Monthly Archives: July 2010

2010 Mid-season review: Red Bull

There is absolutely no denying that Red Bull have the best car on the grid, in the form of the RB6. From the very beginning to right now, this car has been miles ahead of any other team in (nearly) every race so far. The team took pole positions in the first 7 races in a row, just to demonstrate their performance. Both drivers are highly skilled, and have both, at separate points this year, have been favourites for the championship. All of this happened without the F-duct, which so many other teams believed to be of utmost importance. So the question is: why are they 2nd in the championship?

Dire reliability and driver crashes have thrown away Red Bull's initial advantage

Dire reliability and driver crashes have thrown away Red Bull's initial advantage

You could have said the writing was on the wall from Race 1. Sebastian Vettel suffered reliability trouble, as his engine lost power, and he surrendered his lead to the Ferraris, and fell to 4th. Mark Webber, meanwhile, suffered his millionth event of bad luck before the race had even began, after being held up in qualifying. A 4th and 8th was horrible for what could have been a dominant 1-2 finish. Australia was an even more embarrassing result, with Vettel suffering another loss of a definite win, after a brake failure. Webber was involved in a race-long battle with Alonso, Massa and Hamilton, and topped off his troubles by crashing into Hamilton in the dying few laps, dropping him to 9th place.

Finally things took a turn-around in Malaysia, where a 1-2 finish was well deserved, after Vettel stole the lead from Webber at the first corner. A 1-2 qualifying performance looked excellent in China, right up to the point when the wrong tyre call was made in the race, and Vettel and Webber were forced to fight their way back up to 6th and 8th. Despite this, the team looked on course for a 1-2 finish in Spain, even after messing up one of Vettel’s pit stops. But, as it has done so often, Vettel’s car suffered a braking problem, and crawled to the finish in 3rd place. Monaco saw the return of the 1-2 Red Bull finish, but the next race came dangerously close to destroying their whole season.

With Webber leading Vettel, and the German closing in, the fans were expecting a close battle for the lead. What they saw was a little too close though, as the pair collided into each other on the back straight, shattering all hopes for Red Bull, and handed a 1-2 finish to McLaren on a silver plate. For the few days afterwards, the Red Bull bosses appeared to back Vettel after the incident, although replays suggested that he was at fault for the incident. Vettel and Webber finally made up after the crash (albeit in a Red Bull press release), and got back to racing.

However, when they returned, suddenly McLaren had the faster car, as shown in Canada, where the Red Bull’s speed in a straight line was magnified. A 4th and 5th, after severe tyre woes for Webber, was all they could manage, and the team suddenly realised that McLaren were in the lead of the championships after this race. Valencia was a slight return to form, with Sebastian winning the race, although it was a disaster for Mark. After losing a huge amount of places at the start, he smashed into Heikki Kovalainen, and flipped into the barriers.

By this stage, Red Bull should have completely dominated the championship standings. Vettel, for example, has lost 41 points after mechanical problems, and is therefore 12 points behind Lewis Hamilton. The worst part of it is that the second half of the calendar has races which mostly suit the McLaren. The next race is Silverstone, where Red Bull completely dominated last year. This could be their last chance to close the gap between them and McLaren. If they cannot, it will be completely their own fault for throwing away a huge initial advantage.

2010 Mid-season review: Ferrari

The season-opener in Bahrain was kind to Ferrari, in that a 1-2 finish was far beyond what the car actually deserved. Sebastian Vettel’s engine woes meant that both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were able to overtake and keep control of the race from there. However, since then, the season has not gone the way Ferrari would have wanted.

Lack of development has cost Ferrari 2nd in the championship to Ferrari

Lack of development has cost Ferrari 2nd in the championship to Ferrari

Pre-season testing showed Ferrari to have one of the fastest cars of the grid, and it later emerged that their tyre wear rates were much lower than their rivals, giving them an extra advantage. Their 1-2 finish, aided by the reliability issues of the Red Bull car, should have been an indicator of their pace for the entire season. In Melbourne, Massa was 3rd ahead of Alonso, although the Spaniard was unhappy after being held up by Felipe for most of the race. However, soon after this, Ferrari fell out of the development race.

