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?

Belgian GP – The Race (and fall-out)

The moment Civil War erupted

And so its all-out war. The ‘clear the air’ talks at Mercedes between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were about as successful in preventing hostilities as the ‘peace in our time’ Munich Treaty. And as angry as Niki Lauda was after the race, I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone quite as incandescent as the normally very mild-mannered Toto Wolff who was the very definition of seething fury.

Angry man
As well Toto might be after the fragile ceasefire at Mercedes imploded spectacularly when his two drivers crashed in each other on lap two. As a result, Rosberg damaged his front wing and Hamilton sustained a puncture and further damage to the car floor as he nursed his car into the pits. It was pretty much race over for Hamilton after that. In a delicious piece of dramatic irony (and a nomination nod to the Guardian journo who referenced ‘Banquo’s ghost’ when writing about this moment in the race – surely a contender for this week’s Pseuds Corner in Private Eye!), Rosberg ended up with flailing streamers from Hamilton’s delaminated tyre becoming attached to his aerial and fluttering in front of him for a couple of laps. That must have made Eau Rouge interesting.

Rosberg battling to remove Hamilton’s tyre streamers. I think they call that karma.
All of which played into the hands of the one driver who is always there to pick up the pieces when Mercedes self-destructs, the lovely Daniel Ricciardo. But it was by no means a gifted walkover of a win. Ricciardo had to overtake the supremely combative duo of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel (6 world titles cannot be wrong) and then withstand some significant pressure from Nico Rosberg in the closing stages to seal the deal.
Ricciardo has now won 3 of the last 6 races and lies just 35 points in 3rd place behind Lewis Hamilton in the title standings. And while it would be inconceivable to imagine a non-Mercedes title winner, Ricciardo’s superb form (harnessed to perfection by a brilliantly run team) could add a lot of spice to the title battle. What an absolute joy it must be for Christian Horner to have a driver like Ricciardo in the team – massively talented, hungry for success but composed and level-headed in the cockpit. Just a class act on and off the track. As and when he wins the title (as surely he will one day), he will be an enormously popular champion.

Daniel Ricciardo. Class Act.

Bottas took another richly deserved podium by coming home having raced his heart out with stunning moves to pass Alonso and Vettel (his balls of steel overtake of Vettel on the outside of Les Combes rightly brought a standing ovation from his mechanics!) and in the closing laps he overtook Kimi Raikkonen to secure 3rdplace. But for the first time this season Kimi finished ahead of his team-mate and had his best result of the year so far. Whatever happened in the summer break, Kimi was like a driver reborn in Spa and just seemed like the Kimi of old – aggressive, focused and really enjoying himself. Maybe that is the Spa Effect. But more of the same in Monza please!
The next 4 drivers across the finish line were 5) Vettel, 6) Magnussen, 7) Button and 8) Alonso who treated us to a wild and thrilling four way scrap that in all honesty could have ended any one of 24 different ways (unless my extremely rusty A-Level in statistics has failed me which is entirely possible). If there is such a thing as a pure shot of ‘racing’ then this exhilerating sequence would be your poison.

The calm before the storm
And so lets pick over the wreckage of Mercedes’ weekend.  The front row lock-out (their fifth of the season) had set the stage for double Mercedes glory and a fabulous battle round the greatest track in motorsport. Lewis had a stunning start to pole-vault himself into the lead and Rosberg initially dropped back to 3rd behind Vettel before quickly regaining his place. Perhaps Rosberg was slightly shaken by nearly throwing away his precious pole position advantage and his subsequent actions were borne more out of desperation to regain the lead than anything more sinister. But as Nico closed up on Lewis going into Les Combes, looking to make the pass, Lewis held firm to his racing line and Nico clipped Lewis’s rear left tyre which immediately suffered a puncture. Only the most stone-hearted fan would not have felt some small ounce of sympathy for Lewis as he staggered into the pits with a delaminated tyre and irreparable damage to the floor having been only moments earlier leading the race. But (and it’s a big ‘but’) this is motor-racing. Sometimes it is cruel and it is unfair. While undoubtedly Lewis has had more than his share of bad luck this season (although a far greater spotlight shines on his misfortune than retirements by drivers scrapping away for the odd point lower down the field), he is in exalted company with others who had the gods conspire against them (see Nigel Mansell, Johnny ‘bad luck’ Herbert and even the great Michael Schumacher at…oh yes… Mercedes).

