Thursday, 31 May 2007

Ron Dennis and his drive to win

I am currently reading Tim Rubython’s excellent and comprehensive biography of Ayrton Senna: The Life of Senna (ISBN 0-954687-3-3). I came across an interesting quote from Ron Dennis last night. The year is 1993, a time when the Mclaren, which Senna was driving, was struggling to compete with the far superior Williams’ of Alain Prost and Damon Hill. The comments were made in the build up to the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril where Prost clinched the world championship after finishing second to Michael Schumacher.

Feeling the strain of being uncompetitive, Dennis said, in what could equally have been the words of Senna:

"I want to win each and every race. I know it sounds trite, but I really do. I don't feel discomfort in saying that I want to win them all. In fact, I want to finish first and second. When we're not, I'm bad news to live with. And that's at 46. I handle it better than I did when I was 36, and I've had the experience of success. But the pain of failure is such an incentive to succeed that you don't need anyone barbing you or motivating you. I am just a terrible loser. When I say that, I don't mean in a sporting sense. I may be able to go and have a drink and feel relaxed, but the pain is there all the time. It's the eyes opening on a Monday morning when the first thing that comes into your brain is 'was there a Grand Prix the day before?' and the second thing is 'where did we finish?' If it is anywhere other than first, the next thing is more pain."

I thought it would be appropriate to post this given the row over team orders at Monaco last week. In what is a stark contrast to Ferrari during the Schumacher years, I don’t think Ron Dennis cares which of his drivers win so long as they finish first and second. I think Monaco was a special case because of its unpredictability and, as the FIA pointed out in their statement, because of the much higher chance of a safety car scenario. Dennis knows that the rivalry between Hamilton and Alonso can only make his team stronger so it would be foolish not to let them race down to the wire at other circuits.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Mclaren in the clear

Formula One's governing body, the FIA, has cleared the Mclaren Mercedes team of any misconduct in Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.

An investigation was carried out after it emerged that Mclaren had ordered their drivers not to race each other in the second half of the race.

The FIA concluded that Mclaren's actions were "entirely legitimate" on the grounds that asking drivers to slow down when they have a significant lead is a standard practice to reduce the risk of technical problems.

In a statement the regulating body said: "The Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes Team has been cleared of using team orders during last weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.

"The FIA started an investigation after the race, but now decided that Mclaren's actions during the Grand Prix were entirely legitimate."

Ron Dennis, Mclaren team principle, welcomed the ruling.

"The entire team was understandably disappointed that outstanding drives from Both Fernando and Lewis resulting in a great 1-2 victory and Mclaren's 150th win was temporarily tarnished," he said.

"The efficient intervention and subsequent inquiry of the FIA into the allegations of the last three days has removed any doubt about the manner in which the team ran its cars during the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix," he added.

The FIA also ruled out any wrong doing in the decision to bring Lewis Hamilton in early to refuel, attributing the move to a need to preempt the possibility of a safety car deployment.

The decision follows a warning today from F1supremo Bernie Ecclestone that Mclaren could face being docked championship points for their actions.

"If there were orders, they would be getting off lightly if they get the same sort of fine as Ferrari. A fine for McLaren, with its money, would not have the same effect as docking points Ecclestone told the Daily Mail.

But others, including Jackie Stewart have expressed their support the Woking based outfit.

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Is F1 Boring?

Oliver White has posted an interesting article (HERE) at discussing whether the argument that ’F1 is boring’ is justified. Here is a brief snippet:

For sure, some races can be very monotonous, and even I have commented about this in some race reports. Generally speaking, when people say “it’s just a bunch cars going round, and round, and…” they’re not too far from the truth. It isn’t until you really open your eyes to see what is happening all around the track that you realise that it isn’t necessarily just cars going around a track for two hours. I do understand when that comment is made though, I really do.

