Australian GP – The Race


This Is The One!

Not that I’m binging or anything on F1 but I’m currently on my third programme of Sky’s Australian Grand Prix coverage (Track Parade, Pit Lane Live and Live Australian Grand Prix – any more shows and we’ll have Live Start, Live First Pitstop and then where will we all be?!). Well it is Mother’s Day and this televisual feast of motorsport is my treat to myself. You’re welcome.

And before the cars have even lined up on the grid we already have a broken McLaren. Poor old Kevin Magnussen’s weekend has just crashed and burned. Literally. One Honda engine down, another one to go. How hard must it be for Jenson Button starting a race knowing at some point the car will almost certainly break down. In many ways it is a lot like trying to travel to Holyhead in an Alfa Romeo (the story of many a childhood holiday). The question is when exactly will you be marooned at the side of the road waiting for the RAC (or a pick-up truck in the case of JB).

So we’re now down to 16 cars with the no-show Manor cars, the broken McLaren and the sad news that Valtteri Bottas has not been passed fit to race after suffering an annular tear in a disc in his lower back. From what Claire Williams said, it was just a freak and desperately unlucky accident. Here’s hoping Valtteri is back racing in Sepang.

Whoah they’re dropping like flies. Now Daniil Kvyat is out of the race (suspected gearbox). As an aside, I know he can’t help it but has there ever been a name as infuriatingly difficult as Daniil Kvyat to spell. So we are now down to 15 cars. Basically just keep pointing it the right way round and you will probably end up in the points. Unless you’re Jenson Button.


The Class of 2015

It is time for the first #MartinsGridWalk of the season – and our first Random Celebrity at a Race this season is the Terminator (aka Arnold Schwarzenegger). He’s in Melbourne for a bodybuilding thing and a fitness expo (I wasn’t really paying attention). He does seem genuinely excited to be there and spoke quite knowledgeably by Random Sleb standards.

Mark Webber is bouncing along the grid looking pretty happy and relaxed doing his own gridwalk for Aussie TV. Next up to be Brundled is Webber’s former nemesis, Sebastian Vettel, who is not looking overly happy or relaxed.

Martin has spied Ron Dennis. RUN FOR COVER. Martin points out to Ron that Magnussen’s blow up means they already have already taken a hit on their engine quota (of four). Ron “it’s the least of our worries”. Slightly hairy moment when Martin couldn’t spot Carlos Sainz Jr on the grid. Oh here he comes. Thank the Lord otherwise we’ll just be watching the two Mercedes cars race each other at this rate.

The 4 year old is very excited because she has seen her friend’s daddy on the TV (who may or may not be the person who is starting the race). And its time to get this show on the road for 2015.

1-2-3-4-5. Lights out. And GO! GO! GO!


The race to the first corner…

No sensational start from Rosberg so Hamilton leads Rosberg into the first corner. But all kinds of drama is unfolding just behind them. Picking my way through all the bumps and spins it can be broken down to: Vettel brakes late, touches the curb, jumps and slides into Raikkonen who hits Nasr who hits Maldonado who crashes into a wall. Cue Safety Car. And breathe.


Maldonado out of the race on the first lap.

And to compound the tragedy for Lotus (after their awesome quali), Grosjean is out of the race with a technical issue. I fear after my excited hopes of a top ten finish for the Lotus drivers in yesterday’s blog, I might be the Murray Walker of the blogging world.

The Safety Car is in and Hamilton puts a big jump on Rosberg who appeared to be caught napping on the restart. Hamilton has now opened up a 2.7 second lead over his team-mate. Still another 52 laps remain*

*holding out no hope at all.

So just 13 cars are still racing and quite incredibly Jenson Button is NOT last. Someone give that man a pay rise. Or indeed just a decent car. Just when I was wondering if we would ever see anyone overtake someone else anytime soon, Kimi puts a cool-as-you-like move on Sainz. The problem is with only 13 cars still running out there on the track it does slightly reduce the chances of action/incident/overtakes. But Kimi hasn’t read that script. He is now taking chunks out of Ricciardo’s time. And it looks like Nico Rosberg has woken up – he is starting to close the gap to Hamilton at the front.


Jenson Button clinging on in the race for dear life.

Button is miraculously somehow keeping Perez behind him. It’s a mini defensive masterclass right at the back of the grid between the two former team-mates. And that is why McLaren were so right to re-sign him. Yikes a huge spin from Perez after contact with the McLaren. Brundle didn’t think Jenson saw him going for the corner. Really Martin?! I think we all know that a driver has gotta do what a driver has gotta do. 13 cars still in the race and points for all who finish in the top 10. Jenson can do the maths like the rest of us.

It is enormously weird seeing so few cars on track. A little bit like watching a F1 race in a ghost-town. Where is everyone?! I’m missing Alonso, those crazy Lotus guys and those heady days when the Pirelli tyres degraded every few laps.

Massa pits on lap 22 and comes out in P6 – behind Ricciardo and ahead of Sainz. And in comes in Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Vettel. And Vettel jumps Felipe Massa in the pitstops to move in front. Well played Ferrari. And in a further very welcome burst of action, Raikkonen finally gets past Ericsson. We take whatever crumbs of comfort that we can.

Oh no poor unlucky Carlos Sainz is stuck in the pits and has lost a shedload of time as they couldn’t get his wheel off. And he drops back to the last position. Hang on! STOP PRESS: This means Jenson Button is not last, nor is he in the penultimate spot but is up to P11.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Carlos Sainz Jr impressing in his first F1 race!

Both Mercs are in to the pits – first Hamilton and then Rosberg and its now a race to the end. I have just wasted 20 seconds of my life that I’ll never get back trying to work out who “VES” was in the time screens and apparently its Verstappen. Why ‘VES’ and not ‘VER’. I am greatly perplexed. But whatever, VES/VER/son of Jos the Boss is absolutely flying out there. Lets just remind ourselves he is only 17. This guy is the future right there.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Qualifying

Max Verstappen flying round Melbourne before his race got tragically cut short.

Probably a good juncture for a quick update on the race order: 1. Hamilton 2. Rosberg 3. Vettel 4. Massa 5. Raikkonen 6. VERstappen 7. Nasr and 8. Ricciardo. And Kimi keeps setting fastest laps. Admittedly the Mercedes cars don’t need to kill themselves out there but it does look like the future is bright for Ferrari. Haha Martin Brundle has just made the same point – one of the afternoon’s big stories is the competitiveness of the Ferrari (because lets face it there aren’t many other stories in this race…).

A very agitated Max Verstappen has just reported smoke in the car – another blown engine to add to the list. What a sad and very unfortunate end to his debut F1 outing. Well this race isn’t exactly making me want to rush out and buy a Renault or Honda. I’d sooner an Alfa Romeo which at least still looks good when it breaks down.

It is all kinds of odd watching a race where there is pretty much only one car in each camera shot. You know when Christian Horner says the race really needs a Safety Car to bunch the pack up that things are just a little teeny bit…well…b o r i n g. Still loving the three way competition between Ron Dennis, Jenson Button and Christian Horner as to who has the best gallows humour. And to think everyone thought last year’s return to the mad Turbo Age of the 1980s would lead to mechanical carnage. This is the year it all seems to have fallen apart.

