Sunday, 30 June 2013

Gutierrez: The Invisible Rookie. The young Mexican has so far failed to put his ‘Esteban’ stamp on Formula One.

The Formula One grid has been littered with rookies this year, each possessing the knowledge that they have one chance to shine, to show the world what they are capable of.  With such little time afforded to rookies to prove themselves and more potential drivers waiting to highjack their ride, they need to stamp their signature all over the sport to avoid being a one year wonder.  To avoid being invisible. 

Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas grabbed his chance to propel himself into the limelight during a damp qualifying session in Canada.  Driving an exceptional lap to snatch third on the grid followed by a steely, mature approach to his first start amongst the top runners, will prove to help secure a future in Formula One.  Jules Bianchi, after scoring a last minute drive with Marussia, achieved what all top drivers are able to do and created the illusion that the car had more promise than reality could deliver.  His performances got him noticed and comparisons were made between the young Frenchman and Fernando Alonso.  Completing the rookie line up at Marussia, Max Chilton started the season in the shadow of his promising team mate, but seems to be channeling this positively as he has begun to close the gap between them.   Caterham rookie, Giedo Van de Garde, although not outperforming his more experienced team mate during races, he has been a match for him in qualifying, just  slightly falling behind 3-4 after Canada.  Which leaves us with the invisible rookie Esteban Gutierrez.  Yet to make an imprint on the season, he seems in danger of completing 2013 without showcasing his talents. 


The Mexican’s route to his seat at Sauber certainly wasn’t an invisible one.  After competing in Formula BMW USA in 2007, he went on to clinch the Formula BMW European championship in 2008 at the tender age of seventeen, making him the youngest Mexican to win an international championship.  In 2009, a seat with Art GP in the Formula three Euroseries beckoned, and saw him driving alongside current fellow Formula One rookies Jules Bianchi and Valterri Bottas.  Staying with Art to race in the inaugural GP3 Championship in 2010, he showcased his skills as he took the first ever title in the series.  His second year in GP2 exploded into life with a double points finish in Malaysia and a third and second place in Bahrain at the start of the season.  He finished third in the championship overall.  Though not electrifying, these performances were certainly not ghostly and did, in addition to his status as part of the young driver programme of Scuderia Telmex, get him noticed for a seat with Sauber for 2013. 

Driving for Lotus in GP2. Photo:

Since being in Formula One though, he seems to be a lost soul, as if the big league has swallowed him up, as if he is not quite ready to drive at this level.  Being partnered with Nico Hulkenberg, considered to be one of the most promising drivers on the grid, means he has to delve deeper into his talent reserve than the other rookies on the grid.  Out of all the new drivers, he has the toughest competitor in a team mate and this has become evident in results.  Every qualifying session has ended with Hulkenberg fastest out of the two.  Spain has been the only race in which Esteban has finished higher than his team mate when both cars were still running.  Starting from nineteenth on the grid due to a penalty given for blocking Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying, he moved himself up eight places to finish in eleventh, narrowly missing the points.  In Barcelona, his talent became a little more discernible, but as the Formula One circus hit the streets of Monaco and Montreal, it seems to have vapourised.

So why has he been so invisible?  How much of it can be attributed to having a fast team mate?  He must have shown enough talent to get him the seat, or did his Telmex connections bear more weight than his raw talents?  In GP2 in 2012, he finished third behind Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia; neither of whom have a race seat in Formula One, or carry the financial backing required to secure one.    So the road leads us back to the contentious issue of money versus talent.  Max Chilton and Giedo Van De Garde finished fourth and sixth in the 2012 GP2 championship respectively, but both have drives because they have monetary support.  While not as invisible as Guttierez, perhaps because they are driving slightly less high profile cars, their talent is not the most premium available.  The current climate becoming increasingly conducive to drivers being able to bankroll themselves into a Formula One seat will continue to give us invisible drivers who struggle to make an impact.  Which is why we all get so excited when we are treated to undeniable, palpable talent like that shown by Jules Bianchi and Valterri Bottas.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Mercedes’ young drivers: Testgate’s real losers.