Despite starting with the second fastest car, Ferrari were unable to keep up development at a fast enough pace. This is mainly due to the fact that they spent too much time trying to copy the F-duct system, which took several weeks of work, with only 0.3 seconds as a reward. By the time that they had finished, McLaren had soared away from them, and it shows in the race results. In Malaysia, neither Ferrari could indicate their pace, as a stupid strategy call in qualifying left them at the back of the grid. While they recovered to 7th and 9th, Alonso soon retired with an engine failure.

In the rain-affected China race, driver relationships were more hurt than anything else. As both Ferrari cars pitted on the same lap, Alonso overtook Massa, causing the Brazilian to drop down the grid, leaving Fernando to gain Felipe’s positions. Rumours of tension in the garage were swiftly swept away however. A home race podium was nice for Alonso in Spain, but he wasn’t able to challenge Mark Webber for the win. Since then, their pace has fallen away, as Massa hasn’t scored a point since Turkey. Aside from another podium in Canada, Alonso has only managed one 6th and two 8th places since Spain.

The reason for Ferrari’s drop in pace lies solely with the car. The time spent on the F-duct was a massive waste of time for the team, as marginal gains do not give a car raw pace. This shows in the fact that Ferrari have not got a pole position, the best way of indicating raw pace, since Brazil 2008. The drivers are well up to the task of getting wins for the team, but do not have the machinery to do so.

For the rest of the season, Ferrari have 2 difficulties to deal with: keeping Alonso and Massa happy, and developing the car to catch up to Red Bull and McLaren. While a few people have suggested that the team will soon turn their attention to 2011, although the fact that they are still in the championship race should be enough to keep them interested in this season.

2010 Mid-season review: Renault

2009 was nothing short of a disaster for Renault. Despite Fernando Alonso remaining with the team for that year, team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr was consistently awful, failing to score a single point until he was replaced by Romain Grosjean, who was similarly off the pace. the Singapore 2008 “Crash-gate” scandal shook the team to its core, leading to the exit of team bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds. On top of all this, the R29 was lacking in pace, although Alonso dragged it to a solitary podium in Singapore. With all of this combined, Renault’s future was in doubt for this season. But, thanks to a buyout from Genii Capital, and the hiring of Robert Kubica, the French outfit are back and firing on all cylinders.

Robert Kubica has done a fantastic job leading the Renault team back up the grid

Robert Kubica has done a fantastic job leading the Renault team back up the grid

Alongside Kubica is Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov, the “Vyborg Rocket” who came 2nd in the GP2 Series last year. Bahrain was a disappointment for the team, but in Australia Kubica snatched an unexpected podium finish, after making a great strategy call early on. Petrov retired in the first 3 races, but in his first race finish in China, he took 7th place, while Kubica was 5th.

From Australia to Valencia, Kubica has finished every single of these races in the points, and took another podium in Monaco, after very nearly taking pole position. Robert is the only driver on the gird who has been racing every single lap so far this year. He has become the driving force of the team, and has performed so well that Ferrari were rumoured to be looking at hiring him for next year. Petrov has not got a points finish since China, but had a terrific battle with Fernando Alonso in Turkey, although a later collision ruled out any points for him.

Depsite this, I would say that Petrov is one of the most impressive rookies this year, and Kubica is certainly punching well above his weight. The Renault car, while unable to challenge for wins, has been near-bulletproof in its reliability, with only 1 mechanical retirement this year. The Renault engine gives better fuel consumption, giving the team an advantage in the first 20 laps of every Grand Prix, as they can carry much less fuel. Their straight line speed is impressive, even without the F-duct. The only chink in Renault’s armour is the lack of grip compared to the top teams, but constant development in this area – most notably in the front wing area – is solving this issue.

With 83 points, Kubica has single-handedly pulled Renault back up the order, currently in 5th place, but well poised to overtake Mercedes soon. Hopefully, Vitaly can improve to get a few more points-scoring positions this year, which is all we can expect from his first year in Formula 1. However, in his defence, here’s an interesting fact for you – Petrov got a fastest lap in Turkey before Kubica got one in his entire career. With this in mind, Renault’s line-up appears to be solid.

