Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Schumacher: Leaving on a high?

Michael Schumacher's tussle with John Eric Vergne on the opening lap of the Indian Grand Prix resulted in a puncture relegating him to the back of the field.  The team later retired the car so they can replace the gearbox ready for the race in Abu Dhabi without receiving a grid penalty.  This retirement was in keeping with the majority of the seven time world champion's miserable final season in Formula One and speaking after the race, he admits that he doesn't expect to go out on a high.

The clash that caused the puncture

The list of retirements he has suffered this year elongates further.  Following promising practice sessions and qualifying for the first race of the season in Australia, a gearbox problem put an end to his race.  After a lowly tenth place in Malaysia, a problem securing the front right wheel during a pit stop in China caused the second retirement of the season. A DRS problem in qualifying and a gearbox change meant a start from 22nd on the grid at Bahrain.  He finished tenth.  Following a vintage Schumi qualifying performance at Monaco, a fuel pressure problem meant another 'did not finish' result, then problems with DRS reared their ugly head again in Canada.

The European leg of the season saw a slight improvement in results.  Seeing him back on the podium to celebrate his third place in Valencia was an emotional moment as it where a driver of his stature belongs.  Silverstone and Hockenhiem both saw a seventh place finish, while a catalogue of errors by Michael, compounded by a lack of telemetry data reaching the team  forced another retirement in Hungary.  His beloved Spa saw him claim seventh in his 300th Grand Prix, then he went one better at Monza finishing in sixth.  Japan and South Korea saw another two consecutive non points finishes.

Back where he belongs.

The unreliability of the Mercedes' performance this season, together with his tangles with Bruno Senna in Barcelona and John Eric Vergne in Singapore have led to eight retirements this season and is surely not what Michael Schumacher was expecting when he made his comeback in 2010. Maybe not going out in a cloud of success on the track will make his second retirement easier to deal with.  Racing in Formula One and challenging for the top places  runs through his veins and any indicator that this could still be possible may make him regret his decision.

Schumacher's driver input has always been invaluable.

While he won't be leaving on a high regarding success on the track, his input behind the scenes is a different matter.  In an interview following the race in India, he was talking about doing his job  in helping the team develop the  car  ready for the 2013 season, which demonstrates true professionalism and dedication to the very end.  Some credit for any success achieved for Mercedes next year will without doubt have to be directed at the most successful Formula One driver ever.  Would the Mercedes even be where it is  now without the benefit of his knowledge and experience over the last three years?

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Talent of Alonso versus the Genius of Adrian Newey

Taking the chequered flag in India, making it four race victories in a row, Sebastian Vettel is well on course to being the next triple Formula One World Champion. Despite having a 'rocky' start, Red Bull have gained momentum throughout the season and are now, again, the team the others are trying to catch, both in terms of pace and in terms of technical development. Having been the masters of the exhaust blown diffuser technology in 2011, Red Bull were perhaps starting off on the back foot due to it's ban for 2012. The team didn't have the pace, especially in qualifying, that they would have liked. However, the genius that is chief technical officer Adrian Newey has now found another key to the secret in injecting more rear downforce, thus giving us the Red Bull domination that has seen Vettel lead for over 200 consecutive laps.

Sebastian Vettel makes it four in a row.
There is still one man who can halt the Vettel juggernault though and his performance in India was a demonstration of his exceptional talent. Having qualified in fifth place and knowing that he needed to get as close as possible to the Red Bulls, Fernando Alonso made full use of the slipstream from both McLarens in front of him to take fourth place from Lewis Hamilton. This manouevre was testament to his skill, together with that of Hamilton and Button, as all three showed how fighting for places on the first lap of a race should be done, demonstrating exciting racing without making contact. From there, Alonso continued to push, taking third place from Button on lap four. In order to give Alonso the pace he was asking for after qualifying, Ferrari were running a light fuel load, but this was well managed by late braking, enabling him to catch and overtake Mark Webber for second place.

An important second place for Alonso

Alonso's title chances should never be overlooked, even if trailing Vettel and the mighty Newey designed Red Bull. In a car that isn't even second best on the grid he knows what he has to do and he always delivers. The championship is a two horse race now. One that is being fought by a talented, courageous racer against a sublime piece of machinery designed by an exceptional technical brain. I know which I believe to be a more deserving winner.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Grand Prix of America

The much anticipated 2013 Grand Prix of America, to be raced along the Hudson River Waterfront, has been postponed until 2014 due to a need for further planning and development regarding facilities.  Was two years ever going to be long enough to put everything into place?  Facilitating a race around the streets of West New York is surely a task of mammoth proportions and they perhaps should have given themselves a little more time. 

Proposed track route

When the plans were revealed, the mayors of West New York and Weehawken stressed the importance of the race bringing enough financial benefits to their towns.  Bernie Ecclestone reportedly said "They missed the boat a little on some financing that was coming in."  How much interest is there for Formula One in America?  Is there room for Formula One in addition to all the other motorsport they enjoy?  Is there room for two events?  If it is a finance issue, it could mean a permanent shelving of the plans.

I sincerely hope that the race does come to fruition in 2014.  What could be better than the sight of beautiful Grand Prix cars snaking their way along the waterfront with the Manhatten skyline as a backdrop?  Postponing the race until 2014 already means that the exhilarating sound of the V8 engine will never be heard around the New York streets, as the switch will have been made to the noiseless V6 engines by then.