This tyre blow-out in Adelaide cost Mansell the title. I could still sob at the very memory.
Of course deliberate accidents can and do happen between team-mates but I would definitely interpret this as more of a clumsy manoeuvre than any deliberate attempt by Rosberg to destroy Hamilton’s race. Firstly, Rosberg is leading the championship and there are still 7 races to go; secondly, nine times out of ten both cars would have escaped unscathed from that small sliver of contact; and thirdly, Rosberg has to answer to Toto Wolff who is Very Scary. While he might have misjudged and miscalculated the situation on lap 2 in Spa, and possibly acted a bit petulantly (but its one driver’s word against the other’s on that score), it was IMHO nothing more than a racing incident that even the FIA did not see the need to investigate. That it unfortunately cost Hamilton far more than it cost Rosberg is harsh and unfair but doesn’t mean Nico acted with malice aforethought.
There was another sub-plot in Hamilton’s race story that I found almost equally intriguing. From even before the half-way stage on lap 20, Hamilton implored the team to let him come in, retire from the race and save the engine. Mercedes rightly resisted his overtures at first by pointing out there could be the game-changer of a safety car. Always a distinct possiblity in Spa. But Lewis kept on and kept on pleading and the team clearly felt with 5 laps to go there was no point in him continuing and called him in to retire from the race.

Lewis retires on lap 39

Now this is a tough one. Lewis was obviously struggling without downforce to overtake far inferior cars and clearly his car’s performance deteriorated as the race went on. Probably by the time he did retire, there was little point keeping him out as his car was getting slower. But when he first begged the team to come in, he was still over a whole second faster than Grosjean. So to me it smacks of being a little bit precious and more importantly it shows that Lewis doesn’t have the same degree of fighting spirit out on track when things go wrong. He talks a good talk off the track but his head often goes down far too easily. He is so used to having a blindingly fast car but a Formula 1 grid is made up of 22 cars, most of which don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in winning a race but all the drivers see the race through (if they possibly can). How much would Andre Lotterer, making his F1 debut at the grand old age of 32, have given to race around Spa for 44 laps as opposed to the one lap before his car conked out with mechanical failure? And what of the fans, Lewis? Its one thing to throw in the towel on lap 39 but did you not really owe it them more than to try and quit the race on lap 20?

The fall-out from the race was seismic. Rosberg was given the Full Vettel Treatment on the podium – a deafening chorus of boos. Mercedes then convened an emergency team meeting, details of which Hamilton ‘helpfully’ passed on to the media.
We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose. He said he could have avoided it, but he didn’t want to. He basically said, ‘I did it to prove a point’.”
Rosberg’s initial response was to say:
As drivers we are here to entertain and to show the fans a good time, our duels are always on the limit. I regret that Lewis and myself touched but I see it as a racing incident – just as the stewards did. I was quicker at the time and there was an opportunity, so I gave it a go around the outside as the inside was blocked. The opportunity was there and, for me, it wasn’t a risky situation.”
And Puncture-Gate shows no signs of going away anytime soon. Mercedes has issued this statement today saying they have taken disciplinary action against Nico Rosberg following his collision with Lewis Hamilton in the Belgian Grand Prix.
‘Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton met today in the boardroom of Mercedes AMG headquarters in Brackley to discuss the events of the Belgian Grand Prix.
During this meeting, Nico acknowledged his responsibility for the contact that occurred on lap two of the Belgian Grand Prix and apologised for this error of judgement. Suitable disciplinary measures have been taken for the incident. 
Lewis and Nico understand and accept the team’s number one rule: there must be no contact between the team’s cars on track. It has been made clear that another such incident will not be tolerated. But Nico and Lewis are our drivers and we believe in them.
They remain free to race for the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship.’
Fair play to Mercedes for allowing their two drivers to continue to race although it will be fascinating to see how that plays out in practice. All I can say is BRING ON MONZA!
Stirling Moss driving for Maserati leads the field at Monza in 1956
Michael Schumacher wins at Monza for the 5th time in 2006

