Monthly Archives: June 2013

Where now for Formula 1 and Pirelli?

It’s obvious that the tyres failures that marred today’s British Grand Prix were extremely dangerous, and preventive measures must be put in place for the future. Although today’s debacle was not entirely their fault, the fact that the tyres have been delaminating in previous races as well proves that Pirelli needs to put in some serious work if it is to survive in this sport.

In both the Malaysian and Bahrain Grands Prix, Lewis Hamilton suffered tyre blowouts at high speed. Seeing as how the Mercedes is known to impose heavy wear on their tyres, it wouldn’t be out of the question to assume that degradation – a feature intentionally implemented by Pirelli – is contributing to these incidents.

However, the high degradation was requested by the FIA, in order to shift racing to a Canada 2010-style of tyre strategy. While this has worked (mostly), the consequences of high-fragility tyres are now clearly visible.

Pirelli are unlikely to revert to “concrete” tyres, as it would hurt their brand imaging to do such a u-turn in the public eye. However, it is completely unfeasible to keep the tyres the way they are, with such huge safety concerns having arisen this weekend.

Motorsport director Paul Hembery has already stated that the company’s new bonding method to construct the tyres is not the fault, so there is something more fundamental to blame. It is possible that the Turn 4 kerbs contributed to these incidents, but they are no different to any other kerbs on the calendar.

Therefore, it is likely that the 2013-spec tyres are reacting poorly to high levels of wear at demanding tracks like Silverstone. If this is the case, there wouldn’t have been a problem this weekend if Pirelli had originally had their way – the teams vetoed their suggestion to race more conservative constructs from early on this year.

In desperation, they turned to in-season testing, which I’m sure you’ve heard all about. Two tests were completed after Bahrain – one with Ferrari at the Sakhir circuit, and the infamous one with Mercedes in Barcelona. This only resulted in even more negative PR for the company that was only trying to fix a mess they were forced into.

If the drivers and teams are looking to ensure their safety on track, then they must be more willing to allow Pirelli to introduce changes. It is widely believed that Ferrari and Lotus vetoed Pirelli’s plans in order to gain an advantage over their rivals – and this must be stopped if the drivers’ safety is to be ensured.

At the very least, the next race at the Nurburgring will be much easier on the tyres than in Silverstone, as will the Hungaroring. Hopefully this will allow the teams, the FIA and Pirelli to work out a safe solution, not one that is manipulated in order to gain speed advantages at the cost of safety.

Points standings after British Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 132
2 Fernando Alonso 111
3 Kimi Raikkonen 98
4 Lewis Hamilton 89
5 Mark Webber 87
6 Nico Rosberg 82
7 Felipe Massa 57
8 Paul di Resta 36
9 Romain Grosjean 26
10 Jenson Button 25
11 Adrian Sutil 23
12 Jean-Eric Vergne 13
13 Sergio Perez 12
14 Daniel Ricciardo 11
15 Nico Hulkenberg 6
16 Pastor Maldonado 0
17 Valtteri Bottas 0
18 Jules Bianchi 0
19 Charles Pic 0
20 Esteban Gutierrez  0
21 Giedo van der Garde  0
22 Max Chilton  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Red Bull 219
2 Mercedes 171
3 Ferrari 168
4 Lotus 124
5 Force India 59
6 McLaren 37
7 Toro Rosso 24
8 Sauber-Ferrari 6
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Nico Rosberg wins bizarre British Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg has taken an unexpected victory today at Silverstone, after 4 tyre blowouts and a shock engine failure for other drivers gifted him first place.

Lewis Hamilton initially led proceedings, until the first of many tyre failures rocked his race. His left rear tyre was blown to bits, and the Mercedes driver dropped to last place after only 8 laps.

This granted Sebastian Vettel what appeared to be an easy victory. However, he was kept under pressure from Nico Rosberg throughout the race. While tyres were exploding left, right and centre, both Sebastian and Nico hung on, until a shock engine failure for the Red Bull put him out of the race, and granted Rosberg victory.

At the start, Rosberg had been jumped by Sebastian, while Mark Webber was shunted off the racing line by Romain Grosjean, and dropped to 14th place. Felipe Massa had a terrific start, leaping past his teammate up to 5th place.

Hamilton’s tyre failure destroyed his chances of victory soon after though, and Massa’s Ferrari suffered a similar fate only two laps later. This resulted in worried faces across the paddock, which was only made worse after Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a tyre explosion on the Hangar Straight on Lap 15.

