Monday, 30 July 2007

Damon Hill to commentate at Hungary

Big big huge news: Damon Hill, easily the greatest driver ever to grace a Formula One cockpit in the entire history of motorsport, is to stand in for Martin Brundle at the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend.

This is a huge coup for the Hillites – that ever diminishing breed of F1 loyalists who, if you’re very very lucky, can occasionally be spotted lingering around the grandstands at Silverstone donning the London rowing boat club hat in all its glory and clinging onto that magical year of 1996 as if it was the Holy Grail itself.

Fantastic news, absolutely incredible, it’s made my week. I heard the news HERE at F1 Fanatic and have yet to learn of any official confirmation. Let’s hope it’s true.

Martin Brundle is taking his annual rest bite from James Allen. Speculation about his absence can be seen at F1 Fanatic, see above link.

Hungary has been a happy hunting ground for Damon. He took his maiden win at the Budapest dustbowl in 1993 which he emotionally dedicated to the “Hill Family past and present” in the post race press conference. He won the race again in 1995 and finished second to Jacques Villeneuve in 1996. And most famously in 1997 he all but won the race in the Arrows Yamaha but for a hydraulics problem with two laps to go that forced him to yield to Villeneuve.

I couldn’t find any specific Hungary 1997 footage but here is a nice 1997 season montage which includes a large chunk of the Hungary saga.

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Sunday, 29 July 2007

Anti-doping in F1

I have really got into the Tour de France this year thanks to access to digital television. I absolutely love it, especially the team strategy element. There is something quite admirable about the
way the ‘domestiques’ sacrifice their entire races for their team leader.

The whole doping scandal surrounding this year’s tour – which I think is more to do with tougher regulations than increasing drug use – got me thinking about Formula One. I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about the sport’s anti-doping policies.

I was amazed to find out that despite conforming to the standards set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the FIA’s first drugs tests of the 2007 came as late in the season as Magny Cours. And even these were for a random sample of drivers – Kimi Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Rosberg, Tonio Liuzzi and Anthony Davidson – rather than the full grid.

Mark Webber in his capacity as director of the F1 drivers association has voiced concern that more needs to be done to ensure F1 stays drug free:

"I think we should do a lot of it," he told Autosport earlier this month.

"If we rave on about how awesomely fit the drivers are, why don't we do proper tests like that in every other sport?

"The FIA says it's too expensive - but what a load of bulls**t! How can it be too expensive in this game?

"If they can do it for a bloke jumping into a sandpit, how come they can't do it in F1? We should do more of it."

In 2004 WADA adopted the World Anti-Doping Code which standardized anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries for the first time. WADA still have a long way to go in my view before things like testing frequency become universal.

Motor racing is perceived as a clean sport with only a few cases of drivers testing for cocaine or marijuana rather than traditional performance enhancing steroids.

“Out experience is that drugs are not a problem in Formula One,” the Spanish newspaper El Mundo quotes president Max Mosley as saying.

However, just because Formula One is clean of doping does not mean that the testing should escape the same rigour seen at other sports such as athletics and cycling which arguably have a bigger problem.

Indeed stepping-up the amount and depth of drugs testing would also help to quash rumours that some drivers are using Erythropoietin or EPO, a protein hormone produced by the kidney which is harder to detect that traditional performance enhancing drugs. EPO essentially increases oxygen carrying capacity by stimulating the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells (erythrocytes).

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo have quoted an unnamed driver as saying: "We are all well prepared physically, but it is a certainty that EPO would improve for example our concentration levels."

So, should F1 being doing more to combat doping?

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Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Comment: European Grand Prix

TTS looks back at the European Grand Prix and responds to my “Alonso Storms to Chaotic Nurburgring Win” post.

After reading Chris Hayes recent blog entry, “Alonso Storms to Chaotic Nurburgring Win”, and after a brilliant European Grand Prix, I felt the need to respond. An opinion is like a head, everybody’s got one.

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Murray Walker. I met him at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2001, and from this brief encounter, my opinion of him has been set in stone. I won’t deny that he is the ‘Voice of Formula One’, but I wasn’t that excited to hear about his return to the commentary box. Murray Walker’s magic is in his passion for the sport.

