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Sebastian Vettel Takes the Win at Monaco

Sebastian Vettel strengthened his grip on this year’s championship lead this year with a confident win at Monaco.  The Monte Carlo street race is often referred to as the jewel in the F1 series, and certainly it’s a unique venue on the calendar, for his glamour, its history, it’s exotic setting and the challenging layout of the temporary circuit layout.

Monaco has always been known as a driver’s track, one in which the relative strengths and weaknesses of the chassis and engine packages tend to be equalized somewhat, and the relative talents of the drivers tend to be brought to the fore.

That said, the combination of Red Bull (quickest car) and Vettel (arguably one of the three quickest drivers, with nods to Alonso and Hamilton) proved to be the class of the field today.  Vettel led from the pole, and while he gave up the lead during pit stop shuffles, at the end of the day it was his race to win or lose.

One of the most exciting early battles was the skirmish between Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.  Schumacher managed to pass Hamilton on the opening lap, and Hamilton spent the next ten laps trying to regain the position.

Hamilton’s McLaren clearly had the pace on the Mercedes, but Monaco is an overtaking nightmare, and Hammy had his nose up Schumi’s exhaust for lap after lap before graining on Schumacher’s rear tires became significant enough to give Hamilton an opening.

They touched when Hammy finally made his move, and Hammy gave Schumi the Italian hand signal equivalent of, “Your mother wears dirty knickers.” One can understand Hammy’s frustration, of coruse, as he has the reputation for being the best overtaker in the business (just ask him).

Rear graining proved to be an issue for Schumacher’s team mate, Nico Rosberg, as well.  Only a couple of laps after Schumacher was overtaken, Felipe Massa edged past Rosberg in a canny and unexpected move.  Both Mercs pitted relatively early toe switch to the prime tires, and were shuffled far down the running order where they ran nose to tail for some laps.

Hamilton, of course, was involved in several incidents today.  He later had a coming together with Felipe Massa at the hairpin, which resulted in wing damage for the Brazilian.  Massa later claimed that the wing damage had led to a handling problem that helped cause his crash in the tunnel (an incident that was also enabled, he said, by…guess who…Lewis Hamilton, who had pushed him wide into the marbles).

In recent years, Monaco has often been a procession punctuated by contact with the barriers.  Today, the crashes were still there, but there was also more overtaking (along with unsuccessful lunges) then we’ve seen in years, thanks to the new technical regulations.  While there wasn’t as much passing as we saw in Barcelona last week, there  was enough to keep the race interesting.

Hamilton was the chief agent in much of today’s action.  He had a rather torrid race, all told.  He had a third and final incident with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado during the closing laps of the race in turn one, which left the Venezuelan sidelined.

Hamilton was slapped with two penalties by race-end, a driver-through, and a twenty second (faux drive-through) penalty applied after the race.  Fortunately for Hammy, the timed wrist-slap didn’t affect his final result.

Hamilton was quite vocal after the race about the penalties.  “You know what, out of six races I’ve been to the stewards five times.  It’s a joke, it’s an absolute fricking joke,” he told the BBC.

The stewards, of course, weren’t in a joking mood, and while Hamilton might feel picked on (he later played the race card, and suggested it was because he was black), it should be pointed out that Paul di Resta was handed the exact same penalty for pulling the exact same maneuver in the hairpin today, trying to overtake Jaime Alguersuari, with the same result (contact).

And while the race was, on the whole, exciting, there were a few reminders that racing at the principality can be a dangerous affair.  First, during free practice, Mercedes pilot Nico Rosberg swiped the barrier coming out of the tunnel, and nearly hit the tire wall at the end of the chicane.

Next, during qualifying, Sauber driver Sergio Perez ran through a virtual replay of Rosberg’s incident, with the difference that he wasn’t able to avoid the tire barrier.  He suffered a concussion, which took him out of contention for the remainder of the weekend.

During the race itself, there was the usual series of contacts with the barriers, the most dramatic occurring within six laps from the checkers.  In this case, Vitaly Petrov sustained injuries, and was taken away in an ambulance.

The race was temporarily red-flagged, which allowed the cars to change tires on the grid.  According to the regs, mechanics were allowed to work on the cars for safety reasons. Technically, the race was under suspension at that point.  This allowed the McLaren crew to scramble to repair Hamilton’s rear wing.

The wing had become deranged during the multiple car pile-up involving Petrov. So, ironically, while Hammy complained that the cards had been stacked against him today, the fact is, he probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the race had it not been for the repair.