Oh hello! Raikkonen has ALL OF A SUDDEN just conked out. He is out of the Australian GP and its a total miracle that Nasr and Ricciardo didn’t crash into him. Something went wrong in the pits so that’s an unsafe release penalty coming Kimi’s way.


Raikkonen out of the race.

And then there were 11. All we need is one more retirement and Jenson Button will be in the points. This is literally all that is keeping me going in this race. Has Hamilton won the race yet? Just wondering as haven’t actually seen the race leader for around 30 minutes or so. Ah as if by magic, we get a sighting of the two Mercedes cars and Rosberg is still 2.4 seconds behind him. Is it harsh to say that Rosberg should be closing that gap? I know Hamilton is pretty freaking fast but if you want to be in the hunt for a title you have to put yourself more in contention for race wins. Early doors and all that.


Hamilton followed by Rosberg. The story of the race but hopefully not the season.

I am reminded of the old saying (which I’ll probably get wrong as is my wont with sayings) that football is a game played by 22 men over 90 minutes at the end of which the Germans win on penalties. It very much looks like Formula 1 is a race driven by 20 men (if you are lucky) who go round and round a track for dozens of laps at the end of which a German team wins. Repeat on loop for the rest of the season.

And we finally reach the not-so-thrilling denouement of the strangest opening race to a F1 season in a long time. Hamilton crosses the line to take the first spoils of the season with Rosberg coming home 1.360 seconds behind him (which probably gives a falsely close impression of matters). Sebastian Vettel comfortably took 3rd place – he surely could not have hoped for any more than a podium in his first race for Ferrari.


Hamilton victorious in the first race of the season!

Here are the results from the 2015 Australian Grand Prix:

  1. Hamilton – He looks like a man who is in a hurry for title no.3.
  2. Rosberg – All eyes will be on him at Malaysia to see if he can reverse his fortunes of this weekend.
  3. Vettel – A fantastic debut for Ferrari given no one was going to beat the Mercedes pair. And nicely bowled Mr Vettel for speaking Italian on the car radio and on the podium. He’s a bit like the new school prefect desperately trying to be popular with the cool kids but still its cute.
  4. Massa – It shows how far Williams have come that this is a tiny bit disappointing. But really P4 is no disgrace behind the two Mercedes and Vettel.
  5. Nasr – What a stunning F1 debut!
  6. Ricciardo – Slightly anonymous race but Red Bull will take those points thank you very much.
  7. Hulkenberg – Such an underrated driver who just churns out great results time and time again.
  8. Ericsson – Proved today that despite all the legal wrangles Sauber didn’t call it too badly in the end. So despite the playdoh looking cars these are the team’s first points since 2013.
  9. Sainz – Another impressive debut. He was the lone driver flying the flag for Spain this weekend (in the absence of Alonso and Manor’s Merhi) and did a great job.
  10. Perez – Two Force India cars in the points. More than they could possibly have hoped this weekend after a fairly dismal testing season.
  11. Button – It sounds like a cliché but completing a race was like a win given McLaren’s woeful winter of discontent. But Jenson – the moustache has to go! You are entering dangerous Nigel Mansell territory.

The first podium of the season.


And who came up with the idea of Arnie Schwarzenegger doing the podium interviews. Utterly totally inspired. He was absolutely brilliant. Witty banter, asked sensible questions and a total natural. I am totally converted! Having said that what was with the boos for Hamilton? Obviously they were booing Vettel for the whole Webber ‘multi 21’ thing but really can’t we move on from that now. Its just not classy behaviour guys.


The King of all Podium Interviewers, Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger!

So one down. Nineteen races remain. Its not a race that will live long in the consciousness but it gave us Schwarzenegger and has kick-started a few delightful spats between Rosberg/Vettel in a fantastically snidey post-race interview and Christian Horner/TotoWolff. The Red Bull boss is concerned that Mercedes’ dominance will be unhealthy for the sport. Say compared to Red Bull’s dominance which was totally great for the sport and not at all boring. At All. Ever. Toto’s response (which was not apparently aimed specifically at Horner – shyeah right) “Just get your f****** head down, work hard and try to sort it out.” Toto for President.

Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton

“Really, you actually want your team-mate to finish?”

Roll on Sepang, the return of Alonso, 20 cars lining up on track and all hopefully will be right in the world.

Australian GP – Qualifying


The fastest guys out on track today

This is probably my favourite qualifying of the whole season (with Monaco a very, very close second). Why? The obvious answer really. Because after months of top secret car development, behind the scenes testing, official testing and posturing from the teams, it is finally time for the drivers to drop their trousers and show what they’ve got (or not got as the case may be). And who doesn’t love Melbourne – great track, got a super cool party vibe going on and has amazing fans.

So imagine my delight to wake up this morning and discover that qualifying coverage had not been recorded due to a random power cut. I should just clarify that I was actually awake while live qualifying was on but was at the time trying to manage/pacify/feed/referee two small children and so was saving myself for a blissful hour or two of uninterrupted (ish) qualifying later in the morning. Best laid plans and all that.

I then realised that I couldn’t even watch the reshowing as I was taking the 7 year old to a Reconciliation Service (the new Confession – who knew?) so I have probably been the very last person on the planet with even an inkling of interest in F1 who watched qualifying.

So what went down in Melbourne?

Its plus ça change at the very top – Mercedes have launched full-out blitzkrieg on the rest of the pack with an absolutely astonishing first quali performance. And it was reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, who took first blood again to grab pole position ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg by almost 0.6 seconds. Lewis qualified 1.4 seconds ahead of Felipe Massa in 3rd place which is a jaw-dropping margin in F1 terms. Mercedes already look in a class of their own (something that was abundantly clear from winter testing). Are Mercedes about to head off into the distance never to be caught again this season? Probably. Ominously Lewis Hamilton hailed this year’s car as the best car he has ever driven. If we want there to be a race on our hands tomorrow, we will need Rosberg to pull a sensational start out of the bag.


Lewis Hamilton redefining the meaning of blistering pace

Williams demonstrated that their impressive form of last season was not a flash in the pan with P3 and P6 on the grid for Massa and Bottas respectively. Come to think of it, Massa had a fantastic end to the 2014 season so perhaps he is continuing on that upwards trajectory. Certainly out-qualifying the two Ferraris (whose drivers have 5 world championships between them) was a superb effort although the price Felipe will pay is to have Vettel and Raikkonen revving up behind him on the grid tomorrow. Good luck with that one. I still almost have to do a double-take when I see Vettel in the red Scuderia overalls. But great to see a German back racing for Ferrari once again – Vettel follows in some mighty footsteps. I hope he has a great race tomorrow – he is so obviously living his dream at Ferrari and is like a giant kid in a candy store (albeit one that makes big shiny red cars).


Sebastian Vettel living the dream

Drivers who probably aren’t living the dream at the moment are Sebastian Vettel’s replacement, Daniil Kvyat who managed a distinctly mediocre P13 (ouch) and Daniel Ricciardo who plonked his Red Bull on P7 which speaks volumes about his incredible driving ability and volumes about the lack of improvement in the Renault engine. Red Bull are apparently severely unimpressed (it is admittedly hard to imagine Christian Horner being incandescent but he has the steely eyes of someone you would not want to piss off). And as for that whole ‘Adrian Newey is stepping down from day-to-day involvement’ spiel. Well he’s been at all the tests and is in Australia this weekend. Its fair to say he’s not there for the Moet and taking selfies of himself in front of garages (as I so will be in Spa in August!!). I imagine Helmut Marko will be seeking him out with a blank cheque-book this weekend.


