Bahrain Grand Prix – The Race

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Back in my angst-heavy teenage years (think Morrissey, long cardigans, Doc Martens, cider and a lot of Deep Meaningful Conversations because that’s how we rolled back in 1991) I had a diary (remember those?) with a logo saying “stop the world I want to get off”. Because clearly life was an exhausting place for a 16 year old. Fast forward 23 years (weeps at the mental maths involved in calculating the passage of time) to an existence where you are lucky to find time to finish a coffee, go to the toilet or god forbid read An Actual Book – that’s when you need a break from the world. All of which in a very roundabout way is to explain away the fact that I actually wrote a blog for the Bahrain Grand Prix ON THE SAME DAY OF THE RACE and then forgot to finish it off or post it. Obviously. Which, when you have actually bothered to write a blog, is (a) stupid and (b) quite annoying.

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So Bahrain. You gave a stonking humdinger of a race in 2014. What went down in 2015?

#MartinsGridWalk – Toto Wolff said they needed to take Ferrari seriously and only fools were confident. And Toto is no one’s fool. Martin asked whether they might need to alter strategies to fend off the Ferrari’s. “Yes”. Lets hope Nico wasn’t listening. Martin then braved the Roninator for a quick word. The ERS on the McLaren wasn’t working properly and likely to fail so Button wouldn’t even be starting. Apparently qualifying for Monte Carlo (when/what was that?!?!?) was the most pain the Mighty Ron D has taken in F1. Petrolhead Nick Mason was in town. So was the ever charming and eloquent Crown Prince of Bahrain (natch). Martin was granted an audience with Bernie who told Martin that changes to the engine configuration were in the pipeline and hopefully they will have a bit more noise. He doesn’t think Lewis will go to Ferrari. Obviously not that it has anything to do with Bernie.

Before the start there was a problem with Massa’s car and he would be starting from the pitlane. Sainz got a penalty for exceeding the maximum time on the reconnaissance laps. Clearly some eagle-eyed intern has been trying to impress Charlie by dusting off an obscure volume of The Rule Book. I hate that intern. It should have been a younger me.

27BEFEA400000578-3045954-image-m-12_1429463756148Go! Go! Go! at the 11th (how is it 11 – I feel like I have lost around 6 years of my life  <remembers I am a mother>) Bahrain Grand Prix with an unbelievably long wait for the lights to go on. Hmmmm what was Charlie checking there? Looked to me like a car was slightly out of its grid box (and it duly turned out to be Pastor Maldonaldo). At the off Kimi jumped Nico to move into 3rd place, with Hamilton and Vettel maintaining P1 and P2 respectively. The only thing Nico had to do was keep just one Ferrari behind him or ideally pass Vettel to act as a buffer to both. #Fail. But he wasn’t going down without a fight and he showed some real cajones to muscle his way past Kimi. The reborn kickass Nico Rosberg was now gunning for Vettel and, on the start of lap 9, he overtook him to regain P2.

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Breaking with protocol (but rightly so as he was under SEVERE pressure from Vettel), Rosberg was the first Mercedes into the pits. Hamilton pitted on lap 16 to put Kimi Raikkonen in the lead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Kickass Nico executed a stunning move a couple of laps later to sweep past Sebastian Vettel. Rosberg appears to have turned into Nigel Mansell overnight. That’ll teach me for making the unfavourable Schumacher-Hill comparison yesterday.

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Kimi was the final frontrunner to pit. Ferrari switched strategy to put Kimi onto the slow tyres first and save the fast tyres for the final stint. A big hand to Massa for climbing up to P10 (and scrapping like a loon with the Hulk and Nasr for P9) after starting stone bottom last. Yes the Williams is a fast car but still you need to do the moves on track and there are a lot of feisty drivers out there. Rosberg was now on Strategy Six which apparently is a ‘different fuel mix’. So with that technical nugget of information hanging in the air, time for a halfway point roll call:

  1. Hamilton 2. Rosberg (+2.8 secs) 3. Vettel (+3.8 secs) 4. Raikkonen (+5.9 secs) 5. Bottas (+9.1 secs).

How do you solve a problem like Kimi? He is quicker on the slower tyre than Vettel. Which is weird but very Kimi. So do they pit him before Vettel to give him more time on the faster soft tyre at the end? Or do they put Kimi on the same tyres again? Kimi is being told to move to ‘SOC 6’. Clear. As. Mud. What was clear was that Kimi’s long stint on the allegedly slower tyres was putting him right into contention. Kimi told his team that he wanted to stay on the medium tyres. They won’t let him but he had a point.

