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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Van der Garde to miss out on Free Practice sessions

A man who needs every second he can get in his latest motor is set to lose out on four Free Practice 1 sessions this season. Giedo van der Garde hasn't been able to get to grips with the Caterham in the same way as his team-mate Charles Pic and really should be given every available opportunity to drive the car, but the team are going to give the FP1 sessions to their test drivers Alexander Rossi and Ma Qing Hua.

Giedo van der Garde will lose valuable time in the car to test drivers
© LAT Photographic/Caterham F1

Van der Garde will sit out Free Practice 1 for the first time in Bahrain, probably to facilitate Rossi's quest for F1 experience.

He's not alone though, written into each of the Caterham contracts is the clause allowing FP1 to be utilised by the team's test drivers.  Charles Pic will give way in China so as to give Ma a run out in front of his home crowd.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Onboard View

Vettel/Webber the onboard view.  Worth putting up for as long as it's allowed

I have to say that Seb's story of Mark moving around all over the road doesn't hold up other than in setting himself up to defend in the first couple of corners.

It also confirms that Webbo could have been Verrrry nasty if he had wanted to be.

Williams announces Claire Williams promotion

Following on from Peter Sauber relinquishing his role as Sauber Team Principal to Monisha Kaltenborn last year and the 2012 influx of female drivers Susie Wolff and Maria de Villota into the driver development programmes of Williams and Marussia; Williams has today announced the promotion of Claire Williams to Deputy Team Principal, under her father Sir Frank Williams.

The succession announcement from the Williams F1 Team came as no surprise, but was welcome news nonetheless
© Williams F1
It is not the most surprising of promotions given Franks advancing years and the need to define a clear succession path for the future of the team and, let's face it, having grown up on the knee of one of the most influential and passionate Team Owners in the sport's history, Claire is likely to have learned more about running an F1 team by osmosis than any other replacement option would learn through years of experience.

Add to that the fact that she has worked within the team since beginning in the press office in 2002 and is privy to the experience and advice from a mind which has lived and breathed motor racing since the early 1960's and you have a successor who must understand every aspect involved in running an F1 team. 

However, to date Claire has worked as Head of Communications, Head of Investor Relations and will continue in her role as Director of Marketing and Communications in tandem with her new responsibilities as Deputy Team Principal.

What the new role will offer, that she does not already have, will be to experience the pressures and manage the expectations of every member of the team.  It is a considerable task but one for which she has been trained since before she could talk; whether or not she or Frank intended or desired that to be the situation.

Acknowledging her early and continuing influence Claire said:
I’m truly honoured to be taking on the role of Deputy Team Principal and look forward to working alongside Frank to help run the team this season and beyond. I have grown up in the sport and have learnt the ropes from one of Formula One’s legendary Team Principals and as a result I feel well equipped for this new challenge. I understand the commitment that every person within the team gives each day to see our car out on the track and I am determined to see us back at the top.  I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead but I have the full support of the Board and a very talented Executive Committee who will be invaluable as I move forward in this role.
Frank Williams will be happy to have Claire beside him
© Williams F1
Frank is obviously delighted with the appointment but delivered his press statement in typical terms:
Her knowledge of the sport and passion for the team is unquestionable and I’m proud to say that during her time here she has proven herself to be one of our most valuable assets. With Claire being appointed Deputy Team Principal, I know the future of Williams is in extremely safe hands. This appointment also had Ginny’s blessing who I know would have been incredibly proud to have seen Claire taking on this position by my side.
Frank's wife, Claire's mother, Virginia Williams passed away on the 7th March last after battling cancer for two and a half years.  The team had planned to announce this new appointment before the start of the 2013 season, but following the death of Lady Virginia Williams earlier this month, it was decided by Frank and Claire to delay this announcement to afford the family privacy.

Claire will take up her new position with immediate effect, will continue to be part of the Company’s Board of Directors and will be supported by and work in collaboration with the full Board.

Commenting on the events of the last month Claire Williams said;
It has been a sad month for my family and Williams as a company following the death of my mother, but as the season takes hold we must look to the future. It will be a privilege to play a part in taking the team into what I hope will be a successful next chapter.
May I take the opportunity to give Claire, her father and the team my best wishes for the future and once again pass on my condolences on the passing of Lady Virginia Williams

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ecclestone's first manipulation of F1?

Reading the Telegraph article today where Bernie Ecclestone gave out about the imposition of Team Orders by Red Bull and Mercedes in Malaysia last weekend I was struck by the following quote about his time in charge of Brabham:
I had one driver challenging for the world championship – I’m not going to say who it was – and the other guy that weekend happened to be b----- quick. I said to him, 'Whatever you do, you ought to take it easy and let the other guy pass you’. He said, 'I wouldn’t do that.’ So I replied, 'Well, you can stand up in the seat of the car and wave him past, so the whole world can see this if you want.’ But he insisted, 'I’m not going to do it’. So we just made sure he didn’t have enough fuel in the car to finish the race.”
My first and continuing reaction is to ask: Is this where Bernie learnt how to manipulate an F1 race for the first time?

The only reason he would be reluctant to say who the driver is because of two things:
1.  The driver is still alive and well, and
2.  The car never ran out of fuel due to other problems on the car

Now the driver himself must know who he is given that they had a conversation as Bernie sets out above but he won't say who it was.

I'm supposing, no I'm presuming, that the drivers in question were Niki Lauda and John Watson in 1978.  There was no other year where Brabham had two competitive drivers in a championship winning position, (You'll forgive me for not counting Riccardo Patrese as a championship contender when he was teamed with Piquet Snr).

Watson had been with Brabham for 1977, whilst Niki Lauda joined up after winning his second Drivers' Title with Ferrari in 1977.

A look back at the season showed that Wattie was right on the pace of Lauda and, but for the number of retirements suffered by both drivers, they could both have challenged for the Championship that year.

A summary of the 1978 Brabham season is set out below but for my money Bernie must have short fuelled John Watson at either the Belgian or Swedish GP's, before or after Sweden there would have been no point to doing it.

In the first race of the season Lauda came second, inheriting the position from John Watson with 10 laps to go when his engine blew up. In Brazil Lauda was on the pace, but after issues in qualifying Watson had to come through the field and finished 8th from 21st on the grid. In South Africa Lauda Qualified in Pole but the engine failed, John Watson finished 3rd. In America West at Long Beach Wattie retired from 2nd on Lap 9 with engine failure, Lauda inherited the place but retired on lap 28.  Monaco would have been John Watsons but driver error meant he only finished 4th to Lauda's 2nd.

A picture emerges of a very fast team-mate to the newly crowned Drivers' Champion.  Lauda retired in both Belgium and Spain while Wattie also retired at Spa but came home in 5th in Spain.  Theoretically, at this point, Lauda was still in the running for the Drivers' title on 16 points, 20 behind Mario Andretti and 10 behind Ronnie Peterson.  Watson was 7 points behind.  Just so you understand how close it was the scoring in 1978 was as follows:

1st      9 points
2nd     6 points
3rd     4 points
4th      3 points
5th      2 points
6th      1 point

So a couple of good results could put Niki Lauda right back in the running for the title, whilst John Watson, were he ahead, would have a pretty serious impact on proceedings, particularly if he were in first place.