This compensated for the fact that he was constantly getting things wrong!! Some fans might see this as an endearing characteristic. There is a nostalgic feel to his return, but the coverage that ITV’s current commentary team provides viewers in the United Kingdom is far superior.

One thing that Murray Walker used to possess was ‘the dreaded commentator’s curse’. He’d comment on how well a driver was progressing on lap 10, and the same driver would be off the track on lap 11.

Saying all that, if I had to choose between Murray Walker and James Allan, I’d pick Walker (without hesitation). This is only my opinion, but I don’t like James Allan’s commentary style.

He continually name drops, to make viewers think that he’s well connected – which I is doubt is the case (especially when compared to Martin Brundle). If I ever needed to provide an example of how bad James Allan’s commentary skills are, I’d refer to the moment Jenson Button crossed the line for his first and only victory. Allan’s voice went super sonic in a very conscious attempt to show emotion. But ironically it felt ‘put on’. If you compare that to Murray Walker’s ‘true’ emotional line ‘I have to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat’, as Damon Hill won the 1996 driver’s championship, there’s no comparison.

I would also like to comment on how Chris, a number of years ago, signed an Internet petition to have James Allan removed from the ITV commentary box!!

I put my hands up to this and I stand by it, I can’t stand James Allen’s commentary. But I do think some of the criticism is a bit harsh. The attacks on him on the ITV message board (as it was before they took it down) – got very personal for example.

I never know how to rate Alexander Wurz. I can remember his debut season with Benetton in Formula One. He showed signs of brilliance. Many readers may remember his battle with Michael Schumacher at Monte Carlo many years ago.

I think it’s slightly inaccurate using the European Grand Prix to judge whether Wurtz podium performance in Canada was a ‘fluke’ or not. I would tend to classify Wurtz as a fortunate driver. His best results have come in races with extraordinary incidents: Kubica’s horrific crash in Canada, and an extremely wet and changeable European Grand Prix.

I have to commend Wurtz on his ability to keep out of trouble during these unpredictably occasions, but I still feel he has benefited from other driver’s mistakes, rather than through his own skill.

I was absolutely amazed that Lewis Hamilton was allowed to continue after being craned back onto the track. A lot of people made a lot of fuss after Michael Schumacher was pushed back onto the track during the European Grand Prix a couple of years ago. Yet nobody’s questioned Hamilton’s method of re-entry onto the track.

Did briefly mention this but yes, I was amazed they allowed this. There has actually been quite a lot of comment about this. See the debate at Ed Gorman’s (The Times) blog HERE, HERE and HERE.

I understand the ruling, that drivers can obtain assistance if they’re in a potentially dangerous location. But was he in a dangerous position, once the safety car was deployed?
It shows a great presence of mind to keep the engine running, especially as cars were flying off the track behind him at turn one. That presence of mind shows a formidable competitor and a future world champion.

I was wondering why Hamilton didn’t reverse his car out of the barrier at turn one. Why did he need to be craned out? Do Formula One cars have reverse?

I visited the old McLaren site in Woking around five or six years ago. I distinctly remember the guide telling us that Formula One cars can’t reverse. But from Sunday’s footage, it was clear to see that Antony Davidson was able to reverse his car, after aquaplaning at the first corner. If anyone knows the answer, I’d be good to know.

I can’t believe Chris wants McLaren to suffer a points deduction at the FIA hearing on Thursday. I’d much rather the championship be fought out on the track, rather than in a hearing.

I’m not sure where you got this from, I mentioned in my post HERE, that ironically points deductions might end up bringing Raikkonen into the mix again. But no, I think it would be damaging for the sport if the drivers ended up getting punished for Coughlan’s actions.

We are currently witnessing one of the best, most competitive and unpredictable seasons in many a decade. How many times have we witnesses four men challenging for the championship after ten rounds? After ten rounds 18 points cover four men. Even though the points structure makes Kimi’s championship challenge an uphill challenge, the recent performance of the Ferrari makes his chances alive and well.

It’s interesting to note that Alonso and Raikkonen have both won three races, one more than their respective teammates. Yet Hamilton and Massa are ahead of their respective teammates in the driver’s championship. It just goes to shows that consistency is key.