Vettel and Hamilton both pitted to commence the big push to finish. Vettel on his brand-new blisteringly fast tyres passed Rosberg yet again. What a titanic duel between the two German drivers (between whom I strongly suspect there is no love lost). Then in a ‘do not readjust your TV set’ moment, Vettel went inexplicably wide and Rosberg didn’t need to be asked twice to overtake his compatriot. Vettel then had to make an emergency pitstop for a new nose after sustaining damage so his race was well and truly stuffed. Meanwhile Kimi was now on course for P3 with a slender chance of going one better even than that. Hamilton in his bionic unstoppable Mercedes serenely took the lead back from Kimi whose tyres had fallen off a cliff on lap 39 and the following lap Ferrari finally dragged Kimi into the pits for softs.

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Both Lotuses were up in the points which, after their woes and Johnny Herbert luck this season, was a joyous moment. Perhaps just to remind us all he was still actually in Bahrain, Hamilton radioed in to complain his rears had got trashed in all the traffic. Martin observed that he sounded quite alarmed but Lewis’s default ‘at rest’ mode is Mild Alarm. Nothing much to see here Martin.

OMG I am so so sorry to the Lotus team. I am THE KISS OF DEATH for them – Maldonado’s hitherto good race has been ruined by a smoking (not in a good way) car. Gutted for the man – he is having the most awful luck this season – 3 retirements and an eventual 15th place in this race. What he really deserves is a crazy wet Monaco race where he lands a podium after multiple aquaplaning crashes and retirements. Actually we all deserve that kind of Monaco race. Although I would hate to think of all those oligarchs and slebs getting drenched in freezing rain on their luxury yachts.

Move over Hammertime…the Flying Finn was back in the house and he was literally gobbling up the Mercedes lead rapidly lap by lap. Drumroll please. Showtime is about to commence…

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Ferrari told Kimi they should be catching Rosberg in around 5 laps time. Rosberg informed his team he no longer wanted to hear about how much Kimi was closing the gap. They’re a temperamental bunch these Mercedes drivers. Although to be fair its exactly the kind of thing that Kimi would say (but in somehow in a more amusingly laconic way). The battle for 4th was also pretty fierce as Bottas desperately ducked and dived to keep Vettel at bay. I just can’t see Bottas holding him off for 7 whole laps. But I might be wrong. Meanwhile with 5 laps to go, Kimi had closed the gap down to Rosberg to 4.8 seconds.

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What a cracking rollercoaster of a race! Hamilton may be leading the race by a country mile and then some but we were being right royally treated to two tremendous battles between Rosberg and Kimi for 2nd and between Bottas and Vettel for 4th. Three laps to go and Kimi had slashed the gap to 1.2 seconds. But they were now all tangled up in the back-markers. Not what Kimi needed at this stage.

And then…

HEARTSTOPPING DRAMARAMA on the penultimate lap. Rosberg made a calamitous mistake – he missed his braking point* and Kimi pounced to move into 2nd place. Hamilton was now reporting brake problems but he held to take the win in Bahrain. Kimi came home in 2nd and Rosberg finished 3rd. And all hail that man Valterri Bottas who somehow managed to keep Vettel behind him to take a brilliant P4. What do I know hey?

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And in a final flourish of excitement, Ricciardo’s engine spectacularly blew up with enough plumes and smoke to rival the dramatic post-race fireworks moments before he passed the finish line.

