Sunday, 11 September 2011

Vettel edges closer to second title

Sebastian Vettel can't win the World Championship at the next race in Singapore, but we might as well all go home, this one is over.

A poor start today, or rather a lightning start from Alonso, meant that he had a fight on his hands but such was the superior speed of the Red Bull, again, it was only a matter of time before he was back in front. To give him his due though, Vettel did pull off a very bold move round the outside of Alonso at Curva Grande which left him partially on the grass.

Thereafter it was a case of switching focus to the battles further back in the pack because a Vettel win was all but guaranteed. Hamilton, Schumacher and Button provided much entertainment and while Schumacher was forthright in defence, I saw him doing nothing that every other driver would do. The one move takes you across to the inside but it is a natural second move to take you back to the racing line - Hamilton himself was doing this and much worse on the pit straight in Malaysia so complaints from him were particularly rich.

Hamilton was perhaps a bit more subdued than usual though, and the result was fourth place well shy of his team mate Button who clawed his way up to second - and equal third in the Championship.

So Vettel is now 112 points ahead in the Championship, which means Alonso has to be third or better and Button and Webber second or better in Singapore to stop him winning the title there. It's worth noting Alonso's position in second place in the standings. It's been a season-long case of damage limitation for Alonso who for the most part has had the third fastest car on the grid, one that seems unable to operate effectively in anything other than a very narrow window of conditions. The fight for second place in the Championship is now, unfortunately, the only point of interest that remains this season.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Superb Button wins in Hungary

On the circuit where he took his first win, way back in 2006, Jenson Button took his 11th Grand Prix win in his 200th race - and not in dissimilar fashion to that first win he took for Honda.

As ever the sprinkling of rain, before the start and on occasion during the race, provided much of the excitement but there was also a good deal of strategy which added some extra spice.

For once Sebastian Vettel got off the line perfectly, leaving the Mclarens firmly in his wake while the Ferraris fought amongst themselves and Alonso dropped all the way back behind both fast-starting Mercedes. Hamilton was in his element initially, far quicker than Vettel in the conditions and he was soon past the German.

Hamilton looked odds on favourite for the victory before a shower of rain played havoc with the order, bringing Button right up with his team mate, briefly ahead of him, and then back behind him again. The crucial moment of the race came at that moment, Hamilton made a disastrous call to come in and put intermediate tyres on while Button opted to stick it out - the call won him the race.

Vettel, who was promoted up the order first by Hamilton's erroneous call and then thanks to Hamilton's drive-through penalty (a fair one, in my view), looked to be closing the gap to the leader but Button had the pace to cover it.

It's difficult to say, given the circumstances of the race, whether Mclaren really have eliminated the Red Bull advantage, but at various points in the race the silver cars, and the Ferrari too, looked very fast indeed. I don't think there's much between the top three teams. That makes it all the more frustrating that Vettel leaves Hungary with his points lead in the Championship bigger than ever before. 85 points ahead with only eight races to go is close to insurmountable, but on the evidence of today we hopefully have some great racing still to come.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Imperious Hamilton wins in Germany

Sometimes Lewis Hamilton is just irresistible. Today was one of those days. After his astonishing qualifying lap put him on the front row yesterday he overcame a spirited Fernando Alonso and strangely lacklustre Mark Webber to collect his second win of the season.

Alonso might feel had he had his wits about him coming out of his final pit stop he might have clung on to win, but Hamilton's superior pace on the harder tyres at the end of the race suggested he might have made it past anyway. In any case, Ferrari have long suffered from issues over getting heat quickly into their tyres.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel added fuel to the speculation that he's a lights-to-flag merchant, he was only able to get past Felipe Massa thanks to a slow Ferrari pit stop right at the death. Such is his Championship lead however, he may have taken the perfectly legitimate decision that points accumulation is better than risking a non-finish. That's exactly why he's not as fun as Hamilton or Alonso though.

