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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!
|1||Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||89|
|6||Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||42|
|7||di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||26|
|22||van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||0|
|1||Red Bull Racing-Renault||131|
|4||Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||12|
|5||Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||10|
|7||di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||6|
|21||van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||0|