  1. Hamilton – A flawless drive but he must be the second luckiest man on the planet (after Ricciardo) to get away with losing his brakes on the final lap. *Apologies to Nico for my earlier surmisings – it was a rare Mercedes reliability issue.
  2. Raikkonen – Anyone would think Ferrari’s kick up yer bum had the desired effect. But I’m not sure Kimi is remotely bothered about such things.
  3. Rosberg – Four races in and still no win. That must hurt.
  4. Bottas – Tremendous drive from start to finish.
  5. Vettel – A rare off day for Vettel but everyone is allowed one of those sometimes.
  6. Ricciardo – Proving yet again his great capability in the relatively inferior Red Bull

So Bahrain you did it again. I have become quite attached to this strangely beautiful desert track in the last couple of years. It was an inspired decision to move the race to dusk/nightfall. This is so what Singapore wants to be (and IMHO fails spectacularly at. Whatever they are putting in the rosewater out there, Bahrain really delivers one hell of a high-octane, tactically fascinating cat and mouse race.

And that concludes the first long-haul phrase of the season. There is a sense that Lewis Hamilton won in Bahrain slightly against the odds (the smart money was actually on a ‘surprise’ Ferrari win) so it is telling that Mercedes managed to delivered the goods yet again.

But next stop, Barcelona. And Barcelona heralds the first huge raft of upgrades for all the teams. That may or may not be a game-changer for some. Tellingly, the 2015 Ferrari seems to have a lot in common with the superb Lotuses produced under the Scuderia’s new technical director, the immensely talented James Allison. Ferrari will be returning to Maranello to prepare for the European leg in earnest after their astonishing return to form. In the words of the charismatic and steely Maurizio Arrivabene “finally we have two strong drivers on whom we can count”.

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Bahrain Grand Prix – Qualifying

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Bahrain makes it 4 poles out of 4 for Lewis Hamilton

These races are coming pretty thick and fast. Apologies for being off radar last weekend for the Chinese Grand Prix. We had a last minute Easter break away and had no way of watching the race. While I was a little dismayed, the husband was almost inconsolable at missing The Big Football Manchester Derby. Holidays hey?! I did contemplate (briefly) watching the race but the result, the race reports and the fact it was the Chinese Grand Prix didn’t really sell it to me. Anyhow normal service shall be resumed this weekend. Who knows whether it will be any more exciting than last weekend’s borefest in the smog of Shanghai but I’m clinging to the faint hope that Bahrain will provide more excitement given it was (to the surprise of many) one of the stand out races from last season. But I promise nothing.

But I have not been entirely remiss on the F1 front. I may have failed to watch the Chinese Grand Prix but in a moment of temporary insanity (school holidays tend to drive you over the edge into a Dark Place) I have got tickets for the whole weekend of the BRITISH GRAND PRIX in July. I am literally The Most Excited Person on the Planet. Obviously I haven’t given a moment’s thought to the full repercussions of going to Silverstone with the 7 year old and 4 year old in tow. But hey what could possibly go wrong?! Cue two days of torrential rain and Glastonbury-esque mudbath, sleeping in a half-collapsed and sodden tent while the kids wail about not having network connection. But for now I am in denial!

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Remember when everyone jumped up and down (not-at-all-swept-away-by-a-media-bandwagon) a couple of years back about how it was disgraceful to hold a grand prix in Bahrain with their record on human rights and how Bernie should be ashamed blah blah blah. No one seems all that bothered now hey.

So cracking on with qualifying (which I am being permitted to watch only the barebones of so that the husband can watch Yet Another Very Important Football Match)…

Q1 – The first major casualty is Jenson Button with a broken car (after just one sector) and he starts tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid. In front of the team’s owners. OUCH. Its been said so many times but its hard to comprehend just how staggeringly awful these McLarens are this season. How can be they be so off the pace? For all the much vaunted dominance of the big teams, the smaller or less well-funded teams are not often this crud and certainly not if they used to win titles. Actually I have just thought of Brabham and also Lotus. Swiftly moving on. Personally I didn’t view the recruitment of Eric Bouillier as quite the Second Coming as it was made out to be but to be this far adrift on pace AND to be this unreliable does constitute an epic fail on the design and technical front.

