Monday, 30 May 2011

Frustrated Hamilton Apologises

Lewis Hamilton has gone back to the FIA stewards at Monaco and to explain and apologise for his comments in live interview with BBC TV.

The Frustrated driver was being asked how his race went when he commented that he is the only driver being called in to the stewards after almost every race. He wondered if he was being victimised and when asked why he thought that was he replied, "I don't know, maybe its because of I'm black. That's what Ali G says."

Lewis was clearly fed-up with the way the race turned out for him but, apart from his poor qualifying, there is nowhere to place the blame but on himself. He claimed that Massa and Maldonaldo turned in on him deliberately as he tried to pass, but it was obvious from the TV coverage that he was nowhere near alongside at the point of contact. It was clear that Hamilton was trying far too hard to get a result from a race where he felt he had a chance of victory, and instead cost himself a good result.

Hamilton's post-race outburst could be the thing that costs him more though. His comments, although spoken in a humorous way, won't be taken that way by a lot of people and will surely turn some people against him. There is also the chance of a fine from the FIA for bringing the sport into disrepute.

Personally, I still think he is a great driver who really needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut. Its great to hear someone speak their mind, but on live TV, not a good plan. Its a shame that he is likely to be attacked by the press over what was essentially an off-the-cuff, poor taste joke, but again there is only one person to blame. His best plan now is to get a public apology out, keep quiet and deliver the best race of his life at Canada.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Monaco, Glitz, Glamour and Red Flags

An eventful Monaco showed all the excitement that it promised. But it ultimately came down to a slightly disappointing end after a red flag interrupted the last laps of the race.


At Monaco grid position is more important than at any other track during the season and this time out proved no different. The sessions started with lots of traffic and a few drivers getting in each others way. Rosberg produced the most impressive story of qualifying after a huge accident in the third free practice session. He lost the rear of his car exiting the tunnel, speared into the barriers and slid down the track towards the infamous wall at the chicane. Amazingly he missed the wall by an incredibly narrow margin and slid to a stop some way down the following straight with three wheels hanging from their tethers. The Mercedes team worked hard and had the car ready less than six minutes into Q1. Rosberg left the pits and put in hos first flying lap of the day to beat Schumacher and end up middle of the pack at that point.

It was qualifying 3 where the real drama started though. Most of the cars went out for an early run, two attempts seemed to be the order of the day and halfway through the session, Vettel put in a stunning lap to beat everyone by a huge margin. Button put in his fastest lap of the weekend and was still 0.4 secs off the german's time. Sergio Perez at this point came out of the tunnel a little off line, hit the brakes and in a very similar manner to Rosberg swerved into the wall and slid down the track. He wasn't as lucky as Nico though and smashed into the barrier side on. With around two and a half minutes remaining the session was instantly red-flagged while the rescue teams moved to assist. It took several minutes to remove the Mexican from his car safely and get him on his way to the medical centre. It was later revealed that he was suffering from concussion and a bruised leg, a lucky escape after a nasty incident.

As the session restarted Lewis Hamilton had been waiting at the pit exit for just over two minutes and was first on track. Despite a huge effort the track was not producing the same times as before and nobody improved. Hamilton had not set a time yet and becasue he cut the chicane on this last lap the time he set did not count and he started from 10th place.

Photo courtesy of Force India

Lewis Hamilton was allowed to choose his starting tyres after his penalty and surprisingly elected to start the race on the harder tyres. An interesting strategy call but would it work? On the Warm-up lap Button radioed in to his team complaining of heavy steering which must have caused a slight panic in the garage.

The lights went out  and Fernando Alonso tried the flying straight up the inside that worked so well at Barcelona. It didn't quite work out as well here here but he got in front of Webber and Button kept his place in second. The biggest loser was Schumacher who bogged down badly off the line and was taken by several cars. By the time he got moving  Hamilton was in front and Michael responded by hitting him in turn 1. No major damage was caused and both cars continued. The German found a gap to slide up the inside of Hamilton at the hairpin. Rosberg also got a great start and found himself in fifth place by the end of the first lap.

Sebastien Vettel went straight into attack mode and by lap 3 was already 3.5 seconds ahead of Button. Hamilton was all over the back of Schumacher by this stage. Micheal was already complaining of graining but, as predicted the DRS zone didn't seem to be long enough at this track, and so he couldn't get alongside by St. Devote. Up the hill into Casino Square Hamilton was looking from side to side but there was clearly not enough space to allow a pass. Eventually he got a front wheel alongside and simply scared Michael off the apex. Michael, this time didn't turn in on Lewis and both carried on through.

Rubens followed Lewis through a short while later, yet another one back for all those years at Ferrari. The German was the first to stop on lap 13 to get rid of his damaged tyres and change his front wing. Neither Mercedes had a lot of speed and Felipe Massa was trying hard to pass Nico Rosberg but only succeeded by losing a few bits of wing against his tyre.

