It’s Not Just Where Will Lewis Go, But Which Top Driver Would Actually Want to Drive for McLaren?

Lewis Hamilton driving for McLaren at the 2009...

Lewis Hamilton driving for McLaren at the 2009 Turkish Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Way too much is being talked and written about where Lewis Hamilton might lay his sponsor-covered hat from next year.   There has been plenty of speculation – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Lotus, McLaren, Williams –  but little or no genuine intelligence.  I have not the slightest clue what Hamilton’s favoured option would be and I’m pretty sure no one else has either, other than the Brit and his management.

The focus has been largely on Hamilton’s choices and whether these are now closing off.  Some might celebrate that, but from the evidence of the Canadian Grand Prix, it seems clear that F1 can only be better off with Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton in genuinely competitive machinery.

However, there is another angle on the story – would any of the other top drivers consider beating a path to McLaren’s shiny Technology Centre door?  There was no suggestion that McLaren was on Webber’s radar and I can’t imagine the British Team having to start preparing cartoons of either Alonso or Vettel anytime soon for their Tooned series.

The most commonly suggested replacement for Hamilton is Paul di Resta.  The Scot is a solid prospect, but even Lewis’s harshest critics, and there are plenty of them, would be hard pressed to argue that di Resta is a certain like-for-like swap for Hamilton at this stage of his career.

McLaren has a great name and is still one of the top teams, but it is difficult to imagine it now attracting two of the greatest talents in the history of the sport, as it did with prost and Senna in the late nineteen eighties.  Other than a few races at the end of 2005 (when it was too late) and a few races in the middle of 2007 (when they were about to implode), McLaren has not produced a consistently dominant car in recent times.  In contrast, Ferrari, Renault, Brawn and Red Bull all have.

Ultimately, I hope Hamilton stays at McLaren as it still feels the best fit of any of the available team choices.  But it would be good to see what he might do with a bit of Red-Bull 2011-style unfair advantage.



Thinking of Maria de Villota


File:Pic 2012 Australian Grand Prix.jpg

In the aftermath of Maria de Villota’s truly awful accident the immediate focus has been, quite rightly, on her condition.  However, already, questions are being raised about whether she should have been in an F1 car at all and, more legitimately, about safety standards at the straight-line test.  On the first of these, de Villota was a driver, like many, many others with the desire and ambition to be a F1 driver in whatever capacity she could.  She cannot be criticised for that.  She was not the first and won’t be the last driver whose chances were influenced by finance as much as or more than previous results.  The fact that she is a woman has no relevance to this or to her accident.  I admire her spirit and only hope this beautiful and ambitious young woman can make as full a recovery as is possible.


On the issue of track safety, there was a time when safety standards on test days were lax compared with those of official race weekends – with no trackside marshals or proper rescue and medical facilities.  This approach cost the lives of talented drivers such as Elio De Angelis and Patrick Depailler in testing accidents.  F1 rightly took the view that this could not continue.  Whatever the ultimate cause, which is not yet certain, this week’s events emphasise that there are no circumstances in which safety in F1 can or should be compromised.




Confused by a Season of Contradictions

Nico Rosberg had a good race for Mercedes, fin...

Michael Schumacher – 2012 success and failure Photographer: Adrian Hoskins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The run-up to the British GP, usually close to the mid-point of the F1 season, is traditionally a time for reviewing the lessons of the year so far and the implications for the remaining races.  However, the messages of the 2012 season to date are more confusing than a game of Chinese whispers involving Bane from the new Batman movie.  Here are some of the “push-me-pull-you” stories of the first half of F1 2012:

William’s Pastor Maldonado has matured into a GP winner, genuine front-runner and even, possibly, a potential championship challenger.  He has also taken over the mantle from Lewis Hamilton as F1’s bad boy, with multiple crashes and clashes and more trips to the race control than a man with his y-front elastic trapped on the stewards’ door handle.

The combination of Pirelli tyres, DRS and KERS are making for one of the most exciting ever seasons, with closely fought grids and races and unpredictable results.  Pirelli, DRS and KERS are also ruining F1 2012 with artificial factors and uncontrollable drop off in tyre performance undermining genuine competition and forcing drivers to drive to lap times rather than their true potential.

After 3 years away doing reconnaissance work for the Finnish forestry commission, Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 return has gone better than anyone could have expected, with podium finishes secured and a win surely not far off.  The Finn’s F1 return is also turning sour after being shown the way by almost rookie Romain Grosjean, a Monaco practice sulk and too many failures to capitalise on race winning opportunities.

The Ferrari F2012 is the least effective of the cars produced by the font-running teams, often struggling to make it into Q3.  The Ferrari is also powering Fernando Alonso to a healthy lead in the drivers’ championship.

Michael Schumacher is past it, making rookie errors such as running into the back of Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix and dropping over 50 championship points behind teammate Nico Rosberg after just 8 races this season.  Schumacher’s F1 comeback has also, finally, come to life, with the German securing his first pole and podium since Justin Bieber was a foetus, and having his Championship challenge only undermined by mechanical misfortunes.

