Formula One is back at last with the season opener down under in Albert Park, Melbourne. It has not been looking like a class season, with the teams treading water ahead of major rule changes and the reintroduction of turbos in 2014. Hamilton is over at Mercedes with a creditable 3rd place on the grid for his debut; Schumie is out, Massa appears back on form in a strong Ferrari and alongside Alonso, whilst Red Bull dominate the grid. With the breaking of the Aussie drought at the start, the drivers might have been getting wet.
A bloody awful start from Webber left the running to Vettel, the Ferraris and Hamilton, with the Brit soon relegated by a charging Raikonnen – laughin’ boy Kimi looking very strong in the Lotus-Renault despite being behind the majors on the grid. No sign at all of the McLarens which presages an annus horribilis for the Woking marque, given the limited development likely in this season, with such a major shift required for 2014. Back to the race and the Lotuses kept pace easily with the prancing horses through a pit change which gave the race back to Hamilton’s Mercedes, looking like the Mercs could run a 2 stopper to the 3 required by the big boys. By lap 14, it was not looking like the Red Bulls were going to stomp the competition into the dust as was expected. Slugger Sutil kept his Force India at the front to lap 22 and bunched the pack nicely for Ferrari and the Mercs, with Red Bull missing out slightly on strategy at the mid point. Tyres looked to be the key factor in the race at this point.
Nico Rosberg went out on 27 with a repeat of the Merc’s practice gearbox gremlins, and Lewis could not hold off Vettel or Massa in lap 40 as his tyres went off and the drizzle started which all but put paid to any podium for the Brit. Brave strategy, looked like it could pay off but Lotus and the Ferraris took over as the class of the field by lap 41. This left Lewis scrapping with Adrian, the Force India holding steady and showing good straight-line speed, to slip back and swap places with the harder tyre able to reel in Sutil by lap 51, leaving him to be snaffled up by Webber. All of which led to a worthy win for Raikonnen and the Lotus, followed by Alonso and Vettel, with Massa and Hamilton to catch up with the podium.
Not a hugely gripping race and it suggests a limited variation in results for the season. A good sign in the Lotus win but any strategy mistakes amongst the big boys will be quickly resolved in time for the race in Malaysia, next weekend. Not seeing a great deal of on-track racing – positions swapped largely through pits and tyres, as opposed to outright power or skill. There is enough unknown to make a few spread bets more interesting but purists may have to wait a year for pulses to rise.
Worth a mention is the poor antipodean coverage by Sky, who have rather miserably avoided serving those of us down under with the quality of coverage – including build-up and expert comment – that the Europeans are being treated to. Pity, although David Coulthard’s commentary snaffled from the Beeb is always welcome.
Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) during Friday 1st Free Practice session. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Another shuffle of the deck for the new 2012 formula one season sees McLaren come up trumps again and occupying the front row for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Schuie takes 3rd in a nice change for Brawn’s Mercedes, and Mark Webber joins him on the second row, with Vettel sulking down in 6th. Nicely done by Lewis Hamilton on pole but can he hold off Jenson on the start to keep his place in the race this time ? A quick word for Laughing Boy, Kimi Raikonnen who got a superb 5th on the grid for Lotus-Renault, with team-mate Grosjean in 7th. Lotus should be able to mix it up tomorrow. Ferrari still can’t quite get there and Massa must be a tad twitchy at the moment. Should be a great race. Bring it !
Daniel Ricciardo testing at Jerez, Spain for Torro Rosso in February
It has been a mixed few years for Grand Prix racing. After a less than gripping 2011 season, fans are checking out the pack down under for this year’s opening race in Melbourne. Not too may rule changes – gone are blown diffusers – with DRS and KERS remaining on the cars. The pre-season testing and practice sessions gave no clue as to the form so all eyes on qualifying to get a clue … and very entertaining it was too. Some new-ish faces, including home boy Daniel Ricciardo driving the vastly improved Torro Rosso – a welcome relief from his debut last season with HRT, the team who failed to qualify for this weekend’s race under the 107% rule (banishing De La Rosa and Karthikyan before Q2 got underway). Engine donor Ferrari fared poorly with a car that looked a right handful for Alonso who went gardening in Q2 and left Massa to save the Scuderia, failing dismally it has to be said; he scraped through Q1 to go out in 16th in Q2.. Whether Felippe will ever re-capture his pre-Hungary magic is moot given the gelded form of the prancing horse this year.
