The Chopping Block 2013 Edition – Prophetic Nonsense?

Prior to the Singapore Grand Prix there may of been a post appear on the blog highlighting which drivers are possibly on the “chopping block” and facing a 2014 filled with simulators and sportscars. Well it would appear they might of all been reading:

Winners

Max Chilton

Our current leader of the chopping block recorded his first on track (rather than through retirement – although Jules had to stop again to change steering wheel) finish ahead of his team mate in Formula 1. The Marussia team struggled round the Marina Bay circuit and qualified last with Max only a tenth behind Jules to take up the back of the grid. Come Sunday he faired better beating two stopping Charles Pic and Jules Bianchi home over the 61 laps round Marina Bay. While its not enough to save his career by any means but Jules having gremlins in the race helped him out here, a deficit of only 0.1 seconds over the long qualifying lap of marina bay is a marked improvement.

Esteban Gutierrez

Esteban has looked out of his depth all season and with the Sauber coming on song at low downforce tracks of the season it looked like Esteban’s career in the top flight would be short lived. However Sauber showed their car was not a flash in the pan and Esteban pulled out a belter to reach his first ever Q3 (where the team unfortunately elected not to run). Further strategic gambles didn’t pay off and Esteban was left to rue what might of been his first points in F1. But in an interview with the BBC after qualifying he said he had sat down with the team to find out what was wrong and had made good progress but was not expecting this sort of step.

It could point to Esteban being somewhat of a confidence driver and the team listening to his issues rather than giving him the hurry up gives him that extra bit of bite. Needs some points this season but on the evidence of this weekend they may not be too far away.

Romain Grosjean

Romain was back on form in the confines of the walls after Lotus suffered with the low drag tracks of Spa and Monza, with Kimi neutralised with a bad back the beleaguered Frenchman rang the neck of his race car to qualify 3rd and after an error free start was set to follow it up with a podium finish ahead of his Finnish counterpart. However it wasn’t to be as the engine lost air pressure leading to a cry of “noooo” on the radio. A cry we all slightly felt inside.

Terrible luck but as long as he composes himself when the rub of the green doesn’t go his way it wont count against him too much.

Sergio Perez

A new entry to the Chopping Block started on Friday when the BBC claimed Fernando Alonso was being eyed up by McLaren to drive for the team next year, however after an average qualifying (never the Mexicans strong suit) a spirited and clean race showing coming in 8th behind his team mate was music to the ears of the bosses at Woking. These types of a performances in difficult years are key for drivers being retained and the blame for the lack of pace not falling at their feet.

Losers

Charles Pic

While his ever impressive team mate drove off to race with Williams and Toro Rosso in the race, Charles Pic had to settle for most of the race in a Marussia sandwich. A two stop race strategy didn’t work out and it was another completely anonymous race for the French man.

Paul Di Resta

With most of the top seats now sowen up Paul has had a terrible time of it just as it matters for contracts for next season. While his 2012 team mates Monza heroics look set to put him in the pilots seat at Lotus, Paul is really scrapping to make sure he’s retained at Force India who have a heap of good drivers to pick from next year. Yet another inexplicable Q1 exit lead to a good race start but he failed to make the corner at turn 10 and that ended his race and any chance of points.

 

Advertisements

Reunion season

Ever since The Pixies buried the hatchet in 2004 and got back together reunions have been in vogue. It appears the trend has started to infect Formula 1 in recent years with the retro Williams Renault and the return of the Lotus and Mercedes teams. Kimi Raikkonen has kicked off reunion season with his return to the Scuderia where he won his World Championship in 2007, however a bizarre story has popped up on the BBC website this morning.

This concerns the other man at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and the fact that he is McLaren’s number 1 target to drive for them next year. He would replace Sergio Perez and would increase Santanders involvement with the team, who are still to announce a title sponsor for next year. However Alonso’s one year at McLaren in 2007 wasn’t a happy one, although this has been laid at the feet of Ron Dennis who is no longer actively involved with the team. In 2007 Fernando was partnered with rookie Briton Lewis Hamilton and the pair duelled all season but Alonso’s supposedly number 1 status was not upheld and the pair lost the title to Kimi.

While Lewis would go on to win the title in 2008 and current driver Jenson Button in 2009 (with Brawn GP, moving to McLaren the following year) Fernando left in a sulk and returned to Renault. The return wasn’t too great and only resulted in two wins, one of which was “that” win in Singapore. The following year was poor and Fernando looked for pastures new as Renault began their exit from team ownership and romance with Ferrari would begin the following year. However with near misses for the title in 2010 and 2012 the love-in is most definitely over and his butler of a team mate has been dispensed with but the McLaren story has emerged over the weekend to possibly spoil the Ferrari dream team next year.

