing you some of the local colour.
It's been a tough week for everyone involved in F1 and my thoughts - as I'm sure yours are too - are with Jules Bianchi and his family, and the Marussia team at this terrible time. There has been some disgraceful media reporting of the accident, and I'd encourage you to check out the official feed from the Marussia F1 Team for the latest news as we wait and hope that Jules makes a full recovery.
No-one really knows what the new facilities and track at Sochi will be like, and I'm sure many of us will be watching with interest when Friday's FP1 kicks off. Can the Mercedes continue their spectacular form, or will this be the breakthrough weekend for Red Bull or Ferrari?
After the spectacle that is Singapore, this weekend we're off to another racer's track - Sukuza in Japan. While there's the usual stories around (eg. was the component that failed in Rosberg's car sabotaged as payback, there's a typhoon heading for Sukuza likely to impact Sunday's race, and how many barriers/walls/other cars/phantoms will Maldonado collide with), there's a couple worth pointing out.
Firstly, the conversation around McLaren's driver line-up for 2015 got interesting this week, with Kevin Magnussen making public statements to the effect that if McLaren don't retain him next year he thinks he's not good enough for F1 and Jenson Button studiously avoiding the media. With only 4 rounds to go after this weekend, and it being the last round in Asia, odds are pretty good that there'll be an announcement from McLaren (who will be McLaren-Honda again from next season) on drivers this weekend.
Then there's the volcanic eruption on Mt Ontake that has sadly claimed a number of lives with many still missing feared dead. Mt Ontake is about 4hrs north by road from Suzuka, but there are concerns that the ash cloud from the volcano may impact travel for those flying in from Europe for the race. And add to that the threat of weather associated with Tropical Cyclone Phanfone which is forecast to be close to the southern Japanese coast by the weekend. Wet races at Suzuka aren't too unusual, but with the recently introduced (and not clearly understood) team radio restrictions and the behavior of this year's cars in the wet the race could be a good one. If you're not watching live, don't forget to extend your recording by at least an hour!
To finish today's blog, we've had news overnight that Max Verstappen - who recently qualified for his super-licence and turns 17 today (Tuesday) - will make his F1 debut in the Torro-Rosso in FP1 on Friday, replacing the hapless Jean-Eric Vergne. Verstappen will become the youngest F1 debutante, overtaking Jaime Alguersuari who debuted for Torro-Rosso in Hungary 2009 at around 19 and a half, and Sebastian Vettel who was the youngest driver to drive in an F1 GP session at 19yrs and 53 days.
As often happens, the twitter-verse wags have gone to town on things that are younger that Verstappen. If you have twitter, do a search for the hashtag '#ThingsOlderThanVerstappen' - if not, here's some of my personal favourites:
Things older than Verstappen:
If that makes you feel old, join the club - maybe we should all plan to have a nanna nap!!
In case you've missed it, the big talking point this weekend will be the recent decision to ban teams from 'assisting' their drivers over the team radio. While the use of the radio won't be banned, there are some (arguably) grey guidelines about what teams can / can't say to their drivers - basically, that's anything that will give them information / advantage over the drivers around them. Which in years past would have included instructions like "Felipe, Fernando is faster than you" or more recently "Lewis - you're faster out of turn three than Nico" - and probably also means the end of the "Lewis, it's Hammer Time" calls as well. And yes, before you ask, there will be no pit boards with large hammers on them in place of the radio calls.......the ban extends to all forms of pit - to - driver communications. Some commentators think that teams without the McLaren driver control unit (which is the most advanced in terms of information available to the drivers in the car, and which most of the front-running teams are utilizing) will be disadvantaged, but on the flip side it's equally as possible drivers with that much information available will get too distracted by turning knobs and pushing buttons that they won't really be concentrating on what's going on around them.
Of course, there are some drivers (*cough, Kimi, *cough) who I'd imagine will be pleased with the diminution of interference over the radio - he seems to prefer being left to do his own thing. But it will be interesting to see what intended - and unintended - consequences there are this weekend.
Also worth noting that the 'official' 2015 calendar has now been released, it's fairly similar to this year in that the season starts in Melbourne on the middle weekend in March, there's a two week break before Malaysia, then everything else remains essentially the same until you get to Austin which moves another couple of weeks earlier into October to accommodate the new Mexican round the following weekend, then two weeks until Brazil and the season concludes as usual with the Abu Dhabi night race slightly closer to Christmas than it has been. For those forward planners, the full calendar is available here - better get booking those hotels!!
So - there was a race this afternoon....last race of the European summer....a Mercedes one-two....blah blah blah....Rosberg got boo'd....Ricciardo came through the pack with some brilliant overtaking....blah blah blah....Massa's first podium in a long time with Bottas also making up lots of places.
But there's more interesting news and rumors off the track this weekend. Firstly, Williams started race day with an announcement that they'd resigned Bottas and retained Massa (who, to be fair, does actually have a contract through to the end of next season). Then there was the surprising announcement of the resignation of Christijan Albers who would probably go down in history as the team boss with the shortest ever reign. But it wasn't all bad for Caterham, they did manage to finish both cars this race (and Kobyashi was even ahead of a Sauber!) which was something Marussia couldn't manage after an error from Chilton put paid to his race early.
There's an unofficial 2015 calendar published on a German motorsport website, which a number of other sites have republished (including this version on AutoSport.com in English ) accompanied by varying degrees of confidence around how accurate / what other changes we might see before a final version is published. For the record, everything (including Sochi) remains on essentially the same weekend as this year - starting with Melbourne on 15 March, Malaysia returns to the following weekend (22 March) then the only change is the addition of the Mexican GP on the last weekend in October immediately preceding the Austin GP in the first week of November. The last round will be in Abu Dhabi either the 22 or 29 November. Apparently this version was discussed with the team principals at Monza, so I guess we'll see in coming weeks just how accurate it turns out to be. And the rumors that just won't quit surrounding long-time Ferrari boss Luca Di Montezemolo potentially leaving to take a tilt at Italian politics - despite his repeated public denials as recently as this weekend's press conference.
Probably the biggest news (other than the envious F1 media posting twitter pics of Lewis Hamilton and entourage in their private jet taxi-ing away while the media are still on their shuttle bus to the airport, or the happy snap of Toto and Suzi Wolff with a trophy each after this round ) would have to be the increasing volume of chatter around the potential switch from 11 teams running two cars each, to 8 teams running 3 cars each. Granted, we all know Sauber, Caterham and Marussia are having difficulty with finances and performance this season - and the American Haas Racing (or whatever they end up being called) are waiting in the wings, but which 8 teams would that be? Could we see Mercedes scoop up Sauber or Ferrari scoop up Marussia? And what would that do for already contracted drivers? And how would that work out for McLaren and Honda given there's been talk of Honda looking for a second-string team to run Honda engines as well as McLaren as they return to F1 next year. It could be a really interesting next month or so as that sorts its self out.
F1 returns to Asia in two weeks with the Singapore night race, some consider it a boring track but there's no question about the atmosphere around the track. Although there are some questions being asked about Socchi given the current action between Russia and Ukraine, I think we will see the F1 cars around Socchi in a few weeks.
To finish off today, a quick plug for the new 'Formula E' series which kicks off in Shanghai next weekend. Variously being touted as the series of the future, or as a passable alternative to keep F1 fans entertained during the off-season (the calendar runs Sept '14 to June '15) it will at least be interesting to see what quality of racing the category can muster given there's a number of ex-F1 drivers and some good young talent on the grid.
Where has 2014 gone? It feels like only yesterday we were watching the abysmal results for Renault-powered teams from the winter testing, and speculating on just how many cars might finish in Melbourne. And all the talk was about the lack of engine noise, something that seems to have faded as crowds have got more used to what they're hearing. I could be mischievous and suggest that this engine-noise-reduction step was the the precursor to the time when the cars might be fully hybrid technology and therefore all we'd hear is the squealing of the tyres, but I'm sure that is a few years off yet.
Attention has started to turn to the drivers, with rumours persisting that Ron Dennis has offered Alonso a lot of money to jump ship to McLaren in 2015. There is the added carrot, given the season Ferrari have been having, to work with the new Honda engine remembering that Honda was arguably the best turbo-engine manufacturer from days past. That move would require Jenson Button to retire though, and I'm not sure he thinks he's ready to do that just yet. I also wonder whether Ferrari will have patience with Raikkonen for another season, he continues to struggle and Ferrari have two good young drivers - Hulkenburg (who I think is committed to Force India until the end of 2015) and Bianchi (who might be looking for a drive next year if Marussia's rumoured financial woes continue). It will be interesting to see which teams finalise their driver line-ups this weekend, and which might still be waiting for other moving pieces to settle.
Also, in light of what's happening in Russia, one would have to imagine that the Sochi F1 GP would have to be in some doubt - especially in light of the precedent set a few years ago with Bahrain. What do you think - should F1 still go to Russia??
Well, whaddaya know - Rosberg and Hamilton finally pushed just that little bit too hard and on this occasion Rosberg seems to have made the error that cost Hamilton his place in the points. There have been all sorts of stories about what went on behind closed doors during the Merc debrief, ranging from Hamilton's account that Rosberg did it deliberately to reports of Rosberg calling it a 'racing incident'. Although I definately don't like the crowd boo-ing anyone (remember Vettel's run last year??) I think the response of the crowd at the podium said it all in this case. But having said that, Eddie Jordan's handing of the crowd and the situation on the podium was very well done - to the point where most of the crowd did eventually give Rosberg a cheer. And please don't think that I am in any way calling for EJ to make more regular appearances as the podium interviewer - I would still prefer that the drivers were interviewed properly by the media once the podium ceremony is finished. As one of my F1infocentre colleagues noted overnight, it would have been nice to wake up this morning to read about Lauda having slapped Nico across the side of the head - but as this would probably occur behind closed doors we will be dependent on Hamilton's version of the story. Which would probably be something like "yeah, well, the boss decided the best way to deal with him was to punch his lights out, then take him over to medical to make sure he was OK". Ok, moving on......
Great to see Dan Ricciardo lead for a good chunk of the race (as opposed to grabbing the lead in the closing few laps), and proving that there may just be life in this season yet - could it come down to the last round double-points for the Red Bull rookie to steal the Driver's championship? Further down the paddock, it was an early exit for Caterham's stand-in driver Lotterer despite his having out-qualified Ericsson. And the dismal Sauber season continues, it would appear Sutil has retained his seat for 2015 but will Gutierrez remain if there are other drivers available with sponsorship dollars? Among the big rumours around at the moment is the persistent rumour of a swap between Alonso and Vettel, with the added spice of some (albeit not mainstream media) speculation around Red Bull maybe doing an engine deal with Honda for 2016.
Ah - the theories......I could probably make up a few if pressed. How about this one - a Mexican-backed consortium to buy out the Irish owners of Marussia and establish an all-Mex team with Gutierrez and Perez. Or Button to move to the new US-based F1 team, making way for Chilton and his $$ to help prop up McLaren's first year with new engine manufacturer Honda.
We're well into the summer break, and while there's not been any on-track action there have been a few stories around the last week which I thought would be worth a mention. Let's start with the rumour doing the rounds on twitter and a few motorsports outlets that Kimi Raikkonen and girlfriend Minttu Virtanen are expecting a baby in the next few months. As one would expect, there has been no official confirmation from Kimi's management or from Ferrari sources, however the rumours appear to be centered around posts made by Minttu on her instagram account so I'm pretty confident there's some truth to the rumour.
In other Ferrari news, some twitter chat this weekend that Luca di Montezemolo is leaving (or has left!) Ferrari - although there's probably just as much twitter chat that he's taking a non-executive job with Alitalia (Italian airline in which Etihad just took a significant stake). And to be fair, there's probably just as much twitter chat that Elvis has been sighted in a Memphis diner and that aliens have been sighted over New Mexico........so take that one with the appropriate dose of salt.
We have seen Alexander Rossi move from Caterham to Marussia (and those of us planning to visit Austin will probably see him on the track in FP1), but no other real driver news other than the recurring speculation about Jenson Button's future with McLaren. Which, again, to be fair, is probably partially due to Mark Webber no longer being around - as much as it's due to the fact that he is rather old for an F1 driver and has been outperformed by younger team-mate Kevin Magnussen rather consistently so far this year. But to put that in perspective, he also just finished 11th out of 1100-odd participants and second in his age group at the Cebu 70.3 Triathlon (Philippines). Wow....
And it would be remiss of me NOT to mention the recent (but not surprising) resolution of Bernie Ecclestone's bribery trial, when prosecutors agreed to end the case after Bernie payed them almost $100,000,000 (yes, 100 million!). Does anyone else find it rather strange that a bribery trial ends with the accused agreeing to make a quite significant monetary payment? Oh to have that much loose change!!
What a spectacular race today, requiring good strategy and gutsy passing (on a track not known as one where passing is a feature) and a wet track but also a bit of good luck - to deliver one of the most intriguing races of the season so far. Some highlights for me included Massa making it past the first lap, Maldonado outlasting his Lotus team-mate, a smoking Mercedes that DIDN'T end up in flames, and a patient but determined Aussie who's team strategy call put him in a perfect position to capitalise late in the race.
But this race will probably be remembered most for Lewis Hamilton's stellar recovery from starting in the pit lane to finish on the podium, having defied team orders based on Nico's alternate strategy then held off his fast-finishing team-mate in the last corner to sneak home. What an amazing recovery after the flaming end to quali yesterday - those team personel who worked through the night surely got their payoff with the podium! But the other story of the day would have to be that once again Red Bull and Ferrari showed that the Mercedes aren't invincible, even on a day when they didn't have any mechanical issues. Both have finished ahead of the Mercedes on two occasions and surely will take hope from that going into the summer break.
One thing that has had a bit of coverage from commentators and bloggers is the steady stream of mechanical issues that we're seeing. At the start of the season we expected to see lots of cars fail to finish but were suprised with the early season reliability. But are we going to see those gremlins start to creep in at this time of the season? There have been quite a few non-finishers the last couple of races and I suspect that over the next few rounds we might continue to see a high number of non-finishers.
There's also a few changes being discussed around the paddock for next season, and I'll comment on some of those during the summer break including some of the more outlandish ideas being suggested by former-F1 paddock regular Flavio Briatore. But one that caught my attention this week was the idea of a 'success ballast' (being that you get a weight penalty for being successful). This has caused the usual wags on twitter to get creative - this is my favourite!
Enjoy your break from racing, don't forget to check back here for news on driver changes and plans for 2015!!
Hot on the heels of the World Cup football win, Rosberg has brought home his German-engined car to win the German Grand Prix in front of what can only be described as a disappointing crowd. Across the weekend it's been hard to miss the empty grandstands, but under cloudy skies the real race today was actually with the other Mercedes car as Hamilton threaded his way up through the field to come home in a gallant third place. It was always going to be a Mercedes win (provided the reliability issues stayed away), but the real race for mine was watching Magnussen, Ricciardo, Alonso, Vettel, Raikkonen and Bottas trying to hold off Hamilton and each other for the last two spots on the podium. But the driver of the day for me would have to be Bottas, with Williams winning "...fair and square..." over Hamilton today to split the Mercedes on the podium.
But there were a few other stories today worth a mention. We saw another spectacular Renault-engine BBQ, the world collectively holding its breath until Kyvat emerged from his burning car (which he had managed to steer off the track before the fire took hold). And oddly enough we didn't see a safety car at all, despite significant track obstructions at time - ranging from bodywork on the hair-pin to a Sauber stranded in the middle of the track just past the final turn. One wag on twiter suggested there had been an asteroid landed on the back straight, but race control had said that the marshalls could retrieve it under double waved yellow!
It was a shame for Lotus also with Grosjean experiencing what sounded on team radio like "... a loss of poo-er..." that saw his car once again stranded on the side of the track late in the race. And of course the big incident off the start where Massa's Williams was briefly upside down before righting itself and allowing a slightly wobbly Massa to emerge unscathed.
So F1 moves on to Hungary next weekend for what should be another cracking race. The Williams' could almost challenge the Mercedes on pace, but behind them it seems some of the upgrades that have come through for teams like McLaren and Ferrari are starting to close the gap. Could we see a Ferrari on the podium in Hungary??
There's been a fair few articles and discussions on blogs etc speculating as to the real reasons behind some of the Renault-related stories that have hit the news in the last few weeks, and so I figured it would be worth covering here.
In a nutshell, here's the headlines:
- Lotus have ended a long-term Renault partnership and signed up with Mercedes starting 2015 (good article by John Noble if you're interested)
- Caterham have recently had an ownership change (new owners were associated with Jordan/Midland/Spyker in years past) and the former Caterham team boss Cyril Abiteboul is returning to Renault and will be involved in their F1 program, and
- key Red Bull figures have gone public with their dissatisfaction and frustration on Renault's performance this year amid speculation that they intend to manufacture their own engines in the near future.
Assuming Caterham remain on the grid next year I'd expect they would be looking for a new engine deal - either by their own choice or because Renault might be trying to put all their eggs in the 'Red Bull' stable (RBR and Torro Rosso). It might make sense for them to go chasing a Honda deal (potentially linking more closely with McLaren and/or moving the balance of their operations back to England from Malaysia), and I do understand that there's been mass redundancies announced this week at Caterham's Malaysian facility.
One thing is certain though - the German 'factory' Mercedes team with their gun German driver will be hard to beat in Germany this weekend. That is if anyone in Germany actually cares about the F1 this week - there have been some amazing scenes as the world champion football team returned home in the last few days......
I imagine there's a fair few happy Brits around the place this morning with Lewis Hamilton winning this morning, the first time since 2008 that any British driver has won their home grand prix. The race start was always going to be interesting with so many cars 'out of place' following a rain-affected qualifying but Kimi's accident and the lengthy stoppage was something of an anti-climax. But once things got underway we saw most of Alonso and Bottas' amazing charge up through the field (despite the best efforts of the FOM director to show everything other than those battles) and in the closing stages an amazing (and heated) battle between Alonso and Vettel.
By the way, what an amazing turnout from the fans at Silverstone, with the commentators at one point suggesting around 70% of the crowd in pink to honour Jenson Button's late father. There were a few tweets of various UK-based crew wearing the 'pink for pappa' shirts under their own team kit, a really nice touch. And just when I thought we'd get to the end of the race without a BBQ, the Lotus of Maldonado obliged with a puff of smoke before coming to a stop on the last lap.
What an interesting spot the championship is in heading to the German GP which Rosberg also considers his 'home' race (apparently he has two, Monaco and Germany). Will we see the momentum shift back to Hamilton's side of the garage leading into the summer break? I understand that Rosberg is getting married during the summer break, perhaps he's spending more time picking table centres, music and menus than preparing for his F1 races........
With Silverstone just around the corner, it seems a bit early to be looking ahead to next year - but that seems to be the main topic of conversation around the F1 media last weekend (well, that plus the Goodwood Festival of Speed)! The FIA's World Motor Sport Council has released changes to the F1 regulations for 2015, and key among the changes is the introduction of standing starts from the grid at the end of a safety car period, unless the Safety Car is used within two laps of the start (or restart), or if there are less than five laps remaining. And in other news, this season's biggest talking point (pun intended!) pre-season - the pointy thing on the front of most of the cars - won't be back next year, with regulations being changed to "...provide more aesthetically pleasing structures...". Interestingly enough, no changes to the engine noise and despite widespread agitation from fans double-points for the last race seems have been retained. Although the FIA has changed its own rules too - such that the last date "...sporting and technical regulations..." can be changed without unanimous agreement has been moved from 30 June to 15 March starting next year. So I guess if the Mercs loose the World Championship as a result of double-points in the last race they can still change the rules for 2015!!
In other news, it looks like Caterham's days as an F1 team are numbered (poor Kobyashi!!) - after a cryptic tweet from Caterham boss Tony Fernandes this week admitting that the foray into F1 hadn't worked (story by Adam Cooper here). Adam's article suggests that there is a new owner in the wings for Caterham, however it's not likely to be either of the parties who have expressed interest in breaking into F1. I wonder if Kobyashi's crowd-sourced the funds to buy the team to keep his F1 dream alive??
