Category Archives: Opinon

2012 half-way driver rankings: 24th – 15th

As I’ve done for a while now, every 6 months I do a quick review of each driver and his performances in that season so far.

The reviews are based on qualifying performance (particularly vs. teammate), race finishing position (+ vs. teammate), fastest laps, number of penalties, and relative form.

So without further ado, let’s start with drivers ranked from 24th to 15th…

Another disappointing season for Karthikeyan

Another disappointing season for Karthikeyan

24th: Narain Karthikeyan

Previous ranking: 26th out of 28

Ranking from previous review: “The only shining moment [2011 Indian GP] in a dull and uninspired season.”

Not much was expected of Karthikeyan after a disappointing 2011 season, and not much is what we got.

Narain has been completely out-performed by Pedro de la Rosa in every single aspect of the 2012 season. He has been out-qualified 11 times out of 11, by an average of 0.8 seconds per race. Race pace is similarly awful, with 15th and 18th places the only time he moved above 21st.

The one decent performance so far has been at the Malaysian Grand Prix, where he made the bold call to take on wet tyres at the start. As the rain hammered down, Karthikeyan was able to punch above his weight, and moved up to 5th for a brief moment. I feel he was innocent in his clashes with both Button and Vettel – it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, there is little to suggest that Karthikeyan should be in Formula 1 – apart from a sponsor’s paycheck, of course. It says a lot of HRT to accept the paycheck rather than the driver.

 

De la Rosa can achieve little in such a poor car

De la Rosa can achieve little in such a poor car

23rd: Pedro de la Rosa

Previous ranking: 19th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “I believe that he won’t make much impact in such a poor car  – and knowing HRT, he’ll likely get replaced halfway through the year.”

It seems I’ve lost my 100% record for predicting De la Rosa’s future – he hasn’t lost his job just yet, and is making a small impact at the back of the field, considering it is all he can do.

In such a dire car, you can’t expect miracles, but Pedro has managed to perform rather consistently. As previously stated, he has out-qualified Narain Karthikeyan at every single race so far, and has spent the majority of his race laps in front of his teammate.

His only fault was not being able to match Narain’s progress up the field during brief stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix, when a tyre gamble gave HRT an opportunity to move up the grid.

Despite this, he has performed well, and deserves to be retained for another while. But this may mean nothing, as we all know from before.

 

LIttle from Petrov to suggest he can beat Kovalainen

LIttle from Petrov to suggest he can beat Kovalainen

22nd: Vitaly Petrov

Previous ranking: 16th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “A podium in Australia was undoubtedly the standout moment of the year, but there wasn’t much to talk about after that.”

Like 2011, there was nothing awful, but nothing spectacular either to speak of for Petrov.

If there was ever an opportunity for Caterham to challenge the midfield, it was always Heikki Kovalainen who took the honours. Petrov has been out-qualified 9 times out of 11, albeit by a smaller margin than most other drivers.

While Vitaly tends to finish the races ahead of Heikki, he still has led less laps ahead of Kovalainen than vice-versa, as the Finn remains ahead of Petrov for the majority of the races as well.

Vitaly has only qualified in 3 specific places so far this year – 18th, 19th and 20th. As I said before, this is nothing awful, but Kovalainen has been up in the dizzying heights of 16th and 17th consistently, and Petrov rarely challenges his more experienced teammate.

If he doesn’t step up his game, he runs the risk of becoming a fully-fledged pay driver.

 

An average performance so far for Pic

An average performance so far for Pic

21st: Charles Pic

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

Not the average backmarker driver as many had expected, Charles Pic has impressed in his debut year so far, and has put a good deal of pressure on established teammate Timo Glock.

On 4 occasions has Charles been able to out-qualify Glock, by small margins. In the races, Glock is able to claw back this deficit quite often, but not without a bit of resistance, as the rookie has spent nearly 150 race laps ahead of his teammate.

Before him, Lucas di Grassi and Jerome D’Ambrosio were much the same, however, and they were not able to hold onto their drives the following year. Assuming Marussia will act the same this year, Pic will have to up his game if he expects to be in F1 in 2013.

 

Despite his talent, Glock has not extracted the Marussia's full potential

Despite his talent, Glock has not extracted the Marussia’s full potential

20th: Timo Glock

Previous ranking: 22nd out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “We all know Timo deserves better [...] next season looks like a similar struggle.”

As expected, there has been no dramatic change in fortunes for Glock – he continues to struggle to make an impact in a hopeless car.

There is, as always, data to show he has the potential to do so much more. Despite a few slips, he enjoys a comfortable lead over Charles Pic in both qualifying and the races. At race starts, he gains on average 2.4 places, and has gained 22 places in total on opening laps this year.

That is the best record of all F1 drivers so far – the Ferraris, renowned for their good starts, have only gained a total of 17 and 18 places respectively.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes. While he is able to make waves on the first lap, with such a poor car, he cannot hope to keep up to the midfield, or even the Caterhams.

