New Vintage from Valencia as the Spell is Broken

Following in the traditions of late, heres a late blog post!

It has taken Fernando Alonso to race 8 for a driver to claim a second win of the season – and much like the first it happened in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Sebastian Vettel had apparently resumed normal service as he secured pole position and sailed off into the distance – some 20 seconds in the lead! – however the altenator in his engine failed. Romain Grosjean then inherited the lead and looked set to claim his first victory, and the first of the season for the promising Lotus Enstone team. However the same fate befell the Frenchmans Renault unit and it too packed up, but it was Fernando who was there to pick up the pieces and as Lewis Hamiltons tyres fell away at the end of the race he was speared by Pastor Maldonado who looked destined for the podium but frittered away valuable points for the two.

It left the podium completely made up of Ferrari favourties as Fernando took the top step – former Ferrari world champion – Kimi Raikkonen picked up another 2nd place in his highly sucessful return to the top flight of racing. The final step was taken by – former multiple Ferrari world champion – Michael Schumacher for a well deserved first podium on his return to F1. Mark Webber picked up 4th to leave him 2nd in the standings, 20 points behind Fernando Alonso with Hamilton and Vettel in tow.

 

In other news Bernie completed a mastermind scheme of media manipulation to plaster the fanciful London GP idea over the newspapers while the German bribery trail came to its conclusion. Worringly for Eccelstone the German banker has admitted to taking bribes and sentenced to 8 1/2 years – the ramifcations could be huge for the F1 supremo as his Bambino trust is also involved which he apparently has no control over.

7 from 7, Oh Canada!

Applogies for the delay on this post again, but im sure you all enjoyed the Canadian race last weekend and saw Lewis Hamilton come alive to take a sensational win. The Circuit du Gilles Villeneuve rarely dissapoints and the 2012 edition of the race was thrilling without rain or saftey car mostly due to Pirelli getting it spot on and providing tires that gave a safe 2 stop strategy or a risky 1 stop route to the finish. Hamilton was on pace all weekend and took the safe route to the flag racking up his first win of the year and the lead of the championship. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel’s tyre gambles didnt pay off and this left the podium spots to Lotus’s Romain Grosjean and Sauber’s Sergio Perez.

Its creating a vicious constructors championship which this year could be even more important as the recession in Europe bites hard and the teams are finding it harder than ever to get stickers on their cars. F1 in 2012 is essentially seeing a 3 tier championship with the 3 “new” teams still firmly routed to the bottom with no chance of scoring points this year. Next up is the battle of battles from last year, the independant (or garagista) teams of Williams, Force India, Sauber along with Toro Rosso (while not being independant per-say but have similar funding) which this year seems to be a mix of tortoise and hare with Force India getting constant results but Sauber and Williams grabbing the headlines. Wins and podiums have been claimed by this group that had no chance of much above 6th or 7th place last year and it could be very telling to see what state they are in at the end of the year as these are the teams that will be feeling the pinch.

The final group is the “Manufacturers” group, although there are only 3 car marques (one of which is dubious) left at the top of F1 Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus battle alongside McLaren and Red Bull for the title honours. These teams are more concerned (with the possible exception of Lotus) with drivers titles, wins and podiums than their final constructors places as these are the monied few in F1. There is confusion amongst F1 elite with how exactly to get a handle on this seasons tyres and thus the championship, however the best in F1 reside here both drivers and engineers so I would expect these teams to pull away as the season continues. Question is will anyone fall by the wayside or join the group for the final run into Brazil?

Williams Charge Forth to Make it 5 from 5

At the weekend the usual snorefest of the Spanish Grand Prix was turned into a nail biter as Pastor Maldonado held off the home town hero’s Ferrari to take the Grove’s team first win since 2004. Its been well reported that the team have been in decline over the past decade, punctuated with finishing 9th in the standings last year. The race proved that Williams have core pace as they qualified on pole after Lewis Hamilton’s time was deleted after failing to make it back to the pits under his own steam (under fueling the car has been expressly banned since McLaren did it at the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix).

However it proved that the Pirelli rubber can provide a good race without it being a pure overtaking fest, as Alonso spent most of the race within sniffing distance while Maldonado skillfully kept him at bay. However certain drivers are still finding the performance too erratic, like Jenson Button who dialled it in on Friday but it had all but evaporated come the weekend.Pastors stock has definatley risen after a drive that would of befitted the home favourite who came how a respectable 2nd.

