Sunday, 22 July 2012

A mid season review of sorts.

Well there you go then, if you ever need confirmation that Alonso is the best driver on the grid, or that Ferrari need a strong driver to give them direction, this race does it in spades.  Ferrari sets down a marker that’s says “If you want to win the championship this year, you going to have to beat us.” And right now, I don’t think anyone has the where with all to stop them.
 Alonso has now won three races, been on the podium six times and never been out of the top ten finishers. Consistency and big fat Lady Luck are what is going to take the boy all the way.

Germany marks the tenth race and the midpoint of the season, so I'm going to skip the race report and just run through the entire field and look at how their season is shaping up. For the record, Alonso got pole easily on a wet Saturday and then never looked like being challenged by Vettel or Button for the win. It was a text book world championship winning drive.

So then so far this year, we’ve had six different winners from five different constructors of which two were new F1 championship winners in Rosberg and Maldonado. The racing has been close and exciting with plenty of overtaking and actual racing for positions and wins. Each race has been about the tyres and who will be able to get them to work in the race or qualifying.  A change of two degrees in track temperature can see the Lotus cars suddenly go faster and the Mercedes start to go backwards. We’ve had one driver on old hard tyres go faster than a team mate on new soft rubber, controlling the temperature and degradation of the tyre has been the key to success so far in 2012.

Alonso wins in German because he had pole, and having pole means the car isn’t sliding around behind another car. He’s only picked up two poles this year here and at Silverstone, but he makes them count, although he didn’t win in England he was still second to behind Webber and kept the score board ticking over. Here the car looked planted and it responded when Alonso needed to push, unlike the first race of the season in Australia where it looked like the car was trying to kill him. Ferrari has developed the car to be stable and predictable on its tyres and now look like they’re going to be the team to beat.

Button second in Germany and didn’t he need it. His last podium was all the way back in China eight races ago. In fact he’s only been in the top ten twice since China and he’s looked lost at times tooling around with a car that just isn’t there for him. The updates this weekend looked to have brought McLaren back into the fight but I think it’s too little too late.  Whilst Ferrari have moved the development curve on, McLaren who had a winning car at the start of the year, have struggled to stay ahead of the game. Poor pit work looks to have been turned around with a team now firing on all cylinders, they managed to turn Button around in 2.8 seconds in Germany. This, if you have ever been to Quickfit on a Saturday afternoon will know, is phenomenal.  With half a season left and 250 points on the table, it’s not beyond the bounds of reason to see McLaren back at the front, but as I say Ferrari are going to be hard to beat.

Kimi third in Germany (after Vettel is given a retrospective penalty for blatant cheating) this is his fourth podium of the year, but he should have had a win by now, and lots of people are saying that Lotus is its own worst enemy.  They’ve been conservative when fire was required and daring when caution was the way to the top step. Kimi had a bit of a moan about the steering Monaco and looked like the old Kimi of ice creams and not appearing to care what happened in Canada. He’s always been a driver that give the impression he couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about him, he is only ever there for the racing and driving flat out, if the car isn’t going flat out then he isn’t going to tool around for the points. Where Alonso can motivate the team to give him a winning car, Kimi doesn’t seem to be able to drive the development to give him what he needs. The car might be fast when the track temperature is high, but if he wants a win he’s going to need them to give a car that isn’t so sensitive to temperature changes, for the rest of the season I think they’ll still be there or there about, but the chance of a win might well have gone now.

Kobayashi is fourth for Sauber and this is something of a return to form for the likable Japanese driver.  He’s still one of the more exciting drivers to watch as you just never know if he’s going to make some desperate late breaking move up the inside or not. But too often the car or he have let the side down with drives that either see him retire or finish in the top ten. I think if the cards fell right and Lady Luck was very drunk in hospitality that Kamui could win a race but Sauber seems to stick to a conservative strategy of using the cars ability to look after its tyres, and this doesn’t seem to be the style or a driver like Kobayashi. Maybe if he was let off the leach to go and hunt down a win then maybe things could happen for him, but right now i think he’s looking for mid top ten finishes at best.