I was reading an interesting article featured in the August edition of F1 Racing. It commented on how McLaren only became in possession of Ferrari document in March, at which point the McLaren had already been developed. They also speculated whether McLaren’s improvement in performance in Malaysia was due to the knowledge obtained, or due to Ferrari having to alter its flexible wing. Whether McLaren gained from the possession of the document is pure speculation. But I think McLaren will find it hard to prove that they didn’t inadvertently benefit from Mike Coughlan’s possession of the document, whether anyone else knew or not.

Chris commented on how Hamilton ‘broke the golden rule of wet weather race strategy: regardless of what the reports are telling you about the future, react only to the present’. I totally disagree with this comment.

Hamilton wasn’t predicting the weather. The rain had stopped when he made the decision to opt for slick tyres.

True, I guess I interpreted it like this: the rain had stopped but he was taking a gamble that the track would dry out quickly and that there would be no more short-term rain (predicting the future) rather than putting the tyres on that best suited the current track conditions, which were clearly the wets or inters. I don’t think that when he made the decision he genuinely thought that the slicks were the best tyres for the moment; I think he was gambling on a drying track.

I believe that Hamilton, whilst driving the lap to un-lap himself, felt that he could handle a drying track on slick tyres. This ‘bad’ decision was due to a distinct lack of experience, especially in wet weather conditions. Many, including myself, wondered how Hamilton would perform in the wet. And like Silverstone, he made another rare rookie mistake.
Renault and Kovalainen’s decision to throw away a fifth position was crazy. And Chris’ golden rule react only to the present clearly applies.

I think Chris sells Alonso slightly short in his closing paragraphs. Massa proved to be extremely quick, but Alonso was continuing to close Massa’s advantage, ten laps before the second spell of rain.

Sorry, didn’t mean to. I still don’t think Alonso would have been able to close the gap enough to get past Massa if it had remained dry. But his aggression in the wet and his move on Massa was stunning.

The mark of a good driver is his ability to cope in all conditions, including wet. Massa was very tentative in the closing laps, which shows how talented Alonso is.
I’m personally glad Alonso won. It ensured that McLaren couldn’t back one driver: Hamilton in their defence against a revitalised Ferrari team.

And Chris will be glad to hear that Alonso has admitted that he was wrong to accuse Massa regarding the incident in the closing stages of the European Grand Prix.

But overall, what an amazing race, and what an amazing season. Bring on Hungary!!! And what a brilliant twist, having Winkelhock lead his debut home grand prix in a Spike. Anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does (now Michael Schumacher’s retired)!!

“Anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does”; the power of Murray, he can even influence those who are not 100% fans!

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Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Japanese Connection

There is a lot that doesn’t smell right about the Stepneygate-Coughlan affair but the Honda connection is something I find particularly fishy.

The mysterious three-way job interview between Nick Fry and the troublesome duo seems to have been put on the backburner amidst the legal proceedings but it remains deeply suspicious in my view.

True, Honda are currently headhunting just about anything that moves in the paddock. Even so, what on earth was Coughlan doing looking for a job with Honda after obtaining and sharing the Ferrari data within Mclaren? And together in one meeting? That’s a strange kind of job interview if you ask me.

One explanation is that both men knew the game was up and were anticipating the axe from their respective teams. But here’s another take on things, a quick conspiracy theory for you. Pure speculation, but then that’s what blogs are for.

Honda have been having a dismal season. Their results have been embarrassing and hugely damaging for the Honda brand; innovation say the ‘Honda Mentalism’ ads, failure say the team’s results.

So orders come from Japan to improve the car at all costs.

Some bright spark from management comes up with a quick fix: “lets copy one of the top teams’ designs”. And another goes one better: “lets copy both of the top teams”.

After releasing a bit of cash from the team’s massive budget Honda go headhunting. They come across a disgruntled Stepney who’s peeved that he didn’t get Ross Brawn’s old job. Stepney can’t believe his eyes, a chance to jump ship for a huge salary and more importantly, a chance to get revenge on Ferrari for not properly acknowledging him: “I can get my hands on some hot shit,” he tells Honda’s recruitment consultant. Stepney realises he can’t pull off the move alone – Ferrari will be watching him like a hawk once they know he’s off to Honda. So he gets in touch with his buddy at Mclaren who's also looking for a new career direction. The duo realise that their prospective salary and bonus package at Honda will increase significantly if they can get their hands on some of the designs that have made their respective teams so successful.