Button  dived into the pits on lap 16 and came back out on the track in a massive clear section of track. Vettel pitted a lap later but there was a problem with the tyre warmers which lead to a delay in the car getting going again. The small delay and a radio problem, meant that no-one was ready when Webber arrived seconds later for his stop, causing an even longer wait for him. Ferrari also got into the pits and once everyone was back on track Button was in the lead. Webber was the big loser, he ended up in 14th place. Vettel and Alonso had switched to the harder tyres whereas Button decided to stick with the softs.

Jenson proceeded to pull out a large gap over second place, it was over 10 seconds by lap 23. Lewis now went into the pits but his tyres weren't ready and when he eventually left the pits he was behind Webber but on the soft tyres. Paul di Resta gave himself a drive through penalty by attempting an almost impossible overtake at the hairpin and lost his front wind into the bargain. 10 out of 10 for pluck, minus several hundred for sensibleness!

Lewis was now behind Felipe Massa and chasing very hard. As they approached the hairpin Lewis tried the same move as Di Resta with similar results. He was way too far back and hit his tyre against Massa's sidepod which locked them together for the rest of the corner. As they entered the tunnel Felipe clearly had no grip and Hamilton got alongside as they reached the bend. Massa ran onto the marbles, lost grip and wiped his wheels off on the barrier. The first safety car of the year was called out.

Sebastien Vettel stayed out as the safety car boards came out, so did Jenson, Schumacher promptly broke down just before the pit entrance and lewis got into the pits followed by almost everyone else. Lewis came on the radio claiming that Massa turned in on him on purpose but the stewards had none of it and gave him a drive through penalty.

The safety car came in on lap 38. After clearing the lapped traffic Button quickly started to close in on Vettel as Hamilton took his penalty. Webber was hounding Kobayashi now but couldn't seem to make any further progress. Button came in for his second stop on lap 48 and went on to the harder tyres. On exiting the pits he put in some seriously fast laps and quickly started to catch back up with Alonso and Vettel.

Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
By lap 52 it became clear that if Sebastien was to stop for tyres he would exit the pits well behind Button and Alonso. If he was to run to the end of the race his tyres would be well past their best and it didn't seem likely that he could hold button behind him with the English driver on far fresher rubber. Fernando Alonso was also on pretty secondhand tyres at this point but they were definitely newer than Vettel's, and this allowed him and Button to close in on the leader.

Jenson came onto the radio asking his team if Vettel was staying out. The reply, "We're not sure, but we are much faster." However with overtaking so difficult at this track would that be enough? It became obvious that staying out and hoping for the best was the plan. As Alonso got onto the tail of Vettel you could see he was much faster around most of the lap but, at the all important DRS zone he just could not get the power on early enough. By lap 62 Button was in the activation zone as well and the race was set for an intense last section.

Alonso was attacking Vettel as hard as he could, whereas Jenson seemed to be waiting for his perfect moment. They caught up with a large train of back markers on lap 70 and started to pass them. Kobayashi was part of it and tried a move on fifth place Sutil which resulted in a wheel to wheel collision. This obviously damaged Sutil's tyre and he ran wide in the swimming pool complex and hit the wall. He tried to make it around the next corner causing the following cars to take avoiding action. In the concertina Alguesuari rode up onto the back of Hamilton's car and straight off into the barrier taking Petrov with him and bringing out the second safety car.

Petrov was not coming straight out of the car and the yellows were changed to red with all the cars coming to a stop on the grid while he was extracted from the car and the wreckage was cleared away. He turned out to be suffering only from minor leg injuries on further inspection. In a little used rule somewhere it is written that the teams are allowed to work on the cars on the grid in this situation. This allowed McLaren to repair Hamilton's damaged wing but also allowed Ferrari and Red Bull to replace their respective driver's worn out tyres. The final result was pretty much sealed at this point and instead of the dramatic finale which had been building up we were treated to a four lap dash to the end between cars with pretty much the same grip as each other.

Hamilton and Webber were the only ones to provide any excitement on the restart. Hamilton knocking Pastor Maldonaldo sideways on turn 1 and Webber finally dispatching Kobayashi on the penultimate lap. The final result saw Vettel take his first Monaco victory followed closely by Alonso and Button. Webber got himself into fourth, with Kobayashi and Hamliton behind him. It seemed unlikely that Lewis would keep his place after the contact with Maldonaldo though.

This was the best Monaco race for many years and in the end, what should have been a dramatic race to the line, was spoiled by a little known regulation. The DRS was kind of helpful but it never really stood much chance on a track this tight anyway, the tyres provided the real show.

Lewis provided even more drama in the post race interviews when he accused pretty much everyone of being out to get him. This seemed odd as during the race it appeared that he was the one hitting everyone else. After the drivers' he also claimed that it seemed the Stewards were after him as well. When asked why he thought that was he made an attempt at a joke which will definitely come back to haunt him. "I don't know," he said, "maybe its because I'm black. That's what Ali G would say." Ali G popularised the phrase in the UK but somehow I don't think that will go down too well with the international members of the press and FIA officials.

