Monday, 31 October 2011

Felipe and Lewis Collide Again

There was another collision today between the seemingly magnetic Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton. However, this time it was the Brazilian who was punished with a drive through penalty. Both drivers are struggling massively at the moment – and these are the 2 drivers who fought over the 2008 title so closely.

They have similar issues at the moment – being soundly beaten by their team mates and appearing to lack confidence. I’m not sure why they look like pale imitations of the drivers who performed so admirably in their championship battle.

Personally I thought the collision yesterday was a racing incident. Lewis was being ambitious trying to pass there and Felipe could have taken a wider line around that corner. I was surprised to see Massa get a penalty but that may be because of the number of previous penalties that Lewis Hamilton has received this season.

The biggest concern for Massa’s race for me was his retirement. Having broken the suspension on his Ferrari during qualifying he then made the exact same mistake on a different corner. There is talk that Ferrari were running some experimental parts with an eye on 2012 but that is irrelevant – Felipe made the exact same mistake twice. A world class driver doesn’t do that.

Lewis was once again beaten by a teammate who was seen as inferior when he joined the team. He is now 38 points behind Jenson with only 50 points available. He is set to be beaten by his teammate for the first time since entering F1.

Damon Hill in 1995 was all over the place. He spent the winter sorting his head out and went on to dominate the 1996 season – winning 8 races and winning the championship by 19 points. Both Felipe and Lewis need to do the same and come back stronger and more focused on success in F1.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Inaugural Indian Grand Prix

In just over 12 hours we have our first race in India. It is a circuit that has been widely praised by the drivers and teams and will hopefully provide us with a good race.

With the Championships already won by Vettel and Red Bull we need an entertaining race. The circuit is incredibly dusty, as you would expect from a brand new circuit. Hopefully this won't deter drivers from going off the racing line to attempt an overtake.

Vettel is on pole yet again and Mark Webber locked out the front row after Lewis Hamilton suffered another penalty - this time a 3 place grid drop - which leaves him starting 5th, just behind his team mate with 2 time World Champion Fernando Alonso starting 3rd.

One interesting part of the race tomorrow will be the situation for the tyres. The expected pace difference between the soft and hard compounds is 1.5 seconds per lap. If I was a strategist for Sauber/Renault/Williams I would be insisting that at least 1 car started on the hard tyre to get it out of the way early. This may give an advantage at the end, especially if we have a safety car.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

F1 going to New Jersey

It was announced today that in 2013 we'll have 2 US Grands Prix, with New Jersey joining Texas on the calendar.

This is a great result for F1 and will hopefully replace one of the Spanish races. Spain has a short history of Formula One and with their devotion to Alonso, have no need for a second race.

USA has a proud history of motorsport and hasn't been utilised enough by F1 over recent years, specifically following the Indy shambles of 2005. It is great that we are having more races in nations that will have packed grandstands and a desire to embrace the weekend as opposed to countries that have the most money.

With New Jersey and Texas being on the schedule there is the possibility of more Americans becoming more involved in the sport in terms of support but also in terms of drivers. F1 might once again become a valid alternative to IndyCar and NASCAR.

The race in NJ will also have a stunning backdrop of the New York City skyline. It should make for a fantastic race.

I may even have to add it to my schedule of races to visit - I imagine a lot of Europeans will look at combining a weekend in NYC and a trip to the GP.

Friday, 21 October 2011

A strange season for Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton has had a very strange season. He is no longer seen as the same driver that both wowed and surprised in equal measure. Some of his performances and overtaking moves of the past need to be seen to be believed.

However this year he has been outclassed by his team mate which came as a surprise to both a lot of the viewers and also to himself. Japan was a particularly bitter pill for him to swallow, being out qualified and outraced in a manner that is not associated with Lewis Hamilton.

Contact in Monaco, Spa, Montreal, Singapore and Japan haven’t helped his cause, despite them not all being his fault.

The recent headline news is that he has split with Nicole Scherzinger. His relationship with his father has also been clearly strained. I believe these have negatively impacted his performance this season. Previously he always had the strong bond with his father who was always there to look out for him.

I am hoping that he will regroup over the winter, similar to Damon Hill in 1995. After a difficult season he came back fitter, stronger and more focused. Lewis Hamilton needs to come out firing in Australia next year if he is to have any hope of becoming a double world champion in 2012.

Vettel and Red Bull have raised the bar, Hamilton and his McLaren team have to step up.

The End of Nick Heidfelds F1 Career

Nick Heidfeld is a wasted talent in Formula 1. It appears as though his career is now finished in the top level of motorsport and I can’t help but think it’s a shame that he didn’t ever get a chance in a top car.

The only time in his career that the team he was in won a race was Canada in 2008 when Hamilton took himself and Raikkonen out. Kubica won that race after Heidfeld let him through. Ferrari also ruined Felipe Massa’s race at this time.

