2013 Australian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton won 2008's season-opening race ...

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 2012 : McLaren Set Fair In Malaysian Quallies

Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Lewis Hami...

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 !

1 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.813
2 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.575
3 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:37.517
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:37.172
5 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:37.961
6 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:38.102
7 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:38.058
8 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.696
9 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.151
10 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.933
11 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:37.789
12 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.381
13 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:38.437
14 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:38.325
15 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.419
16 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:38.303
17 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.372
18 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:39.077
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:39.306
20 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:39.567
21 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:40.903
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.250
23 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:42.914
24 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:43.655

Formula One 2012 Preview : Australian Grand Prix Qualifying

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 06:  Sc...

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.

1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:26.800
2 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:26.832
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:26.498
4 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:26.586
5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:27.117
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:26.773
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.763
8 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:26.803
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:27.464
10 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:27.024
11 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:26.493
12 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.688
13 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.182
14 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:27.004
15 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:27.469
16 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.633
17 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.596
18 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:27.758
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:28.679
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:29.018
21 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:30.923
22 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:31.670
DNQ Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:33.495
DNQ Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:33.643

Rugby World Champions 2011 : New Zealand Win On Every Count

New Zealand national rugby union team

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.

Wunderbar 2011 German Grand Prix

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamil...

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.

 

British Bull Dog ?

Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Mark Webbe...

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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) :

1 Mark Webber RBR-Renault
2 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari
5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
6 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes
7 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth
8 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
10 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
11 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
12 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari
13 Michael Schumacher Mercedes
14 Vitaly Petrov Renault
15 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
16 Nick Heidfeld Renault
17 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault
18 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari
19 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari
20 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
21 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault
22 Jerome d’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth
23 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth
24 Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth

Formula One : Shanghai Surprise

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.

Formula One : The Abu Dhabi Anticipation Factor

Lewis Hamilton testing for McLaren at Jerez, 1...
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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.

Formula One : Doldrums and Drama In Korea

koreaaerial

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.

F1 Result : Singapore Slung

Lewis Hamilton at 2008 Singpaore Grand Prix
Image via Wikipedia

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 !

Steamed Up In Singapore : F1 Qualifying

Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Jenson But...
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The 2010 Championship continues its exciting final quarter with today’s qualifying in Singapore for Round 15. The usual thorough coverage from the BBC team with practice sessions on the red button and live presentation of qualifying on BBC1, albeit still carrying the lame Legeard as commentator; a man doggedly determined not to shake off his radio roots.

The competition remains tight and could go to drivers from Red Bull (Vettel / Webber), McLaren (Hamilton / Button) and Ferrari (Alonso, with Massa effectively relegated by team orders to an also-ran). Singapore is a testing, damp, nighttime road race with a relatively long lap isolated by walls with few run-off areas. The start will be decisive so qualifying remains vitally important.

Few surprises, although Ferrari – having lost Massa in Q1 to engine trouble – remained strong in Alonso’s hands despite the removal of their straight-speed-enhancing F-duct, and took pole. Sebastian Vettel looked like he should have snatched top spot when a wall-brush shaved off  a 4 tenths advantage for the Red Bull driver over the prancing Spaniard. The result hides what – in qualifying conditions at least – could be a return of the Red Bull dominance over the rest of the field.

McLaren are on the grid in 3rd and 4th, with Hamilton well in touch with Vettel’s final time and on the clean side. Jenson Button is followed by Championship leader Mark Webber. The line-up foretells an interesting start in what is unlikely to be an incident-free main event tomorrow.

Great entertainment from this year’s Formula One competition. The championship will almost certainly go down to the last race in Abu Dhabi in November and it is anyone’s guess on the winner. As ever, would love to see Mark Webber take the crown if it cannot be one of the dynamic Brit duo, but it’s a tall order for the Aussie with his whippersnapper teammate, Vettel, calming down and reportedly well-practised on his previously disappointing start line technique. Coverage starts on BBC1 at 12:10 tomorrow UK time for an 8pm local race start, fronted by youthful Jake Humphrey, allowed to stay up past his bedtime.