Monaco always provides glitz and glamour but this time it also provided good racing. Although it was unfortunately with a bit of danger thrown in. The cars keep getting faster but run-off can never be added to this track. One day the cars will not be able to race here. Thank goodness it wasn't today. Next up is Canada where the DRS system will be used on two straights in a row. Looking forward to it!

Edit: Hamilton was given a 20 second penalty for causing an avoidable accident. The penalty does not affect the final standings.

Full Result

Championship Standings

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dramatic Start to Monaco Grand Prix

The Grand Prix weekend in Monte Carlo got the excitement underway nice and early by providing some news before any of the cars had even turned a wheel. A maintenance truck caught fire in the middle of St. Devote and blazed away nicely before being bought under control. This lead to some damage to the tarmac which required emergency repairs less than 24 hours before the cars were due to take to the track. The pre-Grand Prix excitement didn't stop there however. Jenson Button had to take avoiding action from a fork lift truck whilst on foot in the pits, but avoided getting hit. The FIA settled another mystery as they announced that the DRS would not be used in the tunnel at any point during the weekend. The activation zone for the race will be on the start/finish straight with the detection point immediately after the swimming pool complex.
Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus

The first free practice sessions, as usual, start a day early in Monaco so the drivers took to the track today. Free practice 1 started slowly as the top teams waited for the backmarkers to clean up the track and start putting down some rubber for them to run on. Seemingly from nowhere water started to appear on the start line, running across the track towards the pits. This bought out the red flags for a while as water supply was turned off to allow the cars to complete the session safely.

Mark Webber had a start to forget as he suffered gearbox problems early on and had to sit out most of the session while it was repaired. Towards the end of the session the drivers started going out for faster runs. Except Schumacher who lost grip on the way into turn 1. He tried to save it by heading down the escape road but slid sideways into the tyre wall damaging his car. The session ended with Vettel quickest followed by Alonso and Rosberg. The McLaren's should have been closer but traffic stopped Hamilton at least from showing his full pace.

Free practice 2 later on in the day allowed the drivers to really start attacking the track. There were a few front wings lost, and a few hairy moments for several drivers. Massa was one showing his car control skills as he fought a very loose Ferrari inches away from the barriers. An exciting display, but not fast enough to worry the top spot on the scoreboard. Alonso was the driver who took that place with Hamilton chasing hard just one tenth behind. Rosberg and Button both got faster times than Vettel, with Massa and Schumacher squeezing in front of Webber.

The super-soft tyres seem to be lasting longer than the teams had feared which means there could be as little as two stops per driver in the race. But so far predictions have been a bit unreliable on that front, so we will have to wait and see. Red Bull, for once, don't seem to have the advantage as they have at all the other races this year. Were they running high fuel? Or is it possible that the lower speed here really isn't suiting their car? Whichever way it turns out, this must be giving Ferrari, McLaren and even Mercedes hope that they may not be invincible come sunday. Not to mention the hope that we won't see the wonky finger that gets on Jenson's nerves so much again this weekend.

The Drag Reduction System is the other unknown here. On a track that is famous for being a procession, anything that can be done to shake things up is a good thing. But is the straight long enough? The cars are coming from a very low speed as they open the flap, and the deciding factor for getting a pass done is going to be rear grip rather than top speed. There isn't a lot of space to play with either, so the chances of seeing a safety car are probably at their highest for the whole season. This could be the most exciting Monaco Grand Prix for years or it could be a damp squib in the middle of an awesome season. I can't wait to find out which!

Predictions are much more tricky than usual. I'd love to think that Jenson could do well here as he seems to have a safe smooth style that suits this track. I just don't think he has the raw speed though, so lets go for Alonso on pole, with a mistake in strategy spoiling his Sunday. Hamilton first, Button second and Vettel third. What do you think?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

McLaren Nearly Catch Red Bull in Spain

Red Bull's qualifying pace deserted them in the main event in Barcelona as McLaren took the fight almost all the way to the front. The race was the best part of the weekend despite a DRS miscalculation by the FIA, which only proves that the Pirelli P Zero's are the biggest factor in Formula one's rediscovered excitement.


Saturday started badly for Nick Heidfeld after his car caught fire in the third practice session. Heidfeld pulled to the side of the track and got out safely but his car was severely damaged. The team worked as hard as they could but the limited time meant that it couldn't be repaired in time for Q1. Renault claimed that a cracked exhaust was the culprit but there seemed to be a huge amount of fire for that. It may well have been the start, but something a lot more flammable was involved to get the car burning that well.

This meant that there was one less car to beat in Q1 for the remaining drivers which should have taken the pressure off a little. But with a two second difference in performance between soft and hard tyres some of the teams were nervous enough to run the option tyre in the first session. Mercedes and Ferrari both used a set to get into Q2 which cut down on their supply for the race.