The closing laps were a sprint to the finish, with Vettel, Alonso and Button running nose to tail.  They were all on fresh tires at that point.  Button had stood a chance of overtaking the two leaders prior to the red flag, as the race had come his way in terms of tire strategy, but the advantage was lost once the race resumed.

It was a fine day for Vettel (he had keenly wanted to add Monaco to his resume), an excellent day for Alonso (he drove above the level of his equipment once again) and a good day for Button , who once again showed that steady and smooth (his general style) can outpace aggressive and frenetic (Hammy’s typical M.O.).

As for Hammy, he takes this weekend’s Whiner’s Circle trophy.  He wasn’t only driver to receive a penalty or reprimand, but he was certainly the hands down winner when it came to complaining about it.  Note the Paul di Resta admitted to being overly ambitious at the hairpin, Hammy insisted that Massa had deliberately driven into him.

Really?  In NASCAR, that might be plausible, as the cars are virtual tanks, but in Formula 1, where carbon fiber splinters like glass from that kind of casual contact?  Not bloody likely.

Cut to: the Winner’s Circle (a.k.a the Royal Box at Monaco), where Vettel, Alonso and Button shared a sedate podium (no champagne spray with the royals around).  All three drivers drove immaculately, getting the most out of their equipment and race strategies. Kudos to all three.

And an interesting statistic, which might be the most telling omen for this year: Sebastian Vettel has been the winner of five of the first six races, while Lewis Hamilton, reckoned to be Vettel’s closest rival this year, has won a single race, and has been called before the race stewards at the other five.  Of course, it’s not his fault.  Just ask him.

1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 78 laps 2hrs 09m 38.313s
2. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 01.1s
3. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 02.3s
4. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 23.1s
5. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +00m 26.9s**
6. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 47.2s*
7. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap**
8. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +1 lap
9. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
10. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap

11. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +2 laps
12. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes +2 laps
13. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +2 laps
14. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +2 laps
15. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +3 laps
16. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
17. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +4 laps
18. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +5 laps

DNF. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault 67 laps completed
DNF. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 66 laps completed
DNF. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 32 laps completed
DNF. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 32 laps completed
DNF. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 30 laps completed

DNS Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari Did not start after accident in Q3

Fastest lap:

Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 16.234s lap 78

* denotes 20-sec penalty for colliding with Pastor Maldonado.
** denotes handed a post-race ‘reprimand’

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Alonso Inks New Deal with Ferrari

Alonso all smiles over his new Ferrari deal

What’s one thing that Kimi Raikkonen has done that his successor at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, hasn’t?  Win the world championship in his first year on the team.

What’s one thing that Alonso has done that the Kimster hasn’t?  Ink a multi-year extension with the Scuderia after his first year on the team.  Apparently Alonso and the top brass at Maranello are so pleased with each other that it seemed only logical to project their commitment farther into the future.  It was announced today that the Spaniard will wear Ferrari red at least through 2016.

Alonso told the media in Barcelona today, “It was good news for me and my career to extend the contract and get an extension to 2016…I said last year the intention is to finish my career with Ferrari. I don’t imagine a better place to race for a racing driver.”

Of course, the Kimster once predicted that he would finish his F1 career at Ferrari, and, oddly enough, he was right. Now Alonso is making a similar prediction:  “I have been lucky to arrive here last year and I felt at home from day one and I have the possibility to race here until the end of 2016, so it will be seven years in Ferrari.  I am happy and privileged, and maybe in 2017 we will have another contract. I will see if I am not too old and if Ferrari still want me.”

Of course, even with seven Ferrari years under his belt, Alonso will   still be left in the shade comapred to the all-time uber-driver at Ferrari, i.e. one Herr Schumacher. Schumi hung his helmet in the Maranello garage for 11 seasons, and he scored most of his 91 wins during those years.  He was, and is, the most successful Ferrari driver of all time.

But that really takes nothing away fro Alonso.  The Spaniard is, in a sense, the ideal Ferrari driver.  He’s a passionate racer, yet also cunning, calculating and analytical.  It’s an oddly perfect combination of qualities that few drivers seem to embody (Schumi and Senna both possessed it, but not many others from recent years).

One driver who didn’t possess this amalgam of traits was Kimi Raikkonen.  The laconic Finn is a distinctly passionless racer (not that he lacks competitive spirit, but he’s such an emotional flatliner, he seems to embody the essence of zombie racing.  Also, unlike Alonso or Schumi, he’s not really a thinking man’s driver, and he hates developing the car.

