Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Toro Rosso Unveil Explosive New Line-Up For 2012

Toro Rosso shocked the paddock today by revealing an all new driver line-up for 2012, comprising Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Frenchman Jean Eric Vergne.

Vergne was in action at the Young Drivers' Test for Red Bull last month.
Vergne drove for Red Bull at the Young Drivers' Test this year, as did Ricciardo last year. The news leaves 2011 drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi without a race seat for 2012. It will be a particular kick in the teeth for the ever-popular Alguersuari, who managed to qualify an amazing sixth on the grid at Spa, only to be wiped out at the first corner through no fault of his own.

Ricciardo, who started eleven races for HRT this year, said: “To be honest, I am still jumping up and down with excitement at the news. In the second half of 2011 I learned a lot from the people I worked with, and I want to thank them for the opportunity they gave me. I have to say that joining Scuderia Toro Rosso was always my real goal, so a big thank you to Red Bull for giving me this fantastic opportunity and now I can’t wait to get to work once testing begins.” The Australian drove in the Young Drivers' Test at Abu Dhabi last season for Red Bull, and drove in first practice sessions for Toro Rosso at the start of this season before being promoted to the race seat at Hispania.

Jean Eric Vergne, who will be the third Frenchman on the grid in 2012, joining Romain Grosjean and Charles Pic, has started no Grands Prix, but set the pace on all four days of this years Young Drivers' Test, much like his new teammate did last year.

The line-up is a complete unknown for Toro Rosso, who have not changed both of their drivers at once since 2006, yet team principal Franz Tost maintains it is not a gamble for the Italian squad. He reminded the press of Toro Rosso's main goal: "One has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme. It is therefore part of the team’s culture to change its driver line-up from time to time in order to achieve this goal." He wished well to both Buemi and Alguersuari, both of whom have been with the team as drivers since 2009. With spaces on the grid closing up fast, it will be a race against the clock to see who will end up where. With Force India set to announce their 2012 line-up soon, as well as Williams, race seats in the midfield look like an increasingly valuable entity come 2012.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Should teams be allowed to change their names?

I recently wrote a guest article for the Formula One Fans Association about whether teams should be allowed to change their names. You can find it here. Make sure to check out the rest of the website too. It's smashing.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Should a country be allowed two Grands Prix?

Spain is already the home of both the Spanish Grand Prix near Barcelona and the European Grand Prix in Valencia. Before that it was Germany that held two Grands Prix a year, at Hockenheim and the Nurburgring, but they now alternate between one another year on year. However, rumours emerged this morning that Bernie Ecclestone is set to announce a race in New Jersey from 2013. With the new American Grand Prix at Austin starting a ten year contract next season. But should a country have two races? Or should they let other countries hold a race?

Valencia holds a second race in Spain each year, dubbed the 'European Grand Prix'

First we have to examine why a country would want to hold more than one race. In the case of Spain and Germany before it, Ecclestone and FOM decided to make a quick buck from the popularity of a driver in the form of Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher respectively. However, in the case of this second US race, it's not as clear cut - the race in Austin might struggle to fill all of its grandstands straight away, so why would America need two races? For one, America is one of the biggest markets in the world, which Formula One teams and their sponsors want to tap into. Austin is on the far-Western side of America, whilst the New Jersey race will be on completely the opposite side of the country, on the Eastern seaboard. Bernie Ecclestone himself has always wanted to hold a race in or around New York, and if this rumoured deal comes to fruition then his dream will have been realised. However, if a country must hold two races, is it financially viable to have one specially built for the purpose and the other to be a temporary facility? I'm not so sure - Formula One can't return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but what would have been so wrong with using Daytona? This would have to be the Road Course, naturally, but this wouldn't have been a bad option. Formula One could have also tried its hand at an oval circuit, but this will be set back for many years to come after the untimely and tragic death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas 5 days ago.

So should countries be allowed to hold two Grands Prix? The answer is yes, but only in certain circumstances, if it is a big market like America. And races should never, ever alternate between two countries like France and Belgium are planning to do. But what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Paul di Resta - Future World Champion?

Paul di Resta’s storming drive in Singapore took him to a personal best sixth place, silencing the few critics that remained. But di Resta’s more subdued drive in Japan, finishing only one place behind Suzuka specialist Adrian Sutil in equal machinery is arguably more impressive.

di Resta has managed to keep Sutil behind for most of this year

One thing to remember when analysing the Singapore race is the turning point of the Grand Prix - the safety car caused by Michael Schumacher’s almighty shunt after an attempt at overtaking Sergio Perez went awry. This actually disadvantaged di Resta, as his strategy relied upon him delivering fast lap times exactly around when Bernd Maylander appeared on track. Despite this, he still managed his best ever race position with sixth. But it could have been so much more.

Force India went to the Japanese Grand Prix quietly confident - compared to their previous vehicles, this years VJM04 is an all-rounder, not just a car for fast tracks with plenty of straights on which it can utilise its Mercedes engine. However, they faced a rejuvenated Renault, who should have done well at the much more open track, a world away from the track which has served as their nemesis - Marina Bay. Then, unexpectedly, di Resta developed a flu of some sort, similar to the symptoms which Sergio Perez also suffered this weekend. To make matters worse, Suzuka is a track which suits experience - its lines and grip are in places which conventional drivers might not expect, only with experience of the track can a driver learn them. It was always going to be difficult to beat Sutil - a driver who had driven at the Japanese track many times before - and with an illness it would be even more difficult. But di Resta was only two tenths away in Qualifying, and as we know Sutil is no slouch.

