Saturday, 30 June 2007

Massa takes pole, Alonso compromised

Felipe Massa pipped Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the French Grand Prix today much to the delight of a rejuvenated Ferrari squad. Fernando Alonso’s chances of taking the top spot were severely compromised after a gearbox problem put an end to his qualifying session – he will start the race from 10th on the grid.

Disaster for Alonso. Mclaren have had such fantastic reliability this year so it came as something of a shock to see the Fernando sit out the qualifying session. Thank goodness he didn’t have to change his engine and take a grid penalty.

On the one hand it is slightly disappointing not to have both Ferrari and Mclaren battling it out on the top. However, Alonso is by no means out of the picture. Tenth position isn’t too far back and the Adelaide hairpin does provide some opportunity for overtaking. I’m looking forward to see him battle his way through the traffic. Watch out for that first lap though, I’m expecting chaos down to that hairpin.

Once again Massa sprung a surprise to take pole. A member of my family described the Brazilian has a “crafty little monkey”. Indeed, I was expecting Raikkonen to take the top spot today. Both Ferrari looked pretty evenly matched in qualifying two so I wouldn’t be surprised if Raikkonen is carrying a heavier fuel load. And if Hamilton’s body language in the press conference is anything to go by he too could be running a few laps longer.

It is mighty close between those top three. Hamilton looked awesome through the last sector and perhaps has a tiny bit more time in hand given that he had a scruffy first sector.

I’m slightly worried about the start. I wouldn’t be surprised if Massa and Hamilton have a coming together. Massa has something to prove against Hamilton after their shenanigans at Sepang. And if Hamilton goes for one of his first corner lunges up the inside don’t expect Massa to leave the door open. Indeed, I think the fact that he came out on top after Alonso tried his hand at the first corner of the Spanish Grand Prix will have given him something of a confidence booster in startline combat.

Further down the grid we have got the Renaults of Fissichella and Kovalainen looking in pretty good shape at their team’s home track. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in the battle between BMW Sauber and Renault.

BMW to some extents have flat lined. They have never really looked as though they could take the fight to the Ferrari’s and Mclarens. Excellent job by Kubica though. ITV Sport’s Mark Blundell was commenting how drivers simply dust themselves off and get on with the job after a big accident. But there is no way that you are going to convince me that an impact like Kubica’s doesn’t have any effect on a driver. So I thought his performance today was pretty special.

After performing strongly in practice a notable absence from the top ten are the Adrian Newey designed cars. Reliability problems yet again prevented David Coulthard from making the top ten. Meanwhile Mark Webber simply didn’t get it together. As far as I know he didn’t suffer from any traffic problems so he really only has himself to blame. The pace was there as he demonstrated in the first session by going sixth fastest.

Honda have showed some signs of improvement with Button and Barrichello lining up 12th and 13th. Their new B-spec car doesn’t seem to have lifted them radically up the grid though.

And finally poor Alexander Wurz still doesn’t look as though he has got to grips with the qualifying format.

Qualifying Times:

1. MASSA Ferrari 1m15.034s
2. HAMILTON McLaren 1m15.104s
3. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m15.257s
4. KUBICA BMW 1m15.493s
5. FISICHELLA Renault 1m15.674s
6. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m15.826s
7. HEIDFELD BMW 1m15.900s
8. TRULLI Toyota 1m15.935s
9. ROSBERG Williams 1m16.328s
10. ALONSO McLaren no time
11. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m15.534s
12. BUTTON Honda 1m15.584s
13. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m15.761s
14. WEBBER Red Bull 1m15.806s
15. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m16.049s
16. COULTHARD Red Bull no time
17. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m16.142s
18. WURZ Williams 1m16.241s
19. SATO Super Aguri 1m16.244s
20. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m16.366s
21. ALBERS Spyker 1m17.826s
22. SUTIL Spyker 1m17.915s

Picture: BBC Sport

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Friday, 29 June 2007

Ferrari close the gap

It looks as though Ferrari are back in the hunt. Fantastic. If the 2007 season needs anything it’s a renewed fight for the constructors title.

Mclaren have been dominating for too many races. Regardless of whether or not they have been using team-orders we have certainly been robbed of a duel – both tactical and on-track – between the red and silver cars.

Ferrari seem to be sporting just about a new everything at France: new front and rear wings, new bodywork and new airbox. And it seems to be paying dividends if Friday’s practice times are anything to go by.

The team’s three tenth-of-a-second advantage over Mclaren by no means indicates a Ferrari revival. Indeed, both Raikkonen and Massa, I’m informed set their quick times on new rubber suggesting that Mclaren (who didn’t) might have some time in the bag. But it is certainly a massive improvement if you think where they were at Indianapolis.

And how about those Torro Rossos? Glory hunting on qualifying fuel levels or legitimate pace from their new seamless shift gear box? A little of both I suspect.

But a strong showing in practice from David Coulthard suggests that the Adrian Newey designed cars are generally well suited to the super smooth characteristics of Magny-Cours.

It seems that Torro Rossos practice pace has yet to radically influence the betting market (see HERE) with at least one bookmaker offering odds of 25/1 on Luizzi scoring a points finish.

It’s Mclaren who are favourites to take the win at France. Once again the F1 community will be asking which one. Can Hamilton make it a hat-trick or is it his time for a mistake?

Practice Session 2

1. MASSA Ferrari 1m15.453s
2. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m15.488s
3. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m15.773s
4. HAMILTON McLaren 1m15.780s
5. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m15.952s
6. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m15.958s
7. ROSBERG Williams 1m16.003s
8. ALONSO McLaren 1m16.049s
9. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m16.162s
10. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m16.184s
11. FISICHELLA Renault 1m16.205s
12. KUBICA BMW 1m16.236s
13. WURZ Williams 1m16.260s
14. TRULLI Toyota 1m16.285s
15. BUTTON Honda 1m16.395s
16. WEBBER Red Bull 1m16.562s
17. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m16.735s
18. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m16.950s
19. HEIDFELD BMW 1m16.968s
20. SATO Super Aguri 1m17.165s
21. SUTIL Spyker 1m18.213s
22. ALBERS Spyker 1m18.708s

Practice session 1:

1. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m15.392s
2. MASSA Ferrari 1m15.447s
3. ALONSO Mclaren 1m16.154s
4. ROSBERG Williams 1m16.214s
5. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m16.268s
6. HAMILTON McLaren 1m16.277s
7. HEIDFELD BMW 1m16.388s
8. WURZ Williams 1m16.407s
9. KUBICA BMW 1m16.441s
10. TRULLI Toyota 1m16.603s
11. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m16.895s
12. SATO Super Aguri 1m16.967s
13. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m16.990s
14. BUTTON Honda 1m17.047s
15. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m17.103s
16. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m17.166s
17. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m17.168s
18. FISICHELLA Renault 1m17.226s
19. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m17.348s
20. WEBBER Red Bull 1m17.435s
21. ALBERS Spyker 1m18.178s
22. SUTIL Spyker 1m18.419s

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Monday, 25 June 2007

Just how fast is the new Honda?

It seems Honda have discovered a performance advantage over their B-team Super Aguri. There have been mixed reports about the size of the gap however.

Following an extensive test at Jerez which saw the introduction of Honda’s B-spec RA107 technical director Shuhei Nakamoto said:

“We made some good progress at the three-day test in Jerez this week where the excellent weather allowed us to fully complete our planned programme.

“We were therefore able to sign off various new mechanical parts and an aerodynamic upgrade for the RA107 as well as further improvement to the stability under breaking.”

There are rumours that the RA107 is around a second a lap faster than the Super Aguri cars.

However none of the F1 news services have cited their sources for this information.

Publicly, Nakamoto has predicted only a “small improvement in performance in both qualifying and the race next weekend.”

And engineering director Jacky Eeckelaert anticipated a “small step forward.”

If the more optimistic rumours are true then this would be massive progress for the Japanese team.

In Qualifying two at Indianapolis Antony Davidson went sixteenth fastest with a time of 1m 13.259. A time of 1m 12.259 would have put the Honda right in the mix just behind the Ferrari’s and BMW of Nick Heidfeld.

Of course you would have to factor in the gains that other teams have made over the two week break. Nevertheless Jenson Button will be praying that the one second rumours are true.

