Read all about it

The F1 world eagerly awaits announcement of news which will set of the Driver-Market Chain-Reaction. Well, it will be more of a small re-shuffle, than a chain-reaction as most drivers out of contract at the end of 2012 only have 2 or 3 options of seats to fill.

This announcement was rumoured to be made on Wednesday 26th September. At time of publishing this blog, no such announcement had been made.

The past few months has seen a frenzy of rumours, claims, counter-claims, denials, conjecture…. by journalists all vying  for the scoop of the year. Some F1 fans say they are getting annoyed by the rumours and just want a final confirmation of which team these drivers will be driving for in 2013. Unsurprisingly, the most talked-about of these drivers is Lewis Hamilton and from conversations with other F1 fans via Twitter, we all agree that his contract has been the most talked about and written about, that we all can recall.

Just to “prove” this point, I have performed very complex surveys* to establish how many articles were written about drivers in the year they signed their most recent contract i.e. end of their season with penultimate team.

1) Jenson Button moved from Brawn to McLaren in 2009.

Date Range: 1 Jan 2009 – 31 Dec 2009

Search Results: 228,000

2) Fernando Alonso moved from Renault to Ferrari in 2010.

Date Range: 1 Jan 2010 – 31 Dec 2010

Search Results: 693,000

3) Lewis Hamilton rumoured to move from McLaren to Mercedes OR stay at McLaren in 2012.

Date Range: 1 Jan 2012 – 26 Sept 2012

Search Results: 39,200,000^

What does this tell us? Actually, not a lot we did not know already. (1) Hamilton is a well-known figure in F1 and further afield. (2) Blogs/Social Media use is increasing annually so there are more articles posted on the internet, (3) old articles are deleted or archived so might not show up on internet searches for the other drivers. But one can still appreciate that the volume of traffic Hamilton is generating at the moment is immense.

By comparison with other talked-about personalities or occurences over the same date range i.e. 1 Jan 2012 – 26 Sept 2012:

Kristen Stewart, Search Results: 95,700,000

Mars Curiosity, Search Results: 63,400,000

Fernando Alonso, Search Results: 12,300,000

That said, all F1 fans want is confirmation of Hamilton’s new contract or at least, no more unfounded rumours by journalists.

* = Google Internet Search

^ = Google’s Birthday is 27th September hence the new icon in the top left of screen-grab, just to prove it is a very recent search

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Italian GP Experience

Guest Blog from a follower (@naijaSolar) who was at the Italian Grand Prix this weekend.

I have been to F1 races before but I had never been to the Italian Grand Prix, despite having friends in and visiting Milan and Monza. So after running out of reasons not to go, I decided to book tickets for the race and combine it visiting my friends. Milan in the lead up to the Italian Grand Prix didnt look very different – apart from the front of the Ferrari Store near Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and the Duomo. This area had been transformed into a mini-race track with several events for passers-by. I am not a “tifoso” but any F1 fan would be crazy not to visit the shop which epitomises Formula 1 passion globally.

To maintain a balanced, unbiased perspective, I also visited the McLaren showroom on Corso Sempione. Unfortunately, it is a showroom – accessible only by appointment – perhaps this was why not a lot of people were aware of its presence.

On my way back from the McLaren Showroom, I walked past a small bookshop on Corso Venezia. Turns out it is an automobile bookshop – one of the oldest in Italy. The owner spoke English and told me about the extensive array of books that he had.

Something caught my eye in the shop: I spotted a large red book with a pair of gloves on it. These, the proprietor explained, were to protect the book from customer smudges and stains. It was an iconic Ferrari book which had to be made to order, the most expensive version (Ferrari Opus Diamante Edition) costing up to a quarter of a million dollars! Sadly I didnt have that kind of change on me.

THURSDAY

On Thursday, I went to the track to collect my pre-booked tickets. As I was staying at a friend’s apartment on the outskirts of Milan, the entire trip to the Autodromo lasted about 2hours and involved the Metro to Sesto, a bus to Monza town centre and then another bus to the Autodromo di Monza. On arrival, it took just 5 minutes to process my ID and furnish me with the tickets. Then I had the rest of the afternoon to look around the track.

