Saturday, 8 September 2007

Fautless Alonso Grabs Pole

Alonso well and truly silenced the Hamfosi today. Whatever Mclaren’s problems off the track, on it at least, the team performed faultlessly; the silver cars looked absolutely beautiful.

Alonso was on blinding form and if his fist punching was anything to go by after grabbing pole, he knew it too. I don’t for a minute pretend to understand the underlying dynamics of an F1 car but you could visually see Alonso’s advantage today especially in the last sector. He seemed to carry so much speed into the Parabolica yet seamlessly get back on the power earlier than any other driver out there.

No doubt about it, Hamilton is going to have his work cut out to hang on to his team-mate tomorrow. We may even see an error from the Britain if he is forced to try and match a race pace beyond his grasp.

Ferrari were the big losers in today’s session and suffered an embarrassing result on home turf. There was a lot of talk about Raikkonen being disadvantaged by running in the T-Car following his crash in practice. I’m not so sure about this. A driver of Raikkonen’s calibre could still have delivered the goods in these circumstances. The Ferraris are just drastically of the pace plain and simple. I think Raikkonen is probably carrying a good deal more fuel than his team-mate which would partly explain why he struggled and why the on-form Heidfeld was able to get the jump on him.

So it wouldn’t surprise me if Raikkonen is one-stopping. But I think the Mclarens will be out of reach for the Finn even if they do have to two-stop as their lap times suggest.

Other names worth a mention include those drivers brining up the back end of the top ten: Kovalainen (7th), Rosberg (8th), Trulli (9th) and Button (10th). Kovalainen has come of age in the last few races and seems to have got the measure of his vastly more experienced team-mate. Melbourne seems so long ago when he burst on to the scene with a string of unforced errors. I had my doubts about him then but must admit I am starting to rat

Rosberg delivered the goods yet again. I wonder if he will be in a Williams next year. The problem is there is no real space in any of the top teams.

How Jarno Trulli managed to make the top ten is beyond me considering that he was right on the cusp in P16 at the end of the first knock-out session. It obviously gave him a bit of a wake-up call.

And finally, credit must go to Button for getting the evil handling Honda into the final session.

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Saturday, 1 September 2007

Ferrari can still challenge

I apologise for the lack of entries recently; I have been pretty snowed under at work.

Some thoughts on Turkey. Ferrari quashed Mclaren with a 1-2 finish but I think there will be some dissatisfaction – or at least a sense of missed opportunity – with the result. Why? Because just as in 2006 when a safety car situation allowed Massa to get the jump on Michael Schumacher, so again this year, the finishing order was less than ideal for the team’s championship challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, Massa, on his day, can be brilliant when out in front. He can also be seriously impressive over the one-lap. But between Massa and Raikkonen who would you really want dicing it out with the Mclarens in the heat of a championship deciding race?

Publicly at least, Jean Todt has been quick to jump on the ‘equalities’ bandwagon instigated by Ron Dennis and Mclaren (I find this so hilarious given the team’s history with Michael Schumacher at the helm):

“At the moment there is no plan to make any kind of strategy between one or the other driver.

“It would be something that would be inappropriate. Our drivers are doing such a good job, after 12 Grands Prix, with just one point difference.

“Most of the problems they had were because of some mistakes that we did. They made some mistakes, but that is normal. We are all human.

“We feel the championship is still open. It will be tough, but it is always tough. And as I always said, we will try the best until the end and I believe we still can carry this on.”

I guess the key thing here is that Todt does not explicitly rule out one-driver support at a later stage in the championship. It wouldn’t surprise me if some people in the team are secretly hoping that Raikkonen comes out on top in the next few races.

Incidentally, there was something else in Todt’s statement that caught my eye. He went out of his way to praise Lewis Hamilton for his damage limiting drive to fifth after his tyre delaminated:

“Lewis did a fantastic race. After what happened he was quite lucky to bring four points home but when you look at what he has done this season he is doing a great job. He was even quite successful when he had a problem today. It can happen to us, and it is part of racing.”

It is quite a rare thing for team leaders to acknowledge other drivers’ performances however impressive. Indeed, I didn’t think Hamilton’s recovery was particularly spell-binding. It was a solid drive and he kept a clear head.

So why the praise from Todt? Has Todt - and more worringly, has Lewis himself - started thinking about what Hamilton would look like in Red? I seem to remember the last Mclaren driver Todt went out of his way to congratulate was a certain Kimi Raikkonen.

With regards to the title hunt, I have argued throughout this blog that Ferrari will be hard-pressed to stop a Mclaren driver winning the drivers championship. But Hamilton’s tyre blow-out – which I now understand was due to tyre ”Chunking” – really hit home and reminded me just how quickly things can turn in Formula One.

There is only one point between Massa and Raikkonen who are only 17 points off the leader. We have five races to go and a maximum of fifty points up for grabs. And the threat of points deductions from Mclaren or even worse, a race ban remains very much real.

If Ferrari can find some consistency and string together some victories we could be in for a thrilling end to the season. Why Bernie Ecclestone is trying to lure Michael Schumacher back into the sport is beyond me.

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Saturday, 18 August 2007

Schumacher to Mclaren - 1996

I stumbled across this a while ago but forgot to put it on the site. An interesting chat between Ron Dennis and Michael Schumacher at a Fashion Event in 1995. Dennis tried to schmooz the world champion into a Mclaren seat for 1996. I wonder how Schumacher would have fitted into Dennis' equalities agenda.

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Sillyseason: 2008 Line-Up

There is a definite lull in the F1 world at the moment as the paddock takes it’s annual respite. If anyone needs a break it’s going to be Ron Dennis. He really did look dreadful at Hungary and it was clear the Hamilton-Alonso row was taking its toll.