As for 2013, this postponement has affected the calendar and from a fans point of view it is not ideal to have one less race.  Having made way for the New Jersey race, will Valencia now be asked to step back in?  It is another street circuit, although not highly regarded, it was the scene of some exciting racing this season. 

Tooned out

Amidst reports about Lewis Hamilton being late for meetings and various television pundits suggesting he has 'mentally checked out' of McLaren already, I couldn't help noticing his absence from last weeks episode of 'Tooned'. 

'Tooned', a computer animated cartoon with voice overs from Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button,  is McLaren's successful attempt at increasing levels of audience engagement in the team. 

Episode 8 features Nick de Vries who is part of the McLaren Young Driver programme, the same development programme to which Lewis was signed at the age of 13.  Is there a point being made there?  Professor M, played by Alexander Armstrong, is showing Nick pictures of great McLaren World Champions: Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button.  Lewis Hamilton, 2008 World Champion for McLaren, seems to have been deleted not only from the cartoon but also from their history.  To add insult to injury, Jenson has been included when his Championship was won with Brawn.

Is Lewis' omission from the latest episode of Tooned just a timely coincidence or is it a case of McLaren 'mentally checking out' of their relationship with him? 
It seems there are too many indicators towards an ever souring relationship between the team and Lewis for it to be a coincidence. With his various misdemeanours towards the team and his team mate on Twitter, who could blame them for tooning out?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Room for Vettel at Ferrari?

The Korean Grand Prix resulted in contrasting fortunes for the two drivers fighting for their seats.  While Kamui Kobayashi was torpedoing his way through the pack, ending the race for Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg on the first lap, Felipe Massa drove a storming race to finish fourth just behind his team mate, Fernando Alonso.  The man around whom so much speculation about his drive for next year remains, had more pace than his team mate for much of the race, especially in the final stages.  Of course he would never have been allowed to overtake in his status as number two driver.

Massa's podium gifted the team with valuable points.

Following his podium finish in Japan, and the fourth place yesterday, Massa is presenting himself as a good option for Ferrari next year.  He is after all, doing what the team ask of him, driving for the team, not himself.  This is essentially what the 'other' driver has to do when driving for the Maranello team, this being the reason why the rumours about  Sebastian Vettel joining Alonso at Ferrari for the 2014 season must hold no weight. 

Michael Schumacher had Eddie Irvine, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa as subordinate team mates.  Kimi Raikkonen had Massa before Alonso inherited him.  Having the second driver works for Ferrari because it is all about the team.  There is no room for battling team mates.  Points for the team and Tifosi are too precious. 

So, Vettel and Alonso.  Both drivers are currently in teams built totally around them.  Alonso is emerging more and more as a leader within Ferrari. 

Fernando surveys his team from the back of the garage.

Only someone supremely confident would think they could go in and change those dynamics.  But then we are only too aware of the confidence Vettel has...

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Promise of Paul Di Resta

When Paul Di Resta broke into F1 as a driver for Force India at the beginning of the 2011 season,  he came with a sack full of hype about being the next great British driver.  He was constantly being cited as a potential driver for top teams, in particular Michael Schumacher's seat at Mercedes.  However, the hype surrounding him has always seemed somewhat embellished, with F1 pundits ridiculously fawning over his yet to be proven talents. 

Paul Di Resta.  About as much talent as personality?

In 2011, partnered with Adrian Sutil at Force India, Paul Di Resta finished the year fifteen points, and four places, behind his team mate in the World Championship.  Despite outperforming Di Resta, Sutil lost his seat at the team and Paul was joined by Nico Hulkenberg.    In 2012, he is seven points ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, but it is the German who is being linked with every available drive in the paddock.  

Paul Di Resta with Adrian Sutil, and his current team mate, Nico Hulkenberg.

In a recent  interview Paul di Resta seemed sure he would be driving for Mercedes or McLaren next season and seemed utterly deflated at the news about Lewis' move to McLaren and the subsequent hiring of Perez to replace him.  He has links with Mercedes through his experience in DTM and this, together with all the talk surrounding him probably resulted in him believing in his own hype.  What must be even more galling for the Scotsman is that it was not him, but his team mate, Hulkenberg, who was considered for the McLaren drive alongside Perez. 

Paul Di Resta drove for Mercedes in the DTM championship.

Speculation is still rife about who will be driving for which team next year. The top seats for 2013 are all confirmed, with the exception of number two driver status at Ferrari, but the middle and lower teams still have undecided driver line ups for 2013.   Again, it is Hulkenberg, and not Di Resta, who is being linked with a drive at Sauber, and with Massa's seat at Ferrari. 

So what happened to the promise of Paul Di Resta?  For the next season at least, it is certainly yet to be fulfilled. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Deluded Lewis?

Lewis Hamilton has been expressing his belief that the Red Bull, and not the McLaren, is the superior car this season.  However, lying only 36 points behind Red Bull, it is the McLaren that has seemed the stronger of the two.  Clocking up five victories between Lewis and Jenson, and dominating at least one of the free practice sessions every race weekend except Belgium and Singapore, would substantiate this.  In addition to this, McLaren have achieved half of all the pole positions for the races so far, in comparison with two from Red Bull.

Pole in Australia

Pole in Malaysia

Pole in Spain, before he was strippedof it in favour of Maldonado.

Pole in Hungary

Pole for Jenson in Spa

Pole in Monza

Pole in Singapore. 

Is Lewis Hamilton making these claims because he wants to appear to be a driver who can be the best in a car that isn't?  Sorry Lewis, but the evidence is to the contrary.