The fabulous Tifosi at Monza

Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying

How much have I missed F1? I am overjoyed that it is back in all its crazy, controversial, glorious technicolour. And not only is it back, but it is back at The Best Track in the entire calendar, Spa-Francorchamps. I have waxed lyrical about this stunning circuit so many times that I will resist doing so again this time. But as always Spa will do the talking for itself.
The normally interminable summer break has actually gone by really fast – it seems like no time since the Hungarian Grand Prix (and blogging that rather marvellous race while cruising down the Bay of Biscay to Bilbao). But rather unexpectedly this summer I was able to obtain my F1 fix elsewhere.
It is not every day (or year) you go on holiday and discover one of the most important, influential, knowledgeable and legendary figures in Formula 1 happens to be by the most wonderful of coincidences staying at the same place. According to my husband he has never seen me so genuinely shocked and lost for words (including even when he proposed!) as when he told me who he had just been chatting to. Rather amusingly, the husband was wearing his James Hunt t-shirt when Charlie Whiting (just before we realised it was THE Charlie Whiting) asked him if he was a big fan of James. And yes, it was the real Charlie Whiting not the fake one although we *might* have asked him what it was like to meet a fake version of yourself. Fairly surreal apparently!

To be fair its a cool t-shirt
We were very fortunate to have many fascinating conversations with Charlie about Formula 1. I have to admit we would have loved to have spoken non stop about F1 with Charlie and, while he was enormously willing to share his thoughts and insights, he was on his holiday just like us and entitled to some down-time!
Of course we had to ask about favourite races and while my mind was flitting between great Schumacher races and great Senna races and recent classics such as Canada 2011 and Interlagos 2012, Charlie put forward the European Grand Prix of 1999, won by Johnny Herbert. Just a brilliant shout – there was a delayed start, an aborted start, barrel roll crashes, a sequence of heartbreaking retirements from race leaders including title contenders and Fisichella in what would have been his first race win. It was the only race ever won by the Stewart Grand Prix team – and Barrichello made it the perfect day for Stewart by finishing 3rd (behind Trulli in the Prost). To see highlights of that epic race, click here. And yes, Johnny Herbert really is an all round top bloke.
Anyway thanks Charlie – it was an absolute pleasure!

Yours truly and Charlie W
The other guy is the husband!

And so the curtain lifts on Act Two of the 2014 season. Qualifying, here we come.
Good old Spa, the morning of qualifying had already seen torrential rain and hailstorms. But qualifying got underway under glorious blue skies and a wet but drying track, However, more rain was expected within the hour. Should drivers be pushing for their best time right from the start? Spa probably more than any other race is where the team principals and strategists really earn their money.
Dumped out at the Q1 stage were Maldonaldo (Lotus), Hulkenberg (Force India), Chilton (Marussia), Gutierrez (Sauber), Lotterer (Caterham) and Ericsson (Caterham).

Andre Lotterer, making his F1 debut at the age of 32. Sometimes dreams do come true!
(please no one crash into him on the first lap!)

It is quite unusual to only get one pair of cars in the bottom six. Well done to Grosjean, Perez, Sutil and particularly Jules Bianchi (who set the 14th fastest time in his Marussia) all of whom succeeded where their team-mates failed. I would stake a trillion pounds that Bianchi ends up at Ferrari in the next 2 or 3 years. But what happened in Q1 to the Hulk? He is normally so good in the rain.

There’s a Ferrari in there somewhere
Depending on who you believe, it was either now raining again or it wouldl be raining again very shortly. Some race engineers were telling their drivers that this run (ie. the first of Q2) could be the fastest one of this session. Blogging Spa qualifying is always a bit of a crazy mindbending experience where you cling on for dear life and enjoy the ride.
It was looking a whole lot like we were going to get yet another Mercedes front row lock out. The next cars (currently Alonso and Bottas) were around a second behind. Unless they were all holding something back in reserve. But unlikely. Or not enough anyway to alarm anyone on the Mercedes pitwall.
Button was teetering on the edge of the dropzone along with Vettel. Interestingly the Red Bulls weren’t exactly storming around Spa and hearteningly the Ferrari’s seemed to be much improved from the underperforming and quite frankly dire cars (and if that sounds harsh you have to measure Ferrari by the standards they themselves expect) we saw in the first part of the season. Both Button and Vettel squeaked into Q3 by the narrowest of margins.
Missing the cut for the top ten shoot-out were: 11) Daniil Kvyat 12) Jean-Eric Vergne 13) Sergio Perez 14) Adrian Sutil 15) Romain Grosjean 16) Jules Bianchi. All in all no real shocks there.
So which of Hamilton and Rosberg would take first blood and grab pole in Spa? Its not the kind of track where taking pole is imperative but in the context of the title battle and it being the first race since the summer break, it would be a huge psychological boost especially I feel to Hamilton who must be desperate to break Rosberg’s hegemony in qualifying.