There is nothing left for Glock to achieve at the back of the grid. Marussia may well be pleased with Timo, but I highly doubt that he is pleased with the car. A bold move is required by the German in order to save his career.

 

The two new Toro Rosso drivers are little better than the old ones

The two new Toro Rosso drivers are little better than the old ones

19th: Jean-Eric Vergne

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

Toro Rosso opted to ditch Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for a new pair of rookies, but to be honest, I’m not sure why they bothered.

Jean-Eric Vergne, in particular, has been particularly unimpressive, with a dismal qualifying record being his main weakness so far. On average, he starts in 17th place, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo on average being 13th.

A silly and needless move against Kovalainen in Valencia did nothing to improve his reputation. He has been eliminated in Q1 6 times, while Ricciardo has been into Q3 twice, compared to none for the Frenchman. On the plus side, his race pace is more impressive, with Vergne often finishing one position ahead of Ricciardo.

However, the qualifying gap to his teammate is over half a second, an astronomical amount for someone trying to defend his place in Formula 1. I think Toro Ross (effectively Red Bull) should obviously give them more than a year to prove their worth, but so far I have been unimpressed with Vergne’s performance.

 

An average race for Pastor Maldonado

An average race for Pastor Maldonado

18th: Pastor Maldonado

Previous ranking: 25th out of 28th

Review from previous ranking: “The 2010 GP2 champion has given no reason as to why he deserves to be in Formula 1, relying solely on a substantial paycheck by his fellow Venezuelan backers.”

It’s arguable whether Maldonado should be so far down the rankings. On one hand, he has some serious pace – the Spanish Grand Prix proved that. There’s no doubt that the Venezuelan driver has the talent to make it big.

But, on the other hand, he drives like a complete thug. And that’s why I have absolutely no respect for him.

It’s hard to keep count of the crashes – losing 6th on the last lap in Australia, taking out Perez in Monaco, crashing into De la Rosa (Monaco), slamming into the Wall of Champions, taking out Lewis Hamilton in Valencia, taking out Sergio Perez (again), and last but not least hitting Paul di Resta in Hungary. That would be impressive, but this isn’t Destruction Derby.

At this point, a Maldonado fan might bring up any other good performances he had, but there’s the problem – there isn’t any. And with that, Pastor has a lot of work to do if he wants to improve his destroyed reputation in Formula 1.

 

Massa can barely amount a challenge to Force India, never mind his teammate

Massa can barely amount a challenge to Force India, never mind his teammate

17th: Felipe Massa

Previous ranking: 18th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Every single year, we are promised a return to form by the Brazilian, and every year is a let-down.”

Business as usual for Massa, then. I cannot understand the people who say that 4th place in one solitary race is acceptable – his teammate is pulling out a lead in the world championship as we speak.

While Alonso took control in Malaysia, Massa was 97 seconds down, and close to being lapped. It took him 4 races to score a single point, by which time Fernando was sitting pretty on 43. First-lap clashes aren’t even a surprise in 2012. The list of negatives just goes on and on.

And like Maldonado, he has had practically no plus sides. He performed decently in Silverstone, until you consider that his teammate was still ahead of him up the road. His qualifying record is abysmal – he has only reached Q3 4 times, hasn’t out-qualified Alonso once, and loses out by an average gap of 0.6 seconds per session.

In a championship-leading car, Massa lies 14th, in between a Force India and a Williams. How Ferrari continue to justify his performances by continuing to keep him on board is beyond me.

 

Kovalainen was persistent as always

Kovalainen was persistent as always

16th: Heikki Kovalainen

Previous ranking: 11th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “He absolutely demolished his teammate in every sector.”

2012 has been less of a cakewalk for Heikki Kovalainen, but nevertheless he continues to impress with consistently good performances.

Partnered with Vitaly Petrov, Kovalainen still has the upper hand in all areas. He is leading in qualifying by 9-2, and achieved Caterham’s best performance to date with 13th in Monaco. He has also been behind the driving force to reach the midfield, reaching Q2 on two occasions so far.

Overall, the stats are good as usual. However, Kovalainen’s future really hinges on how much more progress Caterham can make. Despite their pluckiness, they have repeatedly failed their ambitious goals (Consistently reaching Q2, scoring a point), and surely this must be beginning to wear on Heikki.

There have been a few occasions where he has been able to keep up with the Toro Rossos, but surely this isn’t enough to satisfy his desire to race at the front again. Kovalainen is doing all he can – now it’s up to the team.

 

Ricciardo has performed slightly better than Vergne so far

Ricciardo has performed slightly better than Vergne so far

15th: Daniel Ricciardo

Previous ranking: 20th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “I feel he can succeed where Buemi and Alguersuari failed.”

The second of the new Toro Rosso signings, Ricciardo hasn’t underperformed, but has still struggled to cement his place in Formula 1.

His qualifying pace is quite commendable – beating Vergne 9 times out of 11 so far, with an average margin of over half a second. He has only been eliminated from Q1 once, and has progress to Q3 twice. Not too shabby.

