Sunday, 24 March 2013

Vettel wants it, just that little bit more.

Who would be a formula one racing driver?

It starts when you’re a child, sitting on your father’s knee hearing tales of Fangio and Moss fighting for the World championship, when you barely know what the world is, watching flickering images of supermen on a Sunday afternoon TV.

It begins at the local kart track in two stroke motors zipping round and round. Making friends with other kids with dreams and their fathers who missed their big break, the karts get bigger and faster, friendships stronger.

Then it’s trips to see local business men and “opportunities to promote the brand, sir” and the dream gets diluted  .....just a tiny little bit.  With luck, the karts get left behind and new bigger faster cars are bought. Some friends are lost, the unlucky ones who can’t smile on cue and distil a 40 minute race into a cute 5 second sound bite.

Time moves on and the dream is diluted more as there is less racing and more promotion, selling the idea of the dream to suits with desks that never move. With luck a lower championship might be won here and there, or the right suit sees the right race on the right day. An impression is made and a winning smile used to beguile the suit. More friends are lost to tin tops and racing in the dark, a select few find homes abroad on circuits that only go left.

Then it’s the big time and a chance to stand at the back of a garage watching the big boys play the game, maybe the odd drive on a Friday morning perhaps, with all your remaining mates hanging around in the other garages on pit row. When suddenly one of the supermen, who all turn out to be ordinary lads just like you and not at all super, decides he’s had enough of talking to suits and being told what to do so walks into the sunset. 

Eventually there is no dream, the dream now is what the suit says and the boss on the pit wall calls. You’re not there to win, you’re there to play tail gunner and pick up points towards the constructors championship. Now and again you’ll luck into a better grid position maybe a spot or two ahead of the star. But never think you’re there because the team wills it. No, you’re there because the star turn has had an off weekend when his international jet set girlfriend has thrown a tantrum because she didn’t get recognised in hospitality.  
This weekend saw the same story played out for two drivers. One knows the story far too well, has seen it played out countless times over the recent past. The other was introduced to the story for the first time. Money and corporate interest have over taken the dream now, you were never one of the chosen few to be a super star and you probably never even knew you had the chance before it was taken away from you. One of the suits liked the smile of your friend just that little bit more and was given that barely imperceptible nod that said “I choose you”.

And as for your friends, well they all turn out to be ready to sell their souls to get an advantage over you. No longer willing to stand up in court and tell the judge they didn’t see the glass in your hand that caught that CEO by accident. They are happy to apologies for stealing the win from you, in a room full of nameless hacks that are looking for a story to hang another race on. Happy to smile in your face and stab you in the media.

Really, who would be a formula one racing driver ?

So then, Vettel steals  gets his first win of the year and stakes an early claim on the title. To be fair the move he made on Webber to take the lead was top draw stuff and was pretty spectacular. He’d spent half the race eating the grumpy Australians dust, complained to the team that he didn’t like being in second place and could they please tell Webber to get out of his way with no success. So he took matter into his own hands and when Webber was told they had stopped racing now and could he just stroke it home for the win, stuck a set of sticky tyres on and blasted up the inside into turn one. Webber was initially rather surprised, Horner told Vettel to “calm down old man, stop being a silly boy” Webber fought back for a couple of turns, thought Vettel was show boating for a bit and was going to give the place back. But the German didn’t even apologise he just sailed off in the distance to the big silver trophy and the champagne spray.
 What does this tell us about the Vettel/Webber dynamic then ?
Possibly it tells us that Vettel now doesn’t think he has to follow any team order, maybe as his chief mechanic said on the pit wall, he just wanted it more than Webber. Or maybe Webber wasn’t expecting Vettel to blatantly disregard team order and effectively steal the race from him.  Also don’t forget the team personnel who look after Webbers car on the other side of the garage, It wasn’t just Webber who lost a win; they just lost a win bonus. That sort of thing can really stir things up in the pressure cooker of a garage.
The flight home will be an interesting one, there might well be a certain amount of seat reallocation taking place tonight.
Anyway, Vettel got the pole and is credited with the win. You might take the view he deserved the win, and that pass as I said was pretty good, but I think blind siding a man when he’s not expecting it is kind of cheap. Sure that’s what makes you world champions and all, but it never made Schumacher look all that great and it doesn’t look clever now either.
Still it makes the rest of the season fun!

Webber was second and I think he’ll be justified in feeling robbed. He was there on merit and through doing a better job on the track. When the call came that they were to hold station he stopped racing and settled down to see out the remaining laps. When he saw Vettel steaming up the inside into turn one, he closed the door but not enough. A feisty defence through 2, 3 and 4 wasn’t enough to stop Vettel who had the bit between his teeth. With two cars pretty equal on pace you either need the leader to make a mistake or catch him napping, and once passed there isn’t a lot the guy behind can do.
Walking into the holding cell before the podium Webber looked like he was all ready to smack the German in the face, repeating several times that the pit wall had called the race and they were supposed to be holding station, Newey looked uncomfortable and Vettel didn’t appear to give a monkeys what Webber thought the call was. It’s to his credit that he didn’t, because you know these days are few and far between when the pitwall calls it his race. It’s yet  another notch on the post that says Webber has not finished higher than he started since Spa 2012.