I discovered the entrance to the F1 paddock and the crowd gathered outside it implied that it might be a good spot for autograph-hunting. And sure enough, Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez, Kamui Kobayashi walked by – none of whom stopped for autographs. However about half an hour later, a black Mercedes pulled up to the gates and Lewis Hamilton emerged from the car. I almost could not believe it was him! He stopped and signed autographs, flags, shirts, hats and shook hands with some of the people there. Everyone cheered for him and it was good to see him take time to acknowledge the fans’ support.

Lewis arrives at Autodromo di Monza, Italian GP

As part of the 3-day ticket package, fans were allowed onto the pit between 4pm and 6.30pm on Thursday. Unsurprisingly, the first garage most fans flocked to was the Ferrari garage and there were chants of “ALONSO, ALONSO”. There was even a random chant of “Grosjean is sheeeeeet” in a thick Italian accent, no doubt a tifoso still annoyed about the 1st-lap incident that took out Alonso at the Spa Grand Prix.

I saw Vettel and his minders as he went to conduct an interview, also saw Christian Horner, Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Timo Glock and FIA Deputy Race Director, Herbie Blash.

Thursday Night was spent at Vogue’s Fashion Night Out in Milan – a glamour-themed late shopping night in Milan. Parties at Pirelli, Vivienne Westwood, Missoni, Pinko and many other shops along Corso Venezia kept us entertained till the early hours of the morning.

Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, VFNO, Milan

RACE WEEKEND

Parabolica 21D was our home on Friday and Saturday, which provided a good view of the Monza track; with the big screen directly in front of us and bilingual commentary, we didn’t miss much of the session. The only thing that I wasnt prepared for was the unbearable heat!

Something else I was looking forward to was Santander‘s regular competition on race weekends: an initiative to get more females interested in Formula 1, by selecting the first 5 people to tweet them within a certain period. I was lucky enough to have been on Twitter when the “competition opened” and promptly sent a tweet for a chance at this money-cant-buy experience. I was elated to receive a message saying I had been selected for the Paddock tour, all I had to do was been at the paddock entrance at 9am on race day.

PADDOCK TOUR

I arrived an hour early on Sunday and myself and other competition winners met the Santander representative who gave us guest passes for the paddock and escorted us through the turnstiles leading into the Monza paddock. We met Ferrari’s sponsorship manager, Marco who had been enrolled as our guide for the day. He showed us the Ferrari technical motorhome and their hospitality area.

Later on, we went into the McLaren motorhome and spoke briefly with Sam Inskip (Sponsorship Manager at McLaren), after which we were introduced to a senior director of Santander. Finally we had a quick look inside HRT’s motorhome and as we exited the paddock, politely interrupted Pirelli’s Paul Hembery‘s conversation for a photograph.

It was such a great opportunity and I cannot thank Santander enough for making my first trip to Monza an unforgettable experience. This was made even better by the phenomenal drive and win by Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez. The fans at Parabolica cheered for most drivers – even when Button’s car ground to a halt right in front of our stands. However, the same cannot be said of the fans who crowded under the podium after the race and booed Lewis Hamilton. This was the only negative on a glorious race weekend.

If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing – well, perhaps I’d get covered grandstand tickets or better yet, not return the Santander Guest passes!

Special thanks to @SantanderGP, @PaulHembery, @InsideFerrari and @theFifthDriver. More photos can be found on my Twitter profile @naijaSolar.

Welcome back, Formula 1

Similarly to last F1 off-season, I’ve collated tid-bits and news items from the F1 world during the break – one for every day since those cars were packed up in Brazil to when their new reincarnations roar to live in Australia on Friday (110 days). So to refresh your memory…