Predictions anyone? I don’t think Honda are going to radically haul themselves up the grid. A bad design is a bad design however many amendments you make. In my view Honda should be pooling all there resources into next year’s car. This was the approach taken by Red Bull and it seems to be paying dividends.

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Friday, 22 June 2007

2007 Safety Car Rules

The new safety car regulations raise a lot of questions. Primarily do the benefits outweigh the costs? In my opinion the regulations were introduced without consideration being given to the consequences.

I was glad to see that Chris has raised the issues surrounding the new safety car regulations.

When I first hear about this new regulations, I was slightly confused. I couldn’t understand the logic. I now understand the basis rational – primarily to stop cars rushing back to the pits, once a safety car has been deployed, under potentially hazards, yellow flag conditions.

But it seems ridiculous that drivers are being penalised for pitting whilst the pit lane’s closed, when the alternative is running out of fuel. It sounds like the regulations were introduced without proper consideration of the consequences.

But how can the FIA cure the unfortunate symptom, without reverting back to the old ruling. If you only permit cars that genuinely require fuel to come into the pits, whilst the pit lane is closed, every team will claim they ‘needed fuel’, in order to seek an advantage.

A solution might be that teams are required to disclose to the FIA how much fuel their cars are carrying at the start of each race, and to provide a record of how much fuel actually enters each car during every pit stop. From this data an official can surely assess whether a specific car required fuel or not. Sever penalties should be imposed for a breach of the rules.

But that might result in Sunday races being decided in a dark room after the race, rather than on the race track.

I have to admit that I have always been a fan of the old safety car re-shuffle – so I am slightly biased. I have been a Formula One fan for many years, and have always taken great enjoyment watching the chaos that a safety car deployment causes. Nobody can deny that a safety car deployment shuffles the deck.

I’m going off on a slight tangent – but I have a point. For years, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher dominated Formula One. The Ferrari was so fast and reliable, if M. Schumacher was leading after the first corner, you pretty much knew he would win the race. This level of predictability made fans off, and branded the sport, “boring”. As a fan, I always hoped for rain or a safety car, since it brought unpredictably. Nobody really knew who would be the winners and the losers. Many could argue that that’s meddling. A race should be contested on the track.

Like any professional sport, Formula One is a form of entertainment. Ultimately if the sport becomes ‘boring’, people will stop watching, sponsors will withdraw their cash, and Formula One will shut up shop. The new regulations restrict the level of unpredictability that a safety car deployment can deliver, and therefore reduces the potential entertainment value (for me at least).

I know what many readers might be thinking. The sport can have unpredictability without the likes of a safety car. I would totally agree. The FIA should focus more attention on designing tracks and cars that encourage overtaking. But that in itself is meddling!

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Should the 2007 safety car rules be changed?

TTS's ‘Exposing the Hamilton Myths’ post yesterday raised an interesting question over the 2007 safety car rules: do they encourage teams to bring their cars in earlier than expected?

At Monaco, Canada and Indianapolis, Mclaren have felt the need to factor in the safety car in their strategies, bringing their cars in early to avoid a safety car situation. Arguably, this has prevented a straight fight between Alonso and Hamilton making the true performance difference between the two drivers very difficult to assess.

To recap, on the deployment of the safety car the pitlane is declared closed while the cars line-up behind it. Backmarkers will be allowed to unlap themselves by overtaking the safety car (when signalled to do so by its green light) and slowly make their way around the track. Under the safety car no cars are allowed to enter the pits for refuelling until all the cars are lined up behind the safety car in race order (at which point the pitlane is declared open). Doing so will result in a ten second penalty – as Alonso and Rosberg discovered to their detriment at Canada.

The new system has its advantages. It generally makes things fairer. Under the old rules, on deployment of the safety car, whether drivers could make a pit-stop and get out unaffected pretty much depended on chance, i.e. where drivers were on the track and whether or not they been got picked by the car. Indeed some drivers could make huge gains by simply being in the right place at the right time.

Another product of the old system was the inevitable mixing up of front-runners with backmarkers which complicated restarts. Personally I think this is one of the good things about the new rules. It’s great that we now have a proper drag race once the safety car peels off.

However the main weakness to the new rules is the ten second penalty for entering the pitlane even if the driver is forced to stop because he is at risk of running out of fuel.

This combined with the fact that drivers can no longer make a pit stop on the same lap that the safety car is deployed acts as a major incentive to anticipate the safety car and pit a couple of laps early as Mclaren have done.

Of course, Mclaren are in the position where they can afford to bring their cars in early. They haven’t been in a position where they are racing another team and need to utilise the advantage that comes with a light fuel load. But it does seem to contradict the idea that they are genuinely letting their drivers race.

In short, the new safety car rules could promote a culture where pre-empting the deployment of the safety car becomes a norm for Mclaren (or any other team), robbing fans of an honest fight between their drivers. So should the rules be changed in anyway?

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Thursday, 21 June 2007

Exposing the myths

I thought I would post this interesting and welcomed criticism from my friend – an avid Coulthard supporter – in a bid to counter the Hamilton bias that pervades this blog. In this post he explores the issue of driver favouritism at Mclaren, assess the true impact of the ‘Hamilton effect’ and looks at the use of team tactics at the US GP.

Alonso vs. Hamilton

You made reference to the fact that Alonso feels that the McLaren team is giving Hamilton preferential treatment (HERE and HERE). You went onto to claim that Alonso’s got a chip on his shoulder (HERE). I argue that Alonso’s claims are justified. [Cont...]

Hamilton has had an association with McLaren for over seven years. He has grown up and is known within the team. It’s only natural for the benefactor and mentor (Dennis) to want to see his investment succeed. Alonso will never be able to replicate that relationship. It’s very similar to the relationship between Ron Dennis and Mika Hakkinen. Mika Hakkinen’s near death experience in the red and white McLaren created a bond that could never be replicated by David Coulthard, even though neither drivers (at the beginning of a season at least) were shown ‘preferential treatment’.

We shouldn’t loose sight of the fact that very few rookies start their career in the ‘best’ car. Alonso started his career in a Minardi. Kimi Raikkonen started his career in a Sauber. Even the great Michael Schumacher started his career in a Jordan. Although he is an amazing driver, he wouldn’t he breaking records if he wasn’t driving the best car. If you want to measure a driver’s success, you should compare him against his teammate. F1 racing recently published an article comparing Hamilton and Alonso’s qualifying times, after factoring in their fuel load. Alonso out qualified Hamilton in the first five races. You won’t have known it given the media coverage. I don’t deny that Hamilton has produced excellent performances, some in which he clearly out performed his two-time world champion teammate. But he’s doing thing with absolutely no pressure. Yes, expectations are not being formed, but he still has relatively little pressure on his shoulder, compared with Alonso. When you are the reigning champion, you are considered to be the best. That brings a mountain of pressure. So I argue that the ‘chip’ on Alonso’s shoulder is actually pressure.

The Hamilton Effect

I refuse to be drawn into this media run hysteria, which has been labelled the ‘Hamilton effect’. Some may say that perception is reality. Well let me roll out a couple of facts:

(1) After the Canadian GP, the ITV website published a pole asking fans to vote for their ‘Driver of the Day’. You’d think Hamilton would have a landslide win, given that he’s just won his first grand prix. But he didn’t. Sato won the pole quite comfortably, because of his unexpected overtaking manoeuvre on Alonso. The ITV published a similar pole after the US grand prix, again asking fans to vote for their Driver of the Day. During the grand prix, Hamilton resisted Alonso and went onto to win his second grand prix. So you’d think he’d win the pole comfortably. You may be surprise to discover that Alonso was voted the Driver of Day.

(2) You’d think Silverstone would be sold out, given the rise of the next British hopeful. Tickets are still available. This may be due to extortionate ticket prices, but there has been a price freeze this year. And the event was sold out last year.

(3) UK viewing figures for the first three races were down ten percent on last year’s figure (an article in F1 Racing). That absolutely amazes me.

All of this paints a very different impression on the effect Hamilton is actually having. Hamilton is great for F1, there is no denying that, but Hamilton is not mustering up the type of support that the media would suggest.