As a side note, great to see banking giant UBS supporting F1 as a global sponsor – a smart choice of recipient for its largesse in an arena which attracts the type of individuals and companies a global banking player needs to count as customers (I should declare an interest as the banking group is a client of mine and naturally, as an F1 fan, I feel its an inspired choice !).

Rugby World Cup Glory Beckons For England

National Anthems at the Twickenham Stoop at th...
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Fantastic to see England beating the Aussies to get into the Final of the Rugby World Cup in London this weekend. Yeah, it’s the girls who will be carrying the flag at Twickenham Stoop this Sunday. They face an on-form Black Ferns side from New Zealand who trounced the French ladies 45-7 in the semis. England by comparison managed two tries as they struggled past Australia 15-0 in today’s other semi-final. Still, on home turf, perhaps the England girls can give the Kiwis a game.

Formula One Half-Term and Hockenheim Preview

Vettel Takes Pole for 2010 German GP at Hockenheim

Vettel Takes Pole for 2010 German GP at Hockenheim

At a little over the half-way point in the 2010 Formula One season, the championship remains wide-open. The performance advantage enjoyed by Red Bull has not so far translated into superiority in the results table, and the big hitters continue to improve with Ferrari looking at their strongest since 2008. McLaren top the tables, thanks to steady work from its drivers and its unparalleled reliability but today’s race in Germany could provide the closest racing yet.

A hugely enjoyable set of 2010 races, laced with controversy over FIA stewarding decisions which could best be described as inconsistent, has managed to retain fan loyalty. Even the Tifosi – not well-served by Ferrari’s struggling performance in the first half of the season – have much to keep their interest, including the return of 7x World Champion and former prancing horse talisman, Michael Schumacher.

It is the Red Bulls of Sebatian Vettel and Mark Webber who have entertained the most. Driver rivalry has been explosively demonstrated with Vettel’s immaturity taking out his teammate in Turkey, leaving the race to the McLarens. The Milton Keynes-based (Austrian) team has dominated qualifying but has not been quite able to translate this into results. Reliability issues are fewer and they should be set fair to challenge the default leadership of the Woking boys. Ferrari too looked very strong in qualifying in Hockenheim, producing arguably the most interesting starting grid of the season so far. The German race could generate a corker of a start with the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa splitting the Red Bulls, with the McLarens sitting on the third row. Button out-qualified Hamilton but Lewis’s impatience could see him storm through the pack at the start, unsettling hard-charging Alonso looking to defend his 2nd place.

Schuie has struggled with the Mercedes package and came in for criticism for rejoining the sport but as the Brawn car improves, so will the wiley World Champion. He has perhaps suffered by comparison with teammate Rosberg which is unfair on the younger driver; one of my tips last year for success, Nico continues to demonstrate that he is a racer.

Home advantage to Vettel on pole; Webber relegated to 4th; Massa and Alonso back in the hunt. A recipe for an exciting start but the pace from qualifying suggests that again the leading pack will streak ahead of the remainder to turn the Grand Prix into 3 separate races, with the Cosworth-powered newbies playing tag at the back. The shortened track will bring traffic into play early on and, lap one incidents aside, it will be pit strategies which will decide the result in the event that a start-line shoot-out fails to materialise. There is also the weather – rain could present an opportunity to win or lose the race in tyre strategy and pit work, but otherwise should not separate the cars performance-wise.

Coverage from the BBC has matured to the point where they have excellent off-race articles, interviews and general lead-up coverage but the in-race commentary continues to drag from Legeard’s lame prose, and Martin Brundle sounding bored. Still missing a character to match Eddie Jordan’s firey pit-lane challenges (Christian Horner – Red Bull Team Principal – brushes off EJ’s jibes and pointed questions with some dignity), the Beeb must liven up the race commentary. It needs someone with the authority of Brundle who can inform the viewer, with some zesty, emotional shouting in the mold of Murray Walker, and a race awareness which helps the viewer (as opposed to leaving the viewer to understand positioning and other off-camera incidents).

So in Germany, Vettel is well placed to take his home race for Red Bull but qualified ahead of Alonso in the Ferrari but only 4 thousands of a second. The half-second lag of the McLarens appears decisive but they have proved they have the start, tactics and reliability needed to win the championship. It remains Red Bull’s to lose.

