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.