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Friday, November 30, 2012

Sebastian Vettel, what "dirty tricks" are you talking about?

Sebastian Vettel said the following after the Brazilian GP, having won the WDC for the third time in a row.
"It was a very tough race but we were present all the time, we remained ourselves throughout the whole year even though people did some things that we would never consider to do," he added.
"A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks but we did not get distracted by that and kept going our way and all the guys gave a big push right to the end."
Then Christian Horner came out with the following:
"People tried everything, inside the lines and outside the lines, to beat us and the amount of questions we had to deal with, stuff we had to deal with throughout the season, didn't make our life easier"
"He's never given up, never allowed himself to get distracted, no matter whether people were trying to get under his skin," he said. "The more pressure he has been under, the better he has delivered.
"The fastest way of becoming unpopular is to have repeated success. The success we have had does not sit easily with some of our more established colleagues."
Sebastian Vettel followed up with "It's not our decision and it's not in our hands when people try literally everything to beat us,"

We obviously can't be sure about what they were talking about but there is no question the Red Bull was the subject of serious scrutiny throughout the 2012 season. Here's some of the most public stories.

Scrutiny 1:

In June, in the Monaco F1 paddock, a number of teams questioned the legality of the Red Bull's floor but Monaco Grand Prix stewards judged the car to be legal despite Article 3.12.5 of F1's technical rules, which states:
all parts lying on the reference and step planes must produce uniform, solid, hard continuous rigid, impervious surfaces under all circumstances.
After Monaco, the FIA deemed the Red Bull's tyre squirt slots in the floor of the car to be illegal and the team had to change their floor and diffuser layout before Canada to take on-board the FIA rule clarification TD13, which required that the 650mm area outboard of the car's centreline could not exploit fully enclosed holes.

The Red Bull design was deemed to be illegal retrospectively so they kept the results from Bahrain (37pts), Spain (8pts), and Monaco (37pts) where they had raced the design.
The Red Bull design first incorporated the illegal floor in Bahrain where Sebastian Vettel won
Copyright: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Scrutiny 2:

In Canada Red Bull were forced to change the design of its brake cooling ducts after the FIA found them to contravene the technical regulations.

The FIA ruled that the front wheel hub did not comply with Formula 1 regulations even though the design was on the car since the start of the season.

Red Bull argued that the air flow being channelled through the cooling system within the brakes was purely for cooling purposes but the FIA counter-argued that because the rim, hub and bolt moved they could not be classed as 'immobile in relation to the car' and therefore any use as aerodynamic aids contravenes Regulation 3.15.
Regulation 3.15 of the Formula 1 Technical Regulations says that "any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance" must be "rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car" and must remain "immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car". (In Canada the team scored 18pts)

In Canada the Red Bull team were forced to cover holes in the wheel hub which the FIA judged were being used
to aid the aerodynamics of the car as well as being used for cooling.

Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

Scrutiny 3

At the German GP in July at Hockenheim Red Bull were once again under the microscope with the FIA technical delegate, Jo Bauer, issuing a statement on the Sunday morning, before the race was due to start in which he identified the specific issue as a lower torque map in both cars than previously seen at other events.
"Having examined the engine base torque map of car number 01 and 02 it became apparent that the maximum torque output of both engines is significantly less in the mid rpm range than previously seen for these engines at other Events.
In my opinion this is therefore in breach of Article 5.5.3 of the 2012 Formula One Technical Regulations as the engines are able to deliver more torque at a given engine speed in the mid rpm range.
Furthermore this new torque map will artificially alter the aerodynamic characteristics of both cars which is also in contravention of TD 036-11.
I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration."
The FIA stated that Red Bull had breached the technical directive forbidding the use of using engine mapping to improve aerodynamic performance (in this case by allowing more air in to the engine and thus aiding the blowing of the diffuser).

James Allen made the following comment on this matter:
Bauer felt it was illegal because the rules say the connection between the opening of the throttle and the torque demand on the engine should be linear and in his view Red Bull was introducing a deviation in that process. Bauer had observed that the torque demand was less than at other recent races.
The stewards in Germany decided to take no further action against REd Bull after this FIA accusation regarding both their cars using illegal engine mapping to increase airflow through the diffuser.

If they had taken action it would have meant both Red Bulls starting from the back of the grid rather than second and third and would probably have impacted upon their overall score in the race (14pts).

Both cars were cited as illegal by the FIA in Germany but were not sanctioned by the Race Stewards
Copyright: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Scrutiny 4

Next it emerged in Hungary that Red Bull was asked at the Canadian Grand Prix to change a mechanism on the cars that allowed them to change the suspension manually.