Lets just hope its not like that Sex Pistols reunion in 1996; a band that had initial success and imploded nearly as quickly as they started, only to have a bizarre half hearted footnote many years on.

The Chopping Block – 2013 Edition

Its that time of year again, the F1 fraternity have packed their bags and set off from the European heartland to the long haul flyaway races to close out the 2013 season. This part of the season normally produces the best stories off the track as Silly Season is in full swing and has already produced 2 results: Kimi Raikkonen’s shock return to Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo stepping up the Red Bull team proper.

However with a seat definitely open at Lotus and very little of the grid confirmed for next year we take a look at who is on the “chopping block” needing good results and a good manager to secure them with a 2014 drive as we head into the run-in to Brazil.

1. Max Chilton – Marussia – 0 Points – 22nd

Its the driver that we didn’t really have much hope in, Max Chilton the seasoned GP2 campaigner dug deep in his fathers Aon cash and got a drive with back markers Marussia. Originally he was going to partner Timo Glock and a season of embaressment looked set to follow however luckily for Max the team needed more cash to fund their 2013 campaign and plucked for GP2 runner-up Luiz Razia. Now we predicted that Razia would have the measure of Chilton but it would be a tight affair as Max had a longer pre-season with the team giving him the advantage however it wasn’t to be.

Luiz Razia failed to get the money in the bank account of Marussia so the team had to change their plans again and select Ferrari protege Jules Bianchi which would lead the team to getting a Ferrari engine deal in 2014 – very smart. Bianchi hopped in the car with little running and has dutifly smashed Max, with the Briton only finishing higher than his team mate whenever the Frenchman fails to finish (which has only happened twice so far this year).

Adding to the likelihood of Max not staying is the fact that Virgin/Marussia have not kept their rookie pay driver for a second season instead finding a new driver with deep pockets to fill the support slot and fund the team on their adventures.

Verdict: Very likely to be off to touring cars or LeMans next year but could be saved by deep pockets or Jules moving up the grid

2. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber – 0 Points – 18th

Esteban Gutierrez finished 3rd above Max Chilton in GP2 last year however the season was fought out between two drivers who failed to land F1 drives, Luiz Razia and Davide Valsecci who were streets ahead of the competition (there being nearly 50 points difference for 2nd to 3rd place). However Esteban was only in his second campaign and had come off the back of winning the GP3 series and looked like a decent enough choice of second driver for the Swiss team as it would also allow them to continue their association with Telmex after Sergio Perez headed off to McLaren after a fine 2012.

However Esteban has looked like a fish lacking a serious amount of water and seems to have suffered from the amount of testing afforded to young drivers these days. Yet after a rather shakey start things have improved to the point that we now don’t see him on TV. But while Nico Hulkenberg has dragged the Sauber to score 17 points the Mexican rookie has only managed to come within 3 tenths of scoring his first.

Unfortunately Esteban has struggled to make the grade but on paper he should still pay off if he is afforded more time but the deeper pockets of the Russians could see him make way for future hilarious pay driver Sergey Sirotkin to drive around and the back of the field.

Verdict: Likely not to be given the time behind the wheel to allow him to mature as Russian money will move him aside, however if Hulkenberg moves up the field he could still stay on for the rule changes next year

3. Charles Pic – Caterham – 0 points – 20th

Charles Pic moved sideways in 2013 to Caterham to avoid the curse of the Marussia rookie and became the first driver to not end their F1 career with the other car in red. A decent 2012 allowed him to take his large bank balance to the garage next door for another year of Q1 exits. With a season of racing under his belt he should of been the pick of the rear field teams as the other 3 drivers arrived in Australia yet to turn a wheel in anger however its not quite gone to plan.

After initially starting well he was beaten by the Marussia of Jules Bianchi but after the teams update arrived his rookie team mate Giedo Van De Garde had got up to speed and has been impressing if not beating the frenchman on the road. His title of most promising French driver on the grid has certainly passed across to Bianchi and now faces stiff competition from the Dutch side of the garage.

Verdict: Unknown, Caterham have generally backed drivers for more than one season but it depends if there is a better option on the table from another more promising candidate.