While Mclaren are recovering from the events of Hungary, or at least preparing themselves for their appeal hearing - now confirmed for the 19th September - I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a stab at next year’s driver line up.

My sillyseaon predictions:

Hamilton (STAYS)
Alonso (OUT); Heidfeld (IN)

Raikkonen (STAYS)
Massa (STAYS)

BMW Sauber
Heidfeld (OUT); Rosberg (IN)
Kubica (STAYS)

Fissichella (OUT); Piquet Jnr (IN)
Kovalainen (OUT); Alonso (IN)

Red Bull Racing
Coulthard (STAYS; replaced by Vettel half way through the season)
Webber (STAYS)

Rosberg (OUT); Sutil (IN)
Wurz (OUT); Karthikeyan (IN)

Trulli (STAYS)
Schumacher (STAYS)

Button (STAYS)
Barrichello (STAYS)

Torro Rosso
Vettel (STAYS)
Luizzi (OUT); Bourdais (IN)

Super Aguri
Davidson (STAYS)
Sato (STAYS)

Goes into liquidation

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Thursday, 16 August 2007


ITV-F1's Mark Hughes has written a very interesting and balanced analysis of Hungary's "pitlanegate" (see HERE. Well worth a read. After essentially concluding that it was six of one half a dozen of the other he goes on to argue that the Ron Dennis' overpowering desire for control was partly to blame for the shenanigans.

“Of Dennis’ current drivers, neither Alonso nor Hamilton share Raikkonen’s proclivity for wild party antics away from the track. Both have a close circle of friends and their lifestyles don’t appear to have the same potential for embarrassment to McLaren-Mercedes and its sponsors.

Yet still Dennis has managed to alienate them. Through over-control. Through trying to impose too rigidly the values of the team onto the drivers, by trying to treat them as employees.

Drivers of this calibre, who have the warrior mentality and unyielding nature necessary to make true champions, will not be treated as employees. They are that only on paper.

In reality they are the stars of the show, the guys whose special talent differentiates them from most of the others. The public does not want to see them as expressions of a corporate set of values.

As part of this lone matador persona Alonso joined McLaren under the impression that the focus of the team would be around his winning the title.

The reality is that under Dennis’ control that would happen only if the other guy wasn’t at the same level. If he was, then Dennis would ensure equality – by force of control.”

I'm starting to appreciate just what an advantage Alonso lost due to Hamilton's decision to disobey Mclaren's fuel-burning orders. But two wrongs don't make a right as they say...

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

A two-horse race?

There is an awful lot of wishful thinking optimism coming out of the Ferrari camp at the moment following Luca di Montezemolo’s visit to the team. The very public outcome of these “discussions” between the president of Ferrari and the team’s senior management was a series of motivational statements along the lines of “we’ve screwed up but we are still in with a shout”.

“We can win all the remaining races. We have the capacity to do it. The team has to believe in it,” said di Montezemelo.

There is a clear implication here that Ferrari has somehow lacked belief so far this season.

In any case the visit seems to have rubbed off on Felipe Massa who was quick to put the team’s qualifying cock-up at Hungary behind him:

“We have had some problems, which is why they [Mclaren] are ahead of us in both championships at the moment. But we still have six races to fight back. We just need to keep working hard, but it won’t be easy to be ahead of them in every race.

“Fortunately, many of the upcoming circuits will be much better suited to our package and I am sure we can win some races.”

And even Kimi Raikkonen seemed positively buoyant about the latter stages of the season (does this make me the first writer to put the words Raikkonen and buoyant in the same sentence?):

“At Istanbul, Monza and Spa-Francorchamps, where there are many long straights and fast corners, we should be able to play out the F2007’s characteristics,” the Finn said.

“We have an excellent car and I think that the Hungaroring was the only race track so far, where we could have expected to have a slight disadvantage compared to McLaren. If I had had a free track, I could have been much stronger."

So I am thinking with regards to the Mclaren hearing: do Ferrari know something we don’t?

Because to be frank, the only way Ferrari are going to win either championship is if Mclaren are docked points or given a race ban by the FIA.

The Mclaren is just too damn strong on the reliability of front. Even if Ferrari did win every single race as di Montezemelo has predicted, I can’t see it would be enough. You would expect the Mclaren’s to trail them home at the very least.

The big question is can Mclaren really go through a whole season without any DNFs? Hamilton and Alonso have finished every single race so far (correct me if I’m wrong), Hamilton only failing to finish off the podium once. The only two reliability issues have come in qualifying with Alonso’s gearbox problem at Magny Cours and Hamilton’s wheel bolt failure at the Nurburgring.

Surely the ‘Murray’ laws of F1 logic say that we should expect something of the ‘unexpected’ between now and the end of the season.

A collision between the two silver cars is not beyond the realms of possibility given the size of the current rift between Alonso and Hamilton. Maybe this is what's wetting the lips of the Ferrari mechanics.

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Friday, 10 August 2007

The two Sebastiens

I notice today that Torro Rosso have signed three-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais at the expense of poor Tonio Liuzzi. This is a big coup for the sister Red Bull team and makes for quite a strong line-up for next year what with young Vettel also at the helm.

“It has been a long time coming, but here we are!” said Bourdais.

“I would like to thank everyone at Red Bull for believing in me and giving me this long-awaited opportunity to race in Formula 1. I must also thank Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing for letting me pursue my dream and allowing me to test for Scuderia Toro Rosso a few times this year.”

I still don’t believe Vettel has quite lived up to the hype that was generated during his various testing commitments. Yes, yes I know, the Torro Rosso is a dog of a car to be making your debut season in and he is only what nineteen years old? But I just don’t get it. His debut with BMW at Indy wasn’t particularly exciting – don’t get me wrong it was a solid drive for a rookie – and he made a lot of silly mistakes at Hungary.