Looking ahead, will Alonso score big at Ferrari, and garner them another much-coveted title?  Hard to say, but at least he’s in the best possible environment given the sort of driver he is.  Ferrari, unlike many other teams, makes no pretense to giving their drivers equal treatment.  In fact, they love to have a lead driver which the team can rally around.  Likewise, Alonso (again, much like Schumi or Senna) loves to be the focal point of that sort of attention.

Thus far, it seems like an ideal match.

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Is Adrian Sutil Ready for NASCAR?

"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who do you think you're talking to?"

There has been a subtle migration of F1 drivers to NASCAR in recent years.  Juan Pablo Montoya notably fled the clutches of McLaren honcho Ron Dennis (known by his friends as the Prince of Darkness) to seek a warmer, cozier home in Chip Gnassi’s base camp.  Another would-be defector (but for the fact that he can’t seem to score a steady ride) is former world champ Jacques Villeneuve.

Then, of course, there’s Nelson Piquet, Jr., who, after being disgraced in the Crashgate scandal, has had difficulty getting so much as a job driving taxi in Bangkok (but the NASCAR truck series was willing to take him on board).  And we recently learned that the laconic Finn himself, the Kimster (a.k.a Kimi Raikkonen), will be giving the Finnish version of a Rebel yell on the chitlin circuit this summer, although what the good ol’ boy crowd will make of him is anyone’s guess.

And what do these refugees from Formula 1 all have in common?  One shouldn’t make generalizations, but (with the possible exception of Piquet, who would clearly rather be racing open-wheelers) most of these drivers seem to possess a certain rowdy and renegade spirit.  Montoya has a well documented hair trigger temper (he’s attacked photo journalists, and loves to play bumper car in anger on the super speedways).

And the Kimster, while he isn’t as publicly prone to dust-ups and punch-outs, clearly sees himself as someone who goes against the grain.  Witness his idea of summer leisure time, which involves dressing up in a gorilla suit and racing speedboats under the alias James Hunt (a nod to another hell raiser of a bygone era).

And now comes the latest candidate for good ol’ boyism, Force India driver Adrian Sutil (or should we call him Adrian-Bob?).  Mind you, there have been no rumors to the effect, official or otherwise, that Sutil is about to abandon Monte Carlo for Miami, but it was reported last week that Sutil got into a brawl in a Shanghai nightclub, in the process injuring Eric Lux, the CEO of Genii Capital, which owns the Renault F1 team.

On the night of the incident, Sutil was partying with his chum Lewis Hamilton (they were celebrating Hammy’s victory that weekend).  Just what led to the fight, and who was the instigator, remains unclear.  What is clear, is that Eric Lux has decided to file criminal charges against the German driver.

A statement from Lux’s lawyers said, “In the view of the recent events which occurred in Shanghai on 17 April, Mr Eric Lux has decided to file a criminal complaint against Mister Adrian Sutil for physical assault and grievous bodily harm.”

For his part, Adrian-Bob maintains the whole thing was an unfortunate accident.  In a statement to the German press, he said, “During a private event, there was a very unfortunate action by me in which I hurt another person completely unintentionally.  I regret the incident and have apologized accordingly. Since this was a private event and not directly related to Formula 1 or my job as a Formula 1 driver, I ask for understanding that I will say no more on this incident.”

According to some reports, Mr. Lux sustained an injury to the throat.  I’m not sure how you accidentally hurt someone in the throat (“Pardon me, I didn’t mean to strangle you, I was only reaching for the salt”), but Adrian-Bob managed to do so, and now, while not exactly expressing remorse, he has at least allowed that he wishes everyone would stop talking about it.

Fair enough.  The question now remains, not who did what to whom, and when, but rather, is Adrian-Bob ready for the brawler’s big time?  You know what I’m talking about.  Move over Juan Pablo and Kimi.  There’s a new sheriff in town.  And when he loads up the summer cooler, it will more likely be with Beck’s than Bud.

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Jarno Trulli

The Law of Unintended Consequences (so dubbed by sociologist Robert K. Merton) embodies the notion that when an iherently complex system is modified the results are often unexpected, and might or might not be desirable.  According to Lotus pilot Jarno Trulli, this year’s tech and sporting regs in F1 are a case in point.

Trulli has suggested that the new tire compounds, in particular, have made the drivers so prudent about using up their rubber prior to race day that they are running fewer laps during qualifying on Saturday, with the unitended effect that qualifying has become less exciting.

Trulli recently wrote in his column for La Repubblic, “Like everything in life, the 2011 changes in F1 have some pros and cons.  The pros are more exciting and spectacular races, which the public seem to like; the cons are grands prix that are a bit less comprehensible and, since Istanbul, what I call ‘the end of qualifying.'”