And so to Sweden, Round 8 of the Championship, the halfway point of the season.  Brabham brought a new car, the BT46B to the race.  You may know it as the "Fan Car".  It only raced once, and would probably have sailed home to the title but Bernie withdrew it in order to get the agreement of the other team owners to allow him seize control of F1's commercial rights with FOCA.

Watson qualified the car in second, ahead of Niki Lauda.  It's accepted by most of those in the know that the qualifying was deliberate so as not to show just how much speed and grip the car had over it's rivals.  In the race Lauda got ahead of Wattie at the start and they continued in second and third until lap 20 when John Watson's car suffered a throttle failure.  Lauda overtook Mario Andretti for the lead and went on to win by over half a minute.  Andretti went out with engine failure on lap 40 and Lauda moved to 11 points behind him and only 5 behind Ronnie Peterson who came home in third.

In France Lauda failed to finish and Wattie came home 4th with 3 points and in Britain Lauda and Watson came home 2nd and 3rd in that order.  It was not inconceivable at this stage, Round 10 that Niki Lauda could not catch Andretti for the title, however retirements in Germany and Austria effectively ended his title chances with Andretti taking another win in Germany, pulling out a lead of 23 points over Niki Lauda.

In Austria the only person who could really challenge Andretti was Ronnie Peterson who won there in order to close the gap to 9 points.  After Round 13 in the Netherlands that gap became 12 points, Andretti taking the win with Peterson second and then, in Italy, the championship race was effectively over after the death of Ronnie Peterson.

Even though Lauda was now second in the championship, he was 20 points behind with only 2 rounds remaining.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Malaise in Malaysia

Some races are relatively boring, some are simply fantastic. Some are defined by controversy, some by cock-ups. And then we have Malaysia.

This race was none of the above.  It had moments of excitement, much of it was boring, There were cock-ups aplenty and the end was not simply controversial it felt like the beginning of a very public meltdown of the Red Bull team.

What happened here is worse than Schumi's desperate attempt to manipulate a dead heat situation in the US Formula 1 race at Indianapolis in 2002; It's worse than any of the shambolic "team orders" manipulations back in the days when team orders were not permitted; It is nearly as bad as David Coulthard "gifting" Mika Hakkinen his first F1 win in Jerez in 1997 under team orders and then gifting him the first race of 1998 after Mika cocked up and drove through the pits for no apparent reason (the beginning of Mika's rise and David's fall).

The difference is, of course, that team orders were ignored by Sebastian, very publicly ignored, and it caused a very serious upset within the team which was played out publicly in the immediate aftermath of the Grand Prix.

In his sights; Vettel eyes up Webber in Malaysia
© Pirelli F1
From my perspective, from the raft of outpourings across the web but most importantly from the fact that it was agreed before the race by the team, this was Mark Webber's race by virtue of the two driver's positions after their last pitstops.

I'm all for healthy rivalry between drivers and I do believe that drivers should be allowed to race their team-mates, but the F1 rules allow for team orders and in that case, regardless of my personal feelings, the team have every right to agree the order in which their drivers finish.  After all, the Drivers' Championship is only a silver medal in the team's eyes, the Constructors' Title is the Gold Standard.

Finishing 1-2 in a GP is their only desire, at this stage of the season.  Sebastian Vettel, by his actions, deliberately and publicly refused to take one for the team.  He breached team orders, flouted their authority, and very possibly compromised his chance to win the Drivers' Championship.

To quote the bible - which I rarely do: They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

Your team-mate is your only ally on the racetrack.  When you are ahead of your team-mate on points in the back end of the season a decision has to be made by your team-mate as to whether he will support your run for the title.  If he does, you have a wingman to protect you from the competition.

Conversely, your team-mate can be your greatest obstacle too when he decides that he won't let you past to take valuable points; when he is "unable" to keep your rivals behind; when he races against you for position.  This costs a driver valuable time and crucial points; and can ultimately cost Championships.  Webber's words after the race may presage future action in any similar situation:
 I was completely reassured twice that we were not going to abuse the cars on each other because it was very easy for us to not get any points for the whole team
We saw on a later replay that, should he have wished to, Mark could have pushed Sebastian wide to maintain track position.  He took one for the team but will get no kudos for doing so in this instance.

Mark has the same car as Sebastian and this negative motivation will make him want to beat Seb, to obstruct him, and to delay him.  This kind of thinking is about as strategic as Custer's last stand.

Add to that the fact that Mark Webber is a great friend of Fernando Alonso and, should push come to shove...

Sky Sports talked about Vettel's youth, but he's 25 and has been in F1 since 2006, first as a test driver and racing full-time in the sport since 2008 with Toro Rosso/Red Bull.  He's also a triple World Champion.  I'm afraid that he has no excuse in this particular instance, nor did he look too repentant on the podium.

Lewis looks sheepish, Mark looks "contained" but Sebastian looks...satisfied?
© Pirelli F1
All you have to do is look behind the Red Bulls to the two Mercedes and you see team orders in action.  In that instance though I disagree with Ross Brawn and the team in what they did.  Nico Rosberg held station behind Lewis Hamilton because he was told to, even though he was far faster.  He argued the point, he wanted to overtake, and he let the team know he wasn't happy, but he obeyed the team's order.  That is how driver's must react to their team's authority.

Nico Rosberg.  Frustrated? Yes. Accepting? Yes
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
In the Mercedes case though it was the wrong order.  They should have told Lewis to pull over and let Nico through.  Lewis was saving fuel for what seemed to be the last third of the race.  He couldn't drive the car at any speed, he couldn't challenge the leaders, he could only hope to finish without running out of fuel.  Mercedes had made a strategic error in that they didn't put enough fuel in Lewis's car. Not so in Nico's case; he had no fuel problems.

Were these two drivers not team-mates Lewis would have given up the place without a fight to make sure that he made it home in the points.  Even if it had been Sergio Perez coming up behind him Hamilton would have ceded position to make sure he got the car to the end and the team would have told him to do it too.  The same should have held true for Nico.  It would have cost Mercedes nothing, Lewis was not able to race, and Nico would have had a deserved third place.

Having said all that the point is that Nico Rosberg held station as he was told to.  I trust the team, and his team-mate, will remember that at some point this season.

As for Mark, we can only hope that the sting of this incident will be washed away by a couple of weeks surfing back home.