4. Romain Grosjean – Lotus – 57 Points – 8th

At the end of this year Romain Grosjean will have raced for 2 and a half seasons in F1, now while going up against a world champion team mate is never easy throwing the car at the walls constantly hasn’t helped much either. Grosjean has suffered with his Jekyll and Hyde personalities either being fast and far far far too aggressive or slow and ordinary. Despite two podiums the Frenchman has only amassed 57 points to his team mates 134 and its this sort of performance that has seen Felippe Massa being put out to pasture (finally).

With Lotus in a sticky situation with finances and senior members leaving like rats off the Titantic (Lead driver, Technical Director and Chief Aerodynamisist have all left through the door marked Scuderia) Grosjeans future is a tough one to predict. On the one hand he is backed by French sponsor Total (however there are other French talents possibly worth a go) and the team could pick some continuity going into the 2014 season. On the other he must be costing the team money in the constructors (and repair bills) and the team look set to hand Nico Hulkenberg a drive next year.

Verdict: I think he’ll be spared by virtue of the rule changes and the exit of Kimi, but a few decent results in the final races could be key

There could also be changes at Toro Rosso although they have one spare seat which is looking like being filled by Antonio Felix da Costa and no-one is quite sure what the state of play is with Force India who usually wait until after the season to announce their line up. James Calado is doing some Friday testing for the team but has stated the deal is for this year only and its possibly too early for the Briton to make the step up.

 

The Unlikely Lads Part 2 – Kazuki Nakajima

Following on from my un-ground breaking first post on the un-likely lads we thought we’d keep it current-ish again, while there are a lot of tragic attempts at F1 teams in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (Im looking at you Mastercard Lola) the last 20 or so years has seen professional teams backed with millions of either oil, tobacco or motor car manufacture cash. Today we take a look at one of their worst excesses: Kazuki Nakajima.

Kazuki Nakajima – Japan – 36 Races – 9 Points – 2007 – 2009
Kazuki Nakajima 2009 Motorsport Japan 1.jpg

Kazuki hailing from Okazaki in Japan raced in various forms of motor sport around his native country before beating the long trodden path to Europe to join the Formula Three Euroseries for Manor Motorsport (who now run Marussia). His 2006 maiden campaign of 20 races yielded one win and 36 points on the way to 7th in the overall standings, now in today’s post credit crunch era that would warrant generally another season at that level to hopefully push forward in 2007. However blissfully unaware of the impending fiscal doom approaching the world Toyota picked up Kazuki and got him a drive in GP2 alongside the test driver role at Williams where they using their engines.

His 2007 produced a so-so effort with 6 podiums (including a second place in Hungary in a retirement filled main race) on his way 5th for the championship, behind Timo Glock, Lucas Di Grassi, Giorgio Pantano and Luca Filippi. But his mid-season purple patch that produce 5 rostrums on the trot impressed his pay masters in Japan enough to push for him to get a drive with Williams the following year and the retiring Alex Wurz was removed for the last race of the season to make way for the Japanese youngster.

The Big Time

His big opportunity came at Bahrain in 2007 and he produced a solid enough race to finish 10th despite running over his pit crew. 2008 followed and partnered with Nico Rosberg (the driver that Williams chose) he delivered 9 points to his team mates 17 although he couldn’t match the heights that the German would produce with a second and third place trophy for his cabinet. Now if the story ended here there would be cries that I was being too harsh on the man and that it was a decent début season including shining results at street circuits (points in Monaco and an appearance in Q3 at Singapore). This is all true enough but despite his surprisingly decent start to his F1 career would turn out to be quite like his GP2 purple patch, a brief showing of decentness before 2009 and the new rules beckoned.

2009 The New Era

In 2009 the F1 landscape changed as the aerodynamic rules were completely changed, massively cutting down on extra wings on the cars and reducing the aerodynamic wake they produced. For this new era Toyota stuck with their driver line-up and dumped Kazuki again on their customer team. Williams unfortunately weren’t one of the teams that arrived in Australia with that years must have device, the double diffuser, which would power Brawn GP to their only title in their only season. However in a season that included Luca Badoer the real horror show was the man from Japan with Toyota Yen, Kazuki Nakajima.

Paired again with Nico Rosberg the Williams was a solid package and the German drove it 7th in the standings and picking up 34.5 points (half points being awarded in that washout in Malaysia), in response to this Nakajima scored………. 0, nil, nothing. Now this was before the new points bonanza system and the two 9th place finished and a 10th would of given him 5 points but that still doesn’t defend his total.

The realisation quickly dawned on Toyota that spending all this money was getting them nowhere, their budget was rumoured to be at 400 million Euro a season! But they had stumbled across a better driver by accident, Kamui Kobayashi who raced as a stand in for Timo Glock in the last two rounds outscoring Kazuki with 3 points for the season. Kazuki finished last of the drivers who completed an entire season and was the only one to be pointless.