Manual Ride height Control found by FIA in Canada
Copyright: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Article 34.5 of the FIA Sporting Regulations states:
"If a competitor modifies any part on the car or makes changes to the set-up of the suspension whilst the car is being held in parc ferme conditions, the relevant driver must start the race from the pit lane...
"In order that scrutineers may be completely satisfied that no alterations have been made to the suspension systems or aerodynamic configuration of the car (with the exception of the front wing) whilst it is in post-qualifying parc ferme, it must be clear from a physical inspection that changes cannot be made without the use of tools."
When this story came out in Hungary, Team Principal Christian Horner said:
"It was something that could either be changed by hand or by tool but the FIA said they preferred that it was a tool that was used, so we never changed the ride height in parc ferme or anything like that, so it really is a non-issue."
But the Technical Regulations state manual adjustments to the Aero Configuration cannot be made.

Asked why the team would have a manually adjustable part on the car when tools are required by the regulations, Christian Horner said:
"There's a lot of parts that are changed manually on the car. But a tool was used. As I say, the suspension has never been changed once it's in parc ferme. Never."
A lower, more aerodynamically advantageous ride height, on low fuel is estimated at around 0.3s improvement over a qualifying lap.  In 2010 F1 wrote a piece on ride height and described the advantage in the following way:
Since qualifying is now run with the lowest fuel levels possible, and given the fact that a car's suspension has been set up for the race to also withstand high car weights, cars with normal suspension designs are naturally higher above the ground. While this could equal a marginal difference of 1mm, any such difference is vastly important for the efficiency of the car's underbody and diffuser.

Scrutiny 5

This is the bendy nose saga that came to public attention in Abu Dhabi.  While the McLaren cars were earlier identified as having a front wing which tilted on the horizontal axis, footage emerged in Abu Dhabi of the Red Bull nose and wing bending significantly on the horizontal axis.

The argument of other teams related to the perceived aerodynamic advantage of the system which saw the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel triumph in four consecutive races; Singapore, Japan, Korea & India.

The Red Bull "Bendy" nose is said to have been introduced in Singapore but its effect was most visible in Abu Dhabi
Copyright: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
I presume the benefit of this wing is to provide a more efficient airflow under the car and towards the rear diffuser which improves rear downforce.  This would improve grip and allow for improved cornering.


None of the foregoing really matters in the overall season but it goes to show that, just like the Ferrari team in the Michael Schumacher years, the Red Bull design team is innovating constantly and seeking to wring out an advantage from every interpretation of the Technical Regulations governing the design of the car.

Mercedes and McLaren have attempted the same this year with the Mercedes double DRS and the McLaren front wing.  Exhaust exit configurations have been explored and altered to improve aerodynamic efficiencies, Brawn GP won a championship with the double diffuser.  F1 is all about innovation and pushing at the boundaries of what is permitted.

In Adrian Newey Red Bull have the best designer in the paddock and it is to be expected that he will attempt to exploit any piece of the car where one of his ideas is not specifically banned.

Having said all of that it is a bit disingenuous of Christian Horner, Sebastian Vettel, and Helmut Marko to talk about "dirty tricks".  Every team has raised perceived anomalies on competitor's cars with the FIA and I doubt Red Bull are saints in this regard.

Finding the white space between the exact wording of the Technical Regulations is the job of the designers and technical directors of the F1 teams; clarifying those regulations as they pertain to the solutions found by the teams is the job of the FIA; raising the questions in the first place is the job of the other teams, the journalists, the Tech experts, and any fan who spots something unusual or odd and raises the question in an online forum.

This is not a dirty tricks campaign it is simply the sport as it has always been.  If a team can't make a rivals more efficient solution work then they seek to have it's legality clarified; if it's legal then all teams attempt to copy it and if it's not legal then it's banned.

How many times have we seen Adrian Newey walking up and down the F1 grid on raceday with his notebook and pencil in hand?

I'm happy for Red Bull to win but I'd prefer if it was done gracefully.  The comments made by Sebastian and Christian in the wake of winning the WDC and WCC for the third consecutive time remind me just a little too much of Father Ted's speech when he won the Golden Priest award.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alonso Wins World Drivers Championship 2012

Fernando Alonso can celebrate winning the the F1 2012 Blog WDC this year
Copyright Lorenzo Bellanca-LAT Photography
Courtesy Pirelli F1
Back in May I decided to set up my own, alternative WD and WC championships
Given my opposition to Bahrain I decided to treat it as a non-championship event like the F2 days of old.  As such I've decided to do my own championship points tally without taking account of Bahrain. 
Regardless of the fact that keeping it became a bit of a chore as the season went on I did keep it up and, while it may be no more than cold comfort for Fernando Alonso, He is the "F1 2012 BLOG" World Drivers' Championship winner. 

Alonso showed his maturity in trying circumstances
Andrew FerraroLAT Photography
Courtesy Pirelli F1
I have to admit that his attitude this year, his ability to drive the car beyond its abilities, his maturity, and his ability to keep a sense of perspective and humour in the face of being outgunned by the Red Bull and the McLaren teams has converted me from interested spectator to avid fan.

