Thursday, 20 December 2012

Formula One Travels to Thailand in 2015

As Formula One continues to spread its wings further afield, the possibility of losing classic European races becomes ever more tangible.  With Bernie Ecclestone announcing that Thailand are set to host a night race around the streets of Bangkok in 2015, in addition to the Russian and New Jersey Grand Prix's already scheduled for 2014, it is clear that spaces on the calendar are becoming increasingly sought after and difficult to retain.  Earlier this month Bernie issued European venues with the following warning, "Maybe we'll get the Europeans to wake up instead of thinking that it (a race) is a God-given thing.  When Europeans perform and do their job we are happy to stay."

Mark Webber showcases the Red Bull in a demonstration run around the streets of Bangkok.

The loss of Monaco, Spa or Monza is probably most unlikely due to the historic nature of the tracks.  Silverstone is also steeped in history, but this season the fiasco with swampy fields and turning away of fans could be perceived as not performing well enough.  Changes have been made at the British track in order to ensure these difficulties aren't repeated and, organisers will be hoping these changes are enough to secure its position as a long term Formula One venue.  

Modifications are also planned at the Hungaroring to make the circuit more conducive to overtaking.  Hopefully these are successful as it would be a great loss to the calendar if this Grand Prix were to make way for Thailand.  Its status as the only race in Eastern Europe could hold some weight, but the Polish, Finnish and Russian fans it usually attracts will have other options from 2014.  

Proposed circuit layout for the Russian Grand Prix, built around the Olympic complex.

Considering there will be four German drivers on the grid in 2013, it seems important to retain their home race. Barcelona is one track that wouldn't be missed,  but the Circuit de Catalunya has a contract to host the Spanish Grand Prix until 2016.  

So how is a street race in Thailand to be accommodated?  There are currently six races held in that part of the world: Malaysia, China,  Singapore, Korea, Japan and India, with Bangkok making it seven, a total which seems a little excessive considering it is an area relatively new to Formula One.   The gap for this new race should be opened up by relinquishing one of the Asian races and Seouless Korea seems a good place to start.   

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Legacy of Michael Schumacher

So F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone believes that the second coming of Michael Schumacher is cause for regret. This recent admission is in stark contrast to opinions expressed when the comeback was announced in 2010,

"Forget about winning races- I have him on my bill for winning the Championship.  It is fantastic for Formula One that he has turned into a 'comeback kid' but at the same time it's good for Michael.  Now he has all his strength together and has 100% motivation that will give us many exciting races in 2010."

Alongside Schumacher's hotly anticipated return to Formula One, came increased interest from viewers and the media, followed by an accession of ratings and revenue, ultimately lining the pockets of Mr Ecclestone. The rise in income facilitated by the German's comeback with Mercedes gave him reason to defend Schumacher when he didn't deliver as expected at the beginning of the 2010 season.  

"Anybody who criticises Michael is wrong." said Ecclestone.  "He deserves better.  I would say don't underestimate Michael.  Give him time to adapt to the new car and the new tyres."

"At the moment he is something of a newbie and needs to get accustomed to the trade again.  Michael would never have returned had he not been convinced he could do the job.  He is not a tourist in the paddock, he is here to win.  And he will win again."

Surely it is no coincidence that following Michael's departure at the end of the 2012 season, with his homecoming being unsuccessful in terms of points, that Bernie Ecclestone has now done a complete U turn regarding his thoughts on the matter.  Did the return not yield the expected revenue?  Not being in the position to win races meant that the hype and interest hoped for by Bernie  never materialised.  

Although his comeback scarcely made an imprint in terms of results, his expertise and experience will no doubt have been of huge benefit to Mercedes in terms of development, a legacy that will bear fruit for Lewis Hamilton.  His second parting leaves the world of Formula One with  memories of a different Michael Schumacher to the one who left in 2006.  During his first stint in the sport, Michael was thought of as robotic in his approach to racing.  His unrelenting desire to win was often misconstrued and mistaken for arrogance.  His second stint and not being in the position to take victories, has created an air of gracious humility with an ever increasing touch of the personable.  Bernie Ecclestone may think that his comeback was a mistake, that "it tarnished his legacy," but the truth is that he leaves with a greater amount of love and respect, which can only decorate his existing achievements further.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ferrari Tarnish Alonso's Gracious Nature

Sadly, Ferrari’s invite to the FIA to investigate whether Sebastian Vettel overtook under yellow flags during the Brazilian Grand Prix has tarnished the gracious way Fernando Alonso accepted his loss of the 2012 title. 