I don’t want it to come across that I am against the guy, but I need a bit more convincing before I make my mind up about him.

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Sunday, 5 August 2007

Hamilton wins overshadowed race.

We had a strange race today that somehow allowed itself to be overshadowed by the off track politics. Not surprising you might say given the scale of the Ferrari-Mclaren row and the shenanigans – from both Mclaren drivers – in yesterday’s qualifying. But in the past the grid lights have always had a way of silencing and making irrelevant such events as the drivers storm down to the first corner all guns blazing.

Not today however. We were constantly reminded of Alonso’s penalty as the Spaniard battled his way through the grid and an untimely press release about the bizarre implications for the podium procedure put crucial track action in the shade.

Don’t get me wrong, I think what Alonso did in qualifying yesterday was poor sportsmanship but I think there is merit in the argument that the punishment misfit the crime. A five place grid penalty around a place like Hungary? Hamilton lost pole position but would have hung on to second; Alonso had his entire race compromised. I guess I’m in no position to play devils advocate. But I was looking forward to see Hamilton go wheel to wheel with Alonso.

As it turned out we had quite a good scrap develop between Hamilton and Raikkonen. Kimi was seriously impressive today and out drove the car. I don’t think the Ferrari in race trim was a massive improvement on qualifying, yet Kimi managed to find something extra.

Heidfeld scored another solid podium and I’m surprised he managed it; the three-stop didn’t look the fastest way around the track today and I think Rosberg could have finished higher up than he did. Indeed, the two-stopping Kubica managed to come from ninth up to fifth.

Has Ralf Schumacher saved his bacon? He seemed to be going pretty strongly today and did well to keep Alonso at bay for as long as he did. I still don’t rate him highly –does anyone? – but he might just have done enough to impress the fat cats in Japan.

I don’t really know what else to say. I felt the race lacked something today and ironically I think it was the Hamilton-Alonso factor. For all that’s happened this weekend you can’t say that the infighting and rivalry doesn’t add a bit of spice to the sport. How fantastic would it have been to see them go hammer and tongs at each into the first corner? I guess we’ll just have to wait until Turkey.

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Alonso penalised

Alonso has been given a five place grid penalty for impeding Lewis Hamilton during yesterday's qualifying session. Mclaren have also been docked in advance of any constructors points that they might pick up.

Full FIA Statement:
During the final minutes of Qualifying, the car driven by Fernando Alonso remained in its pit stop position at the completion of his pit stop notwithstanding the fact that his team-mate Lewis Hamilton was waiting immediately behind him to commence his own pit stop. The delay prevented Hamilton from being able to complete his final flying lap of Qualifying.

The Team Principal, together with the team manager and both drivers were calledbefore the Stewards and asked to explain their actions. Reference was made to video and audio evidence. The facts and the explanation given by the team are as follows:

At the commencement of the third period of the Qualifying practice it had been agreed within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team ("The Team") that Fernando Alonso would leave the pit exit ahead of Lewis Hamilton in order to benefit from the possibility for purposes of fuel burn allowance of being able to complete an additional lap.

In the event, the car driven by Lewis Hamilton arrived at the pit exit before that of Fernando Alonso and when the pit lane opened he left in front of Alonso. The team required Hamilton by radio communication to allow Alonso to pass in order that he might endeavour to complete his extra lap. Because of the proximity of the Ferrari driven by Kimi Raikkonen, however, Hamilton declined to allow Alonso to pass despite repeated requests from the team to do so.

Reference to the radio communications passing between the team and its two drivers shows that the team told Hamilton at 14:56:44 to "box this lap" and required him to do a "hard in lap" but advised him some 32 seconds later to "slow the pace a little, just lose a couple of seconds before the end of the lap because Fernando is pitting in front of you".

At 14:57:34, just 18 seconds later Alonso was told that when he pitted "we are going to hold you for 20 seconds".

At 14:57:46 Alonso's car arrived at his pit stop position, his tyres were changed and the jacks removed just 6 seconds later. The car then remained in position from 14:57:52 to 14:58:12 when the signal known as the "lollipop" was raised indicating that the driver was free to leave.

By this time Hamilton's car had arrived and stopped immediately behind that of Alonso. Alonso, instead of leaving his pit in order that his team-mate Hamilton could complete his pit stop, remained in position for a further 10 seconds. He then left the pit lane in sufficient time to reach the Control Line before the end of Qualifying, completed a flying lap in which he set the fastest time and secured pole position.

Because of the delay caused by Alonso, Hamilton was unable to complete his pit stop in time sufficient to enable him also to complete a flying lap.

The team were asked to explain why having indicated to Hamilton that he must stop at his pit on the next lap, they then informed Alonso whilst he was still on the track that when he also pitted on the next lap he would be held for 20 seconds.

The team stated that they frequently give estimates as to duration of pit stop to their drivers before they pit and that the reason the car was in fact held for 20 seconds was that it was being counted down prior to release at a beneficial time regard being given to other cars on the track.

Alonso was asked why he waited for some 10 seconds before leaving the pits after being given the signal to leave. His response was that he was enquiring as to whether the correct set of tyres had been fitted to his car. When asked why this conversation did not take place during the 20 second period when his car sat stationary all work on it having been completed, it was stated that it was not possible to communicate by radio because of the countdown being given to him.

This sounds like a bit of a flimsy excuse if you ask me, could he not have talked over the countdown?

Reference to the circuit map shows that at the time Alonso was told he would be held for 20 seconds there were but 4 cars on the circuit, his own and those of Fisichella, Hamilton and Raikkonen. All but Raikkonen entered the pits such that there can have been no necessity to keep Alonso in the pits for 20 seconds waiting for a convenient gap in traffic in which to leave.