Vettel fifth and in reality lucky to get the points,  the FIA have a history of throwing the book at Drivers that overtake by cutting corners and going off the track to make the pass, just ask Hamilton.  If there had been a solid wall on the exit of the corner he would have backed out of the  pass and made the move on the next lap. But because there is just acre’s of tarmac and no gravel he headed for that and passed Button off the circuit. No it isn’t Harsh to penalise him for that, it’s called cheating. Anyway Redbull have far bigger problems with the FIA taking an interest in the software on this year’s RB8 and an engine irregularity related to off throttle blowing of the diffuser. Something that is supposedly banned this year, but Redbull have argued that the rules don’t specifically ban it or that the engine map breaches the letter of the law. (Article 5.5.3 if your interested)  there have been lots of murmurings about the Renault engine and the noise it makes going through and coming out of corners. One explanation has been that it’s the sound of the engine cutting cylinders to save fuel in the slower corners, which sounds pretty damn impressive to me. Some have pointed out that if you hold that for a fraction too long you in effect get traction control out of corners ... something else that’s banned by the way.  So the FIA have been forced into checking this and now seem have found something that if not actually blatant cheating is certainly a bit of a grey area.
 After a slow start to the season where McLaren had a diffuser solution that seemed to work out of the box, Vettel has struggled to drive the car on the limit the same way he did last year with an off throttle blown diffuser.  Second in Australia, then a win in Bahrain he’s been around the podium and the top 5 but never really looked like taking the fight to the leaders, then suddenly in Valencia he seems to have a different car and the only thing that stopped him winning was an overheating alternator.  If Redbull have found a way to get off throttle engine mapping to work than Vettel might have a way back into the championship. But if the FIA are determined to stamp it out, they may well be back to square one.

Perez sixth and it’s sort of where you’d expect him to be I'm afraid. So far his second in Malaysia and third in Canada have been the highlights of the season. Again I think its Sauber’s innate     conservatism and a reliance on a car that looks after it’s tyres. When given the chance he took the fight to Alonso in Malaysia until the team told him to stop being silly and just pick up the points. He seems to have a bit of a thing about Maldonado too with the two of them seemly continuing to have some sort of vendetta against each other. Swapping carbon fibre bits in Monaco and Silverstone and both blaming the other for the incidents. Some people think Perez is the second coming, I personally think he’s okay, maybe a good solid number two in one of the big teams, but he’s not going to win any championships unless the team Sauber cut him loose and let him just go for it.

Schumacher was seventh in Germany and he should have done better, but isn’t that the story of the year for the old man. The car is overly sensitive to changes in track temperature and Lady Luck, once his companion of choice seems to have deserted him these days. Five retirements and five top ten finishes, the best of which a third at Valancia was due more to the roll of the dice and a late tire stop than actual speed and racing speed. He tried that again in Germany but the front runners had done enough to make their tyres last this time out.  He still claims to be enjoying the whole gig, but tooling around at the bottom of the top ten or walking back to the pits from another smoky retirement can’t be fun.

Webber can only manage eighth this time after his win at Silverstone two weeks ago. He is another driver that seems to be overly sensitive to the whims of the tyres. If they’re not there for him out of the pits than he doesn’t seem to be able to get them switched on over the next few laps and either cooks then or slides around like he’s on ice. Saying that he is second in the championship with two wins and only one finish outside the top 10, the start of the season saw him pretty much nail his name to forth spot with four on the bounce. He’s picking up points when he can, but is that going to be enough against Alonso ? If the FIA do ban the off throttle mapping, then he looks better than Vettel at driving the car, with off throttle working Vettel will be team leader again, I suspect.

Hulkenberg  ninth and again about where you’d expect him to be, around the bottom of the top ten a fifth place in Valencia being his best result to date. He’s certainly doing a better Job than Sutil, who he replaced at the start of the year. But only because he hasn’t glassed anyone in a night club! When he was a Williams, lots of people hailed him as the next big thing, and he’s sort of shown the potential to be up there, but Like Rosberg he’s never really lived up to the hype. It may well be the team who, like Lotus, seem to make random decisions depending on what the tea leaves say at the bottom of Vijay Mallya’s morning cuppa. They need a Brawn or a Horner on the wall to calm it all down and direct a race for the win, not just to collect points. They appear to have the money and they have the Mercedes engine, but they’re not getting the result. The Hulk needs to up his game really.