Back when he was in the Minardi Team it was clear from his very first qualifying session that he had stupendous ability behind the wheel.  He outqualified his more experienced team-mate by over 2 seconds on that occasion. At the end of his single season at Minardi he announced his status in Japan by beating both Arrows, a Prost, his team-mate and a BAR to the finish line.

You might say that none of the aforementioned teams were particularly great, and you would be right, but the drivers who were in those cars included HHF in the Prost, Panis in the BAR, and Verstappen in the Arrows.  All of those four drivers had recognised experience and ability in F1 and each of them had experience of scoring points with two of them being winning drivers.

There was a general concession by all the F1 Journalists that he would be moving to greener pastures in 2002, but he ended up as Test Driver with Renault.  Being managed by Flav, who was also managing Renault, there was no question but that he would be in a race seat there come 2003.

In 2003 having replaced Jenson Button, Fernando won his first Grand Prix from pole position in Hungary.  He also scored his first pole position in Malaysia alongside Jarno Trulli in second.

In that season he pushed Jarno Trulli, a recognised master over one lap, and finished up outqualifying his more illustrious team-mate seven times over 15 races.  He lost out to Jarno during qualifying but comprehensively outscored him in races, finishing the season 22 points ahead, this when points were scored for top 8 finishes (10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1).

He finished 6th in the WDC in 2003 and improved that to 4th in 2004, despite not scoring a single win. Then in 2005 he won his first WDC, Renault winning the WCC, when partnered by Giancarlo Fisichella. 7 wins, 5 seconds, 3 thirds, and one did not start (US GP Indianapolis 2005), sealed a dominant season which he then repeated in 2006 with 7 wins and 7 second place finishes.

We all know what happened with McLaren in 2007 and I'll gloss over the sensational stuff to remind you that he still scored 4 wins, 4 second places and 4 thirds, even though the team were not giving him the No.1 status he expected when he joined them.

It was a glitch, and what great driver hasn't had them by times? He forgot that, of all of the teams in the pitlane, McLaren is one you can generally guarantee will give their drivers equal status (I say generally because I remember Coulthard being asked to give Mika his first win in Jerez in 1997 and then handing over the first race of the following season after Mika decided to take a long-cut through the pitlane for no reason).

In 2008 he went back to Renault for two years with wins but no continual success and then joined Ferrari in 2010, just as Red Bull became a force to be reckoned with.  He lost the title to Sebastian Vettel that year by 4 points in a season where any of four drivers could have won the title going to the last race in Abu Dhabi.

In 2011 the Ferrari just wasn't at the front at all and Fernando fought the car all season to finish in 4th in the WCC behind a totally dominant Vettel in 1st, Jenson Button, and Mark Webber.

This is where I began to see his maturity.  He pushed and praised the team in equal measure, publicly saying he expected better from them and from himself but praising the collective team ethos pervasive in the garage and in Maranello.

Alonso Monaco 2012
Copyright Lorenzo Bellanca-LAT Photography
Courtesy Pirelli F1
This continued into 2012 when the Prancing Horse was never really in contention during qualifying, when the Ferrari's were struggling to make the tyres work and find raw speed around the track.  Alonso reckons the title was lost in Canada but I disagree.  The first corner in Japan was where this title was lost.  Alonso qualified ahead of Felipe Massa but was taken out by a first corner puncture after Kimi Raikkonen clipped his rear tyre.  Massa showed what the Ferrari was capable of that day by finishing 2nd.  Alonso went into the race leading the WCC by 29 points and came out leading Vettel by only 4.

In the wet at Hockenheim
Courtesy Pirelli F1
He fought a long campaign over the course of the season, in a car that was not the best of any of the fields, and, when it came down to the wire in Austin and Brazil he made fantastic starts and drove great races to give himself the best possible chance of capturing the WDC title.

Alonso leading the Sauber of Kobayashi in Brazil
Courtesy Sauber Motorsport AG
While you may not have won the official WDC, Here's to you Fernando for officially winning the F1 2012 Season WDC, while there's no cash prize and little kudos associated with this title it is yours on merit.


Barry Lucy

Fernando Alonso (Spain)
Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
Red Bull Racing
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)
Jenson Button (Great Britain)
Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain
Mark Webber (Australia)
Red Bull Racing
Felipe Massa (Brazil)
Nico Rosberg (Germany 
Romain Grosjean (France
Sergio Perez (Mexico)
Nico Hulkenberg (Germany)
Kamui Kobayashi (Japan
Force India
Michael Schumacher (Germany)
Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela)
Paul di Resta (Great Britain) 
Force India
Bruno Senna (Brazil)
Jean-Eric Vergne (France)
Toro Rosso
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
Toro Rosso
Vitaly Petrov (Russia)
Heikki Kovalainen (Finland)
Timo Glock (Germany)
Charles Pic (France
Pedro de la Rosa (Spain
Narain Karthikeyan (India)

Williams confirm Valtteri Bottas in 2013 Driver announcement

Sir Frank Williams.
The team confirmed Bottas and Maldonado for 2013 race seats
Courtesy of Williams F1 Team
The Williams F1 Team have confirmed that Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas will be the team’s race drivers for the 2013 World Championship season.

