Monday, 28 June 2010

The View from the Cockpit

"Is that the REST of the field !?!?!?!"

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Valencia .. pretty much dull

Well what can i say ... Well done Germany, It doesn't get much more convincing than that i suppose.

Vettel confounded the pundits and put Redbull back on top at a circuit that shouldn't have suited their car. Valencia is all long straights and silly little corners. Not long fast sweeping corners that suit the Redbulls balanced performance. Both of them were faster than anyone else and Qualifying was done before most of the big boys had had a chance to play, so dominate was Vettel. The much fancied McLarens weren't to far behind, but needed the Redbulls to fail if they wanted a win.

Mickey Schumacher looked lost all weekend and only just scrapped into Q2. All the money Brawn and Mercedes are throwing at their driver and he's beaten yet again By Rosberg, and now the Williams pop up from nowhere and make him eat their dust.

Meanwhile, Webber once again proved than when it all goes wrong for him, he can really really screw it up royally. He started on the dirty side of the grid in second place, but had made it back to 9th by the end of the first lap. So Redbull tried pitting early for the new tires to try and jump the faster boys. But a sticky front left put him back behind a slow Kovalinium in the Lotus. A car that the much faster Redbull should pass with ease. Except that Webber arsed around for a lap or two and then, in a moment of utter stupidity, followed the hapless Finn into the breaking zone and was then astonished when the Lotus driver hit the brakes. He shot over the top of the lotus, did a slow backwards rotation and landed on his wheels before hitting the barrier very hard. Kovalimum had no idea what hit him. Webber got out of the car and was driven off to the medical centre to see if he has any brain at all to damage. He is fast become the new Trulli for me!

So a pretty comfortable win for Vettel really, he didn't look like being touched all weekend cruzing to an easy flag to flag win. He's got his championship back on track now, moving up to 3rd behind the McLaren Duo.

Hamilton gets second after a mix up about over taking the safety car before or after it left the pit exit. He gained a drive through as Alonso threw a hissy fit when he got caught by the safety car and Lewis didn't. He tried to catch Vettel with a series of stunningly fast laps, but Vettel had the measure of the plucky English lad who was forced to settle for second. Given the drive through i suppose that's as good as he could have hopped for. He still leads the championship and that's what counts.

Button tops out the podium, two English flags behind the one German. Button did alright, he was held up by the Sauber of Kobayashi for a long time, but made the jump to third when the Japanese driver stopped for tires four laps from home.

Barrichello pops up in 4th, I've no idea how, they're been rubbish all season and yet here, but for an exploding tire they'd have got 2 cars in the top ten. Will wonders never cease. Barrichello didn't do anything silly and the car held together. Well done him.

Kubica had the chance to be on the podium this weekend, but a duff final qualifying and he makes it to 5th only.

Sutil, didn't get hit by anyone and makes it to 6th

A fantastic result for Kobayshi, who stayed out when the safety car came out, leaving him a top 3 spot for a long time before he had to come in to change tires. He wouldn't have been there without the safety car, but he gambled on the hard tires lasting for almost the whole race and made it work for him. Then came out and over took Alonso who was still having a hissy fit about Hamilton being second and he wasn't, Crazy Koby breezed passed the whinging Spaniard and then took Buemi on the last corner of the race to claim 7th spot. Well done to him.

8th for Alonso who spent most of the race complaining about Hamilton and how it was so unfair he was ahead of the Ferrari driver. To be honest if he's just shut up and concentrated on driving, he might have got a better result. But why drive when you can whinge about your nemesis huh. Perhaps things aren't as rosy as they used to be with Ferrari. I wonder how long before Alonso starts to get linked to a move back to Renault hmmmm.

9th for Buemi who gets bumped with a 5 second penalty for driving too fast when the safety car was out .. or something. He had kept Alonso back for a long time, so respect to him for that.

10th and bumped up as De Le Rosa gets bumped down for the speeding thing is Rosberg. Who yet again beat Mickey, hurrah. But it's luck more than anything as that car is still a dog even after all development parts were bolted on.