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JB – A masterclass in how to handle adversity

Well something of a shock there – Kvyat has landed up in the Dreaded Dropzone of Doom. Who would have predicted that. Probably not his boss, Christian Horner. So out of Q1 are: Maldonado, Kvyat, Stevens, Merhi and the very lovely Jenson Button.

Q2 – A very slow start to Q2 with all the cars sitting tight in the garage for eons. Bore-a-rama. Both Hulkenberg and Sainz squeeze into the top ten at the death. There’s been a lot of chatter and hype surrounding Verstappen in 2015 but Sainz is very quietly having a most impressive debut season in F1. The superb efforts of Hulkenberg mean that Force India has made it through to Q3 for the first time since Monza.

Out of qualifying after Q2 are: 11. Perez, 12. Nasr, 13. Eriksson, 14. Alonso and 15. Verstappen. I think its important to note that not only Alonso did made it into Q2 but he wasn’t even the last placed car in that session. Perhaps McLaren are making small baby steps of progress on the speed front after all even if reliability is still all over the shop. But  all the same where on earth did Fernando Alonso pull that lap out from? A stunning effort.

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Fernando Alonso – delivering brilliant F1 performances for 14 years

Q3 – Just asked the 7 year old who is cheering for (he still talks about Schumacher which makes me immensely proud). Having just checked with me that there are no Irish drivers, his allegiances are torn between Grosjean and Hamilton and Raikkonen. There is no point in trying to make sense of it. Silverstone will be interesting to say the least.

So Hamilton, Ricciardo, Nico, Bottas, Vettel and Kimi make up the top six with the final dramatic throw of the dice to come. Two minutes to decide the grid for (and the possible course of) the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Ferrari’s are looking much sharper here in balmy Bahrain than in chilly China and their race performance should be even better than in qualifying with the whole pesky tyre degradation issue.

So Vettel gets provisional pole, Bottas goes second, Kimi goes second, Rosberg goes second BUT Hamilton is still on his flying lap. And Lewis Hamilton takes Provisional Pole to make it 4 poles in a row. And breathe. But if the qualifying pace of the Ferrari’s is anything to go by Lewis will have a real fight on his hands tomorrow. There’s no easy way to say this but Rosberg is really struggling this season. He had qualified on pole here in Bahrain for the last two years and this time last year you couldn’t really split the Mercedes drivers. Remember Bahrain from last season? But Hamilton is just running the show in 2015. It reminds me a lot of the 1995 season where everyone expected Damon Hill (having lost the title so narrowly to Michael Schumacher the season before) to be battling tooth and nail for the championship again with Michael. But it was pretty much a one horse contest and Michael totally dominated and owned Damon. And I don’t mean that badly. I love both those drivers. In some ways this is much harsher on Nico as he has EXACTLY the same machinery as Lewis. There is no hiding place and you have to wonder if or indeed when Mercedes will start deploying Nico as an on-track shield to protect Lewis from the reborn Ferrari team.

Flashback to the 1995 season and no one could stop this man on the right!

Flashback to the 1995 season and no one could stop this man on the right

So the top ten will line up tomorrow as follows:

1. Hamilton 2. Vettel
3. Rosberg 4. Raikkonen
5. Bottas 6. Massa
7. Ricciardo 8. Hulkenberg
9. Sainz 10. Grosjean

 

So until tomorrow. Can anyone stop this man riding off into the sunset?

Bahrain Grand Prix 2015

Malaysian Grand Prix – The Race

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Return of the King?

Straight in to #MartinsGridWalk (because there is a LOT to get through) and first up its Mr Jenson Button. He outqualified his new team-mate Alonso (who has returned to F1 racing after his slightly mysterious absence) yesterday and thinks they will be more competitive today. Admittedly that means the cars are still rubbish but a bit less rubbish than in Australia. Still baby steps.

