Saturday, 18 August 2007

Schumacher to Mclaren - 1996

I stumbled across this a while ago but forgot to put it on the site. An interesting chat between Ron Dennis and Michael Schumacher at a Fashion Event in 1995. Dennis tried to schmooz the world champion into a Mclaren seat for 1996. I wonder how Schumacher would have fitted into Dennis' equalities agenda.

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Sillyseason: 2008 Line-Up

There is a definite lull in the F1 world at the moment as the paddock takes it’s annual respite. If anyone needs a break it’s going to be Ron Dennis. He really did look dreadful at Hungary and it was clear the Hamilton-Alonso row was taking its toll.

While Mclaren are recovering from the events of Hungary, or at least preparing themselves for their appeal hearing - now confirmed for the 19th September - I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a stab at next year’s driver line up.

My sillyseaon predictions:

Hamilton (STAYS)
Alonso (OUT); Heidfeld (IN)

Raikkonen (STAYS)
Massa (STAYS)

BMW Sauber
Heidfeld (OUT); Rosberg (IN)
Kubica (STAYS)

Fissichella (OUT); Piquet Jnr (IN)
Kovalainen (OUT); Alonso (IN)

Red Bull Racing
Coulthard (STAYS; replaced by Vettel half way through the season)
Webber (STAYS)

Rosberg (OUT); Sutil (IN)
Wurz (OUT); Karthikeyan (IN)

Trulli (STAYS)
Schumacher (STAYS)

Button (STAYS)
Barrichello (STAYS)

Torro Rosso
Vettel (STAYS)
Luizzi (OUT); Bourdais (IN)

Super Aguri
Davidson (STAYS)
Sato (STAYS)

Goes into liquidation

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Thursday, 16 August 2007


ITV-F1's Mark Hughes has written a very interesting and balanced analysis of Hungary's "pitlanegate" (see HERE. Well worth a read. After essentially concluding that it was six of one half a dozen of the other he goes on to argue that the Ron Dennis' overpowering desire for control was partly to blame for the shenanigans.

“Of Dennis’ current drivers, neither Alonso nor Hamilton share Raikkonen’s proclivity for wild party antics away from the track. Both have a close circle of friends and their lifestyles don’t appear to have the same potential for embarrassment to McLaren-Mercedes and its sponsors.

Yet still Dennis has managed to alienate them. Through over-control. Through trying to impose too rigidly the values of the team onto the drivers, by trying to treat them as employees.

Drivers of this calibre, who have the warrior mentality and unyielding nature necessary to make true champions, will not be treated as employees. They are that only on paper.

In reality they are the stars of the show, the guys whose special talent differentiates them from most of the others. The public does not want to see them as expressions of a corporate set of values.

As part of this lone matador persona Alonso joined McLaren under the impression that the focus of the team would be around his winning the title.

The reality is that under Dennis’ control that would happen only if the other guy wasn’t at the same level. If he was, then Dennis would ensure equality – by force of control.”

I'm starting to appreciate just what an advantage Alonso lost due to Hamilton's decision to disobey Mclaren's fuel-burning orders. But two wrongs don't make a right as they say...

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

A two-horse race?

There is an awful lot of wishful thinking optimism coming out of the Ferrari camp at the moment following Luca di Montezemolo’s visit to the team. The very public outcome of these “discussions” between the president of Ferrari and the team’s senior management was a series of motivational statements along the lines of “we’ve screwed up but we are still in with a shout”.

“We can win all the remaining races. We have the capacity to do it. The team has to believe in it,” said di Montezemelo.

There is a clear implication here that Ferrari has somehow lacked belief so far this season.

In any case the visit seems to have rubbed off on Felipe Massa who was quick to put the team’s qualifying cock-up at Hungary behind him:

“We have had some problems, which is why they [Mclaren] are ahead of us in both championships at the moment. But we still have six races to fight back. We just need to keep working hard, but it won’t be easy to be ahead of them in every race.

“Fortunately, many of the upcoming circuits will be much better suited to our package and I am sure we can win some races.”

And even Kimi Raikkonen seemed positively buoyant about the latter stages of the season (does this make me the first writer to put the words Raikkonen and buoyant in the same sentence?):

“At Istanbul, Monza and Spa-Francorchamps, where there are many long straights and fast corners, we should be able to play out the F2007’s characteristics,” the Finn said.

“We have an excellent car and I think that the Hungaroring was the only race track so far, where we could have expected to have a slight disadvantage compared to McLaren. If I had had a free track, I could have been much stronger."

So I am thinking with regards to the Mclaren hearing: do Ferrari know something we don’t?