The race, for di Resta however, was even more impressive - he capitalised on home favourite Kobayashi’s tardy start and was into eighth by the end of lap one - up four positions from his grid slot. He was jumped by Sutil at the first stop by virtue of the undercut on fresh tyres, but returned the compliment at the second stops. Switching to the medium tyre, both drivers knew they had to put in some fast laps - but yet again the safety car ruined this strategy. di Resta was caught towards the end of the race and passed by his team-mate, Petrov and Rosberg after a brave move at Dunlop. However, he still managed to finish in the same place that he had started, and was only just behind is team-mate at the finish.

But will di Resta be able to carry this skill on through his entire career? And will he ever get the car to do so? It’s obvious to paddock insiders that he has the speed; he has beaten Sutil more often than not in Qualifying this year and he beat team-mate Vettel in Formula Three in 2005. Not only this, but his recent drives have shown a level of maturity and intelligence reminiscent of ‘The Professor’ Alain Prost, and to more contemporary audiences, Jenson Button. With the inevitable retirement of Michael Schumacher coming either at the end of this year or the next, it’s only a matter of time before he can get himself a race seat at the Mercedes works team, who are likely to be able to give him a race winning car in 2014 if they cope with the rule changes like they did into 2009. Until then, it’ll be Paul’s job to impress in a minnow team against a fast team-mate. Will you be keeping an eye on him? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Image (c) Force India

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Who's Going Where? The 2012 Silly Season

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. At this point of the season every season we have the rumours of who’ll be switching teams, if anybody. So it was interesting this week to see Joe Saward write that both current Force India driver and former world champion turned WRC driver Kimi Raikkonen had visited a struggling Williams team. Is this true? And will it amount to anything?

Raikkonen last won at Spa in 2009 - could he win at Williams?
First of all, it would be smart to look at what both Sutil and Raikkonen want from a team. Sutil, on one hand just needs a seat. With a fast team-mate this year and a quick Nico Hulkenberg waiting in the wings, then there might not be a future beyond 2011 for Sutil, a driver who has been at the team since it was Spyker in 2007. Of course, that all depends if di Resta is pulled into the Mercedes works team, which would only be possible if Michael Schumacher decided to quit again. However, with that looking increasingly unlikely, and with ‘the Hulk’ impressing on Fridays, Sutil might be wise to be looking towards Williams, who should be getting better in the seasons to come (but that’s another story).

Raikkonen, on the other hand, when booted unceremoniously from Ferrari at the end of 2009, said that he would only look at teams who had a chance of winning a race - he turned down Toyota, a team that actually took a pole position in 2009. Would he really want to go to a team who has only scraped - and I mean scraped - five points this year? I can only see that as a realistic possibility if Raikkonen really misses F1. And I’m not sure that he does.

Remember too, with Sutil, that removing him from Force India would leave the Silverstone-based squad with a very inexperienced line-up, not to mention a team leader who has only had one season in Formula One. Whether Vijay Mallya has that much faith in either di Resta or Hulkenberg remains to be seen.

The other big story of the 2011 into 2012 off season is the recovery of Robert Kubica. Renault’s driver line-up for next year hinges purely on whether he can get back into a racing car and drive it at a pace deemed fast enough by the team. The biggest question is if we will get the old Robert Kubica back - fast, aggressive and punching well above his weight, he was a fantastic team leader for Renault last season. However, as we have seen so many times before and most recently with Felipe Massa, a driver can struggle to adapt to racing again after a life-changing accident and a year out of the cockpit.

One thing we can be sure of, however, is that no-one is moving from the top three teams. Yes Mr Massa, you can breathe a sigh of relief…

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Teams' Half-Term Report

We're over halfway through the season now and deep into the summer break, which allows us to look back upon the races we've seen already and what the teams have achieved since testing in February. I've written a little report on how the teams have done. It's written in the order of teams I feel have done the best (not necessarily in championship order). In ascending order, then, here we go...

12. Virgin-Cosworth
When Virgin’s new car was unveiled at the start of this year, many people on F1Fanatic noticed that it looked at lot like Midland, who competed in F1 in 2006, and they have unfortunately taken the same form with the livery - the team that started 2011 ahead of Hispania have now been overtaken by them. With only two retirements out of a possible twenty-one, though, (Timo Glock did not start in China) it would be harsh to say they are completely useless. They do manage to get themselves ahead of Hispania in Qualifying more often than not, yet seem to lose these places in the race.

11. Williams-Cosworth
The rest of 2011 seems to be little more than preparation for next season. Their nine constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ championships are now a distant memory, although their decision to take Renault engines next year should be a step in the right direction. Firing Sam Michael, on the other hand, might turn out to be a mistake - many paddock insiders see him ending up at Force India, and this is most likely. Whilst the easily likeable Rubens Barrichello has taken all four of Williams’ points this year, the most exciting half of their driver line-up is Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan was written off by many, myself included, as just another pay driver who would bring finances to a cash-strapped team. In Qualifying, though, he has shown a real turn of speed and is punching above what the car should be capable of. If he can hold is ground in the races, like fellow rookie Paul di Resta can, then he should be able to score some points before the year is out.

10. Hispania-Cosworth
2011 didn’t get off to a fantastic start for HRT. For one reason and another they missed all of pre-season testing yet again, and it was touch-and-go as to whether they would make it to the first round. Falling outside of the 107% at the first race must have dented their confidence, but from then on they have grown faster and faster and are starting to consistently beat Virgin. With the introduction of Daniel Ricciardo, not only will they get a quick driver, but some Red Bull money. It is unclear, however, whether their finances will be enough to build a completely new car next year. If they have to use this year’s chassis once more, then they will appear to go backwards. I can only hope that this does not happen, and that the lovable Spanish minnows are able to get their act together in the second half of this year in readiness for next season.