The war of words over the severity of the penalty handed to Mercedes following their three day tyre test with Pirelli in Barcelona continues to rage.  Red Bull and Ferrari have both expressed a feeling of injustice at the reprimand, an exclusion from the young driver test at Silverstone in July, on the grounds that it is too lenient.

Both teams have been vocal about perceiving that a disservice has been suffered, in that the advantage gained by conducting a private test with a current car and senior drivers cannot be compared with one undertaken by development drivers with eight other teams competing for track space.  

While Red Bull and Ferrari continue to show their disdain for the decision, thoughts must be spared for the development drivers of the three pointed star: Anthony Davidson, Sam Bird and Brendon Hartley.  While Mercedes as a team are happy with the decision made by the FIA International Tribunal, and have no intention of appealing it, these drivers will surely feel a pang of injustice. 

As a development driver, time on track in the actual car as oppose to the simulator is so limited and therefore so precious.  Like gold dust.  With the young drivers tests currently the only opportunity they have, unless given Friday practice run outs, to lose this must be devastating.  For Sam Bird and Brendon Hartley, for whom a potential Formula One career is still a goal and possibility, this is a chance to gain valuable experience and introduce Formula One to their talents that has been cruelly snatched away from them.  While they are part of the team and will show solidarity with them, it is only human to question the fairness of the decision. 

Sam Bird hitches a ride with Michael Schumacher.  Photo: Sutton images.
Brendon Hartley: Photo: Sutton images

Now more young drivers could be at risk of suffering the same unfairness, as a report in the Times newspaper has suggested  that Red Bull are considering carrying out their own private test in the knowledge that  the sanctions for doing so, would only affect their participation in the young drivers test.  Something they see as worthwhile losing if it enables them to test privately with a current car and senior drivers.  Watch out Sebastian Buemi, and in particular, António Félix da Costa. 

Type, in addition to severity of the reprimand, is an issue that should considered in order to avoid innocent members of a team left to suffer.  

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Top UK Formula Student team, University of Hertfordshire, unveil their 2013 Challenger: The UH16

Emulation of the talent and prowess of well regarded engineers such as Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey is the guiding light and ultimate Formula Student destination.  Like sailors who strove to reach a lighthouse after months at sea, there is a long journey to reach the pinnacle of the engineering world.  Students on the final leg of their educational journey hope to astutely weave their way through the rocks to reach the safety of employment in the world of Automotive and Motor sport engineering. Every year, students from across the UK, and the world, contest each other in a competition led by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.  This competition is the gateway across those rocks to the final destination, real life engineering in the workplace.   Mercedes Team Principal, Ross Brawn OBE, is the patron of Formula Student and serves as an influential figure for the students to aspire to.

Ross Brawn speaks at a Formula Student event.  Photo:
The challenge facing the students is to design and build a prototype for a high performance single - seat racing car with exceptional acceleration, braking and handling underpinned by impregnable reliability.  In addition to the demonstration of their design, engineering and manufacturing talents, the car needs to be low in cost, giving the students the chance to reveal their business prowess firstly in terms of budgeting, but also through the marketing and presentation of their car. 

Following the creation of the innovative new challengers, come six days of competition involving sixty teams from around the world.  The students and their cars undertake a series of challenges including static events involving a business presentation including a cost event and design event, followed by a technical inspection including a brake test, noise test, tilt test and rain test. Dynamic events succeed the static events when the car is put through its paces in events such as: autocross, skid pad figure of 8, and endurance.   

Formula student; the European leg of the competition, last year saw the University of Hertfordshire take the title of top team in the UK with their 2012 challenger, the UH15.  They are also decorated with the titles of twenty first in the world out of 500, and most successful Formula Student UK team of all time.

The successful 2012 offering: UH15

With the skills learned and gained from this project, and the success the university has accumulated through its participation,  it is no wonder that Alumni from the University of Hertfordshire have gone on to work in illustrious race series such as Formula One, at Sauber and Mercedes and the British Touring Car Championship teams; as well as prestigious car manufacturers: Lotus, Jaguar, Bentley and Aston Martin.

