Monday, 28 March 2011

What's that in the distance ... oh it's Vettel winning

Well, wasn’t that all jolly interesting and a little surprising.

It has got to be worrying for the rest of the teams though, Webber included. Vettel rolled up on Friday and never really looked back to check where everyone else was. The McLaren’s tried to spoil the party on Friday afternoon, but really the Redbull is about a gazillion miles faster with the cheeky German at the wheel. Especially considering they don’t have a KERS system fitted to that car. At the end of Qualifying it was almost a second faster than Hamilton, a country mile by anyone’s standard.

More surprising perhaps though, was the fact that the car behind Vettel was the McLaren of Hamilton. A team who two weeks ago, threw away the original design for the back of the car and started the whole thing again from scratch. To date they had not got the exhaust and gear box to go a race distance and here they were, the closest thing to a challenge.

They weren’t the only happy face in the pits on Saturday evening. Petrov had somehow kept it all together and got his car up 6th for the race. Whilst his much fancied bearded team mate had gone out in Q1. Kobayashi had also gone well sticking the Sauber into 9th just ahead of Buemi in the Torro Rosso in 10th.

Not so happy where the Ferrari and Mercedes teams. Who had both expected to be up the front giving Redbull a bit of a challenge. Alonso faffed around to a not too bad 5th but behind the McLaren’s and Redbulls, Massa over drove his car into 8th spinning as Q3 came to a close to annoy various drivers on hot laps. Rosberg did alright getting it to 7th but Schumacher who had given it all “the big I AM, I’m a winner me “, during the run up to the weekend couldn’t make out of Q2 and stopped in 11th. Hardy har har.

Also massively unhappy were the whole HRT squad, who spent most of Friday and Saturday trying to get their cars into some sort of working order. Liuzzi eventually made it out to do a few laps, but by the time Q3 ended HRT were so far behind Vettel you need something akin to the Hubble telescope to find them. They were informed by the FIA that they were no longer allowed to play with the big boys because they were just too damn slow.

Come the Race and as suspected Vettel just drove off into the distance. He didn’t look like being challenged all day, trading fastest laps with Hamilton for the first 10 laps or so. All this without a KERS system or any opportunity to use his silly flappy rear wing do darr. He just calmly and methodically blew everyone else away. When Button tried to hold him up to give Hamilton a sporting chance, Vettel just drove round the outside of him. By the end he was cruising around waving his finger around and being extremely smug and German. Winning the first race of the season always set a driver up for a good year and it’s going to be a brave soul to bet against Vettel making it two championship in a row.

Behind Vettel, Hamilton gave chase and to be fair kept him honest all day, but a broken under tray at two thirds distance put paid to his efforts. However if you’d told the plucky lad he’s be on the podium next to Vettel in Australia he’d have laughed at you .. to your face. That car was a complete mess two weeks ago and here it is up there best of the rest. If they can now develop the car as they usually do, it’ll be race winner.

In third Petrov, no I don’t know how he did it either. He didn’t hit anyone, he didn’t crash and when he got hassled by Webber he had the measure of him. All told a great result for the much derided Russian. Who I have to say was jolly nice in all his interviews afterwards and came across an likable chap. If he can do that again once Ferrari and Mercedes their act together, I shall be mightily impressed.

Alonso eventually managed to make it to 4th with a bit of luck and a tail wind. The Ferrari didn’t look all that sharp during the weekend and must have surprised the boys from Maranello, who all expected to be up there with Vettel. Alonso did alright but he was never where the action was and just sort of kept it on the grey stuff.
Webber just can’t get a break in Australia. Another 5th spot for him and he looked utterly bemused by that. His team mate was all happy smiles and “check me I’m ace me” whist the dour Ozzy just couldn’t work out why he was so far back. On the bright side he didn’t hit any one this time.

Button finally made it to 6th after spending most of the race looking at the back of Massa dog slow Ferrari. He tried lap after lap to use his flappy rear wing to get a run on the Ferrari into turn 1 but Massa was having none of it and kept pulling just far enough ahead to thwart the Brit. Finally Button made a desperate lunge up the inside of the hairpin and ran out of road. Taking to the escape road he emerged ahead then told all and sundry that he was miles ahead of Massa and it was all find and dandy. The FIA raised it McLaren eyebrow up another notch and hauled Button in for a drive through penalty. So Button did a good job to get back to 6th really and it shows that the McLaren is a car with some solid speed.

Mass made it to 7th eventually and looked rubbish all weekend. Spins in practice and qualifying, He never looked fast and must surly be counting the days till he gets his marching orders. Most defiantly a Number two driver now, he’s had his shot at the title and I doubt he’ll ever get another. Welcome to team Alonso !

Now 8th should be the Sauber of Perez who did a cracking job one stopping his way into the top ten. Massa had to make 3 stops to claw his way into the points. Whilst the young Mexican kept his nose clean and the car in one piece to get a great result. That is until the FIA checked the leading edge of the rear wing and found it had a square profile and not a round profile. A tiny tiny thing that had passed scrutinering with no trouble, got pinged in post race. Perez and Kobyashi got disqualified and that was the end of their champagne party.

