Daily Archives: April 10, 2010

Can James Key transform Sauber’s season?

In the first 3 races, Sauber have got 4 retirements and scored no points

In the first 3 races, Sauber have got 4 retirements and scored no points

If the results from testing were to be carried into the races, then Sauber would be title contenders, thanks to their seemingly fast pace and excellent tyre managment. But, so far, things have not gone well for the Himwil-based team. They have had no points in 3 races, and 4 retirements. Because of this, James Key will take over from Willy Rampf as Technical Director.

Key is not to be underestimated. He has spent 13 years with Force India in their various forms (Jordan, Midland/MF1, Spyker and Force India). In those years, he was a Data Engineer, Race Engineer for Takuma Sato, wind tunnel worker, department head, and then technical director. Though he was one of the youngest Technical Directors in F1, he has proven himself, which is why he has been picked to replace Willy Rampf.

So far, Sauber has had a terrible start, with only one race finish between the two drivers. Many people have wondered why, after starting 2010 development so early last year, they are now struggling at the back. Peter Sauber has explained the difficulties:

We’re experiencing a new beginning as a team and are in the process 
of adapting from a works outfit to an independent team. We’ve cut 
our budget by 40 per cent and reduced the workforce by a third. 
That’s a massive cutback. However, this economisation process is 
something all the other established teams still have ahead of them 
as a result of the restrictions imposed by FOTA.

With these sort of huge cutbacks, the team have a large hill to climb. But, if anyone can do it, i’m sure Key can. However, he has a lot of work to do. Since he has recently transferred from Force India, (he left there about a month ago) he hasn’t been to a race this year, nor has he even seen the Sauber C29. But, he is already hard at work, having been at the factory, and will be having meetings with Willy Rampf to get him used to the car.

I don’t think any of them are looking at the Chinese GP as a turn-around point. The next race, in Spain, will be much more important, as this is the first race in Europe, and most of the teams will be bringing large updates to their cars here. If Key is to transform Sauber’s season, then the Spanish Grand Prix will be the place.

Can Schumacher survive in the new Formula 1?

Despite being much less praised than his team-mate, Nico Rosberg has out-performed Michael Schumacher in all areas so far

Despite being much less praised than his team-mate, Nico Rosberg has out-performed Michael Schumacher in all areas so far

So far in the three races of the 2010 Formula 1 season, only two drivers have been out-qualified 3-0 by their team-mates. One of these is Vitaly Petrov, the former GP2 driver from Russia, who has a well-established team-mate in the form of Robert Kubica. He has been doing decently in the races so far, so there isn’t a problem here yet. And the other is 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher.

In Bahrain, Australia and Malaysia, Nico Rosberg, who hasn’t even won a single race yet, has beaten him in qualigying. In Bahrain, Nico was fourth while Michael was three places back in seventh. In the race, Rosberg struggled to keep up with the frontrunners, while Schumacher couldn’t make much progress. They ended up 5th and 6th. Seeing as how it was his first race back, there wasn’t much worry. But, in Australia, Nico was again a tenth quicker than Michael. In the race, Schumacher was hit at the first corner, and fell to the back. While Fernando Alonso was able to fight back through the field, the German struggled, getting stuck behind Jaime Alguersuari for over 30 laps, which completely ruined his race.

In Malaysian qualifying, with the torrential conditions, the rainmaster was expected to shine. But, he burned out his tyres too quickly in Q3, and ended up 8th, only 0.05 seconds ahead of rookie Kamui Kobayashi, in a much more uncompetitive car. Meanwhile, Rosberg did well to qualify on the front row, and got a podium in the race. Schumacher never got a chance here, as a wheel nut failure caused him to retire early on.

I am aware it has only been three races, and bad luck has played a part, especially in Malaysia. But, the simple fact is that Nico Rosberg has 35 points to Schumacher’s 9. Times have changed since Michael Schumacher was the unbeatable force in Formula 1, taking multiple championships in a dominating car. Now, the rookies aren’t scared of the 7-time world championship, as shown when Jaime Alguersuari pushed him onto the grass. The last time that happened was in 2003, again in Australia, with Kimi Raikkonen. Back then, it was a sign that the young drivers were fighting back, and it came true with a fantastic season. This time, it seems to be a sign that the Formula 1 world has moved on from Schumacher.

