Monday, 10 May 2010

A Spanish Analysis - Only Red Bull can beat Red Bull

Mark Webber drove a faultless race in Barcelona, Spain to record his first win of the season. Webber, who topped all 3 Free Practice sessions and drove a storming lap to Pole position in Saturday’s qualifying session just missed out on the ‘weekend trifecta’ when Lewis Hamilton pipped him to the fastest lap of the race by 0.471 seconds. A big margin, but one that would’ve been easily obliterated if Webber had pushed till the end.

It was an astonishing performance by Red Bull in general with Sebastian Vettel dragging his RBR home to finish on the podium as well. Vettel, who struggled towards the end of the race with deteriorating front brakes, was lucky to finish on the podium, managing it only because Lewis Hamilton (who overtook Vettel after his second pit stop) crashed on the penultimate lap of the race in dramatic fashion after a front left wheel failure sent him into the tyre barriers.

Home-boy Fernando Alonso finished in a strong 2nd place, thereby ensuring the huge Spanish crowd (almost all of whom were shod in Scarlet Red) got their money’s worth. Second place was just reward for Alonso hauling his car around the circuit quicker than it should’ve gone to first snag 4th in Qualifying and then driving as quickly and cleanly as he possible to benefit when Vettel and Hamilton (literally) fell by the wayside.

Michael Schumacher made a return to some sort of form. More importantly for the legions of his fans around the globe, he was consistently quicker than his teammate Nico Rosberg over the entire weekend. Schumacher himself wasn’t all too happy with his race and for someone like MS, it is more important to be able to gain places than it is to defend them. His tussle with Button while interesting, and Rosberg’s difficulty in getting past Nico Hulkenberg, showed the glaring problem that Mercedes GP now faces. Yes they have a new B-Spec car, one that features several new and innovative aero ideas (like the new Air inlet besides the driver’s head) and one that seems to suit Schumacher more than Rosberg, but have they actually made the car slower?

Adrian Sutil put in another fine performance showing that Force India has made genuine progress this year. Sutil, along with Renault’s Robert Kubica have now become the de-facto ‘others’ in the top 10. Kubica did his chances of snagging a fancy drive with a fancy team in 2011 no harm with another solid drive to finish in the points. His ability to haul the car into the top-10 in almost Alonso-like. A fitting compliment, since he might partner Alonso in 2011.

If he does, he will replace Massa. The Brazilian has had a tough time of late. As a friend of mine said, the way he has been outclassed by Alonso is embarrassing. Why Ferrari chose to replace Kimi Raikkonen with Alonso and not Massa is a point for debate. My thoughts on the matter are that Ferrari under Stefano Domenicalli has become a lot less ruthless. With this new found mellowness, it was difficult for Ferrari to let Massa go after he suffered his accident last year. Kimi would’ve cost them a lot more and would’ve been a lot less talkative, but he drove a quick car. Something that Massa is evidently not doing.

The race wasn’t as interesting as the previous 3, and a lot of the work that teams have done actually seems to have slowed them down as compared to RBR. One thing is for sure, Adrian Newey and his team have done a phenomenal job. The car is lightning quick. But as they say, Newey’s cars are fast, but fragile.

A bungled pit stop cost Vettel P2, and his deteriorating brakes should’ve cost him P3. But they didn’t (more because of Vettel’s ability than anything else). The fact of the matter is that the infamous Red Bull reliability is the only thing that is preventing them from leading both Championships by a mile. The team is a class act though. And because of that, they’re bound to get things together at some point of time. If they can, and still be as quick as they are, only a brave man would bet against them winning both championships for the first time.

As of now, only Red Bull can beat Red Bull. Everyone else is at the least, a second behind.

Monday, 19 April 2010

An Update after 4 rounds.

I’m wondering what the biggest talking point after 4 races is. There are undoubtedly many to choose from. Is it Button vs. Hamilton (along with the resultant bit about Button finding his feet in the Woking squad)? Is it Alonso vs. Massa (now more so after Alonso’s brazen pit lane overtake in China)? How about Schumacher vs. Rosberg (delicious due to the fact the Rosberg has used a hammer to beat MS on track, all the while sweet talking everyone into thinking he is the undisputed No.2 at Mercedes GP)?