This year, UH Racing are aiming to retain their UK title, but also harbour intentions to win the competition outright.  They have a team of forty enterprising, efficacious engineering students studying degrees in Automotive Engineering and Motor sport Technology led by Dan Spicer and overseen by Senior Lecturer Howard Ash.  Working with additional support from Craig Scarborough, F1 journalist and illustrator, they have fused their individual skills together to create the single combustion UH16, which was revealed at their launch on the twelfth of June and will be entered into both the UK and German Formula Student competitions.

The UH Racing team with their 'baby'.

Craig Scarborough tries the UH16 for size.

To view a promotional video about the UH16 and catch a glimpse of it being tested, take a look at  

Now they take their mission to win to Silverstone between the third and seventh of July where they will compete in the static and endurance events.

To find out more information about UH Racing and this year’s challenger the UH16 visit their website at   
Follow them on twitter @UHRacing

Friday, 21 June 2013

Drivers shine out of the shadows of substandard cars.

Achieving surprise and unexpected results with a car that is below par can be an eye catching way to showcase talent.  With seven races run in the 2013 season there have been flashes of brilliance from drivers showing their potential in cars that aren't aligned with their ability.  

Rookie Finn Valtteri Bottas is highly rated by Williams and the man who managed him on his journey to Formula One, Toto Wolff, but it took a few races for his true potential to emerge. Despite showing early promise at pre season testing, on commencement of the races, Williams have struggled with the car and have been unable to claim any points.  A wet qualifying session in Montreal provided a chance for Bottas to stage a performance indicative of his talent, driving a scorcher of a lap to put his Williams on the second row of the grid in third position.  Starting the race at the pointy end of the grid with the top drivers didn’t faze the young Finn as he pulled away displaying a mature, assured approach.  Sadly the FW35 couldn’t match the performance and pace of the cars around it, but its driver’s potential was promoted. Prior to the Canadian Grand Prix Valtteri compared his performances to those of his Venezuelan team mate when speaking to, 

 “I think my performances relative to Pastor have been pretty good.  Pastor is experienced – it’s already his third year at Williams- and I would say that I match him more or less.”

Following his foray into the world at the front of the grid it is safe to say he more than matches him.

Bottas has left Pastor in the shade.  

A glittering prize; Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull.   The team mate duel to win that prize adds an extra dimension to the intra team battle between Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne.   Prior to Canada, it was Ricciardo who seemed to have the edge on performance particularly in terms of qualifying results.   Trailing his Australian team mate by 4 -2 before the race at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, Vergne closed the gap by qualifying seventh to Ricciardo’s tenth.   Following his good qualifying position Vergne was asked whether a Sebastian Vettel Monza type win would gift him that gold encrusted seat.  While not quite reaching those lofty heights, he did bring the Toro Rosso home in sixth, the highest finishing position since that rainy day in Italy.  On the back of an eight place in Monaco, these favourable finishing results have imparted a turbo boost to his confidence as he fervently awaits Silverstone, have shown a glimpse of what he can do in a car with below par performance, and have bolstered his racing portfolio.

It is no secret that Paul di Resta was hugely disappointed when he failed to secure a drive with one of the top teams for 2013 and at times appeared rather bitter about it.  With the season underway however, he has channelled this positively into producing some good performances on track.  The Scot is lying eighth in the driver’s championship due to eighth positions in Australia and China, a tremendous fourth in Bahrain, narrowly missing out on a podium appearance, and seventh places in Spain and Canada, the latter of which he achieved after clawing his way up from seventeenth on the grid.   Force India have been the surprise package of the season currently lying fifth in the Constructors Championship, so he has a better car with which to boast his talent, but he has outshone his team mate and has double the amount of points.  Some of these performances and in particular the one in Bahrain will catch people’s eyes and could be the platform to propel him closer to a top seat. 