United States Grand Prix

You commented on how Hamilton ‘nailed’ Alonso fair and square (HERE). Really??!! Before the race it was widely thought that Alonso had enough fuel to run three or four laps further than Hamilton. Alonso couldn’t exploit this, after the team called both drivers in just in case a safety car deployed. Have you every heard anything so ridiculous. Why didn’t any of the other teams have the same concerns? You don’t see the Ferrari calling their cars into the pits to put wet weather tyres, because they ‘feel’ it is about to rain. It could be argued that this restricted Alonso, and prevented him from exploiting his fuel strategy that would have seen him pass Hamilton.

You went on to comment how the drag race on Lap 38 was as a result of Alonso exploiting back markers. You wrote it in such a negative sense, as if Alonso drivers shouldn’t exploit every opportunity.

If we are going to identify negatives, one of Hamilton’s major failing has been his ability to negotiate traffic. It can’t have helped him to call back markers ‘monkeys’. If a white driver had made that remark it would have been regarded as racist. And this comment shows his lack of knowledge of what it’s like to be in a ‘middle of the pack’ team. Hamilton did show a lot of maturity and composure as he resisted Alonso’s challenge. But Alonso showed maturity, by seeing the bigger picture. A person with a chip on his shoulder might have taken both cars out of race in pursuit of the lead. But he didn’t.

You commented on how Alonso is used to ‘relying on team-play at Renault to support him’. That’s a very misleading comment. Alonso was regularly two or three positions ahead of Fisichella’s car, which ruled out any team assistance.

I think you were getting quite excited when you wrote, ‘Wake up Alonso.’ I think McLaren do have a preference who comes first and second. That comes from the seven-year relationship and the amazing journey that Hamilton’s currently on. So that comment could be reversed to say, ‘Wake up Chris!’

Some additional comments about Sunday’s race:

I couldn’t believe Ralf Schumacher had the nerve to claim that Coulthard got in his way on the first corner. That’s completely ridiculous.
I’d be very surprise to see Ralf in F1 next year. He has been under-performing at every race.

I can’t get over the record producer/rapper, Martin Brundle interviewed during his grid walk. I couldn’t believe how much crap came out of one person’s mouth. Only in America!

I also shook my head when I watched his reaction in the McLaren pit, after Hamilton maintained position after the first corner. Anthony Hamilton looked very uncomfortable.

I am very impressed with Vettel. You were quite negative about him during one of your blogs. You can’t compare him to Hamilton. The BMW is not the McLaren. A BMW driver has to deal with a lot more challenging issues in the mid field, than a car at the front does. He did a good job and was closer to Heidfeld than you suggested. He didn’t have much time to prepare for his debut. It’s great to see so many young drivers into the sport.

More has to be said about Heidfeld. He was challenging Kimi in the driver’s championship. He is doing an amazing job for BMW. Arguably has been the driver of the season so far, based on the equipment he has.

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Monday, 18 June 2007

Hamilton does it again

Lewis Hamilton stormed to his second career win at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday after a merciless duel with team-mate Fernando Alonso.

“It just keeps getting better and better – what an amazing week this has been. I can’t believe that I have won and am so incredibly grateful to the team who have worked to hard to continue the development which has seen us taking one-two here today,” said Hamilton.

“It’s been a long and hot day, but I have really enjoyed myself and the support from the fans,” he added.

The English language is fast becoming exhausted of superlatives for describing rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton. What an absolutely stunning drive from the 22-year-old. If you thought his victory at Montreal a week ago was special think again. [Cont…]

The challenge this time came not from an intense demand for clear headedness in the face of chaos but from a fired up double world champion with a chip on his shoulders.

And I think this is what will make the victory sweeter for Hamilton. This time he nailed Alonso fair and square.

And boy was it impressive to watch. Lap 38 – in which Alonso, aided by back-markers, got close enough to the gearbox of Hamilton to get in his slipstream and pull up alongside him on the main straight – was breathtaking and instantly invoked that classic image of Mansell and Senna duelling it out on the pit straight at Barcelona.

This was pistols at dawn F1 style. All the sparring in the media this week climaxed at this single pivotal moment. Who would dare to break later?

That Hamilton drove a faultless defence did not seem please Alonso. We still don’t know exactly what he was playing at in the next lap when he swerved towards the pit lane. Some have suggested it was a message to the team along the lines of “I’m quicker let me through.”

But Alonso maintained that he was simply trying to get some fresh air: “I followed the other car for so many laps and my overalls and everything were so black because the carbon breaks were coming into me every breaking point,” he said.

You would have to say that Alonso looked rattled. It is too coincidental that he chose that particular lap, just after he had failed to get past Hamilton, to clean his brakes.

It is complacency pure and simple. He is too used to his experiences at Renault where a) his championship rival was in another team, b) he was faster than his team-mate and c) he could readily rely on team-play to support him.

But he must realise by now that there is no way Mclaren are going to order Hamilton to simply get out of the way for him.

Okay so he was lighter? So what? He must have had a say in the strategy. It was a tactical mistake to put less fuel at the first round of pit-stops on the grounds that Mclaren would simply order Hamilton to get out of the way.

If it had been any other driver he would have still had to pass him on the track to make the strategy work. Indeed, this would have probably influenced him and his mechanics to put more fuel not less at the first stop.

It’s time to wake up Alonso. The team doesn’t care which of its drivers come first and second.

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Sunday, 17 June 2007

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Hamilton seals Indy pole

Lewis Hamilton grabbed pole position for the second time running this afternoon after he edged out team-mate Fernando Alonso by just under two tenths of a second. Once again Mclaren got the better of rivals Ferrari with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen making up the second row of the grid for tomorrow’s US Grand Prix.

How about that then? Huge psychological blow to Alonso; he really needed to send out a message to Hamilton today reinstating himself as the team’s number one. I have to admit that I thought Hamilton would be lucky to get on the front row of the grid let alone take the front spot. But then maybe I read too much into practice. [Cont...]

Let’s wait until the fuel loads are revealed but Mclaren will be pleased to have pulled one over Ferrari again especially at Indianapolis where a strong showing has been something of a given for the Italian team.

BMW were looking particularly strong with Nick Heidfeld eventually finishing in fifth position – a mistake in the final sector prevented him splitting the Mclarens and Ferraris – and debutant Sebastian Vettel lining up seventh. Past form hints at a possible one stop strategy for the BMW cars which would be no bad thing at Indianapolis with its long pit lane. And who knows, another safety car situation could see the blue and white cars come away with a podium.

Vettel was impressive but not mind blowing. The problem is that Hamilton has set a new benchmark as Vettel himself acknowledged:

“Lewis set the bar high so all the beginners have to do something to get close to him,” he told ITV Sport.

But the young German will have to get closer to Heidfeld than seven tenths of a second if he is to show he deserves a full time race seat at BMW.

Mechanics will be scratching their heads at Maranello. Ferrari have made a number of aerodynamic changes since Spain where they last enjoyed a performance advantage over Mclaren. Most notably a new ‘double curved’ rear wing that was introduced to suit the medium to low downforce demands of Canada and Indianapolis. The changes clearly haven’t been as effective as Mclaren’s for the medium downforce tracks. Rob Jones suggests HERE that Ferrari’s problems may also have something to do with getting to grips with the now standardised Bridgestone tyres.

I think there is another factor to consider: driver competition. It is something that is prevalent at both Mclaren and BMW in abundance. There is no doubt in my mind that the rivalry between Alonso and Hamilton is pushing the team forward with both drivers finding that crucial extra tenth on driving resource alone.

At BMW Nick Heidfeld has been under pressure to retain his seat since last year. And he is a different driver because of it, no question. Would he have achieved the same results as this year if Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel hadn’t come into the scene? I doubt it.

With Ferrari though there just doesn’t seem to be that same sense of rivalry and infighting. I don’t understand what is going on in Raikkonen’s mind at the moment. I still think on a clear day he is quicker than Massa he just needs some kind of hurry up. Maybe he should start accusing Ferrari of favouring the Brazilian.

But perhaps I’m jumping the gun. Ferrari could well be one-stopping which could enable them to mount a challenge on Mclaren. If not it’s going to be seventy three laps of Alonso vs. Hamilton. Game on.

Further down the grid it will be interesting to see if Nico Rosberg and David Coulthard can make their way through the pack. And can Webber and Trulli finally shake off their ‘qualifying only’ images?