Maldonado in a Lotus that is unrecognisable from last season

As I tweeted earlier, the best thing about quali (I love when F1 throws up a genuine surprise and even so when it comes from a previously struggling team) was the cracking performance from the two Lotus drivers (and the Lotus team generally), Grosjean and Maldonado – two drivers who have been given a hard time in the past but definitely have real talent – to take P9 and P10 respectively. How fabulous would it be if they could convert that into points in tomorrow’s race. And to add a further dollop of spice to things, they are flanked by two rookies. Carlos Sainz Jr making his debut for Toro Rosso, did the equivalent of “Max Verstappen…who?” by qualifying 4 places ahead of his much talked-up team-mate. Way to get noticed Carlos! And behind the two Lotuses, we have the other rookie, Felipe Nasr driving for Sauber, who is the latest Brazilian racing wunderkind to rock up in F1.


All hail Carlos Sainz Jr for his remarkable P8 in his first ever F1 qualifying

Talking of Sauber, only the most stone-hearted (though there are probably a few of those kicking about in F1) would fail to have a bit of sympathy for Giedo van der Garde (who I remembering once calling the “New Narain” – where oh where is Narain now?) who secured a drive for Sauber in 2015 only to be told the team were going with the super-rich sponsors bankrolling Nasr and Ericsson instead. The smaller teams in F1 do face huge financial challenges but I think Nico Hulkenberg summed it up just right saying “They were desperate for some money to survive, which is maybe a general problem of F1. But still that is not a way to do business and to screw people like this.”

On the eve of the race (presumably after a few urgent phone calls between Bernie/Charlie W, Peter Sauber and Giedo’s lawyers), Giedo agreed to drop his legal action and thereby avoid placing Sauber in contempt of court if they didn’t let him race. Poor guy – hope he get a lucky break soon.


Giedo van der Garde – to my mind looks better in a sharp suit than overalls. Just saying.

And so we come to McLaren. Oh dear Lord. Have one of F1’s pre-eminent and most respected teams ever fallen from grace quite as rapidly as McLaren? Possibly Williams but even they didn’t quite plumb these depths. Or Lotus in the 1980s but their decline was much more gradual. Its not that McLaren are now scrapping around at the lower end of the grid. They are The End of The Grid. With Manor’s no-show at qualifying having had to contend with wiped hard drives (prior to their aborted sale) and only 3 weeks to build a 2015 car, McLaren’s two drivers are stone bottom. Alas for poor Jenson Button who predicted this calamitous outcome was a possibility in qualifying. Even then I dismissed it as ‘managing expectations’ chat. The mind boggles as to what Alonso must be making of it all back home in Spain. But then the mind boggles as to what exactly is going on with Alonso and at McLaren full stop. These are dark, dark days. Right now Ron Dennis must feel like he is dying a thousand deaths in full, unforgiving global view. The upside this is only race no.1. The downside is there are still 19 qualifying sessions and 20 races to go.

So it is First Race Eve – a little bit like Christmas Eve for all F1 fans. And there is so so SO much to look forward to…

  • No more fugly noses so slightly nicer looking cars this season. This makes me very happy.
  • It’s the debut race in Formula 1 for three drivers tomorrow, one of whom will make history as the youngest driver ever in F1 (my 17 old self spent a lot of time coping with angst, drinking cheap cider in fields and listening to James but hey that’s how we rolled back in 1992).
  • Ferrari is back in the building and has some semblance of form after a few lean old years.
  • Mercedes might be unbeatable but the chasing pack is as tightly bunched together as it has been in a very long time – the key battles are shaping up to be Williams v Ferrari and Red Bull v Toro Rosso v Lotus (and Sauber and, to a lesser extent, Force India aren’t too shabby). So that basically just leaves McLaren as the new Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards of Formula 1.

The one and only!

So Happy Mother’s Day to me for tomorrow – to whoever finalises the race schedule, I salute you!

The Curious Incident of the McLaren Driver in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso leaves hospital in Barcelona

Thumbs up but still so many questions

When the cars all line up on the grid for the first race of the season in Melbourne this coming Sunday, there will be one very notable driver missing.

Fernando Alonso has been withdrawn from the Australian Grand Prix on medical grounds following his crash on the last day of the second test in Barcelona. All those who were relishing the sight of Alonso racing again for McLaren following his much anticipated move from Ferrari will have to hang on until at least Malaysia.

Testing times for McLaren

Testing times for McLaren

A international cloak of mystery surrounds the circumstances, reasons and effects of the crash on Alonso. So amidst the lies, damned lies, statistics and other possibly made up stuff what actually do we know?

Telemetry apparently shows that Alonso was driving at a speed of 215 km/h when he lost control of his car on Turn Three and hit a wall. Vettel who was right behind Alonso at the time said “The speed was slow – Then he turned right into the wall. It looked strange.”

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Eric Bouiller, McLaren’s racing director, said that Alonso had suffered concussion. Not too surprisingly given it was a big shunt. But to quell the increasingly wild speculation fuelled by Alonso’s unexpectedly prolonged stay in hospital (three nights in total), Lord Ron Vader released a few grains of information a few days later to say that there had been a “period of unconsciousness” but that tests had revealed there was no concussion as “the technical definition of concussion is that you see it in a scan”. Ron Dennis would have made a formidable QC in another life.

A happier time

A happier time

McLaren have now confirmed that Alonso did in fact suffer a normal concussion with a loss of temporary memory and have issued this further statement: “Fernando’s doctors have recommended to him that, following the concussion he sustained in a testing accident, for the time being he should seek to limit as far as is possible any environmental risk factors that could potentially result in him sustaining another concussion so soon after his previous one, so as to minimise the chances of second impact syndrome.”

Confused? Well you are not alone. A lot of people, including most of the F1 paddock, are very baffled by the whole incident. One of the best drivers in F1 (and considered by many in the paddock to be the very best) has an odd and seemingly innocuous crash with no apparent injuries yet is ruled out of the season opener which is three whole weeks later. Only last Thursday Ron Dennis said he could see no reason why Alonso would not be racing in Melbourne.

The F1 rumour mill always mildly feverish at the best of time has been in proverbial overdrive. McLaren have categorically denied that Alonso suffered any electric shock. But McLaren’s denial has not entirely stopped the rumours, with Sky Italia claiming Alonso told friends he had felt “major shock in his spine” before crashing.

Ron Dennis who has been busy categorically denying everything under the sun has also categorically denied that there was any mechanical failure of any kind. The accident was apparently caused by “unpredictably gusty winds” on the that part of the circuit. Although these gusty winds didn’t seem to catch anyone out which is curious given there are a few rookies entering F1 this year. As an aside how can Jos Verstappen’s son be now racing in F1 when his dad was trundling around in a Minardi literally only yesterday. This makes me feel about 100 years old! Wikipedia tells me his last season in F1 was in fact 2003 but still. Also discovered when trawling back through Jos’s life and times in F1 that he is in fact younger than the husband. The march of time is a cruel cruel thing.

