Sunday, 22 April 2012

It's Vettels turn to win this week.

Right then, after all the ho har and not a little emotion, we finally get down to what F1 does best. Have a race and a pretty good race it was too.
The expected attack from McLaren never materialised as yet again poor pit stops put paid to Hamilton’s ambitions.  Mercedes ran into tyre problems yet again whilst Lotus delivered a double podium and Vettel finally got his mojo back and dominated a weekend like we’re used to.

Vettel nailed his car to the front on the grid with a great run in Q3. Up to that point the Redbulls had looked there or there abouts but not blindingly fast. Certainly no faster than the McLaren of Hamilton or the Merc of Nico you had to say.  But as the clock counted down Vettel pulled out one of those special laps we used to see last year where he just hooks the car up to the circuit and delivers a stunning pole time.  Hamilton was a hairs length behind him, then Webber and Button suggesting we were going to get a Redbull v McLaren battle of old. Nico had fluffed his lines after last week’s stellar drive as Schumacher had “issues” to be dropped in Q1.
The most interesting thing, though you might have missed it, was Di Resta getting into Q3 and eventually 10th place after the Force India team had packed up early on Friday to calm some shattered nerves. The team bus had got caught up in the demonstrations outside the circuit on the way back to the hotel Wednesday night and didn’t want the same thing to happen on Friday. So they set the car up in first practice and walked out half way through practice two despite first Bernie then the circuit owner going down to the pits and demanding they stay or else.  
In “alleged” retribution FOM the F1 owned and run Television service saw fit to not show either of the Force India cars all afternoon. Bernie denied there were any hard feeling, but a great bit of qualifying from Di Resta to make it into Q3 was completely missed by the TV camera ... odd that.

So race day dawned as bright and sunny as you would expect any desert too, except it didn’t. As the start of the race drew nearer, the wind picked up and the clouds get darker, the temperature dropped and the odd spot of rain could be seen on the shirts of the commentators.
 What this meant was that those team that had been worried the soft tyres would last about 30 seconds in the bright hot sunlight, felt they would last considerably longer in the cool cloudy shade.  This year is turning into a season of tyre management. Burning a layer off the tyre as the car sprints off the line, just destroys the life and grip available to the driver.
Hamilton and Button soon found that their McLarens that had been so fast in the hot weather just couldn’t get the tyres to work as the race started. The Lotus’s of Kimi and Grosjean had made lightening starts and were soon up at the front of the grid as first Button had to dive in to the pits followed by Rosberg and Hamilton.  As Vettel scampered off to a five second lead for much of the first half of the race the only challenge he had was from Kimi who looked like a man on a mission.

Hamilton who had made it away in second had two stops where the left rear wheel nut refused to help. First jamming then cross threading so that, what had looked like a win at long last turned into a scrap with his old friend Rosberg who drove him off the road then Alonso and Massa in ninth place.

Kimi eventually caught up with Vettel as they came up to their final stops, but catching a car is one thing, passing another. Some narrow minded nitwits have complained that DRS and KERS are terrible ideas and take something away from the racing. But as Kimi popped his DRS along the main straight and  mashed the KERS button, Vettel flicked his “push to pass” maximum reves button and just about kept enough distance between the two cars int he braking zone. The Redbull had enough KERS charge left to punch out of turn one and that was enough to give the German his first win of the year. Kimi’s last set of medium tires weren’t quite as gripping as the previous soft tires and he couldn’t drag the lotus into one more fight for the win.
So there you are, is this the start of another Redbull and Vettel dominated championship? I don’t think so, certainly the blue cars are now back up there. But we can just add them to the list of cars that could win a race. McLaren and Mercedes are joined by Lotus and Redbull as the team with the cars to take the crown this year. Only Ferrari looks like they’ve still not fixed their car and the race for the top four teams is going to be about development. They can work with what they have, Ferrari still need a base to work from.

So its a win for Vettel and the triple crown; Pole, fastest lap and the win. It’s just like 2011 all over again isn’t it. Kimi made him work towards the end, but he’s a sharper boy now and didn’t fluff his lines when he needed to defend the corner. I was almost starting to like him until he got out of the car and started waving that finger of his around.  Horner said they hadn’t expected Bahrain to be a circuit they’d do well on, which should make everyone worried.

Kimi gets second with a great drive from 11th on the grid. he doesn’t look rusty after his gap years and even managed several sentences’ in the press conference after the race. I might start liking him again at this rate. Will he win this year ? you’d be brave to bet against it.

Grosjean the SI standard of driving gets a very creditable third. He led the race at one stage and eventually got out of the way of Kimi when told to. Two races in a row where he’s picked up good points, the car is working well and the only person unhappy with this tonight must be Kubica.  I think Lotus are starting to deliver that pre season testing promise at last

Webber is once again in his customary fourth spot. Last week he was the best Redbull driver, this week he’s back to being a disappointment. How cruel F1 can be.