If you are heading to Silverstone this weekend, you might like to consider wearing 'Pink for Papa' (in honour of the late John Button). And if you are lucky enough to be going, don't forget the sunscreen, the jumper, the poncho, and a mate or two to keep you company!!
OK - so maybe I could have come up with a better title, but it's been a busy weekend.....
However, it's not entirely without merit - if you haven't seen pictures of the various F1 drivers in their lederhosen you might like to do a little googling.....or here's a couple I found earlier - Ricciardo, and Bottas who apparently bet Claire Williams he'd wear his in public if he made the podium. So I guess that means Ricciardo's wearing his in public either means he's confident showing off his legs, or it was a Red Bull publicity stunt.
Speaking of publicity stunts, did anyone else see the cringe-worthy graphics that FOM overlayed on pit exit during lap 70? Maybe that's what has kept the FOM director(s) busy during the last two races which were definitely sub-par standard with key minutes missed. It's also spawned a few copy-cat pictures including one where "I'm innocent, don't jail me - Bernie" has been written over the start/finish line of the Silverstone track, plus a few others which aren't really suitable for a family blog like this one. I'd have to say that FOM's director(s) got it more right than wrong this round though, we saw some epic last lap overtakes (Ricciardo on Hulkenburg) but we didn't see either of the Williams cross the line - which was sad for Bottas' first podium in F1.
Further down in the field, it wasn't a good day for the Red Bull stable with both Torro Rosso retiring (Kyvat with a rear puncture and possible suspension dramas, and Vergne with a repeat of recent brake dramas) and Vettel loosing power on the first lap before recovering (control-alt-delete anyone?) but retiring with a view to avoiding a possible penalty after rear-ending a back marker. OK ok ok - so maybe he was retired to save components on the car given he's close to getting a penalty having changed a lot of them already this season. But whatever the reason, Christian Horner has been laying into Renault already after the race and rumours of Vettel to Ferrari (and Red Bull to VW or Audi) are once again getting some airplay. And poor Sauber, things seem to be going from bad to worse with the team confirming post-race that a 'box this lap' call sent to Sutil on the radio the lap AFTER he'd pitted was actually meant for Gutierrez. With Marussia's recent points hauls, it looks like a race to avoid last between Caterham and Sauber!!
And so we look to Silverstone, where a record crowd (dressed mostly in pink as a tribute to "Papa" Button) is expected and Hamilton will hope to take some points off Rosberg's championship lead. I do so hope that we get a repeat of Webber doing the podium interviews, at least his questions were better than some of the bozo's who have had a run so far this year....
It's been 11 years since we've heard the sound of an F1 car in Austria, and this weekend will be interesting for many reasons. The Mercedes camp are keen to return to the top step of the podium but they'll have some stiff competition from the Red Bulls who consider this their home track. Which makes me wonder just how long it'll be before some ill-informed (and geographically challenged) motorsports writer will refer to "Austrian" Daniel Ricciardo or to the fact that this is Ricciardo's home track. It has quite interesting potential - if you spot any feel free to post a URL in the comments below.
But seriously - could this be the round that we see two Red Bulls on the podium again? The track is not really known to to anyone, Red Bull is coming off a great weekend last weekend, and the weather will be fine but not too hot which should help with reliability. Who's your pick for the round??
In an unlikely - but very exciting - end to the Canadian Grand Prix Daniel Ricciardo became just the fourth Australian (behind the late Sir Jack Brabham (14), Alan Jones (12), and Mark Webber (9)) to win an F1 race. The almost unreal ending to the race was a great reward for those Aussie fans who either got up early, or didn't go to bed (or were watching from the other side of the world Nathan!). While there's no doubting that he and the Red Bull strategists pulled off a good race, I do think that they benefited from the troubles plaguing the Mercedes team as there's no doubt the Silver Arrows are still the cars to beat in terms of pace.
It's also worth a shout-out to Jenson Button who, despite the best efforts of the FOM directors to ignore him (yes, they once again showed some questionable and unfortunate timing in cutting away from or to various shots at inopportune moments), brought the McLaren home in fourth place with a stellar finish - obviously the near-miss with the local birdlife (the animal ones, people!!) during practice didn't have any serious lingering effects. Both Williams and Force India were looking at a good points haul until the last couple of laps when Perez and Massa had one of the more spectacular accidents we've seen for a while. Although both drivers are OK they were taken to the hospital for checks (from where posted a hospital bed selfie on twitter) but later released, with Perez taking a five grid-point penalty into the next race. The Marussia intra-team accident on the opening lap has had consequences for Chilton who not only broke the longest 'finishing' streak in F1 history by retiring from the race, but will also take a 3 grid-place penalty into the next race. I guess they figure the best he's likely to be on the grid is 19th (if he qualified infront of the Caterhams and Bianchi). There's been a bit of chat around about how quickly the Marussia bodywork crumbled / flew apart, one to watch as we head into the next round perhaps.
In general I think there were a few more mechanical gremlins out there this race, probably due to the heat (it was warmer than even Malaysia!). To be specific, we saw 7 retirements - 4 Renaults, 2 Ferraris, and one Mercedes (interestingly, the factory Mercedes had the problems not the customer cars!). Could this mean the Mercs are vulnerable for some of the other typically hotter European summer races? A season that had started to look a bit boring and one-sided has definitely shown some promise with today's results, and not just in the race for the Driver's Championship. One more double-podium for Red Bull in a race where one or both Mercs don't finish, and we may have a season on our hands - even without the double-points in Abu Dhabi.
An interesting stat to finish on, and one which I don't think anyone saw coming at the start of the season. Did you realise that today's win by a Renault-powered turbo engine was the first since the 1986 US Grand Prix??
Since Monaco it would appear that someone at Mercedes has sat Hamilton down for a good talking to (or maybe a clip behind the ear, or something) as he appears to be "friends" with Rosberg again. And there are a couple of grainy karting era photos to "prove" it is so. But with this weekend's Canadian circuit historically a good track for Hamilton, one wonders just how friendly the Merc garage will be on race morning if Rosberg out qualities Hamilton. The word 'frenemy' has always puzzled me, it seems to be one of those politically correct terms that it is ok to use when you really mean 'betrayer' or 'traitor' or 'selfish son of a gun' . Back in my school days, you either had friends (people who looked out for you) or enemies (the ones that took great delight in plotting your downfall). But then, I guess no one payed me millions of dollars to stay at school.....
Merc-o-drama aside, this could be an interesting race with a few teams, including Ferrari, bringing significant upgrades to this round. It is a fast circuit and providing the weather remains warm and dry as forecast it should be a race for third. But for those not watching live (like us Aussies for whom coverage starts around 3am) don't forget to add extra time to your recording, I was one of those who missed the entire race a few years ago when the rain delayed the race by more than 2 hrs.
And a final thought to finish on. My almost 10year old nephew and I were discussing our F1 tips this evening (for the record, he is beating me year to date) and has offered this advice to the hapless Maldonado :"do try and avoid those pesky walls which have a tendency to run out onto the track when they see a Lotus approaching". Anyone game enough to pick Maldonado for a Canadian podium??
Never mind the soap opera playing out up at Mercedes, history was made for Marussia today with Jules Bianchi finishing in ninth place and pushing Marussia up the Constructor's Championship ladder over Sauber. The Marussia social media director (who also wrangles the 'pen' during media interviews post-race) was struggling to keep up with the media demand on a day those guys will never forget. It was a lovely touch that the assembled French media (I believe all ten of them!) serenaded Bianchi with a rousing rendition of 'La Marseillaise' when he arrived back in the garage - and Alsono (who did have a rather lonely race coming in fourth) acknowledged Bianchi with a pretty cool tweet post-race. Although I do have to say that four Renaults with mechanical issues (and one Mercedes - Williams) did give them a bit of a leg up....
I have to say that I'm a bit over the Hamilton melodrama. I don't believe Rosberg did anything improper with his qualifying, but even if he did he drove a better race than Hamilton today - even before Hamilton's vision was compromised. And what was with that, anyway! He certainly didn't want to talk about it on the podium, although I'm sure a proper journalist (as opposed to a timid minor celebrity) wouldn't have let him off the hook so easily. I'd have even preferred Eddie Jordan to Benedict Cumberbatch's mild-mannered attempt at an interview. The media has been buzzing since Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger attended a pre-race function together this week with speculation they were 'back on' - even a reference to that would have been more interesting than where the interview went. And to see from post-race media clips Hamilton saying he and Rosberg "...are not friends..." then Rosberg saying "...we've always been friends..." is not a good look, the team certainly has its hands full. I did hear a whisper that Hamilton had used a power setting he wasn't supposed to in order to maintain his race advantage in Spain, although I'm sure Nikki Lauda (who, for those who are old enough to remember, had a few intra-team battles of his own back in the day) will work it out. I guess it's a small mercy Hamilton never caught up to Rosberg on the road, based on the team radio we heard between Hamilton and his engineer I doubt anything could have stopped Hamilton from taking Rosberg out if he got the chance.
In other news, after a very promising start Raikkonen had a bit of bad luck and ended up in the bottom three after looking like a podium challenger for much of the early part of the race - and Daniel Ricciardo was so close to grabbing second place at the end there. A good result for Hulkenburg after the overtaking move of the race on Magnussen at Portier (look for it on youtube if you missed it!) to bring Force India home ahead of the McLarens and Williams who were rather disappointing in terms of pace and reliability.
So - Canada in two weeks.......although Canada seems to favour Hamilton more than Rosberg, Ferrari are bringing 'major upgrades' to Canada and might be the ones to watch for the minor placings. I'd love to see one or both Marussias actually beat a Sauber on the road (don't laugh, it might just happen!)
A relatively uneventful (but cautious) FP1 on Thursday was quickly followed by a hailstorm and significant temperature drop before FP2. As you might expect, FP2 turned into a standoff as teams waited someone else to head out and clear the track first! In the end everyone had a go but it ended early for Kimi who has a gearbox problem, however he almost had a bigger problem when he walked in front of Vettel who was making a practice start from his pit box. The incident would have been quite nasty except for a quick-thinking Red Bull mechanic who crash-tackled Kimi out of the way. What is Finnish for "oomph"??
thursday night is party night, so Friday is typically quiet. But then the action kicks off in earnest Saturday - can Hamilton take his first win since 2008 on the Monaco streets? Or will we see a mighty performance from Ricciardo for his first race win? And could this be the best chance for Alonso to take a race win this season? No matter what the result, with the new squirrely cars and lower noise factor, the qualifying and race are sure to be worth watching.
With the circus on the move to the drizzly (well, for now at least!) streets of Monaco, we just have time to look back at the highlights from last week's testing where we saw a number of potential stars of the future get track time. Key among the runners were Stoffel Vandoorne who qualified for his super license in the McLaren, Suzie Wolff who had a reasonable day in the Williams after an early off, and Daniel Juncadella (Force India) and Danil Kyvat who spent the most time in the gravel traps of any driver. Worth mentioning the strong running and good pace of the Lotus which - despite Maldonado's best efforts to the contrary - managed to stay on the track the whole time and even topped the timesheets by a whole second on Wednesday. Following on from Grosjean's good showing in the Spanish GP, are we about to see a mid-season charge from the Lotus??
Many media outlets over the race weekend made mention of the 'gaggle' of race promoters who had turned up to hassle Bernie Ecclestone about the 'damage' being done to gate receipts with the quieter cars this season. All promoters that is, except the Chinese - maybe they have other ways to get people to the event rather than having to rely on it being a noisy spectacle! But for the rest of the world, all eyes - and ears - were on the back-end of the Mercedes when it came out for its first run, complete with the 'noise amplification' device that had been touted by the team as the potential answer to making the cars sound exciting. I have to say, I was rather underwhelmed to see what looked like an 1800's nautical bull-horn shoved up the tailpipe of the car. Seriously! I have to wonder whether the Mercs were just having a giant joke on the world, especially when the offending device was removed after only a couple of laps. However, the damage was done and the internet went into overdrive with various memes (some funny, some crass) appearing within an hour or two. I have a soft spot for jazz, so this one is my favorite.......
To close off this week, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the sudden passing of Sir Jack Brabham at his home on the Gold Coast (QLD, Australia) yesterday. Sir Jack is remarkable because he was a three-time F1 world champion, but more remarkable still in that he is still the only constructor / driver to win a world championship. I look forward to seeing how his life and contribution to modern F1 is remembered during this weekend's events.
Another race in two halves - I saw it described by one commentator as "interesting first lap, snooze-fest for the middle and intriguing last 10-12 laps". Maybe.......but I think there's actually more interesting action throughout the pack than the Director overseeing the FOM feed to the world's television stations seems to think. Even as a Lewis Hamilton fan I think there's a limit to how much time I can spend watching the Silver Arrows fly in formation. Interested in others thoughts on that one....
In other news, what a great barnstorming finish from Vettel. Like him or now, the guy is talented and with the collective genius of Red Bull behind him it's only a matter of time before he and Ricciardo are both challenging the Mercs up the front - particularly seeing he secured the fastest lap of the race for the first time this season. Ricciardo did a good job to - as one of the Sky commentators put it - pick up his '...second "first podium finish" in F1...', a fact also acknowledged in the radio message from the pit wall as he crossed the line (ie "...you should be able to keep this one!"). I'm sure Ferrari would be reasonably happy with their result but they'll have to manage a cranky Kimi who made his point about the team's strategy favouring Alonso when he refused to answer questions about it after the race. I wonder how one deals with a cranky Kimi......
I'm sure it was a big night for the paddock last night, unlike most rounds so far there was no frantic hurry to pack up and move on with many of the teams staying on in Barcelona for some in-season testing next week. Watch out for the Mercedes testing a new, noiser exhaust system, and for Susie Wolff getting a run in the Williams. I will keep an eye on things for you - dear reader - and let you know of any startling developments.
The return of the F1 circus to its natural environment - Europe - signals spring has sprung in Europe. Although I would have thought that the clear signs of hayfever evident in many of the photos from Circuit de Catalunya are just as clear a signal, as are the impressive 'motorhomes' that return to service as the paddock hospitality. And then there's the rows of shiny trucks parked along the circuit which will be used to transport the paddock and garage structures across the continent. For those who may be wondering - here's a picture tweeted by Williams of their new Martini-branded Williams paddock hospitality. There's a distinct 'drink' flavour amongst the sponsors this season, with a couple of Vodka brands vying with a couple of energy drink brands and the usual sparking and still wine companies in an effort to keep the paddock followers hydrated.
A quick round-up of interesting news grabs - Lewis Hamilton (sans dogs) has been spotted out with Nicole Scherzinger (although he's been quick to squash rumors of a reconciliation), Bernie is in court again this week facing more bribery charges (although his private plane is standing by to whisk him off to Spain at the conclusion of Thursday's proceedings), Force India welcome Smirnoff as their 'side-pod' sponsor from this round, and Susie Wolff is making the most of the media opportunities this weekend leading into her run in the Williams for in-season testing planned for Circuit de Catalunya next week. Red Bull have been quick to point out that the 'new chassis' they've brought in for Vettel this weekend is in fact an old one, but the new chassis Toro Rosso have brought for Vergne this weekend is actually a new one and has a number of aero changes which they believe will improve their downforce at this circuit. Alonso is doing his best to hose down the expectations of the Tifosi, which is a good enough reason for me to suggest Ferrari are confident of a good showing this weekend. In other Ferrari news, Ross Brawn has been spotted visiting Maranello this week although both he and Ferrari have been at pains to point out it was a "...social..." visit. Hmmmm.....
Should be an interesting round. Can McLaren come back from their clutch dramas last round and grab a podium? Will Force India be motivated to reward their new sponsor with a podium finish? But the big question - can anyone knock Mercedes of their perch??
Poor Vettel, not only did he get told to let Ricciardo through again, even when he responded "Tough luck!" to the team orders he did eventually do the right thing and let him through. Only to then be passed a few laps later by Kobayashi in the Caterham who at that point was on fresher tyres! Although it was quite wise of Caterham to pit Kobayashi a little later in the race when Vettel was closing in......
Once again the Mercs were just too good, although Rosberg did have to make his way through the field. Nice to see Ferrari on the podium again heading into the European summer, with their new team boss in the hot seat things are looking up. Different story at McLaren with both cars outside the points after a double DNF last round, Ron Dennis has quite the job ahead of him to save their season - although the rumour mill suggests they have a major aero upgrade heading to Barcelona. A big shoutout to Maldonado for an uneventful race bringing his Lotus from the back to almost make the points.
Three weeks until the next round, the longest break so far - and allowing time for the team bosses to discuss potential changes to the exhaust (to increase the noise) and the potential for cost caps in coming seasons. And has anyone else notices the shrinking noses? Will be interesting to see how many other cars take a more Ferrari / Mercedes approach over coming rounds......
That's right folks - it's race week again, and as the teams, drivers, media and lucky fans (well, the ones who managed to secure a visa for China that is!!) make their way east into the smog it's time for a quick whip around of those obscure little F1 stories that you may have missed in the last week. Well, a few of them anyway....
Heading this evening's bulletin was the startling news (OK maybe I'm exaggerating just a teensy bit) that Marussia Motors has "...ditched its carmaking operations and relinquished ownership of the Marussia Formula One team..." [R-Sport, 8/4/2014]. It may not completely surprise you to learn that the Marussia Motors ambitious plan to manufacture and market a 'Marussia' supercar hasn't quite come to fruition with the company confirming their 'ambitious' plan didn't make it to market. There is one line in the article which particularly intrigued me: "Staff of Marussia Motors in Moscow have reportedly left the company en masse and joined a government-run technical institute." Hmm...... The article goes on to note that the F1 "Marussia" team is now owned by "Marussia Communications Ltd" which appears to be registered in Dublin, Ireland. One wonders whether we'll soon hear plans for a Marussia SuperPhone (which requires random software resets mid-call and inserts a 1-2 second lag into all conversations - just because it can) or maybe we'll see a Leprechaun sponsored by Marussia leading next year's St Patrick's Day parade. It will be one to watch, to be sure - to be sure........
And to finish up this evening, some twitter gold thanks to @FakeRonDennis_ who has been sinking the boot into Pastor Maldonado this week (along with a good percentage of the online universe!). My favourites were "An anagram of Pastor Maldonado: "Adapts an old moron" (9/4/2014 8:26am) and this picture (7/4/2014 4:28am) with the caption: "Pastor drops by at the hospital to check up on Esteban Gutierrez":
Well, almost. What a great example of quality intra-team battles that race was - for once NO team orders and ding-dong battles up and down the pack. It was clear from Rosberg and Hamilton's reaction when they met up after the race that both had really enjoyed their clash over the last 10 laps, and it's a credit to the Mercedes team bosses who obviously had enough faith in their drivers to let them fight it out. Further down, the Force India, Williams and Red Bull race for that third spot was also pretty epic as they traded places (and dodged around Ferraris) at various points. I was also so pleased for Ricciardo who continued his stellar start to 2014 and almost got back to the podium by the end of the race. Although the Red Bulls don't quite have the Mercedes' pace they are looking promising on lower fuel loads, despite not having this season's "must have" accessory - the Mercedes bling.
Off the track a couple of stories caught my eye, the most amusing of which would have to be the effort which Ferrari bosses (and in particular Luca di Montezemolo - quoted in this ESPN article ) have been putting into trying to convince anyone who'll listen that the recent changes made to F1 regulations are bad for the sport (nothing to do with them being bad for Ferrari, obviously!). This seemed to culminate with a series of conversations with key F1 people up and down the paddock pre-race yesterday where the words "taxi racing" were overheard on a few occasions. It was kinda ironic then that today's race was one of the most enjoyable and interesting for many years. Interestingly enough, there were a few comments via twitter and from Sky F1 commentators that a couple of the cars seemed louder this weekend - if they can continue to work on making the cars sound more like the old F1 we're used to, then I think this might just be a cracking year.
In other news - how could Pastor Maldonado only get a 5 grid place penalty and a couple of penalty points for what he did to Gutierrez? What will it take for him to either learn to drive responsibly or for him to be dropped from the main game? I guess Lotus must really really need the money.......And to finish on a laugh, here's the funniest twitter take on the message from Paddy Lowe to Hamilton and Rosberg just prior to the epic battle in the closing race laps (with thanks to @PitlaneWB )
After another dominant performance from the Mercedes drivers in Friday practice, and both qualifying and the race looking to be dry (and not too hot) it looks like the real race here might be for third. There's a few likely contenders in my view, Alonso has to be up there, Vettel perhaps if the car is reliable, and possibly even Button who is probably extra-motivated given this is his 250th F1 race ( although probably doesn't have the car). Bottas is in the mix, and maybe Hulkenburg - did I miss any obvious candidates??