This is not going to be the end of this, I can feel it in my bones. A Storm is Gathering; Can Red Bull manage to batten down the hatches before it hits?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Free Practice results Malaysian GP

Free Practice 2 Results

1. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin), Lotus - 1 minute, 36.569 seconds
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ger), Red Bull - 1:36.558
3. Felipe Massa (Brz), Ferrari - 1:36.661
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa), Ferrari - 1:36.985
5. Mark Webber (Aus), Red Bull - 1:37.026
6. Romain Grosjean (Fra), Lotus - 1:37.206
7. Nico Rosberg (Ger), Mercedes - 1:37.448
8. Paul di Resta (GB), Force India - 1:37.571
9. Lewis Hamilton (GB), Mercedes - 1:37.574
10. Adrian Sutil (Ger), Force India - 1:37.788
11. Sergio Perez (Mex), McLaren - 1.37.838
12. Jenson Button (GB), McLaren, 1:37.865
13. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger), Sauber, 1.38.068
14. Esteban Gutierrez (Mex), Sauber, 1.38.645
15. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra), Toro Rosso - 1.38.738
16. Pastor Maldonado (Ven), Williams - 1:38.801
17. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus), Toro Rosso - 1.38.904
18. Jules Bianchi (Fra), Marussia, 1.39.508
19. Valtteri Bottas (Fin), Williams - 1.39.660
20. Charles Pic (Fra), Caterham - 1.40.757
21. Giedo van der Garde (Ned), Caterham - 1.40.768
22. Max Chilton (GB), Marussia - 1.41.438

Free practice 1 Results

1. Mark Webber (Aus), Red Bull - 1min 36.935secs
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin), Lotus - 1:37.003
3. Sebastian Vettel (Ger), Red Bull - 1:37.104
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa), Ferrari - 1:37.319
5. Nico Rosberg (Ger), Mercedes - 1:37.588
6. Adrian Sutil (Ger), Force India - 1:37.769
7. Felipe Massa (Brz), Ferrari - 1:37.771
8. Paul Di Resta (GB), Force India - 1:37.773
9. Lewis Hamilton (GB), Mercedes 1:37.840
10. Romain Grosjean (Fra), Lotus - 1:37.915
11. Jenson Button (GB), McLaren - 1:38.173
12. Pastor Maldonado (Ven), Williams - 1:38.673
13. Sergio Perez (Mex), McLaren - 1:38.830
14. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger), Sauber - 1:39.054
15. Esteban Gutierrez (Mex), Sauber - 1:39.204
16. Valtteri Bottas (Fin), Williams - 1:39.208
17. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra), Toro Rosso - 1:39.284
18. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus), Toro Rosso - 1:39.567
19. Giedo van der Garde (Ned), Caterham - 1:40.728
20. Jules Bianchi (Fra), Marussia - 1:40.996
21. Charles Pic (Fra), Caterham - 1:41.163
22. Max Chilton (GB), Marussia - 1:41.513

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The man who led Melbourne without overtaking a single car

As a spectator I really enjoyed the return to F1 last Sunday morning.  Long months have passed, full of rumour and non-stories and it's always a relief when the season gets underway again and we can talk about something concrete, tarmacadamed, and rubbered-in.

"You can’t start the season much better than winning the first race" - Kimi
©LAT Photographic/Lotus F1
After the delayed qualifying it was immediately obvious that McLaren were going to suffer under the glare of the world media and the whole of the F1 fanbase.  For the first time in years nobody was expecting them to be on the podium and the only question was whether they would be in the points.  Given the fact that they are further off the pace than they were expecting it was good to see Jenson Button have a (relatively speaking) good race.  His first priority was to finish, which he achieved. His second was to finish in front of his team-mate, which he achieved. And his third was to get points, which he achieved by finishing 9th.  McLaren may only have 2 points but considering their performance over the weekend that's better than nought, as Jenson said afterwards:
Having won the Australian Grand Prix three times so far in my career – in 2009, 2010 and 2012 – you’d have to say that today’s ninth place isn’t really much to write home about.
A statement with which his Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh, agreed:
a ninth-place finish and an 11th-place finish don’t constitute much of a result by our sky-high standards, and ultimately the 2013 Australian Grand Prix weekend must therefore go down as a disappointing one for all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Jenson led Romain Grosjean home, taking two points from a miserable McLaren opening Weekend
© Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
They can take some comfort from their horrible start in that Ferrari seemed out of the running last season, with Fernando Alonso taking 5th in Melbourne after a stunning drive from 12th on the grid but then ended up chasing for the championships.  If they can begin to get their house in order I'm certain that McLaren can find their stride again.

They also have precedent to bring back a modified version of last year's car.  If we remember their 2003 challenger, the MP4-18 (which we don't because it never raced) McLaren instead brought a D spec of the MP4-17 which had raced in 2002.  The MP4-18, much as the current MP4-28, was a complete redesign but suffered problems in testing, including a number of crashes.  The team have said that this car is all new under the hood and as such the problems may well be difficult to isolate; a heavily modified version of last year's car will be able to provide stability, speed, and reliability to the team which will let them keep in touch with the championship.  It might be less of a risk than continuing with the current proposal.

Valtteri leads Pastor in the GP on Sunday last, he also brought the car home
 © Charles Coates/Williams F1
Another team who seem to need a rethink after Australia is Williams.  They changed about 80% of the car from last year but only qualified 16th and 17th on the grid last weekend and only Valtteri Bottas managed to bring the car home, well outside the points in 14th.  Pastor Maldonado put the car in the gravel on lap 24.  It looks like they, along with the McLaren team, were not sandbagging during testing.  While the car may feel better than last year it seems that it is slow and they were well behind the Force Indias, the Lotus, and finished behind Esteban Gutierrez in the lone Sauber.  They were well off the pace of the Toro Rosso's too, which is a significant step back from where they were last year.  I hope they can fix it, it won't do their share price any favours.

Mike Coughlan said little about Pastor's brush with the gravel but you can be sure that he won't want to see any more of that this season:
It was good that Valtteri was able to bring the car home in his first race, but we have work we need to do now as a team to improve the performance
The Race Notes in the Press Release were less veiled:
Pastor Maldonado’s race came to early end as he lost the car at Turn 1 and ended beached in the gravel
Jules Bianchi, on the other hand was a revelation in his Marussia, beating the other three also rans at the back of the grid.  He was the only one of the four to be only one lap behind at the end of the race, coming home ahead of Charles Pic in the Caterham, Max Chilton in the other Marussia and Giedo van der Garde in last place.

Caterham were overshadowed and outraced by Jules Bianchi
© LAT Photographic/Caterham F1
Charles Pic didn't mince words post-race:
That wasn’t too bad a race for us. Of course we’d prefer to finish higher but I think that at this stage of the season this reflects our current performance levels
I know it's early in the season but it may well be that van der Garde has come to F1 just that little bit too late in his career.  I was giving out in the pre-season that David Valsecchi didn't get a race drive having finished GP2, but now I wonder if there is a moment in a driver's career after which he can no longer adapt to the increased rigours of Formula 1.  Horrible to think that modern F1 is such that by 27 it's too late to make a beginning in the formula.

