Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Don't expect any sort of racing this weekend.

It’s another fast turn around and after the hurly burly chaos of India we're now in the soulless capital to Capital. Abu Dhabi and the particularly dull Yas Marina circuit, if anyplace typifies the current trend to go to countries to line Bernie pocket, this is it.

Long fast straights, check
Into tight hairpins, check
Goes around a dockyard, check
Has a few empty grandstands, check

Congratulations, it’s a Hermann Tilke identikit circuit. This one has a hotel that lights up rather than an old fish market to keep you interested. But as the sun goes down there will be precious little action on the track. Actually the hotel is all the lights on it changing colour is quite impressive, if a bit tacky.  There will be long periods of this race when you will think, have all the other cars crashed? The director will be following the third place car behind Vettel and there will be no other car within a hundred yard, it’s really bizarre how the track can look so empty.

The big news of the week has been how ferociously Ferrari and Vettel have denied that there is a contract or letter of understanding between them. I don't believe a word of the denials and I'm still sure the German will be wearing red in two years time.

Over at Sauber, they've confirmed Hulkenberg will be driving for them next year.  No great surprise really, as there wasn't really anyone else available with the experience or money. I think this is going to be a good match, if and it’s a big if here, they survive Perez taking his big fat wallet with him.

The race then, well I expect Vettel will win, if his tire doesn't fall off its rim like last year.  Then Webber or Alonso and the McLaren boys ahead of the Merc and Lotus chaps perhaps. Throw in a Williams or Sauber for good measure. Massa looks to have got his mojo back so I’d have him ahead of the Merc boys.  

Monday, 29 October 2012

The cynicism of middle age

So ... more of the same then.
You just know its going to happen don't you ? Vettel and Redbull are on a roll and there is just no stopping them now. Whatever you may think is going to happen, whatever you would like to happen, the reality is that Vettel is pretty much unbeatable right now.
The season started so well from a fans point of view with random wins and a Williams back on the top step. But now, well it's time for a Miss reality to to saunter back into the room with a casual flick of her long dark hair and a knowing smile that says "normal service resumed boys". She has two big burly bodyguards standing just out of sight  behind her. Whilst you're looking at the A line dress and plunging neck line, 'money' and 'politics' are standing there to make sure random chance and Lady luck are kept at a very long arms length.
Winning is not about being the best of the best on the day. It's about having the most money to throw at the problem and the most engineers willing to burn out for the cause. As Lance Armstrong proved, money and ambition will overcome all the odds.
Maybe I've just become jaded with motorsport ?
Maybe as i get older I'm starting to get tired of looking at a grid and thinking, "well they are the richest team, with the best of everything. So they're going to win ... aren't they!". Winning isn't about luck anymore, it's just about the money and how much the team has. Lance was right, winning is more important than taking part, winning isn't about pride and respect now. It's about completing a business transaction and delivering a result for the investors. It's about giving the marketing department the tools to promote the soft drink or the business solution. No longer a physical test or the triumph against odds.  
Maybe its just the red wine, but I'm finding it harder sell F1 to you. Pure brute force of capitol is what wins championships today, not passion and talent. Maybe that was always the case and maybe Gonzales and Fangio where the best because they had the best equipment from the richest teams.
Vettel won and it was pretty easy. When the TV director is looking at the battle for fifth and sixth, you just known he's casting around for some interest. I think you're a fool if he's not up for the win, pole and fastest lap of your prediction now. The rest of the pack is there to make up the numbers for the rest of the season. Is the car legal ..... until the FIA find the test that says no, they are.
Alonso second and he thrashed that car to get there. Make no mistake, the likes of Perez and Hulkenberg like to talk the talk but they will never be able to deliver the result of the Spaniard. I still don't like him, but my respect for him has grown immeasurable this season.
Webber third, had KERS problems apparently.
Hamilton, counting down the days till is leaves McLaren. He did what he could with what he had.
Button ... got the fastest lap on the last lap on the race. So motivation might be an issue
Massa was sixth
Kimi seventh and the last creditable challenge to the Redbulls, despite not winning a race this year.
Hulkenberg eighth to do enough for the Sauber seat next year.
Grosjean doesn't hit anyone one for two races in a row
Senna was tenth with a car that would have delivered a podium in the hands of a better driver
Karthikeyan is this weeks hopeless driver that has move money than the team can turn down. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Lady luck rather likes Redbull and Vodka it seems

Well not the most exciting race of the year again, which I appear to be saying a lot lately.