Ferrari did look in much better form and in the hands of Alonso have eeked out points every race this season leaving him on the same points as the leader Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton is still well in the hunt despite not managing to better the lowest step of the podium in the first 3 races. Consistancy is certainly the key which leads us onto:

The two Brazilians under pressure. Bruno Senna’s poor weekend wasn’t helped by his team mate charging forth for the victory and will hope for a better result soon to bounce back. The newphew of the late great Ayrton is having an odd season where he’s gone well in the races but struggled in qualifying which is opposite to his problems before 2012. Although it is worth noting that he was comforatbly outscoring Pastor before Spain so i’d expect this to fade away with consistant performances from the Brazilian over the rest of the season. Felippe Massa however is running out of time to save his Ferrari drive as his points total currently stands at 2 for the season while his team mate is joint leader on 61. Massa looks more so than ever a shadow of the driver that took the 2008 title to the wire and in a season where taking every little chance that presents itself, the Scuderia surely cannot afford to continue when there are younger drivers who are embaressing his total.

Finally the weekend ended on a slightly sour note as there was a serious fire in the Williams garage which left several members of the pit crews needing medical attention. One Mechanic has only arrived back to the UK today after he suffered serious burns in the incident. Investigations are ongoing but its believed to be an issue with removing fuel from the cars, we wish everyone involved a speedy recovery.

Teams gear up for Europe while HRT collect stickers

This weekend sees the start of the traditional main European season which will see the teams visit the classic tracks of Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza. There are only 8 European races (split by the trip to Canada and the modern Summer break) this year a vast change from 10 years ago when 11 of the 17 races were in Europe. The first race will be at the Circuit de Catalyuna which is a highly technical circuit that many think will sort out the correct order of the grid and usually features a Noah’s ark qualifying (All the teams in order). However last year it was a great race thanks to Pirelli whereas in previous years its been quite processional as its so aerodynamically dependant – hence why the teams use it for Pre-season testing.

HRT missed the mid-season test in Mugello to move to their new base in Madrid which I was a little sceptical of, however the new factilty does look good and was visted by Jean Todt. Furthermore the team have announced two new sponsorships with olive oil producer Carbonell and windscreen replacement company Cristalbox. This is good news for the team as cars have been looking increasingly unbranded down towards the back of the grid. The spanish team will bring an update for their home Grand Prix this weekend along with running GP2 driver Dani Clos in FP1.

McLaren are also going to be running their new higher nose (dont worry theres still no step) at the 5th race of the season at Barcelona. We expect to see all teams with a large amount of new parts for this race.

Return of the 3rd driver

For the first time since the 2008 season will a large majority of 3rd/test/reserve drivers get some mileage in real machinery this year. Since Jenson Buttons winning year F1 has introduced an in-season testing ban with pre-season testing limited to only the scheduled tests for all teams. However this year the teams elected to move one of the pre-season tests to Mugello next week after the first 4 fly-away rounds and before the meat of the season in Europe (+ Canada) gets underway. We assume that Ferrari has really pushed for more in-season testing and I’d expect to see some more test sessions brought in (personally i’d like to see all at non-F1 venues) in the coming years.

In the years since the testing ban Force India have ran 3rd drivers on Friday (Paul Di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Jules Bianchi) in preparation for them graduating to F1. This is a sensible option for the team although it means some drivers miss out on valuable track time. Williams (Valterri Bottas), Caterham (Chandok),  Marussia (Pic), HRT and Toro Rosso (both current drivers) have all followed suit in the following years with running drivers at a few selected events

However as this upcoming test is only 3 days many teams have opted to run a 3rd driver for at least one of those days:

  • McLaren will run Gary Paffett & Oliver Turvey over all 3 days although Lewis Hamilton has commented he may want some track time
  • Jerome D’Ambrosio will get a day behind the wheel of the Lotus
  • Rodolfo Gonzalez will get one day with the Caterham team

We’d also assume we might see some of the Friday drivers get a hop into the car for a day and as soon as the lineup is finalised I’ll hopefully get some comment up on the blog.

The only other testing that has been on the calendar has been the young drivers test which is a test for drivers that have 2 grand prix or less experience which has lead to some permenant 3rd drivers taking this role. The only option for those who have been ousted from a seat is trying to land the Pirelli tyre testing roles which is what Toro Rosso refugee Jaime Alguersuari has done. I’d like to see a few tests mid-season for the teams with only non-race drivers allowed to participate in them (or limit a race drivers total number of testing days) to allow the teams to evaluate other drivers.