The explanation given by Alonso as to why at the expiration of the 20 second period he remained in his pit stop position for a further 10 seconds is not accepted. The Stewards find that he unnecessarily impeded another driver, Hamilton, and as a result he will be penalised by a loss of 5 grid positions.

The explanation given by the team as to why they kept Alonso stationary for 20 seconds after completion of his tyre change and therefore delayed Hamilton's own pit stop is not accepted.

The actions of the team in the final minutes of Qualifying are considered prejudicial to the interests of the competition and to the interests of motor sport generally. The penalty to be applied is that such points (if any) in the 2007 Formula One Constructors Championship as accrue to the team as a result of their participation in the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix wilt be withdrawn.

I find this argument that the team were ‘punishing’ Hamilton for stealing Alonso’s extra fuel-burning lap – or at least trying to even things out – a bit strange. If Mclaren had genuinely wanted to punish or hold up Hamilton they could have done it in so many more discrete ways. Why use Alonso, why not wait until Hamilton was in the box and hold him up there.

And why sacrifice Hamilton’s final qualifying lap when there was a threat from Heidfeld and Raikkonen getting on the front row?

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Saturday, 4 August 2007

Qualifying Highlights

Session Winners:

Toyota seem to be on the up. For the third time in a row the team have got both their cars in the top ten with Ralf Schumacher a solid sixth fastest and Jarno Trulli lining up ninth.

"It was our best qualifying so far this season so we can only be happy with how it went. For the first time one of our cars went into Q3 with only one flying lap in Q2 so clearly we are in good shape here," said Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s Senior General Manager.

"Even so, we are just a little bit disappointed because from the data in Q1 and Q2 we thought we could get the cars a little bit higher up but, as usual, we don't know what kind of strategy the other teams have been using," he added.

But once again it was engine customers Williams that delivered the goods with Nico Rosberg putting in another impressive performance to start from fifth.

Toyota’s consistency has started to make the top ten much more crowded and a couple of drivers who tend to challenge for the shoot out lost out today – most notably Kovalainen and Coulthard.

BMW Sauber have been strong all weekend and Heidfeld put in another decent performance to go third fastest. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the jump on Hamilton at the start with both the advantage of the clean side of the track and a potential tow down to the first corner from Alonso.

"I am happy about P3, especially as up to now the whole weekend has not been easy. The tyre choice was very hard, but we were not the only ones facing that challenge. Yesterday was quite ok, but today in the second qualifying session we were not on the pace, and I was only in P6.

Kubica was unhappy with the handling of his car but could come into the mix in the later stages of the race if BMW have fuelled him heavy.

"The day was not very good. The car is not accelerating how it should. We lose too much time with every single upshift. We now have to analyse the data and see what we can do for tomorrow, which will be difficult as the car is in Parc Ferme right now. Seventh was the best I could do under these conditions."

Session Losers:

Ferrari were the big losers in today’s qualifying session. Despite bringing modified front and rear wings to Hungary the Italian team is still struggling on the high downforce circuits – something many are attributing to the car’s longer wheel base. Raikkonen made the most of a bad car to go fourth fastest but should be stronger in the race:

“To be honest, we were not quick enough today to think about beating our closest rivals, but I think we have a good race pace, which means we can be more competitive than we looked in qualifying. The car is very good over a long run, so I am still confident.”

Meanwhile Massa was having a miserable session:

“I made a mistake at the final corner on my first run, but then, when I came back to the pits, there was a misunderstanding over refuelling and they let me go without fuel. That's why I stopped and had to be pushed back to our area by the mechanics.

"I went back out again, but the tyres were very cold and I was not able to do a time good enough to stay in the top ten. Tomorrow, I expect a very difficult race, as this is one of the worst places to start from a long way back. I will try and do my best and to get the car home as high up the order as possible.

Wurz was outclassed again by Rosberg and his inability to deliver in qualifying will be extremely costly at places like Hungary.

And finally, I think Webber will be unhappy with tenth. He always seems to be at his best in Q2 when the cars are running light.

“It's not ideal to be tenth on the grid here, actually it's one of the worst positions to be in as it's so hard to overtake! I'd prefer to be eleventh," admitted Webber.

"With the qualifying rules we now have, you can end up going through all of Q3 but finishing tenth means you don't really gain anything, as you can't adjust your fuel ahead of the race as the other cars behind you can.

"But, I think we have a reasonable strategy so we'll see what we can do tomorrow."

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Alonso takes controversial pole

I thought I’d post a quick reflection on the Alonso incident while my blood is up before making a more measured response on the rest of qualifying later on.

A career in politics beckons for Alonso after he retires I think. No one spins events quite like him.

“The team was holding me back in the pit stops and we tried to have a bit of space on the track, especially to the Ferrari ahead of us," he said calmly in the press conference.

Firstly, for those who want to question the incident itself, make no mistake; this was not caused by the team. Even if there was a threat from Alonso being too close to the Ferrari, would Mclaren honestly choose to sacrifice their other driver and risk not locking out the front row?

His actions today were out of order but not the main thing I take issue with. In many ways it has made for a much more exciting spectacle tomorrow and should add a bit of spice to the Alonso-Hamilton rivalry.

What I do have a massive problem with is the way Alonso is always held up as this squeaky clean ‘people’s champion’, when in fact he is as ruthless and as underhanded as the rest of them, including Michael Schumacher.

On the subject of Schumacher, it is interesting to ask whether Alonso’s tactics today compared with the dominant interpretation of Schumacher’s notorious parking manoeuvre at La Rascasse, Monte-Carlo (incidentally I have other theories about this but won’t discuss them here).

Alonso’s move was more subtly executed but the outcome was the same, Hamilton’s lap was compromised.

Would Hamilton have taken pole? Barring a mistake, it was almost certain. The advantage from the fuel difference alone would have been enough let alone the increased grip from the track and the genuine pace advantage he had over his team-mate.

