Monthly Archives: November 2012

Top 10: World championship battles: Part 1

After the fantastically entertaining end to the 2012 season, perhaps it’s time to look back and see how 2012 compares to some classic seasons in F1′s history.

Part 1 of this article deals with the 1958-1981 seasons:

1958 – Mike Hawthorn vs Stirling Moss

The 1958 season was an amazing spectacle for several reasons. The first two races were won by the rear-engined Cooper team, spelling a new revolution in F1 car design. Sheer driver talent was able to out-pace the fastest cars on the grid, as shown by Stirling Moss. And Bernie Ecclestone entered into qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. I’m not joking.

After switching teams in Monaco, and retiring from 2nd place after a duel with Hawthorn, Moss was able to take his first win of the season in Zandvoort. However, a series of engine failures scuppered his charge, and allowed Mike to draw equal to his compatriot in the standings.

Silverstone proved to be a definitive race of that year – despite battling with all his heart, Stirling’s Vanwall ruled him out of a home victory.

A dominate drive in Portugal – by an astonishing 5 minutes – gave Stirling a chance, but a gearbox failure in Monza ended all hopes.  To this day, he is regarded as “the best driver never to win a world championship” for this very season. He did enter the final race with a chance of victory, and did everything he could to secure it – another crushing victory and fastest lap – but Hawthorn’s 2nd place sealed his fate.

1961 – Phil Hill vs Wolfgang von Trips

1961 saw the introduction of the 1.5 litre engine formula, which hugely benefited the Ferrari team, allowing them to win their first every constructor’s championship. Stirling Moss was still able to showcase his talents though, holding off the clearly faster Ferraris in Monaco to take his only win of the season.

After that though, the battle was clearly between teammates Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips. For the next two races, these two drivers finished 1-2 with less than a second between them each time. Still, they weren’t just battling with each other – Hill had a spectacular 20-lap battle against the Lotus of Lim Clark at Zandvoort.

At Reims-Geaux, when Von Trips retired with an engine failure, the race was Hill’s for the taking. 16 seconds in the lead, he spun at the Thillois chicane, and then clashed with Stirling Moss, ruining any chances of victory. Amazingly, despite his car being in the middle of the track, Hill jumped out and push-started his Ferrari 156, running over his own foot in the process. Despite his sheer bravery, he lost the chance to finish in the points, and the two were still separated by only a point.

Von Trips led home Hill at Silverstone, to sneak back into the lead of the championship. However, it proved to be his last ever Grand Prix victory. Moss prevented a Ferrari win in the “Green Hell” of the Nurburgring, but the team still secured an easy constructor’s title. But, the hopes of an incredible climax to a year-long driver battle were cut short, when Von Trips was killed in a crash at Monza, handing the win and championship to Hill.

Ferrari were devastated, and pulled out of the last race out of respect. It was a horrible ending to what should have been Ferrari’s greatest year in Formula One.

1964 – John Surtees vs Graham Hill vs Jim Clark

1964 saw a strange points system ultimately decide the world championship, where the title winner hadn’t scored the most points.

Here, Graham Hill had scored one more point than John Surtees, but since only the top 6 results were counted, a 3rd placed finish in Silverstone for Surtees swung the title back into his hands. Hill, on the other hand, took 1st and 2nd more often, but not 6 times. Jim Clark, meanwhile, was all set to win the championship without the points system, but the final race of the season put pay to that.

One of the most dramatic title conclusions ever took place in Mexico City, where Hill (39 points) led Surtees (34) and Clark (32 points) entering the weekend. Having dominated the whole weekend, Clark claimed pole position, and sailed into the distance during the race. Hill was battling with Lorenzo Bandini for 3rd place, but the Ferrari driver slammed into the back of Hill’s cooper, causing him to spin. A cracked exhaust crippled his car, causing him to drop down the order, and seemingly out of the championship.

On the second last lap, the title was in Clark’s hands, before his engine seized and his Lotus slowed to a halt. The title swung back into Hill’s favour… but not for long.