Max Verstappen. Seriously how young?! He even still has spots FFS

Max Verstappen. Seriously how young?! He even still has spots FFS

The never knowingly reticent Flavio Briatore (Alonso’s manager) has refuted claims published in Spain’s El Pais newspaper that Alonso woke up in 1995 (sometimes you really couldn’t make the world of Formula 1 up). Imagine if he really had woken up thinking it was 1995 (that movie has Ron Howard’s name written all over it), a point in time when Max Verstappen was merely a twinkle in the eye of his parents. According to the article, Alonso thought he was a 14 year old kart driver and it took the best part of a week to recover his memory in full of the last 20 years. Helpfully, Flavio went on to say that McLaren has given Alonso no information on whether there was a steering problem and communications from the team had not been brilliant. Way to defuse the situation Flav.


Flavio Briatore, a young Fernando Alonso and sacrificial lamb to the slaughter Nelson Piquet Jr.

Disharmony in the ranks already? Its not how McLaren would have hoped the season would be start for their £28 million marquee signing. Pre-season has been utterly disastrous – even poor old Jenson Button must be half wondering whether enforced retirement wasn’t slightly preferable after all. There hasn’t been a single day so far where a Mclaren didn’t break down. At the second test (before his crash), Alonso had said they would arrive in Australia wishing Australia was in June or July but (alas) it is in March. It is fair to say this season’s McLaren-Honda will not be conjuring up memories of the Senna-Prost glory years. Which is a little bit gutting. Magnussen will now be stepping into Alonso’s seat for the opening race despite hinting last weekend he wouldn’t feel ready to race in Melbourne. Whisper it quietly but are the drivers spooked by the car?

There have even been some dramatic suggestions in Sports Bild of a boycott by some of the other teams due to safety concerns surrounding the McLaren. Really? Or is that just the media spinning out a big story for as long as possible. The problem is the confusion and lack of information are helping to stoke the cauldron of conspiracy theories. And who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory? Lets face it, there have been some truly abysmal teams participating in F1 over the years (just google Andrea Moda, 1992 season – car failure after 18 yards, drivers racing without a seat etc) and as far as I recall no boycott ever got off the ground. If a car is really that terrible it won’t even be in a position to qualify for a race or will conk out after a few laps.

Andrea Moda does Monaco (badly)

Andrea Moda does Monaco (badly)

The teams have barely started unloading the cars, equipment and components which have been freighted across to the other side of the world and the first major controversy of the season is in full swing.

To be continued…


Testing #1 – More than smoke and mirrors?

The car and the men to beat...

The car and the men to beat…

How is it February already?

Admittedly it has felt like a Narnia-length winter so far and I have taken to scrolling back through Instagram to find photos of happier, sunnier times when I wasn’t a walking advert for North Face/Michelin/auditioning to join the cast of Fortitude [delete as appropriate].

Okay my town isn't quite this surreal (the brilliantly Twin Peaks-esque Fortitude if you've not seen it)

Okay my town isn’t quite this surreal (the brilliantly Twin Peaks-esque Fortitude if you’ve not seen it)

And then, all of a sudden, a few days ago my Instagram feed got flooded with pictures of shiny, brand, new F1 cars. The dizzying array of car launches has just been and gone (admittedly not quite as bold and brash and glitzy as days of old) heralding the start of official pre-season testing. And when you have been starved of any real F1 news or activity for months on end, pre-season testing is a little bit like Christmas (without all the cooking and family angst).

The McLaren-Mercedes launch in 1997. The future Mrs Christian Horner is in the red coat.

The McLaren-Mercedes launch in 1997. The future Mrs Christian Horner is in the red coat.

These tests – one has just concluded this week in Jerez, and there are two more to come in Barcelona towards the end of the month – are basically a lot of smoke and mirrors and teams notoriously (and fairly understandably) do not want to show all of their cards. But (to immediately contradict myself) the mirror does not always lie. Last year Mercedes dominated testing while Williams surprised many with their impressive pace after their annus horribilis in 2013. The Renault teams, including the all-conquering Red Bull, and Ferrari were all over the place in 2014 pre-season testing and by and large this was the script for the season that followed. Red Bull did have a resurgence during the season (as was bound to be the case with the genius brain of Adrian Newey whirring away behind the scenes) but was always playing catch up.

So what 5 things can we learn from the first test in Jerez:

  1. Mercedes are still the team to beat – An obvious statement in many ways after their incredible season last year (record-breaking teams don’t tend to self-destruct that easily or that quickly) but even the other teams were genuinely stunned and horrified in equal measure at the sheer number of laps Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg put in at Jerez. A gargantuan 516 laps in total. What was the thing that affected Mercedes most last season (aside from their drivers crashing into each other)? Oh yeah reliability. And while in Jerez they even had time to practice pitstops. Message to other teams – Be Very Afraid.
The familiar silver and turquoise blur flashing past into the distance

The familiar silver and turquoise blur flashing past into the distance

  1. Ferrari is back…well maybe – After their disastrous season where the prancing horse bolted and just kept on going into the distance never to be seen again, things simply had to improve at Ferrari. There is after all a limit (even at Ferrari) as to how many people you can sack before you run out of people to replace them with. Recruiting Sebastian Vettel (whose childlike wonderment and excitement to be driving for Scuderia Ferrari is actually rather lovely) was a good start. The Ferrari drivers topped the timesheets at Jerez on 3 out of the 4 days. Obviously there are many variables like tyres, fuel loads, ambient conditions blah blah and the cars are all running different specs but still the SF15-T looks like more of a contender than its dog-awful predecessor.
Still takes some getting used to...

Still takes some getting used to… #livingthedream

  1. Are McLaren the new Ferrari? – Not a great first outing of the season. A total of just 79 laps in a week marred by electrical issues and engine problems. The McLaren was well off the pace in the dry and I think Ron Dennis will be putting in a few irate calls to Honda. I’m not sure their #makehistory hashtag feels very relevant at the moment.

But still its fantastic that Jenson is in F1 for another season!

  1. Red Bull, just all a bit meh – They have absolutely knocked it out of the park with their stunning camouflage livery although apparently its only a temporary thing (so that it will be difficult for other teams to study photos for the aero changes on the cars). But what counts is what happens on the track and aero improvements aside, they are still plagued with a flaky Renault engine which badly affected their first test. A lot of work still to do (unless that livery is hiding a car of hidden depths and indeed hidden speed)
If Carlsberg made cars...

If Carlsberg made cars…

  1. Williams, a British thing of mystery – Very hard to gauge their performance levels and whether it has upped things a notch closer to Mercedes than last year. Mileage covered was good and very positive comments from the Williams camp but nothing to indicate that Mercedes would have a closer challenger this year. As yet. I feel they missed a trick in not managing to sign a driver of the calibre of Fernando Alonso (and if they weren’t in the market, then they should have been!).