Onwards

After the fiscal collapse in 2008 Toyota pulled the plugs on their F1 team completely despite having a car designed for 2010, which was tested by Kazuki and was used for a period of time by Pirelli. Unsurprisingly there were no takers for Kamui’s services in F1 and thus he had to pick a new career post F1.

As with our first unlikely lad his post F1 career choice didnt pick one of the five paths that are deemed acceptable substitutes for F1 drives. Kazuki returned to his native homeland and raced in…… Formula Nippon which he won in 2012 at the second time of trying. Formula Nippon being the equivalent of British Formula 3. He wasn’t yet done with Toyota’s bottomless pit of cash and despite lacking any discernible career highlights he was picked to drive at the 24 hours of Le Mans for the manufacturer. However it ended in a DNF and Kazuki has been conspicuously absent from their serious 2013 LeMans efforts despite them needing 6 drivers to complete their 2 car line up.

Deals for the Komeback Kimi

Felipe Massa last night announced that the longest “when will he go” story of F1 is over with the confirmation that he will not drive for Ferrari in 2014. Massa, the nearly world champion in 2008 suffered a horrific crash in 2009 when a spring collided with his helmet in Hungary. While his return in 2010 was promising and could of delivered a win in Germany before he was told to pull aside for Alonso (however I believe that Alonso would of overtaken him in the end anyway) the following years of the Pirelli era have been tough on the Brazilian. His qualifying speed is still evident and regularly has out-paced Fernando on a Saturday (the exception being the start of 2012 when Ferrari produced an absolute dog of a car so we’ll let that one go) however come Sundays his performance has been missing.

This opens up the driver market significantly as ex-Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen (2007 World Champion for the Scuderia) will return on a one year deal with an option for 2015. This leaves Massa looking for a seat next year and a vacant spot at Lotus, a top 5 team. With McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull all looking set for the next two seasons (assuming Ricciardo doesn’t bomb) this leaves the drive at Enstone as the only “Top Team” drive in the future. It also likely secures Romian Grosjean’s seat for 2014 as Eric Boullier confirmed he would look for some continuity next year with the massive rule changes. Nico Hulkenberg is the hot favourite to take the lead driver role at Enstone however there are options from inside the team, Davide Valsecci (2012 GP2 Champion) and Jerome D’Ambrosio. Funding is an issue at Lotus and the team have lost their star driver over the issue with rumblings all season that the Finn had not been paid on time, thus Pastor Maldonado could use his vast backing to secure a move up the grid.


Lets hope he brings enough cash for the repair bills!

This is likely to open a mid-field frenzy with teams looking to cover the bills of the increased engine costs but can also look to 2014 to bring in new talent alongside a reliable benchmark driver. This is because although the experience is useful in developing the car next year as it will be a “clean sheet” design, it will level the playing field slightly as drivers have to adjust to new aerodynamics and drive trains.

The 2014 Line-up so far:

Red Bull: Sebastian Vettel – Daniel Ricciardo
Ferrari: Fernando Alonso – Kimi Raikkonen (TBC this week)
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton – Nico Rosberg
Lotus: [Free] – Romain Grosjean likely to stay
McLaren –  Jenson Button (TBC) – Sergio Perez
Force India – unconfirmed driver line up
Toro Rosso – [Free] – Jean-Eric Vergne
Sauber – Sergy Sirotkin – unconfirmed second seat
Williams – unconfirmed driver line up
Caterham – Charles Pic – unconfirmed second seat
MarussiaUnconfirmed driver lineup

The Unlikley Lads Part-1

With the racing season back on after the summer breaks we have finally woken up with a thrilling Silverstone Moto GP race at the weekend with Jorge Lorenzo holding off the ever impressive Marc Marquez. After F1 returned with a rather dull race at Spa (for about the first time ever right?) we have to be left wondering if the current crop of rules create good racing at awful tracks. Moto GP also returned on the same weekend and offered a rather samey affair (Qualifying aside) at Brno in the Czech Republic.

With the least surprising news of the summer announced overnight that Daniel Ricciardo is going to move up to the full Red Bull team next year replacing countryman Mark Webber we are starting a new feature on the blog taking a look at the less likely F1 drivers over time.