McLaren look to be the front runners – qualifying on the front row with Hamilton taking pole – and with a decisive margin over Red Bull. So far they are most likely to be challenged closely by Mercedes. Nico Rosberg drove a great last session but ended up being pipped by the master, as Schumacher seems to have got the measure of the new Brawn chassis and popped in to take 4th on the grid. 3rd place went to a hugely impressive drive from young Romain Grosjean, returning to F1 in triumph from his GP2 championship last year. The Frenchman thoroughly deserves his seat with the Renault team – now sporting the heritage title of Lotus-Renault - making a mockery of the return of team mate and perennial Laughing Boy, Kimi Raikkonen, who managed a piss-poor 18th. Mark Webber looked less sure of himself or the new Red Bull, despite being on home turf. It has always been here, and at the British GP, where Mark tends to eclipse his charging team mate, Vettel, of whom several pundits are mumbling that a 3rd sequential championship is a strong possibility. Certainly the boy wonder drove well but his experience is closely married to the form of Adrian Newey’s beast from Milton Keynes. His chances depend to a large extent on the car and it remains to be seen if he can drive beyond its capabilities, despite a well-deserved clutch of gongs.
There was enough uncertainty amidst today’s performances to suggest the season will be relatively open. McLaren have reclaimed top-dog-spot from Red Bull but it would be a fool who suggests this season will follow the qualifying positions at Albert Park. The retention of DRS should ensure overtaking continues to grow back in to a sport which needs to make sure that ‘racing’ is more than a simple moniker and there is enough young blood challenging the old(-ish) guard to keep all the drivers on their toes. That said, Ferrari are having a terrible time and for the sake of the sport, one can only hope that Maranello manage to hire a design engineer who can lift the car up to the level of its former and somewhat distant glories.
So cast an eye over the grid at Melbourne but don’t use it as an indicator for the season. There is enough variety in cars, tyres, tracks, drivers and egos to give us die-hards something to look forwards to in 2012.
The New Zealand All Blacks - Rugby World Champions 2011 Image via Wikipedia
A nail-biting finish to this year’s Rugby World Cup saw the All Blacks hold off a determined French side to secure the 2011 Championship – their first since the inaugural competition back in 1987. The final in Auckland was a fitting climax to a wonderfully executed and exemplary tournament from the Kiwis. It never ceases to amaze how friendly Rugby crowds are – and never more so than in New Zealand for this competition. From smaller, provincial stadia such as Rotorua to the iconic Eden Park, fans of every nation mixed with humour, respect and friendship. The organisers went to great lengths to involve the locals in the build-up for the games and fostered support for all the incoming nations as local schools and clubs ‘adopted’ countries. Some feat given the depth of feeling here for the All Blacks, and a real testament to New Zealand hospitality. A significant (European and Asian) ex-pat community obviously helps but you could see everything from polite encouragement to overt banners, make-up and kit for all of the teams, with especial cheering given to the smaller nations such as Tonga. It remains to be seen whether the tournament was an economic success for New Zealand (apparently, the IRB – owners of the global Rugby Union ‘brand’ – have coined it in already !) but, apart from the opening night hiccup and its transport chaos in downtown Auckland, RWC2011 has run like clockwork.