In the races is where the faults start to appear. He has lost an average of 3 places per race on lap 1, which is by far the worst in the field. Being located at the back end of the midfield, this is what is holding back Ricciardo’s race pace.

I feel it’s unfair to compare the two drivers in terms of points – both have only been in the top 10 only once each, after all. However, I think that if Ricciardo can get to grips with his starts, then he may emerge as the dominant force of the Toro Rosso team.

From the stands: British Grand Prix

I’ll remember this year’s British Grand Prix as the first ever F1 race I visited. Even casual fans have heard of the calamitous weather that struck Silverstone and much of the UK last weekend, so clearly it wasn’t the most optimal start to my fanaticism.

Still, it was a fantastic experience, and a trip I can absolutely reccommend to any Formula 1 fan.

I thought I would describe my experiences at the circuit with a more detailed than usual article, possibly to serve as advice for first-time spectators next year.

Friday

We (me and my dad) stayed in Northampton for the weekend, taking a bus from the bus station at 8 every morning. Sounds simple enough, right?

Not so on Friday. After spending nearly an hour in a seemingly endless traffic jam, one man told the bus driver to turn off the motorway, and take the back roads instead. It worked, and half an hour later we were trudging our way through mud to the circuit.

We had turned off a few metres before the end of the junction, and if we had stayed on the main road, we would have been caught in the infamous 6-hour jam that caught up thousands of fans, and even some F1 personnel. Disaster avoided by millimetres.

The classic F1 cars are a different world compared to modern machines

The classic F1 cars are a different world compared to modern machines

We arrived at the circuit slightly late, and my first hearing of an F1 car was over half a mile away from the track. It wasn’t any bit quieter though, as the screaming V8 engines rattled the insides of my eardrums (note: you must bring earplugs). The sound is something you can never get used to – as it approaches, it’s innocently quiet(ish), but as it blasts past, the exhausts blast out 18000 rpm of unbridled screaming. Awesome stuff.

For Practice 1, we sat at Woodcote corner, which was excellent for watching the cars accelerate out of Luffield, and power all the way down to Copse. As a budding amateur photographer, I moved down to the standing section at the bottom of the grandstand, but after a few minutes was asked to move back by the stewards. In hindsight, I was probably blocking someone’s view!

The F1 cars did limited running on Friday, but it doesn’t seem that way from the spectator’s point of view. As long as there’s a few cars out on track, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. We watched GP2 practice and Historic F1 from the same spot, and moved on after lunch.

One of my favourite shots from Friday

One of my favourite shots from Friday

For Practice 2, we moved on to the International Pit Straight. FP2 was notable for having very little on-track action, but again we were entertained, this time by the entire grandstand, aided by the Club stand, performing half-mile mexican waves during the wait. The Marussia mechanics eventually came out of their garage, and applauded us for keeping up the atmosphere.

Kamui Kobayashi was a joy to watch – he threw his Sauber around the corners lap after lap, and earned himself a cheer every time he went around. By far the bravest of the drivers in very challenging conditions, and I’ve earned a lot more respect for him.

In terms of traffic, it was by far the worst day. Once back in the hotel, we heard about the horror stories of being stuck in 8-hour jams, and of F1 engineers not being able to get to the track. It’s a complete joke – no matter how much Richard Phillips pretends to apologise, his organisation of the race was a farce, and he must be held accountable. This has been going on for years, and fan facilities are still on par with something you’d see at Glastonbury.

Saturday

Alonso and Hamilton battle it out - the best moment from the weekend

Alonso and Hamilton battle it out – the best moment from the weekend

For Saturday, we started off back at Woodcote, as we got held up in traffic again, and had to run to the nearest grandstand before Saturday practice began. We saw Sergio Perez run wide onto the grass (missed by the cameras I think), and plenty more on-track activity.

For qualifying, we made the brave choice to move to an open grandstand at Stowe – a very bad call from myself. Within minutes of Q2 we were completely soaked, and with no umbrella between us, we hid underneath the scaffolding of the stand, as it’s design allowed us (and some marshals!) to shelter from the rain.

This went on for far too long

This went on for far too long

With the red flag thrown, it was a miserable hour-long wait for the sky to clear. Listening to the chatter on Radio Silverstone was entertaining enough, but soon lost its charm. We raced over to Club corner, and somehow found the last 2 seats in the covered area, a spot of magnificent luck.

Even better was the sights we saw in the rest of qualifying. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso went wheel-to-wheel battling for clear track, and Alonso shoved his way around the outside of the McLaren – an absolutely fantastic and unnecessary move.

Colletti goes thundering through the standing water

Colletti goes thundering through the standing water

Nico Rosberg went clattering into the gravel, soon followed by Romain Grosjean, who was beached and ended his day prematurely. Hamilton earned a roar of support every time he went past, but it wasn’t enough for him to challenge the frontrunners. I was very impressed by Webber’s pace, but ultimately Alonso was deservedly on pole.