This aside, Hamilton fans should take comfort in the fact that, at this stage of the championship, he is almost certainly quicker than the Spaniard – probably the reason Alonso felt the need to do what he did.

True, Alonso raised his game at Magny Cours and Silverstone. But at the Nurburgring, Hamilton was the fastest man on the track by far – go and have a look at the race lap times. And today he genuinely looked the quicker of the two Mclarens.

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Monday, 30 July 2007

Damon Hill to commentate at Hungary

Big big huge news: Damon Hill, easily the greatest driver ever to grace a Formula One cockpit in the entire history of motorsport, is to stand in for Martin Brundle at the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend.

This is a huge coup for the Hillites – that ever diminishing breed of F1 loyalists who, if you’re very very lucky, can occasionally be spotted lingering around the grandstands at Silverstone donning the London rowing boat club hat in all its glory and clinging onto that magical year of 1996 as if it was the Holy Grail itself.

Fantastic news, absolutely incredible, it’s made my week. I heard the news HERE at F1 Fanatic and have yet to learn of any official confirmation. Let’s hope it’s true.

Martin Brundle is taking his annual rest bite from James Allen. Speculation about his absence can be seen at F1 Fanatic, see above link.

Hungary has been a happy hunting ground for Damon. He took his maiden win at the Budapest dustbowl in 1993 which he emotionally dedicated to the “Hill Family past and present” in the post race press conference. He won the race again in 1995 and finished second to Jacques Villeneuve in 1996. And most famously in 1997 he all but won the race in the Arrows Yamaha but for a hydraulics problem with two laps to go that forced him to yield to Villeneuve.

I couldn’t find any specific Hungary 1997 footage but here is a nice 1997 season montage which includes a large chunk of the Hungary saga.

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Sunday, 29 July 2007

Anti-doping in F1

I have really got into the Tour de France this year thanks to access to digital television. I absolutely love it, especially the team strategy element. There is something quite admirable about the
way the ‘domestiques’ sacrifice their entire races for their team leader.

The whole doping scandal surrounding this year’s tour – which I think is more to do with tougher regulations than increasing drug use – got me thinking about Formula One. I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about the sport’s anti-doping policies.

I was amazed to find out that despite conforming to the standards set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the FIA’s first drugs tests of the 2007 came as late in the season as Magny Cours. And even these were for a random sample of drivers – Kimi Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Rosberg, Tonio Liuzzi and Anthony Davidson – rather than the full grid.

Mark Webber in his capacity as director of the F1 drivers association has voiced concern that more needs to be done to ensure F1 stays drug free:

"I think we should do a lot of it," he told Autosport earlier this month.

"If we rave on about how awesomely fit the drivers are, why don't we do proper tests like that in every other sport?

"The FIA says it's too expensive - but what a load of bulls**t! How can it be too expensive in this game?

"If they can do it for a bloke jumping into a sandpit, how come they can't do it in F1? We should do more of it."

In 2004 WADA adopted the World Anti-Doping Code which standardized anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries for the first time. WADA still have a long way to go in my view before things like testing frequency become universal.

Motor racing is perceived as a clean sport with only a few cases of drivers testing for cocaine or marijuana rather than traditional performance enhancing steroids.

“Out experience is that drugs are not a problem in Formula One,” the Spanish newspaper El Mundo quotes president Max Mosley as saying.

However, just because Formula One is clean of doping does not mean that the testing should escape the same rigour seen at other sports such as athletics and cycling which arguably have a bigger problem.

Indeed stepping-up the amount and depth of drugs testing would also help to quash rumours that some drivers are using Erythropoietin or EPO, a protein hormone produced by the kidney which is harder to detect that traditional performance enhancing drugs. EPO essentially increases oxygen carrying capacity by stimulating the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells (erythrocytes).

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo have quoted an unnamed driver as saying: "We are all well prepared physically, but it is a certainty that EPO would improve for example our concentration levels."

So, should F1 being doing more to combat doping?

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Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Comment: European Grand Prix

TTS looks back at the European Grand Prix and responds to my “Alonso Storms to Chaotic Nurburgring Win” post.

After reading Chris Hayes recent blog entry, “Alonso Storms to Chaotic Nurburgring Win”, and after a brilliant European Grand Prix, I felt the need to respond. An opinion is like a head, everybody’s got one.

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Murray Walker. I met him at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2001, and from this brief encounter, my opinion of him has been set in stone. I won’t deny that he is the ‘Voice of Formula One’, but I wasn’t that excited to hear about his return to the commentary box. Murray Walker’s magic is in his passion for the sport.

This compensated for the fact that he was constantly getting things wrong!! Some fans might see this as an endearing characteristic. There is a nostalgic feel to his return, but the coverage that ITV’s current commentary team provides viewers in the United Kingdom is far superior.

One thing that Murray Walker used to possess was ‘the dreaded commentator’s curse’. He’d comment on how well a driver was progressing on lap 10, and the same driver would be off the track on lap 11.

Saying all that, if I had to choose between Murray Walker and James Allan, I’d pick Walker (without hesitation). This is only my opinion, but I don’t like James Allan’s commentary style.

He continually name drops, to make viewers think that he’s well connected – which I is doubt is the case (especially when compared to Martin Brundle). If I ever needed to provide an example of how bad James Allan’s commentary skills are, I’d refer to the moment Jenson Button crossed the line for his first and only victory. Allan’s voice went super sonic in a very conscious attempt to show emotion. But ironically it felt ‘put on’. If you compare that to Murray Walker’s ‘true’ emotional line ‘I have to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat’, as Damon Hill won the 1996 driver’s championship, there’s no comparison.

I would also like to comment on how Chris, a number of years ago, signed an Internet petition to have James Allan removed from the ITV commentary box!!