There's a sort of inevitable feeling to all of this now, like we've been here before, with Michael and those Ferrari years. Remember that feeling, whatever the others do it’s just not going to stop one team from dominating the championship for the foreseeable future ?
Well that’s how I'm starting feel now.

The press gang are of the one thought that Vettel has a nailed on contract with Ferrari for 2014 ... given how Redbull and more importantly Adrian Newey have turned this season around, you have to think that’s a bit of a stupid move. Not as stupid as Hamilton going to Mercedes is. But pretty stupid all the same, if it’s true of course.

For a change it was Webber turn to be on pole, as everyone else played catch up to the Redbulls. The McLarens still looked like they had the same broken suspension they had in Japan bolted onto the back of Hamilton’s car and Ferrari, though fast, weren't fast enough.

The Redbull machine was on song and duly delivered a second front row lockout.
Lewis third up as Jenson failed to make the grade in Q2 and Alonso kept them all honest after almost missing the cut in Q1. Come Sunday it was just a case of who was going to get into turn one first and win the race, Webber from pole or Vettel ?

It turned out that Vettel had the better start line software and won the race by turn one.

Alonso jumped past Hamilton and tried to take the fight to the Redbulls

 Grosjean managed to miss everyone and it was the turn of Kobayashi to pile into the back of the pack when he failed to spot the trend in the cars ahead to slow down for turn three. He drove into Jenson’s right rear wheel, then into Nico left side, then back over Jenson's right front wheel and off the circuit. Jenson and Nico stopped after less than 100 years, Kobayashi made it back to the pits for some running repairs and a few more laps, before he too called it a day. If things were chilly at work over his contract before, now they will be positively Antarctic.

The rest of the race was about tyres and how long they would last. Hamilton found his didn't last long enough; Perez tried to impress McLaren by driving forever in one set and failing. It was a bit of a cat and mouse game as teams tried to have the driver with the most life left in their tyres when the chequered flag dropped.

Hamilton who had yet more rear suspension issues this race found himself at the poor man’s end of the top ten fighting the Toro Rosso of Vergne and Ricciardo for eighth, ninth and tenth. He had fresher tyres but couldn't get enough grip with a broken rear roll bar. He fought valiantly but all to no avail. A comedy McLaren "sticky wheel nut" pit stop didn't help. Nor did the astro turf on turn 13 which wasn't stuck down with enough glue and attacked the hapless McLaren driver with 4 laps to go. What had looked like a safe, if disappointing 10th at the end, was made into a desperate drive for the line as Perez almost caught a Lewis who was dragging 20lbs of fuzzy green matting around with him.

As Vettel cruised around, the pits to car radio kept crackling into life to tell the German that his front right was looking less and less likely to make the end of the race. With a gap to Webber of around 10 seconds he wasn't in too much danger, maybe it was a bit of showboating by Redbull to make it look like the others had a chance. Vettel slowed down and didn't get his customary fastest lap. That was left for Webber on his last lap to show that he could have won if he'd wanted too, but he was too cool for that sort of thing.

And that was the race, it rather looks like Vettel and the Redbull just have to turn up to each race and the season is going to be theirs I'm afraid. The McLaren drivers are out of the hunt now and maybe Kimi could, if the Redbulls failed to finish every race, win I suppose. But it’s not going to happen is it ?  

Vettel wins then, nice and easy

Webber second, lost it off the line and didn’t really look like beating his team mate any time soon

Alonso finally gets to finish a race, but loses the lead in the championship. I don’t think he’s going to get it back given how well the Redbulls are going now.  But this is Alonso and you can never count him out until the final flag of the final race. But Ferrari is going to have to pull something special out of the bag here.