Realizing the situation, the Ferrari team furiously signalled to Bandini, telling him to slow down and allow teammate Surtees past. The Italian did so entering the final lap, and Surtees inherited 2 extra points, leapfrogging him over Hill by a single point.

If it was done today, it would be called ugly, unsporting and unfair – and rightly so. But as Ferrari have proved to this very day, they will do anything to their drivers to win the championship.

1976 – James Hunt vs Niki Lauda

1976 was the year that Tyrrell entered their bizarre 6-wheeler, which remains the most controversial F1 invention ever. It also saw the now-legendary battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, which threw Formula 1 into the modern era.

The season began with Lauda absolutely crushing the opposition – 4 wins and 2 second places from the first 6 races spoke for itself. At the time, Hunt’s second career victory in Spain was rescinded in controversial circumstances, with the FIA stating that Hunt’s car was too wide after the race. McLaren counter-claimed that this was due to the rear tyres expanding, and the win was handed back – 2 months later.

Following a win in France, Hunt was disqualified again in Silverstone. A red flag stopped the race on lap 1, and Hunt rejoined the race in the spare car, which was illegal at the time. Ferrari has lodged the appeal to the FIA, despite the fact that one of their drivers had done the same thing.

This time, the victory was gone for good. Lauda had gained 18 points from the post-race decision, and was now a near-unassailable 23 points ahead of the McLaren driver. However, the championship was turned on its head at the Nurburgring, where a massive high-speed crash for Lauda nearly ended his life, and shocked the paddock to its core.

Ferrari withdrew from the following race out of respect, and the focus was on Hunt to reduce the points gap. He delivered, with a 4th place and victory in Niki’s absence. Once the Ferrari driver had recovered from his horrific crash, the deficit was only 2 points.

In the following races, Hunt thrived while Lauda struggled. Niki’s troubled became crystal clear after the penultimate race at Watkins Glen where, after fighting to stay 3rd, Lauda removed his helmet to reveal a balaclava soaked in blood.

In the final race of the season, torrential rain and fog caused huge concern amongst the drivers, particularly Lauda. Nevertheless, the race was started, but the title battle had a huge twist – Lauda coasted back to the pits, claiming “My life is worth more than a title”.

This left Hunt needing only 4th to secure the championship. He was leading the race with 13 laps to go, when a drying track worked to the advantage of the cars behind. A disastrous tyre failure forced James to pit, dropping him to 5th. He chased after the drivers ahead, and with only 3 laps to go, swept past Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni to win his only world championship.

1981 – Alan Jones vs Jacques Laffite vs Carlos Reutemann vs Nelson Piquet vs Alain Prost

The title says it all – this was the first championship ever to have 5 drivers battling for the title with two races to go. It also saw an astonishing 7 different race winners in only 16 races.

The season began in fraught circumstances. The Concorde Agreement was only signed 10 days before the first race, without which many teams would have not entered. Goodyear dropped out as tyre supplier in the preceding December, so drivers struggled massively in the opening races adjusting to the new Michelin rubber. A late ban on side skirts meant that the cars were changed immensely throughout the year. All of this led to an unprecedented amount of unpredictability.

Added to this was an inter-team rivalry, as Carlos Reutemann refused to hand the lead over to Williams teammate and team leader Alan Jones in Jacarepagua. Jones not showing up on the podium signalled a fraught relationship between the two from then on.

The Spanish Grand Prix that year saw an intense battle fought between 5 drivers, as Gilles Villeneuve held them all off for one of his greatest victories, and his first in 2 years. However, he was unable to participate in the 5-way title battle, which whittled down to three drivers by the final race.

Entering the race weekend, Reutemann led Piquet by a single point, with Laffite another 6 points off. At the start of the race, Carlos immediately began to suffer from a failing gearbox, slipping to 5th by lap 2. An ill-handling car meant that Laffite was unable to keep up with the frontrunners, and he slid out of contention.

