Tag Archives: sebastian vettel

Politics at 200mph

Mark Webber and Red Bull

Clouds gather over Mark Webber and Red Bull at Silverstone. (pic Infiniti)

So the British Grand Prix was a soaring success. Packed stands, a giant new pit building, decent racing, a welcome first win for Ferrari in 2011 and intriguing weather conditions that looked like Bernie got his way with sprinklers as half the track appeared bone-dry while the rest of the track was awash. But somehow F1 still managed to bring plenty of controversy to an otherwise lovely day out.

First up was the flip-flopping over the charmingly-titled exhaust blowing saga. I am nowhere near technical enough to get my head around the rules themselves although you don’t need to be a Newey-esque genius to work out that changing the rules (or at least the way they are applied) in the middle of a meeting is not a good idea. For anybody. Despite what Adam Parr told Maurice Hamilton in this revealing interview, I doubt a row that even team principals struggled to elaborate on could possibly be good publicity.

I’ve been raised on a diet of burning rubber since I was no taller than a GT40, so if I was left wondering what the hell was going on then the hypothetical man-in-the-pub must have been asking the notional landlord to reach for his imaginary remote-control.

If all the technical trouble wasn’t enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth then the thorny issue of team orders was sure to leave the casual viewer enraged. It was inevitable that the now legal practice of telling your drivers how to race would rear its ugly head at some point in 2011. Politics is distasteful enough in the paddock, let alone when it spills onto the race track.

So was Christian Horner telling Mark Webber to “maintain the gap” to Vettel really so terrible? Of course we all want to see a race, but isn’t it simply sensible to tell your drivers to mind their Ps and Qs? Nobody had to give away a win here after all. Personally I wasn’t anywhere near as offended by Red Bull Racing’s communications as I was last year by Ferrari, at least my intelligence was not insulted this time around. As Eddie Jordan was so very keen to point out, the Webber and Vettel situation was similar to Ralf Schumacher being told not to challenge Damon Hill at Spa in 1998, something that garnered very little complaint at the time. The mad Irishman was only half right about the similarities between the two scenarios; the big difference is that a team like Red Bull with a crushing lead in both championships can afford to take more risks than a small team such as Jordan that had a one-two finish in its grasp for the very first time on that rainy day 13 years ago.

Holding back your drivers seems to go against the Red Bull spirit that prizes extreme endeavours above anything as they eschew conventional advertising in favour of backing the world’s most demanding and dangerous pursuits. But the simple fact is that F1 is a team game and now team orders are allowed. You could argue that this is a mistake on the sport’s part, it is rare that team orders have a nice outcome. From the Pironi and Villeneuve controversy that indirectly led to the loss of an F1 legend to less serious incidents such as Mika Hakkinen’s phantom pitstop gaff in Melbourne and on to Ferrari’s seemingly routine shafting of likeable Brazilians, team orders are bad PR however necessary they may seem when you are responsible for 500 employees and big-brand sponsors. Still, at least it took our minds off exhausts, for that I’m grateful.

Where does all this leave Mark Webber? Exactly where he was 12 months before it seems – at loggerheads with some factions within his own team. With Danny Ricciardo finishing a minute or so down on his nearest rival in his debut Grand Prix the heat isn’t on quite yet for Mark from his fellow Aussie. It seems Mark’s much-rumoured switch to Ferrari is in more danger as Sergio Perez has been penciled in for a test with Maranello before the season is out. Webber may want to focus all his mental energy on getting one over Vettel, but it seems he’ll need to get stuck into some big career decisions a little sooner than he may have liked to.


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The thin silver line

Lewis Hamilton has been in the wars lately

I called Lewis the best overtaker in April - he still is. (pic ph-stop)

It’s only been a couple of months since I last dabbled with the blog, in motorsport that can be an age. It took a split second for JR Hildebrand to lose the Indy 500, well over four hours went by before Jenson Button finally made Sebastian Vettel crack under pressure in Montreal and the Earth turned on its axis as the thrills, spills, tears and triumph at a truly epic Le Mans unfolded. It took a few more days for the Bahrain Grand Prix to go from off, to on, to off again – leaving the FIA and Formula One looking foolish.

Meanwhile it took only a couple of weeks for Lewis Hamilton to go from hero to villain, his reputation proving more fragile than carbon fibre. There are few drivers in the world who are so electrifying to watch. The moving DRS rear wings may be an artificial way to enhance the show but Hamilton’s real-deal racecraft is anything but false. In the fullness of time these indiscretions will shrink from mountains to the tiny mole hills that they really are.

As for Lewis switching teams, that seems like a load of Red Bull to me. But you can never say never. It is natural for a driver to shop around, Red Bull likewise, although with a world champion already at the wheel of the RB7 it seems that this speculation is just something to keep Fleet Street occupied, as if they haven’t got enough going on right now…

Down the other end of the timesheets Daniel Ricciardo will be making his debut for Hispania. The young Australian looks like a hot prospect (although I’m more excited about the next Red Bull Junior driver in line, Jean-Eric Vergne) so why stick him in such a struggling team? It seems that his presence on the grid is a ploy to apply pressure on the track and off it to Webber, Alguersari and Buemi. The message is clear – Ricciardo is coming so you guys had better get your skates on. You would think that if Lewis Hamilton was truly looking at making a switch there wouldn’t be any need for Red Bull to be feeding backmarker teams cash to train up drivers.  Tis the season to be silly, so who knows where this game of musical race seats will take us?

Meanwhile I’ll be hoping for more fireworks from Lewis Hamilton this weekend at Silverstone. As another Mclaren driver in a yellow helmet once said, if you no longer go for a gap, you are no longer a racing driver. Mclaren don’t need to fill up the other teams with their test drivers to get Messrs Hamilton and Button to drive any better, that’s for sure.

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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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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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