Thursday, 28 October 2010

Korean GP- the aftermath

Again, the computer has been bugged up over the last few days. It appears to be definitely fixed this time though, so hopefully this blog should be back to normal.

For those of you who missed the Korean GP, Fernando Alonso won the delayed and rain-hit race from Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, allowing him to take the championship lead. Both Red Bulls failed to finish the race, with Mark Webber crashing out on the 17th lap and Sebastian Vettel retiring of engine failure ten laps from the end of the race. The other title contender, Jenson Button, finished a lowly 12th, out of the points and seemingly out of contention.

The title standings with two races to go:
1. Alonso, 231 points
2. Webber, 220 points
3. Hamilton, 210 points
4. Vettel, 206 points
5. Button, 189 points

And some personal points/observations:
  • In my last post, I mentioned how Fernando Alonso was beginning to look like a good bet for the title. Much as I hate to blow my own trumpet, it appears to be coming true. He's certainly got the form for it- three wins in the last four races, six podiums in the last seven. The Ferrari also looks to be a competitive force at Interlagos, the next race, so there's a good chance for Fernando to put his title rivals even more under pressure. At the same time, Felipe Massa's podium was a good way for him to bounce back from a nightmare weekend at Suzuka, and it will be him that will play the most critical role in his home race next Sunday.
  • Most of the predictions of  Red Bull's dominance failed to take into account the team's unreliability, particularly in the case of Vettel. After problems with the car cost him wins in Bahrain and Australia, the engine blowup in Korea made for a sorry hat-trick, and one which has probably cost him the title. Something to think about is: had he won all three races mentioned above, he would have had the chance to wrap up the title in Brazil next week. Instead he has to come from way behind, and with team-mate Webber also in the hunt, it'll be hard to see which driver they will favour.
  • As for Webber himself, his mistake was only the second retirement of the season, but simply could not have happened at a worse time. More importantly, the crash was a pretty amatuerish mistake to make, even in wet conditions, and is the sort of thing that may well knock the confidence of someone whose championship challenge has been the most based on reliability. At least he comes to Brazil knowing that he's got a good chance of winning, having done so last year.
  • It was a mixed weekend for McLaren, whose car seems the slowest of the three championship contenders,but who had a lot more luck than either of the others. Although Hamilton effectively threw away his chances of victory by going off and allowing Alonso to pass him, it was inevitable he would have got through anyway, so it didn't make too much difference. Either way, second is a great result to get him back into the thick of the fight. Button, on the other hand, completely chose the wrong tyres, but even without that struggled in conditions he normally excels in. It seems extremely likely now that Jenson will be handing his title over, perhaps even in Brazil, the venue he won the title last year.
  • Mercedes got the better of Renault in the battle for fourth in the constructors' championship, with Michael Schumacher again impressing in fourth- the Rainmaster loving both the Korean track and the adverse weather conditions. Team-mate Nico Rosberg was unlucky to be caught up in Webber's crash early on, as it seemed like he would be on for a decent finish as well. As for the Renaults, Kubica's fifth was somewhat disappointing after he was quick in practice, while another crash for Vitaly Petrov has marked his card even further as he goes for a race seat in 2011.
  • There were also good races for BMW Sauber (8th and 9th) and Williams (7th and 10th), and a great drive from Tonio Liuzzi for Force India to take 6th, his best result of the season. The form of the team has tailed off significantly after a promising start, so it was good to see them taking decent points for the first time in quite a while.
  • Finally, the first race at the Yeongnam track, still being finished as the race was being held, wasn't too bad. OK, so there may have been teething problems, like fans trying to get into the track an hour after the official race start (although the one-hour delay caused by the extremely wet conditions did aid them somewhat), but for a track that was reportedly very close to not being ready to host even a go-kart race, the organisation was good, as was the racing, although of course it may well have been different in the dry. The rain conditions, coupled with the already slippery track surface, brought good racing, but the driver's refusal to drive in the early, monsoon-like conditions may well have been right on balance, even if it did lead to questions about the finish of the race, which happened under darkening sunset conditions.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A week is a long time in F1...