An opportunity presents itself to Honda: a chance to get intellectual property from both of the top teams – yes that’s right, I reckon Stepney has Mclaren data and information stashed away somewhere – and crucially a chance to do so without getting their hands dirty. The rest as they say is history.

It all goes tits-up. Coughlan couldn’t resist telling a few of his Mclaren colleagues about obtaining the Ferrari document and even worse gets found out by Ferrari after a tip-off from a photocopying shop.

Honda panic and send out polite rejection letters to their would-be employees.

So there you go. Honda are implicated in someway or another, I’m sure of it. But then I’m biased, I have never been a fan of Honda ever since I found out how they treated Frank Williams after his car accident.

Here is what Nick Fry has said about Honda’s involvement in the espionage saga:

“Yeah, our position is as it has been for some time. As everybody knows, we’ve interviewed rather a large number of senior engineers over the last two or three months, if not a bit more and hired a few that people know about now.

“Nigel Stepney was one of those people who applied to us, so the first correspondence was from Nigel to us and he asked to be considered for a position.

“I saw Nigel and it was the first time I’d ever met Nigel in my life in fact, so it was a perfectly normal get-to-know-you-type of discussion, nothing confidential, nothing was offered, nothing was received but he did mention at that time that there was another person who might also be interested and told me it was Mike.

“I subsequently saw both Mike and Nigel together and the second conversation was principally with Mike, as I’d already had a discussion with Nigel.

“Again, Mike was not someone I knew, so we again had a get-to-know-you-type of discussion, not in great detail, more about what he’d done in the past, about what the issues with our team were.

“And that was the end of it. Again, in the second conversation there was nothing at all that made me vaguely suspicious at all.

“Neither of them said anything inappropriate, they were both loyal to their teams, obviously not overly happy with various circumstances, but there wasn’t any finger-pointing or anything and subsequent to that, that was the end of it.

“There’s been no contact with either of them since that discussion. I was asked by Jean – I’d obviously spoken to Jean and Ron about it more than once – and was asked by Jean, in fact, to write a chronology of those discussions which I did, which I sent the Monday before last – what’s that? July the ninth - to both Jean and Ron and also to the FIA saying that was the chronology of events, and if they required any further information, then obviously we would be happy to provide it.

“Since then I’ve heard nothing at all, so I can only assume that the matter is now between Ferrari and McLaren.

“From our point of view, I think I wouldn’t be doing my job if, when you have offers of the chief designer of one of the top Formula One teams and the person who has been involved in probably the top Formula One team over the last decade, saying they want to work for you, I think I would be somewhat remiss not to at least see them.

“But I emphasise that neither of those two gentlemen said anything or offered anything or nothing was received or asked for on our part. It was very straightforward.”

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Sunday, 22 July 2007

Alonso storms to chaotic Nurburgring win

If ever there was an indication of just how dramatic today’s race was going to be it was BBC Five Live’s decision to bring Murray Walker back to the helm. What a race to have the old boy back.

I was a bit unsure at first as to whether to put ITV on mute but it was worth it if only for the start. Without any disrespect to James Allen – and I think he has taken a lot of unfair stick from fans, myself included – nobody captures the buzz of F1 quite like Murray Walker

“One light, two lights, three lights, four lights, give lights… GO GO GO!” beckoned the crackling radio as the grid leapt away from their starting positions. Fantastic, it brought back a lot of memories. If Five hadn’t elected to constantly switch to the Open I would have had Muzza on for the race duration.

As for the race, where do I begin? Perhaps unconventionally with my drivers of the day: Mark Webber and Alexander Wurz. Webber has finally followed up a strong qualifying performance with a decent race result, the Red Bull and its dodgy gearbox at last making it to the finish. I wonder if Geoff Willis had anything to do with the improved reliability – I think he is a huge coup for Red Bull, Honda were mad to let him go.

I am developing an increasing interest in Wurz. Rosberg is a future star of the sport, no question about it, and Wurz is finally looking as though he has can match the young driver. His fourth place today adds bundles to his credibility and he got agonisingly close to a podium after Webber stumbled at the final chicane. Canada was no fluke and I hope Williams keep him for next year.

It was a disappointing day for Lewis Hamilton. After yesterday’s crash in qualifying rain looked to be his get out of jail card. In the end it cost him dear and like so many other drivers he aquaplaned into the gravel trap at turn one.

