≡ Menu

Massa’s Unretirement — A Good Idea?

Brazilian driver Felipe Massa doesn’t doesn’t own many records in Formula 1, as far as I can tell, but I think he’s about to set a new one, for the shortest voluntary retirement in the modern era. The tears had barely dried from his coveralls before it was announced that he’d be returning to Williams. Obviously, the circumstances had been unforeseen.  The stars had to align in a particular way to allow Massa return to the fold.

First of all, Nico Rosberg made the shocking announcement of his own retirement, creating a vacancy at Mercedes. It was so late in the season, that most of the potential candidates had already secured new contracts. I’m thinking of Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and perhaps Kevin Magnussen, although the latter would be a long shot.

With no super-attractive drivers left on the market, it became obvious that Mercedes had two options: either go with a relative rookie, such as Pascal Wehrlein, who’s part of their young driver program; or steal a driver currently under contract to another team. Perhaps steal is too strong a word. Strike a deal, let’s say.

As everyone knows, they chose the latter option. Their choice of Valterri Bottas was a smart and safe one. But the next necessary link in the chain was getting Bottas released from Williams. Fortunately, Toto Wolff has ties to the team: he was once a partial owner, and he was part of Bottas’s management team. Plus, Merc supplies Williams’ engines.

But they naturally had to sweeten the deal. Williams had hired Lance Stroll, an 18 year old rookie, who would need mentoring from an older team mate. Plus, with a host of new technical regs for 2017, it would be important to have an experienced driver on board as a reference point. Bottas fit the bill nicely. Williams certainly wasn’t willing to let him go easily.

The word on the street is, to get Bottas released, Merc offered a discount on engines, and a subsidy for a payment to Massa to bring him out of the aforementioned short-lived retirement.

Merc’s deal with Bottas is supposed to be one-year, with options. Once can’t help but think that Wolff and Niki Lauda are eyeing 2018, when both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are out of contract. If they can’t snag one of those two drivers, they’ll still have Bottas optioned. Most of the risk seems to lie with Bottas. If Hamilton beats him like an old rug, it could take the luster off of a once promising career. On the other hand, if Bottas makes a better showing than Rosberg did over the past several years, and actually outperforms Hammy, it  would make him a hot property.  So it’s a roll of the dice for Bottas.

But to return to the Williams half of the equation, clearly luring Massa back from his brief sabbatical was the obvious choice. Although he was generally outperformed by Bottas in 2016, he has a wealth of experience, knows how to win races, gives good technical feedback, and will be an excellent reference point for development of the 2017 car. And, equally important, he’ll be an excellent mentor to Lance Stroll.

But, as to the lead question of this post, is it smart for Massa to return?  I would say yes, . I’m guessing that Williams gave him a sufficient financial lure, to begin with. But, beyond that, he’ll be under no pressure to perform to retain his seat. Apparently, he has a one-year deal, paralleling the Bottas arrangement at Merc. He’ll be a bridge or transition driver. For 2018, Williams will either go shopping for a fresher face on the open market, or will rehire Bottas, assuming Merc is able to hire Vettel or Alonso.

Massa also feels a sense of loyalty to Williams. They apparently have treated him more respect than he was accustomed to at Ferrari. In fact, he never quite recovered from the incident at Hockenheim, in 2010, when he was asked to move over for team mate Alonso.  So coming back to Williams for a year is, in a manner speaking, returning a favor.

Finally, if it’s understood that 2017 is really going to be his last year in F1, it will allow him to follow up the shortest retirement on record with the longest farewell tour.

And as for his “retirement,” and what followed, one wonders what might have been if Ferrari had had second thoughts about the Raikkonen-Massa matchup, and had made a similar offer to bring Michael Schumacher back to the team in 2007.



Hamilton Wins at Sochi — Title a Shoo-in?

Hamilton on the podium at Sochi

Hamilton on the podium at Sochi

Lewis Hamilton gave another dominant performance at Sochi on Sunday. Whether or not he’s the best driver on the grid, he’s certainly one of the top three, and he’s in the quickest car. It stands to reason, reliability aside, that he should win every race.  As it stands, he’s won nine out of 15.  His personal best, in 2014, was 11 wins in a season.  The record is 13, held by both Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.  With 19 races on the schedule this year, Hammy has a chance to tie the two German aces, but not beat them.

