Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton – Ultimately, Class Wins Through

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamil...

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing), and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) on opening lap of the race. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a different post to the one I thought I might write.  I was going to comment that, for all the excitement of this season, the variability of tyres, team performance and occasional mishaps were making it difficult to assess the contribution being made by the drivers.  Which drivers are really performing and which are being either flattered or frustrated by circumstances beyond their control?

However, I then took a look at the top of the Championship leader board:  Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton.  That looked about right.  You might debate the order, but few would disagree that the three champions have been the most impressive performers of the year.  Raikkonen is just a step further behind, as he has been in the last couple of races, with Webber and Button bubbling under.  It is reassuring that, even in a season of total unpredictability, the cream, ultimately rises to the top.  This was well illustrated at last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.  Alonso took his previously wayward Ferrari to third, then second, on the grid and within a sniff of victory.  Vettel recovered well from a drive through penalty and Red Bull rhinoplasty.  Hamilton responded with maturity to the loss of pole and demotion to the back of the grid, for which he was blameless, and drove a race of beautifully balanced aggression with tyre and pit stop austerity.

The same was true back in 1983.  Prost, Tamby and Arnoux all made a pitch for the title, with Alboreto, Watson, Patrese and Rosberg also in the winners’ circle, but, in the end, Piquet and Brabham were worthy winners of the driver’s crown.

None of the above is to deny Maldonado and Williams their moment of Spanish triumph, which was about as unexpected as Bernie Ecclestone announcing that he is renouncing all his worldly goods and joining the Poor Sisters order.

With Monaco next, Hamilton is the favourite to join the 5 winners so far, but there are at least 2-3 other drivers – Webber, Raikkonen and, possibly, Grosjean – who it would be surprising if they don’t also win a race sometime soon.   Whoever ultimately wins this year’s F1 title (and I’m still betting on one of the experienced champions) will certainly have earned it against a fiercely competitive field.

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Formula One Teams Boycott Race

Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles Villeneuve (Photo credit: Janex & Alba)

Exactly thirty years ago this week, the Formula One circus was preparing for a race mired in acrimony, with the threat of team boycotts.

There were a number of significant differences from the current situation in Bahrain.  On that occasion 10 of the teams decided that the issue in dispute was serious enough for them not to race.  Amongst the rebels was one B. Ecclestone, then owner of the Brabham team.  The race was the San Marino Grand Prix of 1982 and this was the height of the clash between the teams of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and the sporting authority FISA.  The subject of the disagreement was not about human rights, the struggle for democracy or state repression, but the slightly more prosaic question of whether teams should be allowed to top their cars up with “brake-cooling” water at the end of a GP race.

The water topping up was a clever, if hardly subtle, ruse by the normally-aspirated Cosworth powered teams.  It allowed them to run their cars underweight during the race and, therefore, compete against the more powerful turbo-powered manufacturer-backed so-called “grandee” teams.  The Brabham of Nelson Piquet and Williams of Keke Rosberg were excluded from the Brazilian Grand Prix for using this trick, which was subsequently banned by FISA.   In protest, 10 teams, including Ecclestone’s Brabham, Williams, McLaren and Lotus (mark 1), withdrew from the San Marino event.

Although 14 cars lined up to race at Imola, just 4, the two Ferraris and two Renaults, were genuine competitors.  When the fragile Renaults expired, the Ferrari’s were left alone far out in front.  This was the infamous race in which Didier Pironi duped teammate Gilles Villeneuve, passing the Canadian on the last lap as the Ferraris ran in 1-2 formation.  Villeneuve’s prophecy that he would “never speak to Pironi again” was proved tragically correct two weeks later when the gifted Canadian lost his life in a practice accident at the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.  A few months later, Pironi would suffer a career ending accident himself at Hockenheim, robbing him of a likely World Championship.

It is hardly worth speculating whether the outcome of the San Marino race might have been different had the 10 Cosworth “garagistas” been present to mix up the race between the two Ferraris.

The carnage of the 1982 season largely brought an end to the FOCA vs FISA dispute.  By the end of the 1983 season, almost all the former Cosworth teams,  were running manufacture provided turbo powered engines in their cars.  Ecclestone continued his progress from team owner and representative to the sport’s commercial rights holder and dominant force.

However, as he tours the Bahrain paddock with the Crown Prince and insists that the F1 show should not be distracted by a “few kids” causing trouble, it is worth knowing that 30 years ago, Ecclestone along with Frank Williams and McLaren’s Ron Dennis  were willing to take a different view on standing up on a point of high ”principal”.