The controversy began when it was suggested that Vettel had passed John Eric Vergne on lap four under yellow flags.  The rules state that waved yellow flags are an indication of a danger on the track therefore the drivers are required to slow down and are not permitted to overtake.  It has been confirmed by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, that although the yellow flags and lights were clearly evident, there was also a less visible green flag shown allowing drivers to resume normal racing.  As a result of FIA investigations it has transpired that Vettel saw the green flag, therefore making his move legal. 
Yellow light visible to the right.
Had it been a different decision resulting in sanctions for the Red Bull driver, the title could have been handed to Alonso, the knowledge of which fuelled the Maranello team’s desire for the matter to be looked into further.  A move which leaves them looking bitter and unable to accept the loss with a gracious manner, which is in complete contrast to the way Fernando reacted following the race in Brazil.  Having remained positive about their chances all year, this calm mindset continued as he maturely explained that the team have to make a faster car for the 2013 season.
Fernando on the podium in Brazil
It is Alonso’s belief that his battle for the title this year has earned him more respect.  The Spaniard said, “I feel satisfied with the job, I feel proud of myself, proud of the team.  Obviously we lost the championship in terms of three points but I think I gained this year so much in respect from everybody and I gained other things apart from the points.”  His ability to conjure up the illusion that the Ferrari was a decent car, when it was far from being the best on the grid is magical and warrants him huge respect.  This respect undoubtedly earned, however, has been in danger of being sullied as a result of Ferrari’s bitter reaction.  Alonso did back the team’s decision to contest the yellow flag incident but that is what is required of you when part of the Ferrari family.  Would someone as mature, professional and gracious as him really want to win by default?

Ferrari president, Luca Di Montezemolo, also criticised Michael Schumacher’s subordinate effort at keeping sixth place in the Brazilian Grand Prix, which allowed Sebastian Vettel to inherit the position.  It was his belief that the seven times World Champion should have shown more loyalty to a team he won five of those championships with.  But who is to say that Schumacher would not have done exactly the same for Alonso?  The Maranello chief’s comments reek of desperation.  A team as rich in history and stature as Ferrari, should be standing tall and proud, not scuttling around in the shadows waiting for crumbs of compensation.  The team should follow the lead of Fernando Alonso.



Sunday, 25 November 2012

Electrifying Finale In Brazil

Brazil certainly did deliver the unexpected.  An absolutely electrifying race delivered action from the outset with Championship contender Fernando Alonso making another good start  propelling himself into fourth place by Turn 1, with his team mate, Felipe Massa, making a start equally as good to take second. His rival, Sebastian Vettel, was cautious into turn 1 and ended up dropping down the field, turned in on Bruno Senna causing contact, and found himself facing the wrong way on the track watching everyone whooshing past him,  together it seemed, with his title chances.   Team radio was aired telling Vettel that the considerable damage to the floor of his car couldn't be fixed making his chances seem slim at this point in the race.

Vettel's contact with Senna puts him in a spin

With virtually the whole race left to run though, the German had plenty of time to change his fortunes and the Championship pendulum had swung back in his favour as he clawed his way back up to eighth place by lap 8.  Meanwhile, Alonso had taken  advantage of a tussling Mark Webber and Felipe Massa to duck past into third, but a lock up saw him run wide on lap five allowing Nico Hulkenberg to snatch the precious final podium place he needed to keep his title hopes alive.

Alonso runs wide losing third place.

As the rain began to fall more heavily,  Kimi Raikkonen became the first man in for intermediate tyres while his team mate, Romain Grosjean, had a meeting with the barriers after touching the white line made slippery in the wet conditions.  Kamui Kobayashi, in his final race for Sauber, nudged Mark Webber causing him to run off the track while team mates Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton battled over the lead, a battle eventually won by the former.  Lap 10 saw Mark Webber come in for intermediate tyres, closely followed by both title chasers.  Following the pit stops, Vettel was down in 17th with Alonso in 12th, while drivers like Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock and Vitaly Petrov moved up into the points due to their decisions not to stop.  Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg made good calls not coming in, therefore preserving their lead over the rest of the field.  The Championship leaders would certainly have benefited from making the same brave decision, but, having more to lose, they didn't want to take the risk of a spin on slicks.