Rosberg tenth and seems to have gone off the boil since his first ever win in China. He’s currently 6th in the championship with the win and a second in Monaco, but there’s just no consistency in his results outside the top ten then a win then outside the top five then a second then some more podium misses and then back tot eh bottom of the top ten. Is it the car or the driver? Michael has less luck and not looked like taking the fight anywhere, so you’d have to say the just isn’t delivering for Nico any more than it is for Mickey. But the nagging feeling that he just sort of gives up persists with him and he doesn’t lead the team like he should.  Maybe the second half of the year will be better, but only if the others really mess it up.

Di Resta eleventh and again this is the car and the team failing to work for the drivers .... or is it. Last year he lost out on points when the team made bad calls on stratery. Now he’s the team leader he should be the one driving the team on. But they’re still making random dsescions and leaving Di Resta with a mountain to climb sometimes. Like Sauber Force India seem to me just looking at the cars around then and tryigfn to beat them, not taking the fight to the big boys. I think Di Resta has the making of a good solid team leading winner, but until Mercedes tire of either Nico or Micky think he’s going to be stuck here telling everyone it’s the car and not him.

Massa twelfth and how he keeps his seat is anyone’s guess! Right so far this year retired, 15th, 13th, 9th, 15th so far so normal these last few years, then 6th, 10th  16th suddenly 4th and then back to 12th. And he was lucky to make it to turn one in Germany after tagging Grosjean at the start an losing his front wing. I think his engineer Rob Smedley deserves a sainthood for sticking with his man all these races. It has to be tough to motivate a driver that was one point away from the ultimate title and then almost killed by a spring. Whilst Alonso is looking every inch the champion this year Massa is knocking around the back of the top ten and struggling to look like a proper racing driver. I almost feel sorry for the guy, it can’t be easy with everyone pointing and laughing at him and wondering when he’ll get fired. The Italian papers especially seem to be after his blood, But as long as the likes of Vettel, Webber and Hamilton sign contract with the other big teams Ferrari don’t have anyone to replace him with mid or post season.  They kind of stuck with him until someone else steps up to the plate, and that might be some time.

Ricciardo was 13th and continues a tradition of Torro Rosso drivers from the Redbull development program failing to deliver when given the chance. He’s alright but the results so far have been less than stellar. A passable 9th in Australian being the highlight and then there are a lot of 12th, 13th, and 14th spots. Last year the Totto Rosso was a top ten car with a bit of luck. Now, well no, not unless there is a lot of carnage up front.

Vergne 14th and he must be thankful he has Ricciardo as a team mate to make him look just about acceptable. Hailed as the next great French racing driver and I’ll be honest here, there is a lot of French talent out there at the moment in Sports cars and GP2 who could do a proper job of delivering on the potential. Vergne has just not done anything to warrant a report other than “must try harder” an 8th place in Malaysia when rain took out a lot of players isn’t really much to write home about. But that the story of the Redbull driver development program, money might buy you drivers but it doesn’t buy the talent.

Maldonado was 15th and where do I start with this one. Firstly he got a win in Spain and you can’t take that away from him, in a Williams, on the day he delivered when Hamilton got bumped to the back of the grid for cheating and he did what a proper racing driver is supposed to do, win. But then there is the Monaco moment when he drove into Perez for no reason what so ever.  The crash in Australia on the final laps from a points paying position. Then the crash in Valencia when he went off the circuit trying to pass an ailing Hamilton and t boned the McLaren coming back on the circuit. Then another crash into Perez at Silverstone which was a bit less cut and dried, but it was still another crash. He doesn’t seem to be able to stop the red mist from descending and turning him into a raving maniac. There is talent there, he won and looked good doing it, but then it all got wrong and he’s the nutter you want to avoid. Giving it all the big i am and looking for trouble. He needs to calm down and stop believing his own hype and just drive like a normal proper racing driver.  Williams don’t have the money to fight with the big boys these days and the result have been what you would expect from them back of the field and not really troubling the top ten. Imagine what the boys from Didcot could do with a bit of money and triple A driver line up. Until then Maldonado is the best they have, maybe someone can calm him down and deliver on the promise. P

Petrov was 16th, a pretty dull race and continuing a pretty dull year. He’s been over shadowed by Kovalainen all year and is proving what everyone said about him last year that he has more money than talent. Then again Caterham still haven’t really delivered a better car than the one they had last year. So i guess he’s doing the best he can do with what he has.