The safety car was deployed to clear rubber debris, while team engineers examined tyre data from the first pit stops. Red Bull noticed that Vettel’s tyre had unusual cuts in the sidewalls, meaning they got extremely lucky with their pit stop.

Some engineers blamed the kerbs, the outside of which may have been causing unusual damage to the sidewall of the tyres. Others simply believed that the Pirellis weren’t standing up to regular wear, which is odd considering how the medium and hard compounds were being raced. Either way, it seemed as if a repeat of Indianapolis 2005 was on the cards.

The safety car peeled off on lap 22, with Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso becoming embroiled in a battle with Lewis Hamilton, who had recovered from last place. Alonso had made his way up from 10th on lap 1, getting past Daniel Ricciardo, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta in quick succession earlier on.

Hamilton later had a fantastic battle with di Resta over 11th place, after his second stop. Up front, Rosberg began to slowly catch Vettel, but it proved to be unnecessary, as the Red Bull suffered a catastrophic engine failure, pulling over on the pit straight.

With the safety car out for the second time, Rosberg, Alonso and Webber all pitted. This time, it was Nico who was granted good luck, as it was revealed that his tyres were developing blisters near the end of his stint. With 10 laps to go, Rosberg led Raikkonen – who hadn’t pitted – , Adrian Sutil, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber.

The second Red Bull driver swiftly found a way past the Ferrari, and set his sights on the leaders. Together with Fernando, they carved up Sutil and Ricciardo in a matter of minutes, and were immediately all over the back of Raikkonen battling for a podium finish.

Kimi was left to rue not pitting under the safety car, as he was dropped from 2nd to 4th. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton charged up the field from 9th place, making his way up to 5th by the final few laps.

With the Force India and Lotus dispatched, Webber began a last-gap charge to catch Rosberg, getting to within the 1-second window in the final lap. Depsite a nail-biting push, Nico just hung on to take his second win of the year by only 0.7 seconds, with Webber and Alonso joining him on the podium.

Sergio Perez – the fourth victim of Pirelli delaminations – was forced to retire in the closing laps. Hamilton passed Raikkonen for 4th place, while Felipe Massa recovered from last to 6th place, pipping the Force India of Sutil, who had been gunning for a podium finish.

Ricciardo and Paul di Resta were left stranded in 8th and 9th, while Nico Hulkenberg scraped a point for the struggling Sauber team. After 64 consecutive points-scoring finishes, McLaren have now failed to score a single point in the last 2 races.

While this race will be rembered for a thrilling finish and the closing up of the championship contenders, there must also be serious steps taken to ensure that these tyre failures never happen again.

Hamilton storms to pole position for British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has delighted the home fans by taking pole position for his home Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Mercedes have locked out the front row, with the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber on row 2 ready to attack. Ferrari and McLaren has poor sessions, with Fernando Alonso only starting 10th, and neither McLaren making it into Q3.

Q1

In a dry but windy session, Mercedes were quick off the mark. A 1:30.995 by Hamilton was the quickest lap all weekend, and saw no response in the first session.

Ferrari almost suffered a huge embarrassment, with their drivers lying 14th and 15th. In particular, Felipe Massa remained in the drop zone until the final few minutes, only matching his teammate’s time despite being on the faster compound tyre.

Esteban Gutierrez was knocked out of Q1 for the 6th time in 8 races, while Pastor Maldonado’s final lap put Valtteri Bottas back in 17th place. While Max Chilton qualified 22nd, Giedo van der Garde will start from the back, after his 10-place grid penalty from Canada.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

17) Valtteri Bottas – 1:32.664

18) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:32.666

19) Charles Pic – 1:33.866

20) Jules Bianchi – 1:34.108

21) Giedo van der Garde – 1:35.48 1

22) Max Chilton – 1:35.858

Q2

Sebastian Vettel’s initial run in Q2 was 0.005 seconds faster than Hamilton’s Q1 lap – a signal that Red Bull were still in the running.

With an empty seat left by Webber at the end of this year, both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo were keen to impress. However, Vergne ran wide on his final lap, and could only manage 13th, while Ricciardo made it into Q3.