9.   Toro-Rosso Ferrari
In recent times the ex-Minardi squad has been known as giant killers, particularly after their fantastic win in 2008 at Monza with a certain Sebastian Vettel. 2010 wasn’t a bad year at all, and on that basis the team looked to 2011 with the hope of challenging for bigger points at every round. However, if anything the team has gone backwards and they have more often than not been the ‘fourth team’ who has a driver knocked out in Q1. In the race they have fared a little better, but both drivers need to calm down a little if they are to score more points and eventually win a seat at Red Bull. The introduction of Daniel Ricciardo to Hispania must have focused their minds somewhat. If they can’t deliver after the summer break, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ricciardo moving from HRT to the Italian squad next season.

8.   Force India-Mercedes
Whilst Force India may have been a slight disappointment in the first few races (although they consistently took points), it was Paul di Resta’s performance in Hungary that has summed up their first half to the season - the perfect mix of speed, skill and strategy with a sprinkling of luck allowed him to take his best ever result with seventh. Those four factors weren’t necessarily all apparent at certain points in the early season, and the team will be hoping to charge forward through the midfield for their first ever home race later in the season. Whether they keep both of their drivers for 2012 is a question that will need to be answered soon. The few available places for 2012 all rest on who Adrian Sutil, and to a lesser extent Paul di Resta, decide to drive for next season.

7.   Renault
And now to the biggest conundrum of 2011 - what has happened to Renault’s early season pace? After finishing on the podium in the first two races, the team running a ‘retro’ livery has not been able to manage anything close to their early-season form since. The team’s development pace was unheard of last year, as they famously brought a new front wing upgrade to every race of 2010. That must be one privilege both Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld must be hoping for in the second half of the season. In other news, it is unknown if Robert Kubica will be able to return to the car before the end of the season. If he can, however, it will be interesting to see if he still has the blistering pace that he had before his horrific rally crash earlier this year.

6.   Sauber
Martin Brundle summed up the German team’s 2011 strategy perfectly in commentary at Hungary: “I don’t know whether to be impressed with Sauber or not. ‘Right, let’s run a strategy that might sneak us into ninth or tenth.’ Why don’t they turn up with, ‘Let’s run a strategy that might win us this race’?” That ideology has returned some favourable results for Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, and the Sauber’s ease on its tyres has proved their party piece. Whether they will be able to deliver any top results with that strategy in the run-in to the year will surely be on their mind. A shout-out to Sergio Perez - he has shown both steely determination and maturity in the first nine races of his career. After his mighty Qualifying crash at Monaco, he has won over many of his critics by standing down in Canada for Pedro de la Rosa.

5.   Mercedes GP
If nothing else, Mercedes can surely win the unofficial award for best-looking car this season. The W02, whilst crippled by chronic overheating issues early in the season, looks like a missile out on track. In the hands of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, however, the best result it has been able to salvage has been a lowly fourth from Schumacher in Canada - and even that was with a stroke of luck. Beating up the Brackley-based team, however, will surely do them no favours. Their development team has recently been working on a raft of updates for the car and will surely be going in to overdrive once the enforced two-week break has been completed. Whether they can finish on the podium in the last few races is surely the best they can achieve.

4.   Ferrari
Reading the Maranello squad this year has been notoriously difficult. The team that usually wears its heart on its sleeve has kept its cards very close to its chest this year. After taking only one win in the first eleven races, Fernando Alonso will be looking for more race wins in the second half of the season. He would love to replicate his achievements last year, when he won several races in the final run-in to the title. Felipe Massa, on the other hand is not necessarily hoping for race wins - after beating Alonso in Qualifying in Hungary for the first time in a very long time, Massa will hope that he can continue that form for the rest of the year.

3.   Lotus-Renault
I promised myself when writing this piece that I wouldn’t get bogged down in the court battle between the two Lotus teams that is supposed to now be settled. But Team Lotus have given plenty more to talk about in terms of their speed. They have made it through to Q2 twice in the form of Heikki Kovalainen this year on pure pace alone, and with Jarno Trulli’s power steering issues supposedly fixed now, the green and yellow cars should be going even faster from now on. With small developments coming to the car, it is a question of when, rather than if, the team can get both cars into Q2 and their first points of the year. They are definitely an exciting team and will be one to watch in the second half of 2011 and beyond.

2.   Red Bull-Renault

Despite a recent lack of top-of-the-pile results, the team from Milton Keynes have absolutely blown away the opposition this year. Sebastian Vettel in particular has stormed the first half of the year - he’s finished in either first or second bar one anomaly at his home event when he only just missed out on the podium in fourth. His team-mate on the other hand, hasn’t had quite the season to remember so far. Whilst it was the best start to a season he’s ever had, he’s only finished ahead of Vettel three times out of eleven in Qualifying. Looking at race results it gets even worse - only once has he finished ahead of the reigning World Champion when the chequered flag has fallen. The second half of the season will be critical for Webber, as he appears to have finally got to grips with the Pirelli tyres. We go next to Spa, where he qualified on pole last year and finished second in the race. A repeat of that performance would surely boost his confidence.

1.   McLaren-Mercedes
And the great love-in at McLaren continues. Despite some close racing and a race-ending incident for Hamilton in Canada, McLaren continue to micro-manage their drivers fantastically well. One problem, however, has been their unreliability issues, with Button retiring from two races in succession after two mistakes by the team. Button has admitted himself that those two races without points have probably put an end to his championship challenge. However, Hamilton still feels he could win. If he is to do this, he will need to finish all of the remaining races on, or near, the podium. Not only this, but he will be wishing that Vettel has run out of luck for this season - he needs the German to retire, crash or otherwise retire in order to overhaul his championship lead.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

What does the British Grand Prix have in store?