Hamilton is third with his first podium since joining Mercedes, except as he rightly admitted on that podium, he didn’t really deserve it. Corporate expediency left Nico behind him with a faster car and a burning desire to prove he has the talent to win the championship. Nico was ahead of Lewis all weekend long, except when it actually mattered, in practice and the early rounds of qualifying he was the class Mercedes driver. Except when the flag fell as the end of qualifying and the race, Lewis was ahead of him.  That’s what Lewis does you know, he’ll go out there and driver right through any problem he has, he just goes faster when it counts.  In the race he was the one that took the fight to the Redbulls, he was told to burn up the tyres and chase the blue cars ahead of him, and that’s what he did. It wasn’t his fault that the team didn’t have enough juice in the car to get to the end, the same as it wasn’t Nico fault. Well except it kind of was, Lewis did as he was told and closed the gap to Vettel and Nico was left behind. When the next set of tyres didn’t quite work for Lewis, Nico closed down, but couldn’t quite pass. Then when Ross called to say that was all the fun over with and hold station because they didn’t have enough fuel, Nico did have enough because he hadn’t ragged it to trying to win. Its all well and good begging the boss to let you have a crack at the Redbulls when they’re 10 seconds up the road and everyone knows the race is over. Beating your team mate doesn’t mean jack when you hang around until he’s hobbled, just look up the road, do you think this is one of Vettels greatest ever races? No of course not, he beat a man that was told he was safe.  So whilst I have a certain amount of sympathy for Nico, Lewis was ahead of him when it mattered in qualifying and the race. Well done for not being a cock like Vettel, but that’s how it works if you’re not ahead of your team mate when the team give the order.

Nico was thus fourth and should have qualified better.

Massa was fifth in what is turning into a bit of a purple patch for the Brazilian. Once again he out qualified Alonso and this time it was the Spaniard who got all unnecessary off the start line and broke his wing before the end of the second corner.  Alonso should just know better than to clout the back of Vettel with his wing, those things are there for a reason and they don’t last long at high speed when half of it isn’t connected to the car anymore. Anyway, back to Massa who did another fine job of not getting lost or hitting anything and delivered points when the star turn had his moment of madness.  
It’s interesting that the talk of Massa leaving any day now has largely gone. Though there are now whisperings from the tin foil hat brigade that Webber will leave Redbull now and walk into Massa’s seat before we get to China. Like Webber is going to play second fiddle to Alonso when he can’t stand to be beaten by Vettel! He always throws a hissy fit when Horner slaps him down, why would he want to swap a winning Blue car for a third rate Red car and do the same thing?

Grosjean was sixth with a better race than last week, the smooth warm track obviously not suiting the Lotus as much as the rough cold Australian did. Lotus didn’t look like taking any sort of fight to the front this week.

Kimi was seventh and he was lucky to get that. He struggled all weekend with the handling of the Lotus and just couldn’t find a balance that suited him. He was bounced back three places on the grid for holding up some one or other in qualifying and spent most of the race looking at the back of Perez’s McLaren. We might not see the Lotus at the front again until we get back to Europe and those rough old tracks in the rain. Until then Kimi will be hoping that this weekend was just a blip in the title challenge.

Hulkenberg was eighth finally getting his 2013 season going after last week’s fuel cell issue and as expected he’s ahead of Gutierrez. It’s a solid if boring result, as Sauber stick to form and just sort of tool round collecting points. Nothing too controversial now!

Perez was ninth and spent most of the race getting in the way of people, mostly the two Lotus drivers and anyone else actually racing. Interesting these are the first points he’s scored since signing for McLaren.  Talking of which we saw a return of the comedy McLaren pit crew today as they sent Jenson off without screwing on his right front wheel, I thought this stuff had been sorted out.  Hamilton even stopped in their pit at one point to tell them to get their act together.

And finally Vergne was tenth, I didn’t really see him to have an opinion. These are the sort of results that the Torro Rosso should be getting regularly but seem to surprise when they happen.  A lack of Alonso, Button and the two Force India’s would pretty much account for this result.
Our last place driver this week is Max Chilton, who is being comprehensible beaten by his team mate, Bianchi.  So it’s not the car that’s letting him down here. The reality of playing with the bigger boys is starting to dawn here I suspect. That dream once dreamt so very long ago will have to have a very strong core to keep this little boy going all year long.

So then, what do we know after two races? Well the Redbull is a good qualifying car and on a smooth track, pretty unbeatable. The only thing that might stop them is a civil war between two sides of the garage.
Mercedes have a car that is fast, but they have to run it hard and light to keep it at the front.
Ferrari has a very fast car but Lady Luck is still not drinking champers in the red hospitality unit.
Lotus has a car that has a sweet spot that needs to be teased out to play.
The death of McLaren might be a bit premature.
Sauber are still the same old conservative team of old.
Williams have in Bottas a star and Maldonado a someone to crash test the car.
Torro Rosso are still there to make up the numbers.
Force India needs some money to develop the good ideas on the car.
Caterham have taken a step back with two drivers of varying quality.
And Marussia have taken a step forward with one driver at least.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Whose got the most money then ...

So it’s a short turn around and the circus touches down in Malaysia for the second
GP in as many weekends.

With such a short turn around the gulf between the riches teams (those at the front) and thoseless well off teams  (those at the back of the grid) becomes starkly obvious. The likes of Ferrari and Redbull will have analysed the performance of their cars in Australia five days ago, and will have an assortment of team personal boarding flights to Malaysia with large irregular carbon fibre packages as hand luggage.
The teams at the back of the grid will patch up whatever damage Maldonado or Van De Garde did to their cars and then look at their dwindling supply of spare parts they have and then wish they had better drivers.

So then what happened in Australia ?

Lotus went well and didn’t burn their tyres out.
 Redbull appeared to have a bit of a rear down force issue, as in, not enough of it.
Ferrari looked pretty solid but they didn’t have quite enough speed in the twisty bits.
Mercedes was quick in qualifying and practise, but fell away as the weekend and the track was rubbered in.
Fore India had a cracking weekend with a fast car that only ran out of grip at the end.