The question is: Can they catch up to the top 3? Mercedes are already in their clutches, and hopefully after a few races can be overtaken in the standings. However, catching Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull will be much trickier. If Petrov improves next year, and the R31 is on the pace, then it could well be a possibility.

Rosberg running out of patience

Nico Rosberg has blasted his Mercedes GP team’s worsening form this year, claiming that he moved to the team to win races, but the car is now disintegrating into a “disaster”. Having been 2nd in the championship at one point this year, Rosberg is now 7th, and has only obtained 25 points from the last 5 races.

Nico Rosberg is furious that his former team Williams have overtaken Mercedes

Nico Rosberg is furious that his former team Williams have overtaken Mercedes

Before the season began, we were all speculating as to how Nico would cope with driving alongside 7-times world champion Michael Schumacher, and would the team favour one over the other. Aside from rumours that the team were developing the car to Schumacher’s taste and not Rosberg, Nico has completely obliterated his team-mate, with more than double Schumacher’s points. However, the pace of the Mercedes car has collapsed in recent races, and Rosberg appears to be running out of patience.

After the European Grand Prix, it emerged that both Mercedes cars were suffering from brake difficulties, forcing both drivers to back off throughout the race. However, Nico’s true thoughts seem to come out at the end of this statement:

"I had a bad first lap because one of the Force India’s did
something stupid and I had to avoid him. Otherwise there would
have been a crash. Then my brakes wouldn’t have lasted, so I
had to take it easy for the whole race. I was just driving
round wasting time."

However, both Mercedes cars were out-qualified by the two Williams cars in Valencia, something that Rosberg is furious about. With the Cologne Express, he said:

"This is a disaster. The problem with the tyres is well-known within
the team. For weeks, we have said we would move forward but nothing 
[has] happened – in fact, we’re going backwards. If you start in 
twelfth behind both Williams’ [in Valencia], who were nowhere weeks 
ago, what can you expect from there? I went from Williams to Mercedes
because I thought I’d have a car capable of winning.”

Now that Williams, and many other teams, have the upper hand on Mercedes, Nico has no reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season. While Schumacher is pushing for the team to focus on development of the 2011 car, Ross Brawn has indicated that the Mercedes team will continue to develop this year’s car for now.

However, at this stage, there is little point in pushing for anything this year, as Mercedes’s recent loss in form has crushed any hopes of a good finishing position. Renault are set to overtake them in the constructors’ championships soon, and Force India could well come close to the team, though they have little chance of getting past. A 5th place finish in the standings would be a disaster, considering the line-up that they have available to them.

2010 Mid-season review: Force India

Last year, there was no doubt that Force India had a fantastic low-downforce package, as shown by their shock performances in Belgium and Italy. While the team only amassed 13 points across these 2 races, and therefore the season, it was well-known that the team would have to develop a medium-downforce specification if they were to make the next jump. So far, the VJM03 has done exactly that, and has made excellent progress to begin challenging the top teams.

Paul di Resta could be the key to allowing Force India compete with Renault and Mercedes

Paul di Resta could be the key to allowing Force India compete with Renault and Mercedes

At the start of the season, it was Vitantonio Liuzzi who was getting the points, with 2 consecutive top 10 finishes in Bahrain and Australia. After this, Adrian Sutil became the driving force of the team, with a 5th place in Malaysia, and has since got 5 points-scoring finishes in a row, leaving him with an impressive 31 points.

Liuzzi, meanwhile,  has only 12 points, after 3 9th places and a 7th position finish. His drive was in doubt before the Canadian Grand Prix, but a very good 6th place in qualifying seemed to quell these fears. But, a first lap collision with Felipe Massa appeared to ruin his chances of a points finish, but he recovered to get 9th place, still ahead of his team-mate. In Valencia, when Sutil drove from 13th on the grid to 6th, Liuzzi had no pace, and fell from 14th to 16th.