With just over two weeks to go until the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, every British motorsport fan (and a few others) are looking forward to the race at the ex-RAF base. Whilst we can enjoy another race in Valencia before then, it will be at the British round where 'phase two' of the season really begins.

It's unlikely the British Grand Prix will be this wet, but will it rain?
Firstly, it'll be where the FIA's cut on off-throttle blown diffusers will take place. To the more casual fan, that basically means that when the driver is off the throttle (ie. in the middle of a corner) he should have less grip. This will effect all the top teams to an extent, but is rumoured to hit Red Bull and Renault the hardest, and that can only be good news for the chasing pack, including McLaren, who haven't managed to perfect their system yet. Or so you'd think. Currently, the two top Renault-engined teams have to carry 10% more fuel at the start of the race using this strategy, so at Silverstone, how will their race pace shape up against raw speed in Qualifying?

That's one area where Red Bull should dominate - even more than normal - because of their phenomenal speed in the faster corners. As Silverstone plays host to some of the fastest corners of the year, as well as boasting the second-fastest average speed all season, the boys from Milton Keynes should absolutely fly. Many paddock whisperers believe that the Qualifying pace enjoyed by Red Bull is solely down to their ability to open up their rear-wing flap before all of the other teams can - ditching drag and enabling them to go faster. Therefore, their speed in the race is compromised because they can only use this system in one or two certain zones. Pole position at Silverstone will go to the driver who dares to open their DRS first.

Another factor will be KERS - good news for the rivals of the world champions, as they haven't got theirs quite to the high standard they expect yet. Christian Horner revealed that they use a smaller system that is lighter and allows a better-packaged car, to the detriment of cooling and outright power. At the Northamptonshire circuit, with several long straights and one or two important traction zones, the use of this system will also be a key to success.

And lastly, but definitely not least, is the inevitable question of Britain's weather. Will the rain hold off for the Silverstone Wing's debut? Or will we see another downpour like we did in Canada? Part of me wants to see the new pit complex and start line bathed in sunshine; but then again, who would turn down another race like the one we had in Montreal? Only time will tell.

Image (c) Motioncompany, F1Fanatic

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Is Vettel-Webber the new Schumacher-Barrichello?

After Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has taken 143 out of a possible 150 points, and rather than examining Vettel's high upturn in form, spectators and fans alike have been analysing Webber's relatively poor form in comparison to his young team-mate.

It was all smiles between the Red Bull drivers at the RB7's February launch
But no-one appears to have likened Red Bull's new driver partnership to the highly successful pairing of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari in the early 'Noughties'. Should we be doing? I've crunched the numbers to find out.

One of the main reasons why we should take these numbers with a pinch of salt is context - drivers do better at some tracks in comparison to others, team-mates may not always have equal cars and there could be other factors which damage their speed, such as heavy crashes for them or even other crashes in either practice or qualifying. Add to that the fact that sometimes teams will controversially help one driver over another, the statistics can become difficult to properly read. However, I've done my best to give it a go.

First of all, we should start off with the past - the longest and most successful driver pairing of all time. Barrichello and Schumacher competed in 104 races together as team-mates at Ferrari and it doesn't take a genius to work out the most decorated in that time - Schumacher took five world championships in that time whilst Barrichello took none. However, he did win races - in that 104-race period he won nine races, which works out at 8.65%. Schumacher, on the other hand, took 40 more, with an impressive tally of 49 race wins - 47.12%. Rather than showing up Barrichello as a bad driver, these numbers show that Schumacher was very much dominant in those six seasons (although less dominant than some people might remember) as he won almost half of all the races. If we add the two percentages together, from 2000 to 2005, Ferrari won 55.77% of all the Grands Prix they took part in. If we remove 2005 from the statistics (the longest season of the six yet Ferrari only took one win), the team won an almost unbelievable 67.06% of all the races that took place. However, one thing that must be taken into account is the team's apparent favouritism towards Schumacher in that time - the German normally had a new car or new parts before his Brazilian counterpart, and this will inevitably reflect in their results. But how does this compare with the ongoing partnership of Vettel and Webber?

The two Red Bull drivers, in comparison, have only spent 42 races together at the same team (although this number will increase to 55 or 56 by the end of this season). Whilst this seems quite short compared to Schumacher and Barrichello, it is still a significant enough number to calculate percentages from. Between the first race of 2009 and the most recent race of 2011 (the Monaco Grand Prix), Mark Webber has won six races, giving a percentage of 14.29% which is no mean feat. Vettel, on the other hand, has one exactly a third - 14 of the 42, giving a percentage of 33.33%. That said, Webber's start to 2011 has been his most successful of his entire career, and it only pales in comparison to Vettel's almost superhuman feats. So much so, that if Vettel were a team in his own right, he would currently be second in the constructor's standings, 50 points ahead of Ferrari.

But what does this tell us about Vettel and Webber? In the future, we may look back on Vettel-Webber as a partnership reminiscent of Schumacher-Barrichello. But unlike the other young German before him, Vettel has a much harder team-mate to compete against. In an interview with the BBC in Monaco, Webber said that the main reason why his garage buddy was so much further ahead was because of his quicker adaptation to the new Pirelli tyres. If Webber can get to grips with those (no pun intended) and start to fight Vettel for race wins, we could see a turn in fortune for the Australian when the Formula One circus returns to the place of his first ever win, the Nürburgring, later on in the year. Until then, all these numbers tell us is that Red Bull are becoming almost as dominant as Ferrari used to be. Scary stuff.