Lotus dropped the ball, Kovy was taken out and Trulli complained about the car being too green or something. So Di Grassi in the Virgin win the Tail End Charlie Challenge. a lap ahead of Chandhoks HRT.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Valencia, it's got a nice beach

It’s all back to Spain this weekend for the European (let’s makes some money out of the Spanish company, Santander) Grand Prix.

Well Valencia likes to think of itself as the Monaco of Spain. But it’s not, it’s in a dockyard and has no charm what so ever. It also has no soul or sense of occasion to it. It is just a dockyard, the walls aren’t even that close to the track, so there’s no smearing expensive carbon fibre bits along the wall. And if you have no walls you have lots of run off areas, which means the paying punters are pushed right back and the place looks like a ghost town. Dull dull dull dull dull dull blah blah blah..

Last year a bit of nifty pit work from the Brawn boys saw Barrichello beat Hamilton to the line and an emotional victory. Like Canada last timeout, Hamilton goes well here, and I’m not expecting that to change this time out. The McLarens look to have a speed and handling advantage on these medium fast circuits, where big balls are worth more than clever aero packages and grunty engines. But you also have to be pretty precise with the driving line. The tire wear is pretty high so going off line usually means a trip to the wall, as there’s no grip off line.
With all the cars in the top 15 or so, pretty much on the same pace, it’s going to be one of those dull tactical races. The team that cocks up the pit stop is going to be the one staring at the rear of Schumacher’s diffuser for the rest of the day. Once again, baring incident, they’ll finish pretty much how they started. Which will liven qualifying up, it might even be worth turning over from the world cup to watch .. who knows.

So the McLaren boys are on a roll here, there’s no repeat of the Hamilton v Alonso years it would seem. Button has slotted into the fold nicely, Hamilton is learning to share his toys and both boys are feeding back to the team so that the car is getting better and better. If they’re not on a par with the Redbulls on handling, then they’ve passed then on speed. Other teams (Ferrari) have focus too much on developing their own F’duck systems, whilst McLaren have concentrated on making the car faster, stealing a march on the others and making this into a two horse race for the title. Everyone and their mother has one or other of the McLarens winning here.

Ferrari have gone back to the drawing board and are bringing their B-spec car out a race ahead of McLaren. You could argue that the Ferrari wasn’t too bad, it was just it’s drivers cocking things up. But Ferrari is one of the richest teams on the tour, so they can afford to build a new car from the ground up. New suspension, new aero, new exhaust ducting and the same old drivers. Alonso is on home soil yet again this weekend, so you’d expect him to go well, however the new car has had very little testing, It would be a brave call to predict a podium.

Redbull are once again talking up their chances, “it’s not over yet etc etc” says Horner. The last few weeks have not been an easy ride for the playboys of the paddock and they need a good result to keep things ticking over. They’ve lost any advantages they had at the start of the season, so it’s now down to drivers and their head space being in the right place.

Renault, and Kubica continues to do better then expected. I though the other boys would have out developed them by now, but no Kubica is still knocking around the middle of the top 10. Petrov after an okay start is now falling back as the other drivers hit their stride. I think he’s done enough to keep his seat for next year, but the bigger boys don’t look like their fighting to get his signature at the moment.

The Mercedes boys are starting to talk about “development year” and “learning about the car all the time” and other such bollocks. Brawn is still saying the championship is there to be won. But he’s the only one doing that little speech. Mickey has disappointed really. He’s not as sharp and he’s not hit the ground running. Last time out in Canada we saw the old aggressive for the sake of it Schumacher. The one we didn’t like. I suspect he getting frustrated and irritated about how the season is panning out. Rosberg is still consistently in the top 10 5th or 6th, whilst Mickey is battling the like of Sutil, Liuzzi and Alguersuari to make it into the top 10. Hard time on easy street.

Force India, have so far failed to turn a strong 2009 into a great 2010. The car doesn’t look as fast as the ‘09 car, and the drivers still seem to be getting hit by other cars. Massa had three goes at Liuzzi in Canada. If they could only catch a break and have some good luck, then I’m sure the car is mid top 10 racer. Better than Massa, Kubica and Mickey they have the speed and the determination. Just not the luck.

As for the rest, Williams are going backwards again, Torro Rosso have shown moments of speed, Sauber are wasting their time with the smart money moving on De La Rossa to be the first driver fired.