It seems odd that Vitantonio continues to drive at Force India, when there is a fantastic talent sitting on the sidelines, called Paul di Resta. This man, in 2006, beat Sebastian Vettel in the Formula 3 championship, so I am at a loss to explain why he is not racing in Formula 1. He has been allowed to occasionally race in FP1 sessions (3 times this year so far), and once beat Liuzzi when he took over Sutil’s car. Certainly he should be allowed a proper opportunity in F1, even at the expense of Liuzzi.

Aside from the drivers themselves, the car must also be improved if the team are to challenge the top 5 in the championship. While their Mercedes unit is well up to the task, and their new exhaust blown diffuser is on the way, a high-end aerodynamic package must be available to the team if they are to be competitive at every race.

This is not to imply that Force India need dire improvements, just that if they are to make more progress, changes must be made, most notably replacing Liuzzi with Di Resta.

2010 Mid-season review: Williams

In recent years, it has become impossible to count how many times Williams claim that they will bounce back up the grid, with a new upgrade or change to the car. 2010 has been no different, with lacklustre performances all throughout the season, despite a good line-up of drivers, or so it would seem.

Nico Hulkenberg needs to improve if Williams are to make progress

Nico Hulkenberg needs to improve if Williams are to make progress

Actually, at the start of the season, it didn’t seem this way. Rubens Barrichello qualified 9 tenths off Sebastian Vettel’s time, and nearly got through to Q3. In the race, Rubens was 10th, scoring one point, while GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg was 14th. However since then, their form hasn’t improved. Despite a few points finishes, their pace has been consistently mediocre, and a small amount of retirements highlights this fact.

After the loss of Nico Rosberg to Mercedes, Williams must have known that it would have been difficult to finish many races in the points like they did last year. His replacement, Barrichello, has finished 4 races in the points, while Hulkenberg has only one, with a solitary point in Malaysia. Since then, Hulkenberg’s best finsish was 13th in Canada, well below what would be expected of the reigning GP2 champion.

After Rubens finished an excellent 4th in Valencia, which was aided by the safety car, has has 19 points to his tally, while Nico has only one. I think that Rubens is doing as well as he can, whereas Nico needs to seriously up his game to help push Williams through the field. His pointless crash in Spanish practice showed that he trying very hard, but needs to be more mature in the car.

So far, Williams’s performance has been quite disappointing this year. Their progress for the 2010 season depends on 2 factors: better development of the car, and Hulkenberg. Williams are set to unveil their new exhaust-blown diffuser at Silverstone, which will provide another performance boost to the car. It is up to the drivers – especially Hulkenberg – to make the most of it.

2010 Mid-season review: Toro Rosso

On the face if it, Toro Ross have had made improvements since last year, when they only scored 8 points in 2009. This year so far, they have scored 10 points in 5 different races. However, on closer inspection, if the 2009 points system was in place, they would have a grand total of 1 point, being even worse off than last season.

One good performance in Malaysia isn't enough for Jaime Alguersuari's drive to be secure

One good performance in Malaysia isn't enough for Jaime Alguersuari's drive to be secure

When each driver’s performance is compared, it is clear that Sebastien Buemi has been beating Jaime Alguersuari so far, with 7 points to the Spaniard’s 3. When they finish outside the points though, Alguersuari is more consistent, finishing every race and never ending a race lower than 13th, whereas Buemi has retired 3 times, and has had 2 16th position finishes.

While each driver has their advantages and disadvantages, it could be argued that neither driver is performing at full potential. While Buemi led the Canadian Grand Prix for a lap, and scored more than double Jaime’s points tally, he has had 3 retirements, 2 of which were first-lap collisions. While Jaime had a great race in Malaysia, and hasn’t recorded a single retirement, he hasn’t scored a point since Spain, 5 races ago.

However, it is being rumoured that Red Bull are eyeing up Buemi for 2012, leaving Alguersuari as the driver who needs to prove himself this season. After about a season in F1 now (he started halfway through 2009), the second half of this season is crucial to him if he is to stay in F1. If he cannot, then there are two very competent drivers who are eager to take his place: Brendon Hartley and Daniel Ricciardo.