Piquet held 5th place, which initially appeared as if it wouldn’t be enough. However, Reutemann’s gearbox proved to be decisive, with the Argentinian dropping to 8th with only 7 laps to go, handing the title lead back to Piquet. The two points for 5th place would be enough – if he was able to stay there.

The oppressive heat and anti-clockwise nature of the Caesar’s Palace track was torturing the drivers, and Nelson’s head was visibly rolling about in the cockpit. He just about made it around the final laps, but had to take 15 minutes to recover from heat exhaustion before taking the podium. Piquet’s struggles meant that the title was undecided until the very last corner – but it wasn’t the last time that this happened.

Part 2 of this article will be up soon.

End of the road for HRT?

The future of the HRT F1 team has been in doubt for several weeks. It was put up for sale, in order to pay the FIA entry fee for the 2013 season.

However, recent events at the team’s Madrid headquarters indicate that the situation is beyond fixing. Journalist Joe Saward has reported on team members being coerced into redundancy:

"Team members became irate when they were not allowed to leave the premises until 
they agreed to sign a contract termination document; and that personal effects, 
such as car keys, were withheld."

Even more worryingly, the team’s presence at the Brazilian Grand Prix was under serious threat. The same article notes that several crucial components on the car had gone beyond their scheduled life. It wouldn’t be out of the question to assume that the team had run out of funds to replace the parts.

With the FIA entry fee issue not going away (I don’t know when the due date is), HRT’s future in F1 appears to be slipping away further every day.

Valtteri Bottas to replace Bruno Senna at Williams

Valtteri Bottas will drive alongside Pastor Maldonado at Williams for the 2013 F1 season.

This means that Bruno Senna is out of a race seat for next year. Senna handed over his car 15 times during practice sessions this year to Bottas – a clear indicator that this move was always going to happen.

Valtteri is the second rookie driver to join the F1 paddock for 2013, as Esteban Gutierrez has already been confirmed at Sauber.

Bottas has previously won the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, the 2009 and 2010 Masters of Formula 3 races, and the 2011 GP3 series.

While all drivers concerned stated their usual PR quotes as expected, Bruno Senna has some interesting words to say about his sacking:

"Since the beginning of my program with Williams I accepted that I had to share 
the car with Valtteri Bottas in 15 Fridays as a part of his preparation for a 
likely debut in 2013.
It has been extremely satisfying to be the teams most regular point scorer and for 
me to demonstrate my pace in all 20 races."

 

The heroes of Interlagos 2012

To put it simply, the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2012 was one of the best races I’ve seen in my life. Aside from 2008, you couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to a fabulously entertaining season.

What make the race even more special was that it wasn’t just the two title contenders driving their hearts out. Throughout the field, we saw some astounding performances, resulting in a race that will be talked about for years to come.

Let’s have a look at the stars of Brazil 2012:

Sebastian Vettel

Couldn’t write this article without him. Punted into a spin at turn 4, his championship battle appeared to be over before it even begun.

What happened next was pure magic. Vettel blitzed through the field at an astounding pace, even with a damaged floor and exhaust. He tore his way up to an incredible 6th place after only 10 or so laps.

A mistake deciding what tyres to go onto, and then a slow pit stop, left him down in 12th as the race entered its final 20 laps. However, he again laid waste to the midfield, tearing back up to 6th to seal the title.

What was even more impressive is how he continued to push his way up the field, even when the championship was effectively decided. A true triple world champion’s performance.

Nico Hulkenberg

This was the true shock of the day. With the rain falling, a smart tyre choice helped Hulkenberg gain 25 seconds over most of the grid.

With this opportunity, he kept Button and Hamilton under massive pressure, and shocked most viewers by putting a pass on the McLaren.

Even more amazing was how he managed to pull away from the fastest cars on the grid. A small error at turn 1 ruined his chances of victory, but the subsequent penalty was too harsh in my opinion. Still, it doesn’t detract from an absolutely enthralling performance.

Felipe Massa

The fast-starting Ferraris laid waste to the Red Bulls at the start, and surprisingly were able to pull away comfortably for most of the race.