This does not account the technical talking points including F-Ducts, Double and Super Diffusers, side-mounted mirrors and ride height adjusters! The first race may have been dull, but the circus that is Formula 1 has more than made up for it with customary flair.

Ferrari, Mclaren, Red Bull, Mclaren. These have been the 4 teams that have won races this year. On the face of it, it would seem like Mclaren have the upper hand. Yet people are talking about more than them. Red Bull has been the source of much news, gossip and rumors, Ferrari have been in the thick of everything that’s happened to date and the world of Mercedes has been thrown upside down.

The racing too, has been quite extraordinary. Lewis Hamilton might be secretly loathing his new team mate stealing all the spotlight from him, but he has done his racing reputation no harm by driving like a man possessed (and this includes his swerving on Petrov at Sepang and pit lane skirmish with Vettel in China). The matador in Ferrari has shown the ruthlessness that makes him the champion he is by driving the engine off his car in Malaysia and mauling the field (including his team mate) in China. Too much has been made out of his move on Massa in the pit lane. The reality is that something was going to happen at some point of time between the 2. Alonso is not a No.2 driver and Ferrari should have expected it. Legally too Alonso is in the clear, as the pit lane entrance is a part of the track. Massa has to pull his socks up. If he does not, he’ll be gobbled up by Alonso (who has no qualms about doing so) as well as finding himself out of a Scarlet seat very soon.

Red Bull, who have seemed super quick all season had a bit of a wake up call in the Chinese GP. Not only did they struggle to compete with Mclaren, their drivers later admitted to being “Blown away” in the race. The recent FIA ruling banning Ride Height Adjusters in any form was thought to result in the Red Bull’s demise in qualifying. The fact that they blocked out the front row was a verification of Christian Horner’s comments about Red Bull not using any such system at all!

A word about the new teams. Its commendable to note that every new team has manged to close the gap to the main field in the last 2 races. The clearest sign of this was when HRT manged to get to within a couple of seconds off the pace of the quickest new team, all of it without any updates whatsoever. This is going to be a hard season for the new drivers as well, and one can onloy hope that they do enough to impress any of the big teams so that they remain in the sport for the nest year as well.

Volcanic Ash in the sky prevent the teams from getting home, but rest assured that the men and women in the factory will be working very hard to get major updates ready for the start of the European leg at Valencia in 3 weeks time.

This season is set to get better. A lot better.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Chinese GP Preview

With 3 different winners from 3 different teams in the first 3 races of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championships, the season ahead looks mouth wateringly exciting. After what was (apparently) the boring Bahrain GP, we’ve had 2 exciting races at Albert Park and Sepang which have thrown up overtaking, crashes, mistakes and good racing.

Now the season shifts to China, one of the most modern circuits on the calendar. A Herman Tilke-designed circuit, the Chinese GP has never been anyone’s favorite track. Usually a challenge for the Engineers more than drivers, it has the potential to be a cracker of a race this year. The main reason for this is 2-fold. One, it bears a striking resemblance to Sepang (another Tilke circuit), this year more than others. Temperature in China are lower than they have traditionally been, which means that if drivers are unable to get heat into their tyres quickly, we might end up having another topsy-turvy grid after Qualifying. This, as we saw in Malaysia (thanks mainly to Lewis Hamilton) will almost always result in a lot of overtaking.

The second reason is that the circuit in China has the longest strait amongst all F1 circuits. With the Mclaren F-Duct on display and some of the other team’s ability to generate the requisite down force required on the track (think RBR), it is another point in favor of good racing. A corollary to this is the fact that the track in China is also quite wide. That is a positive for racing.

From the team’s point of view, Red Bull Racing has its tail up. Their superstar and superquick Seb Vettel is in sublime form. Had it been in his hands entirely, he would have had 75 points in the bag at this stage and would have looked like becoming a runaway contender for Jenson Button’s crown. If RBR get their cars to the finish line in working condition Mark Webber’s despondent look (as seen on the podium in Sepang and at the subsequent Press Conference) is set to stay in place, and grow wider.

Ferrari have engine issues, with both their customer engines (in the back of the Sauber’s) giving up, coupled with Alonso’s spectacular bow up with under 2 laps to go causing Stefano Domenicalli and Luca Marmorini many a headache. If any of their 4 engines give way in China, Ferrari will have a lot to worry about and not much to do (as Engine development is frozen for the duration of the season).