And so to the front where the lead was shared by 7 drivers over the course of the Grand Prix.  Vettel lead from the off but couldn't make the most from their tyres, the conditions and set up of the car made it impossible for pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel to complete the race on anything less than a three stop.  From the start he pulled out a gap to the two Ferraris behind for the first 4 laps before Felipe Massa began to reel the Red Bull in and by Lap 7, when he made his first stop, it was clear that the car just didn't have the pace or stamina of those following. Vettel though was happy enough with the final result:
I think you’re always a little disappointed when you start first and don’t finish first, but overall it was a good weekend for us. We had a good day today with a pole and a podium – but in the race we were a little too aggressive with the tyres and lost the front and the rears, while others did a little better
Massa and Alonso had a great start to the Race and the Season in Australia
© Scuderia Ferrari
Massa lead for a lap before he too, being the lead Ferrari pitted, leaving Fernando Alonso to pit the next lap allowing Lewis Hamilton to lead Nico Rosberg in the two Mercedes.  When Hamilton pitted Nico took up the reins for a lap before his pitstop when, Adrian Sutil, in the Force India, utilising an unusual pit-stop strategy, inherited first place.

Sutil, who started in 12th place (technically 11th as Nico Hulkenberg failed to start in the Sauber) made up positions as everyone ahead of him pulled into the pits, first Button, then Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber, Vettel, His team-mate Paul di Resta, Massa, Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen all had pitted by Lap 9 leaving Adrian in an impressive 3rd place without having to actually overtake anyone on-track. Then when Hamilton and Rosberg pitted from on laps 9 & 10 respectively Sutil inherited 1st.

Adrian Sutil's strategy flattered the Force India Team
© Sahara Force India F1 Team
It looked more impressive live in the race than it actually was.  On his return Adrian Sutil was leading the race in a Force India.  For the seven laps he lead he was being caught by the cars behind him and when he finally pitted to replace his old Hard Tyres with a new set of the same he emerged in 7th place.  The Force India strategy was certainly audacious, as, intending to pit only once more for a set of the supersofts, Sutil once again began to climb the leaderboard as the other teams completed their second pitstop of three.

First Massa pitted and 7th became 6th, then Rosberg retired - 5th, then pitstops by Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel & alonso saw him once again in first, if only briefly.  His tyres were shot and the cars behind him were catching him hand-over-fist.  Raikkonen who had also done a two stop race was first to take him on Lap 42, then Alonso, Vettel and Massa on Lap 45, Hamilton and Webber got him when he pitted, but would have overtaken him on track and then his team-mate Paul di Resta would have overtaken him for 7th place but was told to hold station in 8th. This was confirmed by Robert Fernley, Deputy Team Principal Force India after the race:
Paul was on the opposite strategy and finished just a fraction behind Adrian in the end. He probably could have passed Adrian in the closing laps, but he held station to ensure we brought home the strong team result

We had a few issues on the grid, getting the telemetry from the car to the pits, which wasn’t ideal in terms of the guys knowing where to set everything up for the start. We lost KERS also for the first part of the race. It looked like we were quite heavy on the first set of tyres and we weren’t that quick to challenge for the win as a team today. We had a slow pit stop (which was due to a front jack failure), which put me behind Jenson. We salvaged something in the end, but that was Melbourne today and it was disappointing not to get more out of it.- Mark Webber on his race
© Getty Images/Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Kimi Raikkonen came home the deserved winner having raced hard all the way and, having a car under him that allowed him to complete the race on two stops certainly did much to give Lotus the first victory of the season. After the race he commented in his typical understated style

I had a good feeling that we would be ok with the tyres after practice and the team got the strategy perfect. I made a few places at the start and then had a good battle with Lewis [Hamilton] but after that it was quite simple; probably one of my easiest wins

Fernando Alonso took second but claimed it was as good as a win for the team:
with the degradation we had, it would have been impossible to manage on one less and bringing forward the second one by a few laps meant I was able to pass Vettel and Sutil. Finishing ahead of the Red Bull tastes like a win, even if we know that despite today’s race result, they are still the quickest
Sebastian Vettel came in third, with Massa, Hamilton and Webber completing the top 6.

Hamilton was happy with his race, even if he hoped for more: The car felt really good out there; I had a strong first stint and was able to make the supersofts last longer than most of the others. We’d planned for two stops but converted to a three-stop strategy during the race. I don’t quite know where we lost the ground to the cars ahead so we’ll have a look at the race again now and figure it out
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
Romain Grosjean completed the top 10 behind Button, not knowing exactly what went wrong with his race. He said that something felt wrong with the car and it was a difficult race for him but:
It’s been a great weekend for the team with Kimi’s win so it’s clear there’s pace in the car. Let’s hope I can unlock that pace too next weekend in Sepang
Sutil was the talk of the pitlane, but looking at the race in the cold light of the following day it's clear that the car is not able to compete at the sharp end as of yet.  They are, though, in the situation of being the best of the rest which will give them the courage to push on and look to break into the top 5.

If McLaren continue to hurt, their job may be simpler than anyone thought possible.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Qualifying in Australia

After Q1 was delayed by 30 minutes Charlie Whiting called Qualifying off until this morning, Midnight GMT, when the cars went out on a drying track on intermediates for Q2.  The McLarens, who have been off the pace all weekend performed poorly, with Jenson pulling a couple of laps out of the bag to take 4th in Q2, with the Mercedes of Rosberg revelling in the conditions.

Eventually though, with the track producing a dry line the Red Bulls showed themselves at last. Vettel took pole, with Webber second. Hamilton 3rd, Massa 4th, Alonso 5th, Rosberg 6th, Raikkonen 7th, Grosjean 8th, di Resta 9th and Button 10th.

Button ran one lap too much and with a car that the drivers are obviously not comfortable with there was little he could do.  McLaren will be hoping for rain later on and it is expected to arrive during the race.  Will it be early enough for a car that looks like it might struggle to stay in the top 10.

Massa outqualified Alonso again, for the third race in a row and was very "positive" in the post quali interviews.

Worth noting that both Caterhams are at the back of the grid, outqualified byh both Marussia's.  Charles Pic failed to make the 107% time due to the torrential conditions of Q1 versus the drying track in Q3.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Qualifying delayed Down Under

Sneaking my Sky coverage via someone else's SkyGo (with their permission), I switched on at 5am to find the Melbourne broadcast area were suffering serious power outages which threatened to ruin the first qualifying of the season.  Once they came back on it was clear that the rain was torrential, so torrential that race control delayed Q1 firstly by 10 minutes and following the medical car's inspection of the track another 10 minutes while the TV pictures showed marshalls' randomly sweeping water from one part of the circuit to another, some of it was obviously being done in a very desultory manner given the futility of the exercise.

FP3 was generally wet apparently, but Romain Grosjean managed to put in a dry lap in the 1m26s.  I just couldn't get up at 2.30am and then again at 5am - too much and, let's face it, priorities dictate that Quali is far more important.

Melbourne, being a temporary, street circuit, doesn't drain in any way as quickly as a proper race track so it holds the water and the constant threat is that the cars would aquaplane.

With 5 rookies on the grid it was probably a good plan not to bring the cars out in the conditions experienced.