By lap 18, the track was drying and Nico Hulkenberg overtook Button for the lead.  Alonso and Hamilton came in for dry tyres, Red Bull followed suit a lap later for Vettel.  On lap 19, Vettel was lying fifth behind his title rival in fourth.  Due to debris on the track a safety car was employed allowing Hulkenberg and Button to dive into the pits for their tyre stops.  Hulkenberg exited the pits in front of Button preserving his lead.  When the safety car peeled away at the end of  lap 29, a lapse of concentraction for  Vettel saw him drop down to sixth and two laps later, Kamui Kobayashi took fourth place from Alonso, a move that was rectified by Fernando on lap 33 using slipstream from the Sauber.   With a drying track showing the imperfections in Vettel's car and  his lack of pace becoming more and more evident, the German was overtaken by Massa on lap 34.

The pendulum took a swing back in Fernando Alonso's favour when the back end of Nico Hulkenberg's Force India slid out while trying to make a move on Lewis Hamilton for the lead, a move that resulted in retirement for the McLaren driver in his final race for the team.  A heartfelt round of applause awaited Lewis as he walked into the pit garage for the last time.  The contact between Hulkenberg and Hamilton promoted Alonso into third,  putting him back in championship contention.  His prospects looked even more promising when Red Bull weren't ready with the right tyres for Vettel when he took another stop for intermediates.  However, struggling on dry tyres, Alonso just managed to save himself from spinning, then had a slow journey to the pits to follow suit in the use of intermediates.    He emerged fourth, the pendulum swinging back towards Vettel  now leading the championship by three points.  On lap 62, 'Fernando was faster than Massa' and took second but it wasn't enough as the race finished behind the safety car due to Paul Di Resta's crash.   Sebastian Vettel was crowned 2012 World Champion on lap 70 of a 71 lap race.  Ending the year as he started it in Australia, Jenson Button took the victory for McLaren.

Jenson Button won the first and last race of the season.

There was a  touching moment between Vettel and Schumacher at the end of the race with the retiree handing over the baton of most recent driver to be decorated with the accolade of winning three consecutive World Championships.  Any sadness Michael had on completion of his final race seemed to be overcome by happiness and pride for Sebastian and his achievements.  The seven time World Champion gave the fans a final showing of his legendary brilliance behind the wheel when battling Kimi Raikkonen  for tenth place on lap 39.   Finishing seventh was a great effort and fitting farewell before bowing out of the sport.

Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel, but in the same vein as the rest of the season, Fernando Alonso remained positive, refused to give up and gave it absolutely everything, but it wasn't to be.  The quality he has shown all year, achieving magical things with an inferior car, has treated us to a thrilling title fight.  For that, the Ferrari man is a true winner.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Interlagos to deliver the unexpected?

It's 2008 and lap 69 of the final race of the season at Interlagos, Brazil.  Felipe Massa is leading a race while his championship rival, Lewis Hamilton,  lies in fifth.   Rain is becoming heavier and Hamilton runs wide, allowing Sebastian Vettel to sneak past demoting him to sixth.  Taking the cheqeured flag at the end of lap 71, for a fleeting moment, Massa is in full belief that he is World Champion.  His jubilance turns to anguish as it transpires that Timo Glock, struggling on dry tyres, is being overtaken by Lewis returning him to fifth, a position which hands the Englishman the title.

Massa leads in Brazil 2008

This thrilling, climactic end to the 2008 season is indicative of the unexpected developments Interlagos can conjure up. Fernando Alonso goes into the race trailing SebastianVettel by thirteen points.  However, the threat of rain and Red Bull's inferior reliability in comparison with Ferrari, could make that points difference inconsequential.  As the man chasing the lead for the title, the Spaniard believes he goes into the weekend under less pressure than Sebastian Vettel.   The pressure that comes with a final race title decider, affects the whole team, not just the drivers.  Entering the season finale Abu Dhabi in 2010, Alonso was leading the championship by fifteen points, but suffered from a bad decision regarding pit stops, resulting in Vettel seizing the title.  Inclement weather means rapid decisions need to be made about strategy and tyres, and quick decisions made in the midst of a pressurised situation can often be regretted.