In Q2 the usual suspects quickly rose to the top of the time sheets, all of them using the softer tyres. As the end of the session closed in it became clear that Massa's time might not be enough to get to Q3 as he was pushed further and further down the order. The biggest news came from Heikki Kovalainen who put in a last minute lap to beat both Force India cars and take the last place in Q3. It was probably not the best move for the Lotus team from a race strategy point of view, but its great to see them moving up the field regardless.

Q3 was a relatively quiet session. The new tyres are forcing the teams to be very careful about using any when they don't have to. This meant that everyone would only try a maximum of one run, with Scumacher not even managing that. He went out on the hard tyre and came back in before setting a time, which gave him the choice of tyres to start the race on. Red Bull waited just long enough for McLaren to set some times before sending their drivers out. Vettel went first and embarrassed the silver cars by posting a time 0.8 seconds faster than Hamilton could achieve. Webber then went and did the unthinkable by beating his team mate by 0.2 seconds and proving once again that Red Bull are the toppest of the top teams this year. The only other real surprise came from Alonso who, this time out, got rid of his fifth place curse and beat Button to fourth on the gird.

Photo courtesy of Team Lotus

Nick Heidfeld was expected to start on soft tyres due to his lack of running in qualifying, so it was a surprise to seem him line up on the grid on hard tyres. There was speculation that Scumacher would start on hard tyres having saved his softs in qualifying but he stuck with the more standard softs for the first stint.

Off the line Fernando Alonso got a blinder as he brilliantly managed to find a gap and slide past both Red Bulls into the lead of the race in turn 1. In the confusion behind, Mark Webber dropped back behind Sebastien Vettel and Jenson Button lost out even more badly, finding himself in tenth as the smoke cleared. The end of the lap saw Kobayashi in the pit for a new front wing and the race was underway.

The top five cars were very close as the Drag Reduction System activated on lap 3. This showed that the zone was set wrongly as the cars closed in, but didn't get alongside with the rear wing flap open. Button started his fight back regardless, pushing Felipe Massa into a few mistakes early on.

The pit stops started early with some cars coming in on lap 9 and the majority following them in on the next laps. Vettel came in on lap 10 for the first of four stops and ended up behind Button. But not for long, even without the benefit of DRS. Lap 11 saw Alonso and Webber pit in order to stop Vettel gaining too much advantage. As they came out of the pit lane the German dispatched the last of his traffic and ended up directly behind Alonso once more.

By lap 12 almost everyone had completed their first stops, except for Jenson Button and Paul Di Resta who was now up to sixth. It seemed that Button would be trying a three stop strategy despite the lack of success last time it was tried. Lewis Hamilton seemed to have the fastest car at this stage of the race, consistently posting fastesr laps than the people ahead of him.

Jenson finally stopped for new tyres on lap 14 behind some traffic, which stood a good chance of spoiling his race already. Di Resta went longest of anyone though, stopping on Lap 16. Fernando Alonso was still holding his own at the front, with Vettel and Hamilton chasing him hard but not able to make any further progress.

Vettel stopped again on lap 19 putting the hard tyres on this time and cementing the fact that he was on a four stop strategy. As Webber caught the leaders the rest of them started to pit. Alonso failed to stay in front of Vettel after his stop this time around and it seemed that Red Bull would carry on in their usual manner and dominate the rest of the race. But Lewis Hamilton was still putting in fast laps, and even though he stayed out two laps longer than Alonso, he beat him out of the pits and took second place.

By this time Nick Heidfeld had moved onto a set of the brand new soft tyres he had available and started to charge up through the standings. Mark Webber was stuck behind Alonso after a very tight pit lane race and despite having the Drag Reduction System available, couldn't make it past the Spaniard. Despite having massive high speed cornering pace the Red Bull couldn't make enough difference to get past in the slower sections.

Hamilton was gradually closing the gap towards Vettel now. Jenson dropped into the pits again, the three stop strategy still seemed to be working so far. The new tyres also allowed him to start catching up with Alonso and Webber's fight. Webber eventually got close enough to throw himself down the inside and past, only for Alonso to switch back and regain the position at the next corner. Meanwhile Vettel dropped into the pits for yet another set of tyres.

Felipe Massa slowly slid down the order and now his afternoon got worse as he lost the back of his car and stopped sideways just off the track. The engine was still running though and so he continued. Hamilton got a fresh set of tyres to continue his hunt of Vettel. Throughout the afternoon the two Mercedes were fighting each other hard, Michael was making sure to stay in front of his younger team mate this time out.

As the race started heading towards the closin stages, Button's tyres were still surviving, and Heidfeld was climbing further up the score sheet. By lap 48 Webber was in the pits again for a second set of hard tyres, followed by the rest of the front runners. No change in position this time around but it became clear that Vettel was not using the Kers system on the Red Bull. As Hamilton slowly caught up, Vettel's team came on the radio telling him to start using it again.