The next two tests will be more revealing and will further distill how the teams may line up on the opening grid in Melbourne. I loved one headline I saw this week which was “Lewis Hamilton’s pre-season testing takes a turn for the worse after losing control of his Mercedes amid reports of Nicole Scherzinger break-up”. Actually I think the on-track spin will actually have upset him much more although the husband is gutted that he probably won’t get a distant glimpse of the fragrant Nicole in the paddock at Spa. My main mission for the next 6 months is to find childcare to make this weekend happen. But somehow it will!

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – The Season Finale

I have been a bad bad blogger. Completely failed to blog about the Russian, US and Brazilian races. Actually I did write a blog for the Russian Grand Prix then never got round to posting it. How rubbish is that? I never got to see the US GP as we were on holiday livin’ la vida loca in Center Parcs and I can only presume some other child-related stuff was going on during the Brazilian GP. The stuff of life has an annoying habit of getting in the way of grand prix watching.
Still better late than never. I’m getting my act together just in time for the last race of the season. How to describe this season? Tense (just ask Toto Wolff), controversial (run-off gate in Monaco, the Hamilton/Rosberg crash in Spa), devastating (Schumacher’s and Bianchi’s horrific accidents) and unpredictable. Yet another title race comes right down to the wire.

This race marks the end of an era in so many ways with one of the biggest driver reshuffles in years coming up in 2015. The giants of F1 are on the move. Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari, Alonso definitely leaving Ferrari for somewhere else (probably McLaren). Jenson Button possibly leaving F1 for good. How must he be feeling today knowing this might be his last race ever in F1. It would be hard to imagine F1 without Jenson. Its not time for him to go yet.

Without further ado for the final time this season (sob sob sob) drumroll please…its #MartinsGridWalk.

Paul Hembery of Pirelli (he used to be Public Enemy No.1 but this season has been feeling a whole lot more love) says it will be a two stop race, all pretty straightforward etc. It’s a slamdunk then.
There are a literally gazillion people on the grid. The combined wealth of them all is probably more than several countries’ GDP combined. Prince Harry is in attendance but we all know he doesn’t give interviews. Probably because he doesn’t know much about F1. I look forward in a supremely cringe-face way of seeing Harry and the soon-to-be-Mrs Christian Horner discussing the finer points of the impact of tyre degradation on Vettel’s race strategy during the race. Remember way back when I used to mention Geri Halliwell as the ultimate unworthy random celeb who would always pop up at Monaco. Well just to totally spite me, she will now ALWAYS be at races. That grid-stalking definitely paid off. Well played Ginger Spice. And actually she probably knows more about F1 than Prince ‘when will we see someone throw an oval-shaped ball’ Harry.

Ah lovely Tanja from German TV is interviewing Martin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in my slightly dotty mind this is one of the greatest love stories of our times. Dawn and Tim from The Office have nothing on them.
Valterri Bottas (the husband’s new favourite driver crush) is pretty happy to be starting 3rd. He said he has had a ‘cool’ season. If there is an opportunity he will have a go at the Mercedes’ cars (presumably until they disappear off into the glorious Abu Dhabi sunset). Anyone else think Bottas will end up at Ferrari as a replacement for Kimi (the season after next). Not that I want to see him leave Williams but Ferrari will be desperate to rebuild. Actually just put the full stop after desperate.
The two Mercedes drivers don’t want to talk to anybody. And honestly who can blame them. My own nerves are close to being shredded with it all. And it is time. The world awaits the crowning of a new champion after four years of Sebastian Vettel sweeping all before him.
Lights out and its Go Go Go at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

In a textbook ‘that’s how to win a world championship’ Lewis Hamilton has jumped Nico Rosberg immediately at the start. I don’t think I have EVER seen Lewis make such an electric start. Given the stakes, that is phenomenally cool from Lewis. Famous last words but it could be game over…

How on earth is Massa already in 3rd and Button in 4th. In a lot of ways the race behind the front two, though far less significant, is the race that will probably entertain more – Massa, Button, Kimi and Alonso scrapping and fighting each other for position. All power to Mercedes for designing and constructing such an outstanding car (the snappily named W05 Hybrid – how the winter nights must fly by in Brackley). It is definitely one of the best F1 cars ever (*lightbulb ‘idea for a blog’ moment*) but their relentless dominance does slightly sap some of the life out of the races.
Alonso has executed a beautiful move on Kimi on lap 6 (and Kvyat cashes in to pass Kimi for good measure) and promptly asks to pits knowing he has first call as the leading Ferrari. I just freaking LOVE Fernando Alonso – he is the wiliest of foxes. I am not sure that signing Vettel is the massive step up for Ferrari that everyone thinks. There is a whole lot of other stuff at Ferrari that needs fixing before they can be a title contender again. Well done to the Abu Dhabu (Bernie controlled?) TV bods for showing all the action lower down in the field. Such as Alonso jostling with the Caterham of…er…Will Stevens. Cue radio message from Alonso “who is this guy?”. Way to get noticed, Will Stevens. But actually who is he? Apparently a racing driver from Rochford in Essex who has competed in such series as Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Toyota Racing Series and the British Formula Renault Championship. Wikipedia is a marvellous thing. Whatever else happens in Will’s life he will dine out on the moment he vexed Fernando Alonso for a very long time!
At the front, it is as you were – Hamilton now has a modest 2.4 seconds lead. And he comes into the pits on lap 11 with the departing instruction from his team of ‘turn up your engine and push hard’. Well obviously not too hard guys – he only needs second place.

Rosberg pits just one lap later and comes back out in second. The two Mercedes cars are now trading fastest laps just to underline how utterly awesome their car is. But even if Rosberg gets past Hamilton (which would be a Herculean achievement in itself) he is then relying on Massa for overtake Hamilton. With the greatest of respect to Massa, he isn’t exactly from the uncompromising-and-fight-to-the-bitter-end Nigel Mansell Stable of drivers. They might as well start etching Hamilton’s name onto the drivers’ title trophy now. Can anyone apart from Nico get past Hamilton in a Mercedes? Probably not. Its looking highly likely now that Rosberg’s only hope is reliability issues hitting Hamilton’s car. And no one wants the world championship to be decided that way.
Magnussen, Vettel, Button and Alonso are having a feisty battle for 7thplace. What does three potential McLaren drivers into two driver seats give you? That’s one for Ron Dennis to ponder while preparing potions of hemlock.
Is it just me or would not Interlagos be a more exciting and majestic stage for the finale of the F1 season. I don’t mind Abu Dhabi as Tilke-bot tracks go but it just doesn’t cut the mustard for the final race. Someone needs to have a word with the powers that be. 
And all of a sudden there has been a plethora of Significant Developments. Rosberg’s car has suffered the failure of its energy recovery system which in turn has impacted on his brakes. This time it really is game over barring the most cataclysmic accident. After the next round of pitstops, Nico has just asked his engineer “how am I looking for fifth”. The answer:  “not good at the moment, Nico”. Look away now, Nico fans.

In the midst of the dramatic denouement to one of the fiercest title battles we’ve seen in years, we were treated to a magnificent drag race between Alonso and Button (all four of us – even the 4 year old who is a fan of Button’s pink helmet – were on our feet shouting). High five to the old timers for proving they’ve still got it!