In his 3 years as a team mate to Kubica, Heidfeld finished ahead twice. He also beat Raikkonen, Massa and Webber as teammates. All of these are multiple race winners. Despite his consistency and speed, things never fell quite right for him. Maybe it’s because he isn’t the most marketable driver around, perhaps it’s his timing as the number of German drivers continues to increase.

Jenson Button almost missed his chance to show how good he can be, Nico Rosberg is in danger of it happening to him but it definitely has happened with Heidfeld.

Heidfeld made some great overtakes including some double overtakes. He finished on the podium 18 times and showed remarkable consistency. He hasn’t driven in the past 5 races and yet is only 2 points behind Petrov.

It’s a shame for both Heidfeld and F1 that we never got to see what he could do.

Monday, 17 October 2011

What If?

I want to give you some thinking to do regarding some recent history in Formula 1 with some what if scenarios.

If Michael Schumacher had failed in his attempt to take out Damon Hill at Adelaide 1994? Hill wouldn't have had the mental problems during 1995 and could have won a 2nd title and potentially even a 3rd title in 1996. Knowing Williams during this period, he would have probably still been removed from the team, but it's the impact on Schumacher's career that is more interesting. Without being a double champion, would Ferrari have been so keen to sign him on a long term deal? How many titles would he have won? Would this have opened up a chance for Coulthard, Montoya and Raikkonen to become champions?

My next one is what would have happened if Schumacher had succeeded in taking out Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 at Jerez. Would the FIA have still disqualified him? What impact would it have on the rest of his career?

Time to jump forward a few years. What if, in qualifying for Hungary 2009, Felipe Massa had gone out for his lap 10 seconds later? Would Ferrari still drop Raikkonen for Alonso? Would Massa be fighting for last years title?

If you have any of your own that you'd like to bring up, I'd love to hear them.

RIP Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon was just 33 when he tragically died in the final IndyCar race of the season in Las Vegas. Scotland’s Dario Franchitti won a 3rd successive title but he would swap that in a heartbeat to have friend and fellow driver Dan Wheldon unharmed.

The accident which cost the Briton his life was horrific. It was evident from the moment it happened that someone must have been seriously hurt. Unfortunately there was no lucky escape from this.

There were some striking coincidences around the race. It was the final race in the old style cars – next year the cars will be safer to avoid incidents like we saw. The man who has been testing the new car? – Dan Wheldon. Had we not had an accident, if Dan had won the race he would have earned a $5m prize – and would give half of this away to a lucky fan. Before the race the ABC commentary team had been speaking to the man from Buckinghamshire. He was saying what a good way to end the season this could be. Finally, as the crash unfolded we were riding on board with Dan Wheldon. Had we stayed on board a few more seconds we could have witnessed the horror of it all.

Questions will inevitable be asked regarding the safety of the sport. 220mph, 34 cars, a 1.5m circuit combined with the nature of oval racing means a severe accident is always a strong possibility. The possibility of canopies will also be raised again – could it have saved Dan’s life?

The human element of this is also immensely sad. Just 33 years old with 2 sons, Sebastian (2) and Oliver (7 months). The 2005 champion and 2 time winner of the Indy 500 will be sorely missed.

A very sad day for motorsport.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sebastian Vettel enters double figures...

Our double world champion has today moved past Nigel Mansell's record of 9 races in a season with a dominant victory at the Korean Grand Prix. Only Schumachers results in 2002 and 2004 are ahead of Vettel's 2011 performance. However, Michael Schumacher never had to face the tough level of opposition that Vettel has been up against.

Being crowned champion last week did nothing to dampen his competitive spirit, taking the lead on the first lap and never looking back. He also managed his first fastest lap of the season - remarkable when you consider his 10 wins.

The race itself wasn't a classic. Overtaking proved difficult, even with DRS, as Webber was clearly quicker than Hamilton but was unable to get past. The tires also lasted much better than expected. At some points over the past week a 4/5 stop race was expected but in reality it was a comfortable 2 stop race for everyone.

Red Bull didn't maximize their result today - Webber should not have followed Hamilton into the pits. They should have taken the risk to go 1 lap longer and it probably cost them a 1-2 finish. Despite this, they came away with the constructors title again. McLaren and Ferrari will be hoping it is not over as quickly next year.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Attention turns to 2012

With 4 races left this season 4 drivers are looking to end the seaon with at least a win. Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton are all keen to end the season on a high. However, the key focus is now all about 2012.

Sebastian Vettel has raised the bar this year with a relentless performance of speed and consistency. The double world champion has finished every race and his worst finish is 4th. It is an incredible performance and he deserves all the praise that he receives. I would not be surprised if he continued this for the entire season.