The upshot being that up until 6.20am I've been watching filler.  Up for 2 hours and as of yet, no F1!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Revise your Predictions Free Practice indicates Chaos

Well, Well, Well, lots of performance we expected and a couple of things I certainly didn't see coming.

Jules Bianchi impressed in both Free Practice Sessions. Rookie of the Day.
No media rights for the Blog with Marussia so this is courtesy of Force India
© Sahara Force India Formula One
Talking about expectations I'd like to start at the back of the grid and point out the performance of Jules Bianchi.  This must be the outstanding performance of Free Practice.  He beat his teammate and both Caterhams in FP1.  He beat Max Chilton by 0.913s and left the Caterhams over a second behind.

Perhaps more impressively he was within 0.3s of Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso in 18th and less than 0.5s off Jean-Eric Vergne's pace.  Stunning performance first time out.

In FP2 he did it again, taking 18th from the nearest Caterham of Charles Pic by 0.469s, and once again finished only 0.31s behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas in 17th and 0.728s behind Jean Eric Vergne in 16th.

Rookie of the day without a doubt.

The Red Bulls dominated Friday's Free Practice sessions
© Pirelli F1
Elsewhere, meaning at the front, it was, predictably,  the Red Bull's leading the charge with Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes forming up some distance behind them after FP2.  Whilst 0.3s is nothing at all at the back of the grid, once you get up to the front it's the difference between the 2nd and the 4th row.  If we remember last year the grid in Melbourne where the first 8 places were covered by less than a second and 3rd -7th by
less than 0.4s.

Mercedes once again impressed and, if it had not been for a problem with Lewis Hamilton's car in FP2, which saw him end up in the gravel, they may have been very much closer to the Red Bulls up front.

Lewis Hamilton (No.10 being the only way I can identify his car) ended up in the gravel but the indications are that the Mercedes is on the pace
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
In the midfield the surprise of the day was Adrian Sutil beating his team-mate in both FP sessons.  It will be vitally important for Paul di Resta to beat Sutil in Qualifying tomorrow if he is to lay down a marker for the rest of the season.

The surprise teams have been McLaren and Williams and not for the right reasons.  In FP1 Jenson Button was 9th, 1.2s off the pace, whilst in FP2 he didn't improve his time to any great extent whilst those around him did, with the result that the leading McLaren sat back in 11th some 2.4s behind Vettel in P1.  Sergio Perez remained stubbornly 2 places behind Jenson in both sessions.  The one note of caution which I might inject at this stage is that last year, in FP2, both McLarens sat some 4s off the pace before going out and dominating Qualifying.  They had sat on the top of the 2012 timesheets in FP1 and FP3 though so how much  credence we can attach to that is questionable.

No joy for McLaren in Free Practice with both drivers well off the pace
© Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 
Button summed the day up:
Our short runs weren’t particularly encouraging, to be honest. We’re a couple of seconds off the pace, by the looks of things, and that’s always going to be disappointing for a team as successful as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Whilst Martin Whitmarsh seemed very downbeat:
Well, today has been a very challenging day. Our car appears to be lacking in grip and consistency, and is suffering from significant understeer and poor ride. Try as we might, we didn't move forward in performance terms during the course of the day, either
Valtteri Bottas learns the Melbourne Track. Williams haven't shone in Free Practice
© LAT Photographic/WilliamsF1
Williams was another team which failed to follow through on the expectations of the F1 Journalists and Bloggers, with Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas both stuck behind the Force India's and the Sauber's in both practice sessions.  Only in FP2 did Maldonado break out of the 1m29s, but Bottas, never having tested the circuit before, couldn't break that time barrier.  In FP2 this put him behind the Toro Rosso's.  Mike Coughlan wasn't giving anything away at this stage, nor were the two drivers sounding very downbeat about their prospects:
We did some aero evaluations this morning comparing the two packages that we brought to Melbourne. We'll be running our FW35 launch aero package for the remainder of the weekend as it has proven better around the Albert Park circuit and in the conditions we have here. This afternoon we ran through a fuel level and tyre programme. We'll now look at the data and be ready for tomorrow
Whilst three of the back four managed to make times in the 1m30s region Giedo van der Garde in the second Caterham failed to break 1m32s.  Caterham could be facing into a very long season should this remain the case, and, whilst it is too soon to be talking of dismissing drivers, should Giedo fail to produce results within 10ths of seconds of his team-mate Caterham will not be able to afford to keep him on.  The first four, Fly-away races, will determine the fate of this Dutch F1 driver.

Free practice 1 Results

1 S Vettel (GER) Red Bull 1'27.211
2 F Massa (BRA) Ferrari 1'27.289
3 F Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 1'27.547
4 LC Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1'27.552
5 M Webber (AUS) Red Bull 1'27.668
6 KM Räikkönen (FIN) Lotus 1'27.877
7 N Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1'28.013
8 A Sutil (GER) Force India 1'28.426
9 J Button (GBR) McLaren 1'28.440
10 R Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1'28.520
11 S Perez (MEX) McLaren 1'28.597
12 N Hülkenberg (GER) Sauber 1'28.786
13 P di Resta (GBR) Force India 1'28.910
14 P Maldonado (VEN) Williams 1'29.443
15 V Bottas (FIN) Williams 1'29.928
16 E Gutiérrez (MEX) Sauber 1'30.203
17 JE Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1'30.729
18 D Ricciardo (AUS) Toro Rosso 1'30.969
19 J Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1'31.263
20 M Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1'32.176
21 C Pic (FRA) Caterham 1'32.274
22 G van der Garde (NED) Caterham 1'32.388

Free practice 2 Results

1 S Vettel (GER) Red Bull 1'25.908
2 M Webber (AUS) Red Bull 1'26.172
3 N Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1'26.322
4 KM Räikkönen (FIN) Lotus 1'26.361
5 R Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1'26.680
6 F Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 1'26.748
7 LC Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1'26.772
8 F Massa (BRA) Ferrari 1'26.855
9 A Sutil (GER) Force India 1'27.435
10 N Hülkenberg (GER) Sauber 1'28.187
11 J Button (GBR) McLaren 1'28.294
12 P di Resta (GBR) Force India 1'28.311
13 S Perez (MEX) McLaren 1'28.566
14 D Ricciardo (AUS) Toro Rosso 1'28.627
15 E Gutiérrez (MEX) Sauber 1'28.772
16 P Maldonado (VEN) Williams 1'28.852
17 JE Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1'28.968
18 V Bottas (FIN) Williams 1'29.386
19 J Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1'29.696
20 C Pic (FRA) Caterham 1'30.165
21 M Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1'30.600
22 G van der Garde (NED) Caterham 1'32.450

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Until Sunday!

Until Sunday the 11 teams are equal, until Sunday any driver can win, until Sunday everyone can dream the dream... 

Fernando Alonso predicts Melbourne is wide open; Domenicalli wants a Ferrari on the podium
© Scuderia Ferrari
In the Thursday Drivers' Press Conference fernando Alonso made exactly the correct prediction in relation to who would win this weekend's first Formula 1 race in Melbourne:
This year, there is some consistency through the grid and I expect the five top teams to have a little advantage, but of those five teams, it is very difficult to say after winter testing which of them will have the extra two or three tenths that can produce a win. It’s very close and difficult to choose one favourite. I think Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus and Red Bull all showed potential at different times during testing, indeed in different races last year, so it’s hard to choose
Any of ten drivers might win based on the information which we have seen come out of Barcelona and Jerez.