In his place Buemi didn’t really do much to get 8th

Sutil got 9th as Koby got fired and this weeks “did he take part ithe race award” I missed him entirely and thankfully he missed the walls.

Finally a very lucky 10th for Di Resta. Who appears to have been told to let his team mate go past him. Welcome to big school lad. Up to that point he had been faster than Sutil all weekend, but ran out of puff as the race went on. Still it’s a good debut and let’s hope there’s more to come from him.

So all in all it was okay. I don’t think the flappy rear wing was much cope. There were a few occasions where you could see it made a difference to the driver overtaking. But mostly the drivers in the top 8 were all much of a muchness and couldn’t get much benefit from it. We’ll if it make a difference in Malaysia with a longer straight.

So that’s race one, it looks like it’s going to be Vettel benefit year, but McLaren might just be able to keep him honest.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Australia - After a false start, here we go.

G’day mate throw another shrimp on the flamin’ barby and settle down for the 2011 Melbourne Grand Prix.

Yes it’s that time of year once again, the lambs are gallivanting around the fields, the days are getting longer and Bernie is talking bollocks once again.

After the down trodden and repressed masses cried enough is enough and the Bahrain Grand Prix is just too awful to have to sit though again, we’ve skipped the first race of 2011 and headed straight for where it should have started all along.

It’s been a long and grueling winter series for all of the teams. The front runners have been playing a cagey game of Chinese whispers giving nothing away to their rivals, whilst the midfield have thrown the odd cat amongst the pigeons with hot laps and a lot of bare chest posturing. Round the back of the bike sheds the new boys from last year have survived the winter and returned, HRT to much surprise from everyone have even turned up with what looks suspiciously like a new car amazingly.

Redbull and Ferrari spent most of the winter trying very hard not to look like they were too fast. There was much muttering about sandbagging and “not really trying hard enough”. Vettel popped the odd fast lap, with an evolution of last year’s car. Whilst down pit row and Alonso would respond in kind then try not to look too fast again.
Webber and Massa played supporting roles in this task. Then claimed that “No we’re not number two drivers we’re real men with every chance of winning ... no really we are... Look it’s written in my contrast ... etc” of course fooling no one but themselves.
Redbull and Ferrari look like the teams to beat this year. Vettel has now got that self belief winning the world championship gives you whilst Webber has that “I was robbed guv’ner” hunger. It’s supposed to be all sweetness and light in the Redbull pit, but i doubt Webber will get his chance of the title anymore than he really had last year. Possession is after nine tenth of the law after all.
Massa will do well not to get fired this year. He had a really bad year last year, yeah he’d come back from almost being killed, but he never looked like his heart was in it. Alonso has that ruthless “this is MY team now sunbeam” ability to mold the team around him. If he can stop Ferrari from being old 1970’s comedy Ferrari and make them lean mean Ross brawn Ferrari he, and they be unstoppable.

The other Grandee team McLaren had an ... interesting winter. It would appear that they were trying to pull a fast one with a trick exhaust system that blew the exhaust gas around the gearbox and through the diffuser, thus creating quite by chance you understand ... a blown diffuser. The FIA saw threw this ruse and having already banned the material it was made from years ago, told McLaren to sort it out. They tried using a different material, the FIA raised its eye brow and McLaren tried again, but the third material couldn’t stand the heat and promptly melted.
So the boys from Woking have been struggling to get any testing done and have now apparently gone off the idea of a blown gearbox and diffuser. They claim to have redesigned the whole thing and found more than a second per lap, which is good.... except that they were about two seconds behind Ferrari and Redbull to begin with. Hamilton and Jensen have both been making “it’s not really as bad as it looks” noises, but there are a lot of long faces in Woking at the moment.

Joining the top table this year looks to be Mercedes, who have been showing off to anyone that will give them the time of day by building not one but two new cars for the season. Apparently Mickey didn’t like the first car, so they built him a new one. Being a seven times world champions does mean something after all. Nico who had a pretty good year last year putting the moves on said seven time cheating German champion all year, has gone well in testing with a string of hot laps to his name . Mickey has been going well in testing once he got the B spec car, so if Mickey and Nico are on form they could well be up there this time.

Now for the purposes of clarity and sanity, i shall be referring to what was Renault and is now Lotus Renault GP, as Renault, or the black ones. Whilst the plucky underdogs that feel Trulli is actually a good driver unbelievably, that were Team lotus ... as Lotus, or the green ones.
Whatever happens in the court and whoever comes out with a bit of paper saying they can ride rough shod over decent British engineering history, the French will be Renault (the Black ones) and the Malaysians will be Lotus (the green ones).

Renault have managed to lose the use of Kubica who had a particularly nasty rallying accident (Thankfully he survived to whinge another day) but did gain the bearded wonder Nick Heidfeld. Who got into the car and did a good job of surprising all and sundry by being pretty fast and way better than Petrov, who is still rubbish. Renault now has a trick exhaust that comes out under the side pods of the car and blows the exhaust gases under the car. They’ve (well Nick actually) have popped in a few fastest laps over the winter, so look set to continue their best of the rest performance ... which is what they’ve always been, don’t kid yourself, Kubica was never the second coming. Petrov might not have such a bad year this year, but don’t bet on it.

