Monday, 29 November 2010

Sebastian Vettel - better than Senna?


I could just leave it at that, but I'll have a go at fleshing out my argument a little. Giorgio Ascanelli, Toro Rosso's technical director has said Vettel has started his career better than Senna. That may be statistically true, Vettel is the youngest World Champion ever, but he's not better than Senna. 

There are people who are better qualified than me who can make this argument, people who will have seen Ayrton live and watched every one of his greatest drives. Unfortunately I attended my first Grand Prix mere months after Senna was killed, nonetheless I still think he's a different class to Vettel. 

Don't get me wrong, I like Vettel, and the day he went fastest in both Friday practice sessions for BMW at Monza in 2006 I emailed my mate Steve and told him he'd be World Champion (I wish I'd kept that email). But there's a difference between really good drivers and Ayrton Senna. In fact, for that matter there's a difference between really great drivers and Ayrton Senna too. 

A cursory glance at Senna's first year in F1 with Toleman in 1984 goes some way to settling the argument for me. The Toleman was pretty rubbish but the Brazilian dragged it to second at Monaco (team mate Jonny Cecotto retired on lap one), third at Silverstone (Cecotto failed to qualify) and third again in Portugal (team mate Stefan Johansson was lapped). Five points finishes (in the days when only a top six finish would give you points) and three podiums in a woeful car and amongst a field containing Mansell, Prost, Piquet, Lauda, Patrese, Arnoux and Rosberg. 

His first Grand Prix win came the next year in Portugal. In torrential rain and not the fastest car on the grid he stormed to victory. He lapped the field up to third place, and even Michele Alboreto in second place was a minute behind. That year he totalled 38 points to finish fourth in the table, a place ahead of his team mate Elio de Angelis who at the time had around 100 Grands Prix to his name. 

He won a further race that season and a couple the season after before the golden years of 1988-89-90-91 which saw him take the title three times and finish second once. 27 wins in a 64 race period and god knows how many pole positions. If Vettel ever dominates like that I'll eat my hat. 

Its cruel that we were robbed of seeing Senna go tete-a-tete with Schumacher and Hakkinen. I doubt the former would be in possession of 7 world titles right now if Senna had been about to challenge him. Senna had that innate speed, innate feel for the limit of a racing car and a circuit that almost no one in the history of motor racing has had, never mind the 2010 World Champion. Sebastian Vettel is a mighty fine racing driver and a deserving champion, but better than Ayrton Senna? Not now, not ever.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Could the 2011 Pirellis be Massa's saviour?

Ok, its one test, and it means next to nothing, but Felipe Massa finished today's Pirelli test in Abu Dhabi top of the pile, completing a lap a whisker faster than his qualifying lap for the race proper.  Could this signal Massa's return to top form?

There's no denying that Massa was a disappointment in 2010, probably the biggest disappointment of the lot.  It was a pleasure just to see him back on track at the first race after his life-threatening injury in Hungary last year, but his 2nd place in Bahrain proved to be the exception rather than the rule as he limped into 6th place in the Championship a massive 108 points behind his impressive team mate.

He impressed in parts and Korea in particular was something approaching his 2008 vintage, but he was nowhere near consistent enough but could we be about to see a Massa renaissance?

After the last major tyre change, when we returned to a single tyre supplier in 2007 Massa won two of the first four races and was on pole in three as more exalted colleagues such as Kubica and Alonso struggled to adapt to the new Bridgestone construction, he ended the season in fourth place but only 16 points off the World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen.

This is a mere hypothesis since we have no real evidence to go on - one swallow does not make a summer and all that, but maybe a wholesale change of boots is just what Felipe needs to get the spring in his step (perhaps not the best choice of phrase given what clobbered him at Hungary...).  Massa seems genuinely well-liked in the pit lane and after his freakishly gracious behaviour after losing the world title on home soil in 2008, no one would begrudge him a vastly improved season next year.  I think he was probably on the verge of being dropped by Ferrari late in the season so it can't come soon enough for him.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Do heads need to roll at Ferrari?

There's no question that Ferrari screwed up on Sunday, they screwed up royally.  Alonso was brought into the pits the lap after Mark Webber because, presumably, a decision was made that Webber was the bigger threat championship-wise than Vettel.

Ultimately it was that decision, coupled with Alonso's poor start, that cost them the 2010 drivers world championship.  So does someone need to get the boot?  The Italian Minister, Roberto Calderolli thinks so, but he's from Italy's far right party so we'll ignore him, and anyway he was fairly decisively dealt with by Luca di Montezemolo.