Both McLarens were knocked out, taking only 11th and 14th places. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen almost joined them, surprisingly, but both drivers scraped through.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Jenson Button – 1:31.649

12) Felipe Massa – 1:31.779

13) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:31.785

14) Sergio Perez – 1:32.082

15) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:32.211

16) Pastor Maldonado – 1:32.359

Q3

A 4-way shootout was on the cards, with both Mercedes and Red Bull duking it out in Q3. Mark Webber was first up, setting a 1:30.505, but this was quickly beaten by Nico Rosberg by almost half a second.

Hamilton then put himself on top, while Vettel’s first attempt only put him 4th. With a few minutes to go, Rosberg’s second flying lap was initially faster, until a blinding lap by Lewis put him 4 tenths clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel could only slot in front of Webber in response, locking out the second row.

Raikkonen and Alonso were the disappointments of the day, only managing 9th and 10th respectively. Almost unnoticed performances were done by Paul di Resta and Daniel Ricciardo, taking 5th and 6th places. Adrian Sutil was 7th, while Romain Grosjean marginally beat Raikkonen to 8th place.

Hamilton was ecstatic to take pole in front of his home crowd, but will he be able to hold off his 3 rivals behind?

Webber’s departure is disappointing but inevitable – and the WEC suits him perfectly

Mark Webber’s departure from Formula 1 will leave many fans disappointed. His honesty and frankness are rarely seen by drivers these days, and he will leave big shoes to fill in the Red Bull garage. But it would be naive to say we didn’t see this coming – Webber’s growing animosity towards Red Bull, and F1 as a whole, has been steadily growing for several years now.

While he can occasionally decimate the entire field, in far too many races this year has Mark been lacklustre and generally poor compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel. He has been the subject of favouritism arguments with both team boss Christian Horner and Helmut Marko across the years, often stemming from him and Sebastian’s on-track antics. This year’s Malaysian Grand Prix debacle only distanced himself further from management, who the Ausssie has always felt has shown more support towards the other side of the garage.

It is clear that Webber dislikes Vettel as a teammate – overlooking the pace issue, Mark must be psychologically hurt from the preferential treatment that Sebastian has received over the years. With this, departure from Red Bull was always a certainty, it was just a matter of when.

Unfortunately, it is also apparent that the current formula of F1 does not cater to the 35-year-old. Strategic, tactical racing and planning has been the name of the game in recent years, which is a huge contrast compared to fuel-dependent power runs when Webber first entered the sport. One style of racing isn’t intrinsically better than the other, but we all know which suits him better.

To make matters worse, even if next year’s tech changes suit Mark’s style of driving more, there would be little purpose to it. After 13 years in the sport, it is likely that he has grown tired of playing second fiddle – intentionally or by sheer pace – and there would be no point to spending another year doing exactly what he did in the previous seasons.

Moving to another team for a single team was out of the question as well. Mercedes, McLaren and probably Ferrari are full up for next year, so Webber would have had to take a huge drop down the grid to keep racing. After so many seasons, what would have been the point?

With this in mind, the World Endurance Championship seems right down his street. Racing stints are decided not by tyre degradation or tactical positioning, they are decided by raw pace and sheer bravery. Not to say that F1 doesn’t have these qualities, but it’s reflected more in modern endurance racing.

Webber will be joining a team with massive historical presence in endurance racing, not least 16 victories in the glorious Le Mans race. Porsche will suit Mark to the bone – no inter-team squabbles, just clean, proper racing like he’s always wanted. I’ll be watching the WEC next year with huge interest next year, knowing that we might just see the Mark Webber of old.

Mark Webber to leave F1 for Porsche WEC programme in 2014

2013 will be Red Bull driver Mark Webber’s final year in the sport, as he moves to Porsche’s World Endurance Championship squad for the 2014 season.

The Australian has struggled relative to teammate Sebastian Vettel in recent years, frequently citing favouritism as a catalyst for conflict within the team. Several spats between the two drivers have emerged – most recently being the Malaysian Grand Prix debacle – and Webber has decided to give up on the sport without a world championship in hand.

Regarding his move to Porsche, Webber has said:

"It’s an honour for me to join Porsche at its return to the top category in Le Mans 
and in the sports car World Endurance Championship and be part of the team. Porsche 
has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding technology 
and performance at the highest level. I’m very much looking forward to this new 
challenge after my time in Formula 1.

Porsche will undoubtedly set itself very high goals. I can hardly wait to pilot 
one of the fastest sports cars in the world."

Interestingly, no quotes from Red Bull have been supplied from the team just yet.