We stayed put for GP2, which started under the safety car. This went on for far too long, as the track was visibly drying before racing got underway. Luckily, the next two safety car appearances only lasted for a lap each, so it didn’t slow down the action too much. Luiz Razia was very impressive, passing many cars right in front of us. Fabio Lemer was well in control of the race, and should have won, but unfortunately strategy ruined his day.

There was nearly a nasty crash when Stefano Colletti plowed straight through the standing water on the grass, and nearly clashed with another car on the exit of the corner. Luckily, he regained control of the car and continued on.

GP3 was viewed from Abbey corner, which I wouldn’t reccommend as much as the others. It’s not bad, but you only can see the beginning of the Village sequence, and can’t even see down the pit straight or even half of the pit lane, as half of it is lowered.

The race was relatively uneventful, aside from one wheel-to-wheel battle, when it occurred to me how insanely close these cars were battling. You have to see it with your own eyes to understand how brilliant these drivers are, to not smash their cars into the barriers at every pass.

Sunday

Paul di Resta had another off on Lap 2, unknown to the cameras

Paul di Resta had another off on Lap 2, unknown to the cameras

Despite the doomsday reports from Sky News, the weather stayed put, and the traffic somehow managed to calm itself. It was lucky for both the fans and Silverstone managing director Richard Phillips – another farce like Friday and he would have been forced to step down.

We had grandstand tickets in Becketts, one of the finest corners in modern F1. The views are unbeatable – you can see all of Becketts, the Village sequence, the Wellington straight and even a tiny bit of Stowe. There was a screen opposite the corner, and staying tuned to Radio Silverstone kept us in the loop.

In the GP2 sprint race, there was very nearly a horrible accident. After one of the Marussia Manor cars got beached on a kerb, the marshals ran out to move the car, but astoundingly the safety car wasn’t called out. Another car approached the corner, and in his haste to slow down, span and nearly wiped out everyone involved. Far too close a call.

In the F1 race, Felipe Massa earned a cheer for holding off Sebastian Vettel through Becketts. Lewis Hamilton did extremely well in his first stint, staying with the frontrunners despite being on inferior tyres. Taking the lead for a solitary lap, as well as duelling with Alonso again, was a joy to watch.

Paul di Resta had a puncture, as seen on TV, but his second lap after his pit stop was even more dramatic. He spun halfway through Becketts, and limped back to the pits, his race well and truly over.

Hamilton and Button applaud the fans

Hamilton and Button applaud the fans

The first half of the race was a complete blur, with passes and overtakes enough to keep us all entertained. The second half was less exciting, but the strategic battle up front was mesmerising. Webber and Alonso thrashed their cars in and out of Becketts lap after lap, the gap changing by milliseconds every time.

Eventually, Webber pushed his way into the lead with a few laps to go, earning another roar of approval from the crowd. Personally I would have preferred an Alonso victory, but Webber is fine too!

Afterwards, the marshals let everyone onto the track after half an hour, after they had a chance to clear up fire extinguishers from their posts – or so they told us. Many I heard from were disappointed they couldn’t get in sooner, and were unable to watch the podium celebrations. Still, we walked part of the track, and picked up some tyre marbles as souvenirs. They’re really odd to look at, being shredded bits of rubber and all, but it was nice to keep a bit of an F1 car with us.

Review

It was a fantastic weekend, and I can reccommend the trip for anyone, but this track isn’t without its downfalls. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulous circuit, and a joy to see and hear the cars, but the surrounding infrastructure is absuloutely pathetic.

Being one of the greatest racing tracks, I’d love to push it as the one and only racing venue to go to, but European F1 circuits are so much more modernised and accessible. Walking to the track – everyone has to do it, no matter how you get there – is a shambles, with more mud than anything else. Tiny sections had temporary walkways, but that was it. You’d find better organisation at a garden fete.

If you”re going to go, dress like you’re going to Glastonbury, and I’m not joking. I wore normal shoes, and left the track every day completely soaked as a result. Wellies are in the majority at Silverstone, not the tiny minority like I initially thought.

Once you get past the rubbish infrastructure, it’s an unforgettable experience, though. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Advice

  • Wear boots or wellies for footwear. Nothing else will do.
  • Earplugs may not be 100% necessary, depending on your sensitivity and where you’re standing, but you can’t leave such a massive risk. Bring plenty of spares, as you may need to loan out some as well.
  • If you’re looking at taking decent-quality photos, take a telephoto lens with at least 150mm of focal length. I used a Sigma 70-300 DG for all my photos, and they came out much better than I would have expected. I brought a 50mm prime as well, but had no use for it.
  • For grandstands, I reccommend Club or Becketts as my favourites. Close behind is the International Pit Straight. All of these have the great atmosphere, views, and sound that you would expect. Stowe is good for only one corner – you can’t see down to Club.
  • Avoid the food around the track. You can probably tell why.
  • Bring coats and umbrellas, no matter how good the weather looks, we’re talking about British weather here!
  • Enjoy yourself, this may be a once in a lifetime experience, and you’ll want to get the most out of it. For Friday and Saturday, pick some grandstands, and watch the cars fly by. For Sunday, if you’re using a General Admission ticket, there’s still a few good spots even at 9 or 10 in the morning, so keep an eye out. The Hangar Straight is extremely close to the track, and fairly scant of supporters compared to other corners.

