Tag Archives: racer of the week

Talent and tyres are no gimmicks

Starting 18th was like a red rag to a Red Bull. (pic Infiniti)

So where do you rate the Chinese Grand Prix of 2011? For me it was the best race since Suzuka 2005, the perfect advert for F1. A truly great Grand Prix should make you marvel at just how good these guys are, something the race in Shanghai certainly made me do. Usually this sense of awe is supplied by just one or two of the drivers – Ayrton humiliating his opposition at Donington, Juan Manuel with the performance of a lifetime at the Nurburgring or Gilles creating traffic jams at Jarama all spring to mind. Yesterday we may have been lauding Lewis and marveling at Mark, but what lifted the Chinese Grand Prix was the fact that right down the field we saw so few errors and so much action – all without a drop of rain or a sniff of the safety car.

Lewis Hamilton once again stepped up to show he is a racer in the truest sense of the word as he used his skills along with his extra set of fresh tyres to charge past the leaders in the final phase of the race, pulling the decisive move for first place against Sebastian Vettel with only five laps remaining. To anybody who saw Hamilton’s performance at Istanbul in GP2 five years ago it is never a shock when he pulls off surprise moves on his opposition; Lewis is establishing himself as the greatest overtaker of this or any other generation.

Hamilton’s passes were largely done without the aid of the DRS rear wing gizmo, but he did have the crucial benefit of an extra set of unused Pirellis after saving them during qualifying. Another driver with fresh rubber available was Mark Webber, although his extra allocation was by accident rather than design after a dismal qualifying session that saw him knocked out in Q1. From 18th on the grid Mark took his Red Bull through the field using a three stop strategy that allowed him to charge far harder than his two-stopping teammate. Mark wound up right on Sebastian’s tail to finish third, surely the drive of his life, narrowly beating Lewis to be my racer of the week in what is clearly my race of the week.

In fourth was early leader Button who made a rare rookie mistake when he pulled up in the Red Bull garage, fifth was Nico Rosberg who put in a mighty stint after pitting on lap 13 to take the lead from the Mclarens and Vettel. Some small errors cost him a podium at the end, but Mercedes will be encouraged by his heroics. Felipe Massa was next up as he once again bested Alonso at the start, this time the 2008-spec Felipe came to the races as he took the lead from Hamilton at one point and stayed locked into a battle with the top guys until towards the end of the race when his tyres dropped away. Behind was Fernando’s Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes, both world champs were on the back-foot throughout which speaks volumes about the depth of talent in F1 today.

Much of the passing was down the mammoth back straight into the turn 14 hairpin where DRS is in full effect, but there was more than enough movement all over the track to show that tyre strategy is what shaped this race rather than the mere action of pressing buttons in the cockpit. There were no big crashes, the stewards didn’t interfere too much and an incredible 23 cars saw the chequered flag – F1 is in rude health.

A new Formula One season always raises questions but rarely does it comprehensively answer them at the first race. For the delayed start to 2011 we had more talking points than just the pecking order. How would Pirelli get on? Would the movable rear wings work too well or not at all? Does KERS matter?

Pirelli has answered the critics with tyres that enable some big variations in strategy, they’ve certainly fulfilled the brief given to them by the teams. How the drivers use the rubber available to them is proving crucial in the championship thus far, not unlike the Grand Prix of the 1980s. KERS still hasn’t saved the planet and nor does it bring much to the racing, meanwhile the downforce reduction systems are affective but are not the only ways to pass, so after three races it looks like the new rules have hit the spot. The next key theme for F1 is development – witness Mclaren’s hastily built metal diffuser being replaced by a bonafide carbon-fibre piece for Shanghai. Roll on Europe.

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Jorge goes for his annual dip

Jerez is Lorenzo's land. (pic Fiat Yamaha)


Bernie may want rain to spice up F1 races but in Moto GP a little precipitation often does the opposite and ruins the fun. This Sunday was a little different though, the rain in Spain allowed for heroics from some and made headaches for others, it all added up to a spectacular race for the hundreds of thousands of moto-mad fans that make Jerez one of the best Grand Prix of the year. It was race of the week from where I was sitting, so it must have been something else trackside.