Despite some pit-stop mishaps, the McLaren MP4-27 is, overall, both the best looking and the most effective of the 2012 machines, locking out the front row in the first two races of the season and qualifying at or near the sharp end of the grid for the remaining races.  The McLaren also struggles for speed in races, not only against the Red Bull and Ferrari, but has also now fallen behind the Lotus and, on occasion, the Mercedes.

Jenson Button is famously gentle on his tyres.  He is also one of the more cerebral drivers, demonstrating during his time at McLaren how race craft and general awareness can triumph over outright pace.  More than any other driver Button has struggled to cope with the 2012 Pirellis, requiring 3 pit stops in Canada, whist others made it home on just one.  The Brit has also confessed to being “lost and confused” about his race performances.

Jean-Eric Vergne is a prodigious talent and future GP winner, who has been marked for racing success since his father bought him his first kart when he was aged just 4, and who scored points in only his second F1 race.  Vergne has also been a huge disappointment, being the most likely driver to join the 3 F1-B class teams in Q1 failure and committing unprovoked GBH on Heikki Kovalainen’s Catterham at the European GP.

Sebastian Vettel has almost certainly signed a pre-contract agreement to drive for Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso in 2014 and has also almost certainly not signed to drive for Ferrari in 2014. A future London city-centre Grand Prix is a definite possibility and definitely impossible.  All the F1 teams have signed the new Concorde Agreement, apart from those that haven’t, and Mercedes are and are not pulling out of F1 at the end of the season.

Based on the season so far, one thing I can predict about F1 2012 is that I definitely won’t be making any predictions.


Battle of the Driver Egos?

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 150 Italia. Gran...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, I’m not proud of myself, but I needed to find some way of blocking out the seemingly constant coverage of the Euro 2012 football championships.  I have, instead, been watching the television programme Battle of the Brides.  This programme takes what should be the most special and spiritual day of a bride’s life and turns it into the emotional equivalent of a two car head on collision.  Just watching it makes you feel like a rubber-necker.  The premise of the show is that two brides are offered £25,000 to hold a joint wedding, but they must agree to choose the same style of dress, decor and entertainment.  Inevitably, the entertainment value relies on pairing brides with wholly incompatible wedding tastes.  So, for example, a black clad Goth will share her big day with a pink Barbie fan, or a bride who’s always dreamt of a Marie-Antoinette style historical wedding will find herself walking down the aisle dressed in a Star Trek uniform and with her ring being carried by a remote controlled K-9 robot dog.

All this is by way of preamble to a word or two about the current discussion of the unlikely coupling of two of Formula One’s current three leaders of the pack, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.   According to the speculation, Ferrari are reportedly playing a version of “Snog, Marry, Avoid” in deciding their future driver line up.  There has been surprise expressed at current incumbent Alonso’s suggestion that he would be entirely relaxed with sharing the Ferrari motor home with either of his main rivals.  However, this is hardly a shocking revelation.  Which Formula 1 driver would say publicly that he doesn’t want to compete against a particular driver in the same car, even if he is manoeuvring behind the scenes to keep his competitor locked out?  No, the unexpected element of this scenario is that the Ferrari Team would consider this approach.  All suggestions are that Alonso is carrying the Italian team this year, so why upset the famously touchy toreador.  Also, for at least the past 15 years, the Prancing Horse team have been the ultimate exponents of the one trick pony approach to driver couplings.  The first line of any Ferrari no.2 contract since Eddie Irvine’s in 1996 has been “Michael / Fernando is faster than you.”

Alonso and Vettel or Alonso and Hamilton at Ferrari or, possibly even Vettel and Hamilton at Red Bull, would be fascinating, mouth watering prospects, if the various pre-nuptials could be agreed.  However, the previous experience of star driver pairings (Jones & Reutemann, Prost & Senna, Mansell & anyone else) does not bode well for much in the way of loving, honouring or obeying.

Of course the other player in these silly season shenanigans is the poor cast-off current partner, Felipe Massa.  Will he end up in the Ferrari equivalent of the First Wives Club, along with Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer?


Formula One 2012 – More Complicated than a Subtitled Danish Police, Political Drama?

Day 53 - Every Brilliant Thing : Scandinavian ...

Scandinavian Thrillers! (Photo credit: Menage a Moi)

In the wake of the Canadian GP I have been considering the similarities between the current Formula 1 season and the Danish political police drama The Killing.  We are currently half way through watching the box set of series 1 and I figure by the final disc I will be close to being fluent in Danish, at least in terms of police and forensic procedures.   The series follows the aftermath of the murder of a school girl, investigated by female police detective Sarah Lund.  Homicide cop Lund sports the sort of knitwear that even Fernando Alonso wouldn’t be see dead in at the Ferrari annual ski event. Like Alonso, Lund is teamed up with a less stylish and rather slow sidekick.