Because to be frank, the only way Ferrari are going to win either championship is if Mclaren are docked points or given a race ban by the FIA.

The Mclaren is just too damn strong on the reliability of front. Even if Ferrari did win every single race as di Montezemelo has predicted, I can’t see it would be enough. You would expect the Mclaren’s to trail them home at the very least.

The big question is can Mclaren really go through a whole season without any DNFs? Hamilton and Alonso have finished every single race so far (correct me if I’m wrong), Hamilton only failing to finish off the podium once. The only two reliability issues have come in qualifying with Alonso’s gearbox problem at Magny Cours and Hamilton’s wheel bolt failure at the Nurburgring.

Surely the ‘Murray’ laws of F1 logic say that we should expect something of the ‘unexpected’ between now and the end of the season.

A collision between the two silver cars is not beyond the realms of possibility given the size of the current rift between Alonso and Hamilton. Maybe this is what's wetting the lips of the Ferrari mechanics.

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Friday, 10 August 2007

The two Sebastiens

I notice today that Torro Rosso have signed three-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais at the expense of poor Tonio Liuzzi. This is a big coup for the sister Red Bull team and makes for quite a strong line-up for next year what with young Vettel also at the helm.

“It has been a long time coming, but here we are!” said Bourdais.

“I would like to thank everyone at Red Bull for believing in me and giving me this long-awaited opportunity to race in Formula 1. I must also thank Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing for letting me pursue my dream and allowing me to test for Scuderia Toro Rosso a few times this year.”

I still don’t believe Vettel has quite lived up to the hype that was generated during his various testing commitments. Yes, yes I know, the Torro Rosso is a dog of a car to be making your debut season in and he is only what nineteen years old? But I just don’t get it. His debut with BMW at Indy wasn’t particularly exciting – don’t get me wrong it was a solid drive for a rookie – and he made a lot of silly mistakes at Hungary.

I don’t want it to come across that I am against the guy, but I need a bit more convincing before I make my mind up about him.

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Sunday, 5 August 2007

Hamilton wins overshadowed race.

We had a strange race today that somehow allowed itself to be overshadowed by the off track politics. Not surprising you might say given the scale of the Ferrari-Mclaren row and the shenanigans – from both Mclaren drivers – in yesterday’s qualifying. But in the past the grid lights have always had a way of silencing and making irrelevant such events as the drivers storm down to the first corner all guns blazing.

Not today however. We were constantly reminded of Alonso’s penalty as the Spaniard battled his way through the grid and an untimely press release about the bizarre implications for the podium procedure put crucial track action in the shade.

Don’t get me wrong, I think what Alonso did in qualifying yesterday was poor sportsmanship but I think there is merit in the argument that the punishment misfit the crime. A five place grid penalty around a place like Hungary? Hamilton lost pole position but would have hung on to second; Alonso had his entire race compromised. I guess I’m in no position to play devils advocate. But I was looking forward to see Hamilton go wheel to wheel with Alonso.

As it turned out we had quite a good scrap develop between Hamilton and Raikkonen. Kimi was seriously impressive today and out drove the car. I don’t think the Ferrari in race trim was a massive improvement on qualifying, yet Kimi managed to find something extra.

Heidfeld scored another solid podium and I’m surprised he managed it; the three-stop didn’t look the fastest way around the track today and I think Rosberg could have finished higher up than he did. Indeed, the two-stopping Kubica managed to come from ninth up to fifth.

Has Ralf Schumacher saved his bacon? He seemed to be going pretty strongly today and did well to keep Alonso at bay for as long as he did. I still don’t rate him highly –does anyone? – but he might just have done enough to impress the fat cats in Japan.

I don’t really know what else to say. I felt the race lacked something today and ironically I think it was the Hamilton-Alonso factor. For all that’s happened this weekend you can’t say that the infighting and rivalry doesn’t add a bit of spice to the sport. How fantastic would it have been to see them go hammer and tongs at each into the first corner? I guess we’ll just have to wait until Turkey.

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Alonso penalised

Alonso has been given a five place grid penalty for impeding Lewis Hamilton during yesterday's qualifying session. Mclaren have also been docked in advance of any constructors points that they might pick up.

Full FIA Statement:
During the final minutes of Qualifying, the car driven by Fernando Alonso remained in its pit stop position at the completion of his pit stop notwithstanding the fact that his team-mate Lewis Hamilton was waiting immediately behind him to commence his own pit stop. The delay prevented Hamilton from being able to complete his final flying lap of Qualifying.