I was amazed and astonished that:

•He didn’t crash into the wall
•He didn’t get taken out by the five or so other cars following him into the tyre wall
•No one smashed into the crane
•He kept the engine running
•He was allowed back into the race after assistance from the crane

But after being gifted an opportunity to get back on terms with the leaders on the race restart – the safety car allowed him to unlap himself – he went on to blow his chances by pitting for dry tyres on a still otherwise wet track. He lost his championship lead today because he broke the golden rule of wet weather race strategy: regardless of what the reports are telling you about the future, react only to the present. Whether rain is expected in 2 minutes or 20 minutes put on the tyres that are right for the current track conditions. Gambling on the weather is only worth it if you have nothing to lose, as the now legendary Winkelhock demonstrated today. Hamilton, unlike Winklehork, had everything to lose and not very much to gain.

The tyre blunder aside I thought he looked in good shape today; his failure to pick up a point didn’t do justice to his performance. He showed fantastic pace in the early stages and was by far the quickest of the top three once things had settled down.

With Hamilton out of the picture, it was all about Alonso and the two Ferraris at the sharp end of the race. It wasn’t long before we were down to one Ferrari after Kimi Raikkonen retired with a hydraulics problem. This is a huge blow to his championship hopes and I fear for his contention. He will be praying for a ruling of points deductions at the Mclaren hearing next week.

We saw the two-faced Massa today: brilliant without pressure, useless under it. He had the measure of Alonso pretty much throughout the race until the last few laps when Alonso came alive in the rain. There is no way Raikkonen would have relinquished the lead as quickly as Massa did today. The rain robbed Massa of his Ferrari performance advantage. It was a straight fight between Alonso and Massa and therefore no doubt in the outcome. I don’t know what Alonso’s problem was with Massa; or Massa’s with Alonso for that matter, he won didn’t he?

As we head to Hungary in a couple of weeks time all the momentum is with Alonso. Hamilton is going to have his work cut out to defend his two-point lead. And to say that Raikkonen has got a mountain to climb is a massive understatement.

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Saturday, 21 July 2007

Hamilton gets the green light

Lewis Hamilton has been provisionally cleared to take part in Sunday’s European Grand Prix pending a final medical check before the race. Precautionary scans revealed that he had sustained no injuries from his crash. [UPDATE: Hamilton has been given the final clearance from the FIA]

In a statement Mclaren Mercedes said: “Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are very happy to confirm that Lewis Hamilton is completely uninjured following his accident during today’s qualifying at the Nurburgring.

"Following a thorough examination at the on-track medical centre, he was flown to the Koblenz Bundeswehr Hospital where he underwent a full precautionary CT scan which proved to be entirely normal.

"Lewis has no bruises and is highly motivated to race tomorrow.

"As is normal, a final sign-off by the FIA Medical Delegate Gary Hartstein will take place tomorrow morning - which the team believes will be positive."

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Just saw this on the TV and had to post a copy. Looks like Hamilton's legs had already taken a battering before his crash if that fall in the corridor is anything to go by.

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Shaken but (not) stirred?

Lewis Hamilton is a lucky boy. It was a pretty big impact and the car even looked to be slightly airborne when it dived into the middle of the tyre wall. He was lucky the bump or whatever it was that caused the elevation didn’t lift him any higher.

I have to say I am slightly sceptical about the news being fed to the public. There seems to be a general feeling that he will be ok to start tomorrow’s race. I hope this is true but I can’t help feeling this is wishful thinking. The way he stumbled and collapsed after leaving the cockpit suggests to me that his legs aren’t 100%. Even if it’s just a case of swelling, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is told to avoid the risk of a secondary impact.

It really is unacceptable in my view that an accident like this should be caused by a faulty wheel gun. Modern F1 cars undergo lengthy and rigorous safety tests and all this is for nothing if the same courtesy isn’t extended to the assembly equipment.

Anyway, if Hamilton is to start tomorrow’s race he is going to have is work cut out to limit the damage on his championship lead as all his challengers are well placed with plenty of pace.

Raikkonen once again looked stunningly fast to take pole and you can’t help but feel is carrying a decent load of fuel as well.