Kovaleinen came off the track up ended up against the barriers bringing out the yellow flags. Vettel, Hamilton, Button and Alguersuari were put under investigation after the race for failing to slow down in the yellow zone. Hamilton's speed kept the gap to Vettel heading down and down, but the laps were also running out. As Hamilton got into the DRS activation zone it seemed that his car was faster, but the German's defensive driving was faultless. The McLaren looked more settled and much more comfortable holding the racing line than the Red Bull. Despite this Vettel had the better drive out of the last corner and could defend into turn 1.

Felipe Massa was suffering badly by now with what turned out to be gearbox troubles, and dropped out of the race. Jenson was still keeping Webber behind at this time and with the end of the race approaching fast, it was clear the Englishman would take the last place on the podium. Hamilton meanwhile, was getting more ragged behind Vettel and couldn't make up the difference to get past. The race ended with Vettel first and Hamilton only 0.6 seconds behind. Jenson finished third with Webber taking fourth. Alonso ended the race in fifth with Schumacher finally getting a decent result in sixth followed by Rosberg in seventh. Nick Heidfeld finished a great race for him in eighth place.

The steward's investigation after the race ended up with all the drivers involved receiving only a reprimand.

The FIA did get the DRS wrong here. Almost no overtakes came solely from the system but still the race was not another overtake-less bore as usually happens in Spain. From Canada onwards there will be two DRS zones to stop this problem despite the shorter straights. But its the tyres that are really creating the change now. Pirelli have almost single-handedly revitalised Formula 1 into an exciting, dramatic race series. And the only thing that can spoil that is Red Bull walking away with every race. McLaren are closing the gap in the races. But Hispania may fix that for us, if they follow through on their threat to lodge a formal complaint against the teams using blown diffusers in Monaco. The next week should be interesting to say the least. Could we possibly have overtaking at Monaco?!

Full Result

Championship Standings

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday in Spain, Business as Usual

The Spanish Grand Prix weekend got underway today under clear blue skies. The first two practice sessions were run with most of the teams running upgraded cars. McLaren had 10 updates alone and all the teams were claiming a step forward in performance. Whether or not it would result in a change in the running order remained to be seen.
Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus

First practice saw the Red Bulls staying at the top of the time sheets although not in the order to which we have become accustomed. Mark Webber was the fastest of the pair setting a time just over one second faster than Sebastien Vettel. Nico Rosberg continued to display his edge over his team mate by finishing up third with Schumacher only able to manage seventh. Alonso put in fourth fastest time, beating Massa by a massive 2.2 seconds. The mechanics spent most of the session working hard at the back Hamilton's car, and he could only manage sixth fastest. Button finished in ninth in a practice which didn't manage to reveal much about the relative performance of the updated cars.

The second session is where things start to get a little more serious and it was no exception this time. Ferrari started well but were soon eclipsed by the McLarens with Hamilton leading Button. The soft tyres came out to play in the second half of the session and Vettel was one of the first front runners to set a time. He ended up almost 2 seconds faster than Petrov who was fastest at that point. Webber was next to try and he put in an impressive lap to go three tenths faster than Vettel. By now everyone was running the soft tyre in earnest and Button went third and was promptly put down to fourth by his team mate. Hamilton put in an exceptional lap to end up 0.039 behind Webber. Alonso put himself in his favourite place of fifth followed by the Mercedes cars. The top of the time sheets didn't change for the rest of the session as traffic increased and the cars began to block each other. With long runs ending the session the fast stuff was well and truly over.

So far the running order doesn't seem to have changed much, unless McLaren really have got closer to Red Bull. I'm not counting on it myself though. There is a pretty good chance that Saturday will see normal service resumed with Vettel collecting pole and Webber taking up his usual place just behind. Perhaps this time we might see Hamilton split the Red Bulls on the grid but crossed fingers from most of the UK probably won't be enough to make it happen. Qualifying position may not be as vital this year, but it sure seems to be working out well for Vettel!

There are reports that the blown diffuser ban may be looked at after Monaco, not after Canada as reported earlier. Either way Red Bull's advantage (if that is what it depends on!) will be safe until then. The new, even-harder compound that Pirelli supplied for this weekend does appear to last a bit longer than the old one. Which could introduce some new strategy kinks. But it seems that the safe way is the only way to go with predictions this time out. So I'm going to go with Pole and a win for Sebastien Vettel. Mark Webber should be able to make second place but I'm hoping that Hamilton can make him work for it while taking third. Let me know in the comments if you think that will be completely wrong!