The substantial crowd may have been cheering Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi but Casey Stoner was hoping to spoil the party after claiming pole position. The Honda rider was the man to beat at Losail and could have done the same on Spanish soil were it not for the rain and an out-of-control Valentino Rossi. During the thrilling early laps The Doctor blasted through from his poor grid spot to trouble Stoner, Lorenzo and Simoncelli at the front until the Ducati rider fell into the path of the Aussie star sending both into the kitty-litter like skittles. While the marshals rushed to Rossi’s aid they left Stoner frustrated and unable to push-start his still race-worthy Honda. Casey lost his championship lead and had a few choice words for Valentino afterwards including the oldie-but-goodie “you ran out of talent” along with some criticism for the race officials themselves.

The two champions weren’t the only ones to visit the gravel; three of the top nine finishes had all spent time on their bums during the Grand Prix before recovering. Simoncelli was perhaps the most unfortunate, after taking Lorenzo and Stoner on successive laps he wobbled his way out of an impressive lead and onto the floor leaving Jorge Lorenzo to take another win at Jerez. And yes, he dived in the pond again although this time he was already soaked by the relentless drizzle. Pedrosa made it a Spanish one-two while Nicky Hayden got the third spot on the podium, a position that nobody else seemed to want including Ben Spies who even got as high up the order as second before falling off.

There were plenty of great rides throughout the Moto GP weekend but it was the paperclip track at Martinsville that provided my racer of the week. Kevin Harvick picked up his second win on the bounce in Sprint Cup competition after shuffling past Dale Earnhardt Jnr in the last couple of minutes, consecutive wins are a rare thing in Sprint Cup especially on such wildly different tracks.

Although Harvick has to be racer of the week, Johnny Sauter deserves a shout for taking a win in the Camping World Trucks on the micro-oval. The presence of Harvick and Busch in Trucks makes a victory in this series so much more valuable to the few who can break their stranglehold. Expect the Kevin and Kyle show to resume next time out though, it’s not often those two get beaten in a Truck and both of them are driving better than ever in 2011. Watch and learn Mr Raikkonen.

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The new boy teaches the class

Perez is the latest star to come from GP2. (pic by Marcel Touch)


If F1 is the pinnacle of the sport it is only natural to look in the direction of Australia for my racer of the week. The contenders? Sebastian Vettel was a worthy winner while Renault’s Vitaly Petrov provided the feel-good story, but it was further down the field where we find the most impressive performance of the week.

After the teams feared four stop strategies they arrived in Oz and found that the new Pirelli tyres were surprisingly kind over a race distance, but still nobody came close to using the Italian rubber as Sergio Perez and Sauber did. He took his Swiss steed to seventh while only visiting the pits on one occasion, leaving rivals scratching heads and going back to the digital drawing board. The 21 year old rookie made it sound easy claiming that one stop was never in Sauber’s plans but he just couldn’t help but deliver consistently quick laps so they kept him circulating. He stayed out of trouble all race, showed flashes of speed and was more consistent than many experienced runners despite missing most of third practice, so was his reward some nice juicy points? Of course not, he was disqualified on a technicality. Welcome to Formula One Sergio…

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An Australian star lights up the desert

Casey Stoner rules at Losail and pays tribute to Japan

Doesn’t Casey Stoner look right in Repsol leathers? I have a feeling that it is an association that will come to define him, especially if Casey keeps performing as he did last Sunday night. The Honda super-team of the Doohan and Rossi era has returned in style with the young Australian shining brightest of all under the lights of Qatar as Moto GP kicked off 2011 after an intriguing off-season packed with rider swaps.

The dull circuit was as illuminated by Casey’s inspired riding as it was by the thousands of lights shining in the desert night, earning the Honda-newcomer my racer of the week title. He didn’t just humble the more established Honda riders Pedrosa, Dovizioso and Simoncelli, he also beat last year’s champion Jorge Lorenzo. The lollipop-munching Yamaha rider said he rode at 100% to keep up with Casey, implying he never had to ride his steed quite so fast while battling Valentino Rossi last year, which is a sobering thought.

As for everybody’s favourite Italian nine-time champion, Valentino struggled in the saddle of the Ducati vacated by Stoner. Seventh was all the great man could manage with the eyes of Italy fixated on him and his team. Getting to know the new team sounds like a good excuse for an average result, but a glimpse inside the red squad’s pit box showed plenty of faces that followed Rossi over from Yamaha. A tenth championship is not likely for The Doctor in 2011 as he recovers from injury and tames a radically different bike, while Casey Stoner already looks odds on to seal the second crown of his career.