The fact of the matter is, over the past 20 years, as F1 cars have become more aerodynamically sensitive, passing has become ever more difficult and rare.  Thus, with few passing opportunities, the race was often decided during Saturday’s qualifying sessions.

Now, however, we see the situation somewhat reversed.  With overtaking greatly enhanced under the new rules, the races have become much more fluid, which has rendered qualifying less critical.  Add to that the fact that drivers now wish to conserve their first set of tires for the race (recall the Red Bull twins in Istanbul: both Vettel and Webber ran only a single hot lap in Q3), and you might say that the final moments of qualy have less of a cliffhanger aspect.

Trulli is able to see the good with the bad, however. “There are pros and cons,” he said.  “The pros are better races decided in the last 10-15 laps depending on the strategies and the tires, while the cons are that qualifying is less spectacular and more tactical.”

But isn’t this a return to proper racing?  If the most dramatic part of a race weekend is qualifying, and if the race itself is anticlimactic, then there’s something wrong with the formula.

Qualifying serves a function, and, at best, is an appetizer to the main course.  But when the appetizer makes the entree seem bland (which seems to be the case at many of the restaurants I freuent), you’d better consider changing the menu — which is just what the FIA did for this season.

Furthermore, I don’t really agree with Trulli’s assertion. While the Red Bull boys did gamble on single lap Q3 urns at Istanbul, Vettel later said that while you might be able to save tires on Saturday and romp through the field on Sunday, as Webber did at Shanghai, he (Vettel, that is) would much prefer to go for pole position, having a better shot at the ultimate winner’s laurels.

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Is Schumi Having a Senior Moment?

Is Michael Schumacher having an extended senior moment?  He returned to Formula 1 last year with  fanfare and high expectations, but thus far his ostensibly triumphant return has been something of a bust.  It has taken him a year and a bit to grow reacquainted with the sport of which he was once the acknowledged king, but, unfortunately, he has never quite found his old pace.

Last year, the Bridgestone tires were offered as an excuse.  This year, there are no excuses…except for the ineluctable passage of time, and the aging of one’s neural networks.

Former F1 driver and Schumi team mate Johnny Herbert recently told Abu Dhabi’s The Nation, “I would not be surprised if my old team-mate Michael Schumacher retires for good at the end of the season.    [He] did not return to Formula One just to make up the numbers. He came back to win races and add titles to his already impressive career statistics. It has not happened, and the simple fact is that he is no longer the best driver on the track.”

Herbert went on to express a minority opinion.  Herbert accepts the increasingly common view that Schumi simply can’t keep up with the youngsters in the sport, however, unlike many who believe that the German has lost his edge, Herbert has asserted that Schumi is has good as he’s ever been.

“Schumacher has not lost any of his skill,” said Herbert. “The new generation of young drivers are just better than him.”

Personally, I would say this is pure rubbish.  For one thing, although Schumi has had challenging skirmishes with the likes of Sebastian Buemi and Vitaly Petrov lately, it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t have made short work of these midfield runners during his hey day.

Also, there’s the plain and simple fact that Schumi is in his early forties.  Both Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell made f1 comebacks during when they were fortyish, after  hiatuses of a bit less than two years, and neither driver appeared to be quite the driver that he’d been several years earlier.

True, Prost won his final title during his comeback season, but he was driving a Williams when they were still at their zenith,  and team mate Damon Hill had been directed to play a support role to the Frenchman.  That said, it was also true that Hill was clearly quicker at times than Prost was, which never would have happened just a few years earlier.

So, on the whole, Herbert’s criticism seems a bit strange.  On the other hand, I think he’s always been a bit rankled at having been given second class treatment at Benetton when Schumi was the favorite son at that team.  Perhaps a residual rancor has fueled his remarks.

Former F1 star David Coultard has offered a different view.  “Taking his cue from Schumacher’s remark that the “big joy” had been missing from his recent race day in Istanbul (during which he seemed to bounce from one midfield skirmish to another), the former McLaren pilot said, “He’s not performing at the same level of his team-mate, that’s a fact. Nico [Rosberg] is getting more out of that car than Michael. I don’t think we should write Michael off by any stretch of the imagination, there’s a lot of talent there, but he must be asking himself questions.”

Coultard went on to compare Schumacher’s predicament to the one he faced during his last active season in the sport: “I think the key thing is he’s not enjoying it, and to be perfectly open and honest with you there was an element of that for me at the beginning of 2008. I wasn’t as competitive as I felt I should be, I wasn’t enjoying the races as much as I used to, and then that’s the moment.”