Williams are having a stunning race. This makes me very happy. Massa is currently leading the race (do not readjust your set) and Bottas has rejoined in 4th. What a renaissance for Williams – looking good for 3rdin the Constructors Championship (AHEAD OF FERRARI) after finishing 9th last season. Hopefully that’s the perfect tonic for the legend that is Sir Frank Williams who has been in hospital for the last few weeks. Get well soon Frank.
So a quick recap of the leaderboard: 1. Massa 2. Hamilton 3. Ricciardo 4. Bottas 5. Perez 6. Vettel. There’s a whole bunch of names in there that I didn’t expect to see. Rosberg is 7th which won’t be good enough even in the unlikely event that Hamilton’s race disastrously capsizes. Hamilton has told his team he isn’t interested in racing Massa – all he needs and wants to do is just keep on keeping on until the end of the race.
Its clear that Rosberg is really struggling now – veering off the track and suffering lack of pace. He has just been passed by Jenson Button to drop back to 8th place. His brake pedals are pretty much shot to pieces and he is going to be lucky to see this race out.
Lewis is telling his team in no uncertain terms not to put any more pressure in his car’s system. Massa is now out on his new supersoft tyres and has 11 laps to try and catch Lewis before the end of the race. Basically Lewis doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about winning the race but Mercedes would like to seal the deal in style. But if it comes to it, surely the team can’t mind too much if Lewis doesn’t put up a fight. After all Massa is prone to the odd moment of madness as we all know. Why risk anything?

Rosberg who needs to finish 5th (as we have now being reminded around a trillion times)  has now been passed by Hulkenberg. His car has failed him when it mattered most though arguably a failure in Brazil would have been pretty critical for his title chances but hey we are where we are.
Five laps to go and the gap is 5.5 seconds between Lewis and Massa. Almost certainly Lewis has won the title so wouldn’t it be amazing if Felipe Massa was to take Williams’ first win since Maldonado in Spain over two years ago. Its not too much to ask is it?
Oh and Nico Rosberg with 4 laps remaining is about to retire from the race. He has slowed down drastically and is now in 13th place and (OUCH) might even get lapped by Hamilton. Poor old Massa, he is now having to battle the new F1 Champion-Elect. Nothing like that ‘discovering you have just won the title’ feeling to make your car go faster hey. Mercedes have just told Nico to box but he wants to finish the race. Classy to the end. That’s the true spirit of a F1 racer right there.
And Lewis Hamilton wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and more importantly he is the new F1 WORLD CHAMPION. The first British double champion since Jackie Stewart. Blimey. And the first Mercedes-Benz F1 world champion since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955. Double blimey.

In Mansell-esque scenes, Lewis is sailing round the track with a giant Union Jack trailing behind him. The boy gone good. It really is a proud day for British motorsport (and I suppose some credit must go to the German car that gave him the title!). Where there is a winner, there is a loser and we see a clearly tearful Nico Rosberg driving round the track after the race. The agony and esctasy of sport.

Amidst all the jubilation, shock and school’s out madness, I nearly forgot to bring the results of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

1. Lewis Hamilton – wins the title in style
2.  Felipe Massa – a superb end to the season after his podium in Interlagos
3. Valtteri Bottas – that makes it six podiums this season
4. Daniel Ricciardo – fittingly finishes ahead of his team-mate 
5. Jenson Button – a fine result in what may be his valedictory race
6. Nico Hulkenberg – the highest placed German (not many would have predicted that!)
And the final standings are:
Lewis Hamilton
Without question the right person and the better driver won the title. Some doubted (including me) whether as prodigiously talented as he is, could he hold his nerve. A resounding yes.  The second world championship has been a long time coming (largely due to the unbreakable hegemony of Red Bull) but richly deserved.
Nico Rosberg
Without Nico we wouldn’t have had this thrilling and topsy-turvy championship battle. He pushed Lewis far closer than many thought he would. And it will be fascinating to see if he comes back stronger next year. His dignity and class in how he handled the devastating disappointment in Abu Dhabi was  remarkable.
Daniel Ricciardo
The best of the rest (and some of the rest aren’t too shabby). To say Daniel Ricciardo surprised me this season is a huge understatement. Who would have thought he’d wipe the floor with Vettel. But what do I know?
Valtterri Bottas
This guy really arrived this season. Everyone take note – he is a future world champion in the making.
Sebastian Vettel
Remember him? Not a bad season but not a particularly good one either. First and foremost you always measure yourself against your team-mate. Seb definitely needs a new challenge and he will certainly get that at Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso
To end up only 6 points behind Vettel is pretty incredible given the absolute heap of junk that was the Ferrari this season. If further evidence was needed, his team-mate (Kimi) only mustered 55 points. A driver as brilliant as Fernando deserved one title at Ferrari but it just wasn’t to be.
And I guess that’s a wrap. End of season awards will be coming up so stay tuned and to all my lovely F1 Twitter friends thanks for your brilliant company in all the races this season. 

Japanese Grand Prix – The Race

A dark day for F1

I debated long and hard whether to still post this blog after Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident near the end of the Japanese Grand Prix but whatever happens (and we pray that Jules makes a full recovery) a motor race did take place, there was a winner, a 1-2-3 and points were awarded. These things are not hugely important while a man’s life hangs in the balance. The Japanese Grand Prix of 2014 will forever be remembered for what happened on lap 44 but the results of the race will still count. We can forget sometimes that Formula 1 is dangerous and whilst you can work to minimise the degree of risk that drivers are exposed to, you can never make it completely safe. It is 20 years since the last driver race fatality – Ayrton Senna, the best driver of his generation – but there have been some very near misses since then. So I decided to post my blog as a record of a race with sadly very tragic undertones.
I blogged while watching the race ‘recorded but as if live’ (avoiding all news, spoilers and Twitter). Apologies if the tone seems irreverent or flippant at times in light of later events. Like all F1 fans, I started watching the race in a happy state of anticipation and sadly by the time it ended we were all in a state of shock.
Thoughts and prayers are with Jules, his family, friends and the Marussia team.
Back to the start.
Sorry about the lack of blogging (life has an annoying habit of getting in the way – and also three little letters called ‘PTA’ and if you don’t know what that means then lucky you) but wow Singapore hey? Who knew Singapore could be SO exciting? Well that spiced things up nicely didn’t it. With just four races to go until the Boom or Bust Finale in Abu Dhabi. In a highly unusually prescient moment, I did say in my preview blog for Singapore that Lewis Hamilton was less than a race win away and a DNF for Nico Rosberg from leading the championship race. And guess what? Its game on. What a stupendously exciting season this is proving to be.
Last time out, Hamilton triumphed in Singapore

I am currently home alone with the 3 year old while the husband and the 7 year old have trekked off to some rugby tournament in another county. I actually got a comment yesterday from the husband “you are not a rugby mum are you”. Erm let me think about that one. No. So I have Sunday morning heaven of coffee and the Japanese Grand Prix in a warm roasty toasty house.
Japanese GP races have been a little bit disappointing in recent years but still I love Suzuka and am so looking forward to this race: (1) Japan can give us epic races and has provided some of THE most dramatic and emotional F1 moments ever, (2) Japanese F1 fans are absolutely brilliant and (3) clearly it is all shades of exciting as the husband was frantically checking his phone every 2 seconds for updates just before he left on rugby-martyr-watching duty and he was only up to lap 26!
Apparently, we haven’t had ANY rain during a race so far this season or apparently had any rain during a race since the 2012 Brazil GP. Blimey. If ever a season needed some rain it was the Death-Defyingly Dull 2013 season. Puddles, rivers, reservoirs, oceans you name it, the Suzuka track has got the water equivalent. So not surprisingly the race is starting behind a safety car. I’m beginning to think I’m going to need something much stronger than coffee to get through it.
Martin is very surprised the race wasn’t brought forward and said he had a chat about it all with Charlie Whiting this morning. Charlie said the job of the FIA is to monitor safety and all he can do is to assess whether its safe to race at the times they are allocated. Whoever is to blame then for not moving the race it is not Charlie. It is all down to the Japanese organisers/promoters. Maybe they had their £££££ reasons hey.