Pastor said;
I’m really enjoying my time with Williams and I was obviously very happy when I was told that I would be continuing with the team in 2013. 2012 was a memorable year for me with the win in Barcelona and we made a big step forward in terms of performance. I have a lot of confidence in the team and hopefully next year will see us move even further up the grid and taste more success.

Valtteri, of course, is delighted:
It has always been my life-long dream to compete in the Formula One World Championship. To do so with one of the most legendary teams in the sport is incredibly special. I’ve really enjoyed my three years with Williams so far and feel very at home here so my goal was always to stay for 2013 and progress to a race seat. I’m looking forward to getting my Formula One career started and enjoying a lot of success with Williams.

Sir Frank Williams said;
In Pastor and Valtteri we have two of the most exciting talents in motor racing and I am especially excited about what 2013 can bring for Williams. Pastor has always demonstrated remarkable pace and this year has seen him mature as a racing driver. Valtteri is quite simply one of the most talented young racing drivers I have come across and we expect great things from him in the future. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our departing driver Bruno Senna for his hard work over the past year and wish him the best of luck going forward.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lewis leads FP1, Top four within one-tenth in Brazil

Lewis Hamilton led the way for most of FP1 but was followed extremely closely by Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber and Jenson Button making up a top four covered by less than nine hundreths of a second.

One second covered the top 11 cars in the session, with the majority of the fast lapping taking place on the 2013 prototype tyres which were provided to the teams by Pirelli for the Friday Free Practice sessions.  

1. Lewis Hamilton,1m 14.131s
2. Sebastian Vettel,1m 14.140s
3. Mark Webber,1m 14.198s
4. Jenson Button,1m 14.217s
5. Fernando Alonso,1m 14.392s
6. Felipe Massa,1m 14.716s
7. Romain Grosjean,1m 14.719s
8. Paul di Resta,1m 14.738
9. Pastor Maldonado,1m 15.015s
10. Nico Hulkenberg,1m 15.050s
11. Michael Schumacher,1m 15.114s
12. Kamui Kobayashi,1m 15.255s
13. Sergio Perez,1m 15.396s
14. Valtteri Bottas,1m 15.413s
15. Daniel Ricciardo,1m 15.587s
16. Kimi Raikkonen,1m 15.701s
17. Jean Eric Vergne,1m 16.048s
18. Nico Rosberg,1m 16.315s
19. Giedo van der Garde,1m 16.460s
20. Timo Glock,1m 16.506s
21. Vitaly Petrov,1m 16.617s
22. Charles Pic,1m 17.234s
23. Pedro de la Rosa,1m 17.678s
24. Narain Karthekeyan,1m 17.895s

Pic joins Caterham, Gutierrez confirmed at Sauber

Personally I'm extremely sad at the signings of Charles Pic and Esteban Gutierrez by Caterham and Sauber respectively; not because of their signings but rather because of it would appear that the consequences of these two decisions would appear to leave Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi without a drive for next season.

The saddest part of the entire drama is the timing of these announcements.  Up until today each of the drivers affected were allowed to hope, in the same way that we the fans were, that they might remain in situ for next year.  At this, end of season juncture, there are very few alternative opportunities to be explored in respect of next year's grid and it may well be that neither of the two drivers will return to a Formula One team as they  do not bring sponsorship money.

FIA might well be advised to follow the likes of the Premiership in introducing transfer periods; one Mid-Season and one Pre-Season.  This would bring clarity to transfer proceedings in a way which would allow current drivers and teams explore their options within specified time-constraints.  While it is good to see Pic and Gutierrez get F1 seats it is horrible watching two good F1 drivers being kicked out of the sport because they are not paying to drive.

I guess the essential question revolves around the eagerness of teams to acquire Pay-to-Drive drivers.