Vettel still sits comfortably atop the standings though, fully 77 points clear of Mark Webber (not a threat) and 82 clear of Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso is right to think that, oddly, Mclaren and Ferrari need to work in tandem to have any hope of overhauling the young German - even then still the faintest of hopes at that.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

A chink in the Vettel armour?

It might not seem immediately obvious that today represented light at the end of the tunnel for anyone hoping for some kind of championship fight, given that Vettel seems now to have explicit number one status at Red Bull, but I think it did expose one weakness.

It is the same weakness that means I think he cannot be regarded in the same light as Hamilton and Alonso in terms of pure speed. Vettel is an accomplished driver, more than that, he is lightning fast and almost 100% reliable when he's puts it on pole and can just cruise off into the distance. But when he has to battle his peers? He's no Fernando or Lewis in that regard.

He's still young enough of course to prove me wrong, he may go on to become a racer in the mould of the two mentioned, but he's not there yet.

Not to mention the fact of course that he didn't win today, Fernando Alonso picked up his and Ferrari's first win this season, and first win since the Korean Grand Prix last October. He might still be 92 points behind but the extent to which Ferrari seem to have genuinely closed the gap on the Red Bulls mean he is the most likely to mount any kind of challenge, however unlikely it may seem that anyone but the German can win the title now.

The race also marked something of a return to form for Mark Webber (despite having his wings clipped by Horner) and Felipe Massa, who although still well short of Fernando's pace, is quicker than three or four races ago.

Two weeks hence is the German Grand Prix, where Ferrari bagged a 1-2 last season (and their own team orders controversy), if they can do something similar and Vettel has a rare off day, who knows what it might spark.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Real chance of a non-Vettel win

For the first time in a good few races there is the very real possibility that someone other than Sebastian Vettel will emerge victorious in today's Canadian Grand Prix.

Yes the young German has put his Red Bull on pole position again, and yes if you watch his fastest qualifying lap he probably had two or three tenths in his pocket (he turned in twice to turn five and went wide at the hairpin), but the two Ferraris directly behind him represent a very genuine threat.

Ferrari, for the first time in 2011, gave good qualifying pace and at one stage it looked like they might even grab pole. Felipe Massa appears to have regained some form, and not before time either, although he was still pipped to second slot by Alonso.

Alonso is in a good position, given his fast starts of late, to hustle Vettel into turn one and if Ferrari can continue their trend of being quicker in the race than they are in qualifying it could be a titanic battle.

Add to that the nature of the Montreal circuit and the possibility of a drop of rain or two, this race is set to be a real treat. Put your money on a safety car.

Race prediction: 1. Alonso 2. Vettel 3. Hamilton

Sunday, 29 May 2011

No Lewis, it's not because you're black...'s because sometimes you drive like a fool.

The move on Felipe Massa was extremely ambitious, it was unquestionably causing an avoidable accident, and he was rightly slapped with a drive through penalty. The move on Maldonado was equally unlikely, and made all the more obvious by the fact that it was the closing stages.

It doesn't make sense to me that he is served with the same penalty twice, that's not much of a disincentive. His remarks after the race were petulant to the point of being hilarious, he needs to grow up fast. We saw the best and the worst of Hamilton today, his move on Schumacher was brilliantly timed (much better so than the other two moves) but we also saw the very worst.

Meanwhile, Vettel won again, but he didn't have it all his own way. Mclaren had an off day today, their knee-jerk decision to bring Button in when the safety car appeared cost him the win as Vettel and Alonso cruised past him. Alonso himself had a good day and at one stage it looked like his shrewd tyre strategy might have given him the win, but the safety car on lap 72 made his task almost impossible. It was nonetheless another good drive from him

Vettel didn't have his best race but he still came out on top, that's the mark of a man in form. Webber will be disappointed with fourth after a poor start, Kobayashi drove an intelligent race to take fifth and Hamilton held on to sixth after the post race penalty failed to penalise him. Felipe Massa continued to struggle before being edged into the barriers by that man Hamilton in the tunnel.