In years past, when one driver or one team has become utterly dominant, the FIA has often tweaked the rules to create artificial handicaps. When Schumacher and Ferrari seemed to be winning everything in sight, the points system was changed, to prolong the title decision. However, the change actually damaged the show more than it helped, and the current points system was wisely created as a remedy.

Likewise, when the Brawn team (forerunner to the current Merc squad) stole the title during its only year of existence, relying largely on the double diffuser loophole for find a performance edge, that loophole was swiftly closed. Ditto for many of the marginal advantages that Adrian Newey’s group was able to devise at Red Bull during their reign.

So is it a foregone conclusion that, should the Mercedes juggernaut roll on in 2016, the rules makers in the FIA’s smoke-filled room will devise some tweaks in the technical or sporting regs to hobble the Silver Arrows?  Changes for the 2017 season are currently being discussed.  The talks are focused on improving the show.  Wider, louder and faster seem to be the watchwords. I’m wondering, however, if an equalizer will be embedded in the new specs, a secret MA (Mercedes antidote) clause.

Bernie Eccelestone is now presiding over a declining audience.  Smaller viewership results in smaller commercial revenues.  Most of F1’s money comes from television. If fewer people watch the show, local broadcasters can’t charge as much for commercial slots; the teams’ sponsors won’t pay as much for the privilege of having their logos plastered on the cars’ sidepods; and Bernie won’t be able to charge as much for the franchise rights of the racing venues. You can guarantee, Bernie’s vote will be for whatever spices up the show, even if it means replacing the current pit crews with strippers.

As for Hamilton, only a freakish turn of events, such as being sidelined with an injury, or suffering a bizarre string of retirements, could deprive him of a third title at this point.  Fans eventually tired of watching Michael Schumacher win everything. And eventually, Vettel’s success was met with a similar ennui.  Will Hamilton’s legacy be dependent on a similar ho-hum effect?  Must we consider a driver’s repeated success to be a forgone conclusion before we accord him the mantle of greatness?



Hamilton Tells Critics to Shove It

Hamilton to Critics: I can't hear you!

Juan Manuel Fangio, the great Argentine quadruple world champ, allegedly once told Ayrton Senna, “You must never believe you’re the best, but you must always try to be.”  This remark, if true, shows two qualities in the attitude of “the maestro,” namely, humility and tenacity.

Although many might have argued that Senna took himself too seriously, he did exhibit humility after a fashion: he approached racing with a near religious devotion.  He often spoke of in terms of experiencing “pure racing,” rather than simply winning trophies.

A McLaren driver of a later day, Lewis Hamilton, who idolizes Senna, apparently never got the Senna memo.  He’s never made any boners about the fact that he thinks he’s the best on the grid, if not the best of all time.

He generally expects other drivers to lurch out of his way when he makes an overly-ambitious lunge, and when said lunge doesn’t pay off, it’s generally (in Hamspeak) the other driver’s fault.

Naturally, he’s come in for a bit of stick lately, for trying to bull his way through tight spaces as though he were a NASCAR driver (perhaps his latest exhibition pairing with Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen was no coincidence).

But Hammy is not apologetic, even though a number or prominent drivers haven’t spared criticism.  Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine suggested Hammy was losing his way, Mark Webber said he’d found a way to trip over his own shoelaces, and Niki “the Rat” Lauda  declaimed the Hamilton had become a real danger to other drivers.

And Hamilton’s reaction?  He recently told The Evening Standard, “What Niki Lauda thinks about me, I really couldn’t give a toss about it.”

Okay, so Lauda is a bit of a loudmouth himself, never shy about saying something to keep his name in the headlines.  And Hamilton has no mandate to take the criticism of others graciously.

But his self regard seems to further than that.  At a recent event thrown by Williams to announce their new Renault engine deal, former Williams pilots and world champs Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve were both on hand.  The assembled media pressed them for their opinions on rumors of Hamilton’s bailing out of McLaren to to climb aboard the good ship Red Bull.  Both Mansell and Villeneuve opined that if Hamilton had any sense, he’s stay put.

Fair enough.  Rightly or wrongly, it’s an opinion.  But wait, Lewis Hamilton hasn’t taken kindly to such freedom of speech.  Who do these men think they are, voicing their opinions — in public!

