Sunday, 29 November 2015

At last, its all over ...

And so it all comes to an end, it’s been a long year this one, we’re traversed the world a dozen times to some far flung places to watch cars go round and round past half empty grandstands.

We’ve listened to Redbull bleat on endlessly about its engine woes, how the Renault was so bad, how no one would give them an engine. Then we had the frankly ridiculous sight of the team owner of one of the richest teams in the sports history, who owns a company that makes more money per minute than most third world countries spend on healthcare, whining that Mercedes and Ferrari wanted upwards of 30 million Euros for a year’s supply of engine.  An engine with a  winning pedigree you will note and ultimately this complaining about having to spend too much money by the richest team on the grid lead the FIA to propose plans for a Tescos value engine in 2017. Other value brands will be available, check local stores for details.

Thankfully the budget plan was binned and the engine manufactures agreed to lower the cost of their engines and share the supply round a bit more. Redbull went back to  Renault and pretty much begged to buy unbadged French engines with no yellow logos or Infiniti sponsorship. If they think they had a bad year in 2015, next year is going to be all kinds of pain.

This year was yet another where the racing was over shadowed by talk of money. Who had it, who wanted it, and who was taking it out of the sport?  But then, it didn’t take too much to overshadow the racing this year. One poor punter even attempted to find something interesting to watch by walking on the track during the race at Singapore.

Far too often our eyes drooped lower and lower as the processional races dragged on. Cars simply can't follow and over take one another unless there is a massive difference in top speed. The fact that a McLaren 20 mph in a straight line less than a Williams can't be passed at a place like Abu Dhabi, tells you everything you need to know.

 Formula one continued to keep all the goodies to itself unless you were prepared to pay a hefty wedge for it. The £20 for the app was the tip of the iceberg, Germany bailed when it couldn’t afford to pay the sanctioning fee and later the circuit of the Americas in Texan said they were going to struggle when state funding was cut next year. F1 is moving further and further away from its European heartland. Next year we’re going to Azerbaijan and a new street circuit round Baku, because of the rich and vibrant heritage of motorsport in the former Soviet satellite state.
But given how close it is to the hot spots of the Middle East and with the horror in Paris still fresh in our minds, let’s see if we actually go next year shall we.  

The BBC are making noises about not showing any live F1 next year. With the need to cut cost as licence fee negotiations drag on with the government, an expensive program carting a ton of equipment and personal around the world looks like an unnecessary expense to the suits in Whitehall. With Bernie’s absolute reluctance to countenance any live internet feed that can’t be monetised  soon the only way you’ll be able to see a race live will be through satellite pay walls. F1 is getting expensive and someone has to pay to keep the whole mess rolling along.

What has struck me the most this year has been the startling lack of fans in the stands. Hugh swaths of seating were empty on Friday and Saturday and only marginally livelier on Sunday for the race.  If you watched any of the GP2 action this year, there were times when a driver would be lucky to see a handful of spectators as he raced around. Now I don’t have any figures to hand because it’s a big faff to go hunting for them but I’ll put good money on this year being seen by the fewest people since the 80’s, well maybe the Vettel and Schumacher years had lower numbers. But my point is F1 is dying as a spectator sport, it costs too much to go and watch the show live because Bernie is screwing every dime out of the circuits and promoters. Then you can’t watch it live on TV unless you’re paying Sky or whatever local service you have, who are also paying through the nose to Bernie.

F1 was always a pretty exclusive, but these days the only people that can afford to follow it are the sort that turn up to the hospitality box after the port and cheese course around lap 40.

We, the muddy scum, are pushed back further and further behind more and more advertising hoarding and asked to pay higher and higher entrance fees. It’s almost like they don’t actually want us there! Go to a WEC race and you can wonder the pits during the race. Talk to drivers and sit where you like. Sure. I know there are far fewer people at an endurance race that isn’t Le Mans. But you feel like the ACO who organise the race want you there, actively encourage you to follow drivers, teams and the championship.  This year Porsche beat Audi to win the drivers and constructors title, it came down to the last hour of the last race. It was fantastic and it was everything F1 wasn’t.

F1 racing in 2015 was mostly dull, prescribed and artificial.  The rich teams were out the front and the poor teams (and McLaren) were at the back. Customer teams never challenged the works squads, it was difficult to see a team other than Mercedes winning and generally that was Hamilton. Nico rallied at the end with a career best three in a row, but it was far too late to make a difference to the entertainment. Ferrari did win races, but only when the Merc had problems, the German winning machine was never raced for the lead or beaten for pace. Well maybe in Singapore.