The tail end charlies are now only 3 seconds off the pace. Lotus still relying on reliability than speed. I may have been a bit premature to call the virgins faster than the Lotus. Lotus looks to have had a blip rather than passed the baton on … if you see what I mean. HRT are starting to deny that any of their drivers are going to be fired, which is usually a sure sign that someone is about to be fired. Shame really, both driver have been okay, not quick but definitely okay, they just don’t have enough money.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Tarmac, it's not just the black stuff under the wheels

Tarmac (short for tarmacadam, a portmanteau for tar-penetration macadam) is a type of road surface. Tarmac refers to a material patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1901. The term is also used, with varying degrees of correctness, for a variety of other materials, including tar-grouted macadam, Tarvia, bituminous surface treatments and even modern asphalt concrete.

What is it about tarmac that can excite so much passion for petrol heads? To ordinary people with normal lives and an interest in Italian food for instance, it’s just a bit of road from point A to point B. But stick some armco around it and paint a black and white chequered strip in the middle of a straight bit and suddenly it takes on a beauty and majesty that transcends ordinary everyday Tarmac and makes it a Motor Racing Track.

Give bits of the strip of tarmac names like Blanchimont, Curve Grande, Eau Rouge, Tetre Rouge and the Mulsanne straight and things really start to ramp up. The hairs on the back of the neck begin to raise, the shiver in the spine starts to spread and the petrol head starts to hear the voices of motor races long past. The sounds and smells of events long forgotten begin to stir in the memory and they are transported back to the moment Mansell passed Piquet down the hanger straight into Stowe, when Schumacher and Hakkinen fought up the Kemmel straight into Les Combes. Jackie Ickx walking across the Le Mans pit straight to get into his car in 1969
But not just moments of excitement and joy, moments of pain and loss too. Senna leaving the tarmac at Tamburello and not getting out of his car. Lauda engulfed in a fireball on the tarmac of Bergwerk at the Nordschleife. Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes leaving the tarmac of the Le Mans pit straight and scything into the packed grandstand

The moment a driver steps into the car and lights it up, is the moment that he goes out to battle the tarmac to tame the thin ribbon of history and write a new page, that’s what we live for, those are the moment when mere tarmac means life and death. This weekend there a two strip of tarmac that will sort the brave and the good from the pay per drive and the weekend warriors. New chapters will be written about this weekend and you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that you were alive when history was written.

Le Mans. It’s like mainlining petrol straight into your eyeball, it’s like Mickey mouse on speed and your very first shag all rolled into 24hours. The cars are big and grunty and loud and screamy and fast and dirty and brutal and delicate and there right in from of you, wanting to be loved and daring you to come just a little closer. You have not lived until you’ve felt a Corvette V8 thunder past you, brake discs glowing, spitting flames as it down shifts into Tetre Rouge and then on into the black night of the Mulsanne straight at 200mph the engine note roaring “HERE I AM mmmmwwwwhahaHAHAHAHAAHAHAH” the red tails lights filling the night air. Seconds later an Aston Martin V12 screams past you and Audi whispers behind, “love us, come with us in to the night”.

It’s going to be a wet race and that means speed isn’t important. Not screwing up and keeping four patches of Michelins finest in contact with the Tarmac is what counts. Last year Audi failed to turn up to the party with a car that was too cleaver for its own good, France went loopy as Peugeot claimed a One – Two finish. This year the Audi is a better car than last year but can they beat a Peugeot that is balls out fast and desperate to win back to back. My monies on the French Peugeot squad of Minassian, Montagny and Sarrazin to beat Audis old boys Kristensen, McNish and Capello.

But I’ll be rooting for the family Mansell to finish in their first race at the Circuit De La Sarthe. Sans ‘tash and a good bit lighter than his Indy days Nigel is back with his two boys to take on the might of Audi Peugeot, Audi, Aston Martin and Oreca. He stands no chance what so ever of winning, just finishing will be a victory for him. But they’ll be 50,000 Brits on the wall cheering him on like we did at Silverstone all those years ago.