Mclaren shot themselves in the foot yet again when their proposed ride-height alteration system was forced to be put on ice this week. This, after they realized that they would have been in the red had they gone ahead and bolted on their proposed systems to the cars marked 1 and 2. However the performance of Lewis Hamilton (who had come in for some criticism before Australia for not seeming committed enough) would have brought a few smiles to the men from Woking (now more so with the absence of the poker faced Ron Dennis). Hamilton drove quite a race in Malaysia to finish in the points.

Force India and Renault have impressed as well. Both drivers from the former and Robert Kubica from the latter have put in some strong performances this season to get them valuable points. The fun fact from Renault has to be them ordering rookie Vitaly Petrov onto a diet! Apparently Petro weighs in 10 pounds heavier than his Polish teammate, weight that the team rather allocates to Ballast. A little less Caviar Vitaly..? Both teams look set to fight it out for the “Best of the Rest” tag behind the big 4 and if Force India can pump out a little more then Renault, it will be a big boost to the men from Silverstone (India?)

All in all the Chinese GP should be a good race. Anything more will be a resounding testament to Formula 1 (more so if it does not rain).

Monday, 22 February 2010

At the end of Jerez – Mileage and more.

75% of the pre-season on track testing is over. One would think that it would be possible to gauge the pulse of how quick individual teams are by now. Unsurprisingly though, no. Jenson Button ensured that he stole the headlines for the first time with his new team by posting the quickest time seen during 8 days at Jerez. He did it on a qualifying style 3-lap run, but he still did it. That one lap has probably ensured that he will sleep a lot better from now up until Barcelona comes along, hounded as he has been by the thoughts of his plucky teammate and all that is good and holy with Lewis Hamilton’s association with Mclaren.

Nico Rosberg seems to have found his feet at Mercedes as well. He will be feeling far more confident in the car and in his new team. A valid fear, since his teammate is MS, and things going his way inside a team have been known to happen. He has shown good pace in the car and driven a fair few number of laps.

One must spare a thought for the two new teams though - Virgin Racing and Lotus. They have had a torrid time at Jerez, what with it being their first ever test (things have changed far too drastically since Lotus were last in the sport) and the rain coming down in sheets on Day 1 and Day 2 of this third pre-season test. They’ve crashed their cars, not had spare parts on hand and generally been middling for pace. Jarno Trulli salvaged some pride for Lotus with a strong showing on Saturday by completing many many laps, but much more is needed from them to convince the Formula 1 world that it was not a mistake to allow them onto the grid this year.

The other two teams, Campos Meta F1 and USF1 are nowhere. Literally. News announced late last week seemed to suggest that Campos has been saved by Jose Maria Carabante who has then tried to seem and sound professional about the entire situation by appointing Collin Kolles as Team Principal. They might make the grid at Bahrain, but whether they will make the last test at Barcelona is a huge doubt. USF1 probably won’t. The American team with the Argentinean driver (who is backed by the Argentinean Government) were supposed to be at an advanced stage in their preparation a month or two ago. As of now though, there is no completed chassis, no second driver and no money. Stefan GP, the team that is not, must be licking their lips. They can now follow up their act of sending a crate of equipment to Bahrain by booking their flight tickets as well.

One of the startling aspects of this seasons testing has been mileage. The only reason why there is any focus on mileage is because after the fourth test at Barcelona, there is no more testing allowed. So the teams that have racked up the miles on a consistent basis over the past 11 days of testing have some solid data on hand which they can use back at base. Here is the mileage that different teams have done as of 22/2/2010 -

Williams – 3,176
Ferrari – 3,074
Torro Rosso – 2,689
Mercedes – 2,653
Mclaren – 2,539
BMW Sauber – 2,143
Red Bull – 1,838
Renault – 1,804
Force India – 1,624
Lotus - 867
Virgin – 636

I should also point out that amongst the 25 drivers that have logged testing mileage this year, it is Felipe Massa who has racked up the maximum number of miles – an astounding 1,659 of them. Kamui Kobayashi has looked very strong across all 3 pre-season tests considering he joined Toyota late last year. A good season ahead for him looks in the offing provided Sauber can keep themselves in a straight line through the year. Amongst the newbie’s, it is Nico Hulkenbeg in the Williams who has looked the strongest. I’m still not convinced with Vitaly Petrov. He has looked good, but there is just that feeling that he might crack under pressure. I hope he doesn’t.