So that’s your top ten
McLaren have got real problems. Perez was a complete non entity, failing to make an impact on the top ten and was anonymous all weekend. Button did what he could but once again he can’t drag a poor car to the places Hamilton would make it go. If you’re stuck in the midfield mire you need a Banzai driver to push you forward. Apparently their initial “OMG” pace at the first test was due to a suspension part being fitted the wrong way round. Once fitted the right way round the speed and handling went to hell in a hand cart.
That suggest to me they have a fundamental problem with the chassis and is not something you fix over night. Or even the course of a week between back to back race meetings.

Sauber are a bit unknown with a rookie who was meh and the Hulk failing to make the start with a fuel issue, they weren’t exactly fast but they did look like they might push McLaren for top ten slots.  Gutierrez was 13 and you have to expect Hulkenberg to be better than that if he get to the track.
 Torro Rosso wasn’t rubbish but that might have been because others were.
Williams was absolutely dire and only Bottas saved their blushes. Maldonado whined the whole weekend about how undrivable the car was and spent the few laps he was in the race, missing corner apexes by a country mile.  I don’t think they’re going to trouble the top ten any time soon.
Further back and the Marussia’s on balance weren’t as bad as the Caterham’s, but both teams should hang their heads in shame. Bianci is clearly better than Max who did alright and didn’t hit anything and Pic is clearly better than Van der Garde. But that’s obvious as both the better drivers have more experience.
I think your last placed driver is going to be a straight fight between Max and Van Der Garde.

So, up the sharp end ... well more of the same really.
Vettel, Alonso and Kimi, with a Merc maybe on the podium if one of those three drops the ball, Hamilton got points because Nico dropped out in Oz, I think Nico will be ahead of Lewis this time.
Webber had an issue with his McLaren ECU in Australia (McLaren supply the whole of the grid) this was apparently a one off failure and shouldn’t happen again.
Massa is a good back up driver and a good bet for the top five.
With Grosjean, and the Force India’s to fight for the rest, throw in a Sauber and Jenson to the mix for a laugh.

Right that’s enough for now... don’t forget to update your predictions BEFORE FRIDAY, but any predictions not updated will roll over from now on.

Good Luck.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Kimi starts the season on a high

Right, well that was all a bit odd wasn’t it!
Qualifying on Saturday, which I’d got up especially early for, was a lot of sitting around watching marshals pushing brooms around trying to clear water from the track as the heavens opened. They ran Q1 then though that a bunch of highly paid drivers shouldn’t go round the track whilst it was still raining and cancelled the rest of qualifying till Sunday morning.
Heaving learnt my lesson once; I didn’t bother sitting up to watch that. This was probably the right thing to do, as the Redbulls locked the front row out and suggested another season of watching Vettel drive off into the distance.
A heavy day of drinking in London had left me passed out on the sofa on Sunday morning and quite by luck the dog chose to wake me up as the race was about to start. I have to admit I didn’t give it my full attention and even watching the replay later didn’t really help me figure out what the story of the weekend was or is.
I think we can safely say that McLaren and Williams have both screwed up, with the Woking mob even going as far as to suggest they might dust off the 2012 car and try their luck with that instead. Such was poor show for the McLaren. Perez bounced around the middle of the pack getting in everyone’s way, whilst Button made a bit of a fist of it at the back end of the top ten. There are going to be some long days ahead for the McLaren tech crews. Williams, who had promised so much in pre season testing, have as Maldonado didn’t hold back from saying to the media every chance he got. “An undrivable car right now” Bottas showed commendable character and got on with things, whilst Maldonado faffed around, failed to get out of Q1 and then stuck it in the kitty litter after 24 laps of the race.  He didn’t look a happy bunny as he trudged back to the pits.

As for the sharp end of the grid ?
Well Lotus have given Kimi, if not Grosjean, a genuinely quick car that’s kind to its tyres and is going to give him a real shot at the title. Redbull have a fast qualifying car but it’s hard on the tyres and not that fast when the tanks are brimmed for the race also their KRES system still doesn’t work. Webber still can’t get off the line cleanly. Ferrari look to have a fast car in race trim that both Alonso and Massa like the feel of it. Mercedes have a few gremlins still to fix, it’s fast in qualifying but lacks speed in the race.
The surprise package of the day was Sutil in the force India, who looked after his types at the start of the race and even led Vettel for a considerable time. The suggestion that he was holding up the Redbull appeared wide of the mark to me, I thought looked like he had the measure of Vettel and made Webber properly work to pass him later on. Obviously spending a year kicking his heals on the side lines was just the motivation he needed.

So then, Kimi wins and was comfortably ahead of the Ferrari at the end. He looked after his tyres and made the two stop strategy work for him. He wasn’t particularly faster than the other cars, but Lotus played the better chess game and had Kimi sitting at the front of the pack when it mattered. I think they’ve learnt from last year when too often they got the pit calls wrong and lost points. Now they have a car to challenge for the championship. Just to show off, Kimi got the fastest lap of the race with a handful of laps left.

Alonso was second and pretty much picked up where he left off last year. This time around the car isn’t trying to kill him and that has to make the Ferrari team happy.

Vettel in a slow car was still third and that’s how you win championships. For the last three years he’s not won the first race on the way to the title. So I think the news that the king is dead might be a bit premature. Let’s see how they go in Malaysia where it’s warmer.

Massa was fourth and could have been on the podium with a bit of luck. He spent a handful of laps at the front as others pitted for tyres. He too looked much more comfortable in the car than last year. Proper tail gunner duties it is then.