Reading that back it all seems a bit depressing doesn't it? Let's have a look at the drivers and see if we can find something a bit more upbeat.

So in reverse championship order, this is how they did.

Will Stevens - Marussia - Zero points.

Not as much fun as Super Max was last year, Will was sort of there and couldn't beat his regular team mate Merhi. He apparently has enough money for a seat next year when the team gets the Merc engine.

Alexander Rossi/Roberto Merhi - Marussia - Zero.

Merhi seemed to be last an awful lot but actually got a 12th at Silverstone and Rossi also got a 12th in America. Again both where sort of there, mostly getting out of the way of the big boys of the upper sixth form. I can't remember them doing anything much of note, well maybe we should give Rossi some props for turning up and not being yet another awful American driver. I thought he did alright to get in the car and be as competitive as Stevens was. We might see either of them again, but as usual it will depend on who has the money.

Marcus Ericsson - Sauber - 9.

Marcus showed some moments of class, but more often than not was out shone by his team mate. his best result of 8th was in Australia and it wasn't until Italy before he got close to that, usually he'd finish somewhere between 12th and 14th, nothing exciting, just a solid driver in an average car.

Fernando Alonso - McLaren - 11

Hey look it's the end of the season and here we are wondering if Fernando will be on the grid next year yet again! But can you blame him? Abu Dhabi saw him passed by two Ferraris racing for third place whilst he plodded on to a lowly 17th. He was in that car last year and now here he is tooling around in an ill handling car at the back of the grid, he only just beat Ericsson in the Sauber. He only troubled the top ten twice all year 5th in Hungary and 10th in England. This was not the plan when he told Ferrari what it could do with its 2015 racing plan. He kept a lid on things until Japan when the frustration burst forth to tell the team just what he thought of the Honda power unit. Poor old Alonso, he is a great talent, but he's getting old and another season like this will be his last.

Jenson Button - McLaren - 16

Where Alonso got grumpier and grumpier as the season wore on Jenson's grin just seemed to get wider and wider. Sure he was scrapping with the Saubers and Marussias, but he always managed to find something positive and still be honest with the media and fans. Sure the car was a dog, but he had fun and made it to the top ten four times.  He just got on with things and accepted this wasn't going to be a glorious season. You had to admire him, and if you watched each interview carefully you could see him hitching the Bonhomie up just before checking the stiff upper lip was in place.
Yes a year to forget for McLaren, but it's in the past now and things can only get better.

Carlos Sainz - Torro Rosso - 18

Carlos was in grave danger of being lost in the hubbub of Verstappen praise at time this year in any other year and he would have been Rookie of the year, but a four race mid season dip just as Max hit his stride saw Sainz fade into the background. Which was a shame because where Max was balls out gungho glory is forever, Sainz was measured and tried to guarantee the points rather than go out in a blaze of glory.  He is a talent and I can see him and max fighting for titles in years to come, he just needs a bit more of Lady Lucks attention.

Pastor Maldonado - Lotus - 27

I still don't know why Pasto has a super licence! Than man proved yet again this year that he is a liability in any car you put him in. He doesn't appear to be able to learn to be sensible and the just accept the car in front is in the way of him. Too often we saw bit of carbon fibre hanging off Maldonado's car and another driver left behind facing the wrong direction or scrapping bits of carbon fibre off the road. The word is Lotus has now been bought by Renault for a bag of chips and a boiled sweet, so this nutcase and his massive pay check are free to race again next year ... no, i have no idea why either.

Filipe Nasr - Sauber - 27

I think Nasr get the place above Maldonado because he isn't an idiot.  He's entirely forgettable, but he's not a danger to other drivers. Filipe did alright, again another rookie that showed promise, nothing too exciting but good solid mid table skills. He'll be in a Williams or Force India in three or four years.

Max Verstappen - Torro Rosso - 49

It took just one move at one race to nail him tot eh title "best rookie since Hamilton, maybe even Senna". Round the outside of Nasr at Spa as they raced through Blanchemont! That one move, that moment of sublime skill made the big boys sit up and take notice. That was a move that required more than blind luck and steady nerve. You need the skills to make a move like that out there. Get it wrong and you're lucky to walk away to pick the bits up. He'll be a F1 champion one day. He's the real deal.