The All Blacks Triumph
In a close-run game, the Kiwis managed to hold off France to win by a single point – 8-7. It was masterfully done but the result could have gone either way as the French were aggressively pushing into New Zealand territory throughout the last 20 minutes – the imminent threat of a French field goal pushing us all to the edges of our seats, shouting at the telly for Andy Ellis to punt the ball off into the crowd at full-time. France captain Thierry Dusautoir received Man Of The Match honours and whilst he was a major force, the early substitute of kicker Morgan Parra bought on the more heroic candidate for me. A veteran and scourge of many English sides, Francois Trinh-Duc was inspirational in keeping the French moving forward and in organising positional play; a far more apparent presence than that of the captain.
New Zealand as a nation celebrates and those of us living here breathe a sigh of relief – the expectation level for a home-win was stratospheric. Had the All Blacks not managed to hold off Les Blues, no one wanted to be around the day after. Phew. It remains a deserved win, both for the technical brilliance of New Zealand on the pitch, and for the country’s collective warmth and competence in bringing RWC2011 to the world. Well played. Well Done.
RWC2011 footnote : England and Wales
For English fans with the eternal optimism born of our 2003 win in the Rugby World Cup, this tournament has been a crushing disappointment. Poor discipline off the pitch was reflected in their game and despite a reasonably solid defence, the side was an embarrassing shambles. Watching them play, it would be hard to imagine the side that won this year’s 6 Nations. Martin Johnson is possibly too much ‘one of the lads’ to inject the necessary command and control needed to make England a World Cup winning side. All the ingredients were there – despite decidedly wobbly performances from such icons as Johnny Wilkinson – but Johnson is clearly not the man to knead and work them into a winning rugby ‘dish’. Frequently during their World Cup tour, England bought considerable shame to their large army of fans and thoroughly deserved to depart at the quarter finals. Time for a change of management. A stark contrast to a wonderful Wales side who brought a Kiwi-inspired (coach Warren Gatland) vigour and skill to their game and really should have been contesting the final against the All Blacks instead of the lacklustre French. Wales will be a side to watch in the next 6 Nations – well worth a modest flutter on the Taffs !
Congratulations to the All Blacks and a hearty Well Done to New Zealand for a wonderful Rugby World Cup 2011. The Webb-Ellis trophy has gone to a deserving home.
Formula One Action - Image via Wikipedia
Wonderful result for McLaren as Lewis Hamilton takes the German Grand Prix at the iconic Nurburgring, against the form card for the 9 earlier rounds. The first half of the race was superbly entertaining as Hamilton duelled (or trio’d ?) with Red Bull’s pole sitter Mark Webber and Ferrari pilot Fernando Alonso. This was a three-way race without Sebastian Vettel. Despite home turf, the championship leader had a terrible weekend and could not keep up with the leaders; demonstrating perhaps that Vettel’s mental game has been his strength as the performance improvement for McLaren from the colder circuit can’t explain the young German’s poor showing this weekend. Meanwhile Jensen Button had struggled to keep up with his McLaren team-mate but was coming back well when hydraulics pulled him out of the race on lap 36.
Real nip-and-tuck stuff from the leading trio in the first half before Hamilton pipped Alonso for the lead after pitting on lap 33, thereafter a procession with Lewis managing to eke out a lead. The last 9 laps generated a flurry of tyre changes to meet the rules with McLaren making the right choice and coming back to win, despite Red Bull and Ferrari looking clever. Hamilton’s second victory of the season was signalled by a confident yet measured qualifying; not the least bit fazed by Webber’s pole or Vettel sitting behind him on the grid. A good race for the fans although it is not completely clear whether it was mechanical/performance or his mindset which let down Red Bull’s Vettel. The team have the Constructors’ trophy wrapped up, and Vettel has an 87 point lead in the Drivers’ Championship, so beating the magical combination is still a major long-shot for McLaren/Hamilton and Ferrari/Alonso but it should be gripping stuff for the remainder of the season.