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Thinking the Thinkable – F1 Without Bernie

2010 Formula one Bahrain Grand Prix gallery.

The Teams' Friends and Family Stand at the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For as long as I can remember the question has been asked, what will Formula One do if Bernie Ecclestone ever departs?  Perhaps it is time to start asking what Formula One will do if the diminutive Brit doesn’t go.A senior sporting and commercial figure who suggests that Hitler did a good job keeping the trains running on time and who uses his own mugging as an advertising opportunity, might add to the gaiety of the world.  However, you’d have to question whether Mr Ecclestone has Formula 1’s best interests at heart.  He might claim that the Bahrain Grand Prix organisers can assure the safety of those attending, but how can he be so certain.  Whatever the outcome, good or ill, he must know that the race will have political consequences for both Formula 1 and the people of Bahrain.

I can’t claim to understand the machinations of the new Formula One Concorde agreement or what exactly the CVC Partnership contributes to the sport.  However, I’m pretty sure that somewhere down the track it all ends up with Tamara Ecclestone buying another £1 million bath and Petra Ecclestone owning the type of house that even Colonel Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein might have considered a tad too ostentatious.

Anyway, thanks Bernie for sprinklers, and shortcuts, and F1 medals, and F1 Digital+, and the Sky deal, and China and Russia and Bahrain and Malaysia and Donnington, New Labour’s tobacco-gate and your women as ‘domestic appliances’ comments, don’t forget to hand in your pit pass on your way out of the paddock.

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Races in places they don’t claim to be

After significant debate over the past few weeks a clear consensus has finally emerged on the issue of the Bahrain Grand Prix and the continuing concerns about political protests and the regime’s response to these.  The consensus is reflected in a decisive two point plan:

1.To avoid any suggestion of political interference, the Bahrain GP should definitely go ahead, providing a clear sign of unity and support for the people of Bahrain.

2.  Also to avoid any suggestion of political interference, the Bahrain GP should definitely not go ahead, which will provide a clear sign of unity and support for the people of Bahrain.

Implementing this plan to everyone’s satisfaction has so far proved tricky.  However, I think I have the solution.  The Bahrain GP should definitely go ahead, but not in Bahrain.

This is not an entirely novel idea.  Formula 1 has taken something of a low cost airline approach to GP locations for some time.   For many years the hilly principality of San Marino lent its name to a race held miles away at Imola in Italy.  Despite banning GP racing in the 1950s, Switzerland managed to deposited a GP at Dijon in France in 1982 and the German Nurburgring annexed the Luxemburg GP in 1997 and 1998.  From the TV pictures, the 1993 European GP was apparently held in Atlantis.

Of course, the alternative home for the Bahrain GP would have to be somewhere convenient for the majority of the teams, but with some connections with the Arab Kingdom.  Like Bahrain it should preferably be an island nation with an established monarchy.  The race should be held in an area that gets very little rainfall and should be somewhere that people tend to pass through when trying to get to their real destination.  So, who’s up for the Bahrain GP, April 22 2012, at Brands Hatch in Kent?

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A post about Lewis and why everyone else should shut up about Lewis

So Bernie Ecclestone thinks that Lewis Hamilton should leave McLaren if he has another crash magnet year.  Mark Webber hopes that the Brit will find some form.  Martin Whitmarsh speculates that he has been destabilised by Jenson Button; Stirling Moss thinks he’s not sufficiently focused and Niki Lauda slams him as a risk to other drivers on track.  Here’s a radical idea for all those keen to offer the Stevenage flier advice, the best thing anyone (present company excepted) could do for Hamilton and his career is just shut up about all the peripheral issues.  Personally I couldn’t care less if Lewis is going out with a surviving member of the Andrews Sisters; has Jerry McGuire as his manager and Snoop Rascal and Dizzee Daddy on speed dial.  I don’t care for speculation about whether he’s in a good place, in a bad place, in a bubble, in the zone or out of sorts.  I’d just like him to drive like he can and clip Red Bull’s wings a little.  I don’t want him to change his style, just get involved in slightly fewer unnecessary kerfuffles.  His clashes with Massa last year were like an average Saturday night at midnight outside the local chip shop, with Nicole screeching “Leave it Lewis, he ain’t worth it.”

Anyway, that’s it, that’s the absolute last I’m going to say on the subject. That said, was Lewis looking a little peaky at the Barcelona test?

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