Massa’s start was particularly impressive, moving up as high as 2nd before shuffling down the order soon after. After losing a lap to the leaders after a delayed pit stop, the safety car period gave him an opportunity to fight back, and he seized it with both hands. He picked off car after car, and eventually relieved 2nd to Alonso.

His resurgence in form has been extremely impressive, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him fighting on equal terms with Fernando next season.

Lewis Hamilton

Again, Lewis did everything right, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

After taking his 7th pole of the year, he was all set to dominate the race, but several factors collided to take him out. The first period of rain allowed Jenson Button to briefly take the lead off the sister McLaren. A poor call for intermediate tyres dropped him down the order, but the safety car slashed a 45-second deficit, and gave him another chance to take a final win with his childhood team.

But like so many times this year, it didn’t happen. A mistake by Nico Hulkenberg took Hamilton out on the spot, and ruined what could have been a beautiful end to the McLaren-Hamilton relationship.

Kimi Raikkonen

All set to finish every single lap of the 2012 season – an incredible record – Raikkonen decided to entertain the fans watching at home instead. A true heroic performance!

Button wins, Vettel triumphs in Interlagos epic

The Brazilian Grand Prix has played host to many incredible races over the years, and 2012 was no exception. After a crazy race that saw several downpours, three different race leaders, and a shocking first-lap crash, Sebastian Vettel presevered to finish 6th, and seal his third world championship in a row.

Incredibly, Nico Hulkenberg led a sizeable portion of the race, but accidentaly crashed into Lewis Hamilton, ruining either’s chances of taking a final win for their team. Jenson Button held on in the closing stages in tricky conditions, and led home Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

This was a race that will be talked about for years to come. Here is the breakdown:

Disaster for Vettel?

It was a taste of Brazil 2007 at the start – the championship leader slipped down at the start, while the challenger pushed through. Vettel found himself down in 5th, but worse was to come at turn 4. A fiesty Bruno Senna clumsily dived down the inside of the Red Bull, and clattered into the side of his car. Sebastian was spun around, while Bruno’s race was ended on the spot.

The clash left Vettel 24th, and seemingly in huge trouble for his championship aspirations. Meanwhile, Alonso was 4th, and his teammate was up in 2nd. Being pressurised by Mark Webber on lap 2, Fernando pulled an epic move, taking both positions at turn 1.

Despite his advantage, though, he made a slip on lap 5, sliding wide at the Senna S and just about holding off Webber. Unbeknownst to the cameras, Vettel was preparing an epic comeback…

Rain-filled chaos, part 1

Nico Hulkenberg made a decent start, and was able to pass Mark Webber soon after the start. After another slip from the Ferrari on lap 6, the Force India was able to inherit 3rd.

Just when it appeared as if the frontrunners were beginning to settle in, the rain threw a spanner in the works. Light rain began to fall on lap 7, and the drivers began to struggle. Webber spun, while Jenson Button began to pressurise teammate Lewis Hamilton for the lead of the race.

After Romain Grosjean spun out of the race, it became clear that the track was too damp for dry tyres. Lap 11 saw the majority of the field pit, while Button and Hulkenberg made the brave decision to stay out.

The focus then shifted back onto Vettel, who had astonishingly made his way all the way up to 6th before the stops. He easily passed Webber with little resistance, and within several laps he had fought his way back into a points position.

A surprise leader

Up front, the Force India of Hulkenberg would not let go of Button’s McLaren, and amazingly jumped past Jenson on lap 19.

In the next few weeks, the intermediate-shod drivers slinked back into the pits, admitting they made the wrong call regarding the weather. Further back, shards of carbon fibre found their way onto the racing line, causing a puncture for Nico Rosberg.

Alonso went onto his radio to complain of the dangerous track, and the safety car was promptly called out to clear the debris.

Hulkenberg and Button promptly received their free pit stop, while the order settled down. Nico still led, ahead of Button, Hamilton, Alonso, and then Vettel, who had dispatched of yet another train of drivers.