It has definitely sent a message to McLaren and Ferrari that if they want to be winning the championships next year then they have to raise their game. This season was effectively over after 5 races. Despite Hamilton winning in China, Vettel's consistency gave him a lead that meant he was never under much pressure. McLaren and Fernando Alonso need to be on it from the first race to avoid a repeat of this season.

Next season could be another classic title battle and with an extra supporting cast including the interteam battle at Mercedes, the potential return of Kimi Raikkonen and hopefully the return of Robert Kubica it should be fascinating viewing. We just need McLaren and Ferrari to step up to give us that.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Martin Brundle on Schumacher and Hakkinen

This was written in either late 2000 or early 2001 - it's a brilliant insight into the battles that Hakkinen and Schumacher shared. Brundle is one of the best journalists around


Schuey v Mika
By Martin Brundle

ITV-F1's Martin Brundle is a remarkable man. Once a top-line Formula 1 driver, he is now televised sport's most expert 'expert'. He has also been a team-mate in F1 to both Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. Never before has he rolled out the anecdotes, compared and contrasted the two men's characters, spilled the beans. Until now. Who better to deliver final judgement?

Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen are the two men to beat in Formula 1 today. But you don't need me to tell you that their records speak for themselves. Conventional wisdom says that Michael is number one, Mika number two. But, like everything in F1, it's not as simple as that.
I know both men pretty well. I was Michael's team-mate at Benetton in 1992, and Mika's at McLaren in '94. And, as a commentator for ITV Sport, it's been my job to analyse and interview them from a journalistic perspective for the past four years.

So who's better, in my view? Well, it's a close call. Michael is unbelievably confident, -always was. I remember one particular debrief in '92. Tom Walkinshaw, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and myself had all agreed on a certain strategy - whereupon Michael, in his first full season of F1, said, "No, I don't agree." It wasn't an arcane point, but Michael was demonstrably wrong. It was almost comical, in fact. But what I found remarkable was that he was prepared to argue against all that experience. That really impressed me. And, even better, once his argument had been laboriously dismantled, he had the good grace to say, "Sorry. You were right. I was wrong."

He's a nice man off the track, but he has always been ruthless on it. He tried to have me off the track several times in '92. But, again, one day in '95, when he was still at Benetton and I'd moved to Ligier, over dinner he said, "I now realise how wrong it was to fight my team-mate like that back in '92." So he's not the arrogant and aloof champion people make him out to be.

He was always a thinker though, even in the early days. I remember Spa '92, when we were running nose to tail in the rain, him ahead. As we came through Raidillon I felt a lot of grip, and I thought, "I'm coming in for slicks." A few corners later, at Pouhon, I felt it again, and I thought, "Yes, this lap." Then Michael went off the road at Stavelot, gathered it up on the wet grass, just missing the barrier - I'll never know how - and I thought, "Maybe there's not so much grip. I'll do one more lap." I was aware that Thierry Boutsen had already taken slicks and had immediately crashed heavily. Anyway, the pitstop entry was after the Bus Stop in those days, and Michael was right on my tail - really on it as we braked for that challenging chicane. And yet what he was doing was checking out my rear tyres! You see, it's hard to examine your own, because on the straights you just see a blur; and in the corners you don't really want to be spending too much time looking in your mirrors. You're kind of busy with the view ahead. And that was a clever thing of Michael to do, in the heat of the moment, having just gone off at a fast corner, at Spa, in the wet. Remarkable.

Of course, Michael saw the damage on my tyres and decided to take the slicks that I suppose I should have had. And he won the race. It's those pivotal moments that make the difference between being good and being great. I think that story shows the mental capacity he had -even then, in his first full F1 season -to drive an F1 car on the ragged edge and at the same time think analytically about what was going on around him.

Mika is a very different animal. I didn't have a great relationship with him in '94. It was a difficult time for McLaren. Ayrton Senna had left to join Williams, then he died and the team, McLaren, were to grief-stricken. In their eyes I wasn't Ayrton - and nor was Mika. The Peugeot engines were unreliable, and the car wasn't top-drawer.

So Mika and I were under strain. We didn't get on that well and a lot of it was my fault, I now admit. I was new to the team while Mika had been there a year already, and I was on the back foot a lot of the time, having signed for the drive just 72 hours before first practice for the first race.

I like to think I've got a good relationship with Mika now, but he will never be as chatty as Michael. Michael likes a good long talk. -I once chewed the fat with him for three hours solid on a long flight. Not Mika. On the face of it, he's quite taciturn. But that's only half the story. There are two Mika Hakkinens, you see. There's the press conference Mika - the taciturn one - and the private Mika.
And the private Mika is a bit of a party animal, to be honest. People who don't know him sometimes think he's thick, but he's far from thick. He's a quiet thinker. He's highly intelligent, in fact - you don't win two world drivers' championships without being extremely bright. But, more than that, he's streetwise. Michael is a far more readable book.