Ultimately, Coultard said, the hourglass wins. “It slowly builds until you look in the mirror and realise that feeling you’ve been having for a few weeks or months is the internal message. You can’t hold back the clock.”

I think Coultard’s analysis is more credible than Herbert’s.  Once should remember that when Schumi was a young hot shoe at Benetton during the early nineties, he held his own impressively with the best of that era, i.e. Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, Sr.  He was a regular feature on the podium, even when his car was inferior.  He was hailed by many to be the new Senna, and, indeed, he surpassed all of his idol’s old records.

Time and the aging process seem to be the culprits here.  Whether Schumi can come to grips with them remains to be seen.  Of course, as Norbert Haug recently said, part of the reason that Schumacher is subject to so much criticism now is because he set the bar so high for himself in years gone by.

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Vettel Rules in Istanbul

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Sebastian Vettel won today’s Turkish Grand Prix in commanding style.  Although Vettel had made a mis-step earlier in the weekend by crashing during an early practice session,  it didn’t seem to hinder him. In fact, so certain was he of his dominant pace that, along with team mate Mark Webber, he only bothered to run a single hot lap during the Q3 qualifying session on Saturday.  Nevertheless, he took pole by nearly a half second over his team mate, Webber.

Vettel led nearly from checker to checker, discounting the usual pit stop shuffles.  His lead was never under serious threat, and he seemed to control the pace of the race with relative ease, much as he had clinched pole position with little apparent fuss.

Of course, one of the hallmarks of achievement is to make the effort look effortless.  Vettel managed to do just that. One was reminded of similar performances by one Michael Schumacher some years ago, when it seemed that the German ace could not be beaten.

The 2011 season is quickly becoming remarkable for the changes wrought by three technical elements working in unison: KERS, DRS and the new Pirelli tires, which have the durability of mush.  We’ve seen action-filled races this year, and none more so than Istanbul, which saw more than 80 overtaking moves completed during the race, a new record (since the FIA began counting, in 1993).

Strategy and tire conservation was key, as is quickly becoming the norm, and the teams that fumbled paid for it. Lewis Hamilton, who is not known for treating tires gently, was one who driver who suffered from losing pace at the wrong time.  His tire degradation was exacerbated by the fact that he had too much downforce dialed in to the front wing, and his race was further compromised by a 21 second pit stop, the result of a wheel nut issue.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber started from second on the grid and finished in the same, which seems to be indicative of a pattern.  While he and Vettel ran somewhat on a par last year, with Vettel having a moderate edge, this year Vettel clearly seems to be setting the pace, often by a half second or so.  Clearly, Vettel is a more mature driver this year.

Third on the podium was Fernando Alonso.  While Alonso started fifth, his move up to the podium was perhaps more impressive than the numbers indicate.  Alonso is clearly one of the class acts of the field.  Although he makes the occasional error in the heat of the moment, on the whole his approach to a race is masterful.  He’s aggressive when he needs to be, is as tenacious as a pit bull, and knows how take care of this equipment and tires even when he’s pushing.

Today, he was rewarded with third place, and he seemed reasonably happy about it.  Considering that his team mate Felipe Massa finished only 11th, both he and the team had reason to be pleased.  The Scuderia has gotten off to a slow start this year, but their fight seems to have been aided a new front wing which is said to flex somewhat in the manner of Red Bull’s controversial front appendage.

The McLaren twins, Hamilton and Buton, took fourth and sixth, respectively, and traded places several times during some robust skirmishes along the way.  It was the kind of close racing that has been a missing ingredient in F1 for 20 odd years, and it was a pleasure to see.  IT wasn’t unique to the Woking squad, however.  There was dicing through the field, to the extent that it was actually difficult to keep track of everyone’s positions.

Mercedes showed promise earlier in the weekend, with quick practice times by both drivers, and a third place qualifying position by Rosberg, but in race trim the promise faded.  Rosberg managed a fifth, while Michael Schumacher came in a dismal 12th.  In Rosberbg’s case, the loss of pace was due to failing tires under a heavy fuel load.

Schumacher’s case was different.  The German had another torrid afternoon, that included several scrapes with midfield drivers.  Most notable was a dust up with Renault’s Vitaly Petrov.  Schumi, the last of the big time door-closers, pulled an aggressive feint on Petrov, who was making perhaps an overly ambitious dive down Schumi’s left flank.  The cars touched, and Schumi’s Mercedes got an impromptu nose job. His race seemed to unravel from there.

All in all, it was an exciting race.  There was enough drama throughout the field that Sebastian Vettel, as he calmly ran his own race in front, got relatively television coverage.  There was too much happening among the also rans.  But no one should complain.  This is the kind of racing that his been missing from F1 for many years.