Alonso, who takes the second spot, came alive in qualifying confirming his tendency to sand-bag in practice. Again, I think he’ll have a fair bit of fuel on him. He must know this is an opportunity and I’m looking forward to see him have one of his first corner goes, Raikkonen this time the Ferrari prey.

If past form is anything to go by Hamilton tends to run a bit lighter in qualifying than Alonso which will compromise him in the race given his grid position.

The BMW Saubers are looking pretty decent on home turf with the home-boy Heidfeld getting the measure of his Polish rival Robert Kubica. BMW really have a cracking driver line-up in my view and it is an absolute pleasure to follow this rivalry on track and in the sector times as a second qualifying ‘story’ after the Mclaren-Ferrari battle.

Nurburg 1997 always stands out for me as the race when we got our first glimpse into the future dominance of Mclaren. The silver cars dominated the early stages of the race only to suffer embarrassing engine failures in front of the Mercedes-Benz home crowd. The damage was done though and in 1998 they were doing the same but without the reliability problems.

I wonder if BMW can give us a similar insight tomorrow. They have a tendency to struggle in the race and I always think this is partly to do with putting too much fuel in for qualifying. I’d like to see them run Kubica light for once and give him a shot at a front slot.

Webber (6th) and Kovalainen (7th) are the other session impressees; let’s hope the Red Bull holds out beyond the few laps this time.

And further down the grid I thought Alexander Wurz did a pretty good job to get so close to Rosberg. Rosberg has been one of the stars of the 2007 championship I think and he is a good benchmark for Wurz.

Picture: BBC Sport

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Sunday, 15 July 2007

The Championship: where we're at.

It’s Sunday evening and I thought it would be good to spend half an hour or so taking stock of the last fortnight. Stepneygate aside, the last couple of races have been good for the sport and good for the championship fight.

Firstly we have the resurgence of Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen in particular. The Scuderia have bought radical new aerodynamic packages to both the French and British Grand Prix and their cars looked super fast.

Raikkonen was flying at Silverstone and was at least four to five tenths of a second faster than the Mclarens. Massa too had a similar advantage and did an excellent job of scything his way through the field. It was a much more impressive than his drive through the pack at the season opener in Melbourne where the Ferrari enjoyed a similar advantage. Ferrari’s dominance at the test session at Spa last week suggests that Mclaren have got their work cut out if they are going to get back on a level playing field.

Then there is the revival of Alonso. It never really showed at Magny Cours due to his grid penalty but the Spaniard has definitely stepped up his game. He simply outclassed Hamilton at Silverstone.

Mclaren have said that they elected to turn the wick down on Hamilton’s engine and this seems to be one of the chief excuses being bashed around for Hamilton’s performance. This is clutching at straws, even for me. The team would surely have only done this after the first round of pit stops once it became clear that indeed Hamilton couldn’t match Raikkonen and Alonso.

A poor race set-up was another reason being put forward for Hamilton’s slating. An interesting theory discussed by Ed Gorman (see HERE) is that Alonso has been deliberately hiding his cards in practice so as to avoid the decision from above to copy his setup on to Hamilton’s car. If this is true and was indeed one of the reasons for Hamilton’s setup problems at Silverstone then perhaps the Britain has slightly further to go on the technical side of things.

In any case it is still mighty close between Alonso and Hamilton and it will be interesting to see if Alonso can maintain this small edge that he seems to have pulled out.

All this sets up a mouth-watering second half of the season. After back-to-back victories you would have to say that Raikkonen is the better equipped of the two Ferrari drivers to take the fight to the Mclarens. He his currently eighteen points adrift of Hamilton and this is still a massive deficit bearing in mind the reliability of Mclaren and the way the points system is structured. Hamilton can win the drivers title on second place finishes alone. I wonder at what point Mclaren will elect to go defensive and focus all their resources on reliability rather than performance development. This might not sit well with Alonso but could be the team’s best chance to win the driver’s championship given Ferrari’s revival.

Ironically it is the actions of Ferrari’s Nigel Stepney that could be one route back into the title hunt for Raikkonen. We have a real threat of points deductions or a race ban for Mclaren following the allegations against chief designer Mike Coughlan and this would be a huge blow to Alonso and Hamilton.