Qualifying times

1. HAMILTON McLaren 1m12.331s
2. ALONSO McLaren 1m12.500s
3. MASSA Ferrari 1m12.703s
4. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m12.839s
5. HEIDFELD BMW 1m12.847s
6. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m13.308s
7. VETTEL BMW 1m13.513s
8. TRULLI Toyota 1m13.789s
9. WEBBER Red Bull 1m13.871s
10. FISICHELLA Renault 1m13.953s
11. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m12.873s
12. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m12.920s
13. BUTTON Honda 1m12.998s
14. ROSBERG Williams 1m13.060s
15. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m13.201s
16. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m13.259s
17. WURZ Williams 1m13.441s
18. SATO Super Aguri 1m13.477s
19. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m13.484s
20. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m13.712s
21. SUTIL Spyker 1m14.122s
22. ALBERS Spyker 1m14.597s

Picture Source: BBC Sport

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Vettel shines in practice 3

Sebastien Vettel, the stand in for BMW’s Robert Kubica, put in a strong performance in final practice this afternoon ending the session in second place just over a tenth of a second behind Fernando Alonso.

No time for any analysis I’m afraid but here are the times. [Cont...]

1. ALONSO McLaren 1m12.150s
2. VETTEL BMW 1m12.321s
3. HAMILTON McLaren 1m12.378s
4. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m12.574s
5. HEIDFELD BMW 1m12.646s
6. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m12.692s
7. MASSA Ferrari 1m12.709s
8. FISICHELLA Renault 1m12.710s
9. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m12.940s
10. ROSBERG Williams 1m13.031s
11. TRULLI Toyota 1m13.057s
12. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m13.061s
13. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m13.069s
14. WEBBER Red Bull 1m13.289s
15. BUTTON Honda 1m13.318s
16. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m13.415s
17. SATO Super Aguri 1m13.476s
18. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m13.573s
19. WURZ Williams 1m13.626s
20. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m13.979s
21. SUTIL Spyker 1m14.142s
22. ALBERS Spyker 1m14.402s

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Domencicali: Michael is part of our team

What is Michael Schumacher’s role at Ferrari? How much does he get paid? Is he having F1 withdrawl symptoms or is he just lonley?

Stefano Domencicali fuelled further speculation about the seven world champion’s purpose in life with these comments in today's press conference:

"Michael is part of our team. You have seen sometimes that he is at the races but that is not the main role and the main activity that he has. He's working with us and mainly with us and with our engineers in order to give his advice, his contribution to the way that he knows how to work around the car. This is something connected to F1 but he has also an important role on the other side of the factory on the road cars. His experience is very important in tuning up the cars for our customers."

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Friday, 15 June 2007

Alonso on top after Indy practice

We’ve got a real race on our hands this weekend at Indianapolis if today’s practice times are anything to go by.

Once again its advantage Mclaren after Fernando Alonso finished both sessions at the top of the timesheets closely followed by Lewis Hamilton in second practice.

But the gap over Ferrari was much less than it was at Monaco and Canada. Felipe Massa went third quickest in P2, less than three tenths of a second shy of Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen followed his Brazilian team-mate a further tenth behind. [Cont...]

You can really look at this in two ways: either Ferrari have made progress and closed the gap to Mclaren since Canada; or the tendency for the team’s cars to go well at the speedway circuit is simply masking a bigger performance gap.

However your glass is filled we are in for a close battle come race day on more than one front.

First we have this fantastic rivalry between Alonso and Hamilton. Alonso will desperately want to re-establish himself in the team and in the championship after a very public row – instigated by both drivers it has to be said – over perceived favouritism at Mclaren. And Hamilton just wants to win again, pure and simple.

For either driver to do achieve this at what is a traditional Ferrari hunting ground would be a huge coup for them and Mclaren.

Ferrari are currently some twenty points adrift in the constructor’s championship and simply have to win on Sunday at all costs. Both Massa and Raikkonen are seriously out of touch in the driver’s championship, fifteen and twenty one points respectively behind the leader.

If Ferrari are going to make any inroads in the driver’s championship they may be forced to start putting their resources behind one driver. So there is an even greater onus on Kimi Raikkoenen to get the measure of his Brazilian team-mate on Sunday.

Practice 2 session times

1. ALONSO McLaren 1m12.156s
2. HAMILTON McLaren 1m12.309s
3. MASSA Ferrari 1m12.435s
4. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m12.587s
5. HEIDFELD BMW 1m13.026s
6. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m13.042s
7. ROSBERG Williams 1m13.057s
8. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m13.110s
9. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m13.144s
10. BUTTON Honda 1m13.202s
11. VETTEL BMW 1m13.217s
12. WEBBER Red Bull 1m13.263s
13. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m13.332s
14. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m13.364s
15. FISICHELLA Renault 1m13.394s
16. WURZ Williams 1m13.539s
17. TRULLI Toyota 1m13.692s
18. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m13.712s
19. SATO Super Aguri 1m13.753s
20. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m13.765s
21. ALBERS Spyker 1m14.225s
22. SUTIL Spyker 1m14.513s

Practice 1 session times:

1. ALONSO McLaren 1m11.925s
2. HEIDFELD BMW 1m12.391s
3. HAMILTON McLaren 1m12.628s
4. VETTEL BMW 1m12.869s
5. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m12.966s
6. ROSBERG Williams 1m13.020s
7. MASSA Ferrari 1m13.040s
8. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m13.159s
9. BUTTON Honda 1m13.597s
10. WEBBER Red Bull 1m13.682s
11. TRULLI Toyota 1m13.777s
12. NAKAJIMA Williams 1m13.786s
13. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m13.819s
14. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m13.907s
15. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m13.990s
16. FISICHELLA Renault 1m14.000s
17. SATO Super Aguri 1m14.037s
18. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m14.052s
19. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m14.189s
20. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m14.632s
21. ALBERS Spyker 1m14.636s
22. SUTIL Spyker 1m14.810s

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Hamilton – bookies’ Indy favourite

Lewis Hamilton heads to Indianapolis this weekend as the favourite to win the US Grand Prix following his spectacular victory at Montreal.

Bookmakers are offering odds no longer than 19/10 for while Fernando Alonso has been priced at 2/1.

The Mclarens are followed in the market by the Ferrari’s of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen who can be found priced - somewhat generously given Ferrari’s form at the speedway - at 5/1 and 11/2 ( bookmakers) respectively.

Source: Bettingzone Oddschecker

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Thursday, 14 June 2007

Hamilton to keep Montreal trophy

In a further twist over the row about Mclaren favouritism it has emerged that Lewis Hamilton will become the first Mclaren driver to keep an original trophy following his maiden win at Montreal last week.

As part of a Mclaren tradition that even the likes of Senna and Prost had to adhere to, drivers are contractually obliged to give up their podium trophies so that the originals can be displayed at the Mclaren Technology Centre.

But after the Canadian Grand Prix Ron Dennis hinted that Hamilton would not be asked to relinquish his winner’s cup. [Continued…]

“That wouldn’t be right, would it?” Dennis said with a smile to the German broadcaster Premiere.

The historic trophy, marking Hamilton’s first career win, will be one of only two missing from Mclaren’s infamous display cabinet at Woking.

The only other piece of silver wear to escape the clutches of Ron Dennis is the 1989 constructors trophy that was awarded to him at the Italian Grand Prix following Alain Prost’s victory.

At the podium ceremony Dennis, angered by comments Prost had made earlier in the weekend accusing Mclaren of favouring Senna, tossed the cup down at Prost’s feet in disgust. After which the Frenchman, at the bequest of a chanting tifosi, lowered the cup into the crowds.

Someone ran off with the trophy and it has never been seen since.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2007

An apology

I owe Fernando Alonso an apology I think. Reflecting my post HERE I think I was a bit too harsh in my analysis of his comments to the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

Ron Dennis has since moved to diffuse the row over perceived favouritism at Mclaren after the Spanish press seized on Alonso’s comments. Dennis said:

“It is completely understandable that the results of each Grand Prix are going to provide both the British and Spanish media with an opportunity to hang on every word that the drivers say. And sometimes quotes are taken out of context which can put a completely different spin on an innocent remark. [Continued...]

“The Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes team is made up by extremely passionate and competitive people and there is a healthy competition between the teams working on each car - this is inevitable and there is no issue with that.

“However I can categorically state, once again, that both drivers have equal equipment, equal support and equal opportunity to win within the team and both Fernando and Lewis know and support this.