Hamilton in fifth didn’t quite blow Rosberg away as some predicted, Nico was easily faster in the changeable conditions in qualifying, well until Q3 when Hamilton blew him away. Lewis planned a race with two stops but the “thrash the car up the grid” instinct kicked in and he eventually had to make an extra stop after flat spotting the tyres defending sixth front Alonso. But all in all it was a good weekend result for the new Mercedes driver. The car looks handy if a little slow with full tanks. Lewis has brought his fast race suit with his McLaren and must be extremely happy to have moved when he looks over his should at his old team.  A happy Lewis is always a fast Lewis.

Webber in sixth had yet another Australian race to forget. He was behind Vettel after qualifying and after the start of the race he went from second to behind a further five cars, before the first corner. Apparently his KERS unit failed to charge on the parade lap and it took 5 laps to reset it. By which time he was too far back to have any realistic chance of a podium. He worked hard though and got back onto the points with some cracking over taking moves. And he avoided hitting anyone, always worth noting that one.

Sutil finished in seventh after a fine drive from twelfth. He completely blew Di Resta off the track and the pit call at the end made it quite clear that glassing someone in a Chinese night club doesn’t necessarily lead one to be viewed as a number two driver or anything. Obviously brining a whole shed load of cash does help in that respect.

Di Resta in eighth obviously hasn’t got as much sponsorship cash as his team mate. He pretty much played second fiddle all weekend long. As Sutil was pushing the front runners and making play for a podium, Paul was kicking around the midfield. Then to cap it all when he caught up with Sutil, he was told not to over take him. That might be a little disheartening, don’t you think.

Button was eventually ninth and lucky to get that. The car was slow, very slow and didn’t look like taking any sort of fight to the front runners. They are going to hard to burn a lot of midnight oil to make this car into a winner. After the race, Button said the car was worse than last years race winner, which was pretty obvious. I give it three more races before they give up and  start working on next years car.

And Grosjean was tenth, Well at least he didn’t hit anyone.

Last place this week went to Van De Garde as the Caterham driver had a bit of nightmare weekend.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Things look grim in Woking.

If you were expecting this to be the year McLaren got its act together and challenged redbull, you might well be out of luck. Both cars failed to trouble the top ten in second practice and don't look like be any sort of force to be recond with so far.
Maybe they have a stunning race pace... Or not.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Season Preview Part 1

Welcome to the 2013 Formula One Predict-a-thon game.

Hello everyone, I would like to start this season with an observation. This game isn’t really about winning and losing, Oh being able to wander round the office or home and tell anyone fool enough to ask about your smile, that winning is the best feeling in the world is fine. But in reality there can be only one winner each race and only one winner at the end of the year.
The point of this game is really to make you care about the driver finishing tenth. To make you root for Hamilton to pass Webber for that sixth place and reward your faith in him. It makes you look at the back of the field as well as the superstars at the front and pray the Marussia will hold together long enough to get to the line.

So when the rest of the world throws up its arms and complains that no one will ever beat that smug German in Neweys new wonder car, you’ll smile and point out that you knew Jenson was rubbish at qualifying and
Perez is only ever good for 7th place.

And with the heartfelt bit out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks and take a look at this year’s runners and riders, starting from the back of the grid and the “lucky to still be in business” brigade.

Well with the death of HRT they have no one to make them look good this year. They are the first team ever, I think, to fire a driver before the season even starts, with the luckless Brazilin Luiz Razia getting his marching orders when his cheque didn’t clear in time for the fourth test.  That suggests they are doing this on something of a shoes string budget ... yet again.

23. Max Chilton.
Max is first and foremost a pay and play driver. He’s got talent; all the drivers have some talent or other at this level. But pretty much everyone has written him off as daddy’s boy that’s bought his way into F1. But hang on didn’t Senna, yes the great 3 times world champion Senna, buy his seat at Toleman with his father’s money, after a very privilege upbringing in the nicer bits of Sao Paulo? Now I’m not suggesting Max is going to be anything other than last man standing fodder, but give the guy a break. He’s got his chance and I hope he sees out the season.

Chance of top ten Finish: None what so ever – unless a meteorite destroys the rest of the field on Saturday night.

22. Jules Bianchi.
 Max and his AON sponsorship are joined by Jules Bianchi and his 2014 Ferrari engine contract. Jules has been knocking around the paddock for a number or years now, technically he’s a rookie but he’s sat in a fair few F1 cars already. He was/is a Ferrari test driver and was almost going to make it into the Force India seat until Sutil came back from the dead and brought a big Mercedes cheque with him. Lots of people rate the Frenchman, Ferrari for instance, but not enough to give him a top line drive. He only had the call last week and turned up to the fourth and final test and went faster than Max.

Chance of top ten Finish: No chance, unless the heavens opened and everyone else spins off.

Tony Fernandez has stepped down as team manager and some nobody you’ve never heard of has been given his job. I think this is going to be a holding year for Caterham before the new engine regs in 2014 and the tie up with Renault Alpine. Until then it’s a year of beating Marussia and trying to not appear too rubbish. After winter testing, that might be a tough ask.

21. Giedo Van de Garde.
I have no idea who this is, some Dutch kid that’s been hanging around the back of numerous garages for a number of years now. He almost got a drive with Spyker back in 2007. But the FIA refused him a super licence and that was the end of that. A few years keeping the midfield numbers up in GP2 and now he’s been given a life line with Caterham.

Chance of top ten Finish: Never going to happen.