Rain-filled chaos, part 2

At the restart, Hulkenberg impressively pulled away, while Button made a move on Hamilton for 2nd place.

Kamui Kobayashi raised plenty of eyebrows, as he battled for a drive next season. The Japanese driver bolted past both Vettel and Alonso for 4th position, before succumbing to the Ferrari a few laps later.

Felipe Massa helped Alonso’s chances, but passing Sebastian for P6. The damage to the Red Bull after lap 1 was noticeable, but didn’t result in a chronic lack of pace.

In his final race, Michael Schumacher had his hands full defending 11th place against Kimi Raikkonen. After nearly being collected by Paul di Resta, the Lotus driver squeezed past the Mercedes, closely followed by the second Force India.

However, the rain was back again. By lap 42, consistent drizzle had dampened the track again, and the times began to slip away again.

Battles at the front and back

At the front, Hamilton began to close on the slowing Hulkenberg. In the slippery conditions, the Force India driver had lost his confidence, and on lap 49 put a wheel onto the white line, spinning and handing the lead to Lewis.

At the back, a battle was forming to decide which team would take 10th place in the constructor’s championship. A single 12th place would suffice, and it was being fought between Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov and Marussia’s Charles Pic.

Petrov held 12th for as long as he could, but spun entering the middle sector, and handed the place back to Pic on lap 47.

Despite the darkening clouds, Vettel opted to take on another set of slicks on lap 52. His actions were mirrored by Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Rosberg took on the intermediates.

Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, slipped wide at turn 12, took the escape road, only to discover that it didn’t lead back to the track as planned. Cue a hasty retreat:

 

Rain-filled chaos, part 3

Hulkenberg attempted to retake the lead on lap 55, but disaster ensued. He lost control entering turn 1, clipped the McLaren, and spun around. Lewis’s race was over, and a drive-through penalty for Hulkenberg ruined his heroic drive.

The worsening conditions made it clear – Vettel had made the wrong call. He dashed back to the pits for inters, but had lost crucial track position. He emerged from the pits in 12th place with it all to do again.

There was no debate amongst the frontrunners this time – all of them immediately pitted by lap 56. After Hulkenberg’s penalty, Alonso was elevated to 3rd, but Vettel was able to claw his way back to 7th.

Button now held an enormous lead over Felipe Massa, who was being caught sharply by Alonso. Within a few laps, a 5-second lead was annihilated, as Massa understood the situation, and allowed his fellow teammate past.

Meanwhile, Vettel wasn’t satisfied with his situation, catching and easing past Michael Schumacher, who similarly posed no threat to the Red Bull.

A tense battle for 12th continued, with Petrov zipping past Pic as the two were being lapped by Alonso.

Despite his searing pace, and attempts to close a 20-second gap to Button, Alonso surely had a sinking feeling in his stomach. With Vettel 6th, the title was out of his grasp.

Premature end to a classic race

Kamui Kobayashi made another attempt to make an impact on the race, doing his best to pass Schumacher for 7th. But, a spin only proved to dampen his sprited charge.

With the race entering the penultimate lap, any hopes for a Brazil 2008-style finish were dashed, as a crash for Paul di Resta brought out the safety car.

After weaving through the debris, Button crawled home to take a triumphant win, while Sebastian Vettel sealed the championship with 6th place. Fernando Alonso was visibly gutted, having lost out on his third title for the 3rd time in the final race of a season.

Di Resta’s sudden retirement meant that Petrov was elevated to 11th, which sealed Caterham’s 10th place in the constructor’s championship. Oddly enough, this works out better for Charles Pic, whose new team next year will enjoy extra FIA funding because of this result.

But the man of the day – and year – was Vettel. Having taken everything that Interlagos could throw at him, he charged through the field countless times to become the youngest ever triple world champion.

And so ends another classic season. In a dog of a car, Fernando Alonso did himself and Ferrari proud, but the best driver/car combination was clearly Vettel, who returned triumphant after a disappointing start to the season. Today’s classic race will cement Vettel’s reputation as one of the fastest drivers in Formula 1 history.