“Fernando’s comments when read carefully are correct - he has not been with the team long and the relationship can only continue to develop. The team is not going to do anything to jeopardise this positive and growing partnership.”

I still don’t understand what Alonso was hoping to achieve with his comments and I think there is some truth to Kevin Garside’s comments in today’s Daily Telegraph: “Alonso is a clever fellow. He has a surgeon’s precision with language. Only productive incisions are made. He was not misquoted, as has sometimes been the case.”

Misquoted he may not have been but Ron Dennis is absolutely right when he talks about the danger of taking words out of context. Indeed, I think in the heat of the moment I made this fatal error in my post yesterday. In the crunch quote – “I am with a British teammate in a British team – and everyone knows that all of their support and help is for him” – Alonso could well be referring to general support, advice and care rather than technical or mechanical assistance. This is understandable given that Hamilton is a rookie.

I would be interested to look at the whole transcript of the Cadena Ser interview.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2007 Canada GP

I just sat down to listen to's Canada Episode and to my amazement they gave me a free plug. I couldn't let this go without returning the favour so please go and listen to their excellent and very funny take on all things Formula One at

Episode 21 which covers the Canadian Grand Prix can be found HERE. I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet but I'm informed that it will include Marmots.


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Alonso uncomfortable at Mclaren

So much for Mclaren’s communications clamp down. Fernando Alonso has gone on record this week with comments that effectively accuse the Woking-based outfit of favouring Lewis Hamilton.

“I am with a British teammate in a British team – and everyone knows that all of their support and their help is for him,” he told the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

“But I have always understood this and I do not complain about it,” he added.

Complete trite. Continued…

There is no way you are going to convince me that Alonso joined Mclaren and went into this season believing that he would be anything other than the team’s leader and main championship contender.

I don’t know quite what Alonso is trying to achieve with these comments but it is completely ludicrous – and even insulting to the mechanics – to suggest that Mclaren have been favouring Hamilton, especially after Monaco.

It smacks of the Prost outbursts in the early 90s over favouritism from Mclaren and Honda to Ayrton Senna, when in fact he was just slower than the Brazilian.

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Monday, 11 June 2007


And the award for accurately summing the Canadian Grand Prix in the fewest words possible goes to Alexander Wurz:

"It was hell."


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Sunday, 10 June 2007

Hamilton keeps his cool to win chaotic Canadian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton kept a clear head to take his first ever F1 victory today in a bizarre Canadian Grand Prix which saw the safety car deployed no fewer than four times, including in response to a horrific accident involving BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica.
It’s a bit too late to do a news write up covering all of today’s drama (see HERE and HERE for comprehensive race overviews) but here are some of my thoughts on today’s race. Continued...

If you’d told me just how manic today’s race was going to be I would have put my money on Alonso taking the win. Yet it was Hamilton who kept his cool today while the Spaniard seriously struggled in the face of pressure. Alonso was rattled by his rookie team-mate today. No question about it. We saw it in qualifying yesterday when he made that costly mistake into the final chicane. And again in today’s race; I lost count of the number of times he lost it into turn one. I don’t know why but it reminded me of Australia 1998 when a normally cool calm and collected Mika Hakkinen suddenly turned wild after he was wrongly brought in for his pitstop.

Alonso was unlucky to be caught out by the closure of the pit lane after the first safety car incident and there’s no doubt that his ten second penalty was also playing on his mind.

But Hamilton was simply too good today. I was particularly impressed by the way he defended his position at the start and didn’t feel the need to try and outbreak Alonso which would have undoubtedly ruined both of the Mclarens’ races.

Robert Kubica’s crash on lap 26 was huge and I was seriously concerned for his safety for a while. I hope something is done to prevent that kind of accident again in the future. If he had flown over that barrier god knows what could have happened. Incidentally, invert the track there and the incident, in terms of impact angle, and quite probably speed as well, wasn’t dissimilar to Roland Ratzenberger’s fatal collision at Imola 1994.

The main winners of the safety car deployments were Wurz, who looked chuffed to bits with his third place, and Kovalainen who must have been surprised to finish fourth given his miserable weekend.

Another driver that I think is worth a mention is Nico Rosberg. Despite the fact that he failed to score a point after a ten second penalty and an invisible tangle with Jarno Trulli, I was impressed with the way that he was able to hold on to the pace of the Ferrari’s in the early part of the race. He has looked just as quick as Lewis Hamilton this year I think. And what with the probable promotion of Sebastian Vettel to a race seat following Kubica’s accident, we are certainly going to have an interesting ‘battle of the rookies’ on our hands in coming races.

Sato too has looked good all weekend. Okay so he got a bit lucky with the way the safety cars worked out but stunning overtaking manoeuvres on Schumacher and Alonso in the dying stages of the race reiterated just why he can be so exciting to watch at times.

In terms of the championship, Alonso could end up having nightmares about this race. His seventh place has seriously compromised him putting him eight points adrift of Hamilton.

But it is undoubtedly Ferrari that leave Montreal the biggest losers. Outrageously off the pace all weekend, a disqualification for Massa – he ignored the red light leaving the pit lane under the safety car – and a fifth place for Raikkonen leave the Scuderia 28 points behind Mclaren. I suggested HERE that Kimi Raikkonen would be out of the title hunt if he left Indianapolis 19 points adrift of the championship leader; the deficit is currently 21 points.

There are going to be a lot of drivers with Hamilton on their hit list at Indy. Roll on the brickyard.

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Time to snap up Heidfeld, Mario

When are BMW going to get their act together and sign up Nick Heidfeld for 2008? Its madness. How much more convincing do they need?

Yesterday’s qualifying performance from ‘quick Nick’ – he went third quickest – was absolutely sensational.

His effort in Q2 was particularly special. Having had his hot lap deleted due to cutting the final chicane the German was under serious pressure in the dying stages of the session. He could have easily settled for a conservative lap but instead hanged it all out – no more so at the final chicane where he brushed the wall on the exit – to go third quickest. Continued...

“It was all or nothing. He managed this in an impressive way,” Willy Rampf, BMW Sauber’s technical director explained.

BMW only need six more points to equal their entire 2006 total and Heidfeld has been the main points collector so far.

The threat of losing his seat to BMW’s third driver, the up and coming Sebastian Vettel, has clearly played a role in Heidfeld’s rejuvenation, but surely now is the time to secure his services for next year.

Mario Theissen, BMW Sauber’s team principle has refused to comment on Heidfeld’s future:

“This will be an internal topic for the next weeks and months. It is simply not our first priority, because I see our driver situation as steady,” he has said.

“I can assure you that if we make any decisions, we will make an announcement about it.”

Unfortunately Heidfeld is in a bit of a grim situation because he clearly wants to stay at BMW Sauber, and realistically it his most competitive option for 2008. Had there been potential interest (and space) from the other top teams he might be in a position to use this as a bargaining tool.

And you can’t help but feel Theissen is exploiting this situation somewhat by delaying the decision to renew his contract and keeping the German on his toes. He surely would have snapped his key driver up by now had there Mclaren or Ferrari expressed an interest.

After the Spanish grand prix Theissen publicly announced that no one in the team would be fired after a bodged pit stop cost Heidfeld a possible podium place. Perhaps it’s time to extend this courtesy to your own drivers, Mario.

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Saturday, 9 June 2007

News and Analysis: Hamilton grabs Montreal pole

Lewis Hamilton has secured his first career pole position in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix this afternoon after his team-mate and chief rival for the front spot Fernando Alonso made a costly mistake in the final stages of his flying lap.

The Britain stormed to pole going some four tenths faster than Alonso’s existing benchmark lap. Alonso was unable to respond after he got out of shape entering the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s final chicane. The Spaniard backed off to avoid being collected by the notorious ‘wall of champions’.


The Mclaren duo locked out the front row while BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld – who put in a stunning lap to go third quickest – separated the silver cars from the slightly off-pace Ferraris.

Hats off to Hamilton, this will be a huge psychological bonus after the turmoil of Monaco. Okay, so Alonso looked the quicker of the two Mclarens today. But at the end of the day, Lewis was supreme through the final chicane; Alonso wasn’t.