Similar to this year’s Formula 1 season, in each episode a new suspect comes to the fore and appears a certain candidate to be ‘the man’.  However, by the time the next episode comes around the suspect is dismissed and drifts back out of the picture.  One minute it looks like it’s got to be Button, no Rosberg, or Maldonado, maybe Hamilton?  Like any good suspense thriller, I suspect the outcome won’t become clear until close to the season finale and we’ll all say, “Well I knew it was going to be him all along.”

In The Killing, the murder story is intertwined with a political drama, involving dishy widower and aspirant mayor, Troels Hartmann.  He’s like David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all rolled into one, except he’s also got integrity, personality, looks and charisma.  Overall, Danish politics appear to involve a never ending series of negotiated alliances which instantly break down, very similar to the experience of the Formula One Teams Association.

Also just like The Killing, the American version of Formula 1 is a steaming pile of gødning.


Five Signs That You Are a Formula One Fanatic

Photo: By Author

Are you worried that you are becoming too obsessed with Formula One motor racing?  Here are 5 key warning signs that you are taking your fan boy fanaticism over the rev limiter:

  1. When sending your kids off to the local comprehensive school at the beginning of term, do you find yourself sewing on name tags with the Christian names “Fernando”, “Mika”, “Rubens”  or even “Nigel” on them?
  2. When the 2009 financial crash brought devastation to the world’s financial markets; the misery of redundancy and foreclosure to millions of innocent people across the globe; instability to the Euro and national budgets with crippling debts that will take decades of swingeing austerity to clear, was your first thought to wonder how the Williams Team would get by without its RBS sponsorship?
  3. Having watched all three Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions; qualifying; Sunday morning free practice, the race build-up show, full race coverage and after-race analysis, do you find yourself still holding on at the end of the evening news broadcast to see the 20 second summary clip of the race?
  4. Do you own any of the following: George Harrison’s “Faster”; the album “Grand Prix” by the band Teenage Fanclub; “Samurai” by the band Grand Prix; any song by Leo Sayer or a CD of Formula One engine noises?
  5. When the overall clad salesman in your local Kwik-Fit offers you a perfectly serviceable set of tyres from a Korean manufacturer you’ve never heard of or a set of Pirellis for £200 more, do you pause and wonder if you could keep the Pirellis up to temperature better than Jenson Button?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, ask your medical specialist to prescribe the following: “A Complete History of Formula One Racing at Valencia” DVD;  the Kimi Riakkonen autobiography “In His Own Word”; and “Facial Hair Grooming” by Lewis Hamilton.  These should have you back on the road to healthy F1 scepticism in no time at all.


My Monaco Experience

Monaco 3

Monaco 3 (Photo credit: davharuk)

Stansted Airport, England, 6:00 a.m.

The guide from the luxury tour operator was one of those unfeasible women; completely immaculate and with the sort of cheek bones that could slice a kiwi fruit.  She arranged for the porter to take the bags off to the private jet area and ran through the day’s itinerary.   “Ok, so when we land at Nice, you’re already fast-track cleared through customs, so it’s straight into the helicopter for the transfer to Monaco.  There’s a champagne breakfast on the terrace overlooking the track for morning free practice, then into the Paddock Club for a tour of the garages and an interview with one of the Grand prix drivers in our exclusive suit.  You’ll then be driven around the circuit between races, before lunch.  Then it’s over to the harbour side yacht for your view of the race, with champagne and canapés.  Any questions?”

It was around this point that the girl from the low budget airline began cattle prodding us past the V.I.P. area and into our own baggage check queue.  Given that they seem determined to treat us like inmates of Guantanamo Bay it always seems strange that it’s the airline staff who wear the orange jump suits. “Remember, any item of hand luggage larger than this kumquat is 40 Euros extra.”

The coach transfer from Nice Airport dropped us off so far from Monaco that I swear I heard the sound of Swiss cow bells. “Remember, you need to be back on the coach no more than 6 minutes after the end of the race or we’ll miss our flight slot.”

This was all around 10 years ago, pre-satellite phones and i-Pad maps, so we just headed downwards in the vague direction of the sea.   As we eventually shuffled nearer the track, the space became more and more enclosed, lest anyone should accidentally get a free glimpse of any part of the track or even the town.  The grandstand was perched on a floating dock out above the harbour, uncovered and exposed to the merciless Mediterranean sun.

And then the engines started; one at first and then more, revving angrily.  As the noise bounced off the concrete fingers of tower blocks and through the man-made canyons in-between, it seemed to grow unstoppably.  The track-side commentary was inaudible but you could sense where the cars were coming around the track until at last the first flashed past.  The pace seemed impossible against the backdrop of the barriers and buildings.  A Sauber came around the swimming pool too fast and slammed into the tyre wall right in front of us.  The race wasn’t the greatest, but that didn’t matter.  It  was an experience of senses rather than the brain.

Back at Nice airport, around midnight, they confirmed that our delayed flight would now be departing, having missed its earlier slot ahead of the private jets, just as soon as the passengers had a whip round to pay for the landing lights at Stansted to be kept lit.

Eventually, we were left on the damp tarmac in England with nothing but the light from my sunburned nose to guide us back to the deserted terminal.

Would I do it again?  You bet.