22. Charles Pic.
Was in the Marussia last year and failed to impress anyone other than the board at Caterham. He is most famous for, whilst driving for Marussia, missing a gear and quite by accident letting the Caterham he would be driving next year, through at the last race of the 2012 season. He didn’t hit too many things last year and kept a rubbish car ahead of the HRTS drivers.

Chance of top ten Finish: It might happen, but unlikely.

Torro Rosso:
 It’s much, much more of the same for the Redbull Number 2 team. And this year their secret weapon is .... They’ve made the car more comfortable to drive. Do you think that’ll make a difference to their results? No, me nether. Predicable underachievers, they could well struggle to make it into qualifying two this year and given how much money they have, you have to ask what are they doing wrong.  They’re ahead of the Marussia and Caterham teams, but not good enough to mix it up with the mid field boys. They might be in luck if Force India goes to the wall half way through the season though.

19. Daniel Ricciardo.
He did alright last year with a couple of fine drives in Korea and Australia. If the car has been bolted together properly he could be there to pick up the pieces when the midfield falter, his ability to qualify well will be put to the test this year with no HRT safety net.

Chance of top ten Finish: Better than hopeless, but will need others to fail.

18. Jean-Eric Vergne.
Didn’t qualify as well as his team mate last year, but took more risks with strategy and reaped the rewards.  As with Ricciardo, he’s not got HRT qualifying last to save him this year so he’s going to have to work through the back markers to get any points.

Chance of top ten Finish: Will need to qualify well to stand a chance.

My personal favourite team, but they’ve traded on those past glories that I loved so much, for far too long now. Last year was almost a return to form, but what started out well just sort of faded once again. The fortunate win in Spain was tempered by the garage fire a few hours later and Maldonado spending the rest of the season driving into Perez and being a complete tool. They’ve rolled the dice this year with yet another radical rear end design and lots of trick bits. In the hands of Newey or McLaren this would be a guilt edged tilt for the title. But in the underfunded hands of Williams it’s a layer of complication that could rob them of points. I’d love them to do well, just as a nice send off for Franks wife who sadly lost her battle with cancer as the F1 testing ended. And because they represent to a lot of people like me the heart and soul of the British F1 ‘garagista’ teams.

 17. Valtteri Bottas.
Another year and another rookie with cash at Williams, Bottas has a silly name and allegedly a lot of talent.  He’s been the number three, standing at the back of the pits doing no driving what to ever, driver for a number of years now and he knows the team well. But he’s not driven a car competitively since 2011, choosing to spend 2012 pushing a broom around the Didcot factory and making the tea for Frank and Toto Wolff (before he went off to Mercedes and the HUGE paycheck).  He’s supposed to be good, but then so was Bruno Senna last year, time as ever, will tell.

Chance of top ten Finish: If the trick bits don’t explode, then yes he’ll be there.

16. Pastor Maldonado.
Despite all the insane driving and what appeared to have be a personal vendetta against Perez last year, Maldonado is back for more. Well until last week when Hugo Chavez finally succumbed to cancer and suddenly all that lovely Venezuelan state sponsorship Pastor was carrying around in his back pocket didn’t look quite so secure. The word is he is safe for now, Franks already banked the sign on cheque so he’ll be with us for a few months at least. But if the old red mist descends again and the Williams boys start demanding money to rebuild the car race after race, he might not see the second half of the year.  I’ll grudgingly admit that when Maldonado is focused and not being a tool he is a very fast driver. A proven race winner after all, but he just loses the plot too often and starts being a liability to the team and his sponsors. He needs to grow up and listen to the team this year and bring home the points, not a broken car trailing bits of carbon fibre.

Chance of top ten Finish: If he isn’t a complete tool, very good.

Force India.
My tip for the first team to go into administration this year! Team owner Vijay “sell his own mother for a fistful of used tenners” Mallya, appears to be, if not actually on the run from the Indian authorities then he’s certainly keeping a very low profile when he goes to the corner shop for a packet of B&H and a copy of razzle. His Kingfisher Airline are in debt up to their eyeballs, he’s sold off the drinks company United Spirits, who’s logos appeared all over the F1 cars. And the Indian government wants a word about some tax taken from Kingfisher employees that didn’t get paid to the tax man.  If you ever get to have a drink with Mr Mallya, thank him for the G&T then check your wallet is still in your pocket. He’s probably a really nice bloke, but I wouldn’t trust him to look after the school goldfish over the summer.  As for the F1 cars, they look alright, solid mid field fare.

15. Adrian Sutil.
Back once again after getting fired for starting a fight with the Lotus team owner. Yeah I know, who would have thought ‘soft hands’ Sutil had it in him! This year it could be interesting to watch how he deals with his old friend and mucker Hamilton. These two used to be best buddies until Lewis failed to turn up to defend his mate at his trial and subsequent conviction for injuring Eric Lux CEO of lotus owners Genii Capital. It appears Sutil might have a bit of a chip on his shoulder about this and things could get fun if Lewis wants to get past the Force India driver during a race. Still Sutil is a pretty handy, if unspectacular driver, who might take a race or two to get back up to speed. He picked up the drive when Bianchi failed to wave enough money with a Ferrari logo under Mallya nose, and for a driver who missed a year of driving he did alright when he got back in the car at the last test.

Chance of top ten Finish: pretty good, might take a race or two though.

14. Paul Di Resta.
He did alright for the first half of last year and then Hulkenberg got his act together and made the plucky Scot look a bit ordinary. When Sutil was his team mate in 2011 he blew the German out of the water and was lauded as the next Coulthard, faint praise indeed. So he’s not quite caught the eye of the big teams yet and needs a strong year to break out of the midfield wannabes. His team didn’t help him with some odd pit calls last year but as team leader he should get the priority strategy this year. If Sutil doesn’t use his burning self righteous indignation to win the championship of course.