The Team Principal, together with the team manager and both drivers were calledbefore the Stewards and asked to explain their actions. Reference was made to video and audio evidence. The facts and the explanation given by the team are as follows:

At the commencement of the third period of the Qualifying practice it had been agreed within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team ("The Team") that Fernando Alonso would leave the pit exit ahead of Lewis Hamilton in order to benefit from the possibility for purposes of fuel burn allowance of being able to complete an additional lap.

In the event, the car driven by Lewis Hamilton arrived at the pit exit before that of Fernando Alonso and when the pit lane opened he left in front of Alonso. The team required Hamilton by radio communication to allow Alonso to pass in order that he might endeavour to complete his extra lap. Because of the proximity of the Ferrari driven by Kimi Raikkonen, however, Hamilton declined to allow Alonso to pass despite repeated requests from the team to do so.

Reference to the radio communications passing between the team and its two drivers shows that the team told Hamilton at 14:56:44 to "box this lap" and required him to do a "hard in lap" but advised him some 32 seconds later to "slow the pace a little, just lose a couple of seconds before the end of the lap because Fernando is pitting in front of you".

At 14:57:34, just 18 seconds later Alonso was told that when he pitted "we are going to hold you for 20 seconds".

At 14:57:46 Alonso's car arrived at his pit stop position, his tyres were changed and the jacks removed just 6 seconds later. The car then remained in position from 14:57:52 to 14:58:12 when the signal known as the "lollipop" was raised indicating that the driver was free to leave.

By this time Hamilton's car had arrived and stopped immediately behind that of Alonso. Alonso, instead of leaving his pit in order that his team-mate Hamilton could complete his pit stop, remained in position for a further 10 seconds. He then left the pit lane in sufficient time to reach the Control Line before the end of Qualifying, completed a flying lap in which he set the fastest time and secured pole position.

Because of the delay caused by Alonso, Hamilton was unable to complete his pit stop in time sufficient to enable him also to complete a flying lap.

The team were asked to explain why having indicated to Hamilton that he must stop at his pit on the next lap, they then informed Alonso whilst he was still on the track that when he also pitted on the next lap he would be held for 20 seconds.

The team stated that they frequently give estimates as to duration of pit stop to their drivers before they pit and that the reason the car was in fact held for 20 seconds was that it was being counted down prior to release at a beneficial time regard being given to other cars on the track.

Alonso was asked why he waited for some 10 seconds before leaving the pits after being given the signal to leave. His response was that he was enquiring as to whether the correct set of tyres had been fitted to his car. When asked why this conversation did not take place during the 20 second period when his car sat stationary all work on it having been completed, it was stated that it was not possible to communicate by radio because of the countdown being given to him.

This sounds like a bit of a flimsy excuse if you ask me, could he not have talked over the countdown?

Reference to the circuit map shows that at the time Alonso was told he would be held for 20 seconds there were but 4 cars on the circuit, his own and those of Fisichella, Hamilton and Raikkonen. All but Raikkonen entered the pits such that there can have been no necessity to keep Alonso in the pits for 20 seconds waiting for a convenient gap in traffic in which to leave.

The explanation given by Alonso as to why at the expiration of the 20 second period he remained in his pit stop position for a further 10 seconds is not accepted. The Stewards find that he unnecessarily impeded another driver, Hamilton, and as a result he will be penalised by a loss of 5 grid positions.

The explanation given by the team as to why they kept Alonso stationary for 20 seconds after completion of his tyre change and therefore delayed Hamilton's own pit stop is not accepted.

The actions of the team in the final minutes of Qualifying are considered prejudicial to the interests of the competition and to the interests of motor sport generally. The penalty to be applied is that such points (if any) in the 2007 Formula One Constructors Championship as accrue to the team as a result of their participation in the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix wilt be withdrawn.

I find this argument that the team were ‘punishing’ Hamilton for stealing Alonso’s extra fuel-burning lap – or at least trying to even things out – a bit strange. If Mclaren had genuinely wanted to punish or hold up Hamilton they could have done it in so many more discrete ways. Why use Alonso, why not wait until Hamilton was in the box and hold him up there.

And why sacrifice Hamilton’s final qualifying lap when there was a threat from Heidfeld and Raikkonen getting on the front row?

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Saturday, 4 August 2007

Qualifying Highlights

Session Winners:

Toyota seem to be on the up. For the third time in a row the team have got both their cars in the top ten with Ralf Schumacher a solid sixth fastest and Jarno Trulli lining up ninth.

"It was our best qualifying so far this season so we can only be happy with how it went. For the first time one of our cars went into Q3 with only one flying lap in Q2 so clearly we are in good shape here," said Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s Senior General Manager.

"Even so, we are just a little bit disappointed because from the data in Q1 and Q2 we thought we could get the cars a little bit higher up but, as usual, we don't know what kind of strategy the other teams have been using," he added.