Massa fourth and pretty much confirms his contract for 2013. Again he’s here on merit and shows that the Ferrari isn’t a bad car. In point of fact he was coming back at the Redbulls until he was told stop to crowding the talent and stay behind Alonso.  Some things just never change.

Raikkonen fifth, he’s still third in the title hunt but i can’t see him win the races he needs to claim the silverware. Still you have to admire his achievement. Schumacher came back after his time off for good behaviour and was rubbish. Kimi meanwhile has come back from driving into trees and walls on the WRC trail and here he is in third with a good solid points scoring championship year.  Not too shabby really.

Hulkenberg was sixth with nothing too exciting, he did the best with what he had and once again beats Di Resta in the “I'm worthy of the Sauber seat next year chaps” game. Bear in mind that the owner of Force India Vijay Mallya is currently on the run after an arrest warrant was issued and his fleet of Kingfisher airliners were grounded. Apparently he’s been paying the bills with rubber cheques, and the owners of Hyderabad international airport are not amused. I don’t think he’s going to turn up to the India Grand prix in two weeks time seeing as he didn’t turn up to court as summon last week. What this means for the team is anyone’s guess,   but I bet Di Resta and the Hulk are frantically calling Sauber when they’re not in the car.

Grosjean was seventh and hurrah he didn’t hit anyone. Well done to him, keep up the good work lad.

Vergne has a career best eighth and showed that the Toro Rosso’s are finally up to speed, Mercedes had better watch out ! Vergne came under a bit of pressure from Hamilton towards the end, but kept his head and kept it on the grey stuff.

Ricciardo in the other Toro Rosso was ninth and didn’t quite have the tyres to stop Vergne looking the better bet for a contract continuation next year.

Tenth and the last paying point for Hamilton, who must be counting down the days until his contract with McLaren expires; another broken car, yet another wheel nut not going on properly, another set up issue, pulled a qualifying lap out of the blue and failed again to turn that into a challenge. He was still as feisty as ever, making Kimi work for his points. But he looked like a sitting duck for most of the race and really, really must be wishing it would just all end soon. All in all then, a week to forget for Lewis.

So then, last place driver was Karthikeyan this time a mere two laps behind the leader. Webber got the fastest laps on the last lap of the race, no tyre issues for him then.

We’re off to Indian next, which is another soulless track in the middle of an industrial estate. It didn’t look all the interesting last year as I recall, its a 9.30am kick off so you won’t have to get up early at least.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Let's all Dance to Bernies music

Korea then and it’s another one of Bernie’s ‘take the money and run’ circuits.

Back in the day this was supposed to be the foundation of a great street circuit in the middle of a billionaires’ paradise and marina. Except the financial world collapsed and suddenly there wasn’t enough money left to build the hotels, restaurants and gin palace dry docks. So what we are left with is a reasonable interesting circuit in the middle of a reclaimed swamp next to a shipping terminal on a dreary bit of Korean coast. That has no infrastructure to speak off within 60 miles and no atmosphere what-so-ever.

If you think china has a dull looking circuit, you ain’t seen nothing yet !

So who have been the winners and losers this week?

Grosjean and his chums have been crawling out of the woodwork to claim that Webber caused the accident in turn two of the Japanese GP. The theory goes that Webber was off line in turn 1 and slowed more than necessary on the apex of turn 2. Grosjean had nowhere to go because he was boxed in by Perez, and ran into the back of the Redbull. Looking back at it … it looks like he piles into the back of Webber, who’s in front of him. Maybe he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he’s spent a lot of this year in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Much like Massa and Hamilton did last year. He’s not a bad driver ... But he’s coping an awful lot flak for accidents even if it’s not technically his fault.
Lotus are sort of lukewarm about his future, so he’s got five races to keep his head down and not hit anyone else.