He does feel that this year Ferrari go into the first race in competitive shape and, as Stefano Domenicalli said a couple of days ago Ferrari want to finish with a driver on the podium here.

The fact is that none of the drivers have a clue about where they all stand.  What they do know is that come Sunday evening we'll all have a much better idea of just where each of the teams stand in terms of raw pace, reliability and championship dreams.

I wouldn't take any result from Melbourne as being a determining factor in how the championship will go because of the lack of any real understanding of how the tyres will operate.  Some of the teams have yet to run the supersofts, having ignored laptimes in favour of consistency in testing.

Melbourne will give some teams a welcome surprise in terms of speed and performance whilst others may find themselves in the unwanted position of having to reassess their dreams and predictions in light of the performance of the teams around them.

Some of the teams have built themselves up on foot of testing and are talking significant improvement: I'm looking at the statements from Force India's top brass and from the guys in Toro Rosso; they will find that everyone can't be in 6th position come the end of the season.

Other teams, like Mercedes and Lotus, seem very confident and excited but are talking down their chances. They know that they will find themselves either up at the front, where they feel they could be, or sitting back in 5th or 7th depending on others.  For these guys there's a palpable excitement; they feel they've done enough and they are praying that this feeling is confirmed on Sunday.  This car is the product of months of hard work and I sense that there will be a huge disappointment in these teams should they find that this work has only maintained the status quo.

Williams have said very little about the car to warrant the expectations being placed on them by the journalists and bloggers (like me), but last year the team underachieved with a race winning car, this year we seem to all expect the package to come together.  The team has also been strengthened by the promotion of Valtteri Bottas to the race seat.  There's a lot of pressure on him to perform, on Pastor Maldonado to remain fast and achieve consistency, and on the team to live up to the promise that showed but was never achieved last year.

That's why Melbourne is so special, first race of the season, hundreds of unknowns, Elation on the part of some desolation for others.  But until Sunday nobody knows just where they stand in the pecking order and everyone can dream until the reality bites...on Sunday 

"Make the most of Now" Vodafone end McLaren tie-in

McLaren always do these things in an understated way, don't they? No fuss, just down to business.

Their Press Release was entitled "Partnership announcement" and simply stated that
Vodafone and McLaren have today confirmed that their very successful seven-year title partnership will conclude at the end of the 2013 season
Then the obligatory reprise on the "highly successful" last seven years before landing the sucker punch:
While the current title partnership is in place with Vodafone, McLaren will not disclose its new title partnership, but will make an exciting announcement on 2nd December 2013, following the last Grand Prix of the season
The intimation being that they have already lined up the new title partner. Without bothering to get specific, I think we all know who that might be.

The further intimation in the Press Release is that McLaren and Vodafone parted ways because the new deal would be substantially more than the current one and Vodafone just weren't in the ballpark when it came to the numbers.

There is one potential problem, the spanner/pliers under the brake pedal (if you'll allow me to reference Johnny Herbert's 1998 Italian GP retirement experience).  If the new title partner is who we all think it might be then it's likely that the deal will be predicated upon a certain driver remaining at McLaren.  If that driver fails to deliver McLaren performances...

The McLaren Press Release takes pains to point out that Vodafone is McLaren's fourth title partner in 50 years; invoking images of longevity, trustworthiness, strong working relationships.  While I'm pretty hopeful that the particular driver referenced herein will turn out to be a "find", the fact is that, should we all be wrong the deal may go sour before the December deadline.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Melbourne's Double DRS zone misses a trick

Melbourne features two DRS zones this year, the first along the start finish straight and the second between Turns 2 & 3.  Turn 2 comes immediately after Turn 1, meaning that from the first DRS zone you take the turns and immediately find yourself in the second DRS zone.

My first thought on what is essentially a double DRS zone was that it was brilliant because it gives the driver who gets overtaken the chance to retake the position once he's lost it.

With the DRS zones arriving on the double you could lose your place but then open your DRS and look to retake it on the next straight (slight curve).

This is not to be.  Apparently there's only one DRS activation point, just before Turn 14, three turns before the start-finish straight.  This means that if you are the car behind and are within 1 second of the car ahead you will get two chances to overtake; should you manage it on the start finish straight your rival will not have DRS at his disposal come the second DRS zone, but will instead form a barrier between you and whoever is behind.

An interesting question which I have endeavoured, but failed, to answer successfully is whether a driver can open up the DRS in the second zone if he has already overtaken in the first.  Theoretically, he will have been given licence to open in both zones thanks to the fact there's only a single activation point.

It would not appear to have been addressed in any depth in the sporting regulations, other than to be controlled under the phrase "for the sole purpose of improving overtaking opportunities during the race".

So, to be pedantic, if you were within one second of the second placed driver, but four seconds behind first place you could take second place in the first DRS zone and use the DRS in the second zone to give yourself an opportunity to try to overtake first, thereby gaining an advantage over both the person you've just overtaken and the person ahead, neither of whom have recourse to the DRS. Interesting possibility.
Driver adjustable bodywork permitted by Article 3.18 of the F1 Technical Regulations:
a) During all free practice sessions and the qualifying practice session the adjustable bodywork may only be activated by the driver in the sections of track where it will be available for use during the race. In conditions of poor visibility however the race director may, at his absolute discretion, disable all such systems until conditions improve.
If the adjustable bodywork is disabled in this way at the start of any of the three periods of the qualifying practice session (Q1, Q2 or Q3) it will remain disabled for the remainder of the relevant period.
b) For the sole purpose of improving overtaking opportunities during the race the adjustable bodywork may be activated by the driver after he has completed two laps after the race start or following a safety car period.
The driver may only activate the adjustable bodywork in the race when he has been notified via the control electronics (see Article 8.2 of the F1 Technical Regulations) that it is enabled. It will only be enabled if the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit. The system will be disabled by the control electronics the first time the driver uses the brakes after he has activated the system. In conditions of poor visibility, or if yellow flags are being shown in the activation zone, the race director may, at his absolute discretion, disable all such systems until conditions improve or yellow flags are withdrawn.
The FIA may, after consulting all competitors, adjust the above time proximity in order to ensure the stated purpose of the adjustable bodywork is met.
c) In the event of a failure in the system which notifies the driver that he was within one second of the car in front, and is hence authorised to use the adjustable bodywork, the team concerned may ask the race director for permission to override the system. If permission is given in this way the onus will be upon the team concerned to ensure that their driver only uses the adjustable bodywork if he is within one second of the car in front of him.
If the failure in the system is rectified the driver may no longer use this override, the race director will notify the team if and when the fault has been remedied.