Qualifying Positions for Hockenheim :

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 5 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault
2 8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
3 7 Felipe Massa Ferrari
4 6 Mark Webber RBR-Renault
5 1 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
6 2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
7 11 Robert Kubica Renault
8 9 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
9 4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:16.178
10 10 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth
11 3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP
12 23 Kamui Kobayashi BMW Sauber-Ferrari
13 12 Vitaly Petrov Renault
14 14 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
15 22 Pedro de la Rosa BMW Sauber-Ferrari
16 17 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari
17 16 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari
18 18 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth
19 19 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth
20 24 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
21 21 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth
22 15 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes
23 20 Sakon Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth
24 25 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth

Praying For Rain In Melbourne

BATHURST, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 11:  The Stone B...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Standing by for a little more excitement in the second Grand Prix of the 2010 championship today in Australia. Rain is forecast around 15 minutes from the start which will prompt a flurry of pit stops and perhaps a shuffling of the deck as the teams compete to get in and out of the tight Melbourne pit lane (hampered by the slower 60 km/h speed limit and 55 metre clearance required on releasing drivers back into the lane from the pit). In fact, 10 mins from the start, the rain is now spitting down intermittently and strengthening.

Lewis is languishing in 11th on the grid and clearly rattled by the performance of his team-mate, Jensen, and his own misdemeanors off-track and you have to question Hamilton’s maturity and whether he is missing his father Anthony steadying influence. Once again, Seb Vettel is on pole in the Red Bull with homeboy Mark Webber beside him. Next to Ferrari’s Alonso is Jensen Button in an excellent 4th on the grid and ahead of the Mercedes Brawn pairing of Rosberg and Schuie.

Its a wonderful season already in terms of the driver / team mixes, including a welcome return from Schumacher. The racing has been less inspiring and it can only be hoped that the weather spices up the Aussie event. Off we go…..

The Grid

1 5 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault
2 6 Mark Webber RBR-Renault
3 8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
4 1 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
5 7 Felipe Massa Ferrari
6 4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP
7 3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP
8 9 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
9 11 Robert Kubica Renault
10 14 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
11 2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
12 16 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari
13 15 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes
14 22 Pedro de la Rosa BMW Sauber-Ferrari
15 10 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth
16 23 Kamui Kobayashi BMW Sauber-Ferrari
17 17 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari
18 12 Vitaly Petrov Renault
19 19 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth
20 18 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth
21 24 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
22 25 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth
23 21 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth
24 20 Karun Chandhok HRT-Cosworth

Brit Haye Boxes Clever To Take World Title

{{en|Source: original image on Flickr}}
Image via Wikipedia

Britain has a new World Heavyweight Champion tonight as London boy David Haye showed great stamina to stand up to monolithic Russian, Nikolai Valuev, in Nuremberg. Not the most dazzling of bouts, Haye had to dance to keep the massive Valuev frustrated and wait for his chance to land a few punches. The points win was a slight surprise given the defensive nature of the movement in the ring. Valuev punched at air most of the night but Hayes was also pushed to land the key punches needed to convince the judges to pass on the WBA Championship belt. The final round took the fight, as the handslapping, Fred-Astaire-stuff of the first 11 rounds was blown away by a collection of blows which hurt the Russian.

There was much pre-fight trash talk from former Cruiserweight Champion, Haye who was immensely confident but had never fought 12 rounds at Heavyweight. Valuev towered over him and carried a huge 7 stone advantage but his bulk has made him the least entertaining of fighters – able to command the shape of a fight around the ring and take a huge amount of punishment. A veteran of 51 fights, there was really only one way to beat Valuev and Haye played his tactics to the max. Whilst it was touch and go that he had impressed the judges enough, the final round saw the lumbering Russian visibly sway under a sideswipe left hander from Haye that appeared to all but glance off Valuev’s noggin.

Not an exhibition of pugilism at its best, Hayes deserved the win. Disciplined, confident and stuck to a tactic that was at once both boring and effective. Valuev had to move and duck more to make things happen, spent most of the night punching at fresh air and ultimately was frustrated enough to let Haye in. David really did slay Goliath tonight. A shame Sky decided to play adverts between rounds – despite charging for the pleasure of watching the fight.

Congratulations to our newest World Champion – well fought David.

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