Paul has more to smile about this season.  Photo:

Since his switch to Sauber from Force India, Nico Hulkenberg has made no secret of the fact that he believes Sauber need to improve their performance.  Considering the team are languishing in eighth position in the Constructors Championship, he has produced some good results which have seen him slotted in just behind the top team finishers.  Widely regarded as being well endowed with driving ability, Nico’s eighth in position in Malaysia, tenth in China and twelfth and eleventh in Bahrain and Monaco respectively have cemented this. 

The ability to procure stand out, stellar results in a car lagging in the pace and performance race will get these drivers noticed.  It was just these sorts of results that caught the eye of McLaren when they needed to replace departing Lewis Hamilton.  In 2012, Sergio Perez’s podium finishes in Malaysia, Canada and Monza were to be thanked for his opportunity to move to a top team. With seats possibly becoming available at Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull, these drivers are putting themselves on the inside track.  

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Just a formality and no surprise: Vettel commits to the best car on the grid for a further year.

 “Just a formality.”  The words spoken by Christian Horner regarding Sebastian Vettel’s contract extension.  Perhaps the most undisputed words to be spoken this season?  Did anyone ever really believe anything different?

Beating all records previously set by Formula One greats is a high priority for the unstoppable German, and with five consecutive driver’s titles claimed by Michael Schumacher undoubtedly creating a tantalising force, is something he continually strives for.  He is content to win the easy way, made clear in Malaysia this year, therefore staying with the best car is inevitable. 

Although Sebastian clearly wants to be a winner and be the best of all time, his racing and persona seems void of passion.  Being graced with a cacophony of boos on the podium in Canada last weekend demonstrated that he is fast becoming as disliked as Michael Schumacher at the height of his career.  Vettel’s charming, cheeky nature has been usurped by an unrelenting, ruthless one.  Drivers who are dominant and winning consistently will always entice the haters, and being liked is probably not high on his agenda, but moving to a different team would perhaps give him more respect. 

Vettel's win in Canada was met with boos from the crowd.

There is no disputing his talent, outshining Mark Webber in the sister car.  His win in Monza did reveal what he is capable of, but it was a win in wet conditions which throws up all sorts of unpredictable results.  There will always be that piece of the puzzle missing until he consistently shows his mettle in a car not designed by Adrian Newey, a car that isn’t superior to all other contenders.  It is the missing piece of the great champion jigsaw. 

It is widely believed that Kimi Raikkonen will take Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull for 2014. While having a team mate as competitive as Kimi would reveal another layer to Seb’s talent, it would be determined by Red Bull’s stance on whether they would ever allow their drivers to race properly. In Canada, team radio revealed the message given to the McLaren drivers permitting them to race each other despite the rather unpredictable nature of Sergio Perez’s overtaking moves.  It has always been a facet of the way McLaren run their team.  All Formula One teams respect the importance of the Constructors title, it is where the money lies, but there always seems to be a desperate aura around the way Red Bull approach their endeavours towards achieving it.  Letting their drivers race each other is too risky for the Austrian team.  It just seems inconceivable that Kimi and Seb would be able to challenge each other freely without ‘Multi 21’ type codes in place. 


Even if, by some miracle, they were allowed to battle for supremacy, or whether their shared penchant for disobeying  rules arouses fiery wrangling on track, Red Bull is still the best car.  There would still be that missing piece in the Vettel jigsaw.  Kimi Raikkonen has proved himself in a substandard car.  Since the idea of Kimi and Seb swapping seats flickered into my mind, it has grown and become increasingly candy coated.  It would simultaneously give the Finn the chance to gain more success, while handing Vettel the opportunity to complete the true champion jigsaw.

With Vettel committing himself to Red Bull, the rumours about a partnership between him and Alonso at Ferrari are now quashed for the foreseeable future.  At present, Ferrari are not competitive enough to entice him and with the Spanish Bull commanding the Prancing Horse, were those rumours ever to be believed anyway? 

In 2014, Formula One enters a slight unknown courtesy of the engine changes coming into force.  If the new turbo era doesn’t treat Red Bull well, maybe Sebastian Vettel could prove he is a great champion while still at the team.  Christian Horner has dismissed speculation surrounding the contract being a single year extension only, referring to his loyalty to the team when talking to Sporting Life,  

“The fact he has signed this extension shows his commitment to Red Bull, and hopefully the relationship will go beyond 2015.”