Vettel is now in such a commanding position atop the table that it's almost all about the fight for the positions behind him. It will be interesting to see if Alonso can continue his mini-resurgence and if Mclaren can continue to press.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Who else?

But Vettel. The championship leader will start the race on pole again and will be even more difficult to beat than usual at the street circuit tomorrow.

I would've said the only man with the sheer pace to beat Vettel this weekend was Lewis Hamilton, but he and Mclaren got his qualifying strategy all wrong today, electing to do just one flying lap, a plan which was scuppered by Perez's accident just two and a half minutes before the end of the session - he ended up 7th. As ever with Lewis, he was not slow in moaning about how the team got his strategy wrong.

Jenson Button did well to snatch second, but almost a full half second shy of Vettel, Webber will be disappointed with third as will Alonso with fourth given his practice pace. Felipe Massa was poor again, though less so than in recent races, he was nonetheless out qualified by Schumacher who looked for all his 42 years to be driving the car harder than ever.

With the next quickest man all the way back in 7th place it is yet again hard to look past Vettel for the win. If Button gets a flier he could put a spanner in the works, but Vettel will have the pace to jump him at the stops. This is starting to get very repetitive...

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Hamilton

Saturday, 21 May 2011


The extent of the advantage that the Red Bulls have over the rest of the field appears to have, depressingly, gotten bigger this weekend.

At a circuit which places such a high priority on aerodynamic performance this is perhaps not surprising, but it won't help in making what is traditionally a very dull race probably even more dull. Of course there will still be some action down the field, but if one of the Red Bulls doesn't win tomorrow it will be down to car failure, surely.

Lewis Hamilton gamely stuck to his task but even he could only just get within a second of the Red Bulls. Fernando Alonso came perilously close to unseating Hamilton for third place, which is impressive given Ferrari had to revert back to their old rear wing. Felipe Massa, a full second down on his team mate, should be looking over his shoulder, such insipid performances are not befitting a Ferrari driver.

Michael Schumacher pulled a fast one over everyone, electing to save all his sets of soft tyres for the race. Given that there is a frankly ridiculous gap between the primes and the options, this could prove a very canny move, though not one likely to get him near the podium.

There is a real danger that tomorrow could be a procession. I think Vettel will just edge it over his team mate over a full race distance, though Webber clearly enjoys Spain. We can only hope that the Mclarens and Alonso have better race pace, for sure they should be decidedly closer than the qualifying gap, but I doubt it will be enough to challenge across 66 laps.

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Alonso

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Vettel, Vettel, Vettel, Vettel....

And some more Vettel, the man is relentless. Not only did he best his team mate by four tenths of a second, he also did it with a set of tyres to spare, electing not to go out and defend his time at the end of the session.

With his Red Bull colleague behind him on the grid it is difficult to look beyond the young German for the win tomorrow. Another young German, Nico Rosberg, was impressive in securing third spot on the grid, ahead of the two Mclarens and well clear of his team mate in eighth.

Lewis Hamilton will be disappointed with fourth spot and likewise Button with sixth. In between the two though Alonso will probably be quietly pleased with his day's work, just four tenths off Webber's third spot and he might have his eye on a podium if things go his way. Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari didn't set a time and will start tenth. The Renaults made up the rest of the top ten.

The extent to which Red Bull and Vettel in particular have an advantage in qualifying is impressive but I expect on race pace things will be closer. Hopefully Rosberg can back his qualifying pace with more of the same in the race, or he could be the cork bottling up the Mclarens and Alonso while the Red Bulls scamper off into the distance.

Even if he is I don't think anyone will be able to live with Vettel over 58 laps, expect his dominance to continue!

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Alonso

Saturday, 16 April 2011

There's no hope, Vettel again

Sebastian Vettel looks set to cruise to his fifth consecutive win in China tomorrow after taking a resounding pole position today by just under three quarters of a second from Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, resplendent in their new orange suits.

You can't help thinking it was only electrical problems that prevented a Red Bull lock-out of the front row. The rest of the field can only hope that the same problems beset Vettel tomorrow.

Its a very long time since we've seen a car with such a time advantage over the opposition and while race pace seems to be more evenly matched I am sure Vettel will emerge on top. Nico Rosberg, Alonso and Felipe Massa rounded out the top six and a game effort from Paul di Resta sees him start 8th.

There doesn't seem to be any rain on the way so we can't bank on that intervening, for the sake of the race we'll have to hope Jense and Lewis get off the line quickly and make it worth the early start. Tyre wear doesn't seem to be as high as in Malaysia but on the plus side with the mammoth back straight with the banked turn before it the DRS should be more of a factor.

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Hamilton 3. Button

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Since when did Formula One become confusing?

Sebastian Vettel cruised to his second win in two races, I say cruised because he did so without (we are led to believe) the help of KERS, the Red Bulls seem to have a great deal of pace in their pocket and the rest are trailing in their wake.

However I think there are more important issues afoot, Formula One has suddenly become infinitely more confusing than it used to be. I'm not sure if its a case of a lack of on-screen information, or the different variables that have been introduced, but I am sure it is now a much tougher sport for the layman, and even the ardent fan to follow.

I don't think it is clear enough who is running on which tyre, there should be an on-screen graphic detailing which tyre is currently in use by any given driver. Given the extent to which the rubber affects performance this year I really think this is a critical element of understanding the sport.

Anyway, back to the racing. Vettel was never really troubled by the Mclarens and although the Ferrari's appeared to have good race pace they were nowhere near. A good drive from Nick Heidfeld saw him snatch third place and Renault's second podium in as many races.

The main point of controversy came between Hamilton and Alonso, who clipped the rear of the Brit's Mclaren. Hamilton was adjudged to have moved too aggressively to defend his position and Alonso was penalised for hitting Hamilton. Hamilton whinged that while he suffered a one-position penalty because of his penalty Alonso did not. A bit like Valencia 2010 then Lewis when your drive through cost you nothing...what goes around comes around. Seriously though, I don't think Hamilton deserved a penalty on this occasion.

Vettel is now 24 points clear at the top of the standings and it is getting more and more difficult to look beyond him and Red Bull cruising to the 2011 titles. But there's still a long way to go!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Pray for rain

Alright, this one was pretty close, a darn sight closer than I expected it to be, but I still think tomorrow's race will be Vettel's to lose. The only thing that will inject some much needed intrigue will be a spot or two of rain.

The Mclarens and the Red Bulls look a country mile ahead of the rest, the onboard footage of Mark Webber towards the end of the session told the story of a man totally at one with his car - contrast that with the footage from Schumacher's car where he seemed completely at sea. Webber seemed able to put the car wherever he wished and tomorrow I fully expect the front two rows of the grid to sail off into the distance, leaving the rest to fight over the scraps.

Ferrari again struggled, Alonso gamely put his red car in fifth spot but fully six tenths off Button, Stefano Domenicali and his lads need to find something, and quickly, if they are to be considered title-challengers.

If the rain does fall, and I think some is predicted, it will be interesting to see how Red Bull's 'wedge of cheese' configuration copes. I suspect it might make the cars a little difficult in heavy rain. Hamilton and Button should come to the fore in wet conditions, and it might level the playing field just enough for Alonso to come into the picture.

Again I can't help thinking the overtaking zone has been put in the wrong place, someone inside down into turn one will be easy pickings straight into turn two - into the last corner would've been preferable or perhaps even into turn three.

Tyre wear rates may come into the equation as well given the high temperatures, if the Pirellis begin to grain early in a stint we'll hopefully see a bit more overtaking action. All in all I think it will be tough for anyone to break the Mclaren-Red Bull stranglehold currently in place, but I for one hope they do!

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Hamilton 3. Webber (boring, I know - fingers crossed for rain!)

Friday, 8 April 2011

Red Bull, Mclaren on top again

Friday practice at Sepang saw normal service resumed with the Red Bulls and Mclarens at the front. Only where in Australia it was Vettel and Hamilton leading the way, here it is Webber and Button taking over at the front.

The Mercedes and Ferraris are next in terms of pace but well over a second shy of Webber, Felipe Massa comfortably outpacing Alonso which hopefully marks the beginnings of a welcome return to form. Thereafter the Williams, Toro Rossos and Renaults look a bit shy of raw speed.

Most of the teams reported serious tyre wear issues, the extreme heat of Malaysia compared to the pleasant 18-19 degrees in Melbourne are probably partly to blame for this and the surface may be more abrasive. Also the preponderance of high speed sweeping turns at Sepang will put enormous strain on the rubber. So while the predictions for four and five stop strategies (necessities?) in Melbourne didn't materialise by and large, they may well do this weekend.

Come qualifying I still think Vettel will have the pace to leapfrog the three ahead of him in practice, and ultimately I think the Red Bulls will be too strong for the silver cars, and everyone else, this weekend. That said, a sprinkling (is it ever a sprinkling in Malaysia?) of rain and we could have an interesting race on our hands.

Qualifying prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Hamilton 4. Button 5. Alonso 6. Rosberg

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Can Ferrari bounce back?

Even the least optimistic Ferrari fan would have been hugely disappointed with their teams' showing in the Australian Grand Prix, fourth place for Alonso, half a minute off the leader, and a very anonymous performance from Massa does not constitute a good weekend.

I am no technical expert but it seemed to me that the root cause of Ferrari's issues in Australia were the cool temperatures, they appeared to have difficulty generating the necessary heat in their rubber. They were also just generally down on pace, weather it was problems in set up or a more fundamental issue is not immediately clear.

The most obvious thing Ferrari have in their favour this weekend is that Malaysia will be hot, very hot (today its 34 degrees). Its also one of Alonso's favourite circuits. So there should be fewer issues as regards warming the tyres. However the nature of the circuit is not all that different to Australia. Melbourne is a relatively high speed circuit with fast-ish corners and a couple of fiddly bits, Sepang probably places a higher premium on your car being effective through fast, sweeping bends, but its not fundamentally different, and neither is China, the next race.

So if Ferrari's problems are indeed of the fundamental kind then its difficult to see how the fortnight since Australia will have made any difference. However their winter testing pace was such that I don't buy that they have such a fundamental problem. I think it'll be a case of finding a set up which works, and quickly, and they will be back on the pace of the Mclarens, if not quite the Red Bulls. Felipe Massa pulling his finger out wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Vettel....still dominant

Not entirely unexpectedly Sebastian Vettel kicked off his 2011 title defence in the perfect fashion with an utterly dominant win at Albert Park. Lewis Hamilton overcame the floor of his Mclaren dragging on the floor for half the race to come in second and Vitaly Petrov drove superbly to complete the podium. Alonso, Webber and Button completed the top six.

There was never really any doubting that Vettel would emerge victorious. There were periods of the race where Hamilton was faster but it was more than likely a case of Vettel pacing himself.

The drive of the race was a tough call between Petrov and Sergio Perez though the latter's disqualification post race for an excessively curved front wing element(?!) would seemingly settle that argument. The Saubers confounded the paddock by running over 30 laps on the option tyre while others only saw them last 12-15 laps.

The race was hardly filled with drama and the overtaking zone failed to deliver the expected slew of overtaking moves. At first glance it seems to have been a huge waste of time and effort - it is likely to only play a significant role at circuits with enormous straights like China. For the record I also think it was placed incorrectly, a better option would've been the back straight after the fast chicane before the 90-degree right hander of turn 13.

The most intriguing aspect was again the pit stop phase. In years gone by it was always an advantage to run long relative to your opponent but because of the significant pace advantage of the Pirellis early in a stint it will become increasingly common to see a driver pit early to gain track position.

The dominant nature of Vettel's win does not augur well for a fascinating season but the next race in Sepang offers a whole new set of challenges. It is the race that most drivers single out as physically the toughest of the year and the weather can play havoc with the results. Its also Fernando Alonso's favourite circuit but Ferrari will need to find a lot of pace if he is to bag his third Malaysian win.

Good race for: Vettel - obviously. Petrov - steadily silencing the many doubters, good on him. Hamilton - made light of a dodgy front end.

Bad race for: Massa - looked nowhere on pace, has a challenge on his hands to keep his seat I think. Mercedes - litany of problems for Schumacher and Rosberg was bundled out by an over-ambitious Rubens Barrichello. Button - sorry Jense, but that drive through was deserved.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Vettel dominant

A funny old qualifying session ended with only one of the top drivers really having significant reason to cheer. Sebastian Vettel picked up where he left off in Abu Dhabi only this time he was eight tenths of a second clear of anyone else.

Hamilton will be happy that he's on the front row but can't be comfortable with a gap that big to P1, Webber failing to get anywhere even close to his team mate will worry him even more. Button was almost half a second down on his Mclaren team mate and although Alonso comfortably outpaced his team mate he starts in fifth, 1.4 seconds shy of Vettel and absolutely nowhere on qualifying pace.

The Ferrari in particular looked all at sea, under-steering throughout the lap and it doesn't appear to be able to get heat in the tyres on a short run. Whether this helps them over the long runs in terms of wear rates remains to be seen. Massa's inability to drive around a bad car was to the fore again. Petrov, Kobayashi and Buemi were all outstanding in making Q3 while Schumacher disappointed.

If the race runs to form, Vettel will have no challengers in cruising to his eleventh victory and kicking off his title defence in the best possible way. If this is a sign of things to come we could be in for a very long season! In the hope of some sort of spectacle there might be a drop of rain, or the Pirellis (which drivers are saying are quite different to those used in testing) will put a cat amongst the pigeons.

In truth it is difficult to look beyond the German for victory, but the scrap for the podium behind him ought to make for good watching.

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Alonso

Hamilton's pace will be enough to live with the Red Bulls but have the Mclarens ironed out all their reliability issues? I think Alonso's race pace will be an improvement on qualifying. Webber will be a factor throughout and if Rosberg's talk early in the weekend of four or five pit stops proves correct we could be in for a treat.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Practice One and Two - thoughts

So Mclaren were playing us all for fools then? I knew it! Well maybe, perhaps in fact it was Red Bull and Ferrari playing us for fools today, either way Jenson Button finished the second session top of the sheets, a tenth and a bit ahead of Hamilton and the Mclarens were the only cars to go sub 1m26s.

Thereafter it was normal service resumed, Alonso a fraction behind Hamilton and Vettel an even smaller fraction behind him. Its always dangerous to read too much into first practice (even more so in the first race) but Ferrari may be just a little concerned with Massa's lack of pace - he was down in seventh, almost eight tenths off his team mate. Michael Schumacher will have been pleased with his performance, a couple of tenths up on Massa in sixth place. Sergio Perez obviously read my piece about being unconvinced by him and slotted his Sauber into eigth, well clear of Kobayashi. Barrichello and Rosberg rounded out the top ten.

Its difficult to say what fuel levels were being run and by whom, and also how much of the session was just about drivers feeling their way in on the new Pirellis, but Mclaren will surely be the happiest of the lot given their winter testing form. Even if the positions do end up reversed in qualifying, putting them behind Red Bull and Alonso, as I suspect they will, they can still pat themselves firmly on the back.

At the back it was as you were, HRT managed almost no on track action and will almost certainly fail to qualify, Virgin were slow, Lotus slightly less so and Force India just ahead of Maldonado in the Williams. Toro Rosso will be very pleased with their return I would imagine, Algersuari 11th and Buemi 14th, sandwiching the slightly underwhelming Renaults - Petrov impressively oupacing Heidfeld (by all of eight thousandths of a second.).

Good day for: Mclaren - winter testing troubles forgotten, for now. Schumacher - almost a second up on Rosberg. Perez - can he carry that form into qualifying? Di Resta - one session to acclimatise, beats team mate Sutil, well done.

Bad day for: HRT - no lap times for either driver, just installation laps, which I suppose is progress compared to their testing nightmare. Massa - needs to buck his ideas up quickly or the doubters will begin to circle.

Qualifying top six prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Alonso 3. Webber 4. Hamilton 5.Schumacher 6. Button.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

F1 2011 - what can we expect?

We are but days away from the (delayed) start of the 2011 Formula One season and there's been plenty of buzz about who is hot, and even more about who is not.

2010 was vintage in the sense that one of 5 drivers could have taken the title until relatively late in the season, but a fierce on-track tit-for-tat battle it was not. In order to increase overtaking the FIA has introduced the new overtaking zone and movable rear wings - basically if you get within a second of the car in front inside the overtaking zone you are allowed to open the slot in the rear wing, thereby increasing your top speed by roughly 6-8mph and, theoretically at least, making it easier to pass.

Lets leave aside the fact that this is quite an artificial way to increase overtaking (I don't have many better ideas to be fair), will it make races more interesting? Probably, but that won't be the biggest factor. That award goes to Pirelli.

The new rubber has been causing quite a stir in winter testing, the tyres tend to have good performance up to a point, when they reach that point they are liable to fall of a cliff in performance terms. Tyre management will be crucial and the way this goes could define who wins the World Championship. If the tyres result in tail-happy cars sliding for fun, Lewis Hamilton will be to the fore, if they require careful lap-by-lap management, his team mate Jenson Button could be happier. Of course it has been pointed out that high-wear tyres will create a lot of 'marbles' on the circuits, making it unwise to go offline and thereby reducing the likelihood of overtaking - we shall see.

In actual fact neither of Hamilton or Button are likely to be on the front of the grid come Sunday morning, the problems at Mclaren are well documented. So who will be?

Red Bull

There are some things we can be sure of. The sun will come up tomorrow. Eddie Jordan will wear horrible trousers. Red Bull will be fast in 2011. Vettel is probably, with Hamilton, the fastest driver on the grid if not yet the best driver. Talk of a 1+ second advantage on the rest is probably wide of the mark, but don't be surprised to see an all Red Bull front row.


Fernando Alonso is the best driver in Formula One in my view, like him or loathe him, so it is with him that Ferrari's 2011 hopes rest unless the 2008-vintage Felipe Massa emerges once more. The 2011 car has been fast, if not Red Bull fast, and reliable in winter testing. It might just be me but the pace of their development seems to have been down in recent years, and they need to sort their struggles in qualifying. That said, they will be at the front through the season.


Don't read too much into their struggles in the winter, they might be shy of the front two's pace, but they won't be a million miles back - Whitmarsh claims to be hopeful that their new floor and exhaust is worth a second on their testing times. However with their resources it will be troubling them that for too many years they have been playing catch up from the first race. Button and Hamilton is probably, on paper, the strongest lineup on the grid. If not fighting for wins in Australia, they will be come mid-season for sure.


Losing Kubica was a blow of untold proportions, he is on a par with Vettel and Hamilton in terms of pure speed, and as a racer he's up there with Alonso. Heidfeld is a worthy replacement, but he and Petrov won't be able to match Kubica for pace and consistency. Renault's ability to develop a car in recent years is well documented so as the season progresses they could be challengers.


Seemingly nowhere in the winter until Schumacher blitzed around Catalunya with the fastest time of anyone at the last test. Make no mistake, he is still bloody fast and the cleverest (read: most ruthless) racer in the business. Nico Rosberg ain't half bad either. I can't see them winning early but as very outside bets for the title either driver is a good one.


Have they become everyone's second team? I'd certainly love to see them back at the front, even if they did err in dropping Nico Hulkenberg. Barrichello, in the twilight of his career will still be fast if not epic, but I've never personally rated Maldonado and I think he could be a weak link. Happy to be proved wrong, no one would begrudge the Grove boys a return to the top.

Force India

Strengthened no end by dropping the erratic Liuzzi and recruiting the promising Di Resta, they might still struggle. Seem to be unable to make that final jump into the top four teams, but are doing an admirable job trying. Sutil is a wildcard, put him on a greasy track and he'll own it, but otherwise is hit and miss, sometimes literally. My personal favourite colour scheme in F1.


Kamui "Cowboy Crashy" Kobayashi still hasn't quite shaken his unwelcome moniker but the feeling that he is lightning fast on a good day remains equally unshakeable. Hamilton aside he is peerless in the overtaking stakes and in the midfield he could be doing plenty. Points more often than not will be the aim. Not convinced by Perez yet.

Toro Rosso

There was talk of a significant leap forward in performance for Red Bull's second team, which would seem to me to be hogging things somewhat. However I don't think it quite materialised though scoring points at more races than last year (they managed 7) will be a legitimate aim. I personally rate Alguersuari very highly, and Buemi is no slow coach either.


The best of last season's new intake, though they didn't have a huge amount to compete with (the other two teams had 27 retirements between them), Lotus can count points in 2011 as a major achievement. They are confusingly running Renault engines while also being in dispute with the Renault team. Trulli should possibly have been put out to pasture and I've never been convinced by Kovalainen's raw speed in anything but the Race of Champions.


As unfortunate a three-letter abbreviated name as has ever been seen in F1, they were pretty anonymous last season and 2011 will herald more of the same. Zero mileage on their new motor so far will inspire little confidence from Karthikeyan and Liuzzi. It will take a sudden downpour and several accidents for them to score points, although the chances that Liuzzi will be in one of those accidents are overwhelming.


Ought really to be moving ahead of HRT decisively, or at least the Virgin with Timo Glock on board ought to. When your other driver's only title of note is the 2003 Belgian Formula Three championship, you have to expect a struggle. The recruitment of Jerome D'Ambrosio looks better in the bank balance than it will on the leaderboard.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Bahrain, Ecclestone and F1’s expansion

The Formula One fraternity was unusually united in agreement that the Bahrain Grand Prix should not go ahead – in the circumstances a mere sporting event was completely irrelevant. But is it time to take a good look at what Bernie Ecclestone’s expansionist plans have achieved for the sport?

15 years ago 11 out of 17 F1 races were held in Europe, this season it will be just 8 from 18, is this good for the sport? Most fans would agree that circuits like Turkey and spectacles like Singapore are welcome additions to the calendar but in a similar vein most would agree that bland-fests like Bahrain itself, Korea and Malaysia add little in a sporting sense. Who can remember a truly great race at one of the new venues? There aren’t many...

Mercifully most of the great circuits have survived, the real soul of Grand Prix racing lives at Monza, it lives at Silverstone and more than any other it lives at Monaco. The expansion of Formula One into new nations is not a fundamentally bad thing, but it should not come at the cost of the sporting spectacle.

Whether a track makes the cut into Formula One should not be judged purely on what makes the best economic sense. What gets the juices of the average F1 fan going? The growth potential in the Chinese car market, or the sight of the world's best drivers going tete-a-tete through Eau Rouge? I know which I'd choose! F1 is a sport which thrives on drama and circuits are the theatres for that, Spa delivers that drama, Suzuka delivers it – the Tilke-clones largely do not.