Mark previously raced in the Le Mans race of 1999 with Mercedes, but a spectacular flip and crash resulted in him pulling out and switching to Formula 1.

He has spent the last few years in the fastest car on the F1 grid, but a cavalcade of problems – poor starts, KERS issues, team conflicts, as well as a general dislike for where the sport is moving – meant that his departure was an inevitability.

Regardless of his disappointments in recent years, the F1 paddock will sorely miss Mark. His straight-forwardness attitude won him many fans over the years, and the sport now lacks a driver who is always willing to speak his mind.

It also opens the floodgates of rumours about who will take his place at Red Bull for next year. Without trying to get into too much speculation at this early stage, I would suggest that Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg would be the initial candidates.

Mercedes banned from 2013 Young Driver test as testing saga concludes

The long-running “testgate” saga has finally come to a close, with the Mercedes team being banned from this year’s Young Driver Test.

It comes as punishment for completing 1000km of in-season testing with Pirelli while using their 2013 car, which is against current sporting regulations.

The FIA noted in their tribunal today that Mercedes had “misconceived” what the team saw as approval from Charlie Whiting to complete the test, as it did not exempt them from the current restriction on using current season cars during testing.

It should also be mentioned that the legal costs of hosting the tribunal are to be shared between Mercedes, the FIA and Pirelli.

The biggest loser from this decision will be Sam Bird, Mercedes’ third driver, who will lose out on three days of potential Formula 1 driving experience before he attempts to break into the sport next year.

Marshal killed after Canadian Grand Prix in crane accident

A track marhsal has died at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve this evening, after a post-race accident.

The marshal is believed to have been run over by a recovery crane, after tripping while attempting to pick up a radio. The marshal was too low for the crane operator to see, and was run over near Turn 1.

The accident occurred while the recovery team were moving Esteban Gutierrez’ stricken Sauber from the barriers of Turn 2. While he was transferred to the Sacre-Coeur hospital in Montreal, he passed away this evening.

The currently unnamed marshal is the first voluntary worker to be killed at a Formula 1 race since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, when Graham Beveridge was hit by a wheel that came of Jacques Villeneuve’s car following an on-track collision.

My thoughts and condolences are with the marshal’s family at this time. Formula 1 could not operate without the support of thousands of these volunteer marhsals around the world, and they undertake risks every single race weekend to keep this sport running.

Vettel takes dominant Canadian Grand Prix win

Sebastian Vettel has taken a crushingly dominant victory today, winning the Canadian Grand Prix and extending his championship points lead.

Fernando Alonso recovered from 6th on the grid to take 2nd by the chequered flag, ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Further behind, Valtteri Bottas couldn’t hold his position in the race, while Paul di Resta and Jean-Eric Vergne had exceptional afternoons.

At the start, Vettel made a good getaway, while Valtteri Bottas was surrounded by the first corner. Mark Webber pounced on the Williams first, then Fernando Alonso sliced his way past soon after.

The top 5 – Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg, Webber, Alonso – were in a class of their own, immidiately pulling away from the rest of the field, and effectively setting up a separate Grand Prix. Jean-Eric Vergne led the rest of the pack, after putting a move on Bottas on Lap 6.

Adrian Sutil then tried to make a move on the young Finn, but promptly spun in the middle of Turn 3, forcing several drivers to take evasive action.

Kimi Raikkonen’s race pace failed to materialise. After failing to make considerable progress at the start, he got sandwiched in between Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa in the opening stint.

Up front, Mercedes decided to split strategies between their two drivers, with Hamilton taking the medium compounds for his second stint, while Nico Rosberg took on the super-softs. Hamilton was aiming for a 1-stop race, as proved when he stayed out 6 laps longer than Vettel in the first stint.

Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil did battle for 12th place. Their duel lasted for nearly 10 laps, with the Ferrari making every possible attempt to get past. Eventually, Felipe put a move on the Force India, and entered the battle for a points-scoring position.

Mark Webber was embroiled in a similar battle with Nico Rosberg, but the Red Bull’s high downforce setup was crippling him on the straights. Alonso soon caught up behind, and both drivers put a move on the Mercedes on Lap 32. Nico was instructed to conserve his tyres until the end of the race, and slipped back from the Red Bull and Ferrari.

Webber’s race was dealt a swift blow soon after though, as he clashed with backmarker Giedo van der Garde. The Caterham driver ignored blue flags entering the hairpin, and turned into Mark at the apex, damaging Webber’s front wing and putting the Dutchman back to front.