Bring on the rest of the weekend!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Blown Diffusers Not Banned Yet, Probably

In a bit of an odd on, off, maybe-back-on-at-some-later-date kind of way the FIA has declared war on blown diffusers.
Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus

The system is used to increase downforce by using hot exhaust gases as part of the aerodynamic flow under the car, into the rear diffuser. Using hot air this way increases the effect of the diffuser no matter the speed of the car. However when the throttle is closed, no fuel enters the system and the air entering the diffuser is cold. This reduces the downforce available on the way into a turn and means that the car is unbalanced until the driver can get on the throttle again.

The teams have been experimenting with different engine management mappings which allow them to retard the ignition significantly. This allows them to put lots of fuel through the engine when the driver lifts of the throttle. Because of the retarded ignition, the fuel doesn't create any power but does burn on its way out of the exhaust. This means there is still hot gas exiting the exhaust and powering the diffuser, without creating any drive to the wheels. As far as the driver is concerned everything stays as it was before, except with more downforce on the way into the corner and an odd engine noise on closed throttle.

Obviously this system expends a lot of fuel on not going anywhere and this could be one of the reasons the FIA would like to ban it. Burning fuel when the throttle is shut is hardly improving the green credentials of the sport. It seems though that they may have sent out the first warnings without working out how to police the change. For now the regulation change has been delayed until after the Canadian Grand Prix when the next Technical Working Group can discuss the matter.

Red Bull are believed to have the best system currently but all the front running teams have admitted that this would affect their performance. We can only speculate how much closer it would make the racing at the moment, although it will be interesting to see the effect if and when the rule change happens.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Sutil Charged with Assault

It appears that at least one person doesn't think that the 'incident' involving Adrian Sutil was an accident, despite his claims. Eric Lux has decided to file a complaint against Sutil after the mysterious incident in a Shanghai nightclub following the Chinese Grand Prix. Unconfirmed rumours suggest that Lux was cut on the neck with a broken champagne flute. Even the bar fights in F1 are conducted with only the best equipment!

If found guilty there is a possibility of Sutil losing his Formula 1 Superlicence, which would make him unable to drive in F1.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Road Safety, Fighting and Upgrades

Another week with no race (boo!) so a quick round-up of the most interesting stuff that didn't happen on the track this week.

Decade of Action
Action for Road Safety

Jenson can't-see-my-own-pit Button and Lewis burnouts-in-the-street Hamilton met up with Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday to launch the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety campaign. So far the campaign seems to involve lots of people saying the roads should be safer and not a great deal else. This is obviously a worthy cause but actual action so far seems to be a bit lacking. So here's my bit of action: Wear your seatbelts and drive sensibly everyone!

Adrian Sutil the Fighter?

According to some rumours Adrian Sutil was involved in an 'incident' in a Shanghai nightclub after the Chinese Grand Prix which ended with someone getting a bloodied neck. No-one seemed to know any more details than that until Sutil made a statement to the German Bild newspaper. According to Adrian there was an 'unfortunate action' in which he 'hurt another person completely unintentionally'. Well that clears that up then! Now that everything is revealed we are asked to ignore the whole event as it was not really anything to do with F1 anyway.

New British Driver Coming to Formula 1?

Adrian Quaife-Hobbs is testing for Virgin at the weekend. This will mark the young driver's first time in a Formula 1 car and will hopefully be the first of many more opportunities. Adrian has had lots of success in his career so far and is currently running in the GP3 series. During testing he was top of the time sheets but with only one race so far, bad luck has got in the way of good results. Here's hoping for better luck at Barcelona.

Upgrades for Everyone

With the Spanish Grand Prix approaching fast, the teams are all busy working hard on the cars to try and catch up to Red Bull. Who are presumably working hard to keep them as far behind as possible. Mercedes have a new aerodynamics package and some suspension updates to try and cheer up Michael. You never know he might even be able to keep up with Rosberg. As long as they don't give the same updates to him. McLaren are hoping to actually get the upgrades they took to Turkey working this time around. Sauber have a pretty significant amount of new bodywork which they hope will translate into positions and Renault are testing some parts this weekend to be ready for Spain.

Barcelona is a track which doesn't typically give very much overtaking. However this year is far from typical! Nobody is sure how DRS will affect the racing at this track as it wasn't used during winter testing. The Activation and sensing zones have not yet been announced but it seem that the pit straight is the best place to put it. That should provide some pretty impressive, and brave, overtaking as turn 1 is quite a fast corner. The Pirelli tyres should also play their part at this venue, with some long, high speed corners to make sure they wear out nice and quickly. With a bit of luck we might see a race where pole position doesn't win, unlike the last 10 years in a row. Then again, with Vettel around, maybe not.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Magic Paddles and Eddie's Shirt

Saturday practice in Turkey went according to plan for Red Bull. Sebastien Vettel posted the fastest time. This time Mercedes (or at least one of them) were following closely behind with McLaren not able to get as close as they have been.

Phot Courtesy of Team Lotus

Qualifying started badly for Kobayashi. He was first person out on track and suffered an engine failure on his out lap. Despite coasting as far as he could he didn't make it back to the pits and was first man out in Q3.