Mika minimises extraneous mental clutter. In '94 I remember going with him to the circuit from the airport, somewhere or other, and he was driving. As we approached each slip road, he would automatically take it. And I'd shout, "No, no, Mika. Not this way." And he'd cruise back on to the motorway. And it would be the same at the next junction. I gradually realised that he didn't really want to learn the way. I'd always travel with pre-packed maps and directions -a grand prix dossier, if you like- because I'm that type of person. But Mika didn't want his mind to be encumbered by that kind of trivia. Similarly, Mika has managed to avoid the level of superstardom that Michael has to cope with. Is that accidental, or is it that he shuns the limelight for strategic reasons?

One thing's for sure: Mika isn't about to tell anyone the answer to that question.

So much for their characters, but what of their in-cockpit approaches? Well, their driving styles are similar. They both drive the car slightly 'loose'. They can both live with a car that's moving around at the back - Michael more so than Mika. Michael is very acrobatic. So many F1 cars tend to move progressively towards oversteer during the life of the tyres, yet Michael can live with that happily.
And I think it's that ability to improvise in an attacking way - to adapt to changing grip levels and variable 'feel' - that makes him so strong in a race. Michael can operate very close to a constantly-changing limit while that mutation is occurring. As a result, in the wet -or, more specifically, in inconsistent drizzle he's unbeatable.

Mika is good in the rain, but Michael is in another league. He's also supremely good at reading a race. Better than anyone else, he can take on board what he's being told over the radio, and respond accordingly on the track. Ferrari have won a lot of races that way. Michael can turn up the wick where Mika sometimes doesn't seem able to.

But, perhaps counter-intuitively, when the chips are down in a crunch race I'd put my money on Mika. We've seen that a few times now -Nürburgring '98 and Suzuka '99 spring to mind. Historically, when it's man against man, Mika is more likely to deliver the perfect race under pressure than Michael is. And the reason is that Michael is more liable to overdrive in those circumstances.

In extremis, Mika makes fewer mistakes. As a team-mate, you tend to focus on your opposite number's performance in the 'hero' corners -ultra-fast places like Eau Rouge, 130R and so on -and there's no doubt that both men were extremely brave at places like that. They still are. But of the two of them it was Mika who really caught my attention in the white-knuckle, hold-your-breath-and-pray department. You'd look at his telemetry traces and say to yourself, "How can that be possible? How can he do that?" In dry qualifying, he really opened my eyes on a few occasions. Michael was more consistent, more always there, every corner, every lap.

Besides, there's often very little actual time to be gained in the quick corners. It's in the slow turns - long second-or third-gear bends in which you spend a lot more time than you do in superfast fifth - or sixth-gear flicks, for example -that real time can be won. Both drivers have a truly fantastic ability to maintain apex minimum speed in apparently straightforward corners - to prevent the appearance of a V-shaped dip in the track-speed line on their telemetry traces, if you like.
With both of them, the apex deceleration is smoothed out - it's more of a U than a V - and I've rarely seen that. It only works out as a couple of miles per hour, but it's consistently there and it makes a significant cumulative difference.

So how is it achieved? Mika uses the pedals smoothly. He didn't always brake later than I did - in fact, I often braked later than Mika and I think David Coulthard does the same today - but Mika is very good at synchronising the application and release of throttle and brakes.

Michael is also strong in this area, but he likes to steer the car with the throttle a bit more than Mika does. He's not quite as fluid. The net result is remarkably similar: a higher apex minimum speed, and the ability to set the car up for that apex so that once power is applied, the car is straighter sooner - so it's ready to accelerate away from the corner earlier and faster.

Again, it's Mika who is slightly better here. He always seemed able to apply virtually full throttle very early and have less wheelspin than I was having with less throttle. I looked at it very carefully in '94, and I think the key was, is, - the couple of degrees of controlled sliding that he introduces to the car on the turn-in. If you're sideways, you're wasting time, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about arriving at a corner, dialling in a smidgen of attitude, and springboarding off that attitude rather than correcting it. Michael achieves something very similar by teasing the back end of the car with the throttle. And I'm talking about graph paper now -telemetry, computers, science, fact. Black and white. Those two guys can maintain forward motion more of the time than most others can.

And in slow corners -places like Club at Silverstone - it delivers real, tangible benefit. Although their slightly differing approaches achieve extremely similar results, Mika's technique is a little smoother - the result is, predictably, that Michael uses his tyres more heavily. Lately, that has helped him in qualifying. He can get hard tyres working hotter earlier than Mika can -but it can punish him during a race if tyre degradation is a factor.

Mika maximises the width of the track better than anybody else - but, again, Michael is very close. They 'widen' the track - ease the racing line - in