Image via Wikipedia
Not a noticeably doggish performance then as Red Bull lock out the front row for this weekend’s 2011 British Grand Prix despite challenges from Ferrari and the rule book. So much for the changes which should have held them back by banning the use of exhaust gases in managing aerodynamics. For the cognoscenti, this was a restriction permitting only 10% of off-throttle exhaust gases to be run through the diffuser. The performance was almost routine until you dig into the detail, with Mark Webber eclipsing his normally dominant teammate Vettel by 3 hundredths of a second, to snaffle pole position for today’s race. Ferrari’s Alonso was so close – third by only a tenth of a second, confirming that the Spaniard and the Prancing Horse are well within sight of the usual lockout by Red Bull.
“We are quite happy. Tomorrow, anything can happen. I think this circuit is quite tough on tyres, so we see what we get tomorrow.” – Sebastian Vettel
This leading group is over half a second in front of Ferrari also-ran Massa, and the McLaren of Jenson Button, back on home turf (Hamilton’s woes continuing as he managed to scrape onto the grid in 10th – clearly off his game). Bodes poorly for a home win at Silverstone. Revealing my McLaren bias, perhaps the British weather will throw a well-aimed spanner into the Renault engine – but it is hard to take anything away from either a brilliant Red Bull team, or the charging Alonso in a resurgent Ferrari.
Qualifying results (courtesy of the FIA) :
Formula One was reborn today in Shanghai, with fans arguably being treated to a spectacle not seen since the Turbo Era – a race. Fantastically entertaining and beyond the usual treat of a race between two drivers, the pack was let loose and it was anyone’s guess during the middle period as to where this race was going.
Rosberg continued his climb up the batting order as the Mercedes improves; young Nico ahead of team grand master Schumacher and even looking like a race winner during the third quarter. His pass on Massa at lap 29 was a thing of beauty – and against an almost-World Champion who is back at the top of his game, despite the lacklustre Ferrari.
Having missed the qualifying, I had written off Mark Webber, starting in 18th, but it is so easy to forget the drive that the Aussie battler brings to the Red Bull, despite unreliable KERS and a dwindling advantage in sheer top-end speed over the McLarens and Mercedes. A cracking scrap through the field and then a wonderful little to and fro with Rosberg on lap 52 brought Webber to 4th with 2 laps to go and challenging Button. With fresher tyres and the scariest pit radio message ever to Jensen that Mark was behind him and faster, the inevitable happened. The storming Red Bull driver took Button just before the entrance to the final lap, assisted by the complex activation rules of the DRS system. Possibly one of the formula one performances of recent years, Webber deservedly joined his teammate on the podium, behind Hamilton.
McLaren can be quite pleased despite a pit gaff from Button which saw him lose the lead, having had a dream start with both cars leapfrogging Red Bull in decisive style. Lewis had to race his teammate and we were treated to a passing manoeuvre which was fairly chaste (presumably under team orders not to take each other out) but exciting nonetheless.
So despite looking a little ragged, Red Bull still managed to get both cars on the podium after a herculean drive by Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton worked extremely hard to come back at the better form of his teammate, and with his race start in doubt from a flooded engine, his mental game is showing a real maturity not always evident in earlier seasons.
The challenge came to the TV coverage too with the BBC conceding defeat early on in the battle for keeping tabs on where the race was going. This takes nothing away from the BBC’s performance which is refreshed this season by dropping the lame Legard in favour of Coulthard working with old lag Brundle in the commentary box. Great stuff and hard to fault the work done by Auntie or even the local TV coordinators in trying to keep the coverage pointed at the key points of interest – there were so many.
Keep an eye out for newcomer Brit Paul Di Resta who is showing great promise with Force India and showing the incumbent Adrian Sutil how its done.
Wonderful. What a season to look forwards to.
Vastly entertaining qualifying today presages what could be one of the most intense starts in Formula One for some years as the drivers’ championship goes down to the last race at the Yas Marina Circuit. Lewis Hamilton managed to avoid any stewards’ nonsense after a suspicious coming together with Massa in the final period of qualifying. Certainly Hamilton is a long shot to win the title but after the brilliance of England smashing the Aussies at Twickenham today, you have got to feel there is a chance the World Championship will stay in British hands.