I just can’t get beyond the fact that Jenson is still sporting a Mansell Moustache and now seems to have a very dubious haircut. Hey I want to look like a 1980s geography teacher. Said No One Ever (except for geography teachers in 1983 presumably). Maybe it’s a subtle ruse to embarrass McLaren by modelling ever more ludicrous facial hair until he gets a decent car. Blimey he’ll be a dead ringer for Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath by the time we get to Monaco. Which in its own way might be fun.

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Winner of the oddest picture I have ever included in a blog (and there have been many).

Today Carlos Sainz Jnr is happy to chat to Martin (he didn’t want to speak on the grid before his first race last time out – fair do’s) and he’s looking to have some fun. I have decided that I quite like Carlos. We need more smiley people in Formula 1.

Felipe Nasr told Martin of his troubled weekend so far and said he was struggling to find the right balance (hmmm driving around on a track that is hotter than the sun isn’t probably going to solve that problem). Next up (Martin is on a roll with chatty drivers today) was Pastor Maldonado who feared tyre degradation due to the heat would be a big factor. Apparently the track temperature is 62 degrees. Basically you could do yourself a nice fry-up on a quiet corner of the Sepang circuit and surprisingly for Sepang there are a lot of blue skies and no sign whatsoever of any dark Game Changer clouds. Bah.

Its fair to say a lot of people’s hopes (like mine) are resting on Sebastian Vettel for this race who has astonishingly (a ridiculous thing to say about a 4 time world champion but such is Mercedes’ dominance) put his car on the front row of the grid. So the top 8 line up on the grid as follows: Hamilton – Vettel – Rosberg – Ricciardo – Kvyat – Verstappen – Massa – Bottas

Lewis is complaining that his steering wheel has been left in the sun and is now too hot. But er you’re wearing fire-proof gloves!? Poor Toto Wolff – he mustn’t get a minute’s peace from the avalanche of complaints and moans he has to tackle every day. As a mother of two small children, I feel your pain Toto.

So its time for the second race of the 2015 season. Charlie Whiting is ready and waiting to begin the magic sequence of start buttons and the 4 year old asks why are we not there with Charlie. Its one of life’s imponderables.

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And they’re off…

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The dash to the first corner

Its Go! Go! Go! at the Malaysian Grand Prix! Hamilton sails off serenely and Vettel appears to have a rather sluggish start but just about manages to keep Rosberg behind him. Meanwhile Massa has had an absolute stormer to leapfrog Kvyat and Verstappen to move into 5th place. Maldonado has had a puncture after being hit by Valterri Bottas. Kimi’s tyre is delaminating all over the place after a collision with Nasr. Somehow he limps into the pits and manages to rejoin the race. It is total madness out there. Bring me lots of coffee now!

How completely bizarre, literally just as we’re watching him, Ericsson just outbreaks himself when under no pressure whatsoever and spins off wildly into the gravel. A total schoolboy error and then some. But this bit of lunacy means we get a Safety Car which we all know can be a Game Changer <crosses fingers>. Cue usual flood of pitstops under a Safety Car. Most of the frontrunners come in except for Ferrari who are clearly trying a Clever High-Risk Two Stop Strategy – and lets face it anything is worth a shot.

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Taxi for Ericsson

Vettel gets on the radio to tell his team that Mercedes deliberately slowed down before their pitstops (presumably to stagger the stacking in the pits) then speeded up in a Not Very Subtle Message to Charlie Whiting. Good old Seb! He’s read the script.

So on lap 7, racing in anger recommences (and it appears there are quite a lot of agitated drivers out there – Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg for starters). The Safety Car has brilliantly shuffled the pack and the front 5 are now 1. Vettel 2. Hulk 3. Grosjean 4. Sainz 5. Perez. Game on. Hamilton starts his charge by passing Perez and then Ricciardo neatly swoops round Perez as well. And quite incredibly Alonso and Button are not last and currently occupy P13 and P14. Poor old Perez is having a mare. He’s now fallen behind Verstappen, Kvyat and Bottas. There is some brilliant racing and passing going on out there. When Malaysia is good, it is very very good indeed.