So far, I have focused on the drivers, seeing as the car is very reliable with medium pace, which means that the drivers simply have to prove themselves in it. However, for the team themselves, an engine switch may be in order. While their Ferrari unit has not failed yet, it does not have the fuel consumption or pace like the Renault or Mercedes engines do. Seeing as Mercedes are filled up at the moment, Renault would be the optimum choice for Toro Rosso, seeing as their older sibling, Red Bull, already use those engines.

While the Ferrari engine hasn’t been bad to Toro Rosso, if they are to make progress in the constructors’ championship, then they must make changes to their car first. Otherwise, they will be stuck as a midfield team, in which case they will be battling with Lotus very soon, making things even harder for them.

2010 Mid-season review: Sauber

In pre-season testing, the outlook was exceptionally good for Sauber. While their new livery left much to be desired, their times were just behind the top 4, and their tyre wear data showed that they were managing their tyres extremely well. This all pointed towards Sauber being a surprise package for 2010, or so we though. Regardless of progress since, Sauber are the lowest out of the points-scoring teams, and have suffered dire reliabilty so far.

Progress or not, Sauber's reliability has held them back all season

Progress or not, Sauber's reliability has held them back all season

After 9 races, the team hold only 7 points, all of which have been earned by the “lunatic” Kobayashi. Worse than this, the team have a horrific level of DNFs, with 11 so far, and 1 DNS (Did Not Start), when Pedro de la Rosa’s car couldn’t even make it to the grid in Malaysia. In fact, the team didn’t get a point until Round 7 in Turkey, when Kobayashi earned a solitary point. He has had one top 10 finish since then, when he drove magnificently after a clever strategy in Valencia to finish 7th, after running 2nd for most of the race.

However, Kamui can only produce the goods when he is given the opportunity, and in the C29, that is exceedingly rare. The finger of blame should be pointing squarely at the Ferrari engines, which have failed countlessly, are poor in terms of fuel consumption, and, at the end of the day, lack in power.

Pedro de la Rosa shouldn’t be excluded either, as he has performed very consistently when the car allows, finishing 11th once and 12th 2 times, with the rest being retirements. In fact, between the two of these drivers, their worst finishing position each has been 12th, which isn’t too shabby considering their lack of pace. Also, Kobayashi has only finished a race outisde of the points once.

But, at the end of the day, reliability is the key to unlocking Sauber’s potential. The only was this can be achieved is by switching engine suppliers at the end of the year, most likely Renault. This would allow the car to run less fuel (Renault engine has the best fuel consumption on the grid), which would allow them to manage their tyres even better. Also, by finishing more races, consistent points finishes could well be a target for Sauber by next season.

Mallorca circuit bidding for F1 race

Recently, the future of the European Grand Prix has been in doubt, as the organisers of the Valencia circuit have been struggling to pay the contract. Because of this doubt over the long-term future of this event, representatives of a planned circuit in the Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca have met with Bernie Ecclestone to try and snatch the F1 rights off Valencia as early as 2013.

The first draft for the proposition for a circuit in Mallorca

The first draft for the proposition for a circuit in Mallorca

The circuit is in its early design stage, although Spanish architects Mateo Palmer and Biel Arbona are already working on the track layout. Federico Gastaldi, one of the men who brought Argentina back on the F1 calendar years ago, is currently in discussions with Bernie Ecclestone over this plan. Joan Jaume Mule, the the mayor of the Llucmajor municipality of the Balearic Islands, has already thrown his support behind the project also.

Valencia has a contract to hold F1 races until and including 2014, but rumours a few months ago speculated that the circuit orgainisers were struggling to keep up payments to Bernie. If this is the case, then the Mallorca circuit may be allowed to enter negotiations.

Mallorca itself is completely centered around tourism, seeing as half the population work in the tourist industry. Economically, the island could be capable of hosting an F1 race, but it’s the track itself that worries me. While it is only the first proposition, it appears to be a mess of heavy left and right-handers. This 3.6 mile track has no exciting corners, and only has 1 realistic overtaking opportunity. More though is required if these designers even want to start to think about a proposition to host an F1 race.

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