Perez states that Esteban Gutierrez will join Sauber in 2013

Sauber driver Sergio Perez has jumped the gun on his team’s driver announcement for 2013 this weekend, and let slip that Esteban Gutierrez is set to be signed for the team for next year.

Before this weekend, Sauber had confirmed that they would make their driver announcement after the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.

However, in the driver’s press conference today, Perez noted that “the team have a good experienced driver in Nico [Hulkenberg] and he will have a strong team-mate in Esteban [Gutierrez].”

He then stated: “we are waiting for the announcement”.

Gutierrez has already driven for Sauber this year, taking the place of Perez in Friday practice in India. He has previously won GP3 and Formula BMW Europe championships, and took 3rd this year in the GP2 series with ART.

How Alonso or Vettel can win the title this weekend

The 2012 Formula 1 season enters the final round with the title still up for grabs – the 29th time in the sport’s history.

Sebastian Vettel holds a 13-point lead over Fernando Alonso, but an epic title battle from 2010 in Abu Dhabi proved that those leads can be very easily wiped out in a single race. That time, Alonso lost a 15-point gap in the final race, and squandered the championship.

With that in mind, the title is certainly still up for grabs. Let’s have a look at how each driver can win the championship this weekend:

Vettel

It’s a lot easier for Vettel. The easiest way for him to wrap up his third consecutive title on the trot is to finish in the top 4. Even after that, there’s not too many complications:

  • If Alonso only takes 2nd place, Vettel only needs 5th, 6th or 7th.
  • If Alonso takes 3rd place, Vettel needs simple an 8th or 9th-placed finish.
  • If Alonso does not achieve a podium, Vettel only needs to take a single point – assuming that the Ferrari takes 4th instead. Any other situation, and the Red Bull automatically wins.

Alonso

A 13-point gap is sizeable, but not indestructible. After struggling massively all year in a dog of a car, Fernando knows that he will have to jump at the slightest opportunity if he is to claw the 2012 title back into his hands.

However, the odds are against him:

  • If Alonso wins, Vettel would have to finish 5th or lower.
  • If he takes 2nd place, Vettel would have to finish 8th or lower.
  • If he finishes on the podium, Vettel would have to score just a single point (or less) to lose the title.

Flashback to 2010

Over 2 years ago, I wrote a similar article on the 2010 title battle. There, I said that Vettel winning the title was improbable, but certainly within reach.

The maths behind this article are certainly much less complicated, but that doesn’t make this title battle any less interesting!

Variables on track

Remember, this is the Brazilian Grand Prix we’re talking about. The Interlagos track is extremely unpredictable, and occasionally throws up some insane races. See 2003 and 2008 for more information.

  • Rain is always a factor here – there is  a 60% chance of rain on race day. This may push the race in Alonso’s favour, as typically Vettel has not driven well in the wet here before.
  • First-lap incidents – The paving over of turns 1 and 2 has not gone down well with fans or drivers, but the treacherous Senna S sequence may still catch one of the frontrunners out. One of the title contenders being taken out here would end the championship showdown before it even began.
  • Red Bull’s alternator – Several incidents so far this year with the Red Bull alternator could turn the championship on its head. The team are opting to bring a newer-spec model to this Grand Prix, and it is unclear how much testing this model has seen.
  • Felipe Massa – A recent surge in form has resulted in Massa’s contract with Ferrari being extended, and Felipe may be keen to stay on friendly terms with the team by assisting Fernando. Massa typically drives very well at this track, so it mightn’t be out of the question to see him surrender the lead to his teammate.

As to what will actually happen… we’ll have to wait until Sunday for that!

Title fight will go to Brazil – Hamilton pips Vettel in thrilling American GP

Lewis Hamilton has continued his streak of winning every single United States Grand Prix he has competed in, with an excellent drive today at the Circuit of the Americas.

The McLaren driver hunted down Sebastian Vettel for the majority of the race, then had to hold him off in a tense final few laps. Fernando Alonso did all he could to minimize his championship losses, but was half a minute behind in 3rd place.