Chance of top ten Finish: pretty good.

The conservative midfield team, with the no nonsense approach to picking up points and not getting in everyone’s way. They fired Krazy Kobi and Perez was lost to McLaren in a dawn raid, so Hulkenberg was more than happy to leave the sinking ship at Force India and rookie Estaban Gutierrez have stepped in. I seriously doubt this will change their softly softly, oh the race is over is it? Approach to racing they have show in recent years. They don’t appear to have any ambition other than midfield respectability and have never rolled the dice and thrown on a pair of soft tires with 10 laps to go to see what happens and I expect more of the same this year. So far the car hasn’t been all that reliable in testing either.

12. Estaban Gutierrez.
Has been a regular ‘standing at the back of the garage trying not to get in the way’ number three driver for a few years with Sauber and was given a try out in India last year when Perez was punished for taking the McLaren shilling.  His GP2 days were marked by his ability to qualify well and his habit of colliding with other drivers in the race.  He joins a team that doesn’t like its drivers to do anything daring so it’s a perfect team to learn the ropes with. If he keeps his nose clean he should be alright.

Chance of top ten Finish: He’s in a Sauber! What do you think?

11. Nico Hulkenberg.
He’s moved around some interesting teams has Nico – started at Williams and a pole in Brazil with a truly awful car. A year off to scrape together more funds then a return to F1 with Force India and a better end to the season after a slow start. And now a move to Sauber, a team known for solid but unexciting racing with cars that are always the first Adrian Newey wants to take a proper look at. Hulkenberg could throw up some surprise results this year, if the big boys drop the ball, Nico will be there to collect the points and I can see a top six finish or better with a fair win and a bit of luck.

Chance of top ten Finish: Pretty good, not a certainty, they need to work on reliability first.

Next up .. the big boys.

Season Preview part 2

The Mercedes board is going all out; throw the kitchen sink and any old F1 drivers standing around looking for a job, at the problem. They’re robbed Williams of Toto Wolff, the man credited with giving the Didcot team some much needed direction and financial stability. They took Nicky Lauda off the street corner he was barking at the traffic on and put him on the board of directors. They tapped up the McLaren pit wall for Paddy Lowe. Then in the most audacious move so far, prized Hamilton away from the comfort of his childhood McLaren nest, with a whole shed load of cash. With all that money flying around and all that expectation pinned on one team, the first test didn’t start too well, First Nico then Lewis did a handful of laps before the car failed and left much egg on face, but after that it’s all gone like clockwork. They’ve put more miles on the car than any other team and the final test saw them top the leader board when it counted. The public talk from the team is all about the odd podium and just maybe a win if they’re lucky. Privately they must want to be up there giving Redbull a run for its money. The question is though, are there too many chiefs at the top when they have Ross Brawn already running the show?

10. Lewis Hamilton.
This is going to be a big year for the plucky Brit who has walked away from the team that paid for his motor sport education. They’ve been linked with him since he was peddling karts round the windswept airfields of England. But he got tired of being made to stand around studios telling the world to buy low interest finance from a Spanish Bank and spending far too much time keeping sponsors happy. So when Mercedes whispered in his ear that he would do more racing and less media face time, he jumped at the chance. And the Lewis walking the paddock these days is the relaxed, happy Lewis of old. He’s got an international girlfriend and Bernie has just given his pet dog a paddock pass for the season, Bernie knows the value of good PR more than most. He turned up to the top gear track and beat Vettel leader board time, then had an interview full of jokes and smiles. He’s talking an upbeat season at the moment with podiums and points, and seems to genuinely believe it’ll happen. If Lewis feels like the team is pulling for him he can achieve that, but if the Brawn/Lauda/Wolff/Lowe infighting starts, then it could all fall apart.

Chance of a top five: pretty good to begin with, as the season goes on, questionable

9. Nico Rosberg.
Anyone that thinks Nico is going to get blown away and fold up like some two bit rookie is a fool, Nico blew the 7 times world champion away for three season, he has the credentials. What he lacks is a season long focus. Too often he goes missing for a weekend, not really troubling the top ten or getting the team to focus on moving up the grid. When he drove for Williams there would be weekends where you had to really think if you’d seen him on the track at all.  He has got better at staying focused these last few seasons but after the win last year he didn’t really capitalise on it and the last third of the season seemed to be about testing bit for the 2013 car rather than hunting for points. I’ve always rated Nico, like his father back in the day he can be blindingly fast when he wants to be. I think he’ll give Lewis a good run for his money, and this is possible the strongest pair of team mates on the grid. But I think Lewis has that focus and mental determination to beat everyone that Nico lacks.

Chance of a top five: If Lewis falters he’ll be there, but Lewis will falter because Nico is right there.

So Lotus then, they have the potential to beat Redbull but they also have the ability to balls it up completely. Testing was about a fast car that lacked reliability. When it was on song it was easily a match for the Ferrari and Redbull. But stupid little problems like duff ECU and telemetry not working stopped them from pushing testing forward. They’d get going then have to stop and fix something else. They go to Australia lacking mileage on the car that is fast, will look after its tyres, but may pack up after 5 laps. Worryingly for Lotus too, the FIA is has drawn a line in the sand over engine mapping and will come down hard on any team using any sort of off throttle engine blowing. Interestingly when the FIA warned Lotus about its engines performance, they started have lots of electrical and telemetry problems. I'm sure the two are not linked in anyway.