Cars

  1. Caterham (previously known as Team Lotus) launched their car in an innovative way by publishing a photo in F1 Racing magazine. It has a stepped down nose (nicknamed “platypus”) as their interpretation of lower nose-rule change
  2. McLaren launch the MP4-27 on 1st February online, and it has a smooth nose
  3. Ferrari’s launch (F2012) is on 3rd February. Heavy snow fall scuppered plans to drive around Maranello
  4. Force India also unveil the VJM05 on 3rd February
  5. Lotus F1 team revealed the E20 online on Sunday 5th Feb – same step-down nose as all others (apart from McLaren)
  6. Sauber release their C31 new car on Monday 6th February
  7. RedBull also launched the RB8 on Monday 6th February
  8. …. and so does Toro Rosso
  9. Tuesday 7th was Williams’ launch date
  10. Mercedes reveal another stepped nose car at the second test in Barcelona
  11. HRT is reported to have passed the FIA Crash test in the final week of February 2012
  12. Marussia failed the last of 18 tests and means it will not participate in the final test in Barcelona – therefore goes to AustralianGP untested…..
  13. …..They eventually passed on March 6th 2012
  14. Marussia unveil their car at Silverstone on Monday 5th March and its nose is similar to McLaren – with whom they have a technical partnership
  15. HRT have a filming day at Montmelo on Monday 5th March
  16. Pirelli’s test car is the 2010 Renault

 Team-Mates

  1. McLaren retains its driver line up of Lewis Hamilton (UK)  and Jenson Button (UK)
  2. RedBull also keeps their 2010 line up i.e. Mark Webber (Australia) and Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
  3. Michael Schmacher has another go to show that his comeback is not a mistake with Mercedes GP 2010 team mate Nico Rosberg
  4. Force India kick Adrian Sutil (Germany) out and replace him with German reserve driver, Nico Hulkenberg  whilst retaining Paul Di Resta (UK)
  5. Williams keep Pastor Maldonaldo (Venezuelan) and his partner is Bruno Senna (Brazil)
  6. Toro Rosso go for a completely new line-up with a promotion for last year’s reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) and Jean-Eric Vergne (France)
  7. Lotus follow in Toro Rosso’s steps and announce all new line up….well, almost all new – both drivers are “second-chancers” Kimi Raikkonen (Finnish) after a 2-year-hiatus and Romain Grosjean (France) after his first stint in F1 in 2009.
  8. Sauber keep Kobayashi (Japan) and Sergio Pérez (Mexico)
  9. Marussia Virgin keeps Timo Glock (Germany), loses Jerome D’Ambrosio (Belgium) and newbie Charles Pic (French) joins the team
  10. HRT sign ex-McLaren reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) and he is partnered by Narain Karthikeyan (India)- last driver to be announced, and it came after news of Sutil’s conviction.
  11. Lotus retain ‘veteran’ Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) and Jarno Trulli (Italy) until Feb 17th (see #43)
  12. Ferrari return with Felipe Massa (Brazil) and Fernando Alonso (Spain)

(more…)

Season Finale and Review

Bloggers, Reporters and Journalists didn’t need much encouragement to use puns such as “close shave” or “smooth run” during the seaon-finale in Brazil despite the event being the anti-climax it was destined to be after the WDC and WCC were decided several races ago.
Vettel started on pole after breaking Nigel Mansell’s record of most poles in a season on the penultimate session of the season. Though many were quick to point out that he was still trailing Mansell’s record in terms of % poles per races. Hamilton qualified 4th and was beside his team-mate on the grid.
Brazil GP (photo via @F1PaddockPass)
Button lost ground at the start of the race on Sunday, and was soon overtaken by Alonso. He then struggled to keep up with the Ferrari. Vettel was told he had a gearbox problem and had to “short-shift” for the rest of the race. He continued to drive as normal, pulling out a gap on other drivers until he slowed down enough for his team-mate Webber to overtake him.
Conspiracy theorists then inferred that his gearbox problem was “manufactured” to hand his team-mate the win. Several other drivers suffered gear-box problems; Hamilton had to retire mid way through the race, after a  season he will be in a hurry to forget.

2011 Season Review Cards

In preparation for the end of the season, I’ve invited my Twitter and Twitpic followers to submit Season Review cards for drivers. These “cards” are created by selecting options from 4 columns to describe different drivers’ 2011 season.
For example: Massa: A, b, 7, vi
Objective: Beat my team-mate
Satisfied with Performance?: No, not at all
Areas to improve on: Avoid that Silver and Red car
Rate your season: 4/10
To see the Season Review cards already submitted, click here for my Twitpic page.

Korean GP: Qualifying

Both Friday practice sessions were in the wet but Saturday morning was dry and gave the drivers a better indicator of their true pace.