So speedy Vettel resumes his usual place at the front of the grid, followed up in very very short order by Hamilton, leader Alonso, an superbly on-form Button and second place contender Webber. The timings were very close and suggest McLaren are back on form against the Red Bulls. On the dusty side of the track, Lewis will be hard pushed to get ahead of the flying German but no doubt he will give it a go. Mark Webber – my choice for the title if Lewis can’t crack it – absolutely has to get past Alonso to have a chance.
A wonderful climax to a great season, assuming the stewards and Ferrari continue to play fair.
Image by waegook cook via Flickr
After much chatter that the circuit was not ready, the Korean Grand Prix took place in appalling conditions today. Medium rainfall spelt waterlogged track as the new asphalt struggled to drain. The race started 10 minutes late behind the pace car and was then halted with the grid taking up positions again at the start, more or less in qualifying order. Vettel had excelled on Saturday to take pole ahead of championship leader and team-mate Webber. Alonso, Hamilton, my one-to-watch from last season Nico Rosberg and Massa followed.
A full forty minutes later, the yawning subsided and the race resumed behind the safety car. Hamilton kept telling the pit that he wanted to race, whilst predictably Vettel would be happy to take the pace car result – both for the benefit of the stewards listening in. After 20 minutes or so, full racing resumed and they started tumbling off the track. Webber span and collected Rosberg to leave Massa and Schumacher to surprise Hamilton. Suddenly we had a race and there was a series of carve-ups in the middle order as Buemi, Liuzi, Kobayashi and Heidfeld took on the race despite the slippery conditions. Carnage followed. The safety car had a busy day.
Ever the sportsman, Webber held up his hands at his own misfortune. The leaders took up the race and it became clear that Vettel could control the pace with relative ease. As Alonso started to close, Hamilton could not keep up and the finishing positions seemed a safe bet. That said, the conditions meant that nothing could be taken for granted. The toss-up between full wets and intermediate tyres opened up a lottery in the complex combination of car dynamics and tyre choice.
With 10 laps to go, leader Vettel was treated to the familiar feeling of his car dying beneath him. The German really had the race – and the championship lead – in the bag when his engine exploded. Despite the shock of the moment, he wrestled the car to safety on the main straight, allowing the race to continue to the end. Fair play to the man. This left Alonso to take the race, with Hamilton a useful 2nd and Massa, back in the money, in 3rd (having been nudged by his team to start performing, prior to arriving in South Korea).
Highly entertaining, the race ran into the dusk and for the full distance despite the challenge of the weather. The result puts the sly Spaniard into the lead in the Championship, but with Webber, Hamilton and Vettel still in touch. Jenson Button’s sorry 12th arose from a car that just did not suit him and puts him out of the championship hunt, but he was laughing gamely in the post-race interviews (as he said, what else could he do). So that leaves him to support Lewis, with Massa covering Alonso’s back, in the final 2 races. The season is still open to any of 4 drivers still in the hunt.
The BBC managed to fill the gaps well, particularly as there was less on-screen time for the awful Legeard, and more for the entertaining and illuminating David Coulthard (skulking in the McLaren ‘Mission Control’ centre back in the UK) and Eddie Jordan. Thank heavens for Martin Brundle who provides enough substance to gloss over his amateur partner in the commentary booth. Sadly, Legeard continues to have no opinions, no insight and no game ! ” So Martin – what do you think this means ?”
Roll on Brazil (7th November) and Abu Dhabi (14th November) for an exciting 2010 season climax.
Lewis Hamilton got caught out again by the Red Bulls to earn a DNF in Singapore. Ferrari’s Alonso took the race whilst sounding a clear warning to his competitors in the top 5 that he is a contender for this year’s championship.
Jenson Button spared McLaren’s blushes with a decent 4th; Vettel chose not to take on a hard-working ALonso and came in second, with team mate Webber making up the remaining podium place and maintaining his championship lead.
It is still wide open with 20 points between the top 3 as the circus heads off to Japan for the Sazuka race in 2 weeks time. Goody gumdrops !