One to watch this round will be Adrian Sutil, who apparently is planning to race without any drink bottle to save weight in the car. To me, the weight restrictions this season are just a bit too ridiculous with a couple of the drivers looking seriously gaunt to me. If he makes it through 2hrs with no hydration and is still making safe driving decisions I will be surprised!
With the end of daylight saving in Australia coinciding with the television broadcast time for qualifying tonite, don't forget to set your recorders appropriately. And for those in North America or Europe - enjoy your first 2014 race during drinking hours :-)
Much to the surprise of many F1 folks, they have arrived in Bahrain and found that it is raining! Kinda unusual for the desert, but from the look of it the showers should be gone by the start of FP1 on Friday. I hope so - I would like to see what the Ferraris are capable of on a dry track.
For the McLaren and/or Button fans out there, don't forget that this Sunday marks Button's 250th F1 start, an impressive milestone in anyone's books. How great would it be to see him on the podium? Although I have been known to be a bit one- eyed when it comes to McLaren, I really don't think their cars can complete in terms of raw pace in a dry race but I would love to be proven wrong on that.
Assuming it will be a dry (and hot) race, I reckon we will see the most finishers of any race so far this weekend. My guess is 17 finishers, what do you think??
While the Mercedes disappeared into the distance, the real battle was back in the pack - some great driving between Alonso and Hulkenburg, Grosjean and Kimi, and at the death a Williams dual resulting in team orders which Massa either didn't hear, or chose to ignore before the orders were rescinded and the pair fought each other right to the checkered flag. As the SkyF1 commentators noted, I'm sure that was the last thing Massa would have wanted - in a team where clearly he hopes to be an equal, if not a leader. And Sepang continues to be an unhappy hunting ground for Aussies, with terrible luck again f Daniel with a botched pitstop then front wing damage seeing him retire.
i am glad it didn't rain, although it was so humid most of the crews looked like they had been in a swimming pool in full kit. And I know that Benedict Cumberbatch is a celebrity, I but seriously - celebrity podium interviews now?? He was a better interviewer than Alan Jones ( OK, that's not saying much) - but if that is a precedent, I wonder which other celebrities we might see during the European summer ( and no, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard don't really count!) And you gotta love a salesman, Rosberg spruiking their Petronas fuel in the podium interview.
So we are off to Bahrain next weekend for a night race which will be interesting. Probably very little chance of rain, but tyre degradation might be a factor as will the heat. Given the two pre-season tests were held at Bahrain, this should be a great chance to see just how fa which teams have come since then......
It was sad to read this morning that the Malaysian authorities are now certain the missing Malaysian Airlines 777 has crashed into the Indian Ocean with no survivors. This terrible tragedy rates a mention in my F1 blog for a couple of reasons. Firstly because a number of teams and drivers with connections to Asia (Caterham and Mercedes in particular) have been visibly throwing their support behind the search for the missing plane, including the Mercedes team running the hastag "#PrayForMH370 " on their cars during promo events in Malaysia and for the race weekend. Secondly, because there has been quite a bit of coverage of hotels asking international media covering the search, and relatives/friends of those on the missing plane, to move out of the hotels which have been booked for F1 patrons, teams and media for 12 months. I do hope there will be some sort of tribute or recognition over the race weekend.....
On a brighter note, as the last of the drivers and teams arrive in Malaysia, the reliability talk has resurfaced off the back of the extremely hot temperatures predicted for this weekend, although there seems to be a reasonable chance of a tropical downpour during qualifying and maybe also during the race. Will we see a noticeable power improvement from Ferrari, and will Mercedes run Hamilton with the same engine that let him down in Melbourne? And with the appeal over Ricciardo's exclusion from Melbourne's result (set down for 14 April) and the questions around fuel flow rate result in a conservative strategy for Red Bull? I am unsure who to back for the win this week, but I think it would be a safe bet that Lotus will probably have another weekend to forget!
A couple of random thoughts to finish with. For any Williams-Martini Racing fans out there, the new team wear should be available soon (did anyone else think the pit crew looked like storm troopers with their white helmets??) and most of the other teams will release their full 2014 range on 1 April via the formula1.com online shop. Don't forget that the Bahrain night race is the weekend immediately after this one, and then there's a couple of weeks until the race in China which falls on the Easter long weekend.
Keep an eye out for my next post later in the week - it will have a distinctly Italian flavour.... Pasta Maldonado anyone??
Where to start?? The first start of the year was aborted due to problems on the start for a couple of runners, and the cars went around again before lining up for the second start which was uneventful - until Kobayashi showed that kamikaze flair that we have missed last season in taking out Massa at turn three. Such a shame because the Williams promised so much for this weekend, and a clearly upset Massa has called for an exclusion penalty for Kobayashi likening the incident to that which saw Grosjean excluded for a race last season. If you missed it, check out this picture from SkyF1: http://twitter.com/Mattzel89/status/445081562548146176/photo/1 Other key early race issues was the hokey-pokey exchange between Hamilton and his engineer (along the lines of "ok, we need to retire the car to save the engine.....wait, now we're ok, no hang on, in this lap and into the garage"). And it was a bit sad to hear the cheer that went up around Albert Park when the news of Vettel's retirement came over the speakers.
There's been some conjecture here around who the best driver of the day was (and no, I don't think our taxi driver on the way out of the city counts!). I think there is a fair argument for Bottas who managed to recover from a clip of the wall and tyre issue to finish strongly, but also another argument for Kevin Magnussen who finished his first f1 race on the podium. Also Daniik Kyvat who joins pretty elite company (including Magnussen and Nico Rosberg) who scored points in their rookie race. Feel free to leave your thoughts on that one below!
in other news, there has been a tweet from Formula1 News doing the rounds today that "Lewis" and "Nicole" are engaged. Intriguing, wonder who they mean?? And for those wondering, 14 drivers finished today including one of the Marussia ( what do you call a pair of Marussia - Marussias or Marussi or a miracle??), zero Lotus (although they got close), one Red Bull, one Mercedes, and one Williams, and two each of McLaren, Force India, Ferrari, Torro-Rosso and Sauber. Who would have thought it??
Wow - that would have to be one of the best qualifying sessions I have seen in a long time. New and unpredictable cars, rain and wind (not to mention lightening and thunder), and some surprises - although both Mercedes did made the top three. Dan Ricciardo showed the Red Bulls do have pace, although Kimi Raikkonen's spin and crash into the barriers at Turn 4 put paid to Vettel's chances of making Q3.
For mine, there were a couple of standout performances (besides Ricciardo of course) further down the order. McLaren's faith in their rookie Kevin Magnussen paid off when he put their number 2 car up into 4th place despite Button not making the top 10. Both Torro Rossos (running Renaults thus year) made the top ten, with a best-ever Quali for Vergne (6) and rookie Daniil Kyvat showing his class(8). And Kobayashi marked his return to F1 by dragging his Caterham into Q2 with a bit of help from the rain gods to finish at P15.
On the downside, it might be another long night for Lotus with Maldonado failing to set a time and therefore at risk of not being permitted to run tomorrow. Grosjean set a time within the 107%, but arguably only due to the times for Q3 being affected by rain. And both Bottas (10) and Gutierrez (19) handed 5 grid place penalties.
The forecast for tomorrow suggests a light shower or two and much cooler conditions which should help with those overheating issues, however reliability and fuel burn will probably be the big stories out of the race. By the way, feel free to leave your predictions for the top three and how many cars you think will finish the race in the comments section below.........
It's not just the day today that's shaping up to be hot, with beautiful blue skies and an orange sunrise - but the action on the track is shaping up to be one of the most interesting Friday practice days in some years. Although Red Bull are doing their best to put a brave spin on their position (ie quotes yesterday from the team that the cars have come a long way since Bahrain) the reality is that they are yet to complete a full race distance in these new spec cars. One of my favourite quotes from the media day yesterday was when the drivers were asked how many cars they thought would finish. While most senior drivers suggested 9-14, Magnussen is confident all 22 will finish, but Dan Ricciardo said "none - we will all be running over the line!"
For those who are wondering, Charlie Whiting is being reported in the media this morning as saying that if all the cars break down, the race can be called off. Although there are some dissenting views, with a couple of commentators suggesting that 90% race distance is all it takes to be qualified as a race finisher. So technically, a car could spend 5-6 laps in the garage and still win the race! It is going to be intriguing folks.......
Final preparations are underway down at Albert Park as we count down to P1 which is just over 2 days from now. The circuit will be open to the public tomorrow, although the on-track action will be limited to practice sessions for the celebrity race and the support categories with a couple of opportunities to grab an autograph from the drivers at scheduled appearances in the Fan Zone. P1 kicks off at 12.30pm Melbourne time on Friday (which I think is about 9.30pm on the east coast of the USA and some ungodly hour of the morning in the UK).......
The forecast for the weekend doesn't look good. On Saturday they're predicting a hot day but 'late rain' - a very similar forecast to last year's qualifying which ended up being postponed to Sunday morning. And the forecast for Sunday is 'rain clearing' - again similar to last year where Sunday started quite wet but cleared up for what was essentially a dry race. So those heading to the track - don't forget the sunblock, the jumper, and the umbrella!
A quick note on practice and qualifying. Each driver has access to an additional set of 'prime' tyres in the first 30mins of FP1, to encourage more on-track action from all teams during that session. For qualifying, Q1 has been reduced to 18mins, Q2 stays as 20mins and Q3 will now be 22mins and drivers will now be required to start the race on the tyres they completed Q2 on - a move designed to encourage ALL teams that make Q3 to actually come out and shoot for that fast lap, rather than hanging in the garage to conserve tyres. Although given the performance of the Pirelli tyres during pre-season testing, I don't think tyre wear in general will be as topical as last year so it will be interesting to see how this goes in the first couple of races.
I was chatting with another F1infocentre punter last night on an interesting question which we think is worth posing to you - dear reader. Just how many of the cars do you think will finish the race on Sunday? There are 22 cars in total, and points are awarded to the top ten finishers. Could we see enough retirements that a Caterham or Marussia might sneak home in the points a few laps down??
With the last of the winter testing completed, the teams are now well and truly focused on Melbourne with P1 now just 11 days away. All except for Red Bull who will run their 100km 'filming day' at Bahrain on Monday - and I'm sure they'll be hoping to get all the promo shots done before flames, smoke or other mechanical gremlins intervene.
It hasn't been a particularly reassuring few weeks for the Renault-powered cars who continue to be hampered by mechanical failures, overheating (and in some cases actual fires) and other reliability issues. For those who've been reading my ramblings for 12 months, you'd recall that I don't believe any of the top teams actually show their hands in pre-season testing, although having said that I do think the Force India and Williams teams were probably pretty close to showing us exactly what they'll be able to do this season. McLaren seem to be struggling with reliability again, a shame as they were quite strong in the first test and the computer-controlled Marussia apparently went down with a 'computer virus' at one point during the testing. What is the world coming to when even F1 cars need to deploy virus-protection software......
Looking at what's transpired in testing - especially last weekend with the race simulations (long runs) - I'm inclined to believe that there's a couple of teams at least who are in serious trouble heading into Melbourne. Lotus definitely has some challenges to overcome (I reckon if we listen carefully we'll hear Nico Hulkenburg's sigh of relief that he didn't end up at Lotus!), and Sauber, Caterham and Torro Rosso weren't all that reliable either. Red Bull probably didn't get as much running as they would have liked, but it would be a brave person to bet against them given the track record of the last few seasons. The long-range weather forecast suggests 30 degree Celcius (which is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the non-metrics!!) as the maximum temperature for qualifying on Saturday in Melbourne - although there is also "late rain" predicted (for those at the track last year, that's the same forecast so be prepared!!) and a much cooler 23 degree Celcius (around 73 degrees Fahrenheit) for the race. With a number of cars falling victim to overheating issues I think both Melbourne and Malaysian rounds might see a good few DNFs!
I made a couple of (possibly more?) interesting observations in the last few weeks. Has anyone else noticed how scrawny all the drivers are this year? I was aware that the new weight restrictions would mean drivers needed to slim down, but seriously.........there's a distinct 'jockey' look about a couple of them this year and I wonder how they'll go lifting the enormous champagne magnums over their heads if they end up on the podium. And it's also been interesting that there's no chat about tyres at all over the last few weeks, very different to this time last year. We've seen Bernie Ecclestone's bribery trial come and go with a verdict of 'not guilty' (although the Telegraph in the UK carried a report that the judge also commented that Ecclestone was "... not a reliable or truthful witness...") and quite a few pics from the Sochi F1 facilities tweeted by media in Russia for the Winter Olympics. In the last week or two teams have launched their new season teamwear, and my favorite would have to be the new-look McLaren (minus long-term naming rights sponsor Vodafone) - if you've not already done so check out the Formula1.com website for pictures.
Last but not least, there have been no sightings of Coco or Roscoe yet although I believe they may be keeping the home fires burning and thanking their lucky stars their daddy doesn't live in the UK given British Bulldogs are not typically known as water dogs. On a serious note I do hope all our UK friends are safe and dry after such a messy month or so weather-wise, and the same for our US friends who I believe have had more snow this winter in most places than in living memory!!
Don't forget, if you're interested in joining the f1infocentre.com tipping competition time is running out - use the 'Contact Us' link at the bottom of the website to send in your details.........
Day 1 of the second test from Bahrain started pretty much the same way the Jerez testing left off, with Red Bull dealing with an engine fire, random problems for many of the other Renault-powered cars and the Mercedes-powered cars looking strong. Ferrari also had a good day with Alonso amongst the fastest lap times. First day honours went to Nico Hulkenburg in the Force India with a lap that was slightly faster than the best F1 race lap time in Bahrain last year. With a number of cars getting up to or near to race speed it was also the first real test of the noise the new engines make - and it seems many people are disappointed, with phrases like "leaf blower" and "lawn mower" being used by a few paddock regulars.
Compared to last year, it's been a fairly quiet few weeks news-wise around the paddock, although a couple of stories are worth a mention. It would appear that Hamilton's come to Bahrain without Coco or Roscoe (poor doggies will be lonely rattling around at home on their own!) - but I guess maybe he'll head straight from Bahrain after the second round of testing to Australia. The other story that's getting perhaps more than it's fair share of comment at the moment is the fact that Vettel has turned up to Bahrain with dark hair! I'd like to think it was a tribute to new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, but it's probably something more mundane like having a new baby in the house doesn't leave enough time for visits to the hair dresser. No-one seems to know what his daughter's name is though, and good for him on keeping his family life private!
And one for the Mark Webber fans - it was announced this week that Mark will be joining the F1 commentary team on Australia's Channel 10 (host broadcaster for the Melbourne round, and Australian F1 broadcast rights holder). Imagine the first post-race interview between Webber and Vettel - something like this: "So Seb, how do you feel about the reliability issues Red Bull are facing this year? Do you think I made a good choice to move on?"
More from Bahrain in the next few days, will we see a Renault-powered car make the top 5?
After a flurry of last minute car reveals on day 1 - and one which didn't quite make it out of its wraps (*cough - Caterham - cough) - it was Lewis Hamilton on the dot of 9am for a single lap in the new Mercedes. Then a lot of nothing, then the first foray from Kimi in the Ferrari which promptly broke down part-way round the track to trigger the first red flag of the year. Hmm - reliability......
For those in parts of the world where there's no coverage of the testing on TV or radio, here's a youtube clip where you can hear the cars. I have to say I think they're a bit tinny, the high-pitched sound that has characterized the F1 cars for so many years now has been replaced by a low pitched rumble - what do you think??
Noses aside, the big talking point across the 'wet' day and the final day of testing has been the reliability issues plaguing the three Renault-powered cars at Jerez which all seemed to suffer a failure of some degree - including the Red Bull which was smoking (literally) on more than one occasion. I'm sure that the best brains at Renault are on the job and by the time we see the cars again at Bahrain they will have gotten to the bottom of the issue. One wonders whether Lotus' decision not to take part in Jerez was actually a stroke of genius - perhaps they were aware of the Renault engine issues and decided that given the likelihood they'd not get much running they would save their money and keep the team at home!
The other thing we've learned from testing is that Mercedes merchandising has reached an all-time high - if you haven't seen the pictures of Nico and Lewis laying rubber in the pit box in the latest car from Mercedes check out this picture tweeted by @MercedesAMGF1 during the week.
So we now have a couple of weeks until the back-to-back Bahrain tests (19 to 22 February and 27 February to 2 March) - and the teams have a couple of weeks to reflect on what they learned from testing. And then it's off to Melbourne - hooray!!
A final editorial note if I may. F1infocentre.com's tipping competition for 2014 is a great way to enhance your F1 viewing in 2014 - as a tipster you get access to the 'member's only' section of this website to join in the discussion (polite sledging is not only allowed, it's encouraged!) and try your hand at picking the winners and losers from what is sure to be an entertaining season. New this year, we are also offering to our tipsters a newsletter which will give you all the detail you ever wanted to know on the technical regulation changes for this year - to arm you for those water-cooler conversations so you can impress your mates with your technical knowledge!. If you're interested in being part of the F1infocentre.com tipping competition, use the 'Contact Us' link at the bottom of this page to send us your details so we can welcome you aboard for 2014.
Hmm - what does this fella and the 2014 F1 cars have in common? (Ed. Removed link to picture of a Proboscis Monkey on another site due to file size)
If you've not yet done so, check out the Torro Rosso, the Williams and particularly the Force India on the 2014 Launches coverage on F1infocentre.com, then look back at the monkey......
With all now revealed except the Marussia (which I believe left the factory around first light UK time this morning and should make Jerez by Thursday!) and the Caterham (which was to have been launched today but a last-minute 'glitch' meant the launch was cancelled) we have some seriously good looking machines from Red Bull (helped by their clever paint choices), Mercedes AMG, and Ferrari, and some which are absolutely on the nose like the Williams and the Force India - which, apart from the obvious animal jokes also seem to be attracting their fair share of snide remarks. (This is a FAMILY blog, but if you must, you can search for #VJM07 on twitter - although I'd suggest you DON'T do that at work!!)
The odd car out so far seems to be the Lotus which has two noses, a small one and a larger one creating a 'V' shape which quickly attracted the attention of the photo-shoppers who took great delight in speculating what a 'nose-to-nose' collision between the Lotus and, say, a Williams might looks like (and no, you'll have to google that one yourself - this is a FAMILY blog!!)
Jocularity aside, some knowledgeable F1 technical folks are speculating around the potential safety issues should one of the cars with a big nose, or a flattened out scoop nose (ie Ferrari) run up the back of another car, or into the tyre barriers at speed. In any case, there will be a lot of people watching the testing with interest as there does tend to be at least one or two high speed crashes which might give us an indication of how the 'noses' will perform in a frontal impact.
In any case, it's certain that the 'nose' jokes will persist well into the season - who knows, we might even see an entrepreneurial Aussie or two outside the gates in Melbourne selling 'nose' merchandise......
So - as we prepare for the start of testing in Spain in a few hours, here's your handy-dandy reference list of this year's teams, drivers and the number which will be on their cars this year (remembering that the drivers got to pick a number which they'll keep for their entire career - although the World Champion has the option to use '1' on their car). (check out the article on GP Hub for more information, the list below first appeared on their website).
Infiniti Red Bull Racing (Renault)
Sebastian Vettel #1 (#5)
Daniel Ricciardo #3
Mercedes AMG Petronas (Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton #44
Nico Rosberg #6
Scuderia Ferrari (Ferrari)
Fernando Alonso #14
Kimi Raikkonen #7
Lotus F1 Team (Renault)
Romain Grosjean #8
Pastor Maldonado #13
McLaren Mercedes (Mercedes)
Jenson Button #22
Kevin Magnussen #20
Force India (Mercedes)
Nico Hulkenberg #27
Sergio Perez #11
Adrian Sutil #99
Esteban Gutierrez #21
Scuderia Toro Rosso (Renault)
Jean-Eric Vergne #25
Daniil Kvyat #26
Valtterri Bottas #77
Felipe Massa #19
Jules Bianchi #17
Max Chilton #4
Kamui Kobayashi #tbc
Marcus Ericsson #tbc
Well, well, well - hasn't the summer (or winter for those of you not 'down under'!!) break flown by?? Hard to believe we're only 50 days from FP1 in Melbourne (or 49 days until they open the gates if you're planning on a 4-day ticket......)