8. Romain Grosjean.
This year, no wait the next three races, have to be text book no cock up racing for Romain. He can not afford to hit another car, hit the wall or screw it up in any way shape or form. If he does, then the FIA and Lotus are just going to throw the book at him. Lotus will do it because they don’t need any more bad PR from the grinning idiot and the FIA will do it because they don’t need another liability in the pack with Maldonado already there. There are enough talented French drivers out there to keep the ‘Total’ sponsors happy, so he had better keep his nose clean or he’ll be the first driver to feel the boot make contact with his backside.

Chance of a top five: if he makes it round the first lap, reasonable.

7. Kimi Raikkonen
 Has come back and proved he still has what it take to be the fastest driver out there. He still flicks the V at the media and does all his talking on the track, which is a cliché i know, but damn it it’s true. He’s never been one to analyse his race and understand why he’s fast at certain corners. He gets in the car and just thrashes it till she gives him what he wants. Don’t tell him what to do, he knows. And whilst you can never love the man for his rapier like wit and chummy interview style, you can fall in love with an inch perfect lines and yet another lap of total commitment.

Chance of a top five: If they fix the reliability, absolutely.

No one is quite sure what is going to happen in Australia for McLaren. The prodigal son has left, the dullest man now in F1 has joined whilst Button is talking about ending his career with McLaren. The car was fast at the start of testing, then faded and seems to be difficult to set up (yet again). They lost the championship that was theirs for the taking last year, they had a car that could do the job with ease and yet the once mighty McLaren machine, looked more like a clowns convention at times. Sticky wheel nuts, fuel pump failures, tyres left for their drivers to run over, no idea how to set the car up for race after race.  It was just embarrassing at times to watch this team trip over itself as they conspired to throw the championship away. At one stage it looked like a straight fight between Hamilton and Alonso, but it all just fell apart. They have to do better this year, for team moral and Ron’s blood pressure more than anything.

6. Sergio Perez.
This is going to be a big test for the dullest man in Formula one. This is the top line drive his people have claimed he needed to prove how amazing he really is. I’ll admit there were moments last year where he looked like an actual proper Formula One driver with talent and a bit of vim. Okay he was with Sauber who don’t like to make any sort of fuss. But if a driver really wants to go out there and win the championship he has to drive to win, not just look after the tyres and use fewer than anyone else. You don’t get extra points for handing back a set of soft slicks with a smug grin.  Once he signed the contract with McLaren he seemed to think, no actually he stopped thinking and took over from Grosjean as the driver most likely to return to the pits on foot. What had started out as a good year fell apart. With a spin in Japan, contact with Vettel and Senna in Brazil, not to mention the season long “here comes Maldonado, oh we’ve crashed” story line. I just don’t understand why people rate him? I can’t see the talent through the forest of wet dullness. He was linked with Ferrari for months last season, and in the end they stuck with Massa for yet another season. What does that tell you about him?

Chance of a top five: Unless the car turns out to be stunning. I really don’t think so.

5. Jenson Button.
Jenson lost the plot last year. It started so well with the win in Australia, wobbled in the wet in Malaysia, back on track in China, then for the next 6 races until Germany he was nowhere, he couldn’t get a set up he liked or any sort of balance with the car. Lewis was having problems too, but he was at least trying to make things better (well, until the whole “will he/won’t he move”, storm in a tea cup story) Button spent race after race complaining to the press and the team about how the car wasn’t how he liked it or the tyres didn’t work or the sky was too bright or the spectators too ugly. All the while his father gurned at the cameras and his underwear model girlfriend simpered around the back of the pits. Then he’d spend a weekend competing in some random iron man contest with other sweaty fools and the car didn’t get better and he’d be on the radio in qualifying complaining about a lack of grip and balance and the sky and the ugly people around him. God, you just wanted to smack him in the face and tell his to get on with it and shut up. He won in Spa and then spent the rest of the season around the top five before wining in Brazil when it didn’t matter anymore. In testing this year, he’s already started to complain about the tyres not lasting long enough and how difficult it is to find a balance. He’s supposed to be the older wiser team leader now, but I think he’s just counting down the days till he retires.

Chance of a top five: Well, if he qualifies well yes, but he won’t so let hope it’s a very fast race car.

They, or rather Alonso, took a terrible car to within one race of the title last year.  Ferrari was in the hunt for the title all year long, as first Hamilton, then Webber then Kimi and ultimately Vettel battled for the title. And Alonso was there on pure merit. Ferrari gave him a terrible car at the start but they stuck at the tasks and he worked is little Spanish socks off to reward all their effort. Whilst the likes of Button and Webber whinged about the car not feeling right and the balance being a bit tricky to read, Ferrari gave Alonso a car that looked like it wanted to kill him in Australia. When they realised the air tunnel was the problem they closed it down, moved the aero team to Germany and rented the old Toyota factory site whilst they rebuilt it. But in the end, it came down to two races where the luck ran out and Vettel sneaked his third title from under Ferraris nose. Testing so far has suggested a car that is fast if a little suspect on reliability, they had a random wheel bearing failure at the last test and a few “red car stopped on track” moments.

4. Felipe Massa.
Felipe had something of a road to Damascus year in 2102, he started as badly as he finished 2011, slow and fumbling around for points, getting in everyone’s way, unloved by the Italian press who once again wanted him out of the car after only 3 races. Then he went to see a sports physiologist who held his hand and rebuilt the likable Brazilians mind. Suddenly around mid season it was like a new Massa in the car. Suddenly he wasn’t getting in everyone’s way and the press stopped calling for his head, Perez was told he wasn’t wanted anymore and Vettel denied he had a contract with Ferrari anytime soon. Felipe got a solid second in Japan and an emotional third in Brazil and looked to all the world like a bona fide F1 racing driver again. If he can continue with this he could help to deliver Alonso the title and Ferrari its 17th constructor’s title.