Image (c) Red Bull

Sunday, 15 May 2011

What can Ferrari and Mercedes achieve in 2011?

Without doubt the two biggest let-downs of the early races have been the Silver Arrows and the Scuderia. But are things about to change come this time next week?

Alonso and Rosberg have been racing each other a little lower down the field than they would have hoped

So why will the Spanish Grand Prix be any different? First of all, Mercedes have been on a upward trend ever since unveiling their car early this year. Such an upturn it has been, that the silver cars lapped the Circuit de Catalunya, home of the Spanish Grand Prix, fastest in pre-season testing. Furthermore, Ross Brawn has said that there will be some important updates ready for the Catalan race; Turkey was all about solving their chronic overheating issues, and Spain will be about doing battle higher up the field. Nico Rosberg, seen by many as the real team leader, has seen some impressive form recently, leading the Chinese Grand Prix at one point. Schumacher has had it a little worse, with a Turkish Grand Prix drive that would have been more suited to a demolition derby. However, paddock insiders say that the Mercedes rear-wing system which opens up on the straights is the best on the grid - and Spain has some very long straights indeed. Look out for them in Qualifying and for some overtaking action in the race.

On the other hand, Ferrari are looking at much more basic problems - Alonso's car ground to a halt with hydraulic issues in practice in Istanbul. Like Eddie Jordan said at the time, the most experienced team in the history of the sport, with over 800 Grands Prix to their name, should be able to create and maintain something as basic as the hydraulics system. But the team say that it was a one off and that they'll be back on the pace in Spain. Indeed, the flashes of pace we've seen from them this year, albeit briefly, were promising. It appears that the old Felipe Massa is back for good, as we've seen from his wheel-to-wheel racing in Oz. It's not like he doesn't like the Spanish track, either; he took pole, the win and fastest lap here in 2007. Alonso, on the other hand, will be desperate to put on a good show for his adoring fans. The circuit is annually decked out in the colours of Alonso's home region on the other side of Spain. The supporters of 'El Nano', as he is known, routinely make the 1000km trip to see their hero race. But will he be able to do good? He'll be homing to step up a place from last year, where he took second after Lewis Hamilton's trip through the gravel.

Only time will tell whether these two teams will be able to do good in Spain - where scorching temperatures are forecast. Will the tyres stand up to the heat? And will we see overtaking at the most notoriously difficult circuit for racing wheel-to-wheel? Let's wait and see.

Image (c) F1Fanatic, Daimler

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Top Five...Street Tracks

As a sport that prides itself on being the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One provides vastly differing challenges to both the drivers and teams. Just one of these variables are the tracks. In 2011, there are three street tracks on the roster - read on to see if any made my top five...

5. Adelaide
The track that held 11 Australian Grands Prix between 1985 and 1995 comes in at number five. This track witnessed some historic moments in its history - including Nigel Mansell's explosive tyre and the 1994 title decider. Despite its relatively simple layout including public roads and a horse-racing course, it holds a special place in the hearts of many F1 fans, particularly those from Australia. One F1 fan, 'Doance', sums up the track in two sentences: "It went through parklands and into the city. And it was a special event." So special in fact, that many F1 fans want to see it back on the F1 calendar.

Ayrton Senna was one of the many fans of the Adelaide Street Circuit
4. Detroit
It must have been only a matter of time before F1 held a race in 'motor city' itself, Detroit. A city with a famous skyline, it first held an F1 race in 1982. It was popular with fans and drivers alike for being just that little bit unique - its narrow track and close walls resulting in lots of retirements - only five drivers finished the 1984 event, with one of those a lap down. This meant that only four drivers were on the lead lap after just over 160 miles of sunny race action. Detroit still holds some races to this day, but it remains to be seen whether Formula One will ever return to the pavements of Motown. With the addition of Austin from next year, this sadly looks increasingly unlikely.

3. Monaco
Ask anyone to name an F1 track and chances are they'll say Monaco. The cars have long since outgrown the tiny principality's twisty streets, but that doesn't stop the drivers rocketing round an at an average speed of around 100mph - slow for a Grand Prix circuit, but practically unheard of in the slow, wealthy life of a Monegasque resident. The circuit has held many memorable races on its five different variations over the years - the first was held in 1929 by a close friend of the Royal Family, and Prince Albert loves the event - he awards the winner's trophy each year. The track is just over one and a quarter minutes of unbridled terror - let's watch Jenson Button's 2009 pole lap:

2. Montjuich Park
This circuit is widely regarded by Formula One buffs as one of the greatest circuits of all time. That it only held four Grands Prix is somewhat of a travesty, but a fatal accident at the final race meant that Formula One could not continue at the track draped over a mountain in Catalonia, Spain. In fact the speeds were so high here and so dangerous, it was here that wings were first banned in F1, those devices which have become so vital to a car's performance today.

1. Albert Park
Maybe a somewhat controversial choice, but Albert Park has seen some of the best racing in recent years and is a firm favourite with many of the drivers. Although not immediately famous among non-F1 fans (unlike the notoriety held by Monaco and Silverstone), the track has also become well-known due to its feature on F1 racing games, upon which it has become one of the most popular tracks to drive. To make this all the more special, Albert Park is actually a public park for most of the year, teeming with wildlife. If looked up on Google Streetview, you can see that the main straight is used for parking, and much of the last part of the lap takes place in cycle lanes! If indeed the track is lost from the roster, as Bernie Ecclestone keeps making clear, I'm sure it will not only be a loss for the local residents and Australia, but for the sport as a whole. In years to come I'm sure we will look back on this track as one of the best of the contemporary age. Farewell, Albert Park.