Caterham confirmed Charles Pic by way of the following Press Release:
Charles Pic has today been announced as one of Caterham F1 Team's race drivers for the 2013 season and beyond. The talented French driver joins the Anglo / Malaysian team on a multi-year contract after impressing in his first season in the Formula 1 World Championship.
Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal of Caterham F1 Team: "We are thrilled that Charles has decided to join us for his second season in F1 and beyond. We are all looking forward to working with a young driver who has clearly shown in his first season in F1 that he has the pace, racecraft and demeanour to help us achieve our goals.
"Throughout the 2012 season we have been monitoring the progress that Charles has made, challenging us on several occasions in qualifying, and it is clear that he is a special talent. As the year has progressed he has performed extremely well against a very experienced teammate and we are looking forward to seeing him develop further within the environment we will provide in 2013 and beyond. We will continue growing together, and the energy and image he will bring to our team and his partners will be a very positive influence on the seasons that lie ahead. Being able to make this announcement before the end of the current season gives us the chance now to allow Charles and the team to prepare fully for the 2013 season and quickly learn how to maximise the performance benefits of the Renault Sport F1 and Red Bull Technology powertrain that will be new to him."
Charles Pic: "I am very proud to be able to confirm that I am joining Caterham F1 Team next year and I’m looking forward to many seasons of successful racing cooperation. I'm enthusiastic to have the opportunity to continue to grow in a team that has a technical relationship with a number of French global companies, including Renault and Total, plus an Official Partnership with EADS. It is clear that the team has great ambitions for the future: the investments already made and the decisions taken in the last few months show how committed the shareholders are to succeed and demonstrates their willingness to keep going forward.
“The prospect of the automotive industry project nurtured by Caterham Group to produce sports road cars in conjunction with Renault is another reason for my decision to join the team. I would like to thank Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun for the roles they have played in helping make this dream come true.
“I am very excited about starting my second year in F1 with a team that has so much potential. Caterham F1 Team has everything in place to help it move into a position to fight with a number of teams ahead. I know how determined the team is to keep progressing and I am looking forward to playing my part in helping them move up the grid."
Jean-François Caubet, Managing Director of Renault Sport F1, added; “We are always motivated to see promising drivers in our partner teams and Charles is no exception. Additionally, France remains the largest Renault market and having another young, dynamic French driver join the Renault ‘stable’ will give us further branding, marketing and PR opportunities, both for our F1 involvement and road car range in France and the rest of Europe. We look forward to working with him closely over the coming years.”
Sauber released the following statement:
Hinwil/Sao Paulo, 23rd November 2012 – The Sauber F1 Team has finalised its line-up for the 2013 season: Esteban Gutiérrez is confirmed as the team’s second race driver. The 21-year old Mexican will be driving alongside Nico Hülkenberg (GER). Robin Frijns, from the Netherlands, who is only two days younger than Esteban, has been taken on board as the team’s test and reserve driver.Gutiérrez began his career in karting. He raced in the Formula BMW USA series in 2007, where he finished the runner-up, and then went on to win the Formula BMW Europe crown a year later. After a spell in the Formula 3 Euro Series, he switched to the GP3 Series in 2010 and stormed to the championship title with five race wins. Two seasons in GP2 followed, the second of which in 2012 saw him collect three victories and finish third in the standings. Gutiérrez was given his first chance to test for the BMW Sauber F1 Team in 2009 and further opportunities have followed since then. His most recent outing in the Sauber C31-Ferrari was at the Young Driver Days test in Abu Dhabi on 7th and 8th November.“Esteban has already been part of the team for a long time and we have followed his career very closely,”said Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn. “In 2010 we signed him up as an affiliated driver, and in 2011 and 2012 he was our test and reserve driver. We mapped out his path to Formula One step by step. Esteban has great talent and now he’s ready to take the leap. We are in no doubt we have a strong driver pairing in place for the 2013 season with Nico Hülkenberg and Esteban Gutiérrez.”Esteban Gutiérrez commented: “After three years working with Sauber I feel very grateful for all the attention I have received from everyone in the team and for all their input, which has allowed me to develop into a Formula One driver in a very progressive way. Now, after experiencing other categories of racing as an introduction to Formula One, this is the start of the real challenge to succeed at the pinnacle of motor sport. The support from my family, as well as from my sponsors, has been a key factor in getting there and I am very grateful to everyone who has been involved in our project. It will be a great pleasure to be racing in the same team as an experienced driver like Nico Hülkenberg. He will be a good reference point for me and will push me to adapt quickly to F1 competition so we can develop the car together with the team in the best way.”Robin Frijns is going to be the Sauber F1 Team’s new test and reserve driver. The 21-year old Dutchman also started his career in karting. In 2008 he entered single seater racing, improved constantly and went on to win the Formula BMW Europe title in 2010 by taking six race wins. One year later he took the title in the Formula Renault Eurocup before going on to win the title in the highly competitive Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2012.“Monitoring Robin’s racing career“, said Kaltenborn, “makes it easy to spot his potential. This was the reason we gave him the chance to drive the Sauber C31-Ferrari at the Young Driver Days in Abu Dhabi. He managed this very well. We will now carefully guide him to Formula One. This is a long way, but Robin has got the skills to do that successfully.”Robin Frijns said: “I'm very happy the Sauber F1 Team has given me this opportunity. I would like to thank Monisha Kaltenborn and Peter Sauber for their belief and trust in me by signing me to join their team as a test and reserve driver. With this opportunity I will try to help the team as much as possible and get the chance to learn how Formula 1 works in an extremely professional environment. I am already very much looking forward to getting the 2013 season started and working together with the team.”Monisha Kaltenborn also turned her attention to the team’s current drivers: “I would very much like to say a few words about Kamui Kobayashi as well. Over the last three years Kamui has shown us he is not only a fierce competitor on the track, but also a wonderful person and fantastic team player. Every member of our team has the greatest respect for him, and his podium in Japan was a particularly emotional moment for all of us. This has not been an easy decision for us to take, but we have committed ourselves to a new beginning and our time with Kamui will come to an end after the final two races of the season. We wish Kamui all the best for the future. Our thanks also go to Sergio Pérez, who has claimed three podiums for the team so far and now has the opportunity at McLaren-Mercedes to display his immense talent with one of the most successful teams in Formula One history. We would also like to wish Sergio all the best and every success for the future.” 
While Caterham has not officially made any statement with regard to the second driver, the odds of Heikki Kovalainen holding his seat at the team are now of the same order as the Earth being pulled into the Sun.