It is too early to make conclusions about Schumacher’s comeback just yet. But, I can’t help but worry that he will never be able to return to the top like he used to. Being in an uncompetitive car must be hugely demotivating, but this is Michael Schumacher we’re talking about. Hopefully, by the end of the year, a win could be a possibility for him and Rosberg.

But, this all hinges on whether Ross Brawn and Mercedes can pull themselves together, and give the German duo a competitive car. What do you think will happen?

Forgotten heroes: Ronnie Peterson

Ronnie Peterson at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975

Ronnie Peterson at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975

In the first of a new series, I will look back at several Formula 1 drivers who, despite their successes or promise, were never remembered in F1 history the way they should have been, for whatever reason. First up is Ronnie Peterson.

He wasn’t known as the “Super Swede” for nothing. While he only won 10 races in his Formula 1 career, Ronnie Peterson was regarded as on of the greatest drivers never to win a world championship, alongside Stirling Moss and Gilles Villeneuve. However, a crash in Monza 1978 put an end to what should have ended in a successful career for the Swede.

Ronnie Peterson finished 7th in his first ever race at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1970

Ronnie Peterson finished 7th in his first ever race at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1970

He made his debut in 1970, for the March team, at the Monaco Grand Prix. He qualified 12th out of 16 drivers. Ahead of him were much more experienced drivers in march cars: Jackie Stewart, Chris Amon and Jo Siffert. Despite this, he was the only March driver to finish the race, ending up 7th. After the race, Max Mosley, who was the chief of March Racing, said: “Write that Ronnie is fantastic – but don’t tell it to him”. While he continued to try his best for the rest of the year, he failed to score any points, as he was blighted by an uncompetitive car and poor reliability. For 1971, he was promoted to the full March works team, and instantly impressed. He scored 5 second places in that season, and finished second in the championship behind Jackie Stewart.

In 1972, the car was not up to standard. Ronnie only finished 9th overall in the championship. Outside of F1, he took second places in the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, and BOAC 100km at Brands Hatch. He raced in 10 races in Formula 2, and took 2 victories. However, he couldn’t fight for the title, as he had scored points in F1 that year.

For the 1973 season, Peterson moves to the Lotus team, and has a great year. He took his first victory at the French Grand Prix that year. Across the 15 races in the year, he takes 4 victories, but only finishes 3rd overall in the championship, behind his team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart. This was also the year when the Swedish Grand Prix made its debut, and Peterson finishes  at his home event. He also gets engaged to Barbro over the Christmas break.

Ronnie Peterson takes his first ever win at the 1973 French Grand Prix

Ronnie Peterson takes his first ever win at the 1973 French Grand Prix

For 1974, he remained at Lotus, but still failed to clinch the world championship. His new team-mate for this year was Jacky Ickx, after Jackie Stewart hung up his helmet. Despite Colin Chapman introducing the revolutionary new Lotus 76, Peterson only took 3 wins across the season, and finishes 5th in the championship. He still wins a a gold bar (Prix Rouge et Blanc Joseph Siffert) for the best performance of the season.

1975 was his sixth season in F1, but it turns out to be a complete disaster when the new Lotus Ford car fails to be completed before the start of the season. Ronnie struggles on with the old Lotus 72, but only finishes 12th in the championship with 6 points out of 17 races. The good news is that he got married to Barbro in April, and their daughter Nina is born in November. For the famous 1976 season, Peterson ditches Lotus after one race with the new car, the Lotus 77. He breaks his contract, and moves to March for the rest of the season. He takes 1 victory in Monza, but only finishes 11th overall in the championship.

For the next year Peterson takes a risk, and moves to the Tyrrell team, with their completely revolutionary 6-wheeled P34. However, the P34 was uncompetitive for a very specific reason, as Goodyear had failed to deliver the different tyres that Tyrrell needed for their innovation. This meant that the technology couldn’t be properly used, and Ronnie failed to win that year. Because of the fact that the car was not refined for the next year, he decided to move back to his old team Lotus. It was a decicion that paid off well, as their car was unbeatable, so him and Mario Andretti dominated the season. Up to the Italian Grand Prix, Andretti led the championship, with Peterson behind him with 51 points. But then it all went horribly wrong.