Senna 17th and is delivering exactly what I said he would, the sum total of nothing at all. Maldonado is making him look ordinary and the Senna name is not saving him here. Saying that he is a bit more consistent than Maldonado and i suppose without the win he’s be ahead of his team mate. And he hasn’t driven into anyone by accident or otherwise.

Grosjean 18th, like Kimi he just hasn’t had the luck or the race craft from the team to give him the win I think he’s deserved. He still makes too many mistakes, especially at the start, but at least he’s up there, at least he’s trying to make things happen and driving for a win. He is certainly a better driver second time around and just need to get the hang of starting and not hitting anything to become a pretty handy driver.

I’d forgotten how many drivers there were before i started this !!

Kovalainen was 19th and is doing what he can with a car that isn’t any better than the one he had last year. He has been consistently the best of the tail end for two years now and that is to his credit. But it can’t be much fun being the best also ran week after week.

Pic 20th I have no idea how good he is as I normally only hear about him when he’s getting in the way or hitting someone.  Slightly handicapped by being in a Marussia and that’s about all I can say about him.
De La Rosa was 21st after complaining that it’s not an easy job being in a slow car, the big boys don’t understand and just expect him to get out of the way the moment they get within 1000 yards.  The oldest man on the grid you think he know that being in a slow car means you have to get out of the way whenever the bigger boys get within 1000 yards of his car. The HRT cars are still a bit of a joke and I can’t see that changing anytime soon with no money and to awful drivers, they are the definition of “In it for the love of the sport”.

Glock 22nd, errrr yes, well he’s not Charles Pic is about all i can say. He’s tried to race the Caterhams when he can but again the team still has no money. Still he’ stuck to the task and has moaned about  being in a very slow car.

Karthikeyan 23rd and that is where you will always find him, very, very last. Where’s Narain .. he’s last. But surprisingly he’s had a 15th place, at Monaco of all places and is thusly not last in the championship. No that honour goes to his team mate De La Rosa. That must be satisfying for the Indian. 

Which leaves the only driver to not finish in Germany, Lewis Hamilton who will not be the life and soul of the party tonight.  It should be so much different, if Lotus have lost a win because of poor strategy calls, then McLaren are going to lose Hamilton a championship though poor team work and missed strategy calls. The car was the there to take to the championship at the start of the season with a string of 3rds but then a series of comedy pit stops with sticky wheels, not enough fuel in the car and just plain ineptitude and it’s the bottom of the top ten. The a win and it was all back on track until the Maldonado missile takes him out and then the race pace has gone and finally Lady Luck, never his best friend, deserts him in Germany and he’s the only one to get a puncture on Massa carbon debris. With contract negotiations starting in a few weeks time and the prospect of a substantial pay cut on the table. He has to be having second thoughts about staying. The team think it’s a done deal with just the fine detail to be worked out.  But the thought that a new team and maybe different luck could be the way to get the mojo back, must have crossed his mind. McLaren are looking for a long contract. But maybe a one year extension and the chance to put on some red overalls is the way to go. Alonso and Hamilton seem to getting on like a couple of old school chums these days. Is he opening the door and pointing the way to a new super team ? You know that Lewis will always drive the backside off the car to try and get something, So to hear him say “lets park this one up lads” is a sign, to me at least, that the fight might be going out of him.
 And who wouldn’t want to see Alonso and Hamilton in a Ferrari, how exciting would that be. I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it.

Right that’s that, there are an awful lot of drivers aren’t there. It’s been an interesting first half of the season, things might have settled down now at the moneyed teams get their juggernaut development departments into overdrive. The midfield is closer than ever but this is going to come down the Ferrari, McLaren and Redbull as normal. Right now Alonso is the driver in the hot seat and unless Redbull get the green light for the trick engine map, I think he’s going to be hard to stop on the way to his next world championship.  


  1. cheers, i was bored last night whilst the misses is away for the week.