Canadian Grand Prix to be subject to protests?

A sickening poster showing the protestors' complete disrespect for Zanardi

A sickening poster showing the protestors’ complete disrespect for Zanardi

After the furore of the Bahrain Grand Prix, F1 has again become subject to protests, this time from a Canadian students group.

The student group CLASSE has already forced the cancellation of an open day next Thursday before the Grand Prix weekend. Circuit organisers claimed they had received “direct threats” of protests to cause disruption of the event, and it was abandoned for safety reasons.

Furthermore, threatening emails have been sent to around 100 people who bought Grand Prix tickets online:

"If you intend to use a car, know that your road may be barricaded. If you want to 
stay in a hotel, know that we may enter it. If you seek to withdraw money from a 
bank, know that the shattering glass may sting. If you plan on watching a race, 
know that your view may be obscured, not by exhaust fumes but by the smoke of the 
fires we set. Know that the evacuation order may not come fast enough."

Obviously, there may or may not be credibility to these statements, but it is worrying nonetheless.

On the Sunday of the Grand Prix, a protest is being planned at the Berri Metro Station in Montreal, the only metro which will serve the race. To make matters worse, the poster promoting the demonstration shows Alex Zanardi’s horrifying CART crash from 2001, in which he lost both of his legs.

This has absolutely no relevance to F1 whatsoever, and only serves to show the sickening ignorance of some of the protestors.

This uproar does have a cause, but it has absolutely nothing to do with motorsport. Students have been voicing their disapproval at raised tuition fees (an extra $325 per year) for some time, and it has recently turned into periodic demonstrations. Emergency legislation was passed to curtail the demonstrations, but students say it infringes on their right to protest.

This rasises one important question: If this has nothing to do with Formula 1 – and it doesn’t – then why are they targeting race-goers? There appears to be some convoluted logic from the protestors’ side, I feel.

We will have to wait and see if these threats are actually carried out. However, it sets a dangerous precedent – F1 has already been targeted for political reasons, and it would do well to avoid such a conflict here.

Monaco GP analysis: Historic season can only get even better

With 6 different winners in 6 different races, we have never before seen such a varied an unpredictable grid. Every race, there are 7 or 8 drivers in with a chance of winning, and nearly as many are in the battle for the championship.

This time last year, we were already becoming certain who was running away with the title. In 2012 however, there is no doubt that it is shaping up to be one of the closest seasons in history.

Heroes to zeroes, and vice-versa

For Felipe Massa, criticism is due where it’s due, but praise equally so. Under massive pressure from the Scuderia after a dismal start, the Brazilian impressed by keeping Fernando Alonso honest on the streets of Monaco.

His pace may have been complimented by Alonso’s conservative driving, but it is still a massive improvement from what we have seen so far.

It’s clear what Ferrari want from him – good, but not great, performances. A driver who can pick up points where Alonso slips, but is otherwise content to finish 5th or 6th. A few more races like Monaco, and Felipe’s season will be back on track.

Pastor Maldonado, meanwhile, has completely wiped out his form from Spain. A thug-like swipe at Sergio Perez in practice left him near the back of the grid, then the Williams driver punted Pedro de la Rosa at the start, ending his race.

It’s hard to imagine that the same driver took the top step of the podium only two weeks ago.

Reputation is a fragile thing in Formula 1, and Pastor may have gone and thrown his away with a single burst of anger. Like the BBC F1 crew commented, to use your car as a weapon is nothing less than disgraceful. After years of safety campaigning, the FIA has thrown it away by allowing such reckless behaviour to go on.

McLaren continue to throw away valuable points

Yet another shocking race for the McLaren team

Yet another shocking race for the McLaren team

Only a quarter of the way into the season, and it is clear that even single points are precious for the frontrunners. With a single race win covering the top 5, the title race could go to the wire.

In such circumstances, McLaren’s dismal form makes them stand out even more. Starting the season with one of the fastest cars, repeated mistakes and slip-ups have cost the team in nearly every race.

Monaco was no exception – Lewis Hamilton was livid after his team lost him a place in the pit stops. He was not informed of Sebastian Vettel’s searing pace up front, and subsequently dropped behind the Red Bull. He claimed afterwards that he could have pushed and stayed ahead, if he was told the information.

He has gone on and stated: “We haven’t had a grand prix weekend where something hasn’t gone wrong” which pretty much sums it up for McLaren.

While Jenson Button’s failures this weekend were largely his fault, Hamilton was frustrated by everything around him, and suffered as a result. It’s so early into the season, and the title may already be slipping away.