Even if the FIA had to fudge the rules a bit to make it happen, it’s worth it.  And, as we’ve seen, even if overtaking has been vastly enhanced, it hasn’t made racing a cakewalk for the leaders.  Mastering the combination of DRS, KERS and silly putty tires clearly takes a certain acumen, which most of the teams on the grid are still trying to master.

Turkish Grand Prix Results:

1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 58 laps 1hr 30m 17.558s
2. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 08.8s
3. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 10.0s
4. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 40.2s
5. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 47.5s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 59.4s
7. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +01m 00.8s
8. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault +01m 08.1s
9. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +01m 09.3s
10. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +01m 18.0s

11. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +01m 19.8s
12. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +01m 25.4s
13. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
14. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
15. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
16. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
17. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
18. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +1 lap
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +2 laps
20. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +5 laps

DNF. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 44 laps completed
DNF. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 0 laps completed

Fastest lap:

Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 29.703s lap 48

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Nico Rosberg to Ferrari in 2012?

Nico Rosberg in training

It never fails: as soon as a young hot shoe begins to shine, rumors begin to spread that the hot shoe is on his way to Ferrari.  It was only two weeks ago that tongues were wagging about the possibility that   defending world champ Sebatian Vettel might soon give up his Red Bull livery for Ferrari red.  But the media soon tired of that story, perhaps having been dissuaded by Vettel’s luke warm response at the idea .

Of course, why would Vettel leave Red Bull at this stage in his career?  He’s the de facto number one there, he’s doted on by the team, and he has the fastest car on the grid.  Ergo, on to the next case.

The media never tire of finding the next partner for everyone’s favorite mistress, the Prancing Horse.  This week, paddock gossips have been whispering that Nico Rosberg might be making reservations for a trip to Maranello next year.  According to the story, he would replace Felipe Massa, who hasn’t seemed quite the same since his crash in Hungary year before last (or since Fernando Alonso joined the team last year, take your pick).

Is the Rosberg rumor serious?  Hard to say.  Formula 1 rumors tend to fall into one of two categories: the patently ridiculous that never materialize, and the patently ridiculous that do.

Would Nico really want to move to Maranello?  Ferrari would likely pay more money than what Nico is currently hauling in at Mercedes — but not that much more, considering that their current number one, Fernando Alonso, is the highest paid driver on the grid, pulling in something like 35 million euro smackers per annum.  They’d want to find a savings somewhere.

And would Nico really want to be paired with Alonso?  I have to think that Nico is feeling pretty good about his chances against anyone.  Regularly beating Michael Schumacher has got to be a boost to anyone’s confidence, even if Schumi at 41, as he recently admitted, isn’t quite the same as Schumi at 25.

But Alonso is still at the top of his form, and he is probably the most Machiavellian driver on the grid.  Nico currently enjoys a collegial atmosphere at Mercedes.  By all accounts, he and his senior German team mate get on well together.  Likely, things wouldn’t be quite so harmonious at Ferrari.  Sooner or later, the Spaniard would find a way to east his lunch.

As for Rosberg, he denies eying a team switch for the time being.  But this is a pro forma denial that drivers always make until a rumored switch becomes a reality. Both Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso denied their moves to the Scuderia for many months, even though their plans had already been set.

Rosberg is a peer to F1’s current top performers, i.e. Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso.  It must gall him to see those other drivers win races and titles, while Rosberg has yet to advance to the top step of the podium.  Sooner or later that will change.  He’s certainly good enough to win races.

The question is, how good would he be, compared to his aforementioned rivals, in relatively equal equipment?  And how long will it be, if he doesn’t get that kind of equipment with Mercedes, before he moves to another team?

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Williams Management in Disarray?

Willliams Tech Director Sam Michael

The Williams team has gotten off to a shaky start this year, and now it appears that the team’s management team is completely unraveling.   It was announced this week that the team’s technical director and chief aerodynamicist, Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson, respectively, would resign from the team at the end of this season.

Moreover, waiting in the wings is former McLaren chief engineer Mike Coughlan, who was disgraced in 2007 for for his involvement in the Spygate scandal (occasioned by McLaren’s being caught having their grubby hands in the technical cookie jar, which is to say they were in full possession of Ferrari’s 700 page technical playbook for that season).

Coughlan was banned from the sport for two years, but his sentence has elapsed, and he’s free once again to work for any team that will have him. Couaghlin was chief engineer at McLaren, and it seems as though he’ll occupy a similar position at Williams.