Melbourne: Mercedes Tweet First Stat Sheet of the 2013 Season

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Team predictions for F1 2013

Red Bull

© Getty Images
Car RB9

Drivers Sebastian Vettel (GER), Mark Webber (AUS)

Team Principal Christian Horner

Technical Director Adrian Newey

Last year Red Bull sealed the Drivers' Championship for Sebastian Vettel courtesy of 4 stunning away race victories in the latter half of the season. During the off-season there were numerous reports that Adrian Newey expected that push to impact negatively on the development of the RB9.  In testing the Red Bulls have sandbagged and I'm expecting them to turn up in Melbourne with a few pieces of Newey genius to add to the car. Given that this is an evolution of last year's car we can expect them to be mighty quick in Australia, though the change in the regulations limiting the use of DRS in Qualifying will make it harder for them to take Pole.

Red Bull will be looking to add a fourth title this year but one question is whether the team has done enough to hold off its rivals. A second question is whether Red Bull will let Adrian Newey continue to bring upgrades to this car throughout the season or whether they'll want him concentrating on the 2014 design. Strong results in the first four races of the season may just see the development of this season's car stall.

3rd times a charm but 4th is hard work: expect the Red Bull to emerge from the shadows in Melbourne. Primary title challengers


© Scuderia Ferrari
Car F138

Drivers Fernando Alonso (ESP), Felipe Massa (BRA)

Team Principal Stefano Domenicali

Technical Director Pat Fry

This year's pre-season testing has shown the F138 to be quick and reliable. The car has been consistently in and around the top 3 times throughout the tests.  Domenicali, Massa and Alonso are all quite positive without being too effusive in their praise.  Domenicali says he'll be happy with a podium but we know that nothing but a win is acceptable to Ferrari and their legion of tifosi.

The signs are that Ferrari have a car good enough for the podium in Melbourne and they intend to aggressively pursue improvements and upgrades. Fernando Alonso should stand on the second step in Australia at least (tyres permitting) and with strong performances in the other three away races he will be in the mix for the Drivers' Title. If Ferrari are to get the constructors' they'll need Felipe Massa to be challenging Fernando at every race.

Reds in the Bed: podium in Melbourne and improved performance during the season. Title challengers


© Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Car MP4-28

Drivers Jenson Button (GBR), Sergio Perez (MEX)

Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh

Technical Director Tim Goss

Martin Whitmarsh has claimed that the MP4-28 is a totally new car from last years. McLaren hope that this departure will allow its performance to be improved dramatically over the course of the season. Testing has been relatively good for the team but this is another team which may well be sandbagging up to the last moment. Expect a strong car with new parts on show during Free Practice Down Under. The MP4-28 will be quick, but will they be quick enough to win.  Remember Jenson Button has form in Melbourne having won 3 times in the last 4 years.  McLaren too have a tendency to run well in the first race.

McLaren should have won last season.  There is no argument but that they had the fastest car on the grid and but for reliability they would have had the Constructors' if not the Drivers'.  They think this car is a step up from last years and will provide scope for aggressive development over the season. If they've got the car to challenge, and if Button is comfortable with it McLaren are well capable of winning both championships this year.

It was ever thus: McLaren to be there or thereabouts. Title challengers


© LAT Photographic/Lotus F1
Car E21

Drivers Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Romain Grosjean (FRA)

Team Principal Eric Boullier

Technical Director James Allison

Last year the team and car may have flattered to decieve.  It was a strong season for the team, particularly towards the end and the early signs are that they have progressed as much as any of the others in the top five. Testing has shown that Lotus have kept faith with the passive Drag Reduction Systrem they developed last year but the efficacy of the system has yet to be proven, particularly where DRS use is limited in Qualifying and Free Practice. Qualifying pace wasn't brilliant last year so the limited DRS use may serve to hinder them again in this area. The long testing runs, particularly by Grosjean would suggest that the E21 will have good race pace again this year and has also remained very kind to its tyres, something which will be of enormous importance over the first four races.

Lotus must think that their Passive DRS system is worth pursuing otherwise we wouldn't be seeing the extra bumps on the air intake above the drivers' heads. Kimi Raikkonen is a World Champion so we have to assume he can fight for the title if he's given the car. Grosjean seems to have the innate speed and racecraft.  It's always a worry when he starts talking about being careful over the first 5 laps because that means he's concentrating on everyone else and not his own race.  That will compromise his getaway in Melbourne as it's obviously on his mind. The car could come good, if Red Bull, McLaren & Ferrari haven't done the job that I think they have.

Why does it always rain on me? May well lose a place to Mercedes. 5th in both the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships


© Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car W04

Drivers Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Nico Rosberg (GER)

Team Principal Ross Brawn (for now)

Technical Director Bob Bell

Mercedes have played their chances down in pre-season testing, particularly once they put in a couple of stunning laptimes.  They look satisfied with their work but are talking improvement rather than championships.  Lewis Hamilton's arrival raised the profile and the stakes for the team and a number of stories with regard to future employees has created the dream team aura that we last saw at Ferrari when Todt, Schumacher, Brawn, Byrne, etc came together and Ferrari came to dominate the sport.  Nico Rosberg will have to show well to challenge the new boy.

The feeling on the Web is that Mercedes have shown their true pace in testing and have little more to give so I would expect that in Qualifying we'll see them fighting over the bottom half of the top 10 places on the grid.  This may well see one of them pushed out of Q3 but I think that's something that's likely to happen to Lotus too, and perhaps to Perez in the first couple of races.  In race trim I see them improving and ending up just behind the Ferrari/McLaren/Red Bull group at the front.  If the car is close enough in Melbourne then whichever of the drivers is in front might pick up an extra place or two and, over the course of the season, they might well be first past the chequered flag on a couple of occasions.

Improvement but no titles: Mercedes 4th in Constructors' Hamilton/Rosberg 6th-8th (interchangeable)


© Sauber Motorsport AG
Car C32

Drivers Nico Hulkenberg (GER), Esteban Gutierrez (MEX)

Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn

Chief Designer Matt Morris

This is where my bias comes into play.  Sauber has an all-new driver line-up this year and continuity is what drives improvement.  It may well be that Sauber are already looking to next year which will mean that this year is a throwaway from Monisha Kaltenborn's perspective.  I have a lot of time for Sauber simply because they are one of the stalwarts in the sport's recent history and have a good eye when it comes to picking drivers.  Unfortunately I'm not sure of this line-up.  There is no question but Gutierrez was foisted on them to enable them to keep their Mexican budget. This is a compromise which they have made to bring Hulkenberg on board.  He's good but whether he's that good is yet to be proven.  The new car is one of the prettiest on the grid and it's sidepods were the talk of the other teams during testing according to all reports but this midfield will be the closest fight in years and I wouldn't be surprised if the lack of continuity may gain Sauber a place in the Drivers' but lose them a place or two in the Constructors' Championship.

Nico Hulkenberg needs to prove his talent and if the car proves useful he might well be able to upset the applecart on a couple of occasions.