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Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Red Bull launches Faces for Charity project

F1 enthusiasts will be able to get a little bit closer to the action at this summer’s British grand prix as Red Bull racing launch their ‘faces for charity’ initiative, a chance for fans to put their photos on the Red Bull livery.

Fans will be charged £10 to upload their picture with profit going to Wings for Life, a charity which supports those affected by spinal cord injuries.

Both cars, driven by David Coulthard and Mark Webber, will surrender their corporation logos in favour of more than 50,000 pictures.

Participants will get to choose on which car their picture will appear as well as its location on the chassis.

“They say your biggest rival is your team mate, so now David and I have got an extra battle between us to see who can get the most faces on our cars,” said Mark Webber.

David Coulthard said that carrying his fans around with him at the British Grand Prix would carry special significance:

“Winning the British Grand Prix is something I’ll never forget so I always look forward to going back to Silverstone.

“Of course, it’s where I get the most support from my fans so this year, having them literally on the car with me is a nice way for me to pay them back for their support over the years.”

In addition to getting their picture on the car fans will be able to access Red Bull’s interactive website and leave messages, invite friends or dedicate a space to someone special.

Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal, was buoyant about the project:

“Through the support of passionate F1 fans, we are aiming to raise over $1 million for Wings of Life which will really make a difference to the charity’s goal of curing spinal cord injuries,” he said.

The British Grand Prix takes place on July 8th and fans can take part in Faces for Charity by visiting

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Team orders last used in Australia 1998, says Dennis

Team principle of Mclaren, Ron Dennis, has admitted that he “sleeps easy” after races where team orders have been implemented.

Responding to the launch of an investigation by Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, into Mclaren’s tactics in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, Ron Dennis said:

“We do not and have not manipulated grands prix, unless there were some exceptional circumstances, which occurred in Australia [1998], when someone had tapped into our radio and instructed Mika Hakkinen to enter the pits.

“He entered the pits and I reversed that, because that was unfair, that was an outside influence on the outcome of the race.

“That is one of the very rare occasions that there’s been a team order.”

He added: “I don’t feel uncomfortable with them. I sleep easy. I have a clear conscience, both on that particular race - and this race today.”

I must admit I either didn’t know about this or it has slipped my mind. I had always thought that the switch in Melbourne was down to a gentleman’s agreement between Coulthard and Hakkinen along the lines that whoever made it into the first corner first was to be allowed to take the win.

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Monday, 28 May 2007

Mclaren under investigation

The FIA is investigating Mclaren for implementing team orders in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

“The FIA has launched an investigation into incidents involving the Mclaren Mercedes team at the 2007 Monaco Grand prix in light of a possible breach of the International Sporting Code. The relevant evidence is under review and a further announcement will be made in due course,” said the sports governing body in a statement.

Following Sunday’s race, in which the Mclarens of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton romped home to a respective 1-2 finish, Ron Dennis told ITV Sport that he had ordered his drivers to ease off after it became clear that team would be unchallenged.

Mclaren have denied breaking F1’s sporting code.

“We are very confident about FIA’s investigation into our race strategy,” said a spokesman for the team.

“All the decisions that we took before and during the race respect perfectly the international sporting code,” he added.

Speaking in the post-race press conference, Ron Dennis said that he ordered his drivers to slow down and switched Hamilton’s race strategy in order to preserve the cars brakes and to pre-empt a possible safety car scenario:

“There is some disappointment because of the different strategies we needed to follow to cope with a potential deployment of the Safety Car which has happened four times in the last five years.

“Consequently you virtually have to decide in advance which one of the team’s two drivers will claim the victory.

“Once the first round of pitstops had taken place we reverted Lewis from a one-stop-strategy to the faster two-stop strategy and at the same time slowed both cars down to conserve the brakes.

“As a team we would like to race but this circuit requires a disciplined approach and as a result we can leave Monte Carlo with the maximum amount of points.

What’s the beef? There was no way Hamilton was ever going to get past Alonso on the track. The only way he could have one was by passing him in the pit-stops. When it was obvious that that wasn’t going to happen the drivers were told to slow down.