During Q2 an unusual call over the radio to Michael Schumacher was heard. "Magic paddle Michael. Magic paddle latched". Awesome phrases seem to be coming out of every race this year, and this is certainly one of the best. Instant speculation started as to what it might be, but Ross Brawn and the drivers were being a little secretive about it. Ross only mentioned that it allows them to make several set-up changes in one go. My guess would be fuel system, brake bias and differential settings, but it could be as simple as the DRS paddle which would probably make more sense of the "latched" part.

Q3 saw Red Bull taking an incredibly cool approach. Both drivers waited for the middle of the session before going out. Vettel promptly set the pace by going almost half a second faster than Webber, which sent everyone else off for their final run. Vettel and Webber meanwhile, got out of their cars and wandered off. The confidence on show must be bringing the other teams down, but its not misplaced. No-one else could get anywhere near Vettel. Nico Rosberg upset the normal order by putting himself in third, Hamilton having to be satisfied with fourth. Alonso got a faster time than Button, The Spaniard seems to be making fifth place on the grid his own this year. While Schumacher's magic paddle wasn't quite as special as his team-mate's, he could only manage eighth.


You know its nearly time for the race when Martin Brundle's grid walk starts. He tried to interrupt Vettel, with a superb disregard of manners, while the German was already being interviewed. Jenson tried to get in on the act with the quotes. Martin asked, "How's it looking?" and got the reply, "As good as Eddie's shirt." Quality stuff!

The race started well for Lewis Hamilton, which lasted for about 20 seconds until it turned into a disaster. He made it to the outside of turn 1 trying hard to fight for third and suddenly discovered there was no grip on the outside. This saw him falling backwards as everyone else found the apex he missed. Mark Webber lost out to Nico Rosberg who was being chased hard by Button. Lewis didn't want to stay there though and started fighting hard to get back in front.

Vitaly Petrov attacked Michael Schumacher on the way into turn 11 with a great slide up the inside and got repaid by Michael turning in on his rear wheel and taking his own front wing off. It was an odd mistake from the legendary driver, you have to wonder what he was thinking. That put him into the pit for repairs straight away.

Vettel was already making himself a gap in the early stages of the race while Jenson and Lewis were battling hard again on lap 7 and 8. They had a great battle, trading places very cleanly, several times before Lewis managed to get ahead in the end. Fernando Alonso was in third place hanging on to the back of Webber, as Nico Rosberg started going falling down the field. The Mercedes, despite its qualifying form, looked slow at the start of the main event.

Lewis Hamilton seemed to be losing speed and Massa overtook him just before both cars stopped for new tyres. McLaren won the pit stop race and released Lewis just before Ferrari were ready. The lollipop/traffic light man didn't seem to notice and Massa came out directly alongside Lewis. Somehow the red team didn't get a penalty for that, but you have to think it would have been deserved if they had.

Lewis was warned that he was being put onto plan B as was Nick Heidfeld. Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld had a bit of argy-bargy, both trying to push each other off the track and waving at each other to pass the blame. Meanwhile Kamui Kobayashi had made his way up as far as 13th from dead last by not taking a pit stop. Jenson also left his stop late and got himself in front of Vettel, holding him up for a while until his tyres ran out of grip. Vettel passed him and Button got into the pits for his first stop.

Rubens Barrichello put a nice move on Schumacher, who kept fighting a little too long again. Coulthard, in the commentary box, mentioned that Michael doesn't seem to know when to give up. Brundle replied, "What, on his career?" Its nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks its time to jack it in for the German. As if to prove the point he was taken shortly after by Kobayashi and Sutil.

By this stage it was becoming clear that Button was working on a three stop strategy. Alonso was keeping pace with the Red Bulls and Nico Rosberg was finally getting his performance back in gear.
Felipe Massa managed to get past him eventually though closely followed by Jensen Button who pulled a smashing move around the outside of turn 14.

The second round of pitstops was underway by now and Jenson forced Felipe to get his underway as he breezed past and forced a mistake from the Brazilian. He locked up heavily and dived straight into the pits after nearly missing turn 12.

Hamilton's next stop was a disaster as his right front wheel just wouldn't go back on. As soon as it did he tried to get away but was stopped again as Massa pulled into his pit. It gave him a huge delay but in the end probably didn't do his race too much damage. Apart from Massa missing turn 8 and having losing a big wedge of time, the race then settled down for a bit. That was probably a bit of a relief because it had been pretty hectic up to that point, and I for one needed a little time to figure out what had happened!

Towards the end the race started warming up a bit as the tyres started to run out of grip for some. Paul Di Resta broke down and parked his car, the Scot having a disappointing end to another good race. Lewis was catching Jenson fast as Button struggled to make his tyres last to the end. Webber passed Alonso who fought back as hard as he could. It wasn't enough to retake the place though and he had to settle for third. Massa caught up with Schumacher and struggled to get in front. Michael held his place through the last corners but then Felipe managed to stitch him up nicely into turn 1. Jenson's strategy was definitely proved to be the wrong one as Nico Rosberg went through again.