Rosberg keeps his fifth spot after a trip to the stewards for unsporting behaviour.  The reality is that he drove a ragged race after losing pole with a greedy qualifying performance.  Last week he could do no wrong, this week he got it all wrong. When Hamilton and Alonso came to over take him he was more than a little aggressive in his defence of the racing line, with bother drivers taking to the run off area to avoid ploughing in to the back of him.
The stewards called this perfectly fine and dandy in the end as the cars weren’t alongside him and “chose” to leave the circuit. Nico had started the move as he came out of the corner and not as a direct result of the drivers behind him. Personally i think he was lucky to get away with it, still I'm not a steward so what do I know.

Di Resta gets a jolly good sixth considering they didn’t touch the cars after first practice and didn’t know how the cars would work in full tanks.  It’s also two fingers up to Bernie and that’s always a good thing.

Alonso seventh in the end, they were looking for sixth and must be very unhappy.

But not as unhappy as the boys from Woking! Button pulled up with a broken something before the end and Lewis only just made it to eighth in the end. Friday they were al over this track and they by Sunday afternoon they’re struggling to get passed the mess that is the Ferrari. 1.5 seconds off the pace the car eat the tyres and the left rear wheel nut again refused to work correctly. Whitmarsh did not look a happy team manager post race. The thing is, Lewis drove his heart out again and still didn’t get his just reward.

Massa wasn’t quite so rubbish this week in ninth, he’ll probably keep his seat for the year now.

Schumacher rounds out the top ten and whinged about the tyres after the race. Who cares ?

Last place this week goes to Karthikeyan in the HRT who is rapidly becoming the only thing you can comfortably predict these days.

Right lets get out of Bahrain and never come back .. sport and politics should never be mixed.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Nico pops his cherry at long last

Well wasn’t that all jolly exciting and unexpected. I mean who would have though the Merc could get a pole and then convert that into an actual win! and not the highly expensive seven times world champion, no Nico finally delivers after 111 attempts and pops his winning cherry.
No one saw that coming and certainly not you lot judging by the scores, with less than a third of you making it to double figures.

I missed qualifying, after a prior engagement with several fine bottles of Cote Du Rhone and I couldn’t face yet another 6am start. So it was a somewhat bleary double take when I heard the news that not only had Nico aced the pole but Vettel was down in 11th and Kobayashi would start 3rd after Lewis got a penalty for changing his gearbox. It’s always nice to see a once very smug German get beaten but a different person. Okay so Nico is still technically a German but his father was Swedish so he’s alright in my book.

I managed to drag my sorry carcass out of bed for Sundays race to be greeted by the sight of no rain what so ever. All my lovely plans for watching Alonso and Button fight it out through the spray had disappeared and I was faced with a race with a difference. Still there was going to be lots of overtaking as the Merc’s went backwards and the Redbulls, Ferrari and McLarens came back through the field.

Except no one seemed to have told Nico the plan, when the lights went out off he scampered into the smog filled distance and the rest of the drivers spent 40 laps in a long procession. There were a couple of moves but nothing worthy of a pass as the DRS failed to deliver much in the way of an opportunity for overtaking. Big long straights into hairpins are fine in principle, but stick the DRS zone half way down it and the cars are bouncing off the rev limiter way before they get to the end of the straight.  So it was more a case of cars almost getting into a passing place, but not quite making it.  The Mercedes engine cars seemed to have a better top speed than the Renault and Ferrari engines, but they needed the car in front to make a mistake or get told to get out of the way, for there to be much of a chance.

Mercedes made an uncharacteristic mistake at Schumacher’s first stop and released the car before the front right had been bolted into place.  He made it round four corners before pulling off to be the only retirement of the day.

Meanwhile Nico continued to look after his tires and lead the race. He was so far ahead that the TV stopped watching him and instead began to look at the train of cars forming up behind Kimi. He was on a two stopper and this race was rapidly turning into one where the last man into the pits was going to have the best tires at the end.
Kimi was struggling on in second with the two Redbulls, Alonso, the McLarens and Grosjean all within spitting distance. For lap after lap they sat behind each other popping out now and again to try and spook the driver ahead, but none of them had the grunt to make it past. Then Alonso tried to go past Grosjean and ran out onto the marbles to discover that there was bugger all grip out there. He ran off the track back to 9th.  Then within the space of a lap Kimi lost all grip on his warn out tires and went from 2nd to 14th before he had time to order two cornettos and a Vodka chaser.
Button was past into 2nd, Hamilton nipped passed a slippery Vettel for third and at the end of the race Webber sneaked past the struggling German for 4th, my how the mighty have fallen.
Grosjean and the Williams of Senna and Maldonardo scrapped it out for the rest of the points and Alonso only had memories of Malaysia to keep him company in 9th
Kobayashi who had told all and sundry that he had his name all over the winner’s trophy, got a fastest lap and the last point. His name is not being linked with the Ferrari drive this week.  