Meanwhile, at Sauber…

Just another normal start for Kamui Kobayashi

Just another normal start for Kamui Kobayashi

At the start of the Monaco GP, replays showed Kamui Kobayashi having a more frenzied start than usual. After being clipped by a flailing Romain Grosjean, the Sauber was launched into the air, before bouncing back onto the tarmac, nearly knocking Jenson Button into the barriers in the process.

The replays made it seem spectacular, but the photo attached even more so. That alone was why this extra section was added!

Hamiton’s penalty: Was it fair?

The smile has surely slipped from Hamilton's face after his disqualification

The smile has surely slipped from Hamilton’s face after his disqualification

Lewis Hamilton’s most recent penalty has drawn as much controversy as you’d expect. The Brit’s demotion to 24th on the grid has ruined his chances of a probable victory, over a fuel issue which probably wouldn’t have cost him pole.

However, others have argued that the penalty was fair – after all, this isn’t the first time McLaren have under-fuelled their car.

Let’s have a look at both arguments…

For

On one side, rules are rules. FIA Article 6.6 deals with how fuel samples are carried out, and it clearly states that “the car concerned must first have been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

Clearly, this was not the case. While Lewis stopped on track with enough fuel for the sample, he should have been forced to go back to the pits like everybody else – and this would have caused him to drop below the limit.

Furthermore, it soon became clear that McLaren were not being completely honest with the media over the incident. After qualifying, Martin Whitmarsh stated several times that the stoppage was not fuel-related, which obviously turned out to be completely false. The problem was identified after Lewis left the pits, and management surely must have been immediately alerted to the situation.

Their behaviour in this case should not have earned them extra punishment, but still reflects very badly on them as a team.

Against

At the end of the day, a very simple argument may be the best one – a 23 place grid drop is extremely harsh for such an infringement.

The extra fuel in Hamilton’s car to bring him back to the pits would have slowed him down slightly, but nowhere near enough for him to lose pole position, as he evidently had it in the bag.

Others claim that since the incident occurred in Q3, the penalty should only drop him out of the top 10 and no further. This would make more sense, as the drivers knocked out in Q2 clearly suffered no loss from this debacle, and therefore shouldn’t gain a place.

Personal opinion

I feel that, at the end of the day, rules are rules. It certainly is a harsh penalty, but in no way unfair.

The half lap of fuel that was required cost him about 0.05-0.1 tenths of a second on his flying lap, well below the gap between him and Pastor Maldonado, but this makes no difference. Whether a car is 1 tenth or 10 seconds ahead, it doesn’t matter – all drivers should have to abide by the same rules.

Put it this way: If Michael Schumacher – in his domination years – qualified 0.5 seconds ahead of anyone else, while using an illegal fuel mixture that gave him an extra 0.1 seconds, does that make it acceptable? Of course not. It’s not a perfect example, as Lewis or the team clearly weren’t trying to break the rules in such a manner, but the fundamental point remains.

If McLaren/Hamilton want fair treatment from the FIA, then they will have to deserve it. All 24 drivers should abide by the rules in the correct manner, and if one breaks the rules, they should be punished accordingly, no matter how insignificant the incident. Look at Sauber – a tiny rear wing radius issue caused them to be thrown out of qualifying in Australia 2011, and they deserved it.

With such a tight and unpredictable 2012 grid, McLaren should know better than to get caught up in such petty incidents – it may cost them the title.

Bahrain GP analysis: No winners in farce of a weekend

Weeks and weeks before the Bahrain Grand Prix, we were already aware that a race should never have taken place in the troubled region. Aside from the blatant political motive, it was clear that the sport had put its personnel in danger. I’d like to say that we’ll never have to deal with such a farce again, but that’s wishful thinking.

Politics and profit win over sport

F1 has disgraced itself by allowing itself to be manipulated - and the FIA's to blame

F1 has disgraced itself by allowing itself to be manipulated - and the FIA's to blame

There are many to blame over what Formula 1 was forced to go through, but one organisation should have put a stop to it: the FIA.

Bernie Ecclestone is well known for putting profit first – I’m surprised that people expected him to act differently this weekend. Perhaps he was misinformed over the Bahrain situation, or maybe he took a calculated risk. Either way, he should not have been the one to make the final call over the event.

The FIA’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of all participants, and it was clear that they failed to do that. To add insult to injury, they allowed the race organisers to use the sport as a political tool – running the UniF1ed slogan throughout the weekend.

FIA Statue Article 1 states that “The FIA shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activites and from taking any action in this respect”. One of the sport’s most primary objectives has been made a mockery of, all in the name of profit.

The profiteers from this race, of course, are the Al Khalifa royal family. Having invested in and organised the race, they also stand to gain the most from the race, and they made absolutely sure they got their money’s worth this time. By doing so, though, they have disgraced what should be a pure sporting event.

This kind of farce has happened before – see F1 racing in South Africa in the 80s for more details – but it doesn’t hide the fact that last weekend was never about the racing.