Can Raikkonen win the title on merit alone without anything happening to Hamilton? I think he will be hard-pressed to do this. Massa will be key because in theory, even if Raikkonen won the last eight races, Hamilton could still beat the Finn to the title by finishing second. So Raikkonen will need Massa to be in the mix. Easier said than done. Playing second fiddle to Raikkonen will be a bitter pill to swallow for Massa given his early season form. Conversely for Mclaren, in a scenario of Ferrari-Raikkonen dominance, the last thing the team needs is their two drivers battling it out and taking points off each other.

At some point in the next few races both of the top teams will have to make some difficult decisions about their approach to the championship. Whether or not their drivers will listen of course is another matter.

Lewis Hamilton 70
Fernando Alonso 58
Kimi Raikkonen 52
Felipe Massa 51
Nick Heidfeld 33
Robert Kubica 22
Giancarlo Fisichella 17
Heikki Kovalainen 14

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Saturday, 14 July 2007


It’s amazing how much we rely on the internet for our news and information. I’ve been out of the loop for about a fortnight for various reasons and one of the biggest stories of the F1 season breaks. According to my RSS reader I have some 215 F1 blog entries and 1027 news stories to wade through. A large number of these seem to be dedicated to the Stepney-Coughlan espionage saga. F1 journalists must have been drooling over their keyboards with this one. It makes for a fantastic yarn but it is seriously damaging for the sport’s reputation.

The last I heard about this was at the French Grand Prix. Stepney was under investigation by Italian police and had been told by Ferrari not to come the Grand Prix after it emerged he had passed on intellectual property to Mclaren. I must have missed something though as I didn’t realise just how involved Mclaren were in the shenanigans. I won’t regurgitate the whole episode but I will briefly recap on the events for my own benefit:

April 07
Mike Coughlan, chief designer at Mclaren and a good friend of Nigel Stepney, received a confidential document containing Ferrari data and intellectual property. The document was some 700 pages long. Coughlan’s possession of this document has only recently come to light publicly.

May (Monaco GP)
Ferrari suspects Nigel Stepney of attempted sabotage after white powder was found on Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa’s Ferraris. Italian Police launch an investigation at Ferrari’s bequest.

Ferrari disown Stepney and tell him not to come to the next few Grand Prix pending both internal and external investigations.

June 21
The Police discover evidence at Stepney’s home that links him with Mclaren

June 26
Mclaren suspend Mike Coughlan

July 3
Ferrari lodge a formal complaint to the FIA and confirm the termination of Nigel Stepney’s contract.

Ferrari and Mclaren set about proving that they did not use the intellectual property from another team to gain a performance advantage.

British Grand Prix
Honda admits that it was approached by both Stepney and Coughlan regarding jobs in the team.

Week 9 -13 July
The espionage allegations against Mclaren and Coughlan are heard before British courts.

It emerges that Coughlan had in his possession a confidential 780 page document which Ferrari claimed had been stolen. Also in his possession were items including reports of races and test sessions – not necessarily data that can be used in car development but still in breach of FIA regulations.

The court heard that Jonathan Neale, managing director of Mclaren, knew that Coughlan had the Ferrari documents in his possession.

13 July
Mclaren are summoned by the FIA to appear before the World Motorsport Council on July 26th. They have been charged with:

“unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, including information that could be used to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car”

Which is in of the International Sporting Code specifically article 151c which refers to “any fraudulent conduct or any act of prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interest of Motorsport generally.”

Mclaren and Ron Dennis categorically deny the allegations.

As one?
For me the main issue of concern here is to what to what extent is Mclaren as a team responsible for the individual actions of one person? Mclaren have been quick to distance themselves from Coughlan:

“Whilst McLaren wish to continue their full co-operation with any investigation into this matter, they do wish to make it very clear that the documents and confidential information were only in the possession of one currently suspended employee on an unauthorised basis and no element of it has been used in relation to McLaren’s Formula 1 cars.”

And Ron Dennis has been adamant that the information obtained by Coughlan has not been used to Mclaren’s advantage:

“Clearly if an individual has access to information that information is in that person.

”Our system is a matrix system which means that the technical work we do is not a pyramid structure with one individual at the top, it is a flat structure.

“Therefore, I can categorically state that there are no developments, whatsoever, that have occurred in the months preceding 28th April or the months following 28th April and we can categorically demonstrate that to anybody who needs to have that information and of course that is the FIA“.