Lewis this week has had another, “think before you say anything moment”. An Idol twitter comment that “Jenson isn't following me on Twitter anymore, I thought he had more respect than that”. Was pounced on by a press pack and twittershpere to be a dig at Button and McLaren and Bernie and F1 and the fans and the money and sponsors and the team and the people than make those stickers that you can buy in little stalls at the circuit and God and the man that opens the gate to let the teams in and the truck driver and the WHOLE WORLD !!!!1!!!!!!!!!.
A hasty, “oh oops! he wasn’t following me in the first place” tweet later that day was met by a raft of comedy twitter comments from every living comedian on earth about how Lewis wasn’t following them and they felt they’d been let down badly.
24 hours and a lot of Korean beer later the press pack had completely forgotten where its hotel was, let alone what Hamilton had to say on twitter.

The third tear drivers market is starting to take shape; Ricciardo thinks he’s going to get another year with Toro Rosso, not the most exciting driver and certainly not Redbull full team material. He’ll be lucky to keep the seat unless he pulls out some top ten finishes from somewhere.
Kovalainen must be in talks with Sauber, because Caterham are talking about what a great guy he is and they’re sure he’s going to sign with them for next year.
The word on the street is Maldonado is off to somewhere new now. With all that lovely Venezuelan money he’ll be getting now Chavez is El Presidenta again, I imagine he’s harbouring thoughts of a the Sauber seat too. Williams are almost certainly going to pick Bottos for the car next year so Senna must be praying Maldonado walks off

Anyway .. errrrr yes Korea. Right This place is a bit like Valencia; technical with a few fast bits. Well Redbull and their sneaky deaky Double DRS they appear to have now should see them on pole. Newey has sneaked this one out under the radar and caught McLaren and Ferrari on the hop with their system, unlike the dreadful thing on the Mercedes, appearing to work and gives them a clear qualifying advantage. They locked out the front row in Japan remember.

Ferrari has been talking their game up and that usually mean they're panicking.

McLaren, well that’s anyone’s guess, its’ win or bust for them at the moment. You have no idea what sort of team is going to turn up - the win with ease or the back stabbing eyes off the prize, lads. Stick them out front and they’ll be difficult to beat, but if Redbulls rinky dinky double DRS is actually real and working McLaren will be the ones chasing.
Perez in the Sauber will be trying too hard again to impress the lads from Woking. Whilst Mercedes with their tyre eating car might well be late run for points contenders, when they have to stop with ten laps to go before the end as usual.

I think we could see one of the Williams boys in the top ten too. Both need to impress the teams to get a seat for next year.

Kimi ... well you never know. I don’t think he’s actually raced here, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do well here. Maybe a top five spot even a podium if Grosjean takes out a handful of the top runners.

Oh yeah and Massa, i think he could be in top five again. relying on Grosjean of course.

Right update you predictions before Friday and good luck.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

It's the finger of win yet again !

There we go then, not the most exciting race of the year really; it does make the race for the chase for the cup for the win a bit more interesting though.
It’s been a long time since Vettel nailed the pole, won the race and got the fastest lap. The last time he did it in India last year, the year he won the championship you’ll remember, after stealing it from under the nose of Alonso the year before, don’t forget.

There seems to be a sort of momentum building for the Redbull driver, The Ferrari development team seems to have hit a bit of brick wall whilst the lads and lasses in Milton Keynes have a whole new body shell ready for the Korean GP next weekend. They have a sniff of the title and are going for it body and soul. Whilst the McLaren team got bogged down in who was signing for whom, took their eyes off the prize and are now looking at saving a season going for the constructor title.  

The race wasn’t that interesting really; with lots of follow my leader and not being close enough to make a move type racing.  Alonso got punted off the circuit at the first corner when Button squeezed him into Kimi, who dropped back and tagged the unfortunate Ferrari driver. Lady luck looks to have left the Italian hospitality bar and is heading up the hill towards here new favourites at Redbull.
Meanwhile Grosjean pretty much got himself a two race ban when he slammed into the back of Webber whilst watching Perez. Webber was able to restart, but I suspect this will be the end of Grosjean’s F1 career. Unless he has a whole shed load of cash for one of the backmarker teams of course.