What I find so remarkable is the way that Hamilton and Alonso were attacking the track despite orders told to race green.

More interesting is that Hamilton could have one-stopped. I would have liked to have seen how that would pan out. This adds even more credibility to his qualifying performance. His lap early on in the session in anticipation of the drizzle was absolutely stunning if he was carrying a one stop fuel load.

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Okay. Not the best of starts to this blog. Two outrageously wrong predictions (see below): (1) that Hamilton was lighter than Alonso; and (2) that Massa might spring a surprise.

I must admit that I was surprised to see Alonso peel off into the pit lane before his rookie team-mate. Given Hamilton’s qualifying pace I genuinely thought he was running the more aggressive strategy and had simply failed to hook it up in Q3. As someone who is a huge fan of Hamilton, there is a plus side to my bodge up. That he was indeed the heavier of the two Mclarens is testimony to his sheer pace. If it is true that he could have gone half a second quicker then his qualifying laps were simply sensational. He would have been around three tenths of a second ahead of Alonso despite the added weight penalty. In terms of raw pace, I still think Hamilton has the edge on Alonso.

Was a slightly dejected looking Hamilton attributable to, as this mornings papers have been suggesting, team-orders preventing him from attacking his teammate? I suspect it was more a case of Hamilton ruing a missed opportunity. The young Britain had the pace to win, and he knew it. In my view, he lost the race on Saturday afternoon

As for Massa, he did the best he could under the circumstances. You can’t help but feel Michael Schumacher would have been able to find something extra and put the Mclarens under some pressure. That said, he keeps himself in the championship hunt which is more than can be said for Raikkonen.

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Sunday, 27 May 2007

Alonso deals Monaco blow to Hamilton

Fernando Alonso delivered a psychological blow to team-mate Lewis Hamilton this afternoon after he secured victory at the Monaco Grand Prix in what was a dominant showing by the Mclaren outfit.

The Spaniard dominated the race from pole position putting in some blistering lap times when he needed them to keep a somewhat inconsistent Hamilton at bay. The win means that Alonso now leads the world championship.

“It has been a fantastic weekend, no doubt, and to score this hattrick – pole, fastest lap and race win – is something very special and even more so here in Monaco,” said Alonso in the post-race press conference.

“I enjoyed today’s race so much with a perfect care all through the race, and it felt so good to drive such a nice car for 78 laps and win at the end,” he added.

Hamilton, who was hotly tiped to maintain his unbeaten record at the principality, failed to capitalise on the extra few laps of fuel advantage he had over Alonso and was never really able to make any inroads on his team mate.

The rivals traded fastest lap times and the gap between them yo-yoed around but Alonso was always able to maintain his advantage, especially at the crucial pit stop windows.

Despite claims after the race by Ron Dennis that his cars were being kept well within their limits, both drivers were pushing hard and attacked the Monte-Carlo street track with impunity. Hamilton even brushed the armco barriers on a few occasions.

The 22-year-old rookie, who looked slightly dejected after the race in comparison to his previous podium celebrations, remarked on the frustrations of his battle with Alonso:

"All weekend we’ve both had great pace and it was tough. I knew that we were both extremely quick and when you’re behind someone you can’t follow them that closely, so I knew there would be no way to get so close to him and overtake him.

“So the only way was to apply pressure, and he’s a two time world champion, he doesn’t really make mistakes so it’s extremely difficult.”

It was a case of damage limitation for Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen battled his way from the rear end of the grid to an eventual eighth place. And Felipe Massa got the best out of his car to take the last step of the podium albeit finishing the best part of a lap behind the leaders.

Gincarlo Fissichella put in a strong showing for the Renault team to finish fourth and was followed by the BMW Sauber drivers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld respectively.

Alexander Wurz scored his first points of the season finishing seventh for the Williams team.