Team principle Frank Williams told ESPN in the wake of the announcement,  “Both Sam and Jon are talented and driven people who have worked hard for Williams over ten and five years respectively.  Nonetheless, they have recognized that the team’s performance is not at the level that it needs to be and have resigned in order to give the team the opportunity to regroup and undertake the changes necessary to get back to the front of the grid.”

But that’s not all.  Williams CEO Adam Parr also announced that Patrick Head, one of the team’s founders, would be retiring.  (Side note: Parr also offered to resign, himself.  It seems to be catching.)  Head was the technical director for the team during their hey day in the 1990s, but he has taken more of a background role in recent years.  Moreover, Williams recently floated shares of their stock on the Frankfurt (really?) stock exchange.

It turns out that the shares were Head’s.  Is he getting out while the getting’s good?  Frank Williams says that the stock flotation will help guarantee the longevity of the team.  It sounds to me more like a retiring business owner’s effort to cash in his chips before he slinks off to that time share in Tenerife, Spain.

But there’s more.  It seems that Parr’s announcement wasn’t official, and Patrick Head takes issue with it.  Parr said at a press conference, “Patrick has made it clear that he will be retiring this year, so at some point this year that will happen.  That’s nothing to do with the restructuring, it’s just the fact that he’s turning 65 and had already signalled that it’s time for him to move on to his next set of interests in life.”

Head responded by telling The Guardian, “What you are telling me is news to me. I wasn’t aware that Adam had said that.  He wasn’t in a position to make that statement. My plans are not in the public domain and they will only be when I make my own statement later in the year.”

Sam Williams, and others at the team, are trying to put a good face on it, by implying that they’ll be going through a rebuiding phase, but “rebuilding” tends to be code for, “The car is a dog, the team is a mess, and we’ve tried everything else we could think of, so now it’s time to start firing people.”

Sam Michael claims the team has many upgrades in the pipeline, and he’s vowed to put the car on a solid platform for next season, when, for better or worse, the team will be staffed by a number of new key technical personnel.  Stey tuned for further developments.

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Is Paul di Resta on Merc’s Shopping List?

Paul di Resta

One of the revelations of the 2011 season has been has been the rookie Paul di Resta.  The young Scot, who happens to be the cousin of IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti, replaced Tonio Liuzzi this year, and is now partnering Adrian Sutil, at Force India.  Thus far, on balance, he has outperformed the more experienced Sutil, which naturally is already fueling gossip regarding di Resta’s next career move.

Di Resta has essentially been waiting in the wings for the last few years, honing his skills (and biding his time) in the German DTM touring car series, waiting for an opportunity to open up in Formula 1.  Opportunities by themselves, of course, aren’t enough to make great drivers.  A driver must be able to rise to the occasion, and this far it looks as though di Resta has done just that.

That being the case, it’s only natural that talk has already surfaced that the organization that has nurtured his career thus far, Mercedes, has taken a long term interest in providing a home for him.

Of course, Mercedes currently has two marquee drivers under contract, i.e. Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, but as Schumacher himself has said, there are few question marks currently regarding his own career, which implies that his seat will become vacant at the end of next season.

Although Norbert Haug has paid lip service to extending Schumi’s contract, it now appears that while this could happen, the extended contract isn’t likely to involve driving.  By the time his current contract ends, Schumi will be staring at the business end of 45 years of age, and it’s more than likely that he’ll be willing to hang up his driving gloves, and will don his corporate ambassador’s mantle again.

In the mean time, di Resta will have developed his F1 skills, which means that he’ll still be on the upward slope of his performance curve, but won’t be priced out of affordability.

Di Resta hasn’t exactly come from nowhere, however.  He was once the team mate of current world champ Sebastian Vettel when both were cutting their teeth in Formula 3, and he came out ahead of the German wunderkind. While Vettel, a Red Bull protege, was able to move on to F1, di Resta graduated to the DTM, where, he finished fifth, second, third and first in the championship over four successive years.

Mercedes motorsport honcho Norbert Haug recently complimented di Resta, saying, “We always knew he was a very good and very talented guy, and when he gets in the right groove – we saw it in DTM – it can be very special for him. “F1 will be very good for him, I think. His team-mate is tough, the speed is quite impressive and he is doing a good job. We are pleased we helped him in his junior career.”

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, di Resta responded by saying,  “Obviously I am close to Mercedes.  They have had a huge influence on my career and I’m very grateful to them. It is great that people are talking but at the same time I have got to keep progressing. Force India have given me a great opportunity and delivered what they said they would. Hopefully I am delivering what they hoped I would deliver for the team.”