A mistake with pit strategy by Ferrari helped Vettel win the title in 2010

This weekend's season finale in Brazil marks the departure of a significant number of drivers, either to a different team or from the sport completely.  The race will no doubt be an emotional one for Michael Schumacher as he drives a Formula 1 car competitively for the final time before his second retirement.  During the driver's press conference he maintained that he was happy to "try a different way of life again", but seemed less than convinced by his own words.  The Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo was also the setting of his first farewell to the sport in 2006, that time as a title contender.  Due to less pressure this time,  he believes he can enjoy his last race and "savour the moment more."  Let's hope he is given this opportunity and that the bad luck he has suffered this season regarding reliability, doesn't rear it's ugly head at the most untimely moment.

Schumacher's farewell helmet design.

Questions to Lewis Hamilton during the drivers press conference appeared to rouse emotions regarding his move from McLaren to Mercedes stating he has, "only happy memories."  He will be hoping to score a great finish in his  final race, as will  Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg who complete their farewell drives for Sauber and Force India respectively.   Kamui Kobayashi, Bruno Senna and Heikki Kovalainen will be fighting hard to save their seats for next season, then throw Brazilian passion into the mix in the form of Senna and Massa, and you have a veritable explosion of emotive racing.

Fuse all of these extra elements to a Driver's Championship teetering on the edge of a precipice, and the result is highly charged racing under which circumstances, anything can happen.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Sabotage and Sacrifice at Ferrari

The inaugural United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, was steeped in drama before the red lights went out, as Ferrari announced their intention to instruct Felipe Massa to take a deliberate five place grid penalty in order to ensure Fernando Alonso started from the clean side of the track. Having originally qualified in ninth place on the clean side, the Championship contender was moved up to eighth place as a result of a gear box penalty for Romain Grosjean. Although gaining a grid spot, it was widely believed that the dirty side of the track, and not being on the racing line, would counteract that gain. Ferrari’s decision saw Alonso move onto the racing line in seventh, from where he made a fire bolt start ending up in fourth on the exit from Turn 1.

Alonso takes fourth place in Austin

 The team broke the seal on Massa's gearbox in order to incur the penalty, but they didn't break any rules. Teams have to do everything they can to win and as it transpired, this move helped Alonso keep his chances at a third drivers title alive. Fernando has been quoted as saying he has the best team around him and they lived up to his expectations in Austin. A team who will do anything to ensure he has the very best chances of winning, and a team mate who makes the sacrifices he is asked to without complaining publicly because ultimately, he is there to support the number one driver.

Making the decision to deliberately sabotage Massa's gearbox could have resulted in negative publicity for the team. Not being unfamiliar with making controversial decisions, Ferrari could have drawn on a wealth of experience to negate the negativity had it arisen. The now infamous "Fernando is faster than you" message given to Massa by his engineer, Rob Smedley, while leading the German Grand Prix in 2010, caused a backlash against the team for unsporting conduct. This message saw Massa gift the lead to his team mate and was the most bare faced use of team orders in the sport since they were banned in 2002 following another nefarious Ferrari incident.

In Austria 2002 Rubens Barrichello was ordered to slow down two laps from the end to enable Michael Schumacher to take the victory. This blatant race fixing turned into a farce when Schumacher revealed his guilt by giving Rubens the top step of the podium and the trophy.

If a controversial move to propel a driver further up the finishing positions is to be made, Ferrari are the team to do it. Like Michael Schumacher before him, Fernando is the man who benefits from these decisions and in the words of Lewis Hamilton on the grid in Texas, "Good on him."

Friday, 16 November 2012

Friday Practice 1 in Austin

The first man to experience The Circuit of the Americas in Austin was Kimi Raikkonen, a possible necessary move due to his chosen lack of preparation in terms of walking or riding the circuit!  In comparison with other races this season, all drivers seemed to be out on track much earlier in the session.  Whether due  to the buzz and excitement in driving a new track, or spurred on by a need to use every second to the maximum in order to glean the most information about the track, tyres and necessary car set up, lots of early action will have wetted the appetites of the American fans.