Nico Rosberg – taking on all challengers and the Spa weather

With 5 minutes to go, Rosberg was sitting pretty on provisional pole, with Hamilton just behind him and then Vettel a whopping 1.8 seconds down the order in 3rd spot. To give Vettel his due, he was still much closer than anyone else to the Mercedes pair. 
Really Spa is like manna from heaven for racing photographers. Endless dizzying images of sleek, gleaming cars emerging from the mist and rain through the Ardennes forest. But please remind me never ever ever to book a holiday in Belgium in the summer. Unless of course it is to attend the Belgian Grand Prix!

Track perfection

And Lewis was chucking everything at his final flying lap to grab pole back from Nico. He was ragged beyond belief considering the treacherous conditions and incredibly was a few hundredths of a second ahead but at the death he couldn’t quite pull it off.
Nico Rosberg took pole to make it now four consecutive pole positions (the last time Lewis started on pole was amazingly at the Spanish Grand Prix in mid May) and Lewis will start in second place. But only 6 of the last 14 pole-sitters have gone on to win at Spa. I wouldn’t bet against anyone in a silver car (although it would be turn up for the books if Button or Magnussen were to clinch a sensational win!!).

The top 3 in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix

The top 10 will line up as follows:
  1. Rosberg – Fewest mistakes. Fastest lap. Job done.
  2. Hamilton – Who said “being second is to be the first of the ones who lose”? Ah yes the incomparable Ayrton Senna. Lets see who finishes where at the end of 44 laps.
  3.  Vettel – Is this a rejuvenated Seb? Strange to say about a 4 time world champion!
  4. Alonso – Great to see Fernando higher up to the grid and hope he has one of his electric starts.
  5. Ricciardo – Unusually behind his team-mate but one to watch.
  6. Bottas – A smidge disappointed not to see Williams higher. Claire Williams said before the race that ironically for once they weren’t wishing for rain and looks like she was right.
  7. Magnussen – A good result in tricky conditions.
  8. Raikkonen – Promised much more in the earlier stages of qualifying. Oh Kimi.
  9. Massa – Really just not convinced by Massa at Williams.
  10. Button – Can’t help but think (and I love Jenson) he might have been slightly higher up a couple of years ago. The sands of time and all that.

The stage is set and in around 30 minutes time battle will be rejoined. 44 laps of craziness coming up.

Hungarian Grand Prix – The Race

Hungary is a lot like Monaco. It may not throw up an exciting race very often but when it does, they are truly magnificent spectacles. I warmed up for Sunday’s race by watching (and therefore making the poor husband watch as well but he owes me big time for the entire month of televisual viewing of the World Cup) the awesome Hungarian Grand Prix of 1998 (one of my favourite races of all time) which I stumbled across while channel-hopping late last Saturday night. Rock ‘n’ roll baby.
Unusually we watched the race (as if live) in the evening after a frantic and fraught (and possibly another f-word) day in Bluewater getting last minute stuff for our holiday. We are now on the open seas heading towards Bilbao in the most heavenly weather. Without question this is the most gorgeous setting that I have ever blogged from (to be fair the other venues are my kitchen, Center Parcs and rainy Ireland so not much to beat). Usually it is around this point on our holiday that we realise some crucial thing has been forgotten or we have booked accommodation for the wrong dates but for now I’m in a happy place, especially when I think back to last Sunday’s race. Quite simply the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2014 joins the pantheon of great F1 races. IMHO the best race of the season so far (and this deceptively excellent season has offered up some fantastic races so far).