Korean GP (photo from @MyTeamLotus)
Out after Q1 were Barrichello, Kovalainen, Trulli, Glock, D’Ambrosio, Liuzzi, Ricciardo. Ricciardo did not set a time as his car developed a problem before Qualifying.
In the second Qualifying session, Alguersuari, Schumacher, Buemi, Kobayashi, Senna, Maldonado, Perez qualified 11th to 18th, leaving Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Button, Massa, Alonso, Rosberg, Petrov, Sutil and Di Resta to fight for the top 10 places.
Fight for top 10 resulted in this order for tomorrow’s race: Hamilton (1:35.820s), Vettel, Button, Webber, Massa, Alonso, Rosberg, Petrov, Di Resta and Sutil. 
Top 3 drivers at Korean GP (photo by @thefifthDriver)
Vettel is not in the middle (photo by @thefifthDriver)

Hamilton breaks RedBull streak of pole positions and this is on the weekend his team celebrates their 700th Grand Prix. Hope a race win tomorrow can finally bring a smile to his face. Goodness knows, he needs a great deal of a morale boost.

Addendum: Sebastian Vettel took a shortcut while racing back to the pits in preparation for a last run in Q3. The stewards ruled that no penalty would be applied since he started with 17 seconds before end of session. See photo below for Stewards’ ruling.

Stewards Ruling (photo from @F1Kate)

Japanese GP: Qualifying

Japanese Qualifying had some elements of surprise but not for who got pole position. McLaren’s Hamilton found some good pace that he didn’t have during Practice sessions. Jenson had been fastest in Friday practice and seemed at ease at his ‘second home Grand Prix’.
Nico Rosberg’s car developed a hydraulics failure and he starts tomorrow’s race in 23rd position. The general concensus in the paddock was that Hamilton had the pace for pole position but an ‘misjudgement’ error meant he didn’t make it to the start/finish line in time to put in a lap-time which could have toppled Vettel off pole position. Button’s qualifying time was 9/1000th off Vettel‘s pole lap time of 1min 30.466.

Top 3 Qualifiers (photo from http://www.bbc.co.uk)

Top 10 drivers were: VET, BUT, HAM, MAS, ALO, WEB, KOB*, MSC, SEN, PET. 
*Kobayashi (the only remaining Japanese driver on the grid) was ‘promoted’ to 7th place even though he didn’t set a time but because he had started a flying lap by the time the chequered flag fell.Click here for the rules on Qualifying rules for drivers who don’t set a time.

Vettel just needs one point to win the 2011 World Drivers Championship but the McLaren drivers will try their utmost to delay the Red Bull celebrations as much as possible and to take the World Constructors Championship down to the wire.

Singapore GP: Race Summary

First the ‘vanilla’ news: Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix and needs just 1 more point to clinch his second World Drivers’ Championship. Button came second and Webber finished in third place. There was only 1 Safety car deployment after an ambitious (read: unnecessary) overtake attempt by Schumacher on Perez.

Vettel tires of finger-pointing (photo from usatoday.com)
Now for the ‘tastier’ stuff: Lewis Hamilton clipped his front wing on Felipe Massa’s wheel while justling for position and both required a visit to the pits for repairs. This incident resulted in a drive-through penalty for Hamilton. The Brit eventually visited the pit-lanes 5 times during the race and made several overtakes to finish 5th. Massa on the other hand, finished in 9th place and made his feelings about the Hamilton incident clear for all to see by interrupting Hamilton’s interview saying “Good job, man, well done” with a sarcastic thumbs-up.
 
Video by SixtyBuckss
Other notable drives were by Paul Di Resta (6th position), whose rookie year continues to impress everyone in the paddock and Heikki Kovalainen (Team Lotus) who finished ahead of a Lotus-Renault. Sweet revenge against the team his is currently embroiled in a legal battle with.
More ‘tastier’ stuff, albeit strange was Anthony Hamilton’s comments about his son’s management (XIX Entertainment) and their non-appearance at his races. It is understood that he said: 
“You look up and down the pit lane and every driver, except for Lewis, has a driver-manager in his life, not people from a company”. “I am sure his management are very good – I don’t know – but Formula One drivers need people personally involved in the driver’s lives because it is a big pressure” – Interview by Tom Cary

Vettel may have won the race at Singapore but another driver is dominating newspaper’s columns. 