Romain Grosjean - Lotus - 51

Grosjean had a difficult year with a team on the edge of going under at any second. Lotus had bailiffs ready to kick the door in numerous times all year. There were times when they didn't know if the car would make it through the front gate without someone demanding payment for work undertaken of parts delivered. Yet Romain raced his little heart out and scored a memorable podium at Spa. And then as the only French driver on the grid he had to speak for the people of Paris after the terrorist attack in November. Next year he's off to the Ferrari satellite team of Hass, an America team build its cars in America far, far away from the carbon triangle in the UK where everyone else (Except Ferrari) builds or runs their cars from. I hope it's a success for him because the lad deserves a break.

Nico Hulkenberg  - Force India - 58

Went to Le Mans on his weekend off and won the race with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. So as far as I'm concerned he's brilliant. A mixed season in F1, always hamstrung with Force India's weird race strategies, he showed he can run at the front when he has a works car it was just a shame it had Porsche written on it.

Sergio Perez - Force India - 78

Yeah okay Perez did a good job this year, he reminded everyone why McLaren though he as the next big thing. He isn't, but he can keep a car on old tyres racing longer than anyone else out there. The third in Russia was well deserved and even a bit feisty. There were actually moments where I started to warm to the guy, I might even start to like him eventually.

Daniel Ricciardo - Redbull - 92

Last year if the Mercs dropped the ball, Riccky would be there to take the win. This year he just didn't seem to have the car under him to give him a chance. He picked up a third in Hungary when everyone else was messing around, but Redbull seemed far more interested in complaining about how unfair it was they weren't winning rather than getting on with trying to race. Ricciardo did alright, but he was racing with a car that didn't have much grunt and was apparently made from chocolate. I think they had almost as many grid penalties as McLaren for engine changes this year, not what you need to mount a challenge.

Daniil Kvyat - Redbull - 95

Daniil sort of grew into a roll he wasn't expecting to be in last year. When Vettel flounced off to Ferrari with barely a backwards glance, Kvyat was push in front of the media to learn he was going to be the replacement. The year started a bit shakily, but as it went on he grew in confidence and started to put some good weekends together, the highlight was a second place in Hungary (a race I still haven't seen so I have no idea how much he did to earn it). He was solid all year and managed to get more than Ricciardo out of the car. Luck, or skill ? I'm not sure.

Filipe Massa - Williams -121

Massa again, did alright with a team that failed to capitalise on last year's form, but it was a solid year with few fireworks and plenty of social media pictures of his lad. You know I've said it before that there is nothing wrong with being a solid midfield driver, but Filipe isn't getting any younger and a driver like Verstappen in a Williams on song would be perfect. Massa is a nice guy and all but it's time to pack the kit bag away now lad. Go out on a high of two third places, nothing embarrassing about that.

Valtteri Bottas - Williams - 136

Bottas is my most disappointing driver of the year, two thirds and a handful of fourth places were just sort of insipid and lack any real guts. He is a better driver than this and he sould have been up there fighting for wins. Williams seemed surprised that Ferrari had leapfrogged then and just didn't have an answer, they didn't try anything spectacular, it was just a case of "the computer says no" and Bottas drove for the points finishes. Then there was Kimi who seemed to get on Valtteris wick, they spent too many races bumping into each other. Mostly it was Kimi doing the bumping, because he was going for it and trying to get some extra points. Bottas was just boring for large parts of the year.

Kimi Raikkonen - Ferrari - 150

Kimi on the other hand was his usual "Not giving a toss what you think buddy" self. He had probably his best year in a while, but once again rocked up had a laugh, did some racing, stared blankly at interviewers asking stupid questions and collected the Ferrari pay check. He got the usual Italian press "You're not trying hard enough" headlines but continued to not care. We used to think he was invincible, the best driver with more fastest laps to his name than anyone in history .. EVER. Probably. But he has become the consummate Solid number two driver. He gets out of the way, doesn't complain and picks up his pay packed. Where Alonso did nothing but complain about every little thing wrong, Kimi smiled, grunted and now he's got 150 points and Alonso has 11. Who do you think had the better game plan in the end ?

Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari - 278

Sebastian was the only creditable challenger to Mercedes all year, but only when they dropped the ball. He was there; aided by the team telling Kimi to get out of the way, to take three wins and generally do a good job of repairing the credibility he lost last year. And you know what, I warmed to the guy, sure he waved that finger around, but he didn't ponce around the paddock reminding everyone he was a four time world champion, he didn't make a big deal out of doing so well, he answered questions and remained a pretty grounded individual. He had some pretty witty one line put downs for Rosberg in the post race interviews and didn't seem to be taking things too seriously; he looked like he was having fun watching the Merc boys fronting up to each other. I'm sure behind closed doors it was all a bit more shouty and demanding, but the team seem to have warmed to him and they appreciated it when he gave them the credit for good results.
The truth is, Vettel is a damn good driver and this year proved he doesn't need to have Redbull logo on his chest to win.

Nico Rosberg - Mercedes - 322

The Merc boys were just miles ahead of everyone else all year and the only thing they raced was each other. Nico lost the title this year because, I personally suspect, his wife was pregnant. The car suited Lewis more at the start of the year, but Nico just didn't seem to be there some weekend, which is a complaint I've had throughout his F1 career. I said at the start of the year this season was going to come down to who had the most off circuit distraction, and it was Nico and his concerns for his wife; which is all perfectly understandable. Its still a shame really, if he had got his act together just a couple of races earlier we might have had a different to the season, but alas no. How much the end of season was down to Lewis not caring or pushing for that final 100th of a second we'll never know. But the last three race weekend were totally dominated by Nico, he looked like a champion for those weekend, he just needs to do it for a whole year.

Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes - 381

After last years, “Have at it lads!” which got rather out of hand towards the end for which the drivers required a stiff talking to, this year was far more sanitised. Mercedes had a 968 page book of “Do’s and definitely don’ts chaps” each race. Written in large bold type on page one was the legend, “Don’t drive into your teammate you numpties!”. Underneath that it said in slightly smaller type, “Yes, that included you Lewis. No, don’t say anything buddy, just don’t do it!”.

For much of the season Lewis and Nico kept a very respectful distance between their cars. But as the season wore on and it became more obvious that Lewis was going to win it eventually, the gap got narrower and narrower. Now, depending on weather you are #TeamLH or #teamNicoWasRobbed, Lewis was making sure of the pass or Nico was lucky to avoid being driven into the wall, The move in Japan was a touch close, but the nudge in America Lewis menat. It was intended to say, "Enough now little boy, this is my title".  Lewis didn't have any self doubt this year, it was a lesson in winning a championship, he just know it was his for the taking and nico wasn't going to get in the way.

 At times it all looked so easy. He wasn't off the podium until race 10 in Hungary, only retired once in Singapore when a thrupeny bit failed. If he didn't win he was still picking up points he was fast, consistent and lucky. That all you need to win a championship. He has a team of people around him that support him and make him feel special; he does a lot of charity work, keeps sponsorships happy and knows how to have a good time. He won with ease this year and it always looked like a "when" not "if" championship run.
 But the hat thing irks me still and the chains and the pious attitude.  I'm sure when he hangs out with his mates he's great company and a generous chap. But I just can't put my finger on what it is that is starting to irritate me about Lewis.  He was far and away the best driver of the year; you don't win titles back to back by winging it. Maybe it's just my English reserve that's getting in the way, his need to demonstrate the trappings of success, that cherry red jet, rather than talk of taking the mechanics out for a curry and beer in Brackley.  He never failed to thank the team for all its hard work and made the point that he wins because of their hard work, but you sort of get the feeling he'd rather be in Miami have a good time than shaking hands in a cold Northamptonshire factory of a Monday morning.
 I still love his driving, his never give up attitude and the way he just keeps going without compromise. I want drivers to race, and I want them to be annoyed that all they can do is follow the car behind. Lewis does all that, he want to be the winner; he argues with the team to give him the best strategy and makes damn sure that if given a sniff he'll take the points. Right now, he is the best driver in F1.  

Okay. Maybe not a classic year then but, well the right man won the title and Mercedes completely dominated. Next year might be different, who knows.

And now the personal bit. 

This has been a difficult year for me and my family. As you know we lost our baby for the second time and it was the last chance we had for another child. It's not a particularly nice thing to happen to anyone and to have it happen twice in quick succession is extremely hard to deal with.

But there is a charity that supports families and helps them come to terms with the loss.
They are called SANDS - the Stillborn and neonatal death charity. They are very kind people and don't get nearly as much recognition as they deserve.

The SANDS website.

Thankfully most families never need to call on them for support.

If you have enjoyed this years prediction game and my rambling words then please help us support the local SANDS group by donating to help them raise money for a memorial garden at Aldershot Crematorium:

A special Garden project.

In memory of Clara and Jamie Bowdidge.

Thank you.

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