The lake around which the Albert Park track runs
A notable mention to both Ned Flanders and Nik for mentioning AVUS, a German track run almost exclusively on German motorway and flanked at both ends by hairpins. The banking at one end of the track had no safety barrier - meaning cars could be launched off at even the smallest mistake, a recipe for disaster. More happily, the track is now an important part of the German Autobahn network.

Now its over to you. What do you think about my choices and what are yours? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

This article is based on a thread started on the F1Fanatic Forum.Be sure to check back there for ThatF1Blog article news and thanks to everyone who took part (sadly I couldn't mention everyone in this article).

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Was Shanghai a sign of what's to come in 2011?

Well, I don't think you need me to tell you that last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix was an absolute corker. Whether it was one of the best Grands Prix we've ever seen is subject to debate, but it was certainly one of the greatest from recent times. But can we expect the same from the remaining 16 races in 2011?

In short, and it's a bit of a cop-out, it's almost impossible to tell. Just three or four short seasons ago we could have quite easily predicted the final championship positions. But that's a luxury that 2011 doesn't permit us. With the new DRS, the return of KERS and tyres which last about as long as chewing gum, the first three races were some of the most exciting from the last few seasons. The main question to ask which will influence the rest of the season is that which asks if Red Bull can continue their dominating form. Sebastian Vettel has taken pole at all three races so far, and has won two races - a win rate of 66.6% which, if carried through the season, means he'll win 12 0r 13 of the 19 races. If Shanghai was anything to go by, that's unlikely. That's because McLaren, after a dismal month of testing, arrived at Australia and were the second fastest team. Come Malaysia, they were even closer to the Red Bulls - Hamilton only one tenth off of the weltmeister. And then...well, we all know what happened in China.

Could we see the silver cars at the front even more for the rest of 2011?
But who will be able to carry their early season form through into the European season? There's no denying that the RB7 is fast. It's not quite the class of the field like its predecessor, but it's certainly no Minardi. It looks unlikely that it won't be fast come Turkey. However, McLaren's development team have recently worked for every penny of their (deservedly large) salary. Their car was one of the slowest in pre-season testing and now it's already racked up a win on merit alone. The pace of their development does not look to be slowing - if anything, expect them to be even faster in Istanbul Park, where they took a one-two last year. And then there's a notable mention for the next three teams; Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari. Ross Brawn revealed that the W02 had chronic overheating problems, which they hope to fix for Turkey, with their aerodynamic fixes coming in Barcelona. With Nico Rosberg leading a chunk of the last Grand Prix, a win in the European part of the season is not out of the question. Renault have also looked fast, and their cars really have flown - (I'm looking at you, Vitaly Petrov). Renault were one of the fastest developing teams last year, and they don't look to be standing still this year either. And then there's Ferrari - Luca di Montezemelo is expecting great things from his red cars for the rest of the year. Let's hope Fernando Alonso and a rejuvenated Felipe Massa can deliver in Turkey. Let the three week break commence!

Image (c) Pirelli, F1Fanatic

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Are McLaren in serious trouble? (The 2011 Formbook)

The previous two years of Formula One testing were notoriously difficult to read - and 2011 has by no means bucked the trend. Some teams decided to start with their 2010 cars, others used their new cars straight out of the box and one team haven't even tested at all (I'm looking at you, HRT). But I've tried my best to analyse the four tests so far to try and predict the running order come Melbourne in exactly two weeks time.

McLaren look to be entering another of their 'cold' years

1. Red Bull
Last season's RB6 was so fast, you could be excused for thinking that Adrian Newey has had the Winter to relax - no such fun. The new RB7 again looks the class of the field, and worryingly for the other teams it looks like Red Bull's reliability bugs have been sorted - the new car has racked up a total of 6124.87km, only second to Ferrari.

2. Ferrari
Whilst Ferrari have had some trouble naming the F150 F150th Italia F150° Italia, there does not seem to be too much to worry about on the pace front. Whilst many commentators originally accused the Scuderia of being conservative with their design approach, the new car, named in honour of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, has quietly posted times near the top of the timesheets at every test so far with only one reliability scare so far in Felipe Massa's fire at the first test. Since then, however, the most experienced team in F1 has travelled an astonishing 6984.76km in 2011. This number is even more impressive when you realise it is almost 860km more than their closest rivals. Very worrying indeed.

3. Renault
I had some trouble choosing between the team formerly known as Renault and Mercedes for third spot. The R31 broke cover at the first test in Valencia and almost immediately people started to ponder where its exhausts were. Did it even have any?! However, further inspection showed that the exhaust were blowing gas out of the sidepods, under the car to allow for better downforce. Only time will tell to see whether other teams feel this is the right direction to go. However, after Kubica's all-too-well documented rally crash in February, the sport now focuses on the steady super sub Heidfeld and his hot-head team-mate Petrov. What will we be talking about come November? How the team won all those races against the odds? Or what a wasted opportunity? Let's wait and see.

4. Mercedes
As mentioned above, splitting the R31 and W02 was a very difficult task indeed. However, I chose to go with my gut feeling and place the black-and-gold car higher on merit. That said, Mercedes' drivers are much more reliable and slightly faster. I look forward to seeing the quick Nico Rosberg picking up podiums and maybe even a win or two during the year. Mercedes also deserve a shout-out for having the best looking car by far this year. Just wow.