Meanwhile in Canada the speed junkies are gearing up for their 2 hour fix of Bernie’s babes. This is going to be a McLaren benefit gig..... No, wait trust me. Turkey was all about the Redbulls and their high speed corning handling car. Had Vettel not got all unnecessary, they’d have got a One – Two. Just like I predicted. I can’t be held responsible for Germanic insanity okay. The McLarens were right up their arses, I agree, but they couldn’t stay in touch with Vettel and Webber through turn 8.

Canada has no high speed corner; it’s a circuit of two halves. A long twisty section through the woods down one half. And a balls out eye wateringly fast bit along the St Lawrence Seaway up the other. McLaren and their sorted F’aduck means they can run more wing for the twisty bits and still stay ahead of the chasing pack on the fast bit.

Once they get to the end of the fast bit, they have perhaps one of the best chicanes in formula one. It a right left flick, taken at balls out speed in qualifying. But it demands a great deal of respect. If they get the right flick in wrong, they’ll hit the left flick very extremely wrong and the next thing they’re doing is leaving a big long dirty skid mark and bits of very extremely expensive car down the side of the wall of champions. There’s no run off here, no comfy armchairs and AstroTurf to meander across. There’s a dirty great big solid wall grinning at them ready to suck them and spit them out. It’s had some very famous names smeared across it over the years and doesn’t give a monkeys about reputation. All are welcome.

So Hamilton or Button for the win, if it stays dry Hamilton would be favourite. Throw in a bit of rain (maybe) Button has the smarts to win.

Not too far behind them, got to be the Redbulls. It’s all sweetness and light after the *ahem* incident last week. Webber has been given a contract for 2011 so he’s all sweetness and light. Vettel proved he could beat the Ozzy, just not finish the move. Both have a lot to prove now, but I think they’ll be all “after you sir”, “No I insist, you first dear boy” for the next couple of races. Taking out you team mate from the win is the cardinal sin after all.

I have a feeling that Kubica will go well here. The Renaults looking pretty handy after all and the French boys seems to have a bit of the old flair back whilst Petrov was unlucky not to be in the top ten last time out. They could start to trouble the bigger boys at this rate.

Ferrari seem to be going back to the good old days of having no clue what’s going on and blaming each other in a keystone cops kind of way. Others have pointed out that Alonso, normally the racing drivers racing driver, is cocking things up with no help from anyone else. A jump start in China, a needless crash in Monaco and failing to qualify in Turkey. Not the mistakes one usually expects from a two times world champion. Is he frustrated or losing his touch. Meanwhile Massa drops further and further down the pecking order. A bad result here and the papers will start to turn on him.

Mickey seems to have got the handle on Rosberg now. But the car isn’t a front line challenger and Mickey isn’t beating the young Mr Rosberg like he used to beat his other team mates. Also the FIA are starting to ask difficult questions about the new roll over/air intake scoop on the re badged Brawn and I think Mercedes will soon be saying this is a “Development” year and they’re looking to 2011 for the big breakthrough.

I think it’ll be the usual suspects in the top ten this weekend. However keep an eye out for Sutil. The Force India is on one of their target tracks and Sutil should be there or there abouts. A mistake from the bigger boys could see him in Q3 and then maybe top 5 beckons. Choose between him and Petrov for the top 10.

As for the rest, who cares?

But wait a second; the Tail End Charlie Challenge is at an interesting juncture. Lotus has not been the fastest for the last two races now. In Monaco, that waste of racing overalls Trulli had to attempt to roughly mount the HRT of Chandhok to save the good name of Lotus (More by luck than judgement from the HRT though). The Virgins beat the HRT’s and the Lotus boys in Turkey and I think maybe it’s time to start looking at the performance of the Virgins and ask if they’ve final caught and passed the Lotus chaps. The Virgin always had the straight line speed over the Lotus, HRT just has no speed at all, and straight line speed is what counts here. It was just a bit spit and saw dust in its construction. Maybe they’ve ironed out the kinks and are starting to move ahead of the other Tail End Charlies.

Screw the F1 though; Le Mans is where it’s going to be at this year. LMP1, LMP2, GT1 And GT2, four classes of cars, 56 car, 168 drivers, 24 ex Formula drivers, 1 Formula One champion and an eight times winner. 24 hours, twice round the clock. If you have any petrol in your veins find a TV at 2pm (UK time) this Saturday, and watch the greatest race on tarmac.