The race gets underway behind the Safety Car 

It’s the first safety car start since Canada 2011 – and we all know how that race turned out?! 4 hours of pure F1 gold. So we’re off, albeit very, very, very slowly and already the drivers are struggling to get heat in their brakes behind the safety car. I pity the poor safety car driver being sent out in those conditions. When Vettel comes over the radio to report he is aquaplaning you know things are horrendously difficult out there.
Just as Lewis comes on over the radio to say he can’t see Rosberg in front of him the race is RED-FLAGGED. Maybe Charlie had a vision of the apocalyptic fall-out if Lewis crashed into the back of Nico. So all the cars are now parked in the pitlane and NOT the grid. The red flag came out before the leader had completed 2 laps. So are we into half points territory yet? No one seems to know. And Martin and Crofty are pouring all over the rule-book. I need another coffee.
We have had an announcement that ‘tents are allowed in the pitlane’. Ever tried to put up a gazebo in the rain? Hell on earth. But in a cram-packed pitlane? Still F1 engineers are made of sturdy stuff. I always find these random atypical moments in a race quite interesting – Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Eric Bouillier all chewing the cud. Presumably like me they are dismayed that Mel B took Emma Bunton and not Geri along to the Judges Houses on X Factor.

The most expensive campsite in the world

Martin reads out to us the relevant provision – Article 41.2: If the race is suspended during a Safety Car intervention and if the Safety Car is directed into the pitlane, cars should stop in a line behind the Safety Car in the fast lane of the pits. So what has happened is totally spot on. I love a good legal type clause. I know I know Saddo Klaxon. But GOOD NEWS we are going to get some racing very shortly. The 3 year old has just looked up from her play-doh table and spotted Charlie Whiting on the TV and squealed “he’s not on holiday any more”. Ain’t that the truth. That’s what I call a stressful job.
And we are off. Behind the Safety Car. Again. And we have a new Natural Hazard to contend with – the sun will set in around two hours and Suzuka isn’t exactly awash with floodlights. Oh Alonso has suddenly stopped with some electrical failure. Nooooooo. Bet he is thinking I won’t have to put up with this crap next year at McLaren.
Holy cow it has actually stopped raining. Some of the drivers reckon its time for intermediates. The Safety Car has been out for an eternity and Martin is seriously unimpressed. But on lap 9 we are told that the Safety Car is coming in at the end of this lap. Hallelujah!

And still the Safety Car leads the two Mercedes cars

Lap 10 and we have real proper wheels-turning-in-anger racing! So to recap its 1. Rosberg, 2. Hamilton, 3. Bottas, 4. Massa, 5. Ricciardo (who surely will be on the right side of team orders today given Vettel’s defection next season to Another Team Who Might Have Red Cars) and 6. Magnussen. Button has moved very early onto inters and now a lot of the cars are starting to come in and whack on inters as well. Lets hope there are no stray tent pegs lying around.
Button who was in 20th place a minute ago is now already in 8th place. Clever old Jenson and McLaren hey! So who will get the first pitstop nod at Mercedes? The race leader or the championship leader? Vettel meanwhile has pitted and rejoined just ahead of Ricciardo – wonder how long those positions will be maintained.
And its Rosberg who has got the pitstop nod. He slots back in 2ndplace which shows just what a whopping lead the Mercedes had already built up. Button is now in 3rd place. Go Jenson! Right Lewis is now coming into the pits…..drum roll please….. and its Rosberg who retakes the lead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Wet conditions, unpredictable conditions? Button is your man.
Massa has now been passed by both Red Bulls and the next Williams to be gobbled up by Vettel is Bottas. Vettel is now in 4th place and Ricciardo not to be outdone pulls off an exquisite move to pass Bottas himself. And now Hamilton is right on the back of Rosberg. Squeaky Bum Time to nick one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sayings.
Ferrari is having a torrid day. Kimi pits and has a problem with the wheel gun and loses places to Kvyat, Bianchi and Ericsson. Dear god. And Hamilton is now only 0.289 seconds behind his team-mate. The Red Bulls are the fastest cars out on track, admittedly a VERY long way behind the two Mercedes cars but still there are 28 laps to go. Hamilton is swarming all over the back of Rosberg who is complaining of oversteer. Toto Wolff must be having heart palpitations on the pit wall.
Hamilton is pushing and pushing and has just gone wide. Good to know he is keeping it nice and steady as per his the team’s instructions! But he is clearly so much quicker than Rosberg and to my surprise apparently he has never won at Suzuka. Halfway order is 1. Rosberg, 2. Hamilton, 3. Button, 4. Vettel and 5. Ricciardo.
And on lap 29, Lewis Hamilton takes the LEAD of the Japanese Grand Prix after some very overly defensive driving from Rosberg. A defining moment in the championship race? We shall see.
Button pits from 3rd on lap 32 and has to change his steering wheel just like Magnussen (the McLaren electronics clearly like rain about as much as Alonso’s car) and unfortunately as a result loses his place to Vettel who pitted a couple of laps earlier. Rosberg pits ahead of Hamilton who seems quite happy to stay out. But Lewis then comes in on lap 36 meaning that Ricciardo (who has not yet pitted again) leads the race.
A huge round of applause for Kevin Magnussen who unlaps himself by passing Ricciardo in audacious style. Just sometimes he shows us exactly what McLaren saw in him. Vettel is having a lively time out on track and Jenson Button is now starting to play catch up. Can he snatch a podium with 14 laps to go?
It is raining a lot more once again. And is it just me or does it look very dark out there? Button is now embroiled in a full on battle with Ricciardo and is using every ounce of his considerable guile and experience to keep him at bay. For now. The rain is tippling down and DRS has been disabled which is good news for Jenson. The 3 year old has just asked “is the red car winning?”. Bless. For reasons I haven’t quite ascertained, Alonso is her favourite driver. Not that I am questioning her excellent judgment but she might need to rethink her allegiances next year. For her the redness of the car is pivotal.
In the ever deteriorating conditions, Sutil appears to have emplanted his car into a barrier. Mad Gamble Alert. Jenson is now pitting for FULL WETS. His call apparently. And it’s the return of the Safety Car. Oh dear a medical car is out on track. Presumably for Sutil. And a stream of cars head into the pits for new tyres. Poor old Jenson. He could not have timed that pitstop any worse.
Martin has just said those awful words “something is not good up there” and then it went eerily quiet in the commentary box. Feeling very, very worried now. They have just spotted another car in that incident – the Marussia of Jules Bianchi. Oh how terrible. Sutil is definitely ok but we don’t know anything else.