I sense we are nearing a point where ITV Sport and the rest of the British media will lump the same pressure on the Britain as they did with Button with debates about ‘when is he going to win?’ So it’s good that he’s got this monkey off his back before the media has had time to start getting fed up with Alonso out qualifying him.

I notice that Alonso likes to hold back a bit in Q3 to wait and see what the other drivers can deliver. Elsewhere the Spaniard has enjoyed the advantage of knowing exactly what is required of him. But today he faced the problem of knowing that what was required was more than he was prepared to risk; Hamilton was blinding in the last sector, particularly the last chicane, and I’m sure Alonso would have been told this on the radio.

So far this season Mclaren have tended to run Hamilton with a couple of laps more fuel than Alonso. There is some reason to suggest that this is the case here given that Alonso looked the faster of the two Mclarens in Q3 despite being on par with Hamilton in Q2. So Hamilton should be in good shape come race day.
Incidentally, can anyone explain to me why Alonso was swerving about on the line when he completed his lap?

And where on earth were the Ferraris? It was generally expected that the straight and brake characteristics of Montreal would afford the Italian based outfit with a performance edge over Mclaren. But not even Massa, who we have grown accustomed to springing a last minute surprise, could inflict any damage on Mclaren. Seven tenths of a second is a massive deficit that not even a differing fuel load could account for. Any suggestions for their lack of pace?

Behind the top five lie Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg in sixth and seventh who were as much the stars of qualifying as Lewis Hamilton. Let’s hope Webber’s Red Bull lasts the race – he has retired from the last three races with gearbox related problems. I really want him to shrug of this ‘great qualifier, poor racer’ image that has in my view been wrongly attributed to him. The same goes for Trulli in ninth.

Further down the grid and Sato in eleventh is another driver to have caught my eye in qualifying. Once again he seems to have the advantage over Davidson which is not good news for the Englishman if he is to impress the front end teams.

Once again Honda had a disappointing day with Rubens Barrichello lining up in twelfth and Jenson Button in fifteenth. Button seriously needs to get his act together. Through most of last year he had the advantage over his Brazilian team-mate but recently Barrichello seems to have been gaining an edge. Is this down to a demoralized Button or an improving Barrichello? Discuss.

And finally, there’s Ralf who lines up a disappointing eighteenth. Will he be in Formula One next year? No is the quick answer, not on these performances.

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Friday, 8 June 2007

Practice 2 (Updated): Alonso untouchable but Massa shows his hand

Alonso established himself as the man to beat for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix after he dominated the second 90 minute practice session with a time over half a second quicker than his competitors.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa posted a late flying lap to split the Mclarens but was unable to match the pace of Alonso.

Without reading too much into the times here are a few of my session winners and losers:


While Alonso was clearly on form today I think the true stars of practice have come from further down the ranks. Nico Rosberg in particular is really starting to blossom in his Williams, a solid sixth place for him. Although I understand he was using the soft tyres.

Mark Webber (9th) was looking impressive in the early part of the session holding the fastest lap at one point. Could he have gone even faster if he had elected to go out towards the end of the session?

And I hope Barrichello’s seventh place is a sign of good things to come from Honda this weekend.

As Sven rightly predicted HERE, BMW are indeed going to be a force to be reckoned with this weekend with Heidfeld showing his hand to go fifth fastest behind the Mclarens and Ferraris.

And Sato’s tenth place suggests that the pace Super Aguri showed in first practice is genuine.


What happened to Ralf? I notice that Williams Toyota elected to run their protégé Kazuki Nakajima instead of Rosberg in the first session. Perhaps Ralf thought that the Japanese driver’s absence in the second session was a message from management that his seat was safe?

Button cannot afford to let Barrichello get the edge on him. How many times have we seen it before when drivers in a struggling team lose their fight – note the link between paragraphs.

Wurz is another driver that needs to pull one over his team-mate. Though the way Rosberg is driving at the moment I can’t see that happening.

Who have I missed out? Kovalainen. Reports say that he lost it turn 8 but I have yet to see any footage to properly comment.

Quick update: have posted some nice video footage of some of the off-track moments in today's sessions HERE.

1. ALONSO McLaren 1m16.550s
2. MASSA Ferrari 1m17.090s
3. HAMILTON McLaren 1m17.307s
4. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m17.515s
5. HEIDFELD BMW 1m17.827s
6. ROSBERG Williams 1m17.992s
7. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m18.108s
8. FISICHELLA Renault 1m18.130s
9. WEBBER Red Bull 1m18.181s
10. SATO Super Aguri 1m18.309s
11. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m18.316s
12. KUBICA BMW 1m18.399s
13. BUTTON Honda 1m18.474s
14. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m18.493s
15. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m18.545s
16. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m18.602s
17. WURZ Williams 1m18.871s
18. TRULLI Toyota 1m18.895s
19. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m19.331s
20. ALBERS Spyker 1m19.453s
21. SUTIL Spyker 1m19.662s
22. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m20.519s

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Practice 1: Alonso draws first blood

Mclaren led the way in opening practice for the Canadian Grand Prix today after Fernando Alonso topped the timesheets with a lap some two tenths faster than his team-mate Lewis Hamilton and four tenths faster than the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

It is always notoriously difficult to gauge anything meaningful from practice alone. But a quick glance down the timesheet reveals a couple of noteworthy points.


It is certainly a surprise to see the Mclaren’s ahead of the scarlet cars at this stage though you would have to guess that Ferrari have yet to show their true colours. While Alonso and Hamilton don’t appear to have the advantage they enjoyed at Monaco, they clearly have the pace to mount a serious challenge this weekend.

Alonso seems to have the edge on Hamilton given that the Britain was unable to go faster despite enjoying more track time than the Spaniard.

Fissichella (6th) has reinforced pre-race comments from Renault that Monaco was no fluke. Along with Webber (5th), in the ever improving Red Bull, he could pip BMW Sauber to the 'best of the rest' accolade this weekend.

Once again Super Aguri (10th and 11th) have outshone the factory Honda’s (13th and 18th) and could be in on for points come Sunday.

And Ralf Schumacher – who appears to have benefited from Toyota’s wake-up call – is my final winner after going 8th fastest almost four tenths of a second faster than his team mate Jarno Trulli.


The Honda’s of Button and Barrichello ended the session languishing down in 13th and 18th place. Button, who took pole here in 2005, has admitted that he loves this track. But I am concerned that he is not going to find himself much higher up the grid. He is usually pretty evenly matched with Barrichello; the fact that his time was almost a second faster than the Brazilian’s, suggests to me that he wasn’t exactly sand bagging in the session.

Williams also seem to be struggling with Wurz finishing the session in 15th place.

1. ALONSO McLaren 1m17.759s
2. HAMILTON McLaren 1m17.967s
3. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m18.136s
4. MASSA Ferrari 1m18.167s
5. WEBBER Red Bull 1m18.301s
6. FISICHELLA Renault 1m18.620s
7. HEIDFELD BMW 1m18.634s
8. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m18.652s
9. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m18.717s
10. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m18.896s
11. SATO Super Aguri 1m18.898s
12. TRULLI Toyota 1m18.925s
13. BUTTON Honda 1m18.932s
14. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m18.997s
15. WURZ Williams 1m19.189s
16. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m19.234s
17. NAKAJIMA Williams 1m19.273s
18. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m19.937s
19. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m20.331s
20. ALBERS Spyker 1m21.251s
21. SUTIL Spyker 1m21.630s
22. KUBICA BMW no time

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Thursday, 7 June 2007

ITV choose Hamilton doc over live qualifying

Such is ITV's obsession with Lewis Hamilton that the broadcaster has chosen to air a documentary about about the Britain in place of live qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, my radio times informs me. Live qualifying will instead be shown on ITV4.

This really does take the biscuit. Is this a contractual issue or is the digitial incentive funding too lucrative for ITV to miss?

As I cannot recieve digital television in my area readers should be warned that any reflection on Qualifying will be somewhat belated.

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Is Raikkonen out of the title hunt?

Kimi Raikkonen is under serious pressure in North America. Do the maths. Say the Finn fails to win either race and finishes second to current leader Alonso. He will return to Europe some nineteen points adrift. With ten races remaining that would put Alonso in a commanding position; almost at the point where he could win the championship on second place finishes alone.

Raikkonen has been quick to downplay talk that he is out of the championship hunt however.