 Firstly, apologies for the lack of updates over the last week or so, been having some computer troubles which took quite a while to sort out. As there's been too much going on to go into in detail,  this post is basically to get back up to speed with everything. I'll post some more regular updates from tomorrow.

Basically, the biggest news is that Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix last Sunday, with team-mate Mark Webber second, Fernando Alonso third and the McLarens of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton fourth and fifth. 
Webber keeps the lead of the championship with 220 points, Vettel and Alonso are joint second on 206, Hamilton on 192 and Button on 189.

Some personal points and observations from the race:

  • It was a pretty darn boring affair, and one which really wasn't worth getting up for (it started at 7am British time, which will be the same for the now confirmed Korean race next week). This pretty much suited the Red Bulls down to the ground, as it was clear Webber would not attack Vettel for fear of losing his championship lead. The Red Bulls were fastest all weekend, so it was clear when the delayed qualifying was on a completely dry track that they would dominate. As for both drivers, although Webber played it safe this time, he may well have to go for broke a lot more in the last few races- even if he were to finish second to Vettel in both Korea and Brazil, the pair would be on equal points heading into the last round, something Webber might not be able to handle.
  • Fernando Alonso is beginning to look like a good bet for the title, particularly as it seems his car is looking a lot better than the McLarens at the moment and can hold up well with the Red Bulls. Massa, on the other hand, despite apparently having full support from the team, will have to provide a much better service if Alonso is going to win the title- his first lap crash with Tonio Liuzzi's Force India shows how much he has gone off the boil since the German race.
  • Both McLarens are effectively out of the title hunt, as the remaining tracks suit Red Bull more, particularly in Brazil. It means Hamilton would have to hope for some reliability problems from Vettel and Webber to have a chance of the championship, something Button seems to be ruling himelf out of, and the team are not concerned about.
  • Robert Kubica's early retirement robbed us of a good race in Suzuka, as it seemed the Polish driver was the only one to come close to the two up front. It also throws into sharp relief the distance between Kubica and Vitaly Petrov, another driver whose early retirement, coupled with a grid penalty for the next race, would not have endeared him to his already impatient bosses. There is still a chance that somebody else will come into the team, but with the options already thin on the ground, it will be hard to see Renault getting rid of him.
  • There were two standout drives on Sunday, both from drivers with rather mixed seasons. Michael Schumacher in sixth drove probably his best race of the season, easily keeping in touch with team-mate Nico Rosberg and proving to be at least consistent, if not particularly fast towards the end of the year. Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber was the other one- whether it was being in front of a home crowd, or something the team put in his cereal, he was definitely the most entertaining driver of the race, with some fantastic overtaking manouevres making up for the timidness of the other drivers.
  • Finally, the battle of the last three teams seems to have ended in Lotus' favour after Kovalainen's 12th place, while Virgin finally moved ahead of Hispania after Glock finished 14th. As for Lucas Di Grassi, the less said about his weekend, the better...
 The rest of the news this week concerned the Korean GP, which will definitely go ahead next Sunday after the FIA approved the track for racing. As well as this a race has been announced for Russia in 2014, in the Winter Olympic city of Sochi, proving once and for all that Bernie Ecclestone doesn't read my posts, and that F1 testing will take place at Portimao in Portugal from next season, which sounds good.

Right, that's your lot. As mentioned above, normal service resumes tomorrow. Hopefully.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Japanese GP Predictions

Some notes from the two practice sessions:

  • Red Bull are looking like the team to beat at Suzuka; not suprising really, given that the track's fast blasts really suit the car. 
  • Vettel looks the faster of the pair, it seems he's able to get a lot more out of the car through the turns. Could lead to some problems through the first corner if he's partnered up with Webber at the front.
  • Hamilton's crash in practice is a sign of recklessness, but it should hopefully wake him up a lot more for this weekend. This is the race where he has to win, and moreover beat all other title rivals into a cocked hat. Any mistakes this weekend would be fatal, but I doubt even Lewis can make it three in a row...
  • Degner is obviously the danger spot, but then it's always been, so no real problems there.
  • Everything I've said above is pretty much irrelevent, as monsoon-like rain is being reported as being present during qualifying and maybe into race day as well.
The final factor throws up some particularly interesting scenarios. Red Bull have not been particularly impressive in the wet this year, but given the dominance of the car in the dry conditions this may not have as much of an impact as it would normally. The conditions will definitely suit the McLaren drivers more, so both  Button and Hamilton have to use the conditions to their advantage. Alonso may have to throttle back somewhat, which could give a couple of other drivers a chance to get into the mix: mainly Robert Kubica, whose Renault was 3rd fastest in both practice sessions and could provide a real threat in rainy conditions.

On this basis, my predictions for qualifying are these:

1.Vettel (Red Bull)
2. Hamilton (McLaren) (7th after penalty)
3. Webber (Red Bull) (up to 2nd after Hamilton penalty)
4. Kubica (Renault) (up to 3rd)
5. Button (McLaren) (up to 4th)
6. Alonso (Ferrari) (up to 5th)
7. Massa (Ferrari) (up to 6th)
8. Sutil (Force India)
9. Petrov (Renault)
10. Rosberg (Mercedes)

EDIT: Qualifying has been postponed until 12pm Japanese time on Sunday (2am BST, 10pm Saturday EST), because of torrential rain. Lewis Hamilton has also been docked 5 places on the grid due to a change of gearbox. I have therefore changed my predictions accordingly.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Keeping a distance: Raikkonen rules out Renault

 Former F1 Champion Kimi Raikkonen's decision not to return to F1 with Renault for next season can be seen in quite a few different ways: a driver too big for his boots, or a team fabricating lies and rumours for publicity's sake, whatever floats your boat.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

'Regular drivers? What are they?'

Hispania Racing Team boss Colin Kolles has said both the team's 'regular drivers' will be driving at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next week. Which brings the problem: who are their regular drivers? Bruno Senna is certainly one, as he's driven all but one race this year, but who's partnering him?

For those that don't know, the team's had four different drivers this year, Senna (the nephew of the great Ayrton Senna), Indian Karun Chandhok, who raced for the team in the first half of the season, Sakon Yamamoto, the Japanese pay-driver currently racing for the team, and Christian Klien, the team's test driver, who replaced the ill Yamamoto at the last race in Singapore (and did pretty well).

Sadly, it appears Yamamoto will be given the nod, not because of his racing ability, but due to his rather large wallet (which the team desperately needs), plus the fact it's his home race. It's quite sad to see Chandhok on the sidelines after the solid start he made, and was improving all the time before they suddenly dropped him: his commentary on the BBC in the latter half of the season has shown he's got a good knowledge of the cars and tracks as well, not to mention a clear enthusiasm and dedication to the sport.

As for Yamamoto, having already had two tries (and fails) at F1 before his current job, I think it's clear he should think about giving it up, as his driving remains erratic, his speed slow and his effectiveness for the team and the race overall extremely low. I can agree that being in F1 would be a great experience, and that it would be better to get as much time as possible, no matter where it is, but the lack of improvement shown by Sakon Yamamoto is very telling.

Hopefully the team will be able to sort this out ahead of the final few races of the season, but with the team stuck to the back of the grid and two underperforming drivers, they may well be hoping just to get the season over with.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sauber lands Perez for 2011

Sauber have signed Mexican Sergio Perez to be second driver to Kamui Kobayashi for the 2011 season. The GP2 runner-up becomes the first Mexican to race in the sport since the not-particularly-good Hector Rebaque back in the 1980s.

Now I must confess to being either blind or stupid, but I genuinely don't seem to know how good he is, even though he won no less than four races in GP2 last year, including one at Silverstone. Where I was in the crowd. From the sounds of it though, he could be a shrewd move for Peter Sauber's boys, as he strikes me as someone who could do a Vettel and become good when it really matters. At only 20 years old, he's already older than both Raikkonen and Massa when they started, so may have to do a bit of catching up in that respect.