I put my hands up to this and I stand by it, I can’t stand James Allen’s commentary. But I do think some of the criticism is a bit harsh. The attacks on him on the ITV message board (as it was before they took it down) – got very personal for example.

I never know how to rate Alexander Wurz. I can remember his debut season with Benetton in Formula One. He showed signs of brilliance. Many readers may remember his battle with Michael Schumacher at Monte Carlo many years ago.

I think it’s slightly inaccurate using the European Grand Prix to judge whether Wurtz podium performance in Canada was a ‘fluke’ or not. I would tend to classify Wurtz as a fortunate driver. His best results have come in races with extraordinary incidents: Kubica’s horrific crash in Canada, and an extremely wet and changeable European Grand Prix.

I have to commend Wurtz on his ability to keep out of trouble during these unpredictably occasions, but I still feel he has benefited from other driver’s mistakes, rather than through his own skill.

I was absolutely amazed that Lewis Hamilton was allowed to continue after being craned back onto the track. A lot of people made a lot of fuss after Michael Schumacher was pushed back onto the track during the European Grand Prix a couple of years ago. Yet nobody’s questioned Hamilton’s method of re-entry onto the track.

Did briefly mention this but yes, I was amazed they allowed this. There has actually been quite a lot of comment about this. See the debate at Ed Gorman’s (The Times) blog HERE, HERE and HERE.

I understand the ruling, that drivers can obtain assistance if they’re in a potentially dangerous location. But was he in a dangerous position, once the safety car was deployed?
It shows a great presence of mind to keep the engine running, especially as cars were flying off the track behind him at turn one. That presence of mind shows a formidable competitor and a future world champion.

I was wondering why Hamilton didn’t reverse his car out of the barrier at turn one. Why did he need to be craned out? Do Formula One cars have reverse?

I visited the old McLaren site in Woking around five or six years ago. I distinctly remember the guide telling us that Formula One cars can’t reverse. But from Sunday’s footage, it was clear to see that Antony Davidson was able to reverse his car, after aquaplaning at the first corner. If anyone knows the answer, I’d be good to know.

I can’t believe Chris wants McLaren to suffer a points deduction at the FIA hearing on Thursday. I’d much rather the championship be fought out on the track, rather than in a hearing.

I’m not sure where you got this from, I mentioned in my post HERE, that ironically points deductions might end up bringing Raikkonen into the mix again. But no, I think it would be damaging for the sport if the drivers ended up getting punished for Coughlan’s actions.

We are currently witnessing one of the best, most competitive and unpredictable seasons in many a decade. How many times have we witnesses four men challenging for the championship after ten rounds? After ten rounds 18 points cover four men. Even though the points structure makes Kimi’s championship challenge an uphill challenge, the recent performance of the Ferrari makes his chances alive and well.

It’s interesting to note that Alonso and Raikkonen have both won three races, one more than their respective teammates. Yet Hamilton and Massa are ahead of their respective teammates in the driver’s championship. It just goes to shows that consistency is key.

I was reading an interesting article featured in the August edition of F1 Racing. It commented on how McLaren only became in possession of Ferrari document in March, at which point the McLaren had already been developed. They also speculated whether McLaren’s improvement in performance in Malaysia was due to the knowledge obtained, or due to Ferrari having to alter its flexible wing. Whether McLaren gained from the possession of the document is pure speculation. But I think McLaren will find it hard to prove that they didn’t inadvertently benefit from Mike Coughlan’s possession of the document, whether anyone else knew or not.

Chris commented on how Hamilton ‘broke the golden rule of wet weather race strategy: regardless of what the reports are telling you about the future, react only to the present’. I totally disagree with this comment.

Hamilton wasn’t predicting the weather. The rain had stopped when he made the decision to opt for slick tyres.

True, I guess I interpreted it like this: the rain had stopped but he was taking a gamble that the track would dry out quickly and that there would be no more short-term rain (predicting the future) rather than putting the tyres on that best suited the current track conditions, which were clearly the wets or inters. I don’t think that when he made the decision he genuinely thought that the slicks were the best tyres for the moment; I think he was gambling on a drying track.

I believe that Hamilton, whilst driving the lap to un-lap himself, felt that he could handle a drying track on slick tyres. This ‘bad’ decision was due to a distinct lack of experience, especially in wet weather conditions. Many, including myself, wondered how Hamilton would perform in the wet. And like Silverstone, he made another rare rookie mistake.
Renault and Kovalainen’s decision to throw away a fifth position was crazy. And Chris’ golden rule react only to the present clearly applies.

I think Chris sells Alonso slightly short in his closing paragraphs. Massa proved to be extremely quick, but Alonso was continuing to close Massa’s advantage, ten laps before the second spell of rain.

Sorry, didn’t mean to. I still don’t think Alonso would have been able to close the gap enough to get past Massa if it had remained dry. But his aggression in the wet and his move on Massa was stunning.

The mark of a good driver is his ability to cope in all conditions, including wet. Massa was very tentative in the closing laps, which shows how talented Alonso is.
I’m personally glad Alonso won. It ensured that McLaren couldn’t back one driver: Hamilton in their defence against a revitalised Ferrari team.

And Chris will be glad to hear that Alonso has admitted that he was wrong to accuse Massa regarding the incident in the closing stages of the European Grand Prix.

But overall, what an amazing race, and what an amazing season. Bring on Hungary!!! And what a brilliant twist, having Winkelhock lead his debut home grand prix in a Spike. Anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does (now Michael Schumacher’s retired)!!

“Anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does”; the power of Murray, he can even influence those who are not 100% fans!

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Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Japanese Connection

There is a lot that doesn’t smell right about the Stepneygate-Coughlan affair but the Honda connection is something I find particularly fishy.

The mysterious three-way job interview between Nick Fry and the troublesome duo seems to have been put on the backburner amidst the legal proceedings but it remains deeply suspicious in my view.