Before I delve into #MartinsGridwalk, its eat-my-hat time – I have to say how well I think Simon Lazenby has grown into his role as frontman/presenter. Back in his first season (which was also Sky’s first season – important to remember) I was very unsure he was the right man for the job (and at times I’ll admit I was a bit critical, okay quite scathing) but credit where it’s due he has improved leaps and bounds and is building up a great rapport with the rest of the presenter team. 

So what did Le Brundle have for us? First up it was Paul Hembery (head honcho at Pirelli). You may remember Paul as dead man walking last year when all the tyres were disintegrating after 5 laps (greatly vexing the likes of Christian Horner). These days Paul is a new man full of joie de vivre while Christian Horner is dating Geri Halliwell. Funny how fortunes can change so much in a year. Anyhow, the heavens had literally just opened all over the Hungaroring and Paul thought it was a 50/50 call between inter conditions and wets. The cars were still going round and round trying to decide with a mere 20 minutes until the start of the race. Nervous times.

Martin then tried to make his way over to Sebastian Vettel who was having A Very Serious Chat with his engineer and instead ended up getting a curt brush off from David Coulthard (who does a good line in curt). The lovely Tanja from German Sky TV who was wafting past was much friendlier to Martin. The F1 equivalent of Dawn and Tim from the Office (yes, I’ve been drinking!). Martin had a very quick chat with Jenson Button and Danil Kvyat both of whom said it was wet and interesting out there (certainly a prescient comment by Kvyat who ended up stuck on the grid during the formation lap). So folks, show time!

Lights out and Go Go Go! A very surreal start to a F1 race seeing the cars racing flat out along the first long straight to turn 1. A numbers of cars were wobbling out on track. Lewis was reporting problems with his front right brakes and Alonso’s Ferrari was twitching all over the place. After things settled down, the front order early doors shook out as follows: 1. Rosberg, 2. Bottas, 3. Vettel, 4. Alonso, 5. Button and 6. Ricciardo. But the Weather Monitor of Doom predicted rain within 5 minutes. Rosberg and Hamilton (rapidly climbing up through the field) were looking very raggedy and Bottas was driving brilliantly to keep Vettel at bay. To recap, a Williams was holding off a Red Bull. How quickly the F1 landscape can change!

Safety Car Klaxon!!! Ericsson was the culprit with a monumental smash on lap 9. Most of the cars all bolted into the pits to whack on some slicks except Jenson Button who went onto inters. That’s a mighty big gamble by McLaren. It takes some doing to crash under safety car conditions but Grosjean was the man to rise to the challenge so having just been called in, the safety car was told to stay out. Rosberg was complaining of ‘something in the brakes’. Meanwhile the 20 million dollar question (especially for Jenson Button) was when is the rain coming?!

Lap 14 and racing in anger resumed once again. Button almost immediately passed Ricciardo to take the LEAD of the race and was then told that rain was looking a lot less likely. Bugger. Not McLaren’s finest hour ever. Poor old Jenson. Hamilton was now doing a Senna-esque charge through the field and managed to take FOUR PLACES in one sector to move up to 9th. We were told it was clearly now Hammertime – a phrase that has been recently adopted by the media which irrationally irritates me. In a contrast of Mercedes fortunes, Rosberg was going backwards. Having tried and failed to take Magnussen, he was passed by Vergne and now found himself in a 3 way battle with Vettel and Hamilton (now up to 7th) for 5th place. Not where he would have wanted to be AT ALL. Even more calamitous was Jenson’s race – after that suicidal pitstop decision, he dived into the pits on lap 16 to get the slicks he should have had put on 5 laps earlier. Bugger.

Ah a Maldonado crash (into Bianchi). Another tick on the F1 race bingo. Quite amazingly the fastest laps were now being set by Fernando Alonso. We hadn’t seen that from a Ferrari for a very long time. The leading cars were now 1. Ricciardo, 2. Massa, 3. Alonso and 4. Vergne. Yes, Vergne was miraculously STILL ahead of Rosberg. ‘Curiouser and curiouser’ said Alice. Actually the real Alice was actually saying on loop “I want the red car to win”. Ah those were the days. Or did she know something I didn’t?!