Monisha Kaltenborn's words in respect of Kamui are scant comfort to a driver who has improved massively from the charging, exciting but unpredictable racer on-track to a real F1 racer, one of the few who will get behind the wheel of any machine and drive it by the seat of his pants.  I've previously equated his enthusiasm with that of Jean Alesi and dared to hope that the Telmex millions would not decide the issue.  Obviously I was wrong on that account.

Best of luck to Gutierrez and Pic but I'm massively disappointed but not surprised that Heikki and Kamui will not be sitting on the grid come March 2013.

Michael takes plaudits from Vettel and Alonso

(Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Michael, you know both of the contenders for a long time, what kind of memory will you give us for Seb and for Fernando? And question for Seb and Fernando, what kind of memory will you keep from Michael?
MS: Well, I mean obviously with Fernando I have had quite a few more years together competing and fighting championships. Obviously that is slightly different in this respect, it was tough moments. I mean, he was unfortunately in quite a few moments looking very strong and doing too good a job honestly – should have taken it easy and looked after the old man! But on Seb’s side, we’ve been friends for a long time and I sort of follow his career into Formula One and seeing him doing so well, obviously makes me proud. We’ve both grown up on my home track in Kerpen and to see from where he started to end up and kind of being dominant for quite a while recently, that’s quite an achievement.

And you two on Michael.
FA: I think we will always remember the privilege to race and compete with someone like Michael that will be record in history of Formula One, maybe for a very long time and we’ve been there, we’ve been in the grid close to him. As Michael said, some good fights and great respect on the circuit and always constantly learning with someone that changed a little bit this sport.

SV: I think it's a little bit different for Fernando than it is for me because obviously I had the privilege to meet Michael when I was a small kid. He was my childhood hero. Maybe he can close his ears or shut his ears now, but he was a true inspiration back then, for me and for many other kids, as he mentioned, in Kerpen. He was our hero. Obviously we had the honour to meet him. He was taking care of the championship held in Kerpen and came to the last race, gave all the trophies to everyone, every child, more than 100 at the time, so he was very patient and now, obviously, we understand that the busy schedule that he had, taking that extra time for the fans but especially for us, for the kids who were racing, was something very special, a very special memory. When I met him the first time, obviously I didn't know what to say because I didn't want to ask something stupid but for sure, I remember these moments and then later on. Today I think it's a little bit different because you are more grown up, you have a normal relationship so when I talk to him now, it doesn't feel like talking to my childhood hero, it feels like talking to Michael so I see the person rather than what he has achieved but obviously, if you remind yourself of that and the fact that I was racing against him for the last couple of years, unfortunately not as close as he probably shared with Fernando, but still that thought or that image was very very far away when I was a small kid, because obviously he was already in Formula One but for me it was a dream so very far away but very special for the last couple of years, very special the relationship we share and I think he will always be an inspiration for myself.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What now for Kamui Kobayashi?

There simply hasn't been time with the build-up to the US GP in Austin, the excitement of that race, and the massively quick turnaround to get all of the teams to Brazil, for one man to cover (or even digest) all of the other interesting stories which have been released over the last two weeks.

The unfortunate case of Kamui Kobayashi: Will we see him again after Brazil?
Courtesy: Sauber Motorsport AG
I'm slowly getting around to dealing with those and, before we get all excited tomorrow with Free Practice at the final race of the season I thought I'd deal with the unfortunate case of Kamui Kobayashi.  This due to the statement by Sauber that they would release a statement on their 2013 driver line-up in Brazil.

This racer, and he is a genuine racer, hasn't quite performed up to the standard which he himself might expect this season, but he has put together a few decent results which sees him nestling on 58 points, just 8 behind his team-mate Sergio Pérez who is transferring to McLaren after the Brazilian GP.

Kobayashi celebrates his podium in Japan
Courtesy: Sauber Motorsport AG 
Kamui has scored in 8 races this year and retired from 5 (in Hungary he was classified but had a hydraulics problem) in comparison to Checo who scored in 6 races and retired from 5.

Over the course of the seasons results, on aggregate, they are separated by an average of 0.3 of a place.  Sergio Pérez on an average finishing position of 6.5 and Kamui on 6.8.

It's not a particularly serious difference.