The off-season has been full of news, both good and not so good. Arguably the biggest story though would be Michael Schumacher's unfortunate skiing accident, which seemed to become an unnecessary (and distasteful) media circus given the lack of other news around at the time. The next biggest story was probably Bernie Ecclestone being committed to stand trial in Germany on those fraud charges (although it looks like the civil suit in the UK has recently been dropped) and subsequently stepping down from a range of F1-related board positions - although he has continued as the F1 'head honcho' for now. Given the local (Australian) media's liking for running 'Bernie' stories in the lead-up to the Melbourne GP it'll be too bad for them if he doesn't make the trip to Melbourne this year!!
On a lighter note, we've seen the last of the driver's seats filled this week with the announcement of Caterham's team - and it's a very big welcome back to Kamui Kobayashi who brings his unique brand of kamikaze bravado back to the big league for 2014. Kobayashi will be joined by rookie Swede Marcus Ericsson in the new-look Caterham team which (if you can believe recent quotes attributed to Tony Fernandez) may not be around after this season if they don't improve their performance. The Force India team of Sutil and Hulkenburg looks strong as well, and both Sauber and Williams will be hoping for a better season given their new driver pairings. For the front-running teams, the dynamic between Alonso and Raikkonen will be one to watch as will Ricciardo's performance with Red Bull. Although given the significant technical changes between last season and this (which, dear reader, I am definitely not qualified to discuss but I won't let that stop me!!) there's a lot of focus on the pre-season testing which kicks off in Spain next week.
There's plenty to discuss in coming days, from the 'permanent' driver numbers to which teams will / won't turn up at Jerez, to the mostly online / at Jerez car launches, to the recent announcement that Pirelli have secured the contract to supply F1 tyres (through 2016 I think), to the alleged foray into hip-hop music undertaken by one Lewis Hamilton over Christmas (if you've not already seen it, check out the bling on Hamilton's bulldog Roscoe.....).
If you are interested in joining the F1infocentre tipping comp this year, use the 'contact us' link on the bottom right hand side of the F1infocentre website for more information!!
Although the racing for 2013 has finished, the F1 news just keeps coming. We've seen Sergio Perez moving back to Force India partnering Nico Hulkenburg, Maldonado and his money over to Lotus, Massa to Williams, Ross Braun on sabbatical, and Vettel announcing he'll be a dad shortly after Christmas. The rumors of Paul Di Resta moving into Indy with team Ganassi proved false, with most money now on Di Resta to pop up at Sauber given the rumored issues with their young Russian hope Sergey Sirotkin. And now there's rumors that Eric Boullier (Lotus) is also on the move. It will be interesting to see just what field turns up in Melbourne in March, that's for sure.
The FIA has released the regulation changes for 2014, with the most controversial being the awarding of double points for the last race of the season. Most drivers and commentators have slammed this change as a 'gimmick' and some drivers - including Vettel - have come out in public with similar views. And Pirelli have been granted a tyre test in Bahrain from 17-19 December, although a number of teams and 'main' drivers have decided not to take part. There's been much speculation in the last few days around why the FIA has opened the process seeking a 14th team for Formula 1 in 2015, particularly when the future of Caterham (and to some degree Sauber and Lotus!) are in doubt. I do recall intermittent rumors through the year about an eminent US identify looking to enter F1 but that might have actually been in reference to the recent announcement that Leonardo di Caprio is backing a new Formula E team.
(With apologies to our US friends, to whom this bit won't be of interest......) It seems there's a few UK-based F1 identities in Perth, Australia this weekend for the third Ashes cricket test and staying on for the Boxing Day test in Melbourne. I guess if you have as many frequent flyer miles as they would after a season following the F1 paddock, 40 degree celcius temperatures in Perth would be looking quite good about now regardless of who is actually likely to win the cricket!!
Thanks to all those who have joined the conversation here on F1 Infocentre over the 2013 season! If you have been reading this blog and were interested in joining our F1 tipping competition on the private section of this website, check back around the time that 2014 winter testing commences (late January/early February) for more information.
Best wishes to all for the holiday season - and I look forward to seeing you back here again next year (or in Melbourne in March 2014 if you can make the journey!)
Alex (Adele) Palmer.
What an interesting way to wrap up the season, although perhaps a bit more rain could have spiced things up a little more. A couple of callout results which you might have missed in the heat of the moment:
- with the retirement of Pic's Caterham late in the race, Marussia have come through to win 10th place (ie second last) in the constructor's championship - something that will significantly boost the team's coffers for next season. Still unclear whether Max Chilton will stay with Marussia next year though, despite having finished all 19 races this year in his rookie year.
- Mercedes AMG have secured second in the constructor's championship. Most commentators seem to think Ross Brawn will not remain with the Silver Arrows into next year, he's being touted as potentially heading back to McLaren for 2015 (the Honda engines said to be a drawcard there) or perhaps heading over to Ferrari. Time will tell on that one!
- Button did a remarkable job to bring the McLaren home in 4th place, saving McLaren from the embarrassment of 2013 being their first season since the early 1980's with no 4th place finish.
- Massa took the opportunity to do some donuts on the last lap, as did a few other drivers. But no-one was called to the stewards (yet). Will we see the return of the donut as a staple on the race-day menu??
- In his messages to both Vettel and Webber aired over the pit radio (FOM feed with SkyF1 commentary), Christian Horner managed to use the words "brilliant" and "well done" with exactly the same tone of voice to each driver, but by tacking different words before and after he managed to make the message somewhat unique each time.
And in big news - the mystery of the 'Marussia' has been solved. At Austin last weekend there was much speculation amongst the F1infocentre fraternity as to what you might get if you asked for a 'Marussia'. Although on reflection, we didn't ever clarify where one might ask for a Marussia......anyway, according to the ever-wise Google bird a Marussia is a Russian sports car (seems a bit obvious though, doesn't it??). Apparently it was founded in 2007 and most notably was the first luxury car made in Russia - although one would hope that it can hold its own amongst the other supercars (McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus, Bugatti etc) a little better than it does in the F1 paddock and that it is a little less fiery than the Marussia F1 cars have been over the last few seasons.
I'll be doing a season wrap-up blog post a bit later this week before hanging up the keyboard for the 'winter' break. Feel free to post any thoughts, opinions, views or topics you'd like explored in the comments section below - and I'll see what I can come up with.
Reports over the last few days would suggest that the near-final version of the 2014 calendar has been released. Of particular note for those who have frequented the Austin round the last two years is the change in timing - the round now expected to be the last weekend in October.
The below dates were tweeted by Andrew Benson about 24hrs ago, although he notes it is not final he's confident it's near final - with the 'final' version to be released in early December. There's very few 'back to back' weekends scheduled, notably the Melbourne and Malaysia rounds are now 2 weeks apart rather than consecutive weekends which will present an interesting conundrum for the paddock (as in, do they stay in Australia / Asia or do they fly all the way out to Australia and back to Europe, then back to Malaysia?)
Australia: 16 March; Malaysia: 30 March; Bahrain: 6 April; China: 20 April; Spain: 11 May; Monaco: 25 May; Canada: 8 June; Austria: 22 June; Great Britain: 6 July; Germany: 20 July; Hungary: 27 July; Belgium: 24 August; Italy: 7 September; Singapore: 21 September; Japan: 5 October; Russia: 12 October; USA: 26 October; Brazil: 2 November; Abu Dhabi: 16 November.
Also worth noting that Marussia appear to have advised Max Chilton that no decision on his future with them will be made until early December. Given the rumours that Lotus reserve driver David Valsecchi is "...considering his options..." after being overlooked for the second Lotus seat in Kimi's absence, perhaps he will turn up in the Lotus at the expense of Max Chilton? Also some interesting developments in relation to Paul di Resta yesterday, although he did not directly address the rumours swirling since last week about a potential drive with Chip Ganassi's outfit in the USA next year he did confirm that if F1 doesn't work out for next year he did have '...other options...'. And finally, there's renewed speculation that a US-based team may once again be on the cards for 2015 with the backing of an eminent figure in USA motorsports. Any ideas on who that might be??
Race day started under misty low cloud with some light precipitation in patches, but very quickly cleared to one of the warmest November days in Austin for many years - with the temperature at race start around 30 degrees Celcius. A bumper crowd began arriving early and queues formed at the main concourse gates, but became restless when 'gate open' time passed without the gates being opened - although some patrons must have come in other gates as they were walking past those of us patiently queuing. Turns out there was a police incident at turn one (the highest elevation on the circuit and a long way from the front gates!) but it was dealt with quickly and they let us into the track around 7.50am to take up our positions then wait until 1pm local time for the race to begin.
There are many ways to amuse ones-self for 5 hours on a hot day in Texas when most people got little or no sleep the night before (the 'fan fest' carnival in Austin Saturday night, and the college football game!) and tempers flared in some locations as punters jockeyed for the best vantage points. Some entertainment with the vintage racers passed quickly, then one of the largest fields of Ferraris I've ever seen lined up for their feature race. Which lasted only until the first corner before bits of Ferrari were strewn all over the track - and one punter was heard to comment "...way to burn up $10,000 on a Sunday morning!!" But my highlight of the day was when the yellow US school buses appeared around turn 18 (doing about 1/16'th of an F1 car's speed!) - imagine racing school buses (now that's a Top Gear Challenge if ever I've heard one.
The driver's parade was a little longer than normal because both Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez got out of their cars to throw promotional caps to the crowds gathered on the hill between turns 18 and 19, followed by a camera crew who interviewed them in both English and Spanish. Interestingly there's a good chance neither will have a permanent drive in F1 next season, and it would be interesting to see if the absence of a Mexican driver has any impact on the crowd figures in 2014. The official attendance for race day was around 112,000 with a total weekend attendance of just over 250,000 through the gates - about 4,000 per day down on last year's sell-out.
The actual race was mostly unremarkable, with Vettel racing away to what has become his 'typical' lead of late, leaving the rest of the field to squabble over the balance of the points. There were some bright spots (Alonso and Hulkenburg, and Button and Ricciardo's battles towards the end and also Mark Webber's valiant attempt to chase down Grosjean) but with only a single safety car and minimal tyre degradation issues the real entertainment was around cheering for Max Chilton each time he passed and also cheering for Heikki in the Lotus who didn't have such a good day. Racing not withstanding, I would highly recommend the Austin GP experience - after all, they say that everything's better in Texas (just ask any local)!
With Kimi out, Alonso's result today has all but ensured he'll finish second in the driver's championship and Mercedes would have to be very unlucky to not finish second in the constructor's championship this year - a great result for them. As the paddock (and some of our F1infocentre alumni) pack up and head for Brazil we are still waiting for news on drivers for a few of the likely (or confirmed) vacant seats for next year, and of course Brazil will be Mark Webber's final F1 start. There was a bit of discussion today around whether Vettel would ever consider letting Mark win in Brazil, but with Vettel equaling the most consecutive wins in a season today he's sure to be focused on winning next Sunday to break the record. What do you think?
Another quali run, another Red Bull front row lockout. Although on this occasion it was arguably a spectacular effort from Vettel who was almost 0.2 seconds slower than Webber by the end of the second sector before pulling out an amazing end to the lap to steal the pole by just over a tenth of a second. Webber (pictured left on turn 19) could probably have done better but admitted mucking up the last sector. Although the fog was hanging around again, it wasn't nearly as thick as yesterday and I believe that the medical helicopter overnighted at the track so no issues on that front to delay things today. It was quite a humid day and very windy with a fair amount of cloud around and many drivers were complaining about not being able to bring their tyres up to temperature and the impact of the wind.
But some of the more remarkable stories were once again a little further down the field. In Q1, Bottas (the driver Williams have retained for 2014) put in the fastest lap to top the timesheet, but Maldonado (who has been dropped in favour of Massa) missed the cut and was quite scathing of Williams' treatment of him in the post-race press conference - to the point that some commentators are speculating on whether Williams might in fact drop him from Brazil. Perhaps an opportunity for Suzie Wolff who has been waiting in the wings there at Williams?? It was a similar story at McLaren with Button (also carrying a 3-grid place penalty for passing under red flags in FP1 on Friday) being knocked out in Q2 but Perez will start from seventh. Both Saubers are provisionally in the top ten (as are both the Lotus), but Gutierrez is facing a steward's inquiry for a potential block on Maldonado so may yet start outside the top ten. In the battle of the Marussias and Caterhams, it was Caterham on top but Charles Pic changed a gearbox and will receive a 5 grid-place penalty and Chilton is facing a steward's inquiry over potentially blocking Maldonado (who really really had a bad day!) so it may yet be mixed up.
In other news, some of our F1infocentre friends and tipsters were spotted getting a close-up of a muddy puddle in the parking lot as they left the Circuit of the America's this afternoon. Maybe it was an experiment to see whether that was where the coffee being served in our area of the track had come from (yeah, it was that bad!!). Or maybe they were just looking for some crawfish to have for afternoon tea?? I will do my best to find out, dear reader, and report back to you after the race tomorrow.
So yes, I can confirm that Alex made it to Austin, Texas! A foggy start in Austin this morning (left) meant that FP1 was initially delayed and then when it did get underway the session was red-flagged about 20mins in under quite amusing circumstances. There have been a few versions doing the rounds, but apparently according to Jenny Gow (BBC 5live quoting an FIA source) the medical helicopter - which has to be at the track and able to fly - was simply "...not at the track..." and with the fog around no-one actually noticed! From our vantage point with views over the medical centre we watched the helicopter fly in and FP1 resumed shortly afterwards (right). In addition to Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotus, we saw Alexander Rossi (American) and Rodolfo (Speedy) Gonzales (Venezuelan) complete FP1 for Caterham and Marussia respectively in a session topped by Alonso in the Ferrari. The session concluded at 11am local time as per regulations which require no less than 2hrs between FP1 and FP2 - even though around half an hour had been lost. Interestingly, Jenson Button has been given a three-grid place penalty by the race stewards (this week led by Nigel Mansell) for overtaking under a red flag.
During the break I was able to pop over to the autograph stage and listen in to the interview with 'man of the moment' Nico Hulkenburg and his Sauber team-mate Esteban Gutierrez. One of the more memorable exchanges came when the interviewer asked Hulkenburg how he coped with being a tall driver in Formula 1. His response was that he had to fold himself into the car more than other smaller drivers like Gutierrez, at which point Gutierrez asked Hulkenburg what it was like to "...be fat and drive an F1 car?..." The crowd laughed but Hulkenburg didn't seem that amused, and the interviewer moved the conversation on quickly to food and fitness regimes for the drivers - which didn't really help because Gutierrez suggested because he was so small he kept being asked by the team to "...eat everything.." and that Hulkenburg was often in the gym. I'm guessing not so much love lost between the Sauber drivers!! And on the subject of food, I came across an "Aussie Pie" food van and was shocked to note that they were charging $10 USD for a Steak and Guinness Pie!! And yes, I did have to get one, and yes it was really good (albeit small for $10......)
By the time FP2 started, skies had cleared and the track temperature had risen to be 31 degrees celcius (about 88 F) with all the 'regular' drivers (except Kimi) back in the cars. It was a full session which ended up being dominated by Red Bull with Vettel and Webber followed by the two Mercedes and Heikki Kovalainen who seems determined to make good use of this opportunity. And he may have scored some new fans amongst the F1Infocentre crew who had been discussing where to source a Finnish flag before quali tomorrow. Marussia's Max Chilton facilitated some llate entertainment when he spun after a break failure on the final turn of the circuit. The breakdown removal crane arrived on the scene but became bogged in the kitty litter - much to the amusement of those clustered around the big screens who cheered when the crane was finally able to remove the stranded car (but not before the yellow flag on that last corner had impacted most of the field who were on long run race simulations).
I can't finish off the day today without mentioning the signature cocktail of the Circuit of the Americas - the COTA Flame. Quite a few of these were consumed today, and despite repeated attempts we were only able to determine that the cocktail was made of "ice, orange juice, cranberry juice and liquor". Thank goodness for google - if you did want to recreate the COTA Flame for yourself you can find the recipe here: COTA Flame Signature Cocktail
There's a LOT of news doing the rounds today. Firstly we have Sergio Perez confirming that he will be leaving McLaren at the end of 2013, and Andrew Benson reporting that although it's not been announced yet his replacement will be Kevin Magnussen (meaning it's very unlikely that Telmex will be McLaren's title sponsor for 2014 as speculated at the start of the season). There's also some speculation that the Mexican money has been slow to flow for McLaren and Sauber, and with the Mexican GP recently removed from the 2014 calendar that's unlikely to change any time soon. There's also reports this evening that Heikki Kovalainen will be driving for Lotus for the last two races (noting that both Nico Hulkenburg and Michael Schumacher were offered the drive and refused).
I was able to swing by the Circuit of the Americas this morning, and wandered into the main grandstand to have a look at the pit lane - snapping this picture of the Red Bull garage starting to come to life.
I walked around to the main concourse and tagged along with a tour guide on a tour of the Tower to get a great view of the final touches going onto the venue. The guide - Bruce - indicated that as of yesterday (13 November) ticket sales are running at only 70% of last year's "full house" attendance, and the news about Perez today probably won't help ticket sales. The venue goes into 'lockdown' tonite with only accredited personnel able to approach the venue tomorrow (Thursday) before the fun begins in earnest on Friday.
Some interesting news overnight with Andrew Benson tweeting about a conversation with Lotus team boss Eric Boullier where he confirmed to Andrew that Kimi had phoned Saturday night to say he'd be missing the last two GPs with a bad back. There are other reports which go a bit further suggesting that Kimi will actually be going in for back surgery next week to make sure he'll be back fighting fit for the 2014 season with Ferrari, but others are wondering how much the much-discussed pay issues with Lotus had influenced Kimi's decision! Speculation is mounting around who might get the nod for the last two races with Lotus, however Lotus have indicated they will make not make any announcement until mid-week. But with Kimi out of the way, the battle for third in the driver's championship is now between Hamilton, Webber and Rosberg.
It was great to see both the Red Bulls pull out the donuts for the crowd after coming in one-two (that's multi-12 in case you're wondering!) at this evening's Abu Dhabi round. During the podium interviews Martin Brundle asked Vettel about a radio message from his engineer where Vettel seemed to confirm that he would pay the fine this time - Vettel was quick to repeatedly point out that he'd brought the car back to parc ferme this time (unlike last week's effort where he left the car parked in the middle of the track) and there should be no fine. And as it turns out - no reprimand or fine for either Vettel or Webber.
In other news, it was reported that Kimi was already enroute home by the end of the race after retiring on lap one after what some consider a minor incident. There's also criticism of Force India's strategy calls again, and interestingly enough also speculation that Massa's strategy was 'tweaked' to advantage Alonso. Alonso's battle with Vergne which seemed to result in him being all four wheels off the track late in the race was investigated by the officials but no action was taken. Interestingly his hit of the curb during that stoush set off the FIA crash g-force warning light which meant a trip to the medical centre then the hospital but Ferrari confirm it's all routine and there's nothing to worry about. But it's being reported that during post-race interviews Alonso noted he had back pain and hoped he would be OK for Austin and Brazil (story first reported by F1 journalist Adam Cooper).
And it comes as no real surprise that New Jersey and Mexico rounds have reportedly been removed from next year's calendar with a new 5-year deal to return to India expected to be announced in the next few days. In other financial news, the Quantum group are believed to have finalised their funding deal with Lotus which should mean Kimi gets his backpay and may be in a more convivial mood by the next round. It should also mean the announcement of Nico Hulkenburg to take up the spare seat for 2014 at Lotus should follow shortly triggering the final shuffling of the driver market. My guesses - Massa (and probably Rob Smedley) to Williams to join Bottas, Maldonado to Force India to replace the hapless Paul di Resta, Perez to remain at McLaren and possibly be joined by Ross Brawn who's still expected to leave Mercedes at the end of this year. Although there does seem to be an equal volume of speculation that Ross Brawn may infact take next year off to go fishing. Ahh, fishing......