Kimi - First man on track

Caution was apparent in all drivers as the story of Friday Practice 1 was dominated by the level of grip on the track.  Being a new track surface, together with a low track temperature and hard tyres, the level of grip was low at the start of the session resulting in cars slithering all over the place.  Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hulkenberg both had spins and Turn 19 saw lots of drivers using the run off area to steady themselves round the corner.

Kamui Kobayashi clocked up the first timed lap, achieving a 1.48.  From there, the lap times began to plummet as the track evolved and rubber got laid down.  Unsurprisingly, the quickest times were posted by Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.  Sebastian Vettel ended the session 1.4 seconds faster than Fernando Alonso, a precedent hopefully not set to run the length of the weekend.

From a fan's perspective it is interesting to see the drivers struggling to get to grips with a new circuit.  In yesterday's press conference Lewis Hamilton explained that it had been harder to learn than other tracks.  The challenging nature of Hermann Tilke's  latest track coupled with the 'slippy' issue, should add an extra dimension to the racing on Sunday.  At the beginning of the session, the grandstands looked scant in population, however they appeared to fill up as the session progressed.  General admission at turn 1 looked understandably popular and anyone viewing the race from there  will be treated to a veritable racing feast.  One unnecessary addition to the pit lane is the warning siren that sounds when a car enters.  In the interests of safety of personnel in the pit lane this introduction is understandable, but doesn't the beautiful sound of a V8 engine give a loud enough warning?

Spectator view from the top of turn 1.

If the first Friday practice session was anything to go by, this race could be won by the driver who has the deepest understanding of the tyres, and the way they work on this very underdeveloped track surface.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

US Grand Prix Preview

Though fully prepared for racing at The Circuit of the Americas due to endless time spent in simulators, the teams and drivers arrive at this hotly anticipated penultimate race on a level footing.  A new circuit at this point in the season provides the perfect way to inject excitement and tension into the title race, which sees Fernando Alonso trailing Sebastian Vettel by ten points.

The United States Grand Prix marks Vettel's centenary race.  Winning a third consecutive driver's title to mark the occasion would be particularly apt for someone who is as driven by statistics, records and results as he is.  In order to prevent this happening, Fernando Alonso needs to ensure he is at least fourth if Vettel takes the victory.  The German will want to secure the title in Austin as Interlagos is a track well suited to the Ferrari's, and coupled with an often high chance of rain, a Red Bull victory may not be certain in Brazil.  In terms of reliability, there are chinks in Red Bull's armour, while Ferrari's has been bulletproof so far this season.  This however, will be balanced by the extraordinary run of luck Sebastian Vettel seems to be enjoying.

The tension between the title challengers was evident in the driver's press conference today.  In an obvious ploy to create drama, Vettel and Alonso were  called to attend together,  then placed next to each other while other drivers were asked who they thought would, and should win the title.  The closed, tense body language of Fernando during the questioning was juxtaposed by Sebastian's open, jovial, and relaxed manner.  Kimi Raikkonen's usual light hearted attitude reduced the tension when he revealed he wasn't going to bother walking or cycling the track before Free Practice 1.

Vettel's demeanor was much more relaxed than Fernando's.

The practice sessions will be of utmost importance to all of the teams, as they will provide an opportunity  for the drivers to experience the track outside of the simulator, giving them information about the best racing lines and best places for overtaking.  New circuits always throw up significant engineering challenges so the sessions will also be instrumental in giving the teams essential information about car set up, in addition to presenting data about tyre temperatures, wear and grip.  The extra set of Friday tyres Pirelli have provided every team with will be beneficial in this.

In terms of wrapping things up outside of the drivers title, Red Bull will almost certainly take the Constructors crown this weekend.  Martin Whitmarsh, who believes Formula One has returned to the United States at the right time, is confident about the race following a successful young drivers test in Abu Dhabi.   The test provided information about McLaren's  update package including a new front wing which they  hope will help close the gap between themselves and Ferrari in the Constructors Championship. Lotus are chasing McLaren for third place and will be hoping to build on their victory at Abu Dhabi.  They bring with them an update on their double DRS and a tweak on their exhaust following the young drivers test.  Mercedes wish to end the season positively and will be keen to stop Sauber snapping at their heels for fifth place, while Sauber will be putting all their efforts into usurping it.

There is a buzz of excitement about this circuit from the drivers and this, together with the knife edge title race and plethora of  constructors places to be settled, should make the inaugural race at Austin a melting pot of thrills with a few fireworks thrown in.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

American Feeder Series to Deliver New Talent?