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Such a brilliant driver in such a dog of a car. Its just wrong.

Rosberg is asking his team for updates and they remind him that he is on prime tyres (code for #getabloodymoveon). He manages to claw his way past Massa but its fair to say he is not exactly carving his way through the field like a hot knife through butter.

Hamilton is now up to 3rd place and then 2nd place. So on lap 11/56, Vettel has a 10 second lead over Hamilton with one less pitstop to do. We think. Behind Hamilton, it is all kinds of crazy as the next cars from the Hulk in 3rd down to Kvyat in 11th jostle and scrap like mad. What a thing of beauty to watch all these cars snaking around so close together after the sad, surreal sight of watching a lone car have a sector to itself in Albert Park.

And now Button takes Perez for P10 – high five Jenson. That is two McLarens in the points. Heady times. Vettel finally pits for the first time on lap 18 and comes out in P3 behind Hamilton and Rosberg. Interestingly, prior to Seb’s pitstop, Hamilton hadn’t really made major inroads into Seb’s lead despite being on newer, faster tyres. Those Ferrari cars are freaking fast and, as if to underline the point, Kimi is now setting a string of fastest laps.

Vettel is taking giant chunks out of Rosberg’s time and is just over 1 second behind him. Nico is freaking out over the radio and the team tell him that both him and Seb have one more stop to make. If I was Toto or Nico’s race engineer I wouldn’t want to hear my driver come back with “if he goes by me he has won”. You could always retake him. I sense that Nico is really feeling the pressure this season.

On lap 22 Vettel just destroys Rosberg to take P2. Well nobody expected this. The 4 year old is overjoyed (she chose her top today especially because it had a horse on it – admittedly that’s because she loves horses but its something to work with) and am I wrong for really, really hoping that Vettel can pull off the impossible. Interestingly, Ferrari seem to think degradation might be an issue for Hamilton and they could be right as Hamilton has reported exactly the same problem.

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Vettel takes Rosberg for P2

Oh poor Fernando Alonso is out of the race after running so well up in P8. Gutted for him. His replacement at Ferrari, Vettel, has just taken 2.5 seconds out of Hamilton and the gap is all of a sudden now down to 1.6 seconds, That is just freaking incredible. What is it about Germans at Ferrari? It is like watching Schumacher of old and that really is praise indeed. This is mindboggingly brilliant. GO SEB!!!

Quite incredibly on lap 25, Vettel edges past Hamilton to TAKE THE LEAD and Lewis promptly dives into the pits for what seems to be a slowish stop. Clearly, Mercedes have been forced to change strategy. The world has been turned upside down on its axis. This is one of the very best races I have seen in a long time.

A very fiesty little battle for P10 is raging on between Kvyat v Ricciardo v Hulkenberg. Ricciardo’s Red Bull is struggling and he’s told not to hold up his team-mate. CRASH ALERT: the Hulk has a rare aberration and on losing position to Kvyat, tries to retake the place, clatters into poor old Kvyat who spins and narrowly avoids crashing into his team-mate Ricciardo. Oh dear.

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Nico Hulkenberg makes a move on Kvyat. Not in a good way.

At the half-way point of the race (how is it only lap 28?!) it is 1. Vettel (Ferrari) 2. Hamilton (Mercedes) 3. Raikkonen (Ferrari) 4. Rosberg (Mercedes) 5. Sainz (Torro Rosso) and 6. Massa (Williams). Can I just say how much I ADORE Jenson Button … the master of brilliantly laconic radio messages “I’m a little bit surprised…I appear to be catching cars”. Admittedly they are caught up in a Hulk traffic jam but McLaren deserve a few breaks.