Speculation or hypothesis (or fact if you have it) in relation to driver movements most welcome - what do you think??
So - three rounds to go, two tracks where Red Bull typically do well and one 'new-ish' track (Austin) where they'll also likely do well. Number One driver has locked away the World Championship for 2013, Red Bull has locked away the Constructor's Championship for 2013. There's no love lost between Number One driver and Number Two driver - who just happens to be 3 races from finishing his Formula 1 career and hasn't had a race victory this year despite some promising qualifying and early race performances. And after the 'multi-21' situation it's unlikely either driver would pay any notice to team orders given over the radio during the heat of battle.
If you were Christian Horner, or Helmut Marko, or Deitrich Mateschitz, would you continue to let the drivers and garages compete? Or would you sit everyone down and get both garages and drivers focused on giving Mark the best chance of a win and/or podium finishes for each of the next three races (even if that meant Vettel being unwell or retiring with a mechanical failure or running out of fuel a few laps from the end of the race)? Or maybe you be tempted to limit Mark's running in practice sessions to give Daniel Ricciardo some time in the car, effectively limiting his prospects of a good position on the grid thus impacting his chances in the race?
There's arguments for all of the above, and other options too. What would you do?
The twists and turns of today's race made it one of the more entertaining events of the season, with the team strategists really earning their money. Once again we saw both Lotus demonstrate just good they are in races where tyre degradation haunts many of the other teams - and with Grosjean starting from 17th on the grid to finish on the podium was an amazing result for him. However I'd suggest that there may be some heated conversation in the Lotus garage after Grosjean comes off the podium! Poor Mark Webber had yet another retirement when the alternator gave up, and although he did have a rather forced smile as he dealt briefly with the media circus I'm sure that would have hurt.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge Vettel who has now locked away the World Championship for this year, with Alonso fighting hard early but fading towards the end. With this result Vettel becomes the youngest ever four time World Champion, and more than that he's done it in four consecutive years. Some say his dominance has made this year boring, but I think the reality is simply that he's a great driver who has had an amazing car with a really good team behind him. Maybe now the championship is in in the bag he might help Mark get a win in Abu Dhabi, Texas or Brazil? In any case, it was great to hear the crowd cheer him across the line, see the donuts "...add to the smog in India..." and his playing up to the crowd. Although I'm not so sure that was a good place to park his car!!
One last word - smog. The smog was so bad on Saturday morning that the medical helicopter was unable to fly and that meant a delayed start (and reduced duration) of FP3. On race day it didn't seem to be much better, I don't think I saw the sky at all over the entire length of the race. Let's hope we see blue sky in Abu Dhabi......
What an entertaining race! I'd have to agree with the SkySportsF1 commentators on the World Feed - Grosjean was my driver of the day. Although I would have thought perhaps his best chance of winning the race would have been for him to let Webber past and wait for the two Red Bull drivers to take each other out, particularly after Vettel's radio message - "keep him away from me" - presumably aimed at Mark. For the conspiracy theorists I'm sure there will be questions about whether the change of strategy for Webber mid-race may have been premeditated on the team's part - I guess we'll never know.
Back in the field, another amazing job by Hulkenburg who we understand has a deal done for next year and is just waiting for a couple of details to be concluded before it's announced. If he's in a competitive car next season could he challenge Vettel's dominance? A bad day for Mercedes, and not a good day for Ricciardo who came as close to loosing his cool on the track that I've ever heard when he was asking about his penalty.
You might have noticed the stars that many of the drivers and/or cars were sporting this weekend. They were in memory of Maria de Villota who was sadly found deceased in a hotel room this weekend. Maria was involved in and badly injured during a straight-lline test for Marussia last year as their test driver, and it is being reported that her death was connected to injuries she sustained in that accident. While she was unable to return to top level driving she had been a tireless advocate for women in Formula 1 and she will be missed by many in and around motorsport.
OK - so apologies upfront for such a bad pun, but I couldn't resist!!
There does seem to be a fair amount of chatter around the place suggesting that India's investment in the Buddh International Circuit has not been enough to secure a regular spot on the F1 calendar. As an uneducated outsider I can see why India might be a challenging place for the F1 'circus' to operate, however there is also the argument around the potential to grow the sport's fan base across the subcontinent as a good reason why the race could and should stay.
But hold the phone - if my memory serves me correctly (and it should, been a while since I've had more than a couple of drinks!) weren't we having a similar conversation recently about Korea? And Bahrain? And Melbourne? Perhaps it's time for Mr E to get some new PR people.....
This weekend's race could see Vettel tie up the championship depending on where Alonso (who's the only driver capable of challenging him now) finishes. But I don't think anyone's really switched off yet, racers will be racers and with nothing to lose now they can't win the championship look out for a strong showing from Lewis and Kimi on what should be a totally dry race weekend.
For the second Sunday (or Saturday evening!) in a row we have the pleasure of an F1 race. From looking at the media coverage today from Suzuka there seems to be a lot of fans at the track watching proceedings today - and there's not even any cars on the track! Stark contrast to last weekend's race in Korea where it was rumoured they'd been giving away tickets to try and encourage people to actually make the trek to Mokpo for the race. Although the weather is likely to be problematic for spectators the next two days Sunday should be fine and clear and there's some talk of a record attendance.
The weather could make things interesting, with a storm and rain expected to impact quali on Saturday this is a great chance for someone other than Vettel or Mercedes to get the strategy call right and end up at the front of the grid. If that happens, it should make for an interesting first few laps on Sunday as the faster cars weave through the pack. A couple of things to watch out for in FP1 tomorrow - there's still talk about Kimi's back injury impacting his pace, Hulkenburg is still without a confirmed drive for 2014 so he'll be out to impress, and it'll be interesting to note whether Webber's rebuilt Red Bull has any reliability issues or can match Vettel's pace.
It's a big weekend of motorsport in Australia, so if you're from another part of the world you're forgiven if you wanted to stop reading now :-) The non-horse 'race that stops the nation' - Bathurst - is being fought out all day Sunday and it's a great excuse to set up a couch by the TV, gather some snacks, turn off your mobile phone and be a couch potato for 8hrs watching the amazing drivers and teams fight it out around the amazing Mt Panorama circuit. If you are a motoring enthusiast and you have an opportunity to catch some or all of the race I'd highly recommend it. Then once the Bathurst result is in, we can switch over and enjoy another couple of hours great racing from Japan. Could it be a Mercedes double - Bathurst and Suzuka??
Poor Mark - another flaming end to a grand prix in his final season followed by the long walk (this time!) back to the pits. From the post-race interviews Mark seems to suspect his troublesome KERS unit as catching fire but I guess we'll hear more on that once the team gets their opportunity to pick through what's left of his car in the next few days. Whatever the cause it was a shame given he was potentially in the battle for the podium. Perhaps someone should remind Red Bull that the 'Webber' of BBQ variety is actually spelt with a single 'b'!
I had the pleasure of watching this race with my young niece and nephew this afternoon given the race was on at a reasonable hour and tomorrow isn't a school day for them. My nephew will be nine in a couple of weeks and almost made it through the whole race this year before resorting to Angry Birds for company, but he was very definitely still interested and although I don't watch more than one or two rounds a year with them had remembered a bit of the jargon from our regular mid-week debriefs (OK - so it helps that we play "F1 racing" from time to time where he and his sister race round the house and I get to commentate, crew the pits, present the trophies, sing the national anthem and conduct the podium interviews!). But I did quite enjoy discussing with my young friend the volume of 'marbles' on the main straight, whether Perez' tyre explosion was a 'delamination' or a 'deflation' or a 'puncture' and listening to his theories about what had happened to turn the "awesome-looking" safety car into a silver box with headlights at one point......
My niece (who is in year one) was quite interested in the pre-race buildup and about the first handful of laps, mostly because she's enjoying Cars2 at present. But one of the things she said was pretty profound for a young lady her age and worth a mention. Before the start the TV coverage were doing the shots of each team garage and they showed the Williams garage with Monisha Kaltenborn, at which point I mentioned that Williams was the only team to have a lady as the team boss. My niece thought for a minute and then asked if there were any lady race drivers, to which I pointed out that Monisha's team had a lady as their development driver so she sort-of drives but not the races at the moment although she might some day. The response I got was not what I expected: "no, she probably won't, there are too many boys around and they probably won't let her play". I didn't know what to say then, and I guess I still don't.
As the F1 circus gradually reconvenes in Korea this week (the circuit is near the port city of Mokpo which is about 4hrs south of Seoul), let's take a look at the official calendar for 2014 which was published after Singapore. It would seem that the leaked version and media speculation was largely correct in that both Mexico and New Jersey races are provisionally on the list - although I'd have to say that there's not a high level of confidence around the New Jersey race given it has been scheduled as the second race of an unprecedented 'triple header' sandwiched between Monaco and Canada. Austin moves forward a week (first weekend in November - which suits the Aussies as it'll now coincide with the traditional long weekend for Melbourne Cup and make taking leave just that little bit easier) to accommodate Mexico, and the Korean round moves to the front-end of the season but interestingly enough is flagged as 'provisional'. And despite much speculation the Australian leg remains the season opener on the 16th March. If only they moved it forward one weekend it would coincide with the long weekend in Melbourne and make backing up for work on the Monday after the twilight race Sunday evening so much easier for the locals.......
The media schedule for Thursday in Korea has been published, including team representatives and drivers who will surely be quizzed over the remaining driver vacancies (real or expected) but there's no representatives from Red Bull on the list - so no questions about Mark Webber's penalty. However there's likely to be a lot of interest in the weather forecast with the effects from a typhoon (Asia's name for a cyclone or hurricane) expected to impact the circuit at some point over the weekend. Could we see another washout??
In case anyone hasn't heard, after a disappointing end to his race in Singapore Mark Webber will be facing a 10 place grid penalty at the next round (Korea). What did he do? Well, pretty much what any Aussie would do when their car broke down - flagged down a passing mate for a lift to the the nearest garage for some help. Only the difference this time was during the warm-down lap he essentially ran out onto the track without permission from the stewards and flagged Alonso down, which resulted in Alonso stopping, which resulted in the Mercedes cars taking action to avoid the Ferrari - which was deemed then to be dangerous and earned both Webber and Alonso a reprimand. Unfortunately for Webber this was his third reprimand for the season - and triggers the 10 place grid penalty for Korea. For anyone that wants to see the actual incident F1Fanatic.co.uk has put the onboard video on his website here, it certainly doesn't look like a comfortable way to travel and there's definitely no room for any luggage!!
I've also mentioned on a few occasions about the developing habit of fans boo-ing Sebastian Vettel when he appears on the podium. I guess it's wearing a little thin with a few people in the paddock given the exchange during podium interviews between Vettel and David Croft after the race today where they referred to the boo-ing fans as being on a bus tour from race to race. Which got me thinking, and there's a really good conspiracy theory here for those of you who are into that sort of thing. Maybe there IS actually a group of troublemakers fans being paid to go race-to-race and stir up the boo's for the podium to try and unsettle Vettel with a view to increasing the chances that he would jump ship from Red Bull to Ferrari (or maybe even to McLaren??) next season. It's a long shot but not entirely implausible, and in any case (and as I've mentioned before) if someone would pay me to travel the world with the F1 circus and all I had to do was drink a lot and make sure I rounded up a group of drinking buddies to come stand under the podium and boo for a few minutes at the end of the race I'd be in like a shot. Hmmm, maybe there's a business idea there - we could call it the world racing boo bus tour......
And to finish off this blog post, here's the funniest T-shirt I've seen so far since the announcement this week about Ferrari's 2014 line-up. You can buy them online if you like!!
One of the things about the Singapore night race that amuses me is that the paddock attempts to 'stay on UK time' while they're in Singapore, especially seeing this is the start of a few rounds in Asia which aren't run strictly to European time like Singapore is. I suppose one might logically expect a 'night race' would imply conditions would be cooler than during the day but as anyone who has ever lived close to the Equator can tell you there's very little actual temperature difference between day and night. The weather forecast suggests hot and humid with only a small chance of rain. I read somewhere this week that the drivers typically drink 5-6L of fluid leading up to race start - explains why you see so many of them leave the grid for a last minute comfort break I guess. Although I also read that the drivers can lose up to 3kgs fluid during the race. Imagine having to launder the race suits after the Singapore race - ewww......
There's a few things being discussed at the moment which could work together to make this an intriguing weekend's events. It's been fairly widely reported this week that Massa will be looking out for himself this weekend as opposed to helping Alonso, and while Alonso's had some success in Singapore I don't think the pace of the Ferrari is good enough to get him on the front row without Massa's help during Q3. Mercedes haven't ever ended up on the podium here but given their recent qualifying form if they start up the front the odds would suggest they'll break that streak this weekend - and Hamilton has the runs on the board in terms of wins here at Singapore. But I think my money's on the Red Bulls again for this round, while Webber would really like to take this race out in his final season I think the hot conditions may stir up the mechanical gremlins which will take him out of contention. For me, the dark horse this weekend may just be Nico Hulkenburg in the Sauber. He's coming off a great result last round and still looking for a seat next year so I reckon he's in line for another great drive and maybe even a top 5 finish. The other driver to watch is Adrian Sutil, who confirmed Force India haven't spoken to him about next year yet. Force India were very late in confirming their driver line-up for this season, however I'm sure Sutil is out for a solid race this weekend to improve his chances. At the risk of starting a nasty rumour, I'm beginning to wonder just how committed to Formula 1 Force India are......
Yes folks - it finally happened - the drivers at Ferrari for next season have been confirmed. It all started this week when Felipe Massa confirmed via twitter that he would not be driving for Ferrari in 2014, then Ferrari themselves released a short statement confirming Kimi Raikkonen would be returning to Ferrari for 2014 and 2015.
It has been quite amusing watching the various F1 journalists vying for the "I broke the story on Kimi's move to Ferrari" tag this week. I believe that most of them probably had their stories written weeks ago and were just waiting to publish them once official confirmation had come through. It was nice of Ferrari to let Massa announce it himself and demonstrates perhaps their respect for him and the contribution he's made to the team over the last few years (remember - "Felipe, Alonso is faster than you, repeat, Alonso is faster than you"). Although Ferrari team figures have been representing that there will be no 'number 1' driver next season it's hard to imagine either Alonso or Raikkonen following team orders. As one twitter wag put it - "Smedley: 'Kimi - Alonso is faster than you'; Raikkonen: 'So why is he behind me then? Be quiet and let me race'"
The other really amusing thing was the tweet from Lotus shortly after the announcement by Ferrari on Wednesday which said simply "So #Kimi is off to #Ferrari for 2014; it hurts a little bit" and contained this picture of two rabbits. To To date the tweet hasn't been deleted so one assumes it was officially sanctioned! The seat Kimi vacates at Lotus is probably the last remaining high-profile vacancy now for 2014. While some people would like to see Massa there I think it's more likely Lotus will be looking for a driver who can bring the big sponsorship dollars. It's unclear when any announcement might be made but surely it won't be too far away.
Is it just me, or are there others out there who find it a bit uncomfortable each time Vettel gets boos from the crowd? If memory serves me correctly, it started after the 'multi-21' situation in Malaysia and the fans seem to have decided he's permanently the bad guy. Maybe it's just the fact that people say the race is boring when Vettel is out front all the way (or almost all the way), or maybe it's just the Australian 'tall poppy' syndrome has become catching across the paddock. Whatever the reason I think it's embarrassing and I hope they stop it soon.
In terms of the driver market for 2014 there were a few interesting results today, most notably Hulkenburg in 5th who seems to be the one in the frame for whichever seat (Ferrari or Lotus) that Kimi Raikkonen doesn't end up in for 2015. Massa tried hard but once again suffered from the 'team orders' syndrome that has plagued him over the last few years. Many commentators are tipping that Ferrari will announce Kimi to replace Massa for 2014 on Wednesday, and that will leave 'the Hulk' clear to be snapped up by Lotus.
In other random news, it seems that Adrian Newey's focus for 2014 may be somewhat diluted with the announcement today that he will become a father for the first time in 2104. Wonder whether there's a nice little sideline for him to design Red Bull prams? I guess provided they don't have KERS they should be reasonably reliable I suppose. And with Pirelli expected to be announced any day as the tyre supplier for the next few years let's hope the rest of this season passes without too much focus on tyres and tyre dramas. The other news is confirmation that the Bahrain round in 2014 (which may or may not be the first round depending on which reports about the 'authenticity' of the draft 2014 calendar that appeared this week you believe!) will be a night round. For our English friends that makes race start 4pm on a Sunday, which I think means it's brunch-time on a Sunday for our North American friends but definitely a 'watch later' round for those Down Under where it will commence in the early hours of Monday morning (depending on whether daylight saving is on or not).
It really is the end of the summer when the F1 paddocks mothball their motorhomes for another year and the frantic final flyaway rounds commence. Can Vettel lock up the championship in Singapore, or will we see a late charge from Alonso or Raikkonen or even Webber?? Only time will tell....
I was feeling just a little nostalgic over the weekend, thinking about yet another year almost gone. We've made it to September and that means (other than there being just over 100 days until Christmas) we're well and truly into the business end of the season. As the season changes to autumn (or spring depending on where you are reading this!) some teams will essentially give up on this year and turn their attentions to next year's 1.6L V6 turbo-charged cars with direct injection and more sophisticated energy recovery systems (wonder if Red Bull can make this more reliable than Webber's KERS has been??). Anyway, I thought it might be good to take a look at the provisional calendar for 2014 in case you're looking to likewise plan ahead.
The official calendar will be published around the time of the Singapore F1 GP (23rd September) but some likely changes have been discussed by various media outlets, with the main one being the earlier start to the season with Bahrain slotted in for the 28 Feb - 2 Mar. This makes logistical sense given the decision to run only a single pre-season test in Europe followed by two pre-season tests in the Middle East to allow teams a chance to see how their cars and tyres perform in the hotter temperatures which - let's face it - are more reflective of the majority of rounds throughout the year. Melbourne's round moves forward to the 14-16th March (why couldn't they make it the weekend before so that locals can take advantage of the public holiday Monday to get over their sore heads!) with Malaysia the following weekend. From there it's pretty much the same (adding the Austrian GP in mid-June) with the addition of a Russian GP squished in after the Korea / Japan double-header. Yep, that's right - it looks like there's four rounds in five weekends from the first weekend in October (note to self: don't plan major life events in October 2014........)
There's been a suspicious lack of news on the driver front in the last week or so. Ferrari have indicated there will be NO announcements from them in the lead-up to Monza (but some intriguing tweets from Alonso are causing some commentators to speculate anyway) and Red Bull have been repeating that no deal has been done for Webber's seat despite Webber's efforts in pre-race media interviews last weekend. Which leads me to wonder whether everyone's waiting for Red Bull's decision before the rest of the decisions/announcements will flow through, or whether in fact no-one is actually planning to move anywhere? I guess time will tell - roll on Monza!!
So after the rain-impacted quali yesterday, the whole race at Spa was run and won without so much as a spot of rain to shake things up. Although there were a few incidents along the way the winner essentially took the lead and hung onto it, and some say that perhaps the world championship for this year is almost beyond the reach of the challengers.
Off the track there were a few things of note. Greenpeace protesters had a couple of goes at trying to grab the world media's attention, but all - including David Coulthard on the podium - managed to studiously ignore them. David was attempting to do the post-race podium interviews (does anyone actually like those interviews anyway??) and had to contend with not only the protesters but also a rather cheeky Vettel who tested the theory that blondes have more fun by dumping the balance of the champagne magnum over Coulthard's head and bright pink shirt. He was helped along by Hamilton who immediately denied his involvement despite it being clearly caught on the TV cameras - reminded me of a rather cheeky schoolboy! I did read on one of the media outlets that the protesters apparently installed the remote control banners on the podium a few weeks ago and they'd not been noticed. Which in this day and ago of security seems a bit incredulous to me.
For those who were watching the Channel 10 coverage in Australia and saw the interview with Mark Webber and James Allen, did you think Mark was 'stirring the pot' or was he genuine in his comments about Ricciardo? Me - I think he was just stirring, but it's been widely reported on the international media. What do you think?