Two things strike me about this deal more than anything else, though: firstly, what about Nick Heidfeld? Left Mercedes to test for Pirelli, and then left Pirelli for the second Sauber race-seat. What did he get out of it? Five races in an uncompetitive car. Certainly not what one of Sauber's most loyal and dedicated drivers wanted, or more obviously, deserves.

Secondly, and I know this is much less important, but with a Japanese and Mexican team for next season, I sure would love to visit the Sauber garage's kitchens to see the food they're knocking up in honour of their drivers' respective nationalities.

Oh, hang on, maybe not.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Sebastian and Michael- two peas in a pod

Sebastian Loeb won his seventh World Rally Championship today, with a win in front of his home fans in France allowing him to defeat his nearest rival, fellow Citroen driver (and Frenchman) Sebastian Ogier.

Much as the feat has to be applauded- it's quite clear now Loeb is already the best driver ever to grace the WRC in terms of championships and wins- it's quite easy to draw some obvious comparisons with Michael Schumacher's titles in F1.

There is the undying loyalty to his team throughout his career (just don't mention what Schumacher did next, though). There is the sense of a lack of competiton, that Loeb made it look easy all the time, when in fact there were many other drivers snapping at his heels, many other GOOD drivers. And, most importantly of all, there was the ability to win when it was needed, when it mattered, and across all types of terrain and through all manner of ways.

Sadly, the comparisons can also stretch to the accusations that the WRC has merely became Seb Loeb's plaything, just like F1 was Schumacher's plaything in the 90s. It is clear to see how the sport has suffered too, with a lack of satisfactory opposition to the Citroens and Fords turning the WRC into a shadow of its former self.

Nevertheless, to win seven titles at any sport is something that must be applauded- and to win them all back to back is even more so. Congratulations to Sebastian Loeb, and Citroen, and good luck on making it number 8 in 2011!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The solution to the Lotus Racing/ Team Lotus problem

You wouldn't call this Malaysian made, Malaysian-funded, Proton-built car a Lotus...

... so why should this Malaysian funded, Proton-built car be any different?



Tell us something we don't know, Luca

Ferrari president Luca De Montezemolo has urged Felipe Massa to help out Fernando Alonso in his title bid:

"I have waited for Felipe with great perseverance in the last four races. I want a strong Massa who will shave points off the rivals. In Singapore he had some bad luck, but he is in good condition to win. Those who race for Ferrari don't race for themselves, but for the Ferrari team colours. One who wants to race for himself will have to face his team."

Hmmm, thought he'd done that already.

No surprise there though. The question being: with that in mind, how much do they want from Massa? Second places behind Alonso at every race? Holding the Maccas and Red Bulls behind at all costs? Taking himself out while in good positions to help his team-mate?

The problem being, Massa has done this so many times already he deserves some sort of award for a patience being worn thinner every race, and for allowing his importance in the team to diminish to a pinprick, so much so that even the top brass know the right moment to tell him when to play the team game. First Schumacher, then Raikkonen, now Alonso.

Almost makes you sad he didn't win the title in 2008. (Although that would mean we never got this...)

PS: I make no apologies for using a crappy quality clip with German commentary. It was better than having a clip of James Allen and Martin Brundle creaming themselves simultaneously.

Yeongnam: a cautionary tale?

The logo for the Korean GP- but will we ever see the accompanying race?

It was all he way back in 2006 when plans for Korea's first shot at a Formula One race were announced, when Bernie Ecclestone's dream of expanding F1 into the far, far east had begun to take hold. Yet four years and several hundred million dollars later, we're still far away from sealing the deal: a  half-finished track, shoddy organisation and pathetic excuses have lead to the race becoming a farce, and with only three weeks until the race itself, there's no knowing if there will even be a Korean Grand Prix this year. The big question here: could this fiasco be the first of many in F1's vastly-expanding world?