So then Nico gets his first win and about time too. On cold days the Merc is going to be the car to beat, when it can look after its tires and make them last more than 15 minutes their now fully legal tricksy rear wing is going to deliver them to the front of the grid and then it’s down to the tires. He didn’t really have much to deal with all race as the big guns struggled to get past each other.  Button might have had a shot at it, but a sticky real wheel on his last of three stops robbed him of the chance. So Nico showed he can do it when it’s all there for him. Well done him

Button in 2nd once again must do better in qualifying. He’s got a car and the speed to deliver a championship, if he’s at the front on Saturday. Still he made the passes when he needed to and but for the problem on the last stop he could have given Nico a run for his money.

Hamilton in 3rd must be wondering what he has to do this year. The team found a problem with the gearbox when they unpacked the car on Thursday, so had to change it and got a 5 place grid penalty. So Lewis was always on the back foot. He managed to qualify 2nd but was dropped to 7th from where he was always going to struggle to get a win. So yet another 3rd isn’t so bad and it was a much more philosophical Lewis in the post race press scrum. As he said, with three different winners already, consistency is going to be the key; hence he now leads the championship.

Webber did enough to get to 4th and must have felt very smug when he mugged Vettel with 2 laps to go. No team orders this time round.

Vettel complained all weekend long about the car not working for him and looked to be short a few horses on the long straight. The handling was better but the straight line speed just isn’t there right now. 5th place wasn’t bad considering he started in 11th though.

Grosjean finally makes it to the finish in 6th, which is about where Lotus should be with the Redbulls and McLarens ahead and either of the Mercs.

Senna has another good weekend for Williams in 7th.

As Maldonado puts both Williams it he top 10. Finally, a good solid reliable top ten car for the Didcot boys, it’s good to see them back up there as Sir Frank turns 70 this week. Anyone who watched the F1 racing in the 80’s and 90’s will remember the Williams cars showing the likes of Ferrari and Renault how it should be done.  They always gave the impression of a little garage team taking on the faceless greyness of McLaren and highly strung Italians, to give the Brits something to cheer for. Like warm beer and roast beef they were our lads and they were great and it’s good to see the team back where it belongs.  How all they need are two top draw drivers again.

Alonso is a sad and lonely 9th. Massa is all the way back in 13th and was told to get on with the race more than once. Alonso tried to drive the wheels off that car and very nearly got a good result. But I suspect Malaysia is going to be the high point of the season for a long time.

Finally Kobayashi 10th, got the fastest lap but he should have taken home more than one point from a 3rd place start. The car didn’t seem to work as the tires got older.  Still he was ahead of Perez who didn’t look quite so wonderful on a dry track with the big boys playing for real. Not quite a Ferrari driver just yet lad.

Kovalainen was dead last after a faulty something stopped him for a lap or two. Sparing the blushes of the HRT team who were as rubbish as ever.

So then, here are the scores and it’s a pitifully low scoring round.  Predicting the results this year is going to be harder than ever now there are at least 3 teams that can win races.

Next Bahrain ..... 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Don't shoot the messenger, China and Bahrain.

Put the chocolate down, it’s time for the Desperate Despot F1 tour to begin. An all expenses paid, to the top 5 teams, trip through some of the highest profile abusers of human right in the world today.

First up China, with its envious record of imprisoning political and religious protestors, it’s continued occupation of Tibet and ongoing attempts to suppress calls for more personal and democratic choice in this one party state.

After a tedious and very possibly wet race in China, we shall be flying direct to the Royal Kingdom of Bahrain, which is demonstrating to everyone except the FIA delegates that Syria is not the only country that can violently suppress its angry population.

Come and join us for tear gas parties and mass dissident executions.

Well that’s what the world’s media would have you believe. Just like the media storm against going to the 1982 Moscow Olympics after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The South African Rugby and Cricket tours during the Apartied years. And who could possibly forget Jackie “porkie” Browns infamous late refusal to come to my 8th birthday party just because I said she had fat ankles the day before the party.

Events that will forever, live on as still actually happening despite some people getting into a bit of a huff and there being one less present at an eight year olds party.

Freedom has always come from the point of a gun, not from a well timed pass or a fast wheel change. I fully understand why protestors and governments alike latch onto high profile sporting events to get across their message of “Chaps, it’s all okay, they’re terrorist/downtrodden scum” or “ Them bastards drove a tank through my chip shop and shot my four kids it the face”

But most jolly motor racing fans don’t really care about either argument. They probably care more about how much longer Massa will last at Ferrari, than the number of protestors shot on the street of Bahrain this week. Or if Vettel can get his season back on track than how many Chinese citizens were killed because of antiquated and dangerous working practices for western electrical companies.