Despite doing his best to catch Hamilton instead, he was instead caught by Alonso behind, and was powerless to prevent the Ferrari diving down the inside of Turn 1 to take 3rd place.

Paul di Resta had made the option to start on the harder tyres at the start, and it paid off – he was as high as 7th during the race, and managed to drag 57 laps out of the prime tyre before he made his only stop.

It took until Lap 48 for the first retirement of the day, with Nico Hulkenberg clashing with Giedo van der Garde. The safety car was almost deployed due to the Caterham stopping out on track, but luckily for Vettel only double-waved yellows were shown. Sebastian made a rare mistake late in the race, slipping wide at Turn 1 and losing a few seconds, but had such a massive lead it didn’t even matter.

Felipe Massa continued his recovery after a dismal qualifying, and after an eventful battle with Adrian Sutil, dispatched of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen in the final few laps to take 8th place.

Hamilton’s second place came under threat in the final stint, with the ever-threatening Alonso hunting down the Mercedes. Adrian Sutil didn’t help proceedings, ignoring blue flags and holding up the Mercedes, costing Lewis precious seconds. With 5 laps to go, Alonso put a pass on Hamilton to snatch 2nd place.

Up front, Vettel was totally unchallenged, leading by 20 seconds until the chequered flag. Alonso and Hamilton completed the podium, with Webber and Rosberg falling back in the last stint. Jean-Eric Vergne was anonymous all race, but held on for an excellent 6th place, ahead of Paul di Resta. Massa and the two Lotuses completed the top 10.

Alonso has taken 2nd place in the championship off Kimi Raikkonen, but now lies 36 points off leader Vettel.

Vettel pips Hamilton for Canadian Grand Prix pole

Sebastian Vettel will start at the front of the grid for tomorrow’s Canadian Grand Prix, ending a thrilling qualifying session just ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas was the star of the day, earning a superb 3rd place on the grid in changeable conditions. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen both struggled, while the McLarens and Felipe Massa didn’t even make it into Q3.

Q1

A shower before Q1 dampened the track, although many drivers tried an initial run on slicks, with little reward.

With a 10-place grid penalty for tomorrow, Romain Grosjean was hoping for a good performance to minimise the damage. However, a poor closing lap put him 19th, and with his penalty will start from the back of the grid.

Most of Q1 was relatively wet, but as the track dried out towards the end, Paul di Resta was caught out on old intermediate tyres, and didn’t progress past the first session for the second race in a row.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Paul di Resta – 1:24.908

18) Charles Pic – 1:25.626

19) Romain Grosjean – 1:25.716

20) Jules Bianchi – 1:26.508

21) Max Chilton – 1:27.062

22) Giedo van der Garde – 1:27.110

Q2

A spurt of rain between Q1 and Q2 threw many teams’ plans into disarray, with most drivers losing 5 seconds per lap once they had left the pits for the second session.

A crash for Felipe Massa with 2 minutes to go almost ruined the days of several drivers, but a swift red flag meant that drivers were able to set a lap afterwards. The Ferrari driver made a mistake entering braking for Turn 3, spun and slammed into the barriers, leaving him 16th on the grid.

Both McLarens suffered a dismal qualifying performance. Sergio Perez will take little solace in beating Jenson Button today, considering they lie in 12th and 14th places respectively. Nico Hulkenberg was initially impressive in Q2, but wasn’t quick enough after the red flag restart, and lies 11th.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:29.435

12) Sergio Perez – 1:29.761

13) Pastor Maldonado – 1:29.917

14) Jenson Button – 1:30.068

15) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:30.315

16) Felipe Massa – 1:30.354

Q3

While the track dried slightly after Q2, it still wasn’t dry enough for slick tyres.

Vettel’s first attempt was enough to put him on top, with Rosberg slotting behind. He was soon pushed down the order by Hamilton, Webber, and Vaterri Bottas, who excelled in the challenging conditions.

Nico’s next lap put him 4th, while Fernando Alonso could only manage 6th, with Kimi Raikkonen a disappointing 9th – the Lotus appeas to be out of its comfort zone in the wet.

Both Toro Rossos made it into Q3, with Jean-Eric Vergne taking a respectable 7th position, ahead of Adrian Sutil, Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo.

While most drivers put on a new set of tyres for the final few minutes, a badly-timed shower dampened the track further, and secured Vettel’s pole position.

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