As I’m about to post this I read that Kimi Raikkonen is almost a sure bet for Mark Webber’s Red Bull Racing seat for 2011. With Christian Horner refusing to categorically rule anything out and Mark Webber using expletives to describe what might have bbeen last year’s Red Bull, anything is possible.

Till Barcelona,


Thursday, 18 February 2010


4 days of testing - Two and a half of them in the wet. Red Bull, Force India and Virgin must be cussing to high heaven.

Times are inconclusive to say the least. Not only is the Valencia conundrum of Fuel loads still to be deciphered, this time around there were different tyres being used (due to the rain), and the rain itself.

Everyone is saying that Mclaren are looking the quickest. Are they the right kind of quick? Pundits are saying no. That honor, at this time, rests with Ferrari. Consistently quick times are being belted out lap after lap by the F10, with consolidated testing timing showing that Alonso is marginally quicker than Massa. And this time, when I mean marginally, I actually mean a tenth of a second or thereabouts.

Massa is looking quite strong after what is one of the freakiest accidents seen on track in a while. I’m sure his family is happy for him.

I have a feeling Mercedes is sandbagging. A little bit. Or could be a big bit depending on what they arm themselves with for the final test. Ross Brawn has already said that it is difficult to decipher anything until the final pre-season test is underway. He means to say that Mercedes (like many other teams) will use the first three tests to find out where the cars currently stand and then bring about a host of aero and mechanical updates to get the cars ready for Bahrain.

The other team also did ok. I mean Red Bull, for that’s what they were for much of the 2009 season. They didn’t storm the timesheets and racked up a fair few miles of valuable testing. The rain at Jerez may be far from ideal, but it gives the teams some valuable practice in the wet before the season starts. And since we’re bound to have at least 1 wet race in the calendar, the teams should focus on getting the small things down pat – like those much spoken about pit-stops.

Looks like more rain at Jerez for the third test. I wonder how many will crash trying to get some running in.

Till Wednesday,

Sunday, 7 February 2010


Right then. Most of the cars that matter have been launched. The driver market has almost gone cold. 2 of the new teams might not make the grid and Fernando Alonso is going to get a big wet kiss from Luca di Montezemolo.

First, the cars. Before I pronounce any kind of judgment, I would like to place on record my opinion that Ferrari and Mercedes GP have gone overboard to appease their newest sponsors. Ferrari has decided to go Bi-finish and throw in more white than they ever have thereby making Santander smile, while Mercedes GP has dipped their car in metallic green slime to please Petronas. The Sauber looks matte. That is to be expected without any sponsors, but I’m not saying it’s bad. The hooter of this year is Renault. What were they thinking? The R30 is the ugliest car on the grid since 2007 when Honda thought it was doing the world a favour by letting a 12 year old paint their car with what he/she thought would be a green Earth theme and then going on to mount those 2 elephant ears onto their car in order to make it go a little quicker. I really hope the R30 meets a different result at the end of the year. The Ferrari F10 looks beautiful and the Mclaren MP4-25 looks like every other Mclaren.

The Red Bull RB6 however, is what everybody is waiting for. Christian Horner sounds happy that most other teams’ 2010 cars bear a resemblance to the 2009 RB5. This could mean one of two things. 1, that Adrian Newey has outthought everyone with the RB6. Again. Or 2, that Red Bull is on the same page as everyone else for 2010. I have a feeling that it’s the former. As for whether they will be quick or not, we’ll have to wait for Jerez.

With the cars that have released though, there are many things to talk about. All of them look pregnant, but in a good way. Think 12-14 weeks. Their noses are higher than earlier and those smaller tyres look quite, odd, after so many years of equal sized tyres. Every team that experimented with KERS last year has thrown it out the window even though officially, its still allowed this year (KERS is banned from the 2011 season onwards, along with the double diffusers).