For more photos and a fan’s experience of the Singapore Grand Prix, check out @nicolaheartsF1’s blog and Please continue to vote in my poll on the right-hand tool bar.

Hamilton versus… (II)

Most people admit Lewis Hamilton is an interesting and exciting driver. His aggressive driving style has been his trademark since his debut year (2007) and has provided viewers with exciting races even though some of his overtaking moves have not been successful. Nonetheless, to date, Hamilton has constantly out-performed his team-mates. 
An article I wrote in October 2010 (Hamilton versus…) shows a graph with Hamilton’s performance against all his team-mates since 2007 (his debut year) i.e. Alonso, Kovalainen and Button. (Hamilton eventually finished 26 points ahead of Button in 2010).

Relative Performance of Hamilton against his team-mates

By the 2011 season, Hamilton’s current team-mate, Jenson Button admitted that he is more comfortable with his technical team and even his car seat has been customised for him. And recently, he has been doing better than Hamilton on the track, prompting pundits to comment that Hamilton is now playing second fiddle* at McLaren. A very public ‘chat’ with another team principal has also added weight to the idea that Hamilton is no longer happy at McLaren. Perhaps frustrated by Ron Dennis’s replacement’s approach to design developments?

After the Italian Grand Prix (a race at which a more aggressive Button pull off an overtake on Michael Schumacher, that a seemingly more conservative Hamilton could not manage), it is looking more probable that Lewis Hamilton will lose his crown as the ‘leading driver at McLaren’. Also, as things stand Vettel already has a finger on the 2011 WDC trophy and this season might be the first one Hamilton is not in mathematical contention for the champioship by the last race. So one wonders;

  • is this the beginning of a downward spiral in terms of his future F1 performance, given that alternative options for him are limited i.e. other championship winning teams like RedBull and Ferrari are unlikely to sign him for various reasons, OR
  • if he is out-performed in 2011, will that be the impetus he needs to buck up and come back stronger and drive a more calculated race in 2012, perhaps tempering his naturally aggressive style to increase his chances of succeeding and possibly winning another WDC?
I would appreciate your participation in the poll running on this blog and your comments on this blog article. 
*second fiddlen – someone who serves in a subordinate capacity or plays a secondary role

Italian GP: Qualifying

Apologies for missing out the Belgian Grand Prix, but F1 returns to the northern Italian town of Monza this weekend. Possibly the first dry race for a while so drivers’ race pace and tyre choices will play a big role in deciding the results. 
Italian GP Paddock (photo by @VoxVocis)
The weekend started with ‘cambergate’ after which FIA enforced a tyre camber setting of 3.25° after RedBull’s tyres blistered excessively in the last race.
The first part of Qualifying session Q1 saw Trulli first to step out onto the Monza track. The usual suspects of RBR, McLaren and Ferrari swapped places at the top of the timesheets and the session was momentarily yellow-flagged due to Pastor Maldonado’s excursion. Drivers who dropped out after Q1 were Alguersuari, Trulli, Kovalainen, Glock, D’Ambrosio, Ricciardo, Liuzzi. 
In Q2, the best time of 1min22.914 was set by (no surprise) Red Bull driver, Sebastian Vettel. Drivers who didn’t make it into Q3 were di Resta, Sutil, Barrichello, Maldonado, Perez, Buemi, Kobayashi. Di Resta was knocked out of Q3 in the last few seconds of the session by Bruno Senna, who continues to show great qualifying pace after replacing Nick Heidfeld in the Lotus-Renault team.
Bruno Senna (photo by RM)
Ferrari was the first car out in Q3 in the 10-minute session and were greated by loud applause from the fans. Every driver seemed to be seeking out other drivers to derive a tow from. But eventually, Vettel took pole position from Hamilton. Other drivers making the Top 10 are Button, Alonso, Webber, Massa, Petrov, Schumacher, Rosberg and Senna.
McLaren Pitwall (mcLaren.com/Formula1)
Top Three Drivers for Italian GP (photo from BBC Website)
The Italian fans (tifosi) will be hoping for a win by Ferrari and both drivers starting from 4th (Alonso) and 6th (Massa) will try all they can not to disappoint the adoring fans.