4 from 4 after the Desert Storm

Sorry for the lack of updates recently I’ve been busy with other things, but I have been watching the F1 and what a treat it has been. The “first leg” of the championship has proved fascinating with every race being unpredictable. Sebastian Vettel finally got his pole and victory tally underway in Bahrain but was challenged all the way home from Kimi Raikkonen who had started 11th on the grid! Other surprises have been Nico Rosbergs sublime first victory and overshadowing his more illustious team mate (despite his drive to points after technical issues held him back in Q1 last time out). Along with Sergio Perez’s near miss at Malaysia as Ferrari numbed the pain with a victory for Fernando Alonso.

We’ve also seen maiden podiums from Romain Grosjean along with Sergio Perez with every driver in the established teams picking up points. Unlike last year where the two Lotus Renault (Enstone team) drivers snuck a podium in the first race it was the famous 5 all year long that stood on the steps after the race, this year we’ve had both McLaren and Lotus drivers on the podium along with Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Sauber drivers.

The racing has been griping and exciting with the field being extremly close, just as you think one team has slipped away a little they come back with a bang. The only real dissapointment has been Caterham being still around a second off good midfield pace, everyone else has delievered in spades. Even HRT and Marussia have moved on and both are comfortably inside 107% every weekend (with the exception of Australia where HRT were simply not ready to go racing).

Before we get into the meat of the season in Europe (which is split by the summer break) there is a test in mugello where pretty much all the teams will bring large update packages so we expect the field to shift about and with the teams so close any one of them could realistically jump into the lead. Interestingly McLaren have opted not to run either of there race drivers and will use development drivers Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey, with little real world testing now taking place its a real boost for both of those two to get some seat time. We have a sneaking suspicion that in-season testing will return due to Ferrari really pushing the issue, it would still be limited by some factor be it days or kilometers.

For the next two weekends we will be entertained by 2 wheels as Moto GP has its first back to back race weekends on the calendar after a 3 weeks break from the opening round in Qatar.

Alonso Saves, Sergio Arrives and Parr Exits

Well then kids what an exciting weekend of motorsport! Alonso’s win for Ferrari is a god send for the Scuderia (in fact I think second would still of been sweet relief) who have been under a lot of pressue after showing up in Australia and being over a second off the pace in qualifying. Although the fact that Sergio Perez announced himself with an even more shocking second place should tell you everything that the rain in Malaysia really shook up the form book. The real key was the tires this weekend and getting them to work in the rain, it would appear that McLaren struggle in very cold and damp conditions to turn the tire on along with Red Bull whereas Ferrari and Sauber have less on an issue.

Bruno Senna also had a great race after the break with a drive through the field in the wet befitting of his surname. He drove from last on the grid at the restart (after 7 laps the race was stopped due to the extreme amount of rain that fell) and cut through the field to finish in 6th place and collect a hatful of points for Williams. Paul Di Resta also used his wise head on young shoulders to pick up a 7th place in the chaos which will be relieft indeed as the Force India is currently lacking a little bit of pace. Elsewhere it was a good race for HRT who qualified on merit, quite comfortably in the case of Pedro De La Rosa and this was after Mark Webber went out for a second run (in fact Pedro De La Rosa was within 107% of the pole time) and in the race Karthikeyan was running 8th at one point before getting tangled with Button and Vettel (neither of them his fault in my opinion).

It wasn’t a great weekend for Mercedes who managed to get a car starting 3rd on the grid and then only brought a solitary point, which at the very least gets them off the mark. There was more heartbreak for Pastor Maldonado as a last lap engine failure robbed him of points.

But the big news was how close the teams are, Nico Rosberg had a scrappy lap and was 4 tenths off pole. Last year that would of most certainly of meant that he would of been 2nd or 3rd. However he qualified 8th (started 7th after Kimi’s penalty) and there was one second between 1st and 12th in Q2.

Not content with the crazy weekends race Williams dropped a bombshell yesterday announcing that heir apparent to the team, Adam Parr has resigned and will leave the team this Friday. Parr has been controversial and was known to have a rocky relationship with Patrick Head, but was the man being lined up to take over from Frank Williams who is in his 70s. He definatly leaves the team in good shape with strong finances and a car this year capable of scoring some decent points all year long.