Said Hammy to the BBC, “I find it kind of funny.  I’m not sure that anyone really cares what some of those people are talking about or their opinions. I think that if you have an opinion, just keep it to yourself.”

Did you hear that, guys?  Next time you think about offering an opiniin about Hamilton (not even a criticism, mind you, but just an opinion), keep it to yourself.  The world isn’t interested.

Of course, this latter comment seems to me to be a reaction to comments that struck a bit too close to the truth for comfort.  Hamilton must be frustrated now, believing, as he does, that he’s the best, and therefore deserving of the best car.  Great drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher felt that exact frustration at certain points in their careers, when they were clearly in their primes, but their cars weren’t.

This is a dangerous attitude for a driver to have.  It’s all too close to saying, “I’m the best, I deserve the best car, I should be winning all the time.”  But in sports, as in life, nothing is anyone’s due.  It takes an absurd amount of luck and skill combined to win a world championship just once.  There have been a number of great drivers who never did, Sterling Moss sitting at the top of the heap, probably, with Dan gurney, in my estimation, ranking somewhere towards the top.

I think Fangio had it right.  Drivers who come to believe they own the champion’s laurels are bound to trip over their own egos at one point or another.  Even uber driver Michael Schumacher, whom many regarded as arrogant, generally never ran round the paddock tooting his own horn, reminding everyone that yes, he was the best, he really was.


Senna: the Film

It’s been 17 years since the death of Ayrton Senna.  That his name is still spoken in tones of reverence says something of the impact he had on the sport.  Both Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have looked up to him as an idol.

Schumacher actually raced against Senna, and watched the Brazilian race when he was still in karts.  When Schumi equaled Senna’s number of race wins at Monza one year, he broke down and wept during the post-race press conference.

Hamilton, of course, never raced against Senna, but he wears a yellow helmet aping the personal livery of his hero.  He has adopted an aggressive driving style, somewhat in the manner of Senna, but there the similarity ends.

Senna was absolutely unique. To listen to him discuss racing, you’d think he was describing a mystical experience.  In fact, there were times, he said, when he pushed himself up to and past the limit, that he felt as though he’d slipped into a different realm of consciousness.

When Lewis Hamilton talks about his passion for racing, he sounds like a high school student talking about the Big Game.  When Michael Schumacher holds forth on his chosen profession, he sounds like an engineer.  Senna, on the other hand, was part poet and part warrior.

The Japanese, who supplied him with Honda engines when he was a McLaren pilot, lionized him as a latter day samurai.  The power plants they shipped for Senna and his fellow champion team mate, Alain Prost, were crated, sealed and labeled for each driver.  Prost always claimed that Senna, more beloved by the Japanese engineers, got the better engines.

Credible?  Doubtful.  In any event, it’s true that Senna used his engines like no one else on the grid.  Prost would look at the Brazilian’s trace telemetry and curse.  Senna’s signature throttle blips, which he used to steer the car i high speed corners (now oversteer, now understeer) were inimitable — as was Senna himself.


Williams Announce a New Renault Engine Deal

Jacques Villeneuve at the wheel of a Renault-powered Williams at the 1996 Hungarian GP

The Williams team have had their worst season start ever, and they’ve scrambled into damage control mode hoping to reverse the trend, or at least stop it in its tracks.  It was recently announced that technical director Sam Michael would step down (as in leave the team entirely) at the end of this season, and former chief designer at McLaren Mike Coughlan will be essentially taking his place.

Coughlan, it will be remembered, was forced to resign from his position at the Woking squad in 2007 as a result of the industrial espionage scandal that saw McLaren come into possession of an 800 page dossier of Ferrari’s technical secrets.

McLaren, of course, insisted they were guiltless as they hadn’t actually used any of the secrets.  Isn’t that a bit like stealing someone’s wallet and claiming that you didn’t really commit a crime because you haven’t spend any of the money in the wallet?

In any event, Williams are implementing a number of changes with the hope of placing themselves back on the track towards, if not podiuks and wins, at least in the general vicinity of the upper portion of the midfield bunch.

Currently, Williams lies ninth in the championship standings, with only four points, which places them at the very bottom of the point-earning teams, and ahead of only those teams who have yet to earn any points at all, i.e. the “moving chicane” teams of Lotus, HRT and Virgin.

In their effort to dig out of the hole, aside from the management shuffle mentioned above, Williams have also announced a new engine deal with Renault.  It will be remembered that Williams enjoyed their greatest successes when their cars ran a Regie behind the cockpit.