Another battle for P10 is kicking off between Kvyat v Hulkenberg v Perez v Grosjean. And in the least surprising event ever we have ANOTHER CRASH – Perez basically didn’t give Grosjean enough room. I’d say that’s a slam-dunk 10 second penalty for Perez (and sure enough that is what happened – 10 second penalties slapped on each of the Force India drivers).

Both Mercedes drivers are told the 1-2 finish is still on but they need to make a move on track to seal the deal. How much am I loving the sight of a Ferrari leading a F1 race once again. Vettel gets the order to box (for the second and final time) and he re-emerges literally a nanosecond ahead of Rosberg. I can’t help but think possibly Rosberg should have made that corner his. Hamilton’s tyres are right royally stuffed and he is forced to pit earlier than he and the team probably wanted. He is now on the hard (slower) tyre compound which means the battle to catch and pass Vettel has suddenly become a whole lot harder.

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Ferrari, welcome back!

Still I cannot call this race (and when was the last time I wrote that?). Hamilton is berating his team for not telling him what’s happening. Pity the poor hapless guy who accidentally pressed the comms button just as Paddy and the team were privately discussing strategy options. Brundle has just commented on how angry Hamilton gets sometimes. The team comes on the radio to tell Lewis they’ll be catching Vettel in 5 laps (fairly welcome news one would have thought) and he lambasts them for distracting him by talking to him on the corners saying he nearly went off. My diplomatic head says Lewis must be feeling disappointed having got pole and then through tyre choices and safety car intervention may well be seeing a win slip through his fingers. But really what I am thinking is Lewis, just get a goddamn grip. Imagine what life is like for Jenson Button who drove so valiantly once again but has sadly retired from the race. Its going to be a long, grim season at McLaren.

So Ten Laps To Go Klaxon and Vettel has a 11 second lead. It sounds a lot but is a tad slender for my liking. We have now entered a strange period of calmness at the front but we get to enjoy a good scrap between Sainz and Verstappen. How prodigiously talented is Verstappen (he was born in 1997 – my brain just cannot compute that, that was only one year before I met the husband) – he has just passed Sainz for 7th place.

A truly lovely and poignant comment from Martin saying he hopes somewhere Schumacher is watching the race with a big smile on his face. I hope so too. Actually that’s just made me really choke up.

With a couple of laps remaining the gap has not come down between Vettel and Hamilton but there’s still life in this grand old race yet – the Williams team is putting on a brilliant show for us with Bottas finally making a move stick on his team-mate.

Lap 56/56 and the impossible has happened. Sebastian Vettel wins his FIRST RACE FOR FERRARI (in his second race for the greatest and most historic team in Formula 1 – how about that!). Sebastian Vettel is back. Ferrari is back. And all of a sudden this season looks very very very exciting! I am an emotionally spent force.

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Vettel’s first win for Ferrari. Many more to follow I suspect.

  1. Vettel – How much does this mean to him? And check out that Italian accent. A majestic and imperious victory (against considerable odds) that Michael Schumacher would be proud of.
  2. Hamilton – He will be disappointed and starting to realise that he might have to battle an tougher opponent than Rosberg this season.
  3. Rosberg – Again, solid and steady but can’t be overjoyed that the person to beat Hamilton wasn’t him.
  4. Raikkonen – After his rocky start, Kimi recovered well to follow the Mercedes pair home. Hopefully the new awesome Ferrari will see the rebirth of the cavalier, victorious Kimi of 2012.
  5. Bottas – Another decent result but Williams are no longer the best of the rest. Is this the optimum that Williams is capable of?
  6. Massa – See Bottas.

So we salute you Malaysia. At the risk of sounding like Eddie Jordan (forgive me, its been a long exhausting race with one hour less sleep than normal having gone to bed at 2am!) what a show you put on for us. It may have been one race late but the season has exploded into life in spectacular fashion. It is nearly two years since Ferrari last won a race but Formula 1 has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat when you least expect it. Vettel was in tears, James Allison (Ferrari’s enormously likeable technical director) was in tears and you know what, I also might have wiped away the odd tear.

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Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. The baton has been passed on.

Australian GP – The Race

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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!