Then you have the reports last week of Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber Team Principal, making the following comments to Press Association Sport:
We're not going to take the last two races and see if he is good or bad, whether it's a plus or a minus point. That's not fair to him. He's been with us three years now and we know him very well. When he came into Formula One we gave him the trust required, without any baggage, to show he is a very talented driver. From that perspective he should know the teams knows him well and trusts him.

When Press Association Sport specifically asked whether Kobayashi required sponsorship to retain his seat, Kaltenborn replied:
before adding:
We didn't even do that at the end of 2010 when, with regards to running the team, we were starting from scratch again. At that time we took him for his pure skills and he brought no sponsor along. We got nothing. So I don't think it's right to now suddenly make it an issue, and there is no pressure on him. It's about what he does on the track.
To me this should indicate to Kamui that his seat is safe, and that he should go out over the weekend with the express aim to beat the Force India's and the Mercedes this weekend secure in the knowledge that his future is assured...

...But that's not true, is it?  I mean: Why would you wait to release the information until after Saturday Qualifying.  Monisha Kaltenborn appears to have said that the statement will be released:
before Brazil, in Brazil or a few hours after the race

Esteban Gutierrez, the other Carlos Slim sponsored Mexican driver is also in Brazil as Sauber's Third Driver.  I have no idea if he's driving on Friday or not.

Esteban Gutierrez may enable Sauber to keep Telmex Sponsorship funds
Courtesy: Sauber Motorsport AG
It will be interesting to see who gets in the car for FP 1 and FP2 on Friday, on Pirelli's 2013 tyres.  My gut feeling is that both Gutierrez and Kobayashi will be in the cars as Checo is leaving the team to join McLaren next year.  This will also serve to further spice up the prospect of a final decision being made this weekend.

Personally I don't feel that Kamui Kobayashi should be let go, With Hulkenberg coming into the team from Force India it would be good for the pitcrews to have someone with experience of the team in one of the cars.  Pairing Hulkenberg and Gutierrez together is far too extreme a move but the Carlos Slim money is very difficult to ignore.

Just putting it all down in print and reading it back gives me the impression that we should see Kamui in next year's Sauber with Esteban Gutierrez guaranteed a seat for 2014.  This would give Kamui another year to find a race seat and, hopefully, guarantee the Mexican funding for 2014.  Remember Sauber are a Swiss Team.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scintillating COTA gives impetus to future F1 Stateside

My Pre-US GP excitement was tinged with nervousness but it was a brilliant and exciting return to America. Austin staged a race worthy of all of the pre-race build-up and hype.

Hamilton had a great start to keep third place on a dirty grid
Courtesy Pirelli F1.
We have all seen how Tilke tracks have made for wholly boring races.  Modern design has given us wide sweeping corners, plenty of tarmacked run-off areas, plenty of race track, lots of speed, and lots of technical and challenging corners for the drivers but little in the way of overtaking and excitement for the viewer.

I'm talking Turkey (the country), Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, China, Valencia, etc. These tracks, of themselves, are not designed for overtaking (bar the final corner in Malaysia).  Ultimately they were designed for safety and "challenge" rather than spectacle.

The last couple of years, since the inception of DRS, KERS, and Pirelli, have seen these circuits (bar Turkey which is gone) improve massively in respect of the amount of overtaking at each race meet and the racing itself.

It almost makes me wonder if these overtaking "aides" were not specifically introduced to address the modern circuit deficiencies which were glaringly obvious at the time of their first introduction to the F1 Season.

I know I'm going on a bit about this but that is simply because in Austin last weekend, at the Circuit of the Americas, on the return of F1 to the USA, the package worked.

Embarrassingly public, Lewis and Martin share a moment on the podium
Courtesy: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
The race was astonishing. It had all of the ingredients necessary to enthral anyone who saw it and I'm left wondering how it happened: was it the circuit itself? The drama? The overtaking aides? The atmosphere and anticipation?  How did F1 manage to produce such a memorable first race on a totally unfamiliar circuit?

Even before qualifying on Saturday all of the commentators, and the teams, were saying that they wanted to qualify on the left hand side of the grid as starting from the grid slots on the right would represent a huge penalty to the drivers due to a complete lack of grip.

Some drivers were comparing it to driving on ice, the more conservative drivers said it was like driving on slicks in wet conditions.  The upshot was that the commentary was all about driving for 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc., rather than the even grid slots.

During practice it was all Sebastian Vettel.  His Red Bull dominated the Friday and Saturday morning Free Practice Sessions and things did not bode well for the race.  The last thing we all needed was for Sebastian to take off into the distance on this previously unknown track.

Sebastian couldn't shake Lewis off
Copyright: Mark Thonpson/Getty Images
In qualifying Lewis Hamilton put in stunning laptimes to sit in 2nd place, beside Sebastian but on the dirty, slippery side of the grid.  Mark Webber put himself behind Vettel in 3rd, followed by the two Lotus and Michael Schumacher.  Felipe Massa qualified in 7th with Fernando Alonso in 9th; both Ferrari's in grippy grid positions.