But can he really categorically deny this? Intellectual property is a tough cookie. It is not necessarily something that you can concretely prove as having been drawn upon. There is unlikely to be a one-to-one match between what was in the document and a resulting design change or modification. But that does not mean that the knowledge didn’t influence decision-making or approaches to developing a particular aspect of the car. We are dealing with data, information and knowledge here not blue prints. Instructions and advice from Coughlin could quite easily been disseminated across a matrix structure and drawn upon by employees unwittingly. So long as Coughlan was working within the team it is impossible to categorically deny that Ferrari’s information wasn’t used to Mclaren’s advantage.

So regardless of whether or not Ferrari’s document has helped Mclaren gain an advantage – and realistically you would have to bet against this – Mclaren will be hard pressed to prove that it hasn’t influenced their design process.

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Monday, 9 July 2007

Silverstone 2007

I apologise for the lack of activity on this blog lately. A broken monitor on my laptop (which still isn't sorted out) and a new job among other things have prevented me from updating as much as I would like. In addition, this weekend I made my first visit to Silverstone, a trip that I didn't know that I was making untill a rude awakening at 6.16am on Saturday morning. I hope to do a write up of the race once I have seen the television coverage. In the meantime here is some outrageously bad camera work with the inevitable Hamilton bias that readers of this blog have come to know, love and expect. The videos were shot using a digitial camera's frame-grab rather than a video recorder hence the less than standard quality.

Saturday Practice: Hamilton and a Ferrari

Saturday Practice: Hamilton (Watch out for Bernie in the crowds)

End of Qualifying: waiting for Lewis Hamilton's super slow glory lap

End of Qualifying: Finally he arrives

Hamiltons lap to starting grid

Lap 1 - Hamilton Leads

Race Ends - Raikkonen's Glory Lap

Pictures to follow shortly.

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Monday, 2 July 2007

Raikkonen leads Ferrari 1-2

Kimi Raikkonen led a reinvigorated Ferrari squad to dominant 1-2 at the French Grand Prix this afternoon after coming out on top of a race long battle with team-mate Felipe Massa.

It was a disappointing day for Mclaren. Lewis Hamilton was unable to make any inroads on the leaders after switching to a three-stop strategy and Fernando Alonso – who was forced to start tenth after a gearbox problem in qualifying – lost a lot of time at the beginning of the race tucked up behind the gearbox of Nick Heidfeld.

I was expecting a closer fight today. Qualifying suggested that the gap between Ferrari and Mclaren was marginal but Ferrari were simply outstanding on race pace today. This combined with the fact that Hamilton – and Alonso too for that matter – was running extremely light pretty much sealed the victory for Ferrari.

Hamilton never really looked as though he had the pace to challenge the leaders. Even if had stuck to a two-stop strategy I doubt he would have been able to make any impact.

It was clearly a frustrating day for Alonso. Once again we saw just how much time drivers can loose in the dirty air of a slower car and something needs to be done to promote closer racing.

The highlight of the race by far was Alonso’s overtaking move on Heidfeld at the super fast Imola chicane. He was taking a huge risk diving up the inside at some 150mph and was completely at the mercy of Heidfeld’s avoidance strategy. I doubt he would have tried his hand if it had been Sato he was dicing with. It’s right up there with his pass around the outside of Michael Schumacher at Suzuka in my view.

Credit must go to Ferrari. It really has been a huge leap forwards in performance. Can Raikkonen and Massa launch an assault on the championship leaders? It’s difficult to say. The points system heavily favours Mclaren and Lewis Hamilton. I still think that Raikkonen will have to rely on reliability problems or a mistake from Mclaren rather than be able to challenge for the championship using a quicker on its own.

Two other drivers that I think are worth a brief mention from the race are Robert Kubica and Jenson Button. It hasn’t been the ideal start to the year for Kubica and he has been consistently out-raced by Heidfeld. But he looked a different man today and was by far the quicker of the two BMWs – no mean feat considering the pace of Heidfeld.

I’m not a huge Jenson Button fan (he came into the sport while Damon Hill was still there) but I was impressed with his drive. The improved Honda seems to be much stronger than its predecessor on race pace and Button was putting in some pretty quick laps to finish in the points.

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