Poor Adrian Sutil looks on in horror at the scene of the crash

There is now an ambulance out on track and on lap 46 the race has been red-flagged. Because of the ambulance on track? Or the track conditions? Or something worse? It is now so dark that surely the race won’t be restarted. No news is being made public about Jules Bianchi’s condition but Ted just said there was no response from Jules when the team radioed him.
The cars once again are all lined up in the pitlane. And I can’t help but wonder what the drivers know or don’t know about Bianchi’s accident. I am trying to push Imola thoughts out of my mind but it has that same terrible wall of silence feeling about it. Perhaps I am just over-analysing but Martin, Crofty and Ted sound very sombre – which of course is entirely understandable and appropriate even if they don’t know much more than all of us sitting at home. But I fear that they do know more than they are able to tell us.
We are told the race will not resume. Ted says its complete chaos in the medical centre and the FIA’s press delegate is having to force open the door to let in Bianchi’s team members and his manager (who is the son of the FIA president).
Lewis has won the race in what must be the strangest win of his race career. It doesn’t seem at all important with the uncertainty as to Bianchi’s condition but it finished: 1. Hamilton, 2. Rosberg, 3. Vettel, 4. Ricciardo and 5. Button.

A sombre Lewis Hamilton on the podium

Rosberg has clearly just passed on an update to Hamilton in the Green Room after speaking to Herbie Blash and a few moments later very quietly and very discreetly Lewis does the sign of the cross. Every single F1 person looks shocked and devastated. It has transpired that Bianchi’s car hit water and aquaplaned off at exactly the same spot where recovery vehicles were attending Sutil’s car that had crashed the lap before. Bianchi suffered a severe head injury and has been transported to hospital where he is now in surgery.
Such a desperately shocking and tragic end to the race.
Forza Jules.

Singapore Grand Prix – Preview

Act III, Opening Scene – Downtown Singapore

All of a sudden we are down to just 6 races. We are reaching the end-game.

The globetrotting denouement to this fiercely contested and impossibly hard to call season will get underway in Singapore this weekend. In recent seasons this has normally heralded a run of horrifically dull, processional races (normally won by Red Bull). But joy of joys the Indian GP (should have worked but just didn’t) and the Korean GP (the all-time highlight being PSY waving the chequered flag in 2012 to put an end to all our misery) have been dropped from the F1 calendar. *High Five to Bernie* So goodbye Indian and Korean GPs, we barely knew you at all but I think we can all agree a conscious uncoupling is the best thing all round.
And this means we have a very eclectic, diverse and fascinating collection of races to see out the season. First off, its back to the Far East for the longest race (309km – that’s a whole lot of street) and one of the most gruelling races for drivers of the season. Cards on the table, I’ve never been much of a fan of this race. On paper, it sounds great. A night race around a visually stunning street circuit that by all accounts has an incredibly charged atmosphere. Its basically like watching Bladerunner with cars. No other race on the F1 calendar has that package so what’s not to love?

A scene from Bladerunner or the Singapore GP? Spookily alike!

Well its very difficult to overtake for starters meaning that other factors such as tyre/pitstop strategy and unreliability will have much more of a bearing on how the race unfolds. Interestingly, it has a 100% record of a Safety Car (normally a good indicator of a lively race, see Montreal) so it obviously has had its fair share of crashes and incidents, not surprisingly given the length of the race and constant braking around a tight, walled track.
It undoubtedly poses a unique set of challenges for the drivers but doesn’t tend to throw up any real surprises. Whisper it quietly (or hey just tell the FIA 1 Race Director like I did – ahem!!) it is quite a b-o-r-ing race. Which is generally won by Sebastian Vettel (for the last 3 years at any rate). Although ironically a Vettel win this year would probably mean its been an rollercoaster humdinger of a race as the likely Mercedes benefit gig would have not gone to plan. Mind you he’d have to see off Daniel Ricciardo first!

But this year I am quite hopeful. Firstly, the stand-out dominant car doesn’t not have a stand-out-running-away-with-the-championship driver (like the Vettel-Red Bull dream team of the last few seasons). There is the tantalising prospect of Hamilton and Rosberg racing each other like loons around a track where there is no margin for error. And we all know how that can play out.
And to add some further spice to proceedings in Singapore, there is also the new all-singing and all-dancing directive from the FIA banning teams from giving their driver coded messages over the radio or passing on any performance related information (including on pitboards). All the teams have been given a long list of banned messages and the teams, as is their wont when their lives are made a teeny bit more difficult, are quite vexed by the whole situation. So what’s on the Banned List? Quite a lot actually – sector time information, clutch maps and settings (so expect to see an interesting start to the Singapore GP as drivers have been used to a LOT of help in getting the car ready during the formation lap), fuel flow settings and fuel saving, engine settings, gearbox settings and brake balance settings (which could make a big difference at a brake-heavy track like Singapore). Pretty much all settings you can think of. Also teams can’t answer direct questions from drivers such as “what’s Nico’s sector time” or “at what corners is Lewis gaining time”. For example. Oh and from Japan it will get a whole lot harder as brake wear/temperatures and tyre pressures/temperatures will join the Banned List.

The thinking behind all of this from Charlie Whiting and FIA is to strip away the relentless ‘coaching’ that a team gives their driver throughout a race. Its fair to say the amount of help and instructions that drivers were getting over the radio was becoming a bit ridiculous. Stuff like “try using 5th gear into turn 4”. Really? And I had to laugh at the senior engineer who said people should be careful what they wish for – this is going to mean almost no radio traffic at all”. Honestly guys, on the whole your radio messages aren’t actually all that interesting. Back in the day, we hardly ever heard any radio messages and gasp, shock, horror we still had some stunningly exciting races. And bless the Sky team who literally saturate us (in a good way!) with non-stop analysis and post-race dissection of every key moment on the Sky Pad. We’re hardly going to be left in the dark as to what’s happening out on track, even if the drivers are!

The SkyPad in action. No stone left unturned etc!
From the perspective of my sofa, I’m quite looking forward to watching a race where drivers are less spoon-fed and their driving isn’t oh-so-carefully managed by their team during the race. They are all top-class drivers or they wouldn’t be in F1 so let them just race as much as is possible in modern day F1. This new directive is hardly going to rip up the F1 grid order and lead to a Caterham snatching a race win from Sauber next weekend but it should reward the instinctive, natural drivers and those who have a deep, intuitive feel for the handling of their cars and can relay that to their engineers. And that has to be a good thing in my opinion.
So after Monza, Lewis Hamilton trails Nico Rosberg by a mere 22 points. Not insignificant but the title lead is now less than a race win (for Lewis) and a DNF (for Nico) away. Both drivers have welcomed the FIA crackdown on radio messages as something that will enable their own superior talents to come more to the fore – psychological mind-games are well and truly in full force – but only time will tell who will benefit the most from a return to what Nico Rosberg calls ‘purer racing’. Pure racing hey? That could kickstart a whole other debate…!

Nuvolari – the purest of them all?

Or the incomparable Fangio?

Or Jim Clark, regarded by many at the most naturally gifted driver ever?
Or Senna, more at one with his car than any over driver?