Well well - despite widespread expectations of driver announcements starting this weekend, all the key players have managed to get through the Thursday 'media' day at Spa without letting any cats out of the bag. [Other than maybe the ?@ThePitLaneCat - if you're on twitter I'd suggest following this cat, the funniest feline I've ever come across (apologies to MissBaileyCat!)]
I did notice the late withdrawal of Kimi Raikkonen from media commitments, officially because of illness however one wonders whether it was in fact because he is on strike (ie not been paid yet) or part of an ongoing strategy associated with any negotiations underway around next year's drive (and causing the hastag '#whereskimi' to be trending again on twitter!).
So what exactly do we know from the interviews as reported overnight? Here's a few of my observations:
For those who managed to enjoy some time away from F1 - welcome back! For those who are hanging out for the sound of the F1 cars again - you almost made it, under a week now to P1. And for those who couldn't care less........well, I guess there aren't too many of you reading this blog!!
Over the next day or so the F1 world returns from its summer break and scrambles to be ready for the round in Spa next weekend. Spa is one of the few tracks with lots of high speed corners and as such it will provide a really good insight into which teams actually are on top of their tyre degradation issues and which may just have been lucky the last few rounds. Mercedes in particular - coming off such a great result for Hamilton last round - will be one to watch, especially given the had to sit out the recent test as part of their penalty handed down by the FIA in relation to the 'illegal' test Mercedes conducted earlier in the year.
Expect the first of the driver announcements this week. Although there hasn't been much credence given to the rumors which have been doing the rounds so far, it's worth pointing out a few of them just in case they pan out and I look smart. (Ok, so there's not much chance of that - but I can always dream!) My money is on Ricciardo for the Red Bull seat, they'd be stupid not to I reckon after investing all the time and money into developing him via the Young Driver program. Kimi has been spotted testing GP3 cars this week, and although I think it unlikely that he would voluntarily leave the main game after this season it's worth pointing out that he moved straight from Formula Renault to F1, a different path to that taken by most other top drivers over the years. I guess perhaps if Alonso gets impatient with Ferrari and moves to either Lotus or Red Bull, perhaps Kimi or Ricciardo (or Vergne?) might take the seat at Ferrari - although if Alonso does move on my money is on Kimi going back to Ferrari given they've poached the architect of the current Lotus car (James Allison) who starts with them on the 1st September. There are a couple of other interesting things which will play out over the back half of the year that have the potential to shake up the paddock as we look to 2014 - one is the bribery indictment Bernie Ecclestone is facing in Germany and the other is the announcement in early December of the new 'naming rights' sponsor of the McLaren team (following the withdrawal of Vodafone from the sport). And all this to come in only 9 rounds!!
In Roscoe news - because I know you have been missing him - he was feeling poorly earlier in the weekend and underwent a course of acupuncture. From the photo that Lewis tweeted, I'm not so sure he enjoyed it - what do you think?
Well, at least those of us who live in the northern hemisphere :-)
Heading into the summer break (which, when you think about it, is actually only 1 week LONGER than the 3 week breaks between races that occur regularly during the season) there's a few things to reflect on both on and off the track. Despite struggling for race pace in Hungary I think Daniel Ricciardo has done everything he possibly could have over the last few weeks to convince the Red Bull power-brokers that he's the man to replace Webber next year. It's widely regarded as a two-horse-race between Daniel and Kimi Raikkonen, and although there's been comment around a rather obvious meeting in the paddock between Kimi's manager and a key Red Bull player prior to Quali on Saturday most commentators believe that the decision will be made over the next few weeks (irrespective of whether or not the decision is communicated yet). There's also some rumors that Lotus is in some financial difficulties, supported by speculation that Kimi and potentially Roman Grosjean as well unhappy about not receiving all of the monies owed to them to date for season 2013.
Also noteworthy from last night's race was Williams securing their first point (just one point!) in the constructor's championship. It's been a long time coming, and although it might not seem like a big deal it has big financial ramifications for the team who are also reportedly struggling financially. Sauber's financial woes - at least for 2014 onwards - appear to be over with a large injection of funds from a Russian consortium reportedly linked to Vladimir Putin. The deal comes with a rather inexperienced young Russian driver and suggestions that Monisha Kaltenborn's time as team principal is coming to an end. That's a shame, I enjoyed reading transcripts and reports of the 40-odd minute press conference she attended following the announcement of the Russian deal where she spoke engagingly but revealed nothing despite talking for almost all of the 40minute presser. That is quite a skill!!
In other random news, Alonso and Ferrari appear to be heading for some sort of penalty with Alonso being reported to the stewards for allegedly activating his DRS on a few occasions when trailing by more than one second (regulations stipulate DRS is ONLY to be used when inside one second behind). And the British press is reporting that a rather emotional Lewis Hamilton dedicated his win in Hungary to his Nicole Scherzinger, leading to speculation that they may be trying to rekindle their romance which reportedly ended around the Monaco GP weekend. And the signing of the FIA / FOM Concorde in the last few days perhaps clears the decks for Bernie as he ponders his response to corruption charges currently before the German courts. More on that story as it develops, pretty sure he'll be doing all he can to avoid any potential stint in a German prison.....
Summer break time is usually peak time for driver and key team personnel announcements so watch this space over the next few weeks - I'll be sure to keep you up to date with my unique perspective on the big stories, and coverage of the weird and wacky world that is the F1 circus.
There's been a fair old flurry of news and announcements around the young driver tests currently underway at Silverstone. Fans of Daniel Ricciardo would have been pleased with the news that he will be one of the Red Bull Racing team's test drivers (in addition to his laps for Torro Rosso), and to top it off Christian Horner has been widely reported as confirming it's now a two horse race between Daniel and Kimi Raikkonen for Mark Webber's seat next year. For my part I was pleased to see Williams give Susie Wolff a go in their car, and I love the irony of Marussia running a driver nicknamed 'Speedy' (that's Rodolfo 'Speedy' Gonzalez for those who might not remember him from his Friday appearance earlier in the year).
I was also interested to note that Sauber - who have been widely reported as having financial woes - have announced a deal with a group of Russian sponsors who are rumoured to be closely aligned with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The deal includes Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin who - at 17 years of age - is a relative unknown from the Formula Renault 3.5 ranks. Sirotkin is being touted as a potential driver for Sauber from 2014 and may even make a practice day appearance for Sauber later in 2013. Which puts Nico Hulkenburg and Esteban Gutierrez in an interesting position - although with Gutierrez backed by the world's richest man (Carlos Slim) it's unlikely Sauber would let him go without a fight. Perhaps Hulkenburg is the one on shaky ground?
In other news, ESPN are reporting that Bernie Ecclestone (F1 CEO) has been indicted in Germany on corruption charges and the Board of the Formula One Group has issued a statement suggesting that they will continue to monitor developments and that Ecclestone has 6 weeks to reply to the indictment. This one is going to drag on for a while - much like the ongoing Pirelli tyre issues.
D'oh - I almost got through a whole blog without mentioning the tyres! Maybe next time........
After a race like that one, it's worth pointing out some statistics and news you might not have heard in the headlines to go with the ones about July and home races which I'm sure everyone is aware of by now.
Force India's run of points finishes this season has finally been broken (first non-points finish since Malaysia) with di Resta (11th ) and Sutil (13th) finishing out of the top ten. Mark Webber's remarkable comeback after his three-wheel pit box exit to 7th place is close to but not quite his best ever 'recovery' drive, and Massa is surely ruing the driver error that ended his race early on. Interestingly enough the team was quick to confirm that it was in fact driver error, and one wonders whether his days as a Ferrari driver are indeed numbered with rumors swirling that John-Eric Vergne may take his seat at Ferrari for 2014. The interaction between Kimi and Sebastian before the podium ceremony would certainly suggest Kimi would be a welcome addition to the Red Bull Racing team next season, although Daniel Ricciardo is certainly continuing to impress. The newest rumor doing the rounds (slightly cruel given Grosjean's podium finish today!) is that Nico Hulkenburg will taken Grosjean's seat at Lotus next season - or perhaps Kimi's if the Iceman jumps to Red Bull. I did chuckle listening to SkyF1's commentary team saying that if Grosjean did manage to catch Vettel in the lead at one point that Vettel would likely stay right out of his way (with a view to the World Championship points) rather than fight for the race win.
We're smack bang in that period where rumors abound and deals are done in relation to who goes where next season, and with three weeks until the next race (Hungary) then the summer break there may be some news soon. I suspect many in the paddock are waiting on the Red Bull Racing announcement before the shuffling begins in earnest, as which 'other' seats might become vacant will largely depend on which driver Red Bull Racing picks to fill Mark's seat.
And to finish off today, for those who have been missing their Roscoe fix, here's a charming picture hot off Lewis' twitter feed. I am slightly appalled that Roscoe - who is, let's face it, after all just a DOG, seems to travel in better style than I do!! I'm off to sulk into my cornflakes......
Heading into another weekend of F1 (hooray) - and the F1 circus returns to Nurburgring for the first time in a few years. Car manufacturers like to tell us how fast their cars go around the Nurburgring, and we all know that F1 cars are super-fast but just how much faster than the road-cars do you think they are?
Well, wonder no more. Here's a selection of lap times for a range of interesting cars (thanks to nurburgringlaptimes.com <- click on the link for the full top 100):
Manufacturer & Model
|1.||Radical SR8LM||6:48.00||Watch Onboard||'09|
|2.||Radical SR8||6:55.00||Watch Onboard||'05|
|3.||Gumpert Apollo Speed||7:11.57||Watch Onboard||'09|
|4.||Dodge Viper SRT-10 ACR||7:12.13||Watch Onboard||'10|
|5.||Porsche 918 Spyder||7:14.00||Onboard N/A||'13|
|5.||Lexus LFA Nurburgring Package||7:14.64||Watch Onboard||'12|
|6.||Donkervoort D8 RS||7:14.89||Watch Onboard||'05|
|7.||Porsche 911 GT2 RS||7:18.00||Onboard N/A||'10|
|8.||Radical SR3 Turbo||7:19.00||Watch Onboard||'03|
|9.||Chevrolet Corvette ZR1||7:19.63||Watch Onboard||'12|
|10.||Dodge Viper ACR||7:22.1||Watch Onboard||'09|
|11.||Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Z07 Package||7:22.68||Watch Onboard||'11|
|13.||Nissan GT-R||7:24.22||Watch Onboard||'11|
|14.||Maserati MC12||7:24.29||Watch Onboard||'04|
|16.||Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4||7:25.00||Onboard N/A||'11|
|17.||KTM X-Bow R||7:25.00||Onboard N/A||'11|
|18.||Ferrari Enzo||7:25.21||Watch Onboard||'02|
|19.||Nissan GT-R||7:26.70||Watch Onboard||'08|
|20.||Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0||7:27.00||Watch Onboard||'11|
|21.||Ferrari 458 Italia||7:28.00||Watch Onboard||'09|
|22.||McLaren MP4-12C||7:28.00||Onboard N/A||'10|
|23.||Porsche Carrera GT||7:28.71||Watch Onboard||'03|
|24.||Mercedes SLS AMG GT||7:30.00||Onboard N/A||'12|
|27.||Pagani Zonda F||7:33.00||Onboard N/A||'05|
|31.||Audi R8 GT||7:34.00||Onboard N/A||'10|
|34.||Porsche 911 Carrera S||7:37.90||Watch Onboard||'11|
|36.||Lexus LF-A||7:38.00||Onboard N/A||'10|
|42.||Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1||7:41.27||Watch Onboard||'11|
|46.||Chevrolet Corvette Z06||7:42.90||Onboard N/A||'05|
|61.||BMW M3 GTS||7:48.00||Onboard N/A||'10|
|69.||Ford GT||7:52.00||Onboard N/A||'04|
|75.||Subaru WRX STI||7:55.00||Watch Onboard||'10|
|88.||Jaguar XKR-S Convertible||7:59.00||Onboard N/A||'12|
|94.||Bugatti EB 110 SS||8:01.00||Onboard N/A||'95|
|95.||Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R||8:01.00||Onboard N/A||'95|
|97.||Aston Martin DBS||8:02.00||Onboard N/A||'07|
Speculation suggests the F1 cars should be able to do a qualifying lap on the shorter track in somewhere around 1:30-40 in the dry- guess we will have to wait and see.
Although Sebastian Vettel is a resident of Switzerland these days, he is German which technically makes this his 'home' round (and probably explains why Mark Webber is SO motivated to win this round!). But the stats would suggest the odds are against him. Did you know that in the years he has been driving in F1 he has never won a race in July (from 12 starts), and he has never won his 'home' Grand Prix? He has won a race in every other month of the F1 season except July. And it's also worth noting that this is arguably also the 'home' race for Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) who is German although he lives in Monaco these days. Mercedes' one-lap pace would suggest they'll once again be tough to beat - although it is worth noting that only 2 of the last 8 F1 races here have been won from pole position (stats thanks to Ian Parkes of the Press Association).
Should be another fascinating round!
Another amazing race today going right down to the wire overnight in Silverstone. Some standouts include Webber's nail-biting run to the finish, Hamilton's efforts to go from race leader to last to just missing the podium and Daniel Ricciardo once again stating a strong claim for the soon-to-be-vacant Red Bull Racing seat.
Unfortunately though I have to once again talk about tyres. Pirelli are surely ruing their decision not to bring on the tyre changes for this round that were originally planned (but cancelled after Monaco). I don't think I remember seeing that many spectacular tyre failures in a single round, although there has been some talk on Twitter of similar issues with Michelin back in the late 20th century. It must be quite scary to be hooning along only to have the tyre completely go on you - or to be the driver in the car behind that sees the tyre failure and has to urgently take evasive action as an enormous piece of tyre comes flying in your direction. Jean Todt has summoned Pirelli to a meeting with the teams on Wednesday to discuss safety concerns so we'll see what happens next. It's unlikely that they'd have time to make changes before next weekend's round at the Nurburgring.
There was a scare for our race winner today with Rosberg being called before the stewards shortly after the podium ceremony but he only received a reprimand for not slowing under yellows at around 2.06pm local time. In other news, Grosjean's retirement possibly saved him from sanction for yet another crash (with Webber off the start) and Force India were also lucky not to receive a penalty after one of their drivers appeared to impede Ricciardo.
And was it a genuine lapse on Webber's part when he said he was determined and looking forward to winning the next round but not sure where it was, or was that a message to Sebastian that Webber wants to win Sebastian's home GP? The championship ladder after today's race has definitely gotten a bit more interesting.
In other news, there are rumours circling that Lewis may have popped the question in the last few days to his long-time girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger - if it turns out to be true I'm sure Roscoe will be pleased!
A statement from Porsche released a few hours ago has confirmed what many people have suspected - that Webber is indeed leaving F1 after this year and will drive for Porsche in their sports car and LeMans endurance programs. Speculation has been rife since the 'multi-21' incident in Malaysia and fuelled by rumours of the deal with Porsche which first surfaced a few months ago.
it might be a great weight of his shoulders heading into the Silverstone race this weekend - which is a home GP for Red Bull Racing - could we see a Webber victory?
The media attention will probably turn in earnest now to who might fill the seat. Interestingly, there may be a dark horse emerging as a contender for the seat with reports from Force India this morning that although Paul di Resta has a contract with them through 2014 if his recent good form results in an offer from Red Bull they will not stand in his way.
My money is on Kimi - what about yours??
A quick recap on the facts:
Various team bosses and other important (or self-important in the case of many journos/bloggers like me!) people have commented on the co-incidence that Mercedes' performance and ultimately their win at Monaco - which was immediately after the tyre test - was a bit suspicious if no advantage was gained from the tests, and on the fact that Ross Brawn (as just one of the 'important' people in the Mercedes team's corner) may in fact lose his position at Mercedes over this affair.
In my view - even if the tests were not strictly 'sporting' as the FIA has ruled they were within the letter of the regulations and therefore no serious penalty (other than to penalize poor Sam Bird who was looking forward to the young driver test with Mercedes!) needs to be handed out. One of the reasons we all like F1 so much is that it is ULTRA competitive, the 'best of the best' and therefore ALL associated with F1 are constantly looking for that ultimate advantage or slight benefit within the rules. So I think the outcome is OK and will serve to drive teams to continue to creatively assess opportunities for how they can - within the rules of course - get that slight advantage over their competition. I imagine that's what the likes of Ross Brawn, Christian Horner and even Stefano Domenicali get paid the big bucks for. But will the FIA's ruling actually mean the issue now goes away? I sincerely hope so, as I think there's more important stories out there.
While the press has largely been focused on speculating about the likely consequences for Mercedes, there's been little coverage of the fact that Pirelli 'quietly' announced that they were not going to change this season's tyre compound or construction after all (originally planned for Canada then delayed to Silverstone and now not going to happen) as they think they've sufficiently addressed the tyre's structural concerns. There's also been limited coverage of a story that Kimi has been meeting with Red Bull Racing team representatives and of a quite public squabble (via twitter largely) between two prolific F1 journalists as to who broke the 'tyre-gate' story first.
Bring on Silverstone I say!!
Overnight the FIA issued a statement confirming that one of the circuit workers (track marshal) had died as a result of injuries sustained during the recovery of a vehicle during the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday. It is understood that the worker was assisting with the recovery of Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber in the closing stages of the race when he dropped his radio and stumbled attempting to retrieve it before being struck by the recovery crane. He was immediately attended to by track medical staff and transferred to a local medical facility where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Marshals are typically volunteers who give up their time to ensure the safety of competitors and spectators at motorsport events around the world, and this is indeed tragic news. It is also understood that there will be a tribute during the Silverstone Grand Prix in a couple of weeks to honor the circuit worker.
On behalf of the F1infocentre community I would like to pass on our condolences to the marshal's family and friends at this sad time. Out of respect for his family there will be no light-hearted assessment or commentary on the Canadian round.
With the 2013 season in full swing the thoughts of many commentators, fans and members of the paddock have already turned to speculation about which drivers and key team members may end up at which teams for the 2014 season. We've typically seen the announcements (or at least strong rumours!) trickling in from as early as the end of June so I guess there's not long to wait.
I was chatting to a friend last night who has an interesting theory around Lotus, Red Bull and Webber. He is of the view that Webber will have to leave Red Bull at the end of this season, and will potentially be looking for a team where he would be the senior mentor figure. If Webber leaves Red Bull, that opens the door for Kimi to move to Red Bull leaving a vacancy at Lotus. Given the financial woes at Lotus, and the contribution that Grosjean continues to make by regularly demolishing his car there's a possibility that Lotus will not renew his contract either - opening the door for Ricciardo to move to Lotus where he can be 'mentored' by Webber.
Interesting theory - what do you think??
Much as it pains me to devote more space to tyres, I feel that I must make some comment on what continues to dominate the F1 media. Quite apart from the 'mainstream' topics like "Is it fair to other teams that Mercedes got to run their current spec car around a current track and gather current data on this season's tyres when other teams didn't have that chance?" and "How with the FIA deal with the protests from other teams like Red Bull?" there have been some slightly more absurd sub-plots developing.
For starters, does anyone think it's weird that no-one (press, fans, teams, spies, or workers at the track) actually noticed Mercedes not packing up after the Spanish GP? Bet the media won't make that mistake again! And having been to more than one GP in my day, those cars are pretty loud and for no-one in the general vicinity (give or take 3-4kms) to notice an F1 car in full flight seems strange too.
The other angle developing at the moment is the fact that Mercedes (and potentially a number of other teams) have actually been spotted recently running their left rear (LR) tyres on the right rear (RR) of the cars on occasion. Overnight Mercedes AMG took to twitter to confirm that they had been doing this in an effort to get better tyre life. One commentator has suggested that perhaps the next step would be for teams to leave the tyres in the tyre warmers overnight and basically 'bake' the tyres to harden them up. Personally if there's baking to be done I'd prefer a good batch of scones (that's biscuits for our North American friends) or some brownies. Mmmmm - brownies, ice-cream, hot fudge sauce........Focus Alex!!