Will a Renault link-up deliver Williams from their current doldrums?  That remains to be seen.  Certainly, considering that Renault powered Red Bull to their recent championship, it couldn’t hurt.  The deal is to begin next year, and once implemented 25% of the field will be powered by the Regie.

This is perhaps more significant than the latest Williams stratagem.  Renault sold a majority stake in their branded team to Genii Capital prior to last season, and prior to this season they sold off the remaining slice to Lotus (or at least one of the companies currently using that name).

Ergo, Renault is no longer a team owner, except in name.  They have decided that the best means of leveraging their resources in the sport is to be an engine supplier only.  This was their modus operandi in the 1990s, and it served them well: they racked up multiple titles with Williams and Benetton.

Of course, they won two title as a manufacturer team, as well, with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel, but being an engine supplier for multiple team allows them to create efficiencies and economies of scale that might elude them as outright team owners.


Newey Peeved About Rule Change

Both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have been lamenting publicly lately that the title race is all but over.  Sebastian Vettel’s commanding win seemed to put the championship hopes of his rivals even farther out of reach.  Perhaps the FIA was of a like mind when they first got the notion of revising (or “clarifing”) the rule on off-throttle exahust blown diffusers, which will be banned, for all intents and pruposes, beginning with the next race meeting at Silverstone.

A number of teams on the grid this year have approached the off-throttle exhaust concept with varying degrees of ingenuity.  It’s widely thought that the most effective designs have been deployed by Red Bull and Renault.  Renault’s version is the most radical, using front mounted outlets which channel hot gas from nearly the front of the car’s sidepods back towards the diffuser.  The channeled air manages to create a significant amount of added downforce.

Of course, even with their exhaust system, the Renault is still off the pace of the front runners.  The pace continues to be set by the Red Bulls, which is to say, the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel. Has the FIA made an early projection that Vettel is about to wrap up the title before the season is half over?

Such dominance tends to make the latter part of a season anti-climactic, and, let’s face it, part of the rationale of the rule changes of the past couple of years has been to encourage more parity between teams.  So it’s not unheard of for the FIA to tweak the rules to help the show. On the other hand, they usually wait for the season  to end, and enact the changes for the following year.

Red Bull’s design guru Adrian Newey seems rightly peeved at this turn of events.  Said Newey to the BBC, “We’ve got a regulation change, let’s face it.  How that is going to affect us compared to the others is difficult to tell. Lotus Renault, they’re the ones who have clearly designed their car around the exhausts, so they I would imagine must be concerned. We designed our car around the exhaust in as much as we had the exhaust solution that you see on the car from very early on in the research of RB7.”

Newey was referring to the fact that the FIA have claimed that they’re not changing the rules, but are merely implementing a “clarification.”  Right.

Newey has also revealed, in part, why Red Bull’s deployment of the off-throttle exhaust system has been so successful: because it’s integral to the design concept of the car, rather than just being an afterthought upgrade.  That’s the standard Newey modus operandi.

Will the removal of the system seriously impair the performance of the Red Bulls and the Renaults?  Said Newey, “We’ve never taken it off before and we don’t know how that is going to affect us compared to our direct competitors. I think probably that Ferrari and Mercedes will be less affected than we are, McLaren may also be less affected. We designed and develop the car around it the others fitted it basically for the first race.”

Naturally, with no in-season testing, it’s difficult to assess the effect of the changes until they’re actually deployed for the upcoming race.  This highlights one of the basic problems of the current in-season ban on testing.

“We’ve done some simulation,” said Newey about the running the car without off-throttle exhaust, “but we haven’t actually run it on the track yet and we don’t know how much it will affect the balance of the car.  That’s where simulation tends to fall down as you need a real car going round a real track with a real driver.”

Personally, I’m against implementing rules “clarifications” mid-season, unless it’s for safety’s sake.  On the other hand, if the FIA insists on tweaking (i.e. changing) the rules this way, then they should repeal or revise the in-season ban on testing, so that the teams can have sufficient chance to work out solutions to the technical issues that result from the changes.

As for the complaints of Hamilton and Alonso, considering that a wild card awaits all the major teams at Silverstone, it might be too early to be planning a concession speech just yet.