Drivers Championship Standings

Fernando Alonso 38
Lewis Hamilton 38
Felipe Massa 33
Kimi Raikkonen 23
Nick Heidfeld 18
Giancarlo Fisichella 13
Robert Kubica 12
Nico Rosberg 5
David Coulthard 4
Jarno Trulli 4
Heikki Kovalainen 3
Alexander Wurz 2
Takuma Sato 1
Ralf Schumacher 1

Constructors Championship Standings

McLaren-Mercedes 76
Ferrari 56
BMW Sauber 30
Renault 16
Williams 7
Toyota 5
Red Bull Racing 4
Super Aguri 1

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Saturday, 26 May 2007

Hamilton will be hard-pressed for a Monaco victory

In what is something of a tradition, two questions circulate my household on the eve of a grand prix: who do you think will win and who do you want to win – although the former usually ends up getting repeated and prefixed with an expression along the lines of “no, seriously”. The plight of F1’s British competitors in recent years – and a corresponding sense of increased family loyalty – has meant that the two answers rarely match. The sensation that is Lewis Hamilton however, is starting to change this.

What then lies in store for tomorrow? One thing is stopping me from answering both questions with the word Hamilton: strategy. Ron Dennis has openly admitted that his two drivers are running different fuel loads:

“Clearly we had to put them on different strategies and we’re absolutely delighted with the outcome of qualifying,” he told ITV Sport after qualifying.

Alonso’s advantage has led to a tentative paddock consensus that Hamilton is fuelled slightly heavier than Alonso. I have doubts about this. Hamilton’s demeanour and language before qualifying suggested he was gearing up for an aggressive strategy. He was clearly up for pole. And if you take into consideration the mistakes on his flying laps and the time lost behind Mark Webber, I reckon Hamilton could have ended up at least a couple of tenths ahead of Alonso. Remember, his eventual time of 1m15.905 was set much earlier in the session when the Mclaren drivers were given orders to pre-empt the mid session drizzle. With a clear track on a lighter fuel load Hamilton would surely have out qualified Alonso. As he acknowledged:

“The lap was fantastic; it was really on the limit. I think I touched one of the barriers on the exit of turn four and I was three tenths up on my previous best, and then I got held up by Webber.

“He was on an ‘out' lap. I don't know whether he saw me or what but he didn't let me past until turn eight, so I lost half a second behind him.”

So if anything I think Hamilton is slightly lighter than Alonso with Massa quite possibly lighter than both Mclarens. This will surely give Alonso the advantage in the race.

But please, prove me wrong Lewis…

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Massa leads Ferrari assault on Mclarens

I am not a huge fan of Massa. He is super quick, as his dominant wins from pole in Bahrain and Barcelona have shown, but he has yet to impress under pressure. The true mark of a world champion is his ability to deliver in the face of adversity, to win in spite of inferior machinery, to pull something out of the bag when the chips are down.

On this front, lacklustre performances from Massa in Melbourne and Sepang suggest Brazilian still has a long way to go. True, he started from the back in Australia, but even so, his drive through the pack lacked the same grittiness that Schumacher and Alonso have shown under similar circumstances. And his total inability to cope with the pressure from Lewis Hamilton in Sepang puts a serious question mark over his wheel-to-wheel combat skills.

That said, I was impressed by his performance in qualifying today. The Mclaren was clearly the more superior machinery to be in around the twisty streets of Monte-Carlo. In spite of this Massa pulled out a stunning lap in the dying seconds of Q3 to go third quickest, less than a tenth of a second shy of the on form Lewis Hamilton. It begs the question that perhaps he is running slightly lighter than the two Mclarens ahead of him. Nevertheless, he could spring a surprise in what is always, to some degrees, a lottery of a race at Monaco. In his own words:

“The race in Monaco is always special, there are always some surprises, so hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow, try to score as many points as possible and hopefully be on the podium.”

William Hill has the Brazilian at 6/1 for the win. Worth a punt?

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