But once again it was engine customers Williams that delivered the goods with Nico Rosberg putting in another impressive performance to start from fifth.

Toyota’s consistency has started to make the top ten much more crowded and a couple of drivers who tend to challenge for the shoot out lost out today – most notably Kovalainen and Coulthard.

BMW Sauber have been strong all weekend and Heidfeld put in another decent performance to go third fastest. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the jump on Hamilton at the start with both the advantage of the clean side of the track and a potential tow down to the first corner from Alonso.

"I am happy about P3, especially as up to now the whole weekend has not been easy. The tyre choice was very hard, but we were not the only ones facing that challenge. Yesterday was quite ok, but today in the second qualifying session we were not on the pace, and I was only in P6.

Kubica was unhappy with the handling of his car but could come into the mix in the later stages of the race if BMW have fuelled him heavy.

"The day was not very good. The car is not accelerating how it should. We lose too much time with every single upshift. We now have to analyse the data and see what we can do for tomorrow, which will be difficult as the car is in Parc Ferme right now. Seventh was the best I could do under these conditions."

Session Losers:

Ferrari were the big losers in today’s qualifying session. Despite bringing modified front and rear wings to Hungary the Italian team is still struggling on the high downforce circuits – something many are attributing to the car’s longer wheel base. Raikkonen made the most of a bad car to go fourth fastest but should be stronger in the race:

“To be honest, we were not quick enough today to think about beating our closest rivals, but I think we have a good race pace, which means we can be more competitive than we looked in qualifying. The car is very good over a long run, so I am still confident.”

Meanwhile Massa was having a miserable session:

“I made a mistake at the final corner on my first run, but then, when I came back to the pits, there was a misunderstanding over refuelling and they let me go without fuel. That's why I stopped and had to be pushed back to our area by the mechanics.

"I went back out again, but the tyres were very cold and I was not able to do a time good enough to stay in the top ten. Tomorrow, I expect a very difficult race, as this is one of the worst places to start from a long way back. I will try and do my best and to get the car home as high up the order as possible.

Wurz was outclassed again by Rosberg and his inability to deliver in qualifying will be extremely costly at places like Hungary.

And finally, I think Webber will be unhappy with tenth. He always seems to be at his best in Q2 when the cars are running light.

“It's not ideal to be tenth on the grid here, actually it's one of the worst positions to be in as it's so hard to overtake! I'd prefer to be eleventh," admitted Webber.

"With the qualifying rules we now have, you can end up going through all of Q3 but finishing tenth means you don't really gain anything, as you can't adjust your fuel ahead of the race as the other cars behind you can.

"But, I think we have a reasonable strategy so we'll see what we can do tomorrow."

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Alonso takes controversial pole

I thought I’d post a quick reflection on the Alonso incident while my blood is up before making a more measured response on the rest of qualifying later on.

A career in politics beckons for Alonso after he retires I think. No one spins events quite like him.

“The team was holding me back in the pit stops and we tried to have a bit of space on the track, especially to the Ferrari ahead of us," he said calmly in the press conference.

Firstly, for those who want to question the incident itself, make no mistake; this was not caused by the team. Even if there was a threat from Alonso being too close to the Ferrari, would Mclaren honestly choose to sacrifice their other driver and risk not locking out the front row?

His actions today were out of order but not the main thing I take issue with. In many ways it has made for a much more exciting spectacle tomorrow and should add a bit of spice to the Alonso-Hamilton rivalry.

What I do have a massive problem with is the way Alonso is always held up as this squeaky clean ‘people’s champion’, when in fact he is as ruthless and as underhanded as the rest of them, including Michael Schumacher.

On the subject of Schumacher, it is interesting to ask whether Alonso’s tactics today compared with the dominant interpretation of Schumacher’s notorious parking manoeuvre at La Rascasse, Monte-Carlo (incidentally I have other theories about this but won’t discuss them here).

Alonso’s move was more subtly executed but the outcome was the same, Hamilton’s lap was compromised.

Would Hamilton have taken pole? Barring a mistake, it was almost certain. The advantage from the fuel difference alone would have been enough let alone the increased grip from the track and the genuine pace advantage he had over his team-mate.

This aside, Hamilton fans should take comfort in the fact that, at this stage of the championship, he is almost certainly quicker than the Spaniard – probably the reason Alonso felt the need to do what he did.

True, Alonso raised his game at Magny Cours and Silverstone. But at the Nurburgring, Hamilton was the fastest man on the track by far – go and have a look at the race lap times. And today he genuinely looked the quicker of the two Mclarens.

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