So these big events give the good guys a chance to talk about just how bad the bad guys are, whilst the bad guys put on shiny suits and talk about happy workers and impending political reforms just as soon as the down trodden scum learn their place.

Which isn’t to say any of its right, you understand. Shooting flag waving protesters armed with nothing more than a sense of injustice, a spray can and a facebook account is as abhorrent as blowing up a police station or burning down a furniture store. Everybody should have the right to determine their own course through life. Choose who they listen to and who they pray too in my opinion.

So should the F1 circus roll into these countries?

 Not going isn’t going to stop any of the bad things happening, it might bring a bit more international pressure to bear, but whilst the likes of Syria openly try to shoot every last citizen left in the country, China will calmly get on with buying up the world and the Bahrain royal family will cling onto power. On the flip side going to China and Bahrain does bring the international media to these countries and the good guys get a chance to be heard for a few days.

But would that not be seen as F1 condoning the actions of these questionable government ?

Well, until Bernie and the FIA delegates returned to Bahrain, was anyone other than the regional media covering the event on the ground?  After the Saudis went in and stamped out the uprising, it all went very quite on the news front as first Libya and then Syria became the new wars of choice for the international news crews.
Once Bernie said “Saddle up lads, we’re going back in”, the protesters were given a voice to say “Hang on, there is another side to this story”.

There is talk of a track invasion after the race by protesters, would they be getting that chance is there was no race. How will the world react if the security forces start gunning them down, or banners are torn down and people dragged out of their seats mid race.

Sport has always provided not just a platform for governments to show how great their country is, but protesters to gain media attention and point out the ugly bit the governments don’t want you to see.

So it’s china first, it’s wet there at the moment and it’s expected to be wet for the race, so Alonso must be favourite, if their new exhaust system is all they claim it is anyway. Pat Fry is talking about the car still being a second off the pace, but in a wet race that doesn’t matter too much.

After whinging like a little girl that he was attacked by Karthikeyan in Malaysia, Vettel has gone very quiet and refused to apologise. The driver steward at the race, Johnny Herbert, said it was all Narains fault for coming back across the line and clipping Vettel before the German had finish passing the HRT. To me it looked like the HRT was trying to avoid the wet grass and Vettel chopped the poor guy.  The Redbull PR machine is been low key these past two weeks, well they would really, there isn’t too much for them to crow about so far. But they have a whole shed load of cash to fix the problem and I expect they’ll be up the front this weekend.

The endless grumbling about Mercedes trick DRS wing continues to rumble on. Charlie Whiting has been asked to clarify once again if it’s legal. No one has actually protested it you understand ... they just want to know how legal it is. Whilst no doubt the bigger teams are working out how to fit one to their car so they can go backwards in the race.

Mercedes meanwhile have said they are going to concentrate on better tire ware rather than get bogged down with qualifying gizmos.

Team Lotus have told Genii Lotus to pay up their title sponsorship money or get lost, so Genii Lotus have left Team Lotus, but the team is still called Lotus and is still painted black and gold. Obviously only selling four cars a month isn’t paying enough to sponsor an F1 team, several WEC teams, supply a dozen Indy car teams with engines and generally ponce about painting everything black and gold and promising the earth.
This has been rumbling on for month now and no one is really surprised the Lopez the owner of Genii Lotus is doing a runner. He always struck me as the all mouth and no trousers kind of team owner, who was there to swan around glad handing the rich punters and selling snake oil to the idiots. See also BMW and Richard Branson.

Williams have been talking up Maldonardo, i don’t know why; i don’t think he has any more money. They seem to think he has potential and will start to deliver any day now ... I think he will continue to hit things and generally deliver poor results in a promising car.

Finally Peter Sauber, fresh from telling anyone that will listen, that Ferrari did not ask him to stop Perez from racing them. Has announced that he’s going to retire at the end of the season, he will be passing the team job onto Monisha Kaltenborn. "Monisha will become the first female F1 team boss in history. She has been with us for 13 years, always in a leading role. I am confident that she will do a very good job." Good luck to her and the team. I think this might be their break out year and the likes of Mercedes and Lotus should be watching over their shoulder.

Right then, that’s rather a lot of words.  So I’ll end it there.

In conclusion, China and Bahrain are both run by bad people, F1 isn’t going to change the world by not turning up. It’s up to you if you want to watch the race and feel bad about it.
China will be as dull as ever, Bahrain if it happens will be as awful as ever too. I do hope the race in Bahrain gets cancelled so I don’t have to waste 2 hours of my life watching cars drive around a dusty waste land as more young men and women get beaten for asking for a better choice.

I would welcome any thought or comments.

Don’t forget to update your predictions before Thursday for China.