No wins, Hulkenberg 9th in Drivers' with Sauber in 7th/8th in the Constructors' Championship

Force India

© Sahara Force India F1 Team
Car VJM06

Drivers Paul di Resta (GBR), Adrian Sutil (GER)

Team Principal Vijay Mallya

Technical Director Andrew Green

I hate the look of the car but that's primarily about the branding which is all over the place.  I can't see past that and as a result I find it hard to love the team much as I try (ex Jordan).  Testing hasn't shown the car to be anything special and the blithering over drivers can't have been good for the overall focus of the team. Paul di Resta will have to beat Adrian Sutil comprehensively this year to ensure his survival, particularly as he made a lot of noise last year about wanting to go to a "top" team.  He still needs to show he's good enough for a midfield team before they will come calling.

If Force India give them the car both Sutil and di Resta will score points but I'm really not sure about the car and I'm biased in favour of the Williams which I think will do better over the course of the season. Force India want to play with the big four but a team can't be big enough to do that if it's drivers think of it as midfield.

Midfield mindset, midfield finish: no improvement on last year but the drivers will be jockeying for position in the Drivers' Championship


© LAT Photographic/Williams F1
Car FW35

Drivers Pastor Maldonado (VEN), Valtteri Bottas (FIN)

Team Principal Frank Williams

Technical Director Mike Coughlan

Pastor Maldonado has to focus on racing to finish the races this year and I think he'll be pushed all the way by Valtteri Bottas.  I'm convinced that Williams have produced a very good car this season after suffering badly over the last two.  Last year they should have finished in 6th and this, or higher will have to be achieved this year, if this car/driver combination is to be adjudged a success. Consistent points and top 5 finishes are required if this is to be achieved. I really think they should have done it last year but... Williams is another team that is used to sandbagging at preseason so I expect them to be up there in Qualifying in Australia.

I think the team have delivered so now the question will be over the ability of the drivers to do the same on track.

A year of driving consistently. The team have to be looking at 6th or higher.  If the car can do it and the drivers can finish the races then that is achievable. Could 4th be possible? My head says no, my heart says yes.

Toro Rosso

© Getty Images
Car STR8

Drivers Daniel Ricciardo (AUS), Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA)

Team Principal Franz Tost

Technical Director James Key

I don't expect the STR8 to help Toro Rosso improve their final position in the Constructors' Championship but it does seem to represent a step from last year.  To my untrained eye there seems to be a lot of last year's Red Bull in the design of the engine cover and rear of the car. The Toro Rosso is not the Red Bull though and, with a different engine in the car and the compromises to the monocoque, nose and sidepods it will be interesting to see how the team in Faenza have managed production.  Daniel Ricciardo needs to beat Vergne as the rumour was that Adrian Newey personally chose Jean-Eric Vergne for the Toro Rosso seat.

The team are talking sixth in the Constructors' Championship but are unlikely to improve even though they will be closer to the mix for the last couple of points places in every race. I'm expecting them to pull further away from Caterham and Marussia but fall short of reeling in Force India, Sauber and Williams.

A lot done, more to do. 9th in the Constructors' and clashes between Ricciardo and Vergne as they seek to ensure they don't end up like Buemi and Alguersuari.


© LAT Photographic
Car CT03

Drivers Charles Pic (FRA), Giedo van der Garde (NDL)

Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul

Technical Director Mark Smith

Two new drivers and a new Team Principal in ex-Renault man Cyril Abiteboul and the car itself doesn't look to have improved much from last year. Pic was stolen from Marussia and may be handy enough but van der Garde looked well off the pace during pre-season testing.  The car simply doesn't seem good enough to challenge for points and lucking into them will be harder this year due to the lack of any major change in regulations.  Reliability from the teams in front should be higher this year than last.  If anything they look to have fallen into the clutches of Marussia in testing. I wonder why Mike Gascoyne seems to have taken a back seat on the Formula 1 part of the business.  The core of the Caterham appeal is that they are on the F1 grid and this position has lead to the Alpine connection with Renault and has improved sales of the Caterham cars. It makes no sense for a small team not to exploit an asset of his talent and standing in the design of the F1 car.

Disappointing to say the least. If this were football they would be facing relegation.

No improvement means no points.  Fighting not to come last in the Constructors'


Car MR02
Drivers Max Chilton (GBR), Jules Bianchi (FRA)
Team Principal John Booth
Technical Director Pat Symonds

This season is all about KERS and Jules Bianchi.  Max Chilton had more time in an F1 car than anyone else during pre-season testing but was outpaced by his last-minute, replacement team-mate within hours of Bianchi sitting in the car. The tie-in with McLaren would appear to have paid dividends but the return only seems to be good enough to see them fight on equal terms with the Caterhams.  If only they'd give me access to their media area I might be able to provide a little more insight, along with photographs.

If they can keep afloat for the coming season, 10th place is within their grasp and will seal their Formula 1 future. No points this season but more money in sight.

All things being equal, Jules Bianchi will cover himself in glory and Marussia will take 10th place

McLaren Honda 2015

Okay so I got the year wrong, and maybe I've got the team wrong. Autosport have reported that their source inside Honda has confirmed that they'll be back in Formula 1 in 2015 with McLaren.

McLaren, of course, continue to muddy the waters on this much flagged return with Martin Whitmarsh reiterating that they have a deal with Mercedes for the next three seasons (should they so desire) and saying
I can't elaborate any further
The tone of the "denial" leaves it open for McLaren to confirm the anticipated switch of engine supplier to early next year when they will begin designing the 2015 car.  I'm assuming that will be the time when it will be necessary to make the confirmation in order that they'll be able to design the car around the new engine.

Mansell leads Piquet to a 1-2 at the British GP in the FW11 Honda at Brands Hatch in 1986
Copyright LAT Photgraphic/Williams F1
 Should Honda wish to supply a second team Williams are the natural recipients.  They too have a great history with Honda, particularly during the turbo era when they ran a 1.6 Honda V6 turbo engine between 1984 and 1987, winning two Constructors' and one Drivers' Championship.

Personally, I'd like to see Williams get a works engine.  The team has achieved its best results in these circumstances and I think history has shown that, with the right equipment Williams is a force to be reckoned with.

Kylami, SA 1985, Mansell leads the chasing pack away in the FW10 Honda. Williams score a 1-2 with Mansell and Rosberg
Copyright LAT Photographic/Williams F1

Friday, March 8, 2013


Below is the relevant press release from the Williams Team which I only picked up late today while checking my email for F1 news after work.

I would just take this opportunity to offer my condolences to Sir Frank Williams and his family on their loss

8th March 2013. Grove, UK. It is with great sadness that today we report the death of Lady Virginia Williams, wife of Williams Founder and Team Principal Sir Frank Williams.

Lady Virginia, or ‘Ginny’ as she was better known, died peacefully at the family home last night surrounded by Frank and the rest of the Williams family. Ginny had been bravely battling cancer for the past two and a half years.
Ginny will always be an integral part of Williams’ history and success, and today we pay tribute to a much loved member of the Williams family who will be sorely missed. Please respect the family’s wishes for privacy at this time.