That’s it for the possible winners this year

The Midfield consists of Force India, Williams and Sauber. They’re going to be scrapping it out to be the best of the rest and pick up the points when the Grandees drop the ball.
Force India have fired Liuzzi, because he was quite frankly crap. In his place comes Paul Di Resta who comes from a pretty impressive Family of Scottish motor racing talent (the current Indy Car Champion Dario Francitti is his cousin i think) anyway, He’s the current DTM world champion and comes with a lot of backing from Mercedes. Is he any good you ask? I don’t know. He’s done the usual Formula Renault, GP2 etc and is as i say the current DTM champion. So he has the pedigree to be here. During the testing season he was always up the sharp end with the big boys, nothing spectacular but he certainly held his own. It’s (yet again) another make or break year for Force India, Sutil has to deliver something and Di Resta needs to be consistently in the points or the money is going to start looking else ware.

Williams have sold half the company to the public (not usually a good idea) they fired their hot new talent Hulkenburg and brought in a paid driver, Pastor Maldonaldo. Who has oodles of South American money and a smattering of talent. He’s no Trulli, but he’s no Hamilton either. I think this is a sad thing because i have lot of respect for Frank and the boys at Didcot. They used to be contenders, they should be up there with the like of McLaren and Ferrari but ever since BMW and arguably Honda left them all those years ago, they’ve been shit.
To turn all this shitness around this year they have built a car with no backside. The gear box is about the size of a walnut, this apparently is to allow the air a clear flow around the engine and over the rear diffuser to increase down force without the drag, or something. I’m not too sure to be honest. Anyways, Pastor managed to total one of the new cars during testing unsurprisingly, whilst the oldest man in F1 history, Barrichello continued to bang in solid times and the odd fastest lap. Will they win a race, not a chance in hell, will they be top 10 finishers almost certainly.

Sauber have fired the totally forgettable thingy and have a new forgettable driver Sergio Mendez. Who i have never heard of and don’t expect to trouble the top 10, he could be a safe pair of hands for the last place driver though. Krazy Koby is back, and Sauber have a little bit more money this year. They had a few Banzai laps in testing, but i suspect this is just to get more sponsorship money. Another solid year with the odd, “how the hell did they get up there” result beckons.

The red wine is almost gone, so let’s motor though the rest of the field.

Torro Rosso have got a new car that doesn’t say “Redbull” under the cover this year, they still have Buemi and Alguersuari however. Place your bets on which one of those it the first driver to be fired this year.

Lotus, who were the most professional of the new boys last year continue to look the most professional this year. They’ve had more time to knock up a car on their shoe string budget and it has a few more refinement than last year’s car. It looks pretty, and was only about two or three seconds off the midfield boys during testing. It looks like another safe and solid year for the green ones, who are my favorite of the tail end chaps. Trulli still hasn’t got his marching orders so he’ll be making a nuisance of himself again, whilst Heikki gets another shot at impressing the big boys.

Virgin have been sold to some Russian Mafia money laundering outfit and will be called Marussia (which is Russian for “I’ll take it in used tenners comrade”) Virgin. Nick Wurth who now runs Virgin is on a hiding to nothing, as i expect the Russians to leave before the he gets any point. Whilst the rest of the grid has tried to make it look they’ve not copied the Redbull wholesale, Virgin have built a car that looks nothing like the fastest and most successful car last year. Glock keeps his seat and D’ambrosia (i have no idea where they get these silly names driver from ) is in for whatisname.

Finally HRT make it to the start of year two with no sponsorship and the hapless Liuzzi has signed on with Narain Karthikeyan. If the car holds together they might........ Who am i kidding they’ll be lucky to make it as far as qualifying.

So it’s all set for an exciting Formula 1 season. The usual suspects are at the front mostly and the usual rabble is in the middle.
The big unknown is the tires. No one has managed to put together a consistent long run on the Pirelli rubber. The soft tires are 5 seconds a lap faster than the hard but last as long as an HRT in qualifying trim. Whilst 20 laps seems to be about the most the hard option will do before they give up the ghost. The word on the street it we could be looking and four stop races. Six stops at places like Canada could be on the cards.
This means that if a midfield Johnny takes a punt on the fast but fragile soft strategy he could be in with a shout of a top ten spot. I’m looking forward to those outside the top 10 diving into the pits with 5 laps to go to try and grab a point at the end of the race.
I’ll talk about KERS and the silly floppy rear wings as the season goes on, for now we’ll see how all that pans out in Australia before i slate it completely.

I think it’s going to be straight fight between Vettel and Alonso this year. Unless McLaren really have pulled the rabbit out of the hat, they’re on the back foot already. Ferrari and Redbull have solid fast cars to work with and two of the fastest drivers in the game. If Vettel can learn to overtake and he might just be unstoppable, if not Alonso is going to steamroller title number three.

Practice starts at 1.30 on Friday morning, live on the BBC red button do darr.
Qualifying is at 6am on Saturday.
The race is live at 7am on the BBC and is also in glorious eyeball massaging HD don’t forget