Low spectator numbers have plagued Formula One in the United States over the years, resulting in moves to different circuits in the search for a 'home'.  We are yet to see whether The Circuit of Americas in Austin, Texas will be the new home for Formula One in the country, although everything looks good prior to the race.  If it does deliver on its promise, and we find a home, the next step will be achieving a fully developed fan base in order to prevent spectator numbers dwindling once the novelty factor has gone.  Michael Andretti and Scott Speed are the only two American drivers to have driven in Formula One in the last twenty years with little success between them, but an American driver competing in Formula One is exactly what is needed to create interest and entice fans long term.

Michael Andretti had a disastrous time in Formula One, driving only 13 races for McLaren Honda in 1993

Scott Speed was the first American to drive in  F1 since Michael Andretti.

Historically, young drivers in America have often been lured into the world of Nascar with the promise of big money, therefore passing up the chance to drive in Formula One.  Currently though, there are two drivers from the US on the F1 radar.  Alex Rossi from Nevada, a two time GP3 winner, drove a Caterham in Free Practice 1 in Spain earlier this year.  Although hopeful of a run at his home race, it has been confirmed that current drivers, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov, will be given all the running in Texas in order to give them maximum understanding of the new track.  Rossi will, however, be involved in promotional events across the weekend.  The other young American driver is Conor Daly, son of Formula One and Indycar racer Derek Daly, who has been involved in a test for Force India.

Alex Rossi hopes for a F1 drive in the future.

There is an indication that more American drivers may make it into Formula One, as the possibility of a GP2 or GP3 style championship taking place to support the sport in the United States, Brazil and Canada has recently been announced.  The GP2 and GP3 are European feeder series for Formula One and have produced talent such as: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado.  With F1 races already being run in Austin, Sao Paulo, and Montreal, and talk of future races in Rio da Janeiro, Mexico and New Jersey, there would be enough events to create such a series.  An American series like the one currently run in Europe would be instrumental in boosting the popularity of the sport, as well as developing and nurturing more American talent, which will in turn help to cement the success of the sport Stateside.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Title shake up in America?

Lotus reserve driver, Jerome D’Ambrosio, has had the honour of being the only current driver in Formula One to have had the opportunity to drive the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Watching him complete his flying laps, it is clear that the circuit, the latest to be designed by Hermann Tilke, will be a real test for the drivers and a real treat for the fans.

D'Ambrosio drives the circuit in Austin.

It appears to be a track of two halves with the first half possessing shades of Beckets and Maggots at Silverstone which will push the cars and drivers technically.  There is a mixture of low speed corners and corners taken at high speed.  The elevation into Turn One is awe inspiring, with the hill looming up in the distance as they power up the opening straight, up over the crest in second gear, then a long sweep down the hill.  Turn eleven down to twelve is a kilometre long straight driven at two hundred miles per hour with a slow speed corner at the end providing a great opportunity for overtaking.  The double right hander through the hairpin at Turns thirteen and fourteen provides more challenge for the drivers.

The Circuit of the Americas is new to all of the teams and drivers and will therefore mean they will be starting the race weekend on a more equal footing than we have seen in recent races.  The driver’s title is expected to be decided in Austin, but the element of the unknown, together with the challenge of the track could throw a serious spanner in the works.  Hopefully we will be treated to the unexpected resulting in a knife edge conclusion to the driver's title in Brazil.

Promising future for Formula One in the US?

Formula One racing in the United States has had a chequered history over the years. 1908 saw the commencement of Grand Prix racing with the competition originally called 'The American Grand Prize'. Later, this was to form part of the Formula One championship. Altogether, there have been nine locations across the country to have had the privilege of hosting Grand Prix races, with varying success.

In 1959, Sebring International Raceway in Florida joined Indianapolis as the host of the second Grand Prix in the US in one season. This inaugural race saw the only win of the year for Bruce McLaren in a Cooper, the winning constructor that year. The following year, the venue for the US Grand Prix switched to Riverside Raceway in California, a race won in superb style by Stirling Moss in a privately owned Lotus.

Moss took victory in the Lotus 18 climax.