Lotus finally deliver on promises

After three disappointing races, Lotus have finally shown their hand – and may well be the fifth team to win a race this year.

Kimi Raikkonen was able to challenge for the win on Sunday, but slipped away after the final stop. Regardless, it shows excellent progress from Melbourne, and Grosjean’s first ever podium proves that he’s up to the task as well.

Team principal Eric Boullier stated that Romain could even become world champion if he continues to improve, and I don’t doubt him. From qualifying in Australia, Grosjean was already proving that he could take on Raikkonen.

It’s not outrageous to suggest that Lotus could still be in contention in Spain in a few weeks time. If they do take the chequered flag first, then 5 different teams will have won one of the first 5 races, and that could set us up for a magnificent title battle.

Force India shut out of qualifying TV coverage

Force India have experienced the nasty side of what is supposed to be a fair sporting event

Force India have experienced the nasty side of what is supposed to be a fair sporting event

As many viewers of the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session had noticed, the Force India team were completely isolated in terms of television coverage.

While Paul di Resta made it through to Q3, absolutely no shots of either Force India car were shown at all during the three qualifying sessions. During a certain point when only Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were out on track, the cameras focused on a Mercedes in the pits instead.

The team had pulled out of second practice yesterday, to alleviate employees’ fears of a repeat of the violence they were caught up in on Wednesday night.

Because of this, many have speculated that Bernie Ecclestone had ordered his FOM company – who organise and run the camerawork for all F1 events – to completely block the team out of today’s coverage.

A quote from Ecclestone only served to increase these calls:

"Nobody cares if someone is ninth or 11th. Only the people that are watching a 
particular team. I spoke to our people and they were more or less concentrating 
on who was going to be on pole, rather than somebody going to be 10th."
[Seems as if Bernie forgot that the cars in 9th and 11th were Fernando Alonso 
and Kimi Raikkonen"]

As well as this, MetroF1 correspondent Adam-Hay Nicholls had some worrying things to say on the incident over Twitter:

"Not the 1st time they've been instructed not to film a certain team"

[When asked what team was subject to a similar blackout] "All I'll reveal is 
that the name of the team no longer exists"

This was backed up by former FOM employee Nick Daman:

"When I worked for FOM it was well known that the punishment for stepping out 
of line was a TV Blackout ......"

What makes this incident so sickening is that Force India pulled out for the safety of their employees, not to take a stand against FOM or the Bahrain regime. It is understood that Ecclestone offered the team an armed escort back to the team hotel [provided they took part in FP2] but the team declined, opting to head home early.

Personally, I don’t know which is more worrying – that a team would be shut out for protecting its employees, or that this has been done before, and we haven’t noticed.

Chinese Grand Prix analysis: 2012 set to be a classic season?

After three different race winners in as many races, it is clear that the order has never been tighter at the top. With Mercedes seemingly getting over their tyre degradation issues, and Sauber and Lotus chasing the hells of the frontrunners, I feel there are as many as 8 potential race winners this year – 5 of them yet to show their full potential.

But back to the present situation. Nico Rosberg’s first win shows that he is finally ready to challenge the big boys, and with Mercedes looking more of a dominant force, we could be in for a classic season.

Nico joins Keke in F1’s most exclusive club

A long-overdue win for Rosberg means that he is the third son of an F1 driver to win a race himself. However, in the other two cases (Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill), their fathers’ lives had already been cut short, both in car-related accidents.

With Nico having become the 103rd Grand Prix winner in F1 history, the focus will now move to see can he challenge for the world championship.

It’s certainly not out of the question. Red Bull’s RB8 is a troubled car, and McLaren have fumbled their advantages far too many times already. With an innovative DRS system, as well as the most powerful engine on the grid, they must capitalise on their pace in the following few races.

Tyre degradation is less of an issue – after each pit stop, the mechanics checked Nico’s tyres for excess wear, but Rosberg had it perfectly under control. It was a well deserved win, and he can certainly go further.

Massa bashing: Round 3

Respected journalists are now calling him a “waste of petrol”. I can’t disagree with them – a 13th place is nothing short of dismal.

The most stark fact is that, aside from the three slowest teams – every single driver on the grid has scored points except for Massa. He brushed off his first two awful races, and called the Chinese GP the start of his season, but has instead proven himself to be even more of a joke.

Fernando Alonso slipped down the order after running wide near the end of the race, but still managed to score points in a difficult situation. Massa’s only notable feat was holding up half the field for several laps.

The hype over Sergio Perez’s prowess in Malaysia has died down, and many are looking to the end of the season for him to replace Massa. For many, that can not come soon enough.

Sauber becoming a credible threat?

One of the biggest surprises so far this year is the Sauber’s excellent pace – going completely against my predictions before Melbourne.

Perez’s race pace in Malaysia, combined with Kobayashi’s 3rd place in qualifying, shows that the team are going places. They have scored their best qualifying and race results ever (as an independent team), and it is apparent that they may take on the big guns.