Chance of a top five: if his heads there, ye he can do it.

 3. Fernando Alonso.
Even those people who hate him, even those who think his career has been about his whinging and selfish attitude, couldn’t fail to be anything but impressed with what Alonso did in 2012. He took a really bad, really mis-designed Ferrari and was this close to taking the title away from Vettel. In a car that looked like it wanted to kill him at the start of the season. It was all over the show; understeer here, oversteer there next, snap four wheel drift, no grip, no speed no chance of points let alone a tilt at the title.  And in the end it wasn’t Alonso that failed or the car or even the team this time. Grosjean almost killed him at Spa and Kimi tried to nail the coffin shut in Japan, after which Vettel was able to get a championship run going and Alonso was always playing catch up. But even in Brazil where it all looked to be over, Vettel spun on the first lap and almost handed it back to the Ferrari driver. It was all so close and you have to admire the way Fernando just got on with it and didn’t lay into the team or any other driver or blame anyone. He brought the team together around him and made them work harder than they had in a long time. And in the same direction too, that was the special thing. They had a direction and a purpose and he gave them hope just like Michael did all those years ago. It was a thing of beauty to watch, it really was. 

Chance of a top five: Its a nailed on certainty

What is there left to say about Redbull? They have more money than anyone else, they have Adrian Newey designing the car and in Vettel a driver that can deliver the results when presented with the opportunity. Last year the team stuttered a bit at the start of the season as they pegged back the down force they’d lost from the banning of ‘off throttle engine blowing’ and double diffusers. Once Newey got his exhaust exits fixed and Renault got their engines to miss fire into and out of corners properly again, all was well and off they went. Did they deserve it all, well ... probably not, but it’s done and dusted now so what does it matter? It’s not like the FIA is going to go back and retrospectively say they were cheating outrageously yet again so Ferrari are the champions now is it. They deserve it because they did it. And I personally don’t think they’re much the other teams can do to stop them this year. With no major changes in engine or aero rules this year the cars are evolutions of last year’s car, and the Redbull finished a country mile ahead of the pack. Testing hasn’t been about speed and fastest laps, but they’ve always been up there just behind the car that have gone fastest that day. Most of the paddock thinks Redbull will once again be the team to beat in 2013

2. Mark Webber.
Technically, Webber and Vettel have joint number 1 status at Redbull, but everyone knows thats rubbish and Webber is there to make Vettel look good. Oh he likes to pretend he can race the German any time he wants to, But when he does he usually gets slapped back into place by Horner or Marko. Webber is there to test and evaluate the new bits each weekend before they get bolted onto Vettel number one machine. Now and again he’ll have a weekend where he is just too far ahead of Vettel for the team to call him back to heel, so he wins. Then gets told his place and is back behind Vettel at the next race. He’s on a one year contract and knows full well that there are any number of drivers out there that could replace him at the drop of a hat. He does the Job that Massa does at Ferrari and he hates it just as much. But he’s too feisty when he doesn’t need to be. The red mist descends and the next thing you know he’s driven into the side of someone in a wild over taking move or swerving around at the start to defend the line into the first corner and collecting Grosjean usually. It’s just what he does, He’s an exciting driver far more than Vettel will ever be, and by all accounts a really nice guy. But i think he’s part of that set of drivers that make brilliant number two team mates but are destined to never win the championship.

Chance of a top five: If he's allowed to, then yes.

1. Sebastian Vettel.  
And finally our current world champion who is going for his fourth title in a row, do you think anyone will stop him. I think the only person that can stop it happening is Adrian Newey. Only if he gets it wrong will the others stand a chance. Last year he didn’t quite have the perfect set up at the start of the season and Vettel struggled to begin with. Then Adrian hit the exhaust sweet spot and it was plan sailing once again.  
 Vettel threw his dummy out of the pram a few times last year, most notably in Abu Dhabi when he drove into Senna, after he’d “accidentally” run out of fuel in qualifying and had to start from the pit lane. He threw a hissy fit at Karthikeyan for getting in his way in Malaysia and generally acted like the smug German we’ve all come to love and admire. Or not as the case may be. I mean he goes out there and delivers the wins, which is what he’s paid to do and what he’s done with a certain amount of ease these past three years. He’s not the most adventurous drivers, preferring to sit back and wait for the pit stops to pass the cars on a par with the Redbull. He doesn’t tool around getting in the way and he has shown that he can race back through a field when Lady Luck rides shotgun for him.  It’s only mildly irritating when he shows just how fast the car will go with a fastest lap time at the end of the race which he has lead since the start. To be fair he sort of comes across as being a bit humble when he gets out of the car and he gives the team a lot of credit when he wins or loses. So there’s nothing to really dislike about his, well apart from when he waves that finger around at the end of the race, which is really annoying. So why do so many people dislike him and regard these past three titles as sort of devalued or unworthy.  If Alonso or Hamilton had been the winners would we point at those championships and sneer at them for being undeserved?  I don’t think so, yet that’s exactly how Vettel is treated by the vast majority of fans. Maybe, it’s because he reminds us of the last time a German had a team built around him and won title after title and bored everyone to turn off and walk away from the sport.  Schumacher won five championships on the bounce, can Vettel match that run?

Chance of winning the championship: odds on favourite for me.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Not long now ....

Right then ... i suppose i better get my act together and write something for the new season then.

But first you all need to sign up to the new season game. Click on the prediction game tab and sort yourselves out with a prediction ... then come back and i'll have thought of something interesting to write..

maybe ....

"Bring it on sunbeam..."