Vettel Makes the Win Look Easy in Valencia

Sebastian Vettel had the field covered again today in Valencia.  He led from pole and won handily, making it all look easy.  A year or two ago, some of the paddock wags started referring to him as “Baby Schumi,” but he soon outgrew the moniker, and one suspects there will come a day, a decade or so, when paddock pundits start labeling other young drivers as “the new Vettel.”

Vettel’s lead was never seriously challenged today.  He lost it only during the usual pit stop shuffles, and finished ten seconds ahead of runner up Fernando Alonso.  One suspects that by race end, Vettel  was simply controlling the pace.  Alonso never stood a realistic chance of catching him.

Nor did anyone else, for that matter.  There had been speculation that McLaren might be closing in on the Red Bull boys, but that was hardly the case today.  Lewis Hamilton finished a distant fourth, 46 seconds behind the leader, and Jenson Button was a full minute behind.

One of the most impressive drives of the day came from Fernando Alonso.  Alonso is regarded by many as being the most complete driver on the grid these days.  He’s a hard charger, but also a canny strategist who generally thinks in big-picture terms.  He makes the occasional error, but fewer than Lewis Hamilton does, and he doesn’t generally blame everyone else including the track marshals when it happens.  He also has the ability, as do most great drivers, to make his car look better than it is.  Today he did just that, stayed out of trouble, and was rewarded with second place.

The third podium slot was filled by Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who trailed Vettel by nearly half a minute.  Although Webber was running at a parity with Vettel for much of last year, this season he’s looking very much like the team’s de facto number two.  Vettel is generally quicker than he is, both in qualifying and in the race.  Chris Horner has paid lip service to Webber’s difficulty in coming to grips with the new Pirellis this year, but I suspect that the shifting Vettel-Webber dynamic has more to do with Vettel’s improvement this year, than it does with Webber’s tire troubles.

There’s a rumor afoot that Renault might have an interest in Webber for the coming year, and this could make a lot of sense for the Enstone sqaud.   Vitaly Petrov seems born to be a number two driver, and Nick Heidfeld, who’s standing in for the injured Robert Kubica, isn’t really living up to expectations, even as a surrogate (although he did rack up a championship point today).

Hiring Webber would give them some needed insurance.  Assuming Kubica comes back next year, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be quite up to speed after a year off (especially considering that his hand was partially severed in his rally crash this year).  Webber would be able to take up the slack.  There’s also the possibility, however slim, that Kubica might not return to the team, in which case Webber would make a natural team lead.

The risk for Webber, of course, would be two-fold.  One, while Renault seems to be making performance strides, they’re no Red Bull, and clearly Webber would be more apt to stay with a team where he plays second fiddle but is able to pick up the occasional win, rather than a team which has no hope of taking wins at all.

There’s also the chance that Kubica would come back next year, be fit as a fiddle, and leave Webber in the shade, in which case he’d be trading number two status at the number one team for number two status at the nunber five team.  Not much of a trade.

McLaren’s day was relatively uneventful.  Lewis Hamilton didn’t crash into anyone, and the track stayed dry, so Jenson Button wasn’t able to show off his ability to let a difficult race come his way.  Hamilton, in the privacy of his motorhome, was probably thinking, “Yeah, you know all that rubbish I said about being committed to McLaren? Let me rephrase that.”

Mercedes also had a day not worth remembering.  Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher started seventh and eighth respectively, and probably would have finished that way, had Schumi not blotted his copybook again by running into Petrov while exiting the pitlane.  Schumi hates to cede position (what driver does?), but clearly in this case discretion would have been the better part of valor.

Petrov finished only 15h today. Schumi probably could have let him by at that juncture, and gotten past him later.  Instead, Schumacher lost both his front wing, and an enormous chunk of time.  He finished only 17th.  He later admitted the error was his, but even stalwart Ross Brawn admitted frustration at the lost points opportunity.

It was a good day for force India’s Adrian Sutil, who managed to finish in the points.  Sutil (under indictment for his recent nightclub brawl) has been regularly shown up by his rookie team mate Paul di Resta this year.  Today, he bettered di Resta by several positions.

While Valencia is certainly a picturesque venue, rivaling many of the other seaside street circuit courses, it has never been an exemplary track strictly in terms of racing.  In fact, previous races have been processionals.  This year’s deployment of DRS, KERS and the Pirelli tire compounds have enhanced overtaking greatly, but even so, this proved to be a less exciting race than others run this year.