Hamilton who had made the classic mistake of signing for a new team before he’d won the championship with his old team. Went backwards with the set up on Saturday after dominating on Friday and only qualified ninth, from where he wasn’t going to get much out of the race with a car that wasn’t going where he wanted it to. First Perez had a bit of fun getting past him, before getting it wrong the second time round and spinning out of the race.
Then we had a flash of the old Lewis when he exited the pits along Kimi into turn one. It looked for a second as if The Lotus driver had done enough to stay ahead of the McLaren, but Hamilton kept his foot in and muscled his way past Kimi to take the fifth spot. Proper old school driving at its best.
And that was it for highlights. Jenson almost, but not quite caught Kobayashi for third as the race ran out. The suggestion that the McLaren lads don’t really have the heart for the rest of the season is a difficult one to shake. Realistically they’re both out of the title hunt, if they weren’t Button would have had another “gearbox issue” and let Hamilton though. But the team wants points for the constructors now and isn’t going to risk upsetting Jenson for a driver who’s off to pastures more silver and green next year.

Vettel and the finger of win claim back to back wins, and more to within four points of Alonso’s lead. Can you see him not winning the championship now ... no me neither.

Massa makes a rare appearance on the podium with a very creditable second place.  He got there on merit and you can’t take anything away from him here. It looks like his seat for 2013 at Ferrari is secure and that’s made him a happy bunny.

Kobayashi makes his first podium finish at his home GP, much to the delight of the home support. Jenson kept him honest at the end, but I think the likable Japanese chap and the Sauber team had it pretty much covered. He was miles behind Massa and never looked like taking the fight to Vettel, but that wasn’t his race today. The rumours are that Sauber are looking around for two new drivers next year after Koby has been less than stella this year. This third place might just change their minds.

Jenson was forth for a day the McLaren would like to forget.  He had gearbox issue in the first third of the race and was lucky to get to the end.  He made a fist of chasing Koby down, but didn’t look like getting there without the Sauber driver making a few big mistakes.  The much vaunted “I’ll help Lewis win the title if I can” stopped at giving up his fourth spot you will notice.

Hamilton was fifth, after telling everyone he wasn’t expecting to win a championship in the Mercedes next year, and nor will he win his last one in a McLaren.  

Raikkonen was sixth in a lotus that has defiantly gone off the boil.

Hulkenberg puts the disappointment of not even being asked if he wanted to talk about starting contract negotiation with McLaren behind him and makes a case for getting the vacant Sauber seat, is seventh.

Maldonado was eighth with a quite race.

Webber after being punted off by the prize idiot Grosjean, was ninth and can kiss his title chance away as well.

Finally Ricciardo did enough to keep Schumacher getting the last points at his last Japanese GP.  

Schumacher who had suddenly realised on Friday that the music had stopped and the other players were sitting down watching him. Then the Sauber team told him that their chair was being saved for someone else and that he was now free to go and help himself to the snacks at the side of the hall and wait for the goody bag at the end of the evening.  I'm still not sure what he was expecting to happen when he came back to F1 three years ago, but I doubt a couple of podiums and a lot of walking back to explain why he driven into the back of yet another car, figured in his plans.

Some people still think the sun shines out of his backside. I don’t and i never did. I’ll respect what he did, seven world titles is not to be sniffed at. But I lost all respect for the man when he tried to drive Ruben into the Hungarian pit wall.  The same as I lost all respect for Senna when he drove into Prost to win his championship. A driver making mistakes and just not concentrating is one thing; deliberately trying to drive another car off the road is another.

So then Grosjean almost salvaged something for you by being dead last, but he couldn't even manage that, so the HRT of Pedro De La Rosa takes the honors and the five points.

Right, the Korean “drive around a soggy looking waste land next to a river that no one in their right minds would ever go near “ GP is next. And I think you be a fool to bet on anyone other than Vettel for the win.  Unless McLaren get it right this time or Ferrari pull a new car out of their backsides. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Suzuka and a few questions

Right Japan then it’s time for the rather wonderful Suzuka circuit, a fast flowing track around the hills of Mie prefecture. This place has seen its fair share of drama over the years; Senna endlessly getting up close and personal with Prost, Hill taking his world championship here .
This weekend sees the circus return after Lewis confirmed he is going to be driving for Mercedes as of next year and Perez was snapped up by McLaren. So there are a few interesting points of interest to ponder over the weekend.