“The gap is not that big and my position isn’t that miserable, not at all. A couple of good races for us and a couple of bad ones for the competitors and the whole situation will look totally different,” he told his website earlier this week.

But here is the crux of the problem. Continued…

His comments point to the fact that he is fast approaching a point – if he isn’t already there – where he can no longer challenge on merit alone and will be dependent on the outcome of others’ races.

Furthermore, what makes this season particularly interesting and separates it from previous years, is that both drivers from the top two teams are in with a shout of the title and looking very competitive. So when Mclaren have a performance advantage, Raikkonen is faced with a situation where he must take points not just off Alonso, but Hamilton too. And when Ferrari have the advantage, as is expected to be the case at Montreal and Indianapolis, the Finn faces an additional challenge from his team-mate, a problem Michael Schumacher rarely had to worry about.

This is true of the other drivers battling it out at the top of course. But then they don’t have a fifteen point deficit to close.

So how long before Ferrari get behind Massa?

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Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Should Hamilton have been black flagged?

Jacques Villeneuve’s criticism of Lewis Hamilton’s aggressive racing tactics off the line – he likened the Britain’s behaviour to that of Michael Schumacher’s chopping moves – seems to have caused a bit of a stir on the F1 blogosphere.

While the general consensus at F1 Fanatic was that the Canadian was, as one commentee put it, “talking his usual bollocks”, over at Downforce32, Sven Schindler has expressed his surprise that Hamilton has yet to be disqualified for his actions. Continued…

I must admit that I find myself in the former camp. I haven’t seen anything from him that warrants a black flag yet:


His move up to third here was, in my view, more of an avoidance strategy to get out of the way of Kubica. He moved into left where the open space was and left those on the inside plenty of room.


I guess the main point of criticism here is at the way he dived up the inside of Massa. In fairness though Massa did run slightly wide into the corner and Hamilton gave me plenty of space as he went round the outside.


I must admit that I cant categorically say that he didn’t chop his opponents at this start as I have been unable to find some footage to re watch it. Can anyone enlighten me?


Again, nothing wrong here; he moves across slightly to run alongside Raikkonen to get the inside line but by no means does he chop him up.


This is the only real case for an accusation of chopping. Even here though it wasn’t as if Massa got a fantastic start. Many of Schumacher’s more aggressive moves tended to be where his opponent was actually already parallel or at least half-way parallel and then he would start to veer over to defend his position.

Maybe I’m wrong. Obviously I’m biased but I really can’t see anything wrong in Hamilton’s actions so far. In any case what is wrong with defending your position at the start?

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Alonso bookies favourite for Montreal

Fernando Alonso is the bookies favourite to secure victory at the Canadian Grand Prix this week despite wide expectation that the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen will have a performance advantage over the Spaniard at the Montreal circuit.

Alonso, who won the race last year and is currently leading the world championship, has been tightly priced with odds of no longer than 9/4 by UK's top bookmakers.

The Mclaren driver is closely followed in the market by Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen at 11/4 and 7/2 respectively. Britain's Lewis Hamilton, who co-leads the world championship on points but lies in second place by virtue of not having won yet, can be found at 4/1 by Continued...

A quick glance at the betting market before the influence of practice and qualifying and there's not a great deal to catch the eye. I fancy one of the BMW's for a podium finish.

The car should go well at a track that requires good top speed and engine power. All it takes is two of the top four to retire with reliability problems or to be involved in an incident and Heidfeld or Kubica - generously priced at 8/1 (William Hill) and 12/1 (Paddy Power) for a podium - could be there to pick up the pieces.

And how about one of the Torro Rosso's at 12/1 ( for a points finish? The car looked pretty handy around the streets of Monaco a fortnight ago with Antonio Luizzi looking impressive in qualifying and Scott Speed only narrowly missing out on 8th place in the race.


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Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The Marbles of Montreal

I’ve just been re-watching some of the footage from last year’s Canadian Grand Prix (HERE). I had forgotten just how much chaos was caused by those wretched tyre marbles off the racing line. Alonso, Raikkonen, Schumacher, and most notably Villeneuve, all got caught out by them at some point in their races. Bring on the Marbles of Montreal!

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Monday, 4 June 2007

Analysis (Part 1): The Hamilton Show

As the F1 circus gears up for its annual pilgrimage across the Atlantic for back-to-back races at Montreal and Indianapolis, Christopher Hayes reflects on the key stories of the season so far. In Part 1 he assess the Hamilton hype and asks if the young rookie has the edge on his team-mate Fernando Alonso.

The golden rule of journalism: begin with that which is most newsworthy and ignore everything else. Even the most non-conformist of writers would be hard pressed to begin this review with anything other than the sensation that is Lewis Hamilton. And for good reason.

Mention F1 to your friends they’ll mention Hamilton. Such has been the impact of the 22-year-old rookie that people don’t even need to be prompted; they simply start talking about him. It’s something I’ve noticed on ITV Sports’ gridwalks hosted by Martin Brundle but also from my own experiences of talking to casual followers of the sport. A string of podium drives – which at one point afforded the Britain the championship lead – and some breathtaking starting manoeuvres have resulted in a media frenzy, particularly in the British press which has its first whiff of a world champion since Damon Hill over ten years ago.

Media interest stepped up another gear this week, not because of the young Englishman’s fifth consecutive podium – a feat no other driver has achieved in his maiden year – but because of a row over the use of team orders at last weeks Monaco Grand Prix. Mclaren Mercedes were investigated by Formula One’s regulating body, the FIA, after they admitted they had asked Hamilton not to race his team-mate Fernando Alonso after the first round of pit stops. The Woking based outfit was eventually cleared of any wrong doing but in the eyes of the British tabloids Hamilton had been robbed of certain victory at the principality. In reality Hamilton would have been hard pressed to win on Sunday. Alonso pulled out some blistering laps when he needed them to build up a cushion which Hamilton never really looked like closing.

It is testimony to the young Britain’s sheer speed that we have such high expectations of him. In and of itself, a second place finish around the demanding streets of Monte-Carlo is an excellent result for a driver in his first competitive season of F1. True, he is racing in one of the fastest cars on the grid at the moment but that should not take anything away from his performances. In many ways what has been so remarkable is not his collection of silver wear but the way he has been able to match the pace of Alonso. So, does he have the edge on the double world champion?

It’s too close to call. Alonso clearly had the upper hand at the opening races in Melbourne and Sepang. Little things: the way he held back slightly from Hamilton in Australia and then steamed right up his gearbox just before the pit stops, and the way he was able to look after his hard tyres in the last third of the Malaysian Grand Prix while Hamilton struggled to fend off Raikkonen. Alonso knows how to win a championship and in my view is by far the most intelligent driver on the grid. Hamilton has nothing to lose at the moment and is clearly enjoying his racing. But you would have to put a question mark over his ability to cope with the pressure in the latter part of the season if a championship was at stake.

Rounds three and four of the world championship at Sakir and Barcelona marked something of a turning point. Although Ferrari’s Felipe Massa went on to win both races from pole position it was Hamilton not Alonso that led the Mclaren challenge. Alonso struggled to match the pace of his rookie team-mate, particularly at Sakhir where he could only manage fifth. You couldn’t help but feel that the Hamilton factor was hurting the Spaniard psychologically. And looking at his interviews Alonso was clearly tired of being asked to rate his team mate.

Hamilton was hotly tipped to maintain his unbeaten record at Monaco and Alonso’s victory at the principality was huge in terms of reinstating his position as Mclaren’s number one. But as I have argued elsewhere in this website (see HERE), while the media has understandably concentrated on the events in Sunday’s race, in my view it is Saturday’s qualifying session that we should be turning to.

An upshot of the FIA’s investigation into Mclaren as that we now know exactly how much fuel Hamilton was carrying: “It is clear from FIA measurements taken after qualifying that Mclaren fuelled Hamilton for five more laps than Alonso,” said the FIA in a statement. “This allowed Hamilton the option of a one-stop strategy should the safety car have come out during his first stint,” the regulating body added. Despite this massive weight penalty in qualifying Hamilton ended up less than two tenths shy of Alonso’s pole lap. Even more impressive was that Hamilton’s lap was set at the beginning of the session when the Mclaren team were anticipating the possibility of rain. On his intended quick lap towards the end of the session Hamilton was seriously compromised by a slowing Mark Webber which prevented him from comfortably taking pole. Had he done so, we might have been looking at a different result come Sunday. And I think this is the real reason for a slightly dejected looking Hamilton on the podium; he knew it too.