Or did it only seem tepid because Sebastian Vettel’s win seemed so assured from the opening lap?

Points Paying Positions:

1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 57laps 1hr 39m 36.169s
2. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 10.8s
3. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 27.2s
4. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 46.1s
5. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 51.7s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +01m 00.0s
7. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +01m 38.0s
8. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
9. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
10. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +1 lap

Out of the Points:

11. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
13. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
14. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
15. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault +1 lap
16. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
17. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +1 lap
18. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +2 laps
20. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +2 laps
21. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
22. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
24. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +3 laps


Vettel on a qualifying run

There has been much controversy around recent rule changes (or should be say clarifications) that are being instituted this season.  The first of the changes, which forbids any changes to engine mapping between qualification and the race on Sunday, goes into effect this weekend at Valencia, Spain.  Theoretically, cars are already frozen in terms of setup, tires etc. between Saturday and Sunday already, but changing downloading different coding to the engines electronic system on Sunday has been largely excluded from this.

The new move was seen as something of a shot across the box to Red Bull, who often have stunning pace in qualifying, but pull out less of a gap during the race.  Today, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber proved that it’s more than just tweaking the engine mapping that has allowed them to capture pole at every race venue so far this season.

Of course, as Vettel himself said, the new rule chance (or clarification) affects everyone equally, so if ti were truly seen a measure to clip Red Bull’s wings and enhance the show, it was a pretty poor strategy — fortunately.

While I like a competitive grid as much as the next person, I hate to see the rules realigned or reinterpreted (mid season or otherwise) simply in an effort to handicap a single team.  Several years ago, in the aftermath of Ferrari’s most successful season, the points system was changed to (theoretically) prolong the suspense of the title chase, and it prevented any single driver from building up an insurmountable lead too quickly.  Unfortunately, it had the unintended consequence of also making it very difficult for a driver to recover from a DNF, which ultimately had a negative effect on the the show.

Down the road, at Silverstone, the second major rules tweak (clarification) will be implemented, namely, outlawing off-throttle exhaust blown diffusers.  Again, some see this a a deliberate swipe at Red Bull.  Red Bull, of course, are quick to say that their cars enjoy a performance margin over the bulk of the field for because their entire package is good, and not just because of a single trick element.

After the Red Bulls, the semi-usual suspects fell into line, with teams Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes filling out the next six positions.  Felipe Massa came within a tenth or so of team mate Fernando Alonso’s time, something which he hasn’t done very often this year.   Jenson Button trailed Lewis Hamilton by three tenths (the McLaren boys are sandwiching the Ferraris).  And the Mercedes pilots, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were separated by 9/1000’s of a second.  Last year, Rosberg was generally quicker than Schumi, but this year Schumacher seems more comfortable with the car, and has sometimes outperformed Rosberg, in the race if not in qualifying.

Although certainly Schumacher had input in the construction of this year’s car, I think his performance improvement is also due to the new Pirelli tires, which he finds more suitable to his style, and also to the simple fact that he has a full comeback year under his belt which has helped him become reacclimmated.

Qualification Times:


1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 1m 36.975s
2. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 37.163s
3. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 37.380s
4 Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 37.454s
5. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 37.535s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 37.645s
7 Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 38.231s
8. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 38.240s
9 Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault no time Q3
10 Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes no time Q3


11. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault 1m 39.068s
12. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 1m 39.422s
13. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth 1m 39.489s
14. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari 1m 39.525s
15. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth 1m 39.645s
16. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari 1m 39.657s
17. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 39.711s


18. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 40.232s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault 1m 41.664s
20. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault 1m 42.234s
21. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 1m 42.553s
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth 1m 43.584s
23. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth 1m 43.735s
24. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth 1m 44.363s

107 per cent time: 1m 45.301s


The FIA has been trying to paint a greener image for Formula 1 during the last few years (as if anyone would mistake an F1 car for being energy efficient).  Theoretically, the move to 1.6 litre four cylinder turbo engines (which would replace the current 2.4 litre naturally aspirated V8s) was a step towards the green.

The change has been proposed for 2013 (the first year of Michael Schumacher’s second retirement, and with a move to toy engines in the offing, perhaps Schumi won’t be tempted to make a second comeback).