The race finished with the Red Bulls in first and second (no prizes for guessing the order,) and Alonso in third. Hamilton missed the podium with Rosberg behind him and Button ended in sixth.

Kamui Kobayashi made a great race of it ending up in 10th place after starting in 24th. McLaren cost themselves some points with a bad strategy call for Button and a pit stop error for Hamilton. Ferrari have found some performance from somewhere, although there don't appear to have been major changes on the car. Mercedes have problems with their performance at the start of the race, but nothing seems to be wrong by the end of the race. The DRS zone was perhaps a little too long for this track, some of the overtakes were too easy. But the race was definitely exciting, which is what has been needed after too many years of dullness.

The European season gets underway properly next time out in Barcelona. Upgrades will be coming thick and fast. Will it be enough for anyone to get near to Red Bull? Will the drag reduction system activation zone be set properly this time? Will Schumacher have had enough yet? All these questions might be answered in two weeks time. And maybe we'll get some more quality quotes as well.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Turkey Pre-Race

The Turkish Grand Prix weekend started very wet and soggy. No doubt this didn't impress the teams who have nearly all bought upgrades for their cars. The first free practice session wasn't going to show anyone how well they were working. But it was definitely going to give the drivers some much needed practice on the Pirelli wet tyres, which haven't had a proper outing at all this year.

Photo courtesy of Team Lotus
McLaren seemed quite happy to sit out most of the session. There are a limited number of tyres available and saving them for the important bits of the weekend might well be a good strategy. Everyone else seemed to think it was worth having a go though. Experience of the Turkish track in the wet is not something anyone has, so there was a fair bit of learning going on.

Turn 11 was the main danger point, catching a lot of drivers out, most of them avoiding any damage to the cars. Sebastien Vettel however, managed to run onto the kerb at the exit of turn 8 and spin his car to end up backwards in the barrier at a pretty high speed. The car was damaged on all sides and spread its remains over a wide area of the track, which bought the red flags out.

The session resumed to several more spins, most notably Pastor Maldonado, who was the only other damaged car of the day. Fernando Alonso showed off his wet weather skills to finish the session fastest. McLaren finally decided to warm up the engines a bit and sent both drivers out for a last minute run. Jenson set off without problem, although he did manage to set the slowest time of all. But Lewis didn't even make it out of the pit lane due to a sticky clutch.

Free Practice 2 was a much drier affair and everyone (McLaren included,) seemed to be taking it a little more seriously. Vettel could only watch as his car was being repaired which must have been annoying to say the least. Ferrari were the late starters this time around, apparently Alonso's car was suffering some sort of hydraulic problems which delayed him getting on track.

McLaren and Mercedes traded fastest spots for most of the session, with occasional good showings from the Lotus Renault boys. Mark Webber didn't worry the top of the time sheets much, but then Red Bull rarely do until the very end of the session. Alonso finally made an appearance after 50 mins or so and then promptly spun in turn 6. Maybe the gremlins were not fully out of the system after all.

The final Friday practice finished up with Jenson Button at the top of the time sheet, closely followed by Nico Rosberg. Hamilton took third with Schumacher and Webber finishing off the top five. Paul Di Resta made another good effort by taking eighth place.

Early indications are that Mercedes have made a bit of an improvement on their pace, but it remains to be seen how well it holds up when the competition gets tougher in qualifying and the race. Red Bull have missed a fair bit of running thanks to Vettel's slip-up, but I doubt they really need it anyway. The chances of them being overtaken by the other teams is very slim indeed. Ferrari don't look like they have made much headway against their aerodynamic problems. The red team have some upgrades, but seem to think their biggest step forward will come in Barcelona later in the month.

The weather (so far,) looks like it might stay dry for the rest of the weekend. I imagine the teams will be happy with that, but a little rain shower would certainly spice up the race. Not that I think it will need it. The DRS zone being set roughly where predicted should see to that. The track looks quite bumpy at the braking zone for turn 12 so there should be some, entertaining to us and scary to the drivers, moments on the way into there.

Predictions are tricky to call here, especially with so little real running. But I'm going to suggest that Jenson might get pole this time out, he definitely seems the most comfortable on the track so far. The race is going to be even harder to predict, so lets go with Hamilton first, Button second and Vettel third. I get a feeling (and I have no idea why,) that this weekend won't be all smooth sailing for the German.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bahrain Deadline Extended

In a major surprise the FIA has announced that the deadline for a decision on the running of the Bahrain Grand Prix has been extended. The date has now been set for June 3rd, which is what Bernie Ecclestone heavily hinted at not so long ago.

If the human rights abuses that the Bahrain government is being accused of are true, it will reflect badly on Formula 1 if the race were to go ahead. Some real, visible change in the situation should occur before the event can continue with everyones full support.