I know, I know, it is fruitless to get bogged down in the ‘ifs and buts’ of F1. My point is simply two-fold. First, I think an absolutely sensational lap has been overlooked; I think it would have been recognised in the course of the race had team orders not been implemented (Hamilton was brought in early to pre-empt a safety car scenario). Second, in terms of raw pace, I think Hamilton now has the edge over Alonso. Next week will be a good indicator of the performance gap between the two. Hamilton has never raced at the circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal. I’ll wager that this won’t stop him pipping the Spaniard though.

Analysis (Part 2): Mixed results for the Scuderia
Analysis (Part 3): BMW best of the rest

Analysis (Part 4): 2007’s losers (to be completed later this month).

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Analysis (Part 2): Mixed results for the Scuderia

In the second instalment of Christopher Hayes’ season review, Hayes assesses the battle at the top between Ferrari and Mclaren

As the rivalry between Alonso and Hamilton intensifies, the other battle front making the 2007 championship one of the most exciting in recent times is that between Mclaren and Ferrari. The Scuderia got off to a solid start after Kimi Raikkonen romped home to victory at the Australian Grand Prix with little competition from the Mclarens. Such was the dominance of the Ferrari that Raikkonen wryly admitted after the race that he had almost fallen asleep and had to be given a wake-up call by his mechanics.

How quickly the mighty can fall in Formula One.

Two races later at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona and Raikkonen was spotted leaving the circuit de Catalunya before the race had even finished after an electrical problem forced him to retire. And a brush with the armco at the swimming pool complex two weeks later during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix forced the Finn to start from the rear end of Sunday’s race grid, eventually finishing a lowly eighth. As Alonso, ever the one for mind-games, was quick to point out after the race, Raikkonen is on the brink of becoming out of touch with the championship fight.

While Raikkonen’s season has deteriorated his team-mate’s has blossomed. Felipe Massa, a clear favourite – and something of a protégé – of former seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, got off to a miserable start in Melbourne after a gearbox problem forced the Brazilian to start the race from the back of the grid (he eventually finished sixth). And a sloppy overtaking attempt on Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia scuppered his chances of a podium finish on a day when Ferrari should have outclassed Mclaren. But two dominant wins from pole position at Sakir and Barcelona reaffirmed the raw pace of both Massa and Ferrari.

As I mention HERE, I am not a huge fan of Massa. He is super quick but has yet to impress under pressure. Like Hamilton, I have doubts about how he would cope in the latter stages of a season when a championship is at stake. That said, on paper, he has outperformed Raikkonen which is a credit to his raw speed, especially since many were tipping the Finn to blow him away at the start of the season.

A strong performance in North America is a must for Ferrari after their trouncing at Monaco. Raikkonen in particular must win at least one of the flyaway races if he is to re-establish himself in the team and quash the criticism levelled at him in recent weeks that he lacks commitment. All the signs suggest he is in good shape to do so. The Ferrari F2007, which suffered around the twisty street circuit of Monte Carlo – due to, as some have suggested, its comparatively longer wheelbase – should be well suited to the ‘straight and brake’ characteristics of Montreal and Indianapolis. Indeed Raikkonen topped the time sheets at last months Paul Ricard test in France once the circuit had been configured to simulate the characteristics of Montreal. Personally I think the explanation for Ferrari’s apparent lack of pace is that Massa is just generally not as quick around Monaco as he is around other circuits. And with Raikkonen unable to demonstrate his true speed because of his grid penalty I think the Ferrari could have been quicker than it appeared.

Nevertheless, as Mclaren have been quick to point out, its advantage Ferrari this coming weekend. More mind games from the Woking based squad? Ferrari may have the edge come Sunday but just because Montreal is a radically different circuit to Monaco it does not necessarily follow that Mclaren won’t be as strong.

Incidentally, at Paul Ricard, Mclaren left testing responsibilities to third driver Pedro de la Rosa after the circuit was switched to its Montreal-like 1E V2 SC (Short) configuration. The Spaniard’s fastest time was some six tenths a drift of Raikkonen’s time. With no disrespect meant to Pedro de la Rosa, I reckon Hamilton and Alonso on their day are a good half a second quicker than him, if not more. So by no means should we expect a Ferrari white wash come Sunday. It’s going to be tighter than Mclaren are letting on.

Analysis (Part 1): The Hamilton Show
Analysis (Part 3): BMW best of the rest

Analysis (Part 4): 2007’s losers (to be completed later this month).

Click here to continue reading

Analysis (Part 3): BMW best of the rest

In the final part of Christopher Hayes’ season review, Hayes takes a look at the teams vying it out behind Mclaren and Ferrari for third place.

BMW Sauber have been quick to get their hands on the ‘best of the rest’ title this season after a Nick Heidfeld put a string of fourth place drives together in the season’s opening three races. A stunning overtaking manoeuvre on Fernando Alonso at Bahrain was a notable highlight while a bodged pit stop at the Spanish Grand Prix cost the German dear.

Robert Kubica in the sister BMW had a difficult start to his season after a gearbox problem and an excursion into the gravel trap ruined his Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix respectively. But the Pole displayed the kind of form he had shown on his debut last year after he produced solid fourth and fifth place finishes in Spain and Monaco.

BMW have hauled a hefty 30 points from the first five races placing them third behind Mclaren and Ferrari and 14 points clear of fifth place Renault. But the team’s success has given team principle Mario Theissen something of a dilemma. He is keen to promote to a race seat, his third driver, 19-year-old Sebastian Vettel, who has been extremely impressive in testing – and incidentally, is also the quickest driver to get a fine in F1, having been fined $1,000 nine seconds into his career, after speeding in the pit lane. The rejuvenation of Nick Heidfeld has put an end to speculation, for the time being at least, that Theissen is looking to replace the German with fellow countryman Vettel. But by keeping Vettel as a test driver, BMW risk the German getting snapped up by other teams, quite possibly Red Bull racing which already have contractual ties to the 19-year-old. Theissen has yet to announce whether he will be renewing Heidfeld’s contract.

In my view Theissen would be mad to break up the Kubica-Heidfeld relationship which has been so fruitful for the team, Kubica being one of the key reasons for Heidfeld’s renewal.

Despite predictions from Kubica that BMW will have closed the gap to Mclaren and Ferrari come Montreal, I think they are going to find themselves under increasing pressure from Renault and possibly even Red Bull. A strong showing from Renault’s Gincarlo Fissichella at Monaco last week – the Italian finished fourth ahead of the BMWs – indicated that Renault are back in business. Fissichella seems to be finding his feet again after a disappointing couple of seasons in the shadow of Alonso. The Italian went second quickest at last months test at Paul Ricard in its lower downforce configuration suggesting that Renault could mount a serious challenge to BMW in Montreal. Heikki Kovalainen too is looking increasingly racey. He was denied a strong points finish in Barcelona due to a fuel rig problem and then severely compromised in Moncao when David Coulthard balked him for almost an entire lap on his qualifying run.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of Kovalainen; is performances in Australia and Malaysia were dismal. And he is going to have to start beating his team-mate if he is going to gain the respect that other rookies such as Hamilton and Kubica are enjoying.

Red Bull is another team that seem to be on the brink of a break through. But any performance gains the Adrian Newey designed car has made has been masked by reliability issues. The RB3 has failed to finish on five out of a possible ten occasion and the gearbox is quickly becoming Mark Webbers Achilles heel. On a more positive note, a revitalised David Coulthard has shown that there’s still life in the old dog after some impressive drives at Bahrain and Barcelona, the latter resulting in an excellent fifth place and four championship points. I think it will be pretty evenly matched between Renault and BMW come Montreal with Red Bull nipping at their heels. And don’t rule out Nico Rosberg for Williams springing a surprise challenge. After a disappointing end to 2006, the young German has delivered some solid points finishes and is one of the few drivers not to let a bad grid position spoil his Sunday afternoon.

Analysis (Part 1): The Hamilton Show

Analysis (Part 2): Mixed results for the Scuderia

Analysis (Part 4): 2007’s losers (to be completed later this month).

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Sunday, 3 June 2007



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