Side note:  While it seemed as though Anthony Hamilton might be out of work after son Lewis dismissed him from his position as Hammy’s manager, it now turns out that Hammy, Sr is now a feature of the paddock again, this time as di Resta’s manager.

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Vettel to Trade Red Bull for Ferrari Red?

It seems as though whenever a young driver begins to make his mark on Formula 1, rumors begin to circulate that the latest wunderkind will exit whichever team he’s currently aligned with to join Ferrari.  Certainly, the Prancing Horse has attracted some of the greatest names in racing.

During the time that I have been actively following F1, we’ve seen the likes of Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso all do their turns as a part of the extended family at Maranello.

And I’m only mentioning world champions.  There have been many other drivers who, in the right car at the right time, might also have taken top laurels.  In some cases, they chose to be at Ferrari at the wrong time.  The name Jean Alesi comes to mind, in particular.

Alesi was a classic seat-of-the-pants driver, who (much like his peer of the era, Nigel Mansell) who hated to test, but often drove with instinctive brilliance when the car was right.  When the car was wrong, however (again, like Mansell), he seemed to rely on whining about the car rather than trying to sort it out.

At a key time in his career, Alesi had offers on the table from two rival teams: Ferrari and Williams.  This was for the 1991 season, at the beginning of the Adrian Newey era at Williams, during which time that team would take five constructor’s titles. At the time, Alesi’s ultimate choice to join Ferrari might have made sense.  In 1990, Alain Prost had been a title contender for the Scuderia.  When Alesi joined the following year, however, the car was, in Prost’s words, “a truck,” which showed little promise.

Ironically, Nigel Mansell, who had left Ferrari the year before, having felt that the team was giving preferential treatment to Prost, enjoyed the early fruits of Adrian Newey’s influence at the team.  He scored five wins that year, and finished second to Ayrton Senna in the championship.  In 1992, he took the title.

Meanwhile, Alain Prost was fired from the Maranello for having publicly compared the Ferrari to a 18-wheeled big rig.

As for Alesi, was he drawn to Ferrari for their history, for the money (more than Williams would have offered), or because of his own Italian heritage?  Hard to say.  If he, rather than Mansell, had been in the Newey-penned car that year, his career certainly would’ve been different.

But those were the driver skirmishes of a different era.  Flash forward 20 years, and today the talk is of F1’s current wunderkind, Sebastian Vettel, trading his Red Bull livery for the Prancing Horse.  Vettel has acknowledged that he is not at all immune to the lure of the Ferrari brand, and Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali has previously stated that there might come a day when F1 fans would see Vettel in Ferrari red, as opposed to Red Bull.

Vettel recently renewed his contract at Red Bull, and the contract is said to have a performance clause that would allow the young German to jump ship should the car turn into a laggard (which, at this point in time, doesn’t seem in the cards).  But how likely is it, really, that Vettel would actually pack his bags and head to Maranello?

It seems that most of this speculation, partially fueled by Vettel’s own remarks, has been primarily engendered by the sports media, who, as indicated above, tend to ask every new rising star, “Would you like to drive for Ferrari some day?”

For many fans, Ferarri and Formula 1 are almost synonymous, so posing that question is a natural response to any young driver’s success.  But in the end it’s the numbers that tell the story, and while Ferrari money is apt to be much more plentiful than Red Bull money, there are other numbers that are more important to Vettel now: championship points.

Vettel is in the enviable position of being in the right car at the right time.  Careers are made this way.  Prost, Senna and Schumacher were all undeniably brilliant, but they all shared another characteristic as well: during their peak years, they were in the quickest cars.

I think there are at least three drivers currently who would likely win the championship if their cars had the edge on the field: Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. I might add Nico Rosberg as a dark horse candidate. While I remain a stalwart Michael Schumacher fan, even Schumi seems to be facing the reality of time, conceding recently, “Age 42 is not the same as age 25.”

And speaking of time, this brings us back to the nunbers issue: every driver has a limited window of peak performance.  Schumacher has perhaps stretched that window beyond the optimum.  Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso easily each have a decade of active racing in front of them.  But F1 contracts are measured in clumps of years, and those clumps ultimately determine a driver’s destiny.

Alonso has already stated that he’ll probably finish his career at Ferrari.  Hamilton and Vettel are both a bit younger, and have made no such noises regarding their current teams.  They both would like to have the best chance of winning driver’s titles during as many years as possible.  When cars are slow, drivers get restless for this very reason; but when cars are quick, drivers stay content.

Ergo, it seems highly unlikely that Vettel would leave Red Bull at any time in the near future, unless he gets tired of winning, or unless Adrian Newey suddenly develops amnesia, and forgets how to design racing cars.

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