Yet another Safety Car Klaxon (for the second time in this race) after a mahoosive crash by Perez. Cue pitstops galore and the main point I noted (not necessarily the key point but the only one I noted!) was that Hamilton was now sandwiched between the two Red Bulls. Given his race started in the pit lane in LAST place this represented stunning progress. Vergne was STILL defying all the odds and keeping the Silver Arrows of Rosberg firmly in his rear mirrors. Vergne’s brilliant defensive driving was holding up a train of cars allowing Fernando Alonso to increase his narrow and precious lead lap by lap. Eventually on lap 33, Rosberg pitted from 3rd and to compound his bad luck had a slow stop before rejoining back in 13th. 

Hamilton (unlike his team-mate it has to be said) wasted no time in passing Vergne in a brilliantly clinical move on lap 34 and so at the halfway point, the top order was 1. Alonso, 2. Hamilton, 3. Ricciardo (going very nicely on fresh tyres), 4. Massa and 5. Kimi. Alonso was now getting all sorts of radio messages in different languages – always a sign that things are afoot at Ferrari! After the next round of pitstops, Ricciardo was leading the race on lap 45 and fragments of seconds split Alonso, Hamilton (who was now complaining of a hot seat…ouch!) and Rosberg. Well game bloody on.

Grandstand finish here we come and best of all we had the prospect of a mouthwatering Ros v Ham duel for the first time in a good few races. In a baffling intervention from Mercedes over the radio, Hamilton was told not to hold Rosberg up. Hamilton’s response? “I’m not slowing down for Nico“. Cue much complaining from Nico. Well a few points here in Hamilton’s defence (please take note – you know who you are!):

1. Rosberg was no way near close enough (ie. not even in DRS range!) to Hamilton to warrant the imposition of team orders.
2. Rosberg still had to pit again (with all the variables that another pitstop brings) and Hamilton couldn’t be totally sure that he himself wouldn’t need to pit.
3. Ricciardo probably also had to pit so Lewis could not afford to give away 2 seconds in slowing for his team-mate. Oh and Alonso (still in front of Lewis and eminently catch-able in an inferior Ferrari) was not going to pit again so every second was vital.

Slam dunk as they say.

And sure enough on lap 55, Ricciardo came into the pits (as did Rosberg just two laps later). Alonso was now leading the Hungarian Grand Prix. How long has it been since Ferrari were in with a real shout of winning a F1 race? With an agonising 8 laps to go (if you were sat in the the Ferrari/Mercedes/Red Bull garage or in my house!), the first three cars (Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo) were separated by just hundredths of seconds. You simply could not call it and for good measure Rosberg had decided to join the party by putting in some blistering laps to slash the gap between himself and the leading three.

With a couple of laps to go, it was Ricciardo who seized the opportunity to go for glory by passing Hamilton and then Alonso (who had been clinging onto the lead for the last few laps by deploying every ounce of his tremendous racecraft) to take the LEAD of the race and then serenely pull away from the chasing pack. We were then treated to a stunningly exciting final lap as Alonso heroically battled to keep the mighty Silver Arrows at bay, ultimately succeeding to bring a very average Ferrari home in a truly magnificent second place behind race-winner, Daniel Ricciardo.

Hamilton took 3rd spot (ahead of Rosberg) which was simply a phenomenal performance of immense skill and tenacity given that he started last. Oddly he seemed dejected after the race. Lewis needs to learn how to be kinder to himself. He came home ahead of his team-mate (the pole sitter) after the aberration of qualifying which is more than he could possibly have hoped for (and Nico would definitely have to consider Hungary as 13 points lost). The remaining points were taken by Massa in 5th, Kimi in 6th, Vettel in 7th, Bottas in 8th, Vergne in 9th and Button in 10th.

Hamilton is now just eleven points behind Rosberg in the championship race which sets us up for a thrilling second half of the season. But first we have the summer break which almost cruelly interrupts the ferocious battle at the top of the championship just as it reached fever-pitch once again. But we can all draw breath, go on holiday (we have literally just disembarked in Bilbao and the 7 year old is already planning his visit to the Nou Camp once we make our way across to Catalunya!) and prepare ourselves for the return of hostilities at the Greatest Track in F1, the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit. Could the opening of Act II have a more befitting and majestic stage?!

Happy holidays everyone.