Each of the Sauber drivers is ahead of one of the Lotus drivers, to give you an idea of their form. Kobayashi scored their first ever fastest lap, to wrap up their excellent few races.

It will be extremely difficult for the Hinwil squad to keep up with the frontrunners, but we will see how they fare in the next few races.

Pressure grows to cancel Bahrain Grand Prix

It is clear that many do not want the race to go ahead - some more than others

It is clear that many do not want the race to go ahead - some more than others

Similar to last year, pressure is growing on the FIA to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix, which is scheduled to take place next weekend.

Repeated crackdowns on pro-democracy protestors in the region in 2011 have spiralled into waves of violence in recent times. Only yesterday, a home-made bomb exploded in the village of Eker, injuring seven police officers. A spokesperson declared this an “act of terrorism”.

Civil unrest is just as high this year – hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is the most prolific example of the people standing up to their government. His protest has been going on for two months, and there are fears that his death in the hands of the authorities would inspire further protests and violence.

The teams have stayed silent on the matter for a while, but recently have taken a stand against the FIA. While the sport’s governing body has repeatedly stated that the race will go ahead, one anonymous team principal has broken his silence and spoken out against the race:

"We're all hoping the FIA calls it off. From a purely legal point of view, in 
terms of insurance and government advice, we are clear to go. But what we find 
worrying is that there are issues happening every day."

Last year’s farce showed that the FIA are perfectly happy to lie blatantly about the situation until the last second. Only a week before the race was cancelled, they staunchly supported the Bahraini authorities, citing a “spirit of reconciliation” in the country.

This year, they repeated that exact same phrase, while again emphasising that the race would go ahead as planned. Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, only blamed the media for stirring up trouble:

"It's business as usual. I don't think the people who are trying to 
demonstrate a little bit are going to use anything to do with F1. If 
they did they would be a little bit silly.

The problem is people like you [the press] who make the concerns not 
the teams and not the people in Bahrain. Seriously, the press should 
just be quiet and deal with the facts rather than make up stories."

He then went on to praise the country:

"The good thing about Bahrain is it seems more democratic there than 
most places. People are allowed to speak when they want, they can protest 
if they want to."

Of course, money has played a large factor in proceedings. The main reason the FIA left it to the race organisers to cancel the 2011 race was so that they could keep the $40m race fee paid by the circuit, despite no race going ahead. To pull such a stunt with people’s lives at risk is just obscene.

With such a large risk involved in going to the troubled region, it is unthinkable that Formula 1 could race in Bahrain this month.

Malaysian Grand Prix analysis: Victories for the underdogs

The Malaysian Grand Prix will go down as a thrilling and unforgettable race. Not just because of the shuffled order, or the heavy rain showers, but because of the fierce and spirited drives that put so many surprise faces on top. A brilliant drive from Sergio Perez, an unrelenting charge from Fernando Alonso, and a quiet ascent to 6th for Bruno Senna was what made this race special.

Perez – the man of the moment

Few will argue that Sergio Perez’s drive was anything but spectacular. A good strategy call at the start put him up to 3rd, and he held the position under treacherous conditions.

Once the track dried out, he demonstrated Button-like prowess on the damp track, eating into Alonso’s lead relentlessly. A poor final pit stop, as well as a slip near the end, cost him the victory, but he has still made his point.

It is the first time since 1971 that a Mexican driver has put a foot on the podium – the last time was for Pedro Rodriguez, 19 years before Sergio was even born.

With such a great performance, the top teams have surely taken a good look at the young Sauber driver. Which leads us to…

Massa bashing: Round 2

Another atrocious drive from Felipe Massa, another reason for Ferrari to ditch the beleaguered driver. And with Sergio Perez seemingly knocking on the door, the Brazilian surely won’t be around for too long.

As his teammate crossed the line to take the chequered flag, Massa was 5 seconds away from being lapped. He now sits 19th in the driver’s championship, behind the Marussias, while Alonso leads the title hunt. There’s no denying that the gap between the two is growing immeasurably long.

The Ferrari F2012 is a handful, but it deserves to be finishing higher than 15th place. I make no secret of my disliking of Massa, and his dismal performances only make this view worse.

Another side of Sebastian Vettel?

As the Red Bull team slip behind McLaren, we are now granted the opportunity to see how Vettel handles with not having the fastest car on the grid. Unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten off to the best start.

His clip into Narain Karthikeyan may seem insignificant, but it shows a very poor attitude from the German driver. He seemed to move across Narain’s path, then showed obscene gestures when his tyre blew as a result.

Afterwards, he referred to him as a “cucumber”, which is just about the oddest insult I’ve heard in a long time. It appears as if he hasn’t learned from Turkey 2010, when he refused to take responsibility for clashing with Mark Webber.

Granted, he’s not in the position he wants to be, but this is no excuse for his behaviour. A true driver’s colours are shown when he’s dealt a bad hand – just look at Fernando Alonso. Vettel appears rattled, and will need to cap his temper if he wants to claw his way back to the top.

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