During practice, Peterson crashed his 79, meaning it couldn’t be repaired in time for the race, and he also bruised his legs in the process. There were two spare cars that Ronnie could use: last year’s uncompetitive 78, or a 79 that had been developed for the smaller Andretti. The competitive spirit prevailed, and Ronnie opted to use Andretti’s spare car, even though he wasn’t able to fit comfortably inside.

He lined up on the grid in 5th place, with Andretti on pole. But, while the back of the grid were still moving into position, the race starter threw the green flag to start the race, creating an accordion effect at the first corner. This is where the front if the grid were all slower to start off, and the backmarkers all flew off the grid, since they were still moving. This resulted in the entire field being bunched up together at the lethal first corner.

Approaching the Variente Goodyear, Ricardo Patrese’s Arrows hit the back of James Hunt’s McLaren, both of who started from the midfield. Hunt was thrown into Peterson’s Lotus, which flew into the right-hand side barriers, crushing the front of the car. Vittorio Brambrilla started from the back, but gained an advantage as he was already moving at the start. As he approached the accident, he swerved to try and avoid, but smashed into the back of Peterson’s Lotus, and the car burst into flames. After the horrific accident of Niki Lauda two years ago, fear struck everyone around the world.

Because Ronnie’s legs were cramped in, as he attempted to fit into Andretti’s car, his legs were crushed when he hit the barriers. As the car burned, James Hunt leapt out of his car and pulled Peterson from the burning wreck, and Ronnie only sustained minor burns. Hunt laid him out on the middle of the track, and stopped Peterson from looking at his legs to spare him further distress. After the fire was put out, the officials tried to put together what had happened, as there were 10 cars involved in the crash, Brambrilla had a severe head injury, and Peterson’s had 7 fractures in one leg and 3 in the other.

Ronnie Peterson is laid out in the middle of the track after the crash at the start of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix

Ronnie Peterson is laid out in the middle of the track after the crash at the start of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix

Ronnie could well have been saved, but for what happened next. The track officials insisted on forming a barrier around the crash site, meaning Professor Sid Watkins, the surgical advisor to Formula 1, was unable to help the drivers. After a delay of 11 to 18 minutes, an amblulance was dispatched, and brought Peterson to the Monza medical centre. After scans were made, it was established that the burns were not severe, his legs were splinted, and IVs were to be put in. His condition soon stabilised, and he was brought to the Ospedale Maggiore at Niguardia. An x-ray scan showed that he had a total of 27 fractures of his legs and feet. After a discussion with Ronnie himself, who had been conscious throughout the entire incident, the decicion was made to stabilise the bones. Unfortunately, during the night, bone marrow went into Peterson’s bloodstream through the fractures, forming fat globules on his major organs including lungs, liver, and brain. By morning he was in full renal failure and was declared dead a few hours later. The cause of death was announced as fat embolism.

Despite this horrible death, much good came from it. For example, after the shambolic actions of the track officials, the decicion was made that the medical car would follow the cars around the first lap, to give swift assistance to drivers involved in accidents. Marshalls were given better equipment to put out fires, instead of drivers having to rescue their fellow racers themselves. This posssibly saved the life of Gerhard Berger, after he crashed at Tamburello in Imola in 1989. Also, at Monza itself, the barriers were moved further back, to reduce the impact of crashes. These improvements in safety have saved many lives across the years.

But, his wife Barbro never got over his death, and committed suicide in 1987. Their daughter, Nina, opened a Ronnie Peterson museum in 2008, but it closed in 2009 due to a lack of government funding. A statue of Ronnie can be found in Örebro, made by Richard Brixel.

A statue of Ronnie Peterson can be found in Almby, Örebro

A statue of Ronnie Peterson can be found in Almby, Örebro

That year, Mario Andretti went on to win the world championship, with Peterson a posthumous second, showing just how dominant the Lotus 79 was. The real tragedy of his death was that Ronnie never got to see the safety improvements his demise brought about.

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