It seems that Pirelli have decided not to use a modified compound tyre for the race in Canada after all (despite indicating some weeks ago that they would). Their compromise is that the teams will have the new compound tyre for P1 / P2 only in Canada, and they'll delay introducing them for the race until Silverstone a couple of weeks later. Weather permitting, we should at least see a bit more running in P1 / P2 on Friday from the top teams in Canada than we've seen over the last few rounds.
Paul Hembery from Pirelli was quoted by Andrew Benson (F1 journalist) recently as having said he just wants to turn his phone off for a week and not talk to ANYONE about tyres. Maybe we should start a web-petition in support of that idea?
On the surface you could look at today's result and say "boring, the pole-sitter led all the way and won from the front". But in my opinion Monaco certainly delivered a great race this year with action, battles and tragedies right down the very end. I especially liked the radio message to Vettel on the last lap "don't take any risks" in response to his fastest lap of the race, and seeing Kimi sneak through for the last point right at the finish line was also a nice surprise for the Kimi fan club.
For those of you who have been following my updates this year, you'd know I am a fan of Sergio (Checo) Perez. In my view, the story of this race has been the McLaren boys and in particular the brave and opportunistic moves which Checo made on a number of occasions - especially the one on Button but also the attacks on Alonso and Kimi. It was karma though that Button didn't get out of Checo's way and allow him to get into the pits when his car was obviously in bad shape - although from a team perspective to have one of their two cars retired with around six laps to go probably isn't a good outcome. I'd suggest that the atmosphere in the McLaren garage is probably going to be more frosty than it has ever been in the Red Bull garage - and McLaren might have to consider team orders (which they've previously indicated they wouldn't do!) to protect the interests of the team.
The other story in my view is Grosjean - again. Four accidents this weekend! After his performances last year I thought this year he was starting to be a bit more mature and thoughtful as a racer but especially the incident with Ricciardo around lap 63 today seems to indicate he's still a dangerous man to be around on the track. It's one thing to be a ballsy racer (like Checo or Alonso) but you really have to have the skills to back it up. I reckon if his team hadn't retired him he would have had a drive-through for that one, and he'll be lucky to get away without a penalty in Canada as a result. [ED: following the steward's investigation Grosjean has a 10 grid place penalty for Canada]
And did everyone see 'the dove' round two? It's unclear whether the dove in question was the same one that lost the game of chicken earlier in the weekend (GP2 race - check out my earlier post about the animals coming out to play in Monaco) however this bird wasn't quite as brave!
Ok - so I did warn you I'm a sucker for a cute doggie. And it would seem that I'm not the only one, with Roscoe popping up in some of the strangest places over the last few days including inside the Mercedes garage sitting in Hamilton's car, and then on a jetski (yes, jetski - that's not a typo!) and even making an appearance on the back of Hamilton's helmet. Although he doesn't look particularly comfortable - what do you think? There are rumors that Roscoe was smuggled into the Force India paddock party (on VJ Mallya's yacht) and he's even gotten a mention on BBC 5 Live's coverage of free practice yesterday. Now all we need is a sighting of Roscoe with an underwear model or a TV starlet sneaking out of a Monaco nightclub in the early hours of the morning and his status as a celebrity will be assured. At least that seems to be the way these things are done....
In other animal news, a pigeon (or was it a dove - you be the judge) tried playing chicken with GP2 driver Felipe Nasr on a particularly fast part of the circuit. Apparently he (the bird!) baulked just in time although there were a few loose feathers by the time the bird managed to get itself clear of the track. Seems this brave bird didn't get the hint nor warn his friends that the F1 cars are that little bit faster than the GP2 cars as there was at least two birds during FP1 and FP2 on Thursday who weren't quite so lucky (as one wag said - "....some new 'red' on the Red Bull front wing...."). Hmm - too soon??
Speculation has been mounting that there were big changes ahead for McLaren pretty much since Hamilton's announcement last year that he was moving to the factory Mercedes team. In the lead up to the Melbourne GP the team announced that this was the final year for Vodafone as their title sponsor with a the new sponsor (widely rumored at the time to be Perez' long-time backers TelMex) expected to be announced the first weekend in December. It seems there's a few people suggesting that Honda is trying to expand into the Mexican market and that 'TelMex McLaren Honda' might just be a win-win-win for 2015 - assuming that Perez manages to hang onto his seat that is! I reckon that's a pretty good bet - anyone else want to suggest another hypothesis?
It appears that Pirelli have finally bowed to pressure and announced that from the Canadian GP they will be making some changes to the tyres which will - according to Pirelli's motorsports director Paul Hembery - achieve durability and performance by combining key elements of both the 2012 and 2013 tyres.
Interestingly enough, Hembery has been reported as attributing Pirelli's decision not to the pressure from certain high profile team owners (Red Bull Racing to name just one!) but rather to the overwhelming pressure from the fans who just want to see flat-out racing from the drivers and teams rather than the 'nursing tyres' approach which has arguably impacted the racing spectacle over the last few rounds. Hembery is very engaged with the F1 fans via social media so I find his comments plausible, but on the other hand one can't discount the considerable pressure from those key figures in the F1 paddock who have been very forthright and public in their views on this year's tyres.
One commentator has picked up an interesting angle, which is that if the 2012 tyre casing is brought back it will mean aerodynamic changes for the cars. Perhaps this is the break that McLaren and to some extent even Williams or Sauber have been waiting for?
With the teams largely back at their bases preparing for Monaco we're yet to see much formal reaction from the teams but it's sure to be the number 1 topic of conversation once again in all the Monaco pre-race media coverage (sorry Roscoe, even though this is your home round in Monaco maybe you need to learn some new tricks, be seen on the town with a model/movie star or go on a reality TV show to grab the media spotlight!!)
It was clear to see from Alonso's post-race actions and interviews that today's win really did mean a lot for both he and the team. Massa's third place bringing up a double-podium result for Ferrari to celebrate Stefano Domenicali's birthday was almost the fairytale finish, but I guess the proper fairytale ending of a Ferrari one-two is best saved for Monza in September. I'd have to say this wasn't one of the more gripping races I've seen, although there was rather a bit more overtaking action than we've come to expect from the circuit in Barcelona and the regular appearance of the white fluff which also characterizes this circuit in the spring. On TV it looks like a cross between fairy floss and baby powder - does anyone know where it comes from?
Roscoe made his appearance Sunday morning accompanying Hamilton into the track but once again being relegated to the safety of the motorhome. Elsewhere around the paddock some eager tweeters caught Damon Hill curled up on a table (potentially suffering from jetlag?) and the slightly absurd memo sent by the stewards group after the race instructing Alonso to appear before them regarding his stopping ontrack after the race to collect the Spanish flag (no action being taken as a result of the hearing thank goodness!). One other interesting fact - season 2013 is yet to see a safety car during the race (although we did see quite a lot of it during Saturday's quali in Australia!) however I'd put money on at least one appearance in Monaco if history is any guide.
In other news, the McLaren team seem not to have been able to take full advantage of the upgrades expected this weekend but I suspect they were pleased with a double points finish this weekend - even if it was secured by the use of team orders when Perez seemingly had the faster car. For those who elected to continue supporting McLaren rather than switching allegiance to Mercedes it is proving to be a tough start to the year, but we are still only a few rounds into what is a long season so hang in there! It will be interesting to see what use they can make of the two weeks until Monaco.
Watching the '' media coverage out of Spain there seems to be quite a fair amount of interest around the addition of Roscoe Hamilton to the Mercedes team this weekend. There was disappointment from some quarters that Roscoe was left in the motorhome and didn't get a chance to show off his paddock pass (which reportedly shows a photo of Roscoe complete with headphones), and various media outlets are buzzing over why Roscoe is limping (according to the Daily Mail Roscoe hurt his shoulder when he "..did the splits.." while staying with Lewis' parents recently). Far be it from me to suggest he may have been trying to copy the dance moves of a Pussycat Doll.....
There are a few real stories around this weekend, like James Allison's rumored move to Ferrari and the return of the 2012 compound tyre (albeit in the 2013 casing). But the novelty of having something different to talk about - ie Roscoe - is probably a welcome distraction for the paddock media. I suspect that most drivers - and quite possibly many of the media contingent - get quite bored with the round of media interviews and 'same old same old' questions which have to be asked on a about how the car is shaping up, what they think their chances are for this weekend, how their preparation has been, who they are feuding with, etc etc.
For those of you who enjoy a quiet beverage while watching the race, perhaps consider replacing 'tyre' with 'Roscoe' as the key word. Who knows - you might actually have a chance to being able to get to work without a headache come morning!
This weekend marks the start of the 'home' races for Formula 1, being essentially those races that the majority of the paddock can get to within 2-3hrs traveling time and without having to deal with jetlag. We'll also see the 'transporters' lined up behind the paddock for the first time since pre-season testing and Lewis Hamilton gets to bring his 6 month old British Bulldog named Roscoe to his first F1 weekend. And yes, before you ask he is VERY cute (the dog people, the dog! Who did you think I was talking about......)
There was some speculation after last round that changes might be in the wind for the practice session to try and encourage the teams to spend more time out on track (which I guess in turn encourages race fans to actually turn up on a !). Options considered included incentivising teams to run rookies or up-and-coming drivers but it looks like they've settled on simply providing teams with an additional set of prime tyres specifically to be used in P1. Whether this will make a difference remains to be seen.
As one of the F1 experts recently noted, this weekend being at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalonya will give teams a really good picture of just how far they have (or haven't) come since the winter testing. There's also a few interesting battles brewing between team-mates (and not just the Red Bull / Mercedes / McLaren ones that have been grabbing the headlines) with the next few rounds being critical in terms of drivers being able to establish the pecking order within their own team and secure those vital world championship points.
On a lighter note to finish, this weekend will see the driver with the best name I've ever heard for a racing car driver run in practice. Keep an eye out for Rodolfo (Speedy) Gonzales in the Marussia!!
Interesting race in Bahrain. For arguably the first time this season we saw a run-away win in the final stages but there was no shortage of great racing and critical strategy calls further down the pack.
For me, the story of this race was Sergio Perez and the fortunes of McLaren. Whatever the team bosses said to Perez certainly worked as he was much more aggressive and - to quote the SkyF1 commentators - "more like a McLaren driver" this weekend, although I'm not so sure that his spirited racing with team-mate Jenson Button was part of the McLaren plan. No mention of the dreaded 'team orders' issue so far, but there has been some suggestion in the media that Button is not happy with Perez based on Button's post-race media interviews. I guess unlike the recent Red Bull saga it's probably not so attractive as a media story in the short-term so it will probably be dealt with in-house with a team meeting and a hand-shake. Hopefully McLaren bounce back in Spain next round with their long-awaited car upgrades and we see them back up as genuine contenders for the podium.
There seems to have been a mixed response to Red Bull's decision to send their Head of Trackside Electronics Gill Jones onto the podium to collect the constructors trophy. Although there are no women drivers there are a number of women in key roles across the paddock including Monisha Kaltenborn (Sauber Team Principle) and Claire Williams (Williams deputy Team Principle), but Gill is being recognized as the first female team representative to receive the Team trophy on a Formula 1 podium. It was an interesting choice from Red Bull, and one which many are saying was more appropriate because being a predominantly Muslim country here was neither scantily clad hostesses nor grid girls on today's podium. And no champagne either. Although alcohol is legal in Bahrain (unlike some other countries in the Middle East) the froth and bubble for today's podium was brought to you by carbonated rose water. For those who were watching closely it was pretty obvious from Kimi's face after he took a swig from the bottle that the rose water wasn't to his taste.
Tyres remain a talking point. Paul Hembery (Pirelli) was quick to tweet photos of tyres that failed at the race showing clear evidence of punctures and external damage to address the persistent rumors attributing poor performance to structural failure. We will wait to hear from Pirelli over the coming few days as to whether they do intend to make any changes to the composition of the tyres as we head into the European summer. Let's hope the quality of the racing continues!
As the F1 circus reassembles itself in Bahrain, there's been a lot of talk about how some segments of the motor sport media are attempting to sensationalize this weekend's visit by the F1 community to Bahrain in light of the political and social issues that country is facing. Which got me thinking about a couple of things that happened in China and how they *could* be turned into sensational headlines.
How's this as an example: "Lotus seeks cheap rhinoplasty in China, results functional but ugly". The actual story would be how Kimi's Lotus had 'nose surgery on the run' during the early part of the race, and that while the results were rather ugly the car still functioned and allowed Kimi to come home in second place.
Or another: "Chinese not sold on Indian BBQ". The actual story in this case would be the brake fire which broke out in the Force India car and resulted in the car and pit box getting a healthy covering of fire extinguisher foam.
Ok - so I guess I'd never make it in the world of the tabloid press.
On a more rational note, the race in Bahrain will see a few firsts for 2013 - the first time we see Heikki Kovalainen back in a Caterham, the first race in a reasonable timeslot for our European and American friends, and the first race weekend where the weather will be fine for all three days (and likely very hot with maximums in the mid-30's Celsius which is around the low hundred's Fahrenheit). Will we also see another driver take out their first race win for 2013?
The race in China certainly lived up to expectations with some great racing, crucial strategy calls, a gutsy drive from Kimi with a damaged car and the (unfortunately all to frequent) bad luck striking Webber once again. I don't mind a good conspiracy theory but I think it's a little far-fetched to suspect someone within the Red Bull camp is deliberately sabotaging Webber's campaign - and I think even Webber has acknowledged there is too much at stake for the team for that to be a plausible option. But I will agree he seems to have remarkably bad luck of late.
In contrast, a great drive from Ricciardo to bring his Torro Rosso home in 7th place - which equals his best drive of the season. There's some speculation that Caterham will bring in an experienced test driver to run the cars on Friday in Bahrain (possibly Heikki kovalainen), implying that they perhaps have concerns about the ability of their drivers to capitalize on the improvements made. Once again it was the tyres that were the big talking point up and down the paddock. Paul Hembery (Pirelli) has noted that Pirelli will review the tyre performance so far this season on Sunday but has not given any clues as to whether or not any changes to the tyre composition will be made. All in all - a very entertaining race which I'm sure will give the teams, drivers, strategists and arm-chair tipsters some fodder for consideration as the circus moves on from China this morning.
A couple of things from the media coverage of the round struck me as particularly amusing. There were a few twitter accounts seemingly hacked or blocked - Dickie Stanford and Mercedes AMG to name a few (although I do note that 'having twitter problems' is a reasonably acceptable excuse in China), an absolute media frenzy around Vettel and Webber (think Vettel and 100-odd journalists crammed into a small space for his Thursday press conference), and some amazing pictures of potentially inaccurate translations for breakfast dishes on the buffet (one described as ' hot breakfast intestinal') and restaurants around the team hotels. But my favorite was the report by Andrew Benson (of the BBC) of a conversation between Button and Perez (which may or may not have actually occurred): Perez - "Is there something from your experience with Lewis that I shouldn't do?" Button - "tweet?"
So tyres are once again the talking point, with more minutes of 'no action' during qualifying than actual racing action as a consequence of concerns with the durability of the soft compound. Some strange goings on in Q3 with some front-running drivers not setting lap times, and Jenson seemingly coasting across the line to be infront of Vettel. (And a huge shout-out to Ricciardo for his best race start position in almost a year!) If Pirelli were really tasked with shaking things up in F1 then I'd say they've succeeded.
But the conspiracy theories around Mark Webber's woes are already buzzing, with the 'fuel pressure' issue (and resulting inability to return to the pits with enough to give a fuel sample) likely to see him having to fight his way up from the back of the field. He has proven he can do it, but with the percieved issues in the garage I wonder how many of his own team will be willing him on this time. Too bad for all the fans who were cheering RBR on for the constructor's points this weekend!
In other interesting news, it's been reported by autosports.com that Bernie Ecclestone has decided that there is a need to ensure drivers and key team players interact more with the media and the public in the paddock. His solution to force them to be more 'sociable' is to shake up the order of the "motorhomes" (read: team facilities!) so that they are not directly behind each team's pit garage. It will be interesting to watch the TV coverage over the next few rounds to see if the plan succeeds.
Roll on race!!
I find myself in something of a quandary relating to my picks for this round. And before you laugh, yes even those of us languishing at the bottom of the picks leaderboard do sometimes try and pick based on some sort of strategy!
The Silver Arrows were strong here last year, and the pace of both Hamilton and Rosberg in Malaysia was promising - albeit under very particular conditions which based on current weather forecasts do not look to be replicated this weekend. But the McLarens have also been strong here in the past, and they are introducing some updates this weekend which might address the raw pace issues they've been experiencing. Lotus look like getting their wish for a dry race, which should mean they'll be strong again too. And then there's the Red Bulls - which may be technically strong this weekend but I'm not quite sure how the fallout from the 'overtaking' incident last round will influence the strategy of the drivers (or the team's preparation and management of the drivers) over the weekend. Will anyone be brave enough to pick Webber for the win??
Perhaps I should just follow Mr Robot's predictions, after all he/she/it is higher up the leaderboard than me. Or maybe I give up on picking the top 3 and focus on picking the bottom three. I guess I have around two days to decide. Anyone want to give me any suggestions??
With still a couple of weeks to go before the next round, I thought it worth highlighting to you a couple of the more entertaining April Fools Day stories doing the rounds of the motorsport world.
I don't think anyone fell for Kimi's tweet about retiring at the end of this season, or some random tweets about Webber retiring immediately as a consequence of his treatment in Malaysia. But there were quite a few stories in the European press about Vettel being stood down / suspended by Red Bull for the Chinese GP. Some had Sebastian Buemi filling in for him, others suggested Daniel Ricciardo would be doing the honors. (Note: I don't speak French or Italian, but Google translator did a good enough job that I got the gist of the stories!)
Possibly the best (if any April Fools Day prank deserves to be called 'best) prank though goes to the 'Dupont' F1 team which even some mainstream outlets did briefly cover before the stories all seemed to mysteriously disappear! Take a moment to google 'Dupont F1 launch' and you'll see what I mean. And an honorable mention to the Lotus F1 team for their 'virtual GP' announcement - even if it was a little far-fetched.
My personal favorite though involved the Dick Johnson Racing (DJR) team from Australia's V8Supercars. DJR had a media launch of a new manufacturer entering the V8Supercar series - complete with a YouTube clip and quotes from Dick Johnson and his son Steve. Even if you have never heard of V8supercars, if you are a fan of a certain 80's movie trilogy featuring Michael J Fox and fancy a trip back to the future - check out the details here: http://www.speedcafe.com/2013/04/01/dick-johnson-racing-announces-bold-new-future/
Wow - what a race. The only thing that might have improved today's race (no, not rain!) might have been if Alonso had survived the first few laps and we had inter-team biffo going on in Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari. Lucky for the world-wide F1 audience that the drivers who made the podium were of British and German extraction - nationalities historically known for their restraint!
Formula 1 (F1) is the best of the best. On the track, the 'best' drivers are pitted against each other using their cars as weapons to force opponents into submission. In days gone by, we might have seen gentlemen such as this sort out their differences in public with pistols at dawn, or quick-draw at high noon, or even a spot of jousting where one man would stand the victor. The paradox of F1 is that while we support and laud these gentlemen as individuals, the fact is that they would not be where they are without the teams who put the cars together, bring in the sponsorship dollars and devise the strategy for each race. So while we on the surface view this as an individual sport it is in fact a team sport.
As a race fan, I dislike the restrictions which team orders dictate as I would prefer to see the drivers fight it out on the day so that the best man (or maybe one day the best woman?) wins. But I do also understand why this is not always in the best interests of the team (although there is an argument that suggests friction between drivers in the same team is not good for the team either).
I'm sure behind the closed doors this evening there will be some angry words, some promises and maybe some apologies (keep an eye on twitter folks - remember Hamilton from last year!!). But it would be so much more interesting if the teams allowed their drivers to work this out the old fashioned way. Think about it this way. Assuming each team ends up with one driver left standing, that would open up a few doors for those waiting in the wings.......
I saw an interview with Kimi from Melbourne last week where he was asked whether he disliked all the interviews. His response - in typical Kimi fashion - was essentially he wouldn't do it if he had a choice, but he acknowledged it was all part of the business of F1 so he did it his way. I am sure that it must become something of a sport for the more experienced drivers to try and think up imaginative answers to what are largely a predictable set of questions they get asked at each race.