5. Williams
A controversial choice, maybe, but the Grove-based outfit look quite quick this year. The retro liveried FW33 has a very small 'coke bottle zone' which, in layman's terms, will make it go faster. With the arrival of Pastor Maldonado from GP2 and a flotation on the stock market, the team's financial future looks to be relatively secure, and in Rubens Barrichello's hands the car has a very experienced driver. I have no doubt the team will be better than 2010, but how high will they go? I am confident that they are looking at their most successful season in a long time.

6. McLaren
Yes, you read that right. The team that supplied the 2008 Formula One World Champion, two wins in 2009 and five in 2010 seem to have hit a bum note for 2011. Not only has their car covered the least mileage of all the 2011 cars, its pace seems to leave it in the midfield. Hamilton said yesterday: "Yesterday I looked at the times and everyone was in the 1’21s and I can’t get into the 1’21s." If that isn't worrying enough, the guys from Woking are also worried about the reliability of their new steed. Is it too futuristic for its own good? And will McLaren repeat their feat of 2009 and score a couple of wins later on in the year? Only time will tell.

7. Sauber
Peter Sauber's second name translates from German as 'clean'. This Swiss team definitely know how to run a professional racing team and sometimes they can go unnoticed, under the radar. Japan's Kamui Kobayashi rarely fails to disappoint with his flare for overtaking, and offers a nice contrast to the methodical ex-sports car manufacturer. The arrival of Sergio Perez has also brought the team some much needed sponsorship, but the team is surely focusing on returning to the heights they enjoyed with BMW in 2007 and 2008.

8. Toro Rosso
For the first time since the team's previous identity as Minardi in 2005, the team has enjoyed a stable driver partnership in Buemi and Alguersuari. Their 2011 car, the STR6 is the second to be made entirely by the team themselves and is the fifth highest machine in mileage covered, with 5351.89km to its name so far. It has also surprised many by popping up the timesheets every now and again. I predict them to be faster than last year, and the main talking point will be for how long Buemi can protect his seat from the devastatingly fast Daniel Ricciardo, the team's new test driver.

9. Lotus
2010's undisputed best rookie team are now looking for better things in 2011. With a Renault engine and Red Bull rear end at their disposal, ninth place in the championship at the very least is theirs for the taking. They have almost certainly leap-frogged Force India, and will be concentrating on the heels of the next big name, Toro Rosso. If they manage to take on Toro Rosso and win this year, they will almost certainly earn more credit and possibly even more parts from Red Bull - a team that now looks to be fuelling the race for eight an ninth in the constructor's championship. Furthermore, I don't see Jarno Trulli lasting beyond this year and the question towards the end of the season will be that of who will replace him in the green and yellow car.

10. Force India
After finishing seventh in the championship in 2010 (their best ever result) Force India must have been looking to improve even further this year. However, it appears they have taken their eyes off the ball somewhat. A car described by some as a dog, it has still managed just a whisker less than 900 laps so far. The young Paul di Resta will be one to watch this year, and I can't see Adrian Sutil sticking around for another year at the back of the field - he'll probably move on after this year. Oh well, at least they'll be good at Spa!

11. Virgin
With new title sponsorship in the shape of Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia, Richard Branson has probably reduced the volume of money he is pouring into the team formally known as Manor Grand Prix. With a 2011 livery that Midland would be proud of, the Yorkshire team will be hoping for an increase in pace this season. However, hoping isn't always enough. Whilst battling for most of the first half of last year with Lotus, they lost sight of their opponents come the second half of the year. And into the mix a new driver by the name of Jerome D'Ambrosio, I cannot see Virgin following Lotus to points any time soon.

12. HRT
Not a lot to say here, really. The lovable Spanish squad endured a torrid 2010 and many, myself included, couldn't realistically see them making it to testing at all. Whilst the F111 hasn't ever even turned a wheel in anger, its appearance in Barcelona on Friday has shown that it does actually exist. 2011 will be another difficult year for the team, with two drivers that have never driven a race for the team before.

Image (c) Sutton Images

All mileage data retrieved from F1Fanatic here.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Heidfeld Confirmed; Bahrain Cancelled; Williams Livery Revealed

Heidfeld Confirmed
After weeks of speculation, Nick Heidfeld was confirmed as Renault's super-sub in place of the injured Robert Kubica on 16th February. Personally, I feel it was probably the best decision to make for Eric Boullier - Renault team manager - as Heidfeld is recognised in the paddock as a steady but consistent and experienced hand. And with Petrov as a second driver, consistency is what Boullier needs...

Heidfeld has been welcomed at Renault
Of course, the length of Heidfeld's tenure all depends on how speedy Kubica's recovery is, and with him being moved out of intensive care recently, it looks like he may be in the car for a race or two at the latter end of the season if all goes to plan. However, if the Renault is really as fast as the testing stopwatch says it is, Heidfeld might have other things on his mind towards the end of the season, like winning races...

2011 Bahrain Grand Prix Cancelled
It came as no surprise the other day when the Crown Prince of Bahrain officially announced that the island state could no longer safely hold it's Grand Prix, the first of the season. It remains to be seen whether Bahrain will be able to slot back into the calendar at a later date, but with the second half of the year choc-a-bloc, it looks increasingly unlikely.

Bahrain may have to take a sabbatical from F1 in 2011
However, one thing is for sure: the 2011 Formula One World Championship will get underway in Melbourne on the 27th March, just like old times...

Williams unveil livery for FW33
With all the teams unveiling their 2011 challengers (although HRT's effort has only been seen in rendered form) the last big launch date took place on Thursday - the launch of the official livery in which drivers Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado will stake their claim to points and, if the team are to be believed, possibly even a race win or two.