At the start, all the even-numbered starters slided down the field, with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen losing out in particular. Alonso leaped up to 4th place, while Jenson Button couldn’t get his hard tyres up to temperature, falling to 16th.

As is the case these days, Michael Schumacher began to slip away, causing a large train of cars to form from 8th all the way down to 15th. Hamilton quickly recovered from his disappointing start, dispatching of Mark Webber for 2nd place.

As Michael slipped down the order, Button began his recovery drive, his prime tyres proving to be particularly effective once they were up to temperature. Up front, Hamilton began to close on Vettel, but was unable to get close enough to make a move just yet. Red Bull’s reliability fears were proved, as teammate Webber pulled over with an alternator failure on Lap 17.

This elevated Alonso to 3rd, which he immediately lost after a slow pit stop. Kimi Raikkonen opted to stay out while the frontrunners pitted, and spent several laps just behind Sebastian before stopping. However, a similar mistake with the right rear tyre resulted in the Lotus falling behind the Ferrari.

Felipe Massa’s gearbox penalty seriously disadvantaged the Brazilian, but he shrugged it off, and pulled off an impressive performance to pull himself back into contention. By the end of the pit stops, he was able to reel in and put a move on Raikkonen, who was not as fast initially on a new set of rubber.

On a completely different strategy to everyone else, Jenson Button stayed out until Lap 36, pulling out a string of impressive – and fastest – laps to rejoin the race behind the Raikkonen/Massa fight.

Nico Hulkenberg – who was the subject of an epic pass by Raikkonen earlier – had made it as high as 5th in the opening stages, but the Force India proved to be uncompetitive in race trim, and lost another place to the other Lotus of Romain Grosjean.

After a brief lull in activity at the front after the stops, Hamilton again got up close behind Vettel. Lap after lap he tried to get close using DRS, but the gap to the Red Bull was just too big. However, an opportunity arose when Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT held up Vettel in the first sector, and Hamilton wasted no time in punishing Sebastian’s misfortune. Once he got past, he did his best to pull out a gap.

Further back, the two Williams drivers began to tussle, with both drivers’ contracts on the line for 2013. Bruno Senna had got up as far as 9th, but an ambitious pass by Pastor Maldonado relegated him to the final points-scoring position.

Although Lewis had done his best to pull away from Sebastian, the Red Bull’s pace proved to be undeniable. Vettel was able to reduce the gap to around a second in the final few laps, and chased Hamilton all the way to the flag in an extremely tense finish.

Alonso was over half a minute off the battling duo, but later stated that his podium finish felt as good as a win. Felipe Massa was able to find his way past Raikkonen and Button to take an excellent 4th position. After a decent grid position, race day was a disaster for Michael Schumacher, falling all the way to 16th.

The most important piece of news from this race is that the title fight will go on to Brazil. Vettel now has a 13-point lead over Alonso, while at the same time Red Bull have clinched the constructor’s championship with one race to spare.

Ferrari intentionally give Massa gearbox penalty to hand Alonso 7th, on clean side of Austin grid

A late gearbox penalty for Felipe Massa has dropped him down to 11th on the grid for the Grand Prix of America.  Crucially, this means that Fernando Alonso has been elevated to 7th on the grid – the clean side of the track.

Rival teams have reacted with fury, as Ferrari attempt to give Alonso every advantage possible, after a disastrous weekend so far for the Italian squad.

Ferrari didn’t even need to actually change the gearbox on Massa’s car – they simply broke the seal on top of it.

It remains to be seen will Red Bull attempt a similar situation with Mark Webber, but it is highly doubtful, knowing the Aussie.

Are tarmac run-off areas ruining F1 tracks?

The Autodromo Carlos Pace in Interlagos, Brazil, has undergone several changes ahead of this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, which of course hosts the finale to this year’s gripping title battle.

However, those changes include a complete neutering of the classic “Senna S” – otherwise known as turns 1 and 2. In short, the grass to the right of turn 1 has been replaced with tarmac run-off, allowing displaced cars to re-enter the track easily.