Take this for example from Mark Webber in response to how the practice went : "Everything is around tyres. Tyres, tyres, tyre, tyres, tyres..." And this one, again from Webber: " It is pretty warm in the car, but if I am warm then so is everyone else...."
But really, it was this quote from Kimi which gives the game away. When asked about his form this weekend, the reply was: "You keep asking the same question all the time, I have no idea..."
Oh - and in other big news, Jules Bianchi continues to shine at the back of the field, outperforming his Marussia team-mate by around 2 seconds in P2. Imagine what he could have done if he'd got the seat at Force India!
A couple of our F1infocentre.com tippers have commented that in the earlier part of the season picking the last three finishers might be easier than trying to pick the top three. I agree. Being the kind hearted soul that I am, in the interests of trying to help those tipsters who had a rather dismal weekend last weekend (how could anyone only score 2 points!!), I wanted to draw your attention to the definition of the 'last placed driver' given in the rules for the F1infocentre.com tipping competition.
"The last placed driver is the driver of a car that is reported by the FIA as having officially completed the race without retiring through mechanical failure, accident, penalty or other retirement. A car listed inna position in the official race results but shown as DNF for example is not considered a placed driver."
With this in mind, here's some 'back-marker' facts from last weekend in Australia which might help you make that crucial decision as to who is worthy to be tipped for third, second and last place finishers.
My suggestion - tip both the Marussias and a Caterham (probably Charles Pic based on last weekend) for the bottom three. Even if you don't get the order right, odds are you'll get more than 2 points!!
Well done Kimi! Perhaps it was the two-stop strategy, perhaps it was just sheer luck, or maybe some sort of ice-man magic - but whatever it was very few people saw it coming. Even among the wise and learned f1infocentre.com fraternity only one tipster had gone with Kimi for the win - and even they didn't get second or third place right. But it could be worse, one lucky tipster just scraped into the points with their only correct tip being McLaren!
There is some speculation that at least one or two members of our f1infocentre fraternity are secretly happy that Mark Webber did not win on Sunday as a breakthrough win for Webber to start the season would have triggered a whirlwind of jetlag, plastic fatigue and potentially even an employment crisis. Anyway, all's well that ends well!!
Last season started with a record number of races with different race winners. Could we be in for another run of random winners, or will Kimi prove that his win was not just a flash in the pan? And can Red Bull get to the bottom of the KERS and tyre issues to come back for the win in Malaysia next week? With rain again predicted in Malaysia it is sure to be another equally intriguing weekend.
This seems to be an issue dividing fans and commentators as a new day dawns in Melbourne. For fans who braved the truly challenging conditions yesterday - many in ponchos, shorts and flip-flops following a very warm start to the day - I guess they would feel ripped off not to have seen the whole of qualifying. But I think the officials made the right call and that this morning we will see conditions more comparable to what we should have by race start this afternoon. What do you think?
My highlights from the coverage were the wading bird splashing the the puddles along the track, the seagulls flying backwards, and Massa's spectacular spin. It is rather cold and still very windy in Melbourne this morning but expected to improve throughout the day. But Quali still be challenging.......
Two interesting things have been unveiled in Melbourne the last few days. Well, actually I guess there's been more than two - but these two particularly caught my attention.
The first thing I noticed was the new tat sleeve Lewis Hamilton was displaying in the early autumn sunshine. It was suggested by a commentator on the host broadcast coverage today that it would likely have been frowned on if he'd stayed at McLaren, so perhaps it's his way of celebrating the new start at Mercedes. My tip is watch out for further enhancements and additions over the coming months.
The other one is equally quirky. Apparently over a steak dinner in Melbourne this week Vettel and his team settled on the name 'Hungry Heidi" for the car formerly known as the RB9. Which, on reflection, doesn't seem like such a bad choice given he's previously driven cars named "Kate's Dirty Sister" and "Randy Mandy". But as a wise commentator has noted - when you have back-to-back Formula 1 World Championships you can pretty much call your car whatever you like!
There was a clip on the local host broadcaster's late news last night here in Melbourne of an interviewer at the autograph stage in Melbourne Park yesterday asking Sebastian Vettel what his favourite bit of Melbourne was. Vettel hesitated, then with a deadpan face said "the track" and resumed signing autographs. Which seems indicative of the media attitude here - they don't seem to care too much about having the F1 circus in town.
And some of the foreign press don't seem to care for the yearly visit to Melbourne either. I came across this article yesterday which leads with the statement "Welcome to Australia. Everything here wants to kill you."
Now I like to take advantage of stereotypes as much as the next blogger, but seriously - perhaps the article is more a reaction to jet lag than anything else. There is so much to like here in Melbourne and for those of us who are F1 fans we really appreciate having a home Grand Prix.
Oh, and while there are probably no crocodiles in Albert Park lake, there is a certain golf course south of Brisbane which has increased its popularity the last few years since a handful of bull sharks were washed into the water hazard in a flood. Maybe there is a lesson in that for Albert Park......
If you were thinking of buying McLaren merchandise, you might want to read this! On the eve of the season opener in Melbourne, McLaren have confirmed that they are ending their long running partnership with title sponsor Vodafone at the end of the 2013 season.
Although the team does not plan to announce a new sponsor until December, speculation has been rife since Perez joined the team that the Mexican telco Telmex (which has had a long relationship with the Mexican driver) might become involved with McLaren. There are also rumours suggesting in fact that GlaxoSmithKline - who currently have Lucozade branding on the cars - might be looking to take up the coveted title sponsor role. Added to the persistent speculation around a change in manufacturer from McLaren to Honda on the horizon it could be an interesting year for McLaren fans!
So I was looking around at a few stories from overseas media outlets to see what they're saying about the upcoming race - and this one jumped out at me. It's from the speed tv team and is titled "F1: Impossible to Predict Form, Says Button". But it is the subtitle that really made me laugh: "Jenson Button is a three-time Austrian GP winner..."
Yep, that's not a typo - speedtv.com's team seem to have invented an "Austrian" grand prix! And what makes it worse, only one of the comments under the article demonstrates anyone noticed. Fair enough, we here in Australia are a long way away from the rest of the world (ask anyone that has done the longhaul to America or Europe) but really we couldn't be much more different to Austria.
I don't think we would cope well with the winters that Austria has (imagine snow drifts and a frozen Sydney Harbour), maybe we could give yodeling a decent crack but could you imagine having to swap the boardies and thongs (that's flip-flops for non-Aussies!) for lederhosen and clogs??
Not everything out of Austria is so out of place here in Australia (think Mozart, Sigmund Freud and the Sound of Music - all of which do pop up in the media on slow news days) but if we have to be Austrian this weekend maybe that's what Mark Webber needs to break his 'home grand prix' jinx. Think how good it would be for the "Austrian" grand prix in Melbourne this weekend to be won by a local "Austrian" team Red Bull Racing with local "Austrian" driver Webber at the wheel. One can dream.......
The drivers are arriving, Albert Park is closed off to the public and the official weather forecast for race day has been published (morning showers clearing, moderate southerly breeze and temperatures ranging from 13 to 22 degrees Celsius - which is 55 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit). Mind you, it is Melbourne so there's a fair chance the forecast will change between now and then. And there's the usual speculation about the start time of the race here in Melbourne over the coming years. Although one local media outlet (Herald Sun) has a story claiming some drivers are in favour of a proposal to rotate the race start time each year so that it cycles through as a day race, a twilight race and a proper night time race. Given the weather in Melbourne will be in the mid to high 30's (degrees Celsius, in the 100's degrees Fahrenheit) I'm not sure a day race is a good idea. But a night race - that could be interesting and would definitely suit the European TV audiences.
With the race only a few days away the teams seem to be using interviews with their drivers and team principles to set expectations around how they might perform this week and for the season ahead. With most of the key people flying in from Europe I'm sure the media will be trying to take advantage of their jetlag with 'airport arrival' questions designed to catch them off guard and reveal some tidbit about the team's real expectations for Melbourne. Having done a few long haul flights myself (although admittedly not up the pointy end where most of these folks would travel) I can think of a few things I'd rather do than face a media scrum minutes after getting off a plane!
What will Melbourne serve up this year? Will it be a shower of rain at a crucial lap? Will it be a stray duck crossing the track? Or will it be (gulp!) a breakthrough win for Mark Webber in what might be his last appearance on the grid at Melbourne Park? Roll on 2013, we're ready to see some action!!
Aggregate times for the final winter test round at Circuit de Catalunya last week would suggest that Mercedes and Ferrari are the teams to beat when it comes to speed, and that Lotus and Sauber still have a few mechanical gremlins to deal with. It was also good to see Mark Webber post the fastest time on the first day, albeit apparently with the help of a tail-wind, but on balance Red Bull have been relatively unremarkable in terms of performance. But I seriously doubt any of the top teams actually showed us what they are capable of in any of the testing in recent weeks, and the conditions at each round have not really been reflective of weather likely to be encountered in the early part of the season anyway.
The results for Mercedes in the last two rounds of testing suggest perhaps Ross Brawn has found some of that magic from the Brawn GP season which took Jenson Button to the championship a few years ago. If nothing else I am sure it's given Hamilton and Rosberg the confidence to believe that they might just be serious contenders this year. And it has likewise probably created a headache or two for those undecided members of the F1infocentre.com community still trying to decide whether their loyalties lie with Hamilton or with McLaren.....
On other driver news, Force India finally decided to give their second seat to Adrian Sutil. But in a lucky break for the unsuccessful candidate Jules Bianchi (who is part of the Ferrari Drivers Academy), a spot opened up for him at Marussia when they terminated Luiz Razia's contract citing 'sponsorship issues'. I do hope he is able to get some decent laps under his belt this season with Marussia, even if they're unlikely to be up the pointy end of the field. And I do hope that Kimi Raikkonen's bout of food poisoning (or was it just a reason to avoid another long day of testing??) hasn't seriously impacted his preparation for the first round of the season starting next week in Melbourne. What would an F1 round be without a Kimi quote or two??
With the teams retreating to their respective factories for final tweaks and adjustments it's only a week or so until the promotional appearances start here in Australia for drivers and teams, and a couple more sleeps then until the engines roar to life and season 2013 begins. Don't forget to do your research and register your season picks for F1infocentre.com. That is if you do research, you could also pick the cutest driver, or your favourite team colours, or the team your family always supports, or even play 'eenie meenie miney mo'! It doesn't really matter how you come up with your picks but I'd be interested to know if you're using logic or some other means?
It's as sure as snow in winter (well, in Russia anyway) and storms in spring that come the lead-up to the Grand Prix in Melbourne the local media start running stories about Bernie Ecclestone. In previous years the stories have ranged from his 'snubbing' Melbourne by not attending the race, to his interest in moving the race back to Sydney, or his demanding a night race. This time, the Herald Sun has 'exclusively' reported today that Bernie was happy with Melbourne and was willing to enter into a contract 10 times longer than normal (yes, that's right - 50 years!) to protect the race from being poached by other cities when the current contract expires in 2015.
Interestingly, the article notes that he would only talk to Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker in relation to extending the F1 tenure in Melbourne and that he planned to arrive in Melbourne ahead of the race next month for the purpose of conducting talks with Ron. If you've ever wondered just how much it costs to bring the F1 circus to Melbourne - which is admittedly about as far away from Europe as they go - Bernie put the figure at more than $30 million! I am so in the wrong business.......
In other news, Pirelli have defended the high tyre degradation teams experienced in last week's testing by saying that the tyres were outside their normal operating range in the cooler than normal weather, and that Melbourne's conditions should be back within a more normal operating range. That's a big call - I wonder if they've seen the random weather going on in Australia at the moment? Between fierce thunderstorms, floods and cyclones - and Melbourne's reputation for strange weather - it could add that extra element of uncertainty into the first round of the F1infocentre.com Tipping Competition for 2013.
This week's testing at the Circuit de Catalunya (Barcelona) saw a few notable 'firsts' for 2013. There was the first wet running for the year, the first time multiple drivers ended up in the same gravel patch (for the record, most seemed to blame the unfamiliar Pirelli tyres and the weather for their off-course excursions), the first glimpses of Alonso - fresh from his focused fitness preparations - behind the wheel of the F138 to take top honours on day 3 of the testing, and the first (but hopefully not last) time Hamilton in the Mercedes topped the timesheets (day 4). There was also the first time (in my time following F1 anyway) that Red Bull sent a car out after a stop with a loose wheel, and the first real chance for drivers to test out the soft compound tyres. And it was also the first of two rounds of testing here at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The big question is still whether we have actually learnt anything new about any of the 2013 cars or teams out of the testing. While many of the (arguably!) more credentialed commentators than I believe we have, on balance I don't think we actually did. Other than some interesting back stories or interesting anecdotes about various drivers that the PR gurus are pumping out. If I was a team strategist, I'd definitely be advising my team to consider keeping their cards close until at least the practice session on Saturday morning in Melbourne. Having said that, these guys and girls 'live and breathe' racing so I am sure that there's some degree of competition going on - even if that is something as simple as who gets to the track first in the morning....
With less than 3 weeks now until the first round of the season in Melbourne we are still waiting for a decision from Force India as to who will take up their final seat for 2013. The short-list appears to be Adrian Sutil (who lost his Force India seat in 2012 to Nico Hulkenburg but has tested with them this week) and the team's 2012 test driver Jules Bianchi (who also tested with them again this week). It is widely tipped that the team will make their decision before the start of the final pre-season testing later this week. I would like to see Sutil return to Force India, but I suspect the decision will probably be as much about how much money the driver can bring to the team as it will be about driving skill and ability to get results. Along those lines, I read with interest Jaime Alguersuari's comments (reported by autosports.com about F1 seats having become a auction rather than purely a selection based on skill.) Seems Jaime was under the impression he would have a seat with a team that '..usually scores...' for 2013 and had held off making any other racing arrangements, but has recently discovered that he was laboring under a false impression. Jaime will, however, continue to keep his hand in Formula 1 as a test driver for Pirelli and is looking hopefully towards 2014.
The final round of pre-season testing will kick off on 28th February at the Circuit de Catalunya (running 28 February throug 3 March) before the teams pack up for the trip 'down under'.
Obviously all the teams have been hanging out for the testing in Jerez as their first opportunity to see how their cars - and the new tyres - will perform on a track. But I'm sure there's more to this testing thing than just pure data and statistics, as the teams decide whether to show all their cards or keep a few in reserve.
On day 1 over at Mercedes there were possibly a few smiles and maybe even a snicker or two when the McLaren MP4-28 developed a fuel pump issue. But the shoe was definitely on the other foot when a short time later the Mercedes (driven by Rosberg at that stage) went up in smoke, bringing their day to an early end. And I'm sure Marussia didn't plan to have their car end up in the gravel, even if they did develop a habit of ending up as impromptu trackside signage towards the end of races last season.
Poor old Mercedes didn't do much better on day 2, with the F1 W04 driving into a tyre wall when Hamilton was at the wheel (surely a mechanical issue and not a driver issue!) which meant no further participation for them on day 2. In contrast, McLaren had another good day, with Perez putting the laps on the board and doing wonders for his confidence (and no doubt boosting the team's confidence in him). The fastest lap time of the day went to Grosjean in the Lotus, possibly because everyone else was just keen to stay out of his way!
Day 3 went much more to script for Mercedes with Rosberg completing a full day's running in the Silver Arrow. Ferrari grabbed the honours with the fastest time to Massa in the F138, and Force India grabbed the headlines when their test driver James Rossiter tried to use a team mechanic as a stop in the pits, leaving the mechanic (and possibly Rossiter's ego) a little bruised but otherwise OK.
By day 4 things seemed to largely be back on script for all the top teams, although Paul di Resta's first day as a Ferarri test driver did get a bit smokey on one occasion. Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time of the day (in the car, not for his post-session interview!) to cement Lotus as a car to watch in 2013, and Jules Bianchi completed a pretty good 'job interview' for the remaining seat at Force India by setting the day's second fastest time in the JVM06.
So what did we learn from Jerez? I'd say it went pretty much to script, give or take a tyre barrier here or a rookie mistake there. The teams can now spend a week or so looking over their data and devising their strategies for the next round of testing which begins in Barcelona in a few weeks.
So the last few days has seen another round of car launches or unveilings in the lead-up to testing at Jerez in Spain, and I'm still intrigued by the choices that the teams make around the information they choose to highlight at the launch.
Take for example the Force India launch of their JVM06 in Silverstone (does anyone else find it strange that a team named 'Force India' had their launch in England?) with their only confirmed driver Paul di Resta enjoying his solo time in the spotlight. In terms of the car name, the VJM makes sense (team principle Dr Vijay Mallya would be my guess) and the car itself was described by their technical director as "new from the ground up" - even though we all know it's essentially made up of key McLaren and Mercedes components. Unfortunately for Force India there seemed to be more interest in the speculation around the choice of driver for their spare seat rather than any serious discussion of their car's merits.
Next cab off the rank was the launch in Switzerland of the 'all new' (and actually from a look at the details it does seem to be!) Sauber C32 with its KERS, gearbox and engine once again courtesy of Ferarri. This team also has an 'all new' driver line-up for this year with Nico Hulkenburg and Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez locked in. In my view, their car (as well as their drivers!) are some of the better looking ones around the paddock this season. I'd like to think that has something to do with the Sauber team principle being a lady (Monisha Kaltenborn), we ladies do tend to have an eye for details.
The Renault powered RB9 was next to break cover at Milton Keynes, being the 9th version of this car from Red Bull Racing. Red Bull have a lot to live up to this year, but with an unchanged driver line-up and consistency of key team personnel they might just do it, even though Vettel has been keen to point out to everyone that past results don't count for much at the start of a new season. I wonder if anyone thought to ask Webber what he thought about the car, the new season, or anything else for that matter? If they did I didn't spot much coverage of Mark in the press coverage of the RB9 (sorry Karina!)
So that brings us to the end of the big launches, with the balance of the cars being unveiled at the start of testing . On the one hand, skipping a 'big launch' might not a bad strategy from a cost perspective but maybe it's not the best strategy to engage with fans or prospective fans. Or maybe the teams that didn't do the big launch are planning to let their cars do the talking at Jerez......
A couple of things from the recent media coverage of 'new' cars have caught my attention. Did anyone else chuckle reading or listening to the interview with Sergio 'Checo' Perez at the recent unveiling of McLaren's MP4-28? His use of the word 'incredible' to describe everything from the car to the team to the opportunity he has with McLaren this year gave the impression that he is like a kid with lots of cash in a candy shop that needs money. Oh wait, yeah he probably is just like that kid!
I found it interesting reading through the media coverage of the various team launches, and the stories which I assume have been 'released' by the teams in the lead-up to the launches to generate 'buzz'. Reading the stories I wonder if it is an indicator of the type of 'hard-core' fan base each team has.
Lotus' E21 was launched online on their youtube channel, so they're obviously not chasing the older demographic as their fan base. The team has decided to forego the 'vanity panel' on the nose to minimise the weight of the car and has focused on some key technical aspects of the car's development as the 'big news' at their launch. Surely Lotus will be the 'thinking fan's team' in 2013 - even if that's just so someone can come up with a good reason why the car is called "E21" (there's no E in lotus??)
McLaren seem to be worried their fan base will desert them. The stories coming out of Woking focus on reassuring fans that there is life after Lewis, highlighting Jenson as the most experienced driver in the paddock, and stating (or hoping!) that Jenson and McLaren will be good for Checo. They're also promising the reliability and consistancy of performance (really??) that prevented them from seriously challenging for the championship last year has been addressed. Hmmm....
And the Ferarri team's big story seems to be how they came up with the name for this year's car - the F138 - being "F for Ferarri" (d'oh), '13' for 2013, and '8' for the V8 engine (the last year of the V8 engine) and the continuing apology to their fans for last year's performance. I'm not sure that they need to apologise, so long as the car is red, goes moderately fast and looks nice I think that should satisfy the Prancing Horse fans (who - I might add - could be the best groomed and presented fans at the track, even if they do seem to have the habit of constantly looking for their reflection in shiny surfaces).
More to come as the rest of the launches roll through - watch this space!
|3||Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||199|
|5||Vettel||Red Bull Racing||143|
|2||Red Bull Racing||342|
|7||Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||6|
|8||Vettel||Red Bull Racing||4|