A quiet revolution in F1 car design? 
Sam Michael, Williams' technical director, explained that the team had worked especially hard on their 'tight rear end' (even Michael himself sniggered at that one) which will contain their KERS , a package capable of providing a boost equal to about 80hp. The livery itself is a throwback to the Rothmans liveries of the 1990s, made famous by Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve's championships. So that's three retro liveries on the grid this season: Williams, Renault and Team Lotus' - if only McLaren went back to the Marlboro years...

You can find more pictures of the FW33 on F1Fanatic here.

I do not own any of the copyright to any of the images on this page and they are all used with full recognition of their respective owners.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Heidfeld to replace Kubica?

The team formally known as Renault are testing Nick Heidfeld at Jerez today, followed by the young Bruno Senna tomorrow in order to evaluate who will stand in for the injured Robert Kubica. However, the way I see it, speed will only be a small factor in the test - Renault need a team leader that they did have in Kubica and won't have in Petrov or Senna if he takes the drive. However, the best bet would have been Heidfeld and Senna - although this isn't possibly because of a certain pay driver.

Kubica and Heidfeld know each other well since their BMW days
Heidfeld can help develop a car with his experience - another aspect that Senna can't really bring to the team. However, 2010 did damage Bruno's reputation - he must be fast, that Ross Brawn considered taking him for a seat at his team in 2009. On that occasion, ironically, he was turned down because of a more experienced driver. Bad luck.

Image (c) AP

Saturday, 5 February 2011

McLaren use novel launch for new car

McLaren launched the MP4-26 on Friday - sort of. The carcass of the car was wheeled into Potsdamer Platz in Berlin while the rest of the parts were brought in by hand. The car itself features several interesting concepts, also - two strangely sculpted sidepods give the rear wing maximum amounts of air, whilst keeping the new KERS system cooled. However, did McLaren give anything away about the internals of their car? Apparently not: "Be warned, you haven't seen it all," said McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh. "I think there are some really interesting bits on the car that you can see. But there are some bits we have hidden from you and our competition. The car also features a strange gill-like airbox - an evolution of the F-duct, perhaps? Or is it just for extra cooling, given the sidepods?

The new MP4-26.  Shiny.
Oh, and it just so happens that I've been to where the McLaren was launched before. I recognised it on the live feed - terrific place to unveil a Formula One car! If only they'd unleashed all that horsepower...

Image (c)

Friday, 28 January 2011

Ferrari unveil the F150

Ferrari tried to steal a march on their rivals today by being the first team to launch their new car. The 'F150', decked out in traditional red, was launched this morning and is named in honour of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, which is to be celebrated this year.

Fernando Alonso takes the new Ferrari for a spin this afternoon
Launched at the team's base in Maranello, Italy, the car was taken out in the afternoon on a damp-looking Fiorano track, Ferrari's private test facility, by first driver Fernando Alonso. The team are said to be 'painfully aware' of how the 2010 title slipped through their fingers after a strategic gamble backfired at the final round in Abu Dhabi, handing Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel the crown. But will the F150 allow drivers Alonso and Felipe Massa to challenge for wins and the championship? Only time will tell. In the meantime, testing proper begins on Tuesday 1st February next week. Be sure to check back here for the latest news and analysis.

Image (c) AP

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Two Lions and a Scot

Paul di Resta was yesterday confirmed as Britain's third Formula One driver for 2011, joining Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, both at McLaren. He will partner German Adrian Sutil at Force India. Here at That F1 Blog we take a quick look back at his career so far and what can be realistically expected of the young West Lothian driver.

di Resta on his trusty Force India steed

Like almost every other Formula One driver today, di Resta started his career in karts at a young age, participating in various kart series between 1994 and 2001. He stepped up to the next traditional stepping stone: Formula Renault and impressed in his limited performance. However, in 2005, he joined the F3 Euroseries with help from Manor Motorsport (the same team who run Virgin Racing). That year, for his troubles, he was awarded the prestigious McLaren Young Driver of the Year Award, which features among previous winners name such as a certain Mr D Coulthard and J Button, as well as di Resta's cousin, Dario Franchitti.

However, it was Paul's 2006 F3 season that was to grab headlines. He was paired with none other than Sebastian Vettel, curent F1 world champ whom he comprehensively beat to the championship by taking six wins, ten podiums and five pole positions, whilst teammate Vettel, Qualifying master, only managed two poles in 22 races.

It was in 2007 that di Resta's career took its most important turn to date. He signed to race for Mercedes in the DTM, that is, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, the German BRDC. He racked up four podiums which was no mean feat when pitted against competition such as Mika Hakkinen, McLaren tester Gary Paffett and Le Mans master Tom Kristensen. The following season (2008) he was given an improved Mercedes for his impressive debut performances and took his first two wins in the category. He eventually finshed runner-up to champion Timo Schneider. Schneider won the championship again the following season, whilst di Resta was third behind Schneider and compatriot Paffett. 2010's conflict started much better, and over the course of the year Paul took three wins out of eleven - not a bad percentage at all. However, it's points that count, and he took four more than Paffett who drove the exact same type of Merc.

What's even more incredible is that while he was taking the DTM crown he was throwing the Force India around the track on selected Fridays. The team were obviously very impressed by his input to both the car and the team in general with BBC pundit David Coulthard commenting that he had a 'bright future' and was a very mature young man indeed.

Obviously Force India think so, after picking him over proven talent Nico Hülkenberg for their 2011 campaign. Saying that, di Resta has consistently shown his own talent throughout his career and it will be very interesting indeed to see how he fares this season up against fellow rookie Sergio Perez (possibly his closest rival) and the fast, but flawed, Sutil. How do you think Paul will get on in 2011? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Image (c) Force India