This week we start with the most recent member of the Unlikely Lads – Narain Karthikeyan

Narain Karthikeyan – India – 48 Races (46 Starts) – 5 points – 2005, 2011 – 2012

In 2005 Jordan Grand Prix was sold to the Midland Group, although the team retained the name – something that doesn’t happen these days and subsequently teams towards the back constantly loose brand power – with an engine deal in place with Toyota the new team owners set about finding drivers for their first season in charge. How they came to conclude that their main driver should be Indian rookie Narain will be puzzling scientists until the end the of time. The Indian charger had come off the back of 3 seasons in world series, the last season saw Narain take two wins but languish in 6th place overall, while Heikki Kovalainen romped home in front of Narain’s team mate for 2005, Tiago Monterio. Thus the decision to announce him as lead driver surely had something to do with that Tata cash that came along with him, although sense possibly prevailed and Tiago got handed the lead car number for the season.

An average junior career but he was at the back of the pack that moved up the ladder to F1/Le Mans thus he was arguably worth a shot. He was beaten in a poor car by his team mate as the pair brought home Jordan to 9th (out of 10) in the constructors championship. This was achieved largely by the farcical 2005 US Grand Prix where issues with the tyres lead to only 6 cars taking to the grid allowing Narain to take his only World Championship points with a 4th. His rookie team mate managed a podium and also managed to squeak a point in the Belgium Grand Prix, but the overall battle was relatively even although Tiago started to look a better driver towards the back end of the season.

The following year the team re-branded as Midland / Spyker F1 and dropped Karthikeyan while retaining his team mate. He signed a testing deal with Williams for 2006/7 but Tata withdrew support leaving him very little track time, thus he spent 3 uninspiring years trundling round the back in A1 Grand Prix for Team India. Now normally this is where the story would end, notched up in the history books as the best candidate thus far from India to have been placed in a F1 car and a spirited if average showing. Narain’s career then tread a familiar path with outings in Superleague Formula alongside a failed Nascar Trucks season. However in 2009 a decent showing at LeMans, finishing 7th for Colin Kolles would lead to one of the most surprising comebacks in F1 history.

The Flying Indian Returns

Forget Mansell or Schumacher the most surprising return of any driver in the past 20 odd years happened in 2011 when HRT replaced Karun Chandok (also from India) with Narain. 5 years after his rookie season Karthikeyan was back on the grid in a move that no-one saw coming. In fact veteran commentator Martin Brundel was left speechless in pre-season shows about the choice, but he brought the cash strapped team some much needed funds from old partners in crime Tata and would allow the team to run Vitantonio Luizzi in the other car, who promptly thrashed him which was a surprise to no-one. But then again the team had no pre-seaon running at all (a constant theme over the 3 years at HRT) and Luizzi had come from Force India and was battle fresh. However by round 9 patience (or cash) had run out and the team accepted a loan deal to place Daniel Ricciardo in the car for the rest of the season. The single reprieve was the inaugural Indian Grand Prix where Luizzi’s car was handed to Narain to drive around at the back.

Now once again this half season showing would of been filed in the history books as an oddity but……

In 2011 HRT took the madness one step further and announced Narain Karthikeyan would return to drive for them alongside vetran test driver Pedro De La Rosa (who had spent the previous 2 years racing off and on for Sauber). This gave the team a combined driver age of 76! Despite the new technical infrastructure and chest beating the team failed to qualify within the 107% rule and were excluded from the first race of the year. Another year fighting for a coveted 13th place ensued, Narain managed to keep it out of the barriers at Monaco and finish 15th and last of the runners to finish ahead of De La Rosa in the standings. However the general mood in the paddock was that the 41 year old Spaniard had the measure of the Indian all year.

HRT folded over the winter leaving Narain without a driver but thanks to modern reliability the record holder of the lowest place F1 finish, twice, a 23rd and a 24th place.

Return to the lower ladders

Bizarrely (or possibly not in the case of one of the strangest careers ever in F1) without a driver for 2013 Narain could of followed the standard path for a F1 exile:

  1. Become a Test/Simulator driver for a F1 team
  2. Go to race in the LeMans series
  3. Go to race in GT cars
  4. Go to race in the DTM
  5. Go to race in Indy Cars in America

These 5 options have been the standard respected career moves post F1, however these weren’t for Narain. No sir. With no single seater rival series such as A1 or Superleague he chose…..Auto GP.

Auto GP – formerly Euroseries 3000. 7 of the drivers are under 21 and eligible for the young drivers trophy. Regarded as a step below both GP2 and World Series its an incredible fall from the glitz and glamour of F1.

But then its a truly fitting footnote to one very strange motor racing career. See you in 2015 Narain?


You never know!