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Another fast-Seb, Danica’s milestone

 

Sebastian Ogier

Sebastian Ogier has the name, the car and the talent. (pic Edgar Gonzales)

Once again it was the USA that brought us most of the racing action this week, but the French provided the flair. Nascar was in action in Las Vegas, Grand Am had a thriller at Homestead and the WRC’s new breed were in Top Gear’s favourite country.

 

Carl Edwards did his somersault celebrations after taking the win in Sprint Cup at Las Vegas, but the Nationwide encounter had more talking points. The last lap saw reigning champion Brad Keselowski leading the way until a puncture sent him into the wall on the final lap gifting the win to 50-something hip hop aficionado Mark Martin.

 

Behind the thrilling events up front a little Nascar history was made by Danica Patrick. She took fourth, the highest for a woman at this level of stock car competition, in what was her most impressive drive to date in Nascar. This was a significant milestone, coupled with the last-gasp spills it means Nationwide in Vegas gets my race of the week.

 

Danica Patrick may have carved out a little piece of history, but the drive remained a solid rather than spectacular effort. To see elbows-out, white-knuckle action you had to head off the tarmac and onto the dust of Mexico or to the ice of the Stade de France.

 

The World Rally Championship with its new itty-bitty cars headed to Central America where a glance at the results wouldn’t tell you the whole story. Sebastian Loeb, one of greatest driving talents at work in the world today, took the win to add to his record-smashing tally, but the real star of the show was another Citroen-driving Frenchman called Sebastian. Winner of one WRC round already, Sebastian Ogier is being groomed to replace the master and he nearly got one over the champ as they tussled against each other until Ogier made a mistake on the final day.

 

The rest of the WRC field lagged minutes behind the two Sebastians despite the Frenchmen starting most stages in seemingly disadvantageous conditions. Sebastian Ogier nearly matched the performance of Loeb, which is enough to earn the young star twoworld’s racer of the week.

 

There was further French frivolity in the Stad de France where the Professor taught the class a lesson in ice dancing as Alain Prost won in the Andros Trophy. He seems to smile a lot more when he wins on ice than he ever did on tarmac, the Paris crowds were happy with the result too.

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Desert, island, reading

Nascar rides into the sunset

Nascar in the desert, Superbikes beside the seaside (pic stevelyon)

The World Superbike season got underway in underwhelming style and Nascar got back to a short-ish track after the drama of Daytona, but it was the boys of World Supersport who put on the best show and claimed my race of the week. Watch them put the ‘super’ in Supersport here.

Carlos Checa made World Superbikes look easy with two wins at Phillip Island, while Max Biaggi had a solid start to his title defence and Marco Melandri made his mark with a podium on his debut. The Superbikes were unusually mute as Ducati’s works absence barely registered, a red bike controlled nearly the whole weekend regardless, so it was left to Supersport to provide the entertainment. After a thrilling contest they nearly had to split the winner’s trophy in three as Scassa, Lowes and home-hero Brock Parkes crossed the line as one, Luca Scassa emerging the winner by a nose. Classic Phillip Island and the best action of the weekend even before the photo-finish.

Meanwhile in the desert Kyle Busch wanted to take home three trophies from Phoenix after a win in Trucks and a rare lights-to-flag victory in Nationwide before saddling up for the Sprint Cup encounter. He nearly scored his hat-trick, as he did at Bristol last year, but then Jeff Gordon popped up to spoil the party to take his first win since 2009. Meanwhile last week’s Daytona fairytale turned into a nightmare for Trevor Bayne as he kept bouncing off the wall all weekend.

Jeff Gordon may have stole the headlines but Kyle Busch rode out of town with the title of twoworlds’ racer of the week by leading hundreds of laps at PIR and coming within nine miles of completing another three-from-three until the number 24 gently shuffled him aside.

We’ve now got nearly a month to wait for the Grand Prix circus to start doing anything of interest. There was no gossip from the F1 world this week as the paddock has read Bernie’s and Briatore’s biographies rendering them speechless…

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