The problem: Romain Grosjean was taking a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox which promoted both Ferrari's to 6th and 8th respectively, the slippery side of the grid.

Now we all know that Alonso is the only person who's able to take the title from Sebastian Vettel and also that they are very good at spotting opportunities.  This time Ferrari penalised Massa for qualifying ahead of his team-mate.  They made a team decision, broke a seal on his gearbox, changed it, and he took the mandatory 5 place penalty putting Alonso in 7th and himself back in 11th, once again both starting on the grippier side of the track and Alonso gaining two grid places over and above where he qualified.  Once again Massa took one for the team.

There was controversy, commentary, discussion and condemnation of the Ferrari tactic but there was no question over its legitimacy.  This is a team sport and, let's face it, Fernando needed the grip and the grid slot in order to keep up the fight for the driver's title.

One other matter of note in Qualifying was that Jenson Button failed to make Q3 due to a mechanical failure and so was starting from 12th on the grid.  McLaren and/or Jenson decided to start the race on the hard compound Pirelli's contrary to the rest of the grid (other than Nico Rosberg in 17th).

Over the course of Free Practice and Qualifying it was clear that it was difficult to get heat into the tyres to get them operating at their optimal temperature.  This was especially true of the hard compounds, so taking the hard tyre option first meant that all those cars on the medium compound options would have their tyres working a lot faster.  It was a serious gamble.

Once the lights went out the Red Bulls made a blistering start, with Mark Webber overtaking Lewis Hamilton into the corner but Hamilton made a brilliant start from his completely green grid slot to hold third.  Behind him Alonso and Schumacher fought over 4th into the first corner.

Button meanwhile, also starting on the slippery side of the grid, lost three places from 12th at the start.

What happened next? Hamilton dispatched the Red Bull of Mark Webber on the Fourth lap and began putting in the laptimes to bring him within touching distance of Sebastian Vettel in the lead.

Behind the leaders, with heat finally bringing the hard compounds to working temperature, Jenson Button began to move up the places.  On the move were Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Felipe Massa, and Jenson Button and the TV coverage showed all of the battles as they moved forward.  Massa's recovery from his enforced grid penalty was particularly worthy of airtime.

When Mark Webber stopped on Lap 16 with another alternator failure questions went asked over Vettel's reliability.  Hamilton chased Sebastian down through the pitstops and eventually took the lead on lap 42 from a very irate Sebastian Vettel.

In a straightforward DRS move down the back straight Hamilton pulled out and then watched Vettel drift across the line pushing the McLaren as wide as he dared.  If anything Lewis would have been within his rights to question Vettel's tactics, rather than Sebastian's, very public, fit of pique.

It reminded me of Fernando Alonso's righteous outburst in Valencia in 2010 when Lewis Hamilton pulled out of the pit's in front of the safety car, overtaking it while within the pitlane white line, except that in that instance Hamilton's move bordered on illegitimate and warranted investigation.

In the US last weekend there was no question over the legitimacy of Hamilton's move and Vettel's outburst showed us, much as the Abu Dhabi podium did, that he isn't quite as mature as perhaps we expect him to be.

While he continued to chase Lewis down, the McLaren maintained the gap right to the end to take first place: back-to-back wins in the United States for Lewis (even though the last one was 2007).

Behind the two front runners Fernando eked out enough of a gap to ensure third place and keep the title alive to Interlagos, while Massa drove the perfect race to come in 4th behind his team-mate.  Felipe's consistency and speed were such that he might well have been fighting with Hamilton and Vettel if he hadn't taken the hit for Alonso.

Behind him, in 5th, came Jenson Button. Starting on the the hard tyre really paid dividends in the second half of the first stint.  His hard tyres were working perfectly while the rest of the field came in to the pits around lap 20-24 and he stayed out until lap 35, pumping in 1m41s laps to drag himself into contention.

Kimi pitted quite late on his medium compound tyres, lap 24
Copyright Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic
He would probably have been fighting with Massa over 4th if he had come in one or two laps earlier.  As it was his hard tyres just began to go away from him before he pitted. A nearly perfect strategy for McLaren.  Kimi and Grosjean came in 6th and 7th, with Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado, and Bruno Senna rounding out the points scoring places.

Kimi couldn't keep a charging Felipe Massa behind him
Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic
Towards the end, around Lap 52, Maldonado, who was following Senna, radioed the pit and asked for permission to try to overtake his team-mate.  As we all know, Williams have always let their drivers race so, having received permission Pastor went on to undertake Bruno, pushing his team-mate wide and bumping wheels.  It was that hold your breath moment at the end of a Grand Prix where Maldonado nearly committed the ultimate F1 sin of taking out your team-mate.  Fortunately both came home in the points, though they still lie well back from Force India and are unlikely to catch them in Brazil.

All credit to Lewis Hamilton for a great qualifying, great start, great race and exuberant winning celebration.  He deserved the win having driven impeccably.

Thrilled with victory, Lewis demonstrated the strength of the cockpit.
Courtesy: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes