Out with the old and in with the new… F1 drivers struggle to keep the cut-throat pace

As I’m sure the F1 fans among you will know, there’s been plenty of change with regards to teams and their drivers for 2012. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on and where your allegiances lie, these changes could be viewed as a good thing, or not quiet so.

In an ever-evolving sport hell bent on the search for speed, many seem to be struggling to keep up. There has been little room for sentiment as teams take a cutthroat approach to contracts in 2012 and beyond. As my title suggests, some of F1’s most experienced old hands are being replaced by young and promising, but nevertheless inexperienced up and comers.

Rubens Barichello looks unlikely to find a seat for 2012 due to Williams’ change of heart. Leaving it so late in the date has left Ruby without any chance to prepare a backup plan that could see him leave the sport without the proper send-off he deserves.

Rubens Barichello, left in doubt over next season

Similarly, Adrian Sutil, who has served his team with loyalty throughout its many buy-outs and re-brands from Midland in 2006 to the present-day Force India, has been left hung out to dry. Arguably, his replacement, Niko Hulkenberg has been awarded Sutil’s seat on merit, but like Barichello, the decision has been left so late that Sutil will struggle to regroup and find a seat for 2012.

Possibly the most controversial decision is Toro Rosso’s replacement of the now experienced Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi with young guns Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric-Vergne.The team defended their decision to oust both their drivers, quoting the team’s ethos as a team existing for the soul purpose of giving young drivers a chance in F1. Alguersuari and Buemi’s has obviously been and gone, allowing Red Bull hopeful Ricciardo and Abu Dhabi young driver champ Eric-Vergne to fill their shoes. Once more, the team’s late decision has left both outgoing drivers with a seat for 2012.

In my opinion it is a shame to see so many qualified F1 drivers going to waste.

Of course, more understandable decisions include the axing of Virgin (now Marussia) rookie Jerome D’ambrosio and Renault (now Lotus) driver Vitaly Petrov. If you haven’t the skills to deliver, F1 rarely offers you a second chance. I guess Petrov will consider himself unlucky to be axed – had his team not decided to cease development of the 2011 car, a handful of decent results could have helped him retain his 2012 seat. Replacing the two will be Charles Pic and Roman Grosjean, respectively.

I won’t of course, forget to mention Bruno Senna, who also showed promise when he stepped in to replace Nick Heidfeld mid-season, before suffering the same fate as Petrov, as the team’s competitiveness dried up. He too, is without a seat.

Providing a little consolation is a return to F1 for Kimi Raikkonnen and journeyman Pedro de la Rosa. This pair of seasoned pro’s make up the only experienced F1 driver traffic making its way into the sport, in contrast to the jam of talent on the way out.

Raikkonnen makes a return to F1 with Lotus

As far as I can see, the problem lies with the teams. Drivers shouldn’t be left in the dark until it’s too late. If a driver were to go searching for a new team before the end of the season (as Lewis Hamilton was suspected of when snooping around the Red Bull garage mid-season) it would be perceived as disloyal to their team. I think this would be completely justifiable given the cold shoulder some of F1’s greats have received this winter.

Decisions regarding line-ups should be forcibly made as early in the season as possible so that if a driver is given the boot, he is left plenty of time to find himself a new team.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for new talents making a name for themselves in F1 – just not at the expense of existing talent losing out. After all, some drivers who have lost seats are being replaced by drivers the same age and others, which makes no sense at all.

The likes of Sutil and Barichello, although they may have already give their best to the sport, they’d provide a team with valuable experience with which to move forward – especially young teams such as Marussia, Caterham and HRT.

Adrian Sutil's 5-year spell in F1 looks at an end

Alguersuari too, who still has many years ahead of him in F1 in my opinion, has been robbed of the chance to make a name for himself sooner.

If this is the way F1 teams continue to treat drivers and their contracts, who’s to say who’ll be the one to make way next? Schumacher, Webber, Massa, Liuzzi, Trulli etc? With so much talent out their hungry for a seat, they all better start growing eyes in the back of their heads…

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Hungaroring Victory for Button as Vettel Extends Championship Lead

In his 200th Grand Prix start, and on the return to the track which yielded his first Formula 1 win, Jenson Button took a welcome chequered flag in Budapest. The McLaren driver was tipped by many on the wet Sunday morning; greasy conditions have favoured his smooth racing style in past races.

Button celebrates his F1 anniversary in style

But whilst Button celebrated, his team-mate Lewis Hamilton rued a missed opportunity to close the championship gap to Sebastian Vettel. His decision to switch to Intermediate tyres during a brief shower in the closing stages of the race cost him, as the rain stopped and the former world champion struggled for grip.

Despite finishing 2nd in Hungary and a season’s-worst result 4th in Germany, Vettel now holds the biggest points lead he has all season. The world champion started from pole after an excellent qualifying, but once again showed he is mortal, making mistakes which may have cost him maximum points.

Ferrari also managed two top-ten finishes; an impatient Fernando Alonso showed great race pace to fill the final step of the podium – repeated mistakes in the tricky conditions having cost him  a chance for the win.

Toro Rosso too, had both drivers in the top ten. An incredible drive from Sebastian Buemi saw him overcome a grid-place penalty for causing an accident at the Nurburgring. Buemi finished 8th after starting from 23rd on the grid, quelling the rumours that he will be the driver to make way for Red Bull protege Daniel Ricciardo.

Another notable finish was Paul Di Resta’s. The Scot achieved a career-best 7th in his first season (not that you’d know it) in F1. The rookie driver out-qualified and out-raced his more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil, and will definitely be drawing attention to himself from bigger race teams.

Button's first F1 win for BAR Honda, Hungary, 2006

Now into the Summer break, Ferrari and McLaren will try and reinforce the improvements the two teams have enjoyed over the last few races. Red Bull will be desperately trying to re-discover the advantage they had at the start of the season over the rest of the grid. Now that Vettel isn’t dominating the season quite so much, opportunities should surely arise for other teams to make a bid for the title. But, due to the sheer amount of race wins Vettel accrued, McLaren and Ferrari cannot afford to share wins between their drivers if they are to have a hope of winning the driver’s championship. With McLaren allowing their drivers to race (unlike Red Bull) and Massa simply lacking pace, I don’t see either team singling out one of their drivers to mount a challenge against Vettel. As a result, I’m sceptical as to whether or not the driver’s championship remains a contest.

However, what I thought was a lost cause may now be a rekindled opportunity, at least for one team, for some silverware. The constructors championship has been Red Bull’s to lose all season. Even now, they remain 103 points ahead of McLaren. But with 25 points for a 1st place, McLaren’s improved form could see them narrow this. Certainly, if Mark Webber’s 6th place finish – below both McLaren’s 1st and 4th – is representative of his form for the rest of the season, F1 fans could have a closely contested championship once more…

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Team Lotus Risk Running Rusty Karun

Karun Chandhok has been given a seat by Team Lotus for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring this weekend. Jarno Trulli has made way for the young Indian after a string of poor performances. Despite being renowned for being one of F1’s fastest qualifiers, Trulli has been bested by team-mate Heikki Kovalainen repeatedly this season.

Jarno Trulli has been outqualified by Heikki Kovalainen eight out of nine times this season

Team Lotus is a race team dedicated to nurturing young driver talent; an ethos that Trulli appreciates – the Italian showed no grievances when asked about his feelings on being replaced, “I’m looking forward to working with Karun this weekend and doing whatever I can to help him get the most out of his opportunity in Germany”.

Chandhok will be the only Indian on the grid at Germany, as HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan

Chandhok's last time racing for HRT at Silverstone, 2010

recently made way for Red Bull hopeful Daniel Ricciardo. My worry is that not having competitively raced since Silverstone 2010, will Chandhok be able to re-acquaint himself in time to be competitive.

To prevent the slower back markers causing hold-ups for the championship contenders, the FIA created a ruling that all drivers must qualify within 107% of the pole-position driver. Although Lotus’ dedication to nurturing young talent is commendable, it’s risky – and could land them with 50% less car on the grid come Sunday afternoon.

“I have not had much running in the car and my aim will be to get more comfortable with the car and add as much value as I can to the team”, Chandhok said.

Lotus announced improved steering ahead of the German GP, an issue Trulli struggled with in the the T128. With the steering problems resolved, Lotus may have been too hasty to bench their veteran driver.

Trulli is confirmed to regain his seat for Round 11’s Hungarian GP. Chandhok is also expected to race at the debuting Indian GP later this year, although which driver he is likely to replace for the event is unconfirmed.

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Eddie Jordan Change of Tune: BBC F1 Analyst in Team Orders U-Turn

Last week’s British Grand Prix served up one of the great F1 races in the circuit’s long history. Sadly, the pinnacle of Motorsport was tarnished for many fans with the Formula 1 season’s first example of team orders this year. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was Sunday’s scapegoat, issuing instructions to Mark Webber to ‘maintain the gap’ between Sebastian Vettel and himself. The incident was detrimental to racing and stole from the paying fans a grandstand finish.

Horner defended his decision, stating the team orders were in the interests of the team and prevented a repeat of the embarrassment Red Bull suffered in Turkey, 2010, when their two drivers collided mid-race. As Horner generated excuses during the BBC’s post-race interview show, the F1 Forum, former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan applauded, backing the Red Bull boss up on what he viewed as “the right thing to do”.

Jordan continued to reiterate his opinions that are in stark contrast to those of his own one year ago. Similarly to Silverstone last week, in 2010 the Nurburgring played host to a perfect example of why team orders should still be out-ruled, just as they were in the 2010 season. After a mostlythrilling German Grand Prix, team orders robbed fans of a head to head race to the chequered flag, similar to what happened last Sunday. With a few laps to go, race leader Felipe Massa was issued coded team orders. Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley radioed his driver saying, “Fernando is faster than you – do you understand?”

Title contender and Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso needed the points more in the eyes of Team Principal Stefano Domenicali, to increase Ferrari’s hopes of winning the driver’s championship. Massa, in a move that would later cost Ferrari a $100,000 fine, moved aside to let Alonso take the win. “Good lad. Just stick with it now – sorry” was Smedley’s consolation.

Interestingly, Eddie Jordan, rather than defending the ‘team’ decision as he did at Silverstone, lambasted the move in a damning interview on team orders; “It was unlawful and theft”, raged Jordan. “They stole from us the chance of having a wheel to wheel

Eddie Jordan has a love-hate relationship with team orders

contest between two drivers”. His views are a far cry from the reassurances he gave to Horner one week ago.

As a former Team Principal and team owner, Jordan must stand on one side of the fence or the other – not both. If Horner’s desire was to avoid the embarrassment of Turkey, then the ‘team decision’ should have been for Sebastian Vettel to let the faster Mark Webber through.

But this wouldn’t happen. Horner’s decision was not for the team – it was for golden boy Vettel, who has the highest chance of bringing the team success. The same intentions forced Massa to yield for Alonso in Germany.

Eddie Jordan’s U-turn on the matter is baffling. How his perceptions on team orders can fluctuate from one season to the next is ridiculous for a person who’s supposed to provide a voice of reason as the BBC’s lead analyst. More reassuring is that one member of the BBC’s F1 coverage team called it right. Whether or not being a former F1 driver is an easier position to analyse the affair, I don’t know, but Martin Brundle drew it up in black and white with a play on words of the Ferrari team orders from Germany:

If Red Bull wanted the high ground this time the call should have been: 

Sebastian, Mark is faster than you.

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German Grand Prix: Nurburgring Preview

After all the action of last week’s British GP, Round 11 of the Formula 1 World Championship draws near. Here’s how the Nurburgring can deliver as much excitement as Silverstone did.

A sold-out event taking place at the spiritual home of Motorsport is never going to be easy

Alonso wins, cheered on by capacity grandstands at Silverstone

to compete with. Add on top all of the politics, controversy and a redesigned track,  it’s clear to see Germany has a hard act to follow. Luckily, the Grand Prix circuit of the Nurburgring has a lot to offer. If there are any fans that can match the enthusiasm of the British, its Germany’s. With F1 legend Michael Schumacher, reigning-champion Sebastian Vettel, Nick Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Timo Glock all taking to the track, the home fans won’t be short of native drivers to cheer on.

One big change, which is more of a return to the season’s norm, is the return of exhaust-blown diffusers. Ruled out just minutes before the start of the British GP, a unanimous team decision sees the downforce-generating tech reinstated for the German GP. This will shake-up team performances and, in theory, generate race results more similar to those prior to the system’s ban – with a few exceptions.

Ferrari attributed Alonso’s maiden victory of 2011 to a major mid-season upgrades package, rather than a drop in performance from other teams. If this is the case, then Ferrari, who have already shown improvements in recent race weekends, should be contenders for a second win in a row.

Michael Schumacher too, could perform well around a circuit on which, one of the corners

Michael Schumacher collides with Kamui Kobayashi

bears his name. Schumacher utilised the DRS system for the first time this season at Silverstone. His unfamiliarity with the drag-reduction system could be to blame for his clumsy collision with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. Despite losing his front wing and then taking a stop-and-go penalty, the seven-time world champion finished an all things considered outstanding 9th place. Combined with an impressive 6th place finish from team-mate Nico Rosberg, Team Mercedes look to be in with a shout of a podium finish at their home Grand Prix.

On his chances for Germany, Schumacher revealed his “extra motivation” for his home race. “We saw some improvements over the Silverstone weekend with our new exhaust system. We definitely want to show our home crowds our best level of performance possible”.

The championship-leaders Red Bull looked unphased by rule changes during qualifying last week. Mark Webber headed Sebastian Vettel on the grid, but lost out to him on the first straight. Suggested unrest after Team Principal Christian Horner’s team orders at the weekend were recently put to bed, as Webber publicised his contract talks with Red Bull for 2012.

McLaren were caught out by late rule changes at the British GP, which resulted in a poor qualifying. Drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button put in great performances to overcome this, but were hampered by more race day errors from their team. Unless McLaren brings a new upgrades package to Germany similar to that of which Ferrari brought to Silverstone, the English duo could struggle to contend.

Red Bull are becoming part of the podium furniture in 2011

The past three Grand Prix of Europe, Canada and Monaco have consistently seen Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull achieve podiums, with Red Bull being the most prevalent of the three teams.

This suggests that it will be the usual suspects celebrating in Germany. However, it’s difficult to rule out Mercedes. With two German drivers, they’re a team that will be desperate for success next weekend.

McLaren too, are in dire need of some major points to keep their title hopes alive. Even though they don’t quite have the car to compete at the moment, they certainly have two drivers who can get every ounce out of the under-performing MP4-26.

Another factor that will affect the result is the Nurburgring circuit itself. Different

The Nurburgring GP circuit

to Silverstone, it has far fewer high-speed corners. The superior downforce of Red Bull’s RB6 at high speeds gave them the edge around the fastest circuit of the season last Sunday, but the twists and turns of the German GP should bring more of the grid into contention for podium places.

Rewind one year, and Red Bull did not dominate the German Grand Prix in the way they’re expected to next weekend. In 2010 it was Ferrari who came home with a  1-2 lead by Alonso, with Vettel trailing to 2nd place Massa.

Ferrari dominates the German Grand Prix, 2010

Ferrari’s recent improvements approaching a race they dominated last year makes them my tip for this year’s German GP. Unarguably Fernando Alonso is the stronger driver of the two Ferrari men this year, and is more likely to take the top step of the podium. It is a mistake to accredit Alonso’s win at Silverstone last week to Red Bull’s pit-stop errors. The two-time world champion was piling the pressure on Vettel, and in my opinion, an overtake was imminent. Massa reaffirmed the effectiveness of the upgrade package Ferrari brought to Silverstone, claiming it will stand them “in good stead for the second half of the season”. With that said, Alonso is clearly back in the running for the driver’s championship.

As for the remaining podium place, it’ll undoubtedly be a Red Bull. I’d like to think McLaren or Mercedes could take 3rd, but for me, the performance just isn’t there for them at the moment.

Regarding the rest of the grid, expect the Saubers to pick up some good points; especially Sergio Perez, who has made a strong return after his accident in Monaco last month. Jaime Alguersuari has picked up points in the last two races, and I predict the Toro Rosso driver to continue his run of form.

Renault recently announced new upgrades for Germany. Vitaly Petrov admitted Lotus Renault had been “off the pace” recently. Nick Heidfeld welcomed the upgrades package to the uncompetitive Renault RS27, and relished the chance to “take the fight to Mercedes”, who overtook Lotus Renault in the Constructors Championship last weekend. With the team also planning to replace their front-facing exhaust system for a conventional rear exhaust, I expect Renault to turn their season around and fight for points in amongst Mercedes, Sauber and Williams – who bring new front and rear wings to Germany.

After being outclassed all season by new team-mate Paul di Resta, Force India driver Adrian Sutil is keen to outperform di Resta on home soil, “I’ve lost out to him a couple of times and have maybe been a bit unlucky or whatever” Sutil confessed.

Heikki Kovalainen will be the best of the back markers as per, despite the Fin’s concerns that Team Lotus’ goals have been “too optimistic” for 2011.

Lastly, a quick mention to Daniel Ricciardo who brought his HRT home in one piece on his debut last week. The Australian rookie was quoted saying he found his 1st taste of F1 “boring” as he was consistently faced with a series of blue flags around Silverstone. Hopefully he’s all settled in now and can enjoy next week’s race a little more.

My predictions?

Qualifying:

1st – Sebastian Vettel

2nd – Fernando Alonso

3rd – Felipe Massa

Race Result:

1st – Fernando Alonso

2nd – Sebastian Vettel

3rd – Felipe Massa

And by the way; the weather forecast?

Rain!

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Team Orders Split Opinion in F1

In Sunday’s British F1 GP we saw the season’s first example of the use of team orders. Once a vilified facet of the sport, team orders were banned in 2010, only for them to be allowed once more due to teams using coded messages to issue instructions to their drivers.

With a few laps to go, Mark Webber had closed the gap on Red Bull team-mate Sebastian

Mark Webber 'maintaining the gap' from Sebastian Vettel

Vettel, only to be denied the opportunity to race him. Christian Horner spoke on the radio, “Mark, maintain the gap”. F1 legend Murray Walker referred to the instructions as “the four bitterest words”, and the debate ensued.

Webber was asked in a post-race interview on how he felt after being told not to challenge Vettel:

“I’m not fine with it, no. Of course I ignored the team and I was battling to the end.”

It was later revealed that Webber received four or five similar messages and ignored those too. Regardless of whether Webber raced to the finish or not, the damage has been done. Disagreements with Team Principal Christian Horner have clearly resurfaced. This time last year, Mark Webber was unofficially made Red Bull’ #2 driver when an upgraded front wing was removed from his RB6 car and attached to team-mate – and rival – Vettel’s instead. Vettel went on to qualify in pole position.

BBC F1 reporter Ted Kravitz sought out Horner directly after the race and made the Team Principal sweat in a very curt and frank interview. Horner bore a guilty expression on his face, explaining that his decision to prevent his drivers racing was “the sensible thing to do. With constructors and championship points on the line, was it [a collision] really worth risking over three points?”  He went on to justify his actions, saying it’s “what the team expected”. From a fans perspective, it is understandable, but also a hard pill to swallow because, as Damon Hill sympathised:

‘It would have been sad if there was a collision between Sebastian and Mark, but fans want to see racing. You can’t stop drivers racing each other. At the end of the day, that’s what people buy their tickets for’.

Damon Hill was instrumental in the recent enhancements of Silverstone, and will have certainly contributed to the success of the weekend that saw over 122,000 visitors to the new-look circuit. He will no doubt have concerns regarding team orders and their effects on future race attendances. If team orders continue, fans may be less inclined to pay to watch racing drivers not race.

I have no doubt that team orders contributed to the slump in F1’s popularity during

Barrichello steps aside for Schumacher to take the chequered flag, Austrian GP, 2002

Michael Schumacher’s reign at Ferrari. The seven-time world champion was often gifted race wins when his team-mate Rubens Barrichello was denied the opportunity to race Schumacher. Barrichello’s place as #2 was cemented at the 2002 Austrian GP, where he was ordered to move aside for Schumacher, metres before the chequered flag.

Former F1 driver David Coulthard also shared Hill’s sentiments, referencing his animosity towards McLaren team orders in Australia 1997, which forced him to gift team-mate championship favourite Mika Hakkinen maximum points. Coulthard joked that his psychologist predicted he’d fully recover from the ordeal by no later than 2015.

But as well as criticism, Horner’s actions drew support from former F1 team bosses. Former Team Jordan Manager Eddie Jordan defended the decision, saying “it was the right thing to do”.  In the BBC’s F1 Forum, Jake Humphreys quoted Team Williams founder Frank Williams as saying “the company is more important than the driver”. Both clearly understand the embarrassment involved when the team’s drivers collide, as the Red Bull

Vettel makes a case for team orders, Turkey, 2010

pair did in the 2010 Turkish GP. Even Murray Walker, who criticised Horner’s actions in the post-race interview show, had to concede that ultimately, drivers are “paid employers who take orders from the boss”.

The drivers and the team obviously don’t see eye to eye on the issue. Unsurprisingly however, Vettel completely understood, “From a team point of view you can understand”. Webber later calmed down and resumed diplomacy, stating the situation would be the same the other way around. Somehow, I don’t think Vettel would be so understanding if he was denied the chance to race.

When David Coulthard asked Christian Horner if ignoring team orders was an option,

Webber weighs up his options?

Horner replied, “That’s a conversation for behind closed doors”. Tempers have clearly frayed between the two for what could be the last time. With rumours of Hamilton lined up for a seat at Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen making a return to F1, it might be time for Webber to start looking for a new team.

Such is the damage team orders can inflict.

Mark Webber is one of the fastest drivers on the grid. If he leaves, Christian Horner could soon be finding out the answer to his question, ‘was it really worth three points?’

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Alonso Wins Exhilarating British Grand Prix

It was always going to be one to remember though, wasn’t it? F1 fans had high hopes after an interesting Saturday qualifying, and were duly rewarded with what Jake Humphrey described as, “a race fitting for a new look Silverstone”.

Formula 1 had some making up to do after the European GP, as it was widely perceived to

McLaren's efforts visible as their drivers offset a poor qualifying

be a ‘boring’ race; sentiments also shared by McLaren’s Jenson Button. The British Grand Prix wasted no time in making amends; Sebastian Vettel passing Mark Webber off the line and Lewis Hamilton making up three places, all in the first few corners of a half-wet, half-dry circuit.

As the racing line began to dry out, the performance of the Intermediate tyres the drivers elected to start on dropped off dramatically. Michael Schumacher was first into the pits to change to dry tyres, and immediately set the fastest lap of the race. The rest of the teams followed suit, and the pack began to chip away at Vettel’s lead; Hamilton, at times, pressing too hard as he missed braking zones attempting to overtake Felipe Massa’s Ferrari.

Later, in a spectacular double whammy, both McLarens succesfully executed overtakes on the two Ferraris in one lap. Jenson Button was particularly brave in what Lee MacKenzie described as a “cracking overtake” as Button stayed glued to the outside of Felipe Massa through a series of chicanes to gain the racing line through the following corner. But as the track continued to dry out, Ferrari began to show great pace. Fernando Alonso took back Lewis’ hard earned P2 before going on to capitalise on a bad Red Bull pit-stop as the Spaniard passed Vettel on the pit lane exit. The pits continued to take centre stage when an unsafe release by Sauber saw Kamui Kobayashi almost collide with the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, damaging Force India’s wheel gun rigging in the process. Sauber were later fined by the race stewards, as were McLaren for releasing Jenson Button from the

Button retires after a pit-stop error

pits without properly fitting the front tyre. This lead to the home favourite’s retirement, much to the disappointment of the the home fans and Button himself, who had been in contention for a podium finish. Button later apologised to his fans, as he failed to earn a podium in his 12th successive outing at Silverstone.

After an impressive 6th place qualifying and a strong start to the race, Paul di Resta too, fell victim to pit crew mistakes. In his first British Grand Prix, a tyre mix-up dealt the young Scot a lengthy pit-stop, shattering Force India’s, the home fans’ and the promising driver’s hopes of a points finish. In spite, the rookie managed to maintain a positive outlook on his first F1 season, and revelled in the new the paddock and its accompanying “new high” for F1 to build on.

Back on track, Vettel battled with Lewis Hamilton for 2nd. Hamilton defended well under pressure as the two drivers almost touched through the old pit straight. All the while, Alonso’s lead was increasing and by the time Hamilton fell victim to the Red Bull’s superior pace, the race was Alonso’s to lose.

Hamilton’s chances of a win dissolved as his team issued instructions to go into fuel saving mode. A wary Mark Webber, suspicious of McLaren dummy tactics cautiously dispatched the helpless  and understandably frustrated Hamilton, confirming McLaren’s fuel issues which turned out to be the result of a lack of heavy fuel load testing in Friday practice.

With a few laps to go, the podium positions looked set. But after a tire change late on, Felipe Massa was now taking seconds per lap out of the fuel saving McLaren. Massa caught Hamilton and the pair battled it out on the last lap. After clashing with Hamilton at the Monaco GP, Massa aired his caution regarding Lewis’ aggressive driving style in an interview prior to the race. After pulling up alongside him in the penultimate corner, the

Hamilton forces Massa wide on the last corner to secure 4th

Ferrari driver was on the receiving end of Hamilton’s aggression once more, as the two collided. After his recent regular post-race meetings with officials about his driving, Hamilton joked he might need his ‘platinum card’ handy, but stewards later deemed the tussle a racing incident and Hamilton held on to a well deserved 4th.

Despite the last-gasp action between Hamilton and Massa, it was the championship-leading Red Bulls that would later make the headlines. With a few laps to go, Webber had closed the gap to team-mate Vettel, and looked set to race the German right to the finish line, until Team Principal Christian Horner issued team orders…

Mark, maintain the gap. 

Webber raced on, but the damage was done, and left a sour taste in the mouth of F1 legend Murray Walker, who described the instructions as “the four bitterist words”.

Webber bears down on championsip-leader Vettel

But regardless of the addition to a weekend full of racing politics, F1 served up, not just one of the greatest British Grand Prix’s, but one of the greatest races ever. So rarely does motorsport deliver a last lap as exhilarating as the first. The wet weather had fans hoping for a repeat of the action witnessed at Montreal a month ago, and that’s exactly what they got. Two of the last three Formula 1 GP’s have been hailed as some of the greatest ever seen, and suggest the FIA and Pirelli’s ambitions of boosting F1 overtaking and excitement is working.

An ecstatic Fernando Alonso declared his P1 a “special win”, and went on to assert the need

Nando celebrates in style

for more of the day’s “aggression” if Ferrari are to challenge for the driver’s championship.

In what Eddie Jordan described as a “cool touch” to add to Alonso’s special win, the fans gathered in their droves, saturating the entire racetrack to share in the podium celebrations .

Given that the Germans are every bit as motorsport mad as the British, and if you believe F1 institution Murray Walker when he says “there’s no such thing as a boring Formula 1 race”, we really have something special to look forward to at the Nurburgring in a fortnight. Now that Vettel leads the driver’s championship by 80 points, you can expect Alonso and Hamilton to up the aggression even further. For the sake of keeping the championship interesting the season, I hope they can ‘reign ‘on the German’s parade.

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British GP Qualifying: Webber on Pole as McLaren Struggle

A brand new pit and paddock complex has brought Silverstone into the racing 21st Century. But even the stunning architecture of  the ‘Wing’ couldn’t  steal away focus from the sport’s ever-ongoing off-circuit political dramas. After the Renault-powered teams were denied concessions to use their exhaust-blown diffuser just 30 minutes before the start of Saturday qualifying, the drivers and their teams were involved in a last-minute scramble to adjust their setups and head out into the unknown. As the BBC coverage highlighted, this raised serious issues of safety; if not for qualifying, then certainly for tomorrow’s race.

Before Q1 commenced, Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner claimed the handicap

Christian Horner, left, unimpressed by rule changes

applied to their car would result in a ‘disadvantage’. If Red Bull were at a disadvantage, nobody noticed. Mark Webber; winner this time last year at Silverstone, and more comfortable in Red Bull’s racer without the exhaust-blown diffuser system as he proved last season, stole pole position from Sebastian Vettel for the second time this season. The gritty Aussie calls Silverstone his second home, and he definitely looked it.

Sebastian Vettel, too showed depth and skill in adjusting to an unfamiliar setup, and will line up alongside Webber on the front row. Unfortunately for Martin Whitmarsh and his team, McLaren struggled to make the last minute adjustments Red Bull achieved. Unlike the ‘Bulls, McLaren’s 2011 MP4-26 is much more heavily built around around the rear diffuser system. Jenson Button, speaking to the BBC whilst jet-skiing with Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle in East London, voiced doubts about the car’s potential performance this weekend with regards to the rule changes, and forecasted problems.

Maybe he’ll get Mystic Meg’s job now the News of the World is finished?…

Cause for concern; Button loses control in Valencia

Button duly managed a 3rd row 5th place in qualifying. Worse still, Hamilton qualified a disheartening 10th. Both drivers were already complaining of a lack of rear downforce before this weekend, and will now be starting to sound like broken records, as the two clearly suffered with oversteer on a rainy new-look circuit.

Despite much disappointment for two British drivers, a third will have slightly more to smile about. Paul di Resta, on his British GP debut, drove his Force India to an outstanding 6th position. Out-qualifying his more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil (11th), any teams and fans alike that didn’t already have their eye on the young Scot will be standing up and paying attention from now on.

Unphased by all the pre-race drama it seems, is Ferrari. Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali had little to comment on the issue, owning to the fact that the team doesn’t utilise the exhaust-blown diffuser system. Lead by Fernando Alonso, the two red cars make up the 2nd row of the grid , as both Ferrari drivers built on their improvements made in the European Grand Prix.

Despite qualifying’s frantic proceedings, I feel the race will be much more predictable, as the teams take the time to tweak their cars heading into Sunday. Hopefully McLaren will make significant improvements and give the passionate home fans something to cheer

Drama unfolds at a drenched Canadian Grand Prix

about. But even if they do get up to scratch in time, McLaren will be hard pressed to make a genuine challenge against Red Bull, who look very settled. Mark Webber is F1’s ‘unlucky man’, but if the conditions permit, he should command proceedings and stave off Vettel in the process. If the conditions don’t, we might be in for another Montreal thriller.