In short times when Red Bull haven’t been performing at their usual expected level, Vettel  has been clearly frustrated, would his loyalty be so steadfast if the team weren’t providing him with the best car on the grid?  Will the partnership be just a formality then?  

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

More safety and less respect: How driver penalties in Formula One have evolved.

Evolution is omnipresent in the fast paced world of Formula One.  The evolution cogs constantly turn with each cog demanding and causing the next to follow.  Everything moving, changing for the better, extracting more performance.  However, as the years go by, the evolution wheels seem to cease turning when they reach the issue of driver’s respect for each other. In the early days of Formula One, respect for fellow drivers was paramount in order to fight the threat of fatality they faced every time they entered their car.  Knowing a collision could result in serious injury or death, they had tremendous respect for each other; fighting hard, wheel to wheel but always leaving room.  Whether it was a battle between Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorne at Silverstone in 1954 or Fangio and Moss at Monaco in 1956, consideration for each other was evident in their gentlemanly racing.  As safety has evolved positively since then, the level of respect between drivers has moved in the opposite direction.

Moss and Fangio battling in Monaco.  Photo: www.stirling

Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna showed little respect for each other when fighting for the title in 1989 and 1990.  The collision with Senna that gifted the Frenchman the World Driver’s Championship in 1989 and the resulting first corner incident the following year, revealed to all that rivalry had completely engulfed any respect there was between them.  Between 1978 and the time these battles took place, the only fatalities the world of Formula One had had to mourn were those of Gilles Villenueve and Ricardo Paletti , allowing drivers to relax into a false sense of security.  With the possibility of death not as menacing as in earlier days it was perhaps easy to lose respect.

The aftermath of contact between feuding team mates Prost and Senna :  Photo: 

And so driver penalties were born.  1991 saw the first stop/go penalty in Formula One history handed out to Peirluigi Martini at Monaco.  The stop/ go or ten second penalty requires drivers to drive into the pits, stop at their own box for ten seconds before rejoining the race. 

1994 was the year for race bans.  Having caused a collision between Jos Verstappen, Martin Brundle and Eric Bernard in Brazil, Eddie Irvine was given a one race ban and fine of £10000; a reprimand that was later increased to three races following an unsuccessful appeal by the Irishman.  At Silverstone, Michael Schumacher was black flagged after ignoring a stop/go issued to him for overtaking on the parade lap.  As in the case of Irvine, an appeal failed and he was banned for two races.  Not wanting to be left out, Mika Hakkinen was also dealt a race ban for causing a collision at the first corner in Hockenheim. 

The first lap of the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2002 was the scene of contact between the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya and the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, resulting in the first drive through penalty being given to the Columbian.  A year later in the US Grand Prix, Montoya tangled with another Ferrari , this time Rubens Barrichello, to earn himself another drive through. 

At Monaco 2006 Michael Schumacher was sent to the back of the grid for blocking during qualifying, followed by Fernando Alonso in Monza who was ordered back ten places after he was accused of blocking Felipe Massa.

As the years have passed since 2007, the number of driver penalties handed out has increased and with the respect cog continuing to turn negatively, evolution of the penalty system is in motion again.  A new penalty points system, which will empower the stewards with the ability to dish out points in addition to the familiar penalties for driving misdemeanours, was agreed by the majority of teams at the beginning of May.  Although guidance will be given as the number of points to be imposed for driving crimes committed, the final judgements will be made by the stewards.  A one race ban will be the sentence awaiting any sinners reaching twelve points within as many months.  The proposal will be on the agenda at the FIA's World Council Meeting this month.    

A return to the gallant and noble days of the fifties, sixties and seventies where respect was the foundation to motor racing seems to be an ever decreasing possibility, and with drivers like Romain Grosjean and , to a slightly lesser extent, Pastor Maldonado, consistently causing careless collisions, it is a necessity that driver penalties should evolve along with everything else in the sport.