The problem with this is that is shoots down most chances of a dramatic start to the Grand Prix. Any cars that make a mistake at turn 1 will be easily able to rejoin the action with little to no penalty.

More modern F1 tracks are lambasted for having too much run-off area, so are these tarmac car parks dampening the appeal of F1 circuits?

The argument for tarmac run-off

To start, tarmac run-off isn’t in any way the death of Formula 1. While it comes with its disadvantages, there are several aspects that have led to its widespread introduction.

Safety, as always, is key in F1, as the sport continues to excel in protecting the lives of its drivers. Gravel traps are notorious for causing F1 cars to flip, as their centre of gravity is too low. In other cases, the car will not slow down enough before it hits a barrier.

Grass features in nearly every F1 circuit (real or artificial), but it too comes with its dangers. In the wet, grass turns into a complete deathtrap, as drivers will find themselves helpless as they aquaplane straight off the track if they make a single error. Where grass features next to the white line in the braking area of a corner, it can completely spin a car if a wheel leaves the track.

Tarmac run-off eliminates all of these issues. In situations where a car snaps sideways, the driver would be able to correct a potential spin, and rejoin the track without too much lost time. It tends to slightly reward “enthusiastic” driving, as drivers won’t be punished as much for pushing hard during a stint.

Damaged “purity” of Formula 1

Irate nostalgic fans will be quick to bemoan new tarmac run-off areas, complaining that they dilute F1′s appeal, are too accommodating to mistakes, and don’t punish the drivers enough.

It is a fair point. With too many run-off areas, we wouldn’t have as many dramatic exits from Grand Prix, or near-crashes, such as Lewis Hamilton’s close shave with the barriers in the dying laps of Belgium 2010.

The legendary circuit of Spa, while still incredibly challenging, has had its appeal reduced somewhat, with many corners now supporting huge run-off areas for the sake of promoting better racing. Pouhon is the best example, with the run-off area even bigger than the area of the entire corner sequence itself. It’s disappointing to see drivers make an error in the corner, slip wide, then rejoin a few seconds later as if nothing had happened.

This isn’t restricted to just old circuits. The Shanghai International Circuit hosts enormous run-off sections at every single corner, and it shows. They’re ugly, over-effective, and push the fans away from the track itself. On television, newer viewers will struggle to locate the actual racing line itself, with vast expanses of tarmac in every direction.

Does this mean that it’s a bad racing circuit? No, but it does it no favours.

A possible compromise? Abrasive surfaces at Paul Ricard

The Paul Ricard circuit uses abrasive metallic strips to slow down cars - the future of F1?

The Paul Ricard circuit uses abrasive metallic strips to slow down cars – the future of F1?

With the New Jersey Grand Prix delayed until 2014, rumours have surfaced that the Circuit Paul Ricard in France is to host a once-off F1 race next season. I had a look at the circuit in detail, and noticed how the designers had compromised between run-off areas and punishing drivers.

Paul Ricard features visually distinctive red and blue abrasive run-off zones, which punish mistakes dearly, as well as preventing cars from heavy crashes. In the picture to the right, the blue-striped area will slow the car down moderately, allowing the driver to rejoin the track with little danger. However, small tungsten strips in this section will also damage the user’s tyres as a result, providing a deterrent to leaving the track.

The red-striped areas behind will destroy any set of tyres, providing the maximum level of grip to slow a car before an impact with the barrier. Any F1 car that ran over this section would immediately be forced to pit for a new set of tyres, similar to how gravel traps will ruin the rubber on any set of Pirellis.

Is this the compromise that F1 may be forced to make? It’s certainly a good idea, but I can’t see it being implemented into every circuit – the cost of the tungsten run-off is apparently too high for most tracks to utilise.

However, it appears to pose an excellent balance between punishing mistakes and allowing drivers to race aggressively.

What do you think? Should abrasive run-offs be implemented to appease both sides of this argument?

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