Undoubtedly, McLaren will be praying to the rain gods, and Bernie Ecclestone; who controversially proposed a sprinkler system to inject some excitement into F1, would also be partial to some bad weather. If it means a repeat of the thrills and spills of the Canadian Grand Prix, fingers crossed it pisses it down.

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British GP – My Predictions

Just a quick guesstimate as it’s past my bedtime…

Saturday’s qualifying will be shaken up by tricky conditions. And I don’t just mean the lovely English Summer we’re having. The FIA’s new ruling on exhaust-blown diffusers will have an impact too. Mark Webber’s grasp of the Red Bull prior to this upgrade being fitted mid season in 2010 was greater than that of his team-mates, and so I reckon he’ll pip Sebastian to pole position for the second time this year.

As for the race, if conditions are bad, the Ferrari’s and McLaren’s will struggle to undercut the Red Bull’s through the pits. Given Ferrari’s form in Valencia, Alonso is definitely in with a shout of the line. However, I feel a home advantage will be of benefit to both Button and Hamilton this weekend. As much as I’d like to see the pair of them on the podium, I can’t see both Red Bulls being forced out of the top three.

Therefore:

1st – Mark Webber

2nd – Lewis Hamilton

3rd Sebastian Vettel

…Night Night…

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The ‘F’ in F1 Doesn’t Stand for Fun.

Sitting eating a reduced-to-clear pains au chocolat, whilst simultaneously watching a motoring show with some guy called Tiff, and considering undertaking postgraduate study – all at the same time, I find a spare part of my grey matter to summarise the F1 season so far.

Unfortunately, the purchase of new Sky internet (and the consequent information blackout until it is fitted) coincided with the recent European Grand Prix, resulting in me missing the race, and slipping in to motorsport withdrawal. The extent of my knowledge from the weekend in Valencia can be seen in the BBC 90 second summary and a couple of choice interviews.

In brief, it would appear that Ferrari found some extra pace on the tight, twisting marina street circuit, closing ground on the Red Bulls and leaving McLaren scratching their heads.

Victory for Vettel in Valencia

Both Jenson and Lewis appealed for improved aerodynamics in their post-race interviews. McLaren had brought a new front wing to Valencia, but the lack of rear downforce – clearly visible from both driver’s difficulty in keeping unwanted oversteer in check evidently demonstrated the need for the engineers to redirect their attention to the rear of the MP4-11.

McLaren may be the only team so far this season to take the chequered flag away from Red Bull, but their lack of adaptability from one race to another is allowing Ferrari’s consistency to overshadow their efforts. Regardless, the two purist racing teams on the grid – for all their jostling between one another – neither is making a genuine challenge to knock Red Bull off the top. And if they are, it isn’t showing. However, it may be that it’s simply out of their hands. Here’s why:

For me, the sport’s excitement peaked when Brawn GP graced the F1 circuits with a

Jenson Button stuns fans with an opening win in Bahrain, 2009

fairytale underdog story, defying the odds and performing the impossible. The unexpectedness of the events that season revived support and generated a completely new fan base.

Fast forward to 2011, and the sport’s structure is still evolving; providing the capacity for the impossible to happen once more. And it has. Button’s charge from 21st to 1st in Montreal was far and away one of the greatest races ever – certainly the best in motorsport’s modern era. So why aren’t miraculous performances being turned out every race? In short, they are. Every single race has seen an outstanding drive from start to finish. The issue is it’s the same driver every week that’s delivering.

Undoubtedly, Sebastian Vettel is an amazing athlete with talent in buckets. But a German winning every single race, unmatched and unchallenged?

Sounds familiar…

F1 created one of, not just motorsport, but sport’s greatest champions – Michael

Schumacher takes the chequered flag in China, 2006

Schumacher. But in doing so, your average fan was alienated by the monotony. Nobody was interested in watching Michael lead a procession from start to finish for the best part of two hours.

Bernie Ecclestone has made some strange suggestions in how to shake up the sport. The majority of critics have laughed these off. However, Formula 1 is fast approaching having to make some tough decisions if it is to remain popular. Radical changes may be what it takes to forge a degree of –fan-friendly unpredictability in the sport. As things stand, Vettel looks destined to dominate for years to come. He has certainly set his sights on overtaking the 7-time world champion’s record.

If the FIA shares Bernie’s desire to maintain the sport’s consumerism, it could cost F1 its greatest champion ever…

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