True, Honda are currently headhunting just about anything that moves in the paddock. Even so, what on earth was Coughlan doing looking for a job with Honda after obtaining and sharing the Ferrari data within Mclaren? And together in one meeting? That’s a strange kind of job interview if you ask me.

One explanation is that both men knew the game was up and were anticipating the axe from their respective teams. But here’s another take on things, a quick conspiracy theory for you. Pure speculation, but then that’s what blogs are for.

Honda have been having a dismal season. Their results have been embarrassing and hugely damaging for the Honda brand; innovation say the ‘Honda Mentalism’ ads, failure say the team’s results.

So orders come from Japan to improve the car at all costs.

Some bright spark from management comes up with a quick fix: “lets copy one of the top teams’ designs”. And another goes one better: “lets copy both of the top teams”.

After releasing a bit of cash from the team’s massive budget Honda go headhunting. They come across a disgruntled Stepney who’s peeved that he didn’t get Ross Brawn’s old job. Stepney can’t believe his eyes, a chance to jump ship for a huge salary and more importantly, a chance to get revenge on Ferrari for not properly acknowledging him: “I can get my hands on some hot shit,” he tells Honda’s recruitment consultant. Stepney realises he can’t pull off the move alone – Ferrari will be watching him like a hawk once they know he’s off to Honda. So he gets in touch with his buddy at Mclaren who's also looking for a new career direction. The duo realise that their prospective salary and bonus package at Honda will increase significantly if they can get their hands on some of the designs that have made their respective teams so successful.

An opportunity presents itself to Honda: a chance to get intellectual property from both of the top teams – yes that’s right, I reckon Stepney has Mclaren data and information stashed away somewhere – and crucially a chance to do so without getting their hands dirty. The rest as they say is history.

It all goes tits-up. Coughlan couldn’t resist telling a few of his Mclaren colleagues about obtaining the Ferrari document and even worse gets found out by Ferrari after a tip-off from a photocopying shop.

Honda panic and send out polite rejection letters to their would-be employees.

So there you go. Honda are implicated in someway or another, I’m sure of it. But then I’m biased, I have never been a fan of Honda ever since I found out how they treated Frank Williams after his car accident.

Here is what Nick Fry has said about Honda’s involvement in the espionage saga:

“Yeah, our position is as it has been for some time. As everybody knows, we’ve interviewed rather a large number of senior engineers over the last two or three months, if not a bit more and hired a few that people know about now.

“Nigel Stepney was one of those people who applied to us, so the first correspondence was from Nigel to us and he asked to be considered for a position.

“I saw Nigel and it was the first time I’d ever met Nigel in my life in fact, so it was a perfectly normal get-to-know-you-type of discussion, nothing confidential, nothing was offered, nothing was received but he did mention at that time that there was another person who might also be interested and told me it was Mike.

“I subsequently saw both Mike and Nigel together and the second conversation was principally with Mike, as I’d already had a discussion with Nigel.

“Again, Mike was not someone I knew, so we again had a get-to-know-you-type of discussion, not in great detail, more about what he’d done in the past, about what the issues with our team were.

“And that was the end of it. Again, in the second conversation there was nothing at all that made me vaguely suspicious at all.

“Neither of them said anything inappropriate, they were both loyal to their teams, obviously not overly happy with various circumstances, but there wasn’t any finger-pointing or anything and subsequent to that, that was the end of it.

“There’s been no contact with either of them since that discussion. I was asked by Jean – I’d obviously spoken to Jean and Ron about it more than once – and was asked by Jean, in fact, to write a chronology of those discussions which I did, which I sent the Monday before last – what’s that? July the ninth - to both Jean and Ron and also to the FIA saying that was the chronology of events, and if they required any further information, then obviously we would be happy to provide it.

“Since then I’ve heard nothing at all, so I can only assume that the matter is now between Ferrari and McLaren.

“From our point of view, I think I wouldn’t be doing my job if, when you have offers of the chief designer of one of the top Formula One teams and the person who has been involved in probably the top Formula One team over the last decade, saying they want to work for you, I think I would be somewhat remiss not to at least see them.

“But I emphasise that neither of those two gentlemen said anything or offered anything or nothing was received or asked for on our part. It was very straightforward.”

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Sunday, 22 July 2007

Alonso storms to chaotic Nurburgring win

If ever there was an indication of just how dramatic today’s race was going to be it was BBC Five Live’s decision to bring Murray Walker back to the helm. What a race to have the old boy back.

I was a bit unsure at first as to whether to put ITV on mute but it was worth it if only for the start. Without any disrespect to James Allen – and I think he has taken a lot of unfair stick from fans, myself included – nobody captures the buzz of F1 quite like Murray Walker

“One light, two lights, three lights, four lights, give lights… GO GO GO!” beckoned the crackling radio as the grid leapt away from their starting positions. Fantastic, it brought back a lot of memories. If Five hadn’t elected to constantly switch to the Open I would have had Muzza on for the race duration.

As for the race, where do I begin? Perhaps unconventionally with my drivers of the day: Mark Webber and Alexander Wurz. Webber has finally followed up a strong qualifying performance with a decent race result, the Red Bull and its dodgy gearbox at last making it to the finish. I wonder if Geoff Willis had anything to do with the improved reliability – I think he is a huge coup for Red Bull, Honda were mad to let him go.

I am developing an increasing interest in Wurz. Rosberg is a future star of the sport, no question about it, and Wurz is finally looking as though he has can match the young driver. His fourth place today adds bundles to his credibility and he got agonisingly close to a podium after Webber stumbled at the final chicane. Canada was no fluke and I hope Williams keep him for next year.