Testing got underway at Valencia and on the face of it; all is well with the big red machine. Ferrari were understandably happy that Felipe Massa was able to get through two full days of testing and top the timesheets as well. Jenson Button showed up in the MP4-25 and had problems with his seat. Observers have already started writing him off for this year and on the basis of comparative times with his team mate Lewis Hamilton, apparently he’s going to be playing second fiddle as well.

Sauber had a fantastic test coming in 2nd on all 3 days of testing. This is probably because they ran super light in order to attract sponsors. If that is what they were trying to do, they should (on the basis of Valencia), certainly be able to attract a few. Mercedes GP couldn’t repeat last year’s fantastical tale of Brawn, with the man himself saying that they have some catching up to do. But then he also shot a warning to everyone listening. That Merc. know what they’re problem was and that they knew how to fix it. Come the first test at Jerez, things should get a little clearer.

However it was a man from Spain wearing Red overalls who stole every headline. Fernando Alonso showed up to drive a Ferrari for the first time. Ever. And after 25 odd laps, promptly showed everyone why Ferrari wanted him so desperately by topping the times. Taking into account that fact that Massa did a lot of setup work and the fact that the rack was much quicker on Day 3, it has still been pointed out (by Ferrari themselves) that Alonso was marginally quicker than Massa. If he marginally quicker after his first day, Alonso fans must be licking they’re lips at the prospect of what he will be able to achieve after slightly longer in the car.

Now all eyes will turn to Jerez. Will Alonso dominate again? Will Massa keep the Ferrari flag prancing high? Will the wily Ross Brawn manage to swing it the way of the silver (green) cars? And what of Red Bull? They’ve take a week longer in the wind tunnel, choosing that over the track. It’s all go from Monday including the welcome to Force India.

It’s going to be a cracker of a test. Weather permitting.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Formula 1 in 2010 - 1.000

The FIA Formula 1 World Championships – 2010 are just over a month away from us. It promises to be a cracker of a season, one which I aim to (for the first time) write about. I will skip analyzing the launches, but aim to write about testing and then the season as it unfolds.

As someone who has been watching F1 for over 10 years now, I know that I have several opinions – on cars, designs, tracks, team bosses and above all, drivers. Yes many of those opinions are very strong, and there are a few things I will never accept (though I may privately feel). Like Michael Schumacher being the greatest driver of all time. No, he isn’t and no I do not privately feel that he is either. Ayrton Senna is. Michael Schumacher is statistically the greatest Formula 1 racer of all time. I know this is one of those opinions that everyone will land up having a problem with. I have heard almost every argument there is for MS. That he does what it takes to win, that he’s won more than anyone else, that he is a genius in the car, that technically he is the strongest driver ever with the ability to tell his race engineers exactly what is wrong with the car and how to fix it yada yada yada. I still do not buy it. My friends know me to be a Hakkinen-man. Principally, he is my favorite racer. He did not act like an asshole, he did not cheat, he showed he was human (1999 Italian GP) and when he did cry, it was because he crashed while leading comfortably.

The point is that I am aware that I have many opinions. I will however, try and be neutral while I write. I believe I can do so. I know you will catch me out if I do err.

I would like to start off by saying that I welcome the return of several big names. Michael Schumacher is undoubtedly one of them. Lotus is another. Not too many people remember Lotus. Certainly no one in my age group (me included) can claim any knowledge on Lotus from first hand viewing experience. As I read up more about them though, it becomes plainly obvious that they are a constructor worthy of a place on the 2010 grid with 7 constructor’s championships to their name. I wish them the best, and hope that they can get through the season financially and otherwise.

I am thrilled with the return of a track as well. The Canadian GP at Montreal is held at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. I love the track and the sight of the cars as they round the famous Turn 10 hairpin and barrel down the back straight. It truly is worthy of a place on the calendar. Long do I hope it stays there. I would like to place on record the fact that Formula 1 will miss Kimi Raikkonen. He was a supremely fast racer, one who I believe deserved a place on the 2010 grid.

New rules, New teams, New races (Korean GP) and New Drivers. This season is going to be a stormer. Life will still be lived in intervals of 0.001 seconds and everyone will still be under the gun, especially pit crews who will, with the refueling ban now in effect, aim to break the 3-second barrier for a pitstop. But if not here then where else? After all, this is Formula 1.