Now it’s come out, however, that the idea for the smaller powerplants was originally proposed by one of the major manufacturers, i.e. Renault.  “It was them who proposed the rules that the FIA accepted,” FIA president Jean Todt recently told Spanish newspaper Diario Sport. “The proposal didn’t fall out of the sky, but instead we had 11 meetings with all the representatives from the engine makers involved.”

Renault, of course, unlike some of the other manufacturers who participate in the sport, actually stand to gain something by promoting a smaller, four cylinder engine.

After all, Renault, unlike Ferrari or Mercedes, doesn’t have a road car business based on high performance or luxury sedan models. Of the major manufacturers they are the brand are most closely associated with anemic economy models.  But this goes deeper than brand.  Part of the rationale for a manufacturer to participate in F1 in the first place is the trickle down effect of R&D.  Gizmos developed for the track often find their way to the street.

But there’s more.  With Ferrari and Mercedes balking at the idea of switching to the toy powerplants by 2013 (Luca di Montezemolo is using the B-word again, as in breakaway series, Jean Todt and the FIA are making noises about backing away from the plan.  You can read this as either (a) postponing the inevitable, or (b) the death knell for an idea that was never very popular to begin with.

But wait, there’s even more.  Now Renault, getting wind of the FIA’s about-face on their about-face, are threatening to quit if the new tech regs aren’t adopted.  If I talk to Renault,” said Todt, “they say that if we don’t introduce this engine for 2013 they will leave F1; if I talk to Mercedes and Ferrari, they ask me to delay the introduction for a few years. They aren’t against the rules, they just wanted them postponed.”

Renault leaving F1? Is that bad news?  Well Bernie “the Evil Gnome” Ecclestone bent over backwards to convince Genii Capital, the venture capital firm that bought a majority stake in the team recently known as simply Renault, to keep the manufacturer’s brand for the team.

There has been an exodus of manufacturers’ brands from the sport in recent years, and the Evil Gnome doesn’t want to lose any more.  But really, if forced to choose between Ferrari and Renault, which do you choose? It’s not really a choice, is it?


Max Mosley Condemns Bahrain Decision

Former FIA president Max Mosley

Although it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, there have been reports that the Bahrain Grand Prix has been reinstated to the 2011 calendar, with a tentative date of October 30.  The Indian Grand Prix will be pushed back to accommodate the change.

There had been some talk of holding the Bahrain event in December, but a number of the teams had protested the notion of stretching out this year’s calendar for an extra month.  Ross Brawn, in particular, had called the idea “unacceptable.”

That’s not to say that the October date will mollify all parties concerned.  Red Bull pilot Mark Webber has questioned the wisdom of holding the event at all this year, suggesting that it would convey a sense of political tone deafness on the part of the FIA.

And former FIA president Masx Mosley has gone one further.  In a column for the Daily Telegraph, Mosely said, “The decision to hold the race is a mistake which will not be forgotten and, if not reversed, will eventually cost Formula One dear.”

Mosley elaborated by saying, “We will be told that holding the Grand Prix in October will show that, once again, Bahrain is a happy, peaceful country. So why is it wrong for Formula One to go along with this?…[Formula 1] is being used by an oppressive regime to camouflage its actions.  If a sport accepts this role, it becomes a tool of government. If Formula One allows itself to be used in this way in Bahrain, it will share the regime’s guilt as surely as if it went out and helped brutalise unarmed protesters.

“Having carried out these horrific acts, the Bahrain government wants to clean up its image…By running the race they hope to show the world the troubles were just a small, temporary difficulty and everything is now back to normal. By agreeing to race there, Formula One becomes complicit in what has happened. It becomes one of the Bahrain government’s instruments of repression.”

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been critcized for his part in getting Bahrain back on the calendar.  It’s been suggested that he’s succumbed to the lure of rmuneration on offer by the host country.  Well, that’s a bit like criticizing a bee succumb ing to the lure of pollen.

Naturally, Uncle Bernie wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion about the recent unrest in Bahrain. In an interview with CNN, the Evil Gnome said, “What’s our problem in the world at the moment? Too many over-educated people. If we can find a way to do something about that then a lot of our problems will disappear.”

Of course, this is a man who a couple of years ago praised Hitler for being a man who was “able to get things done.”  Drawn your own conclusions in the context of the current situation in Bahrain.