It was a disappointing day for Lewis Hamilton. After yesterday’s crash in qualifying rain looked to be his get out of jail card. In the end it cost him dear and like so many other drivers he aquaplaned into the gravel trap at turn one.

I was amazed and astonished that:

•He didn’t crash into the wall
•He didn’t get taken out by the five or so other cars following him into the tyre wall
•No one smashed into the crane
•He kept the engine running
•He was allowed back into the race after assistance from the crane

But after being gifted an opportunity to get back on terms with the leaders on the race restart – the safety car allowed him to unlap himself – he went on to blow his chances by pitting for dry tyres on a still otherwise wet track. He lost his championship lead today because he broke the golden rule of wet weather race strategy: regardless of what the reports are telling you about the future, react only to the present. Whether rain is expected in 2 minutes or 20 minutes put on the tyres that are right for the current track conditions. Gambling on the weather is only worth it if you have nothing to lose, as the now legendary Winkelhock demonstrated today. Hamilton, unlike Winklehork, had everything to lose and not very much to gain.

The tyre blunder aside I thought he looked in good shape today; his failure to pick up a point didn’t do justice to his performance. He showed fantastic pace in the early stages and was by far the quickest of the top three once things had settled down.

With Hamilton out of the picture, it was all about Alonso and the two Ferraris at the sharp end of the race. It wasn’t long before we were down to one Ferrari after Kimi Raikkonen retired with a hydraulics problem. This is a huge blow to his championship hopes and I fear for his contention. He will be praying for a ruling of points deductions at the Mclaren hearing next week.

We saw the two-faced Massa today: brilliant without pressure, useless under it. He had the measure of Alonso pretty much throughout the race until the last few laps when Alonso came alive in the rain. There is no way Raikkonen would have relinquished the lead as quickly as Massa did today. The rain robbed Massa of his Ferrari performance advantage. It was a straight fight between Alonso and Massa and therefore no doubt in the outcome. I don’t know what Alonso’s problem was with Massa; or Massa’s with Alonso for that matter, he won didn’t he?

As we head to Hungary in a couple of weeks time all the momentum is with Alonso. Hamilton is going to have his work cut out to defend his two-point lead. And to say that Raikkonen has got a mountain to climb is a massive understatement.

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Saturday, 21 July 2007

Hamilton gets the green light

Lewis Hamilton has been provisionally cleared to take part in Sunday’s European Grand Prix pending a final medical check before the race. Precautionary scans revealed that he had sustained no injuries from his crash. [UPDATE: Hamilton has been given the final clearance from the FIA]

In a statement Mclaren Mercedes said: “Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are very happy to confirm that Lewis Hamilton is completely uninjured following his accident during today’s qualifying at the Nurburgring.

"Following a thorough examination at the on-track medical centre, he was flown to the Koblenz Bundeswehr Hospital where he underwent a full precautionary CT scan which proved to be entirely normal.

"Lewis has no bruises and is highly motivated to race tomorrow.

"As is normal, a final sign-off by the FIA Medical Delegate Gary Hartstein will take place tomorrow morning - which the team believes will be positive."

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Just saw this on the TV and had to post a copy. Looks like Hamilton's legs had already taken a battering before his crash if that fall in the corridor is anything to go by.

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Shaken but (not) stirred?

Lewis Hamilton is a lucky boy. It was a pretty big impact and the car even looked to be slightly airborne when it dived into the middle of the tyre wall. He was lucky the bump or whatever it was that caused the elevation didn’t lift him any higher.

I have to say I am slightly sceptical about the news being fed to the public. There seems to be a general feeling that he will be ok to start tomorrow’s race. I hope this is true but I can’t help feeling this is wishful thinking. The way he stumbled and collapsed after leaving the cockpit suggests to me that his legs aren’t 100%. Even if it’s just a case of swelling, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is told to avoid the risk of a secondary impact.

It really is unacceptable in my view that an accident like this should be caused by a faulty wheel gun. Modern F1 cars undergo lengthy and rigorous safety tests and all this is for nothing if the same courtesy isn’t extended to the assembly equipment.

Anyway, if Hamilton is to start tomorrow’s race he is going to have is work cut out to limit the damage on his championship lead as all his challengers are well placed with plenty of pace.

Raikkonen once again looked stunningly fast to take pole and you can’t help but feel is carrying a decent load of fuel as well.

Alonso, who takes the second spot, came alive in qualifying confirming his tendency to sand-bag in practice. Again, I think he’ll have a fair bit of fuel on him. He must know this is an opportunity and I’m looking forward to see him have one of his first corner goes, Raikkonen this time the Ferrari prey.

If past form is anything to go by Hamilton tends to run a bit lighter in qualifying than Alonso which will compromise him in the race given his grid position.

The BMW Saubers are looking pretty decent on home turf with the home-boy Heidfeld getting the measure of his Polish rival Robert Kubica. BMW really have a cracking driver line-up in my view and it is an absolute pleasure to follow this rivalry on track and in the sector times as a second qualifying ‘story’ after the Mclaren-Ferrari battle.

Nurburg 1997 always stands out for me as the race when we got our first glimpse into the future dominance of Mclaren. The silver cars dominated the early stages of the race only to suffer embarrassing engine failures in front of the Mercedes-Benz home crowd. The damage was done though and in 1998 they were doing the same but without the reliability problems.

I wonder if BMW can give us a similar insight tomorrow. They have a tendency to struggle in the race and I always think this is partly to do with putting too much fuel in for qualifying. I’d like to see them run Kubica light for once and give him a shot at a front slot.

Webber (6th) and Kovalainen (7th) are the other session impressees; let’s hope the Red Bull holds out beyond the few laps this time.

And further down the grid I thought Alexander Wurz did a pretty good job to get so close to Rosberg. Rosberg has been one of the stars of the 2007 championship I think and he is a good benchmark for Wurz.

Picture: BBC Sport

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