Between 1961 and 1980, Watkins Glen in New York hosted the race providing the stage for many exciting races during its nineteen year reign. Ten weeks prior to the race at Watkins Glen in 1976, Niki Lauda had cheated death and been badly disfigured in a crash at the Nurburgring. Though physically scarred, he showed that his spirit and passion had not been affected, bringing the car home in third to stay ahead in a closely fought World Championship. His championship rival, and eventual winner, James Hunt, took the victory. Races at Watkins Glen were well attended in the early years, but this gradually declined due to deterioration of the track and lack of hospitality facilities. The infamous 'Bog' hospitality area was the scene of rioting, burning cars and rock pelting by drunken mobs of fans.

The aftermath of the bog riots.

Following departure from Watkins Glen, other tracks were tried including Detroit in 1982 which was one of three US Formula One events that year. John Watson fought his way from seventeenth to first with some stunning overtaking and lightning progression through the field, leading to a championship fight with Keke Rosberg. A fight eventually won by the Finn. 1984 saw Dallas host the US Grand Prix, but high track temperatures plagued the race and ultimately caused its downfall, making it a Formula One one hit wonder.

Between 1989 and 1991 the Phoenix Street Circuit in Arizona provided an arena for the duelling Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The Brazilian had had the upper hand for the majority of the 1989 season, but being a track new to everyone, Prost took advantage and overcame his team mate to take the victory. This circuit was unpopular with the drivers and the local crowd, with only twenty thousand fans present to watch a Senna victory in 1991.

Prost triumphed over Senna in 1989 in Phoenix

Formula One didn't return to the United States until 2000 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Michael Schumacher accomplished victory or second place in every race he took part in. This circuit was the setting for the tyre farce in 2005 when, as a result of an explosion of a tyre on Ralf Schumacher's car, Michelin discovered their tyres couldn't go the distance in a race, having only a ten lap life. Deemed unsafe to race on the tyres, the race started with only the six Bridgestone runners.

The US Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2005 was run with only Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi taking part.

Construction on the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, started in December 2010 and the track will hold it's inaugural Grand Prix next weekend. It has all the makings of triggering a beginning of a new era of Formula One racing in the United States. Hopefully an era that is one of passion and longevity.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Win by the Ice Man heats up the title race.

With a perfect lighting start, Kimi Raikkonen was victorious in a thrilling race in Abu Dhabi. Lotus have been on the verge of a win for most of the season and the Finn’s first win since his comeback has finally revealed the potential of the car. Taking second position from the start, he was then gifted the lead when Lewis Hamilton retired from the race with electrical failiure.

Kimi shows rare joy following his win

Raikkonen has been steadily amassing points all season and has been nestled just under Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in the Championship points. Second places achieved in Bahrain, Valencia and Hungary, together with thirds in Spain, Germany and Belgium, have meant that he has been loitering slightly under the radar but has now steadily climbed to third place with 198 points.

After starting from the pit lane so the team could make adjustments to the car making it more conducive to overtaking, Vettel demonstrated some great moves, slicing his way through the field into eighth place by lap 26. Having had a near collision with Daniel Riccardio, he had contact with the barriers which left him needing a replacement nose. With a tyre change completed also, all under the safety car, it meant that he was able to get himself up to second place when the other drivers made their pit stops. Another safety car on lap 39 due to the tussle between Sergio Perez and Paul Di Resta which collected Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber closed the pack, giving Vettle the chance to overtake Button for the final podium place.

Fernando Alonso took advantage of a slight mistake by Button giving him fifth place, which was then followed by a move on Webber for fourth. On lap 20, he benefited from Lewis’ retirement and Maldonado‘s old tyres to move up to second. Although pushing hard and clocking up purple laps towards the end of the race, he wasn’t quite able to snatch the victory from Kimi, instead taking the second step on the podium.

Kimi stands between the championship contenders.

Although not able to take the Championship himself now, this win by the Ice Man has certainly spiced things up regarding the driver’s title. With the difference in points between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso now down to ten points, it increases the chances of an electrifying title decider in the final race of the season in Brazil. Up to this point, Fernando Alonso has seemed more deserving of the driver’s title due to his ability to do impressive things with an inferior car. While I still carry this belief, fighting his way from the pit lane to third place has inched Sebastian Vettel a little closer.

Perez at McLaren: A good move or a pricey mistake?