Stefano Domenicali, boss of the race team has made his way up the ranks and deserved a chance to lead the team, but have they been quite the same since Jean Todt left?  No, they haven't, but then they lost Rory Byrne, Ross Brawn and Todt himself in quick succession - any team would suffer deeply from that, but I do think Ferrari are missing that certain something.

I sincerely doubt that Ross Brawn would have made what was essentially a knee-jerk call in bringing Alonso in to cover off Webber - for starters Ross would've factored in that he would have to pass Petrov and Rosberg, neither of whom are pushovers, once he came in for his stop and dropped down the field.

I don't think Domenicali is in danger of being sacked but Ferrari ought to look long and hard at recruiting a tactical mastermind in the mould of a Ross Brawn, or a Pat Symonds even.  Everyone is playing catch up to whichever car Adrian Newey designs and one area Ferrari can make up ground is tactically.  With Ferrari, Mclaren and Red Bull all in the title fight right to the end, none of them will likely have a significant advantage at the start of next season (though Renault or Mercedes could be a danger), so we could be in for another tight season - and every second gained through tactics will count enormously.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Vettel: A worthy champion?

Yes, probably. The toing and froing regarding a possible bias at Red Bull became tiresome almost as it began, but say what you like about Sebastian Vettel, he's just bloody good.

He had easily the fastest car on what seemed like every weekend. Rarely was there a time when the Red Bull was eclipsed through an entire weekend and at most circuits they seemed to have three or four tenths in their pocket. A phenonmenon known in Formula One as The Newey Effect. 10 pole positions from 19 races says a lot, but he only managed to convert that into 5 wins - the same number as Fernando Alonso in a significantly inferior Ferrari.

A Red Bull driver should've had the title wrapped up well before Abu Dhabi and it is much to Ferrari and Mclaren's credit that they didn't. Alonso, Hamilton and to a lesser extent Button kept them honest right to the last through sheer doggedness. Opponents know that if there's even a sniff of a victory you'd better hope its not a Mclaren or a Ferrari doing the sniffing because the chances are they'll catch you.

Webber had a good year, easily his best in Formula One, but I just never felt like he was going to be champion. He's a nice guy, and I would've liked to see him win it, but it always felt like his lead was vulnerable and like it or not, Vettel is out-and-out the faster driver.

Alonso looked down and out at Silverstone, where he claimed he was still in the title fight. He is the consumate fighter, he is never beaten and his pursuit of Vettel and Webber towards the end of the season was relentlessly brilliant. Only the brainless strategic call from Ferrari to cover off Webber rather than maximise Alonso's own position robbed him of a deserved third World Championship. There is no better all round driver on the grid.

The other man with a theoretical chance of victory at the last was Lewis Hamilton. A season of brilliance interspersed with some pretty average moments speaks of a driver not completely at one with his car. His performance at the final race wasn't as electrifying as it could've been - perhaps in the back of his mind was him handing the title to his arch-rival Alonso if he'd passed Vettel for the win.

So all in all, it was a thrilling season of racing. Any one of five drivers looked up to winning the title for most of the season, despite one team having a significant advantage throughout. A provisional 20-race season in 2011 should provide just as many thrills!

An odd time to start a Formula One blog....

If by some miracle you're here for my first post, you'll be surprised to see a new blog about Formula One started the day after the season finishes.  And you'd be right to be surprised, it is a pretty daft time to start one, but what the hell, I'll do it anyway.

I am no expert when it comes to the technical side of Grand Prix racing, but I love it and.  I raced go karts for about 8 years from the age of 8, but in the end had to face facts that I was probably neither good enough nor slim enough (nor rich enough for that matter) to make it very far. Since then I've had neither the time nor the inclination to get back into serious competition, but remain completely and utterly gripped by Formula One.

If I am to be honest with my readers (if they ever materialise), and I hope to be, I will very likely display a small Ferrari bias having fallen in love with the red marque in 1997 - I abandoned Williams because of their discarding of Damon Hill, an early hero, and switched alleigiance to Ferrari because they were the ones taking the fight to the traiterous Brits from Didcot (I have since largely forgiven them, though news today of their dumping of Nico Hulkenberg's makes me think they might still be the same old team!).

However I will do my best to remain relatively impartial.  I have recently managed to overcome a serious anti-Hamilton bias largely because of his tendency towards the bonkers when it comes to overtaking moves, and just his committment in general.

So I hope to entertain and maybe even inform, they're just opinions and mine alone, hopefully it'll be worth reading!