Firstly, if you were Martin Whitmarsh would you want to see your once most favoured son leave the fold after winning the world championship? Would you feel happy watching your rival tooling around next year with number 1 on its nose?  No I suspect not, so will McLaren be doing everything in its power to help Lewis win the championship this year? ... I don’t think so.
The word is there is now no love lost between driver and team. He’s thrown his toys out of the pram once too often, and they've failed to deliver the win too often.  Hamilton isn't going to be part of any “future car development” meeting and any new bits will probably be on Jensen’s car first.
I still think Lewis is the better bet for pole given Jenson has a 5 place penalty for a gearbox change, but the win could be Jensen’s.

Another thing to ponder is Perez, Hamilton only signed for Mercedes on Thursday, yet McLaren rather than say, “what a shame, we’re really going to miss the blighter and we will announce who’s going to replace him at the end of the season” instead they said “ yeah whatever, we've signed Perez already and he’s much better.”
This strikes me as odd!  They had him ready to stand in front of the press even before the ink was dry on Hamilton’s contract, no long goodbyes and “what a great guy he was” they stole the thunder from Mercedes and their new signing with a dawn raid on Sauber and a bit of a surprise signing ready and waiting. Perez must have bitten off their hand when they came knocking at the door.  

Now I'm not Perez’s biggest fan, I think he’s a bit dull and not terrible good at qualifying. But he’s shown he can drive the car and not hit the other drivers. He’s delivered points for Sauber and done what he’s been asked to do and I think he’ll be a perfect team mate for Jenson with a similar driving style. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes in a top line car next year.
 The word is that Jaime Alguersuari has got the nod for the Sauber seat; he’s certainly suggested it a few times on twitter. I think the loss of Perez’s Telmex millions means they’re going to have to get a big name in.

As for Schumacher, well he’s been fired hasn't he? Driving into the back of yet another car this year was the last straw, he’s not really looked committed to the cause with a third in Valencia as everyone else burned their tyres out, his only high point.  He’s bounced around the lower half of the top ten or the tracks side grass. There were a couple of half hearted rumors of a one year deal to return to Ferrari. But that was stamped on from a very great height by Ferrari. They’re happy with Alonso who is very happy with Massa. So he could swallow whatever pride he has left and go to Sauber, but I think he’s off to a seat on a board of directors and an import/export business in Germany. Maybe even a Mercedes dealerships network in Bavaria. His time is up and he’s been given his marching orders.  

Back to the racing then, and on paper this should suit the McLaren’s a treat, nice and fast it’s a ballsy circuit that rewards drivers who take a risk. The Redbulls will be close behind and Alonso will be there to pick up a podium if the others fail.
It could also be another good race for Lotus. It’s the sort of place Kimi loves, if the car is on song. They've been having a better second half of the season, Kimi’s podium were a result of others misfortunes and just sort of being there but that’s enough for him to be third in the championship.  They’re probably not fast enough on pure pace, but they’re been rock solid best of the rest all year.

Ferrari ... well they really could do with a win, but i don’t think the car is as fast as the McLarens or as planted as the Redbulls. Alonso is worth a couple of seconds a lap, but that’s not going to be enough I think. Top five if the others are reliable.

Okay Qualifying starts at 6am on Saturday morning; the race is live on Sunday at 7am.

If you’re bored on Saturday night you could do worse than spend a few hours trying to find a live stream of the Bathurst 1000, Australia premier tin top series. Think touring cars with big grunty V8 engines tooling up and down a mountain for 6 hours, whilst the punters on the banking get absolutely wasted. It’s like Le Mans, the British GP and the Indy 500 all rolled into one. It’s not on any TV networks outside Australia this year, but there’ll be a live stream here
Right get your predictions in before Friday. Don’t forget Jenson and Schumacher have grid penalties, so they’ll not be on pole.

Good luck.