Sergio Perez was handed a ten second stop go penalty for causing a multiple car incident  when attempting an overtaking move on Paul Di Resta on lap 37 of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.  Perez tried to take Di Resta round the outside pushing him off the track, a move which caused him to go wide himself .  As he rejoined the track, he clipped the car of Romain Grosjean and the resulting slower pace of the Frenchman caught out Mark Webber, who proceeded to launch over the top of him.

It was another non points finish for the Mexican, who will drive for McLaren next year following the flight of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes.  Since the announcement of his move following the Singapore Grand Prix, Perez has failed to add to his points tally for the season and stands only eight points above his team mate at Sauber, Kamui Kobayashi.  Kobayashi is yet to secure a seat for the 2013 season, yet he hasn't been particularly outperformed by his 22 year old team mate this season.

Perez and Kobayashi

So what has happened to Perez in the last four races since the announcement was made?  It could be a case of him going through the motions at Sauber, showing a slight lack of concentration due to having his mind half on his new team.  It is probably more likely to be an ambition to impress his new team that has caused him to buckle under the pressure slightly, and if this is the case how will he cope  when he actually makes the move?

Will Perez cope under pressure?
At the tender age of 22, is Sergio Perez mature enough to deal with the pressure that a drive at McLaren will inevitably bring?  Lewis Hamilton was the same age when he started racing in F1 with McLaren, but he had been with the team in the Young Drivers Program since the age of 15 and knew the way things worked.  McLaren haven't won the Constructors Championship for 13 years, and with that prospect looking increasingly unlikely this year, the focus turns to 2013.  Perez will need to perform and be regularly clocking up podiums and high points finishes if he is to help the team achieve the title that has eluded them since 1999.  
The hiring of Sergio Perez as a replacement for Hamilton at McLaren did seem to be fairly swift.  Only time will tell whether it was an inspired choice or a snap decision they may live to regret.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Furore at Ferrari?

It would seem all isn't well at Ferrari as rumours of a rift within the team have been rife this week.    Following qualifying in India, comments were made by Pat Fry, technical director,  suggesting the drivers did not do enough to get high enough up the grid ready for the race at the Buddh International circuit.   Allegedly stating that a perfect lap was needed and wasn't delivered, Fry's comments were supposedly answered by Fernando Alonso, making the point that the team don't have anyone as good as Adrian Newey, and haven't worked hard enough on developing the car this season.  The pressure the team are experiencing in trying to beat Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel in the race to clinch the driver's title, seems to be causing cracks to appear in the Maranello team.

Pat Fry.  Technical Director

Alonso has denied talk about disagreements, but there doesn't seem to be a holistic team spirit at Ferrari at present.  With Red Bull able to win the constructors title this weekend, providing they finish above Ferrari in Abu Dhabi, the focus for the Scuderia is on the drivers title. Therefore, the pressure on the team is coming from the Spaniard himself wanting the team to deliver.  There are updates on the car this weekend, including a new front and rear wing, however little difference was apparent following Free Practice 1 and 2.  Alonso was fourth fastest following Free Practice 1 behind the McLaren's and the Red Bull of Vettel.  Free practice 2 saw him lying seventh behind the Red Bull's, McLaren's and low fuelled Lotus'.

The Ferrari team with their new front wing.

Alonso has battled with an inferior car all season.  He has wrung the life out of it and has made it do things it shouldn't have been able to do.  He is an exceptional talent but he needs a team around him.  Feuding within the team could be disastrous for his title winning chances and for the future development of the car.  Now it not the time for apportioning blame, it is the time for a leader to emerge and unite the team with a mutual vision. 

When Michael Schumacher went to Ferrari they were a disjointed team, a team in a state of disarray.  His organised and hard working approach revolutionised the team and gave them a completely different approach to racing, resulting in five driver's titles and six constructors championships.   Although Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso are both able to do incredible things with inferior machinery, they are very different in terms of leadership style.  The German is very hands on, giving feedback and supporting the team in ways the car should be developed.  Alonso seems to take more of a back seat, leading from afar.  Maybe the way he puts pressure on the team needs to change, or maybe they need to step up and do their bit.  Whatever happens, they need to show a united front, because at this point in the season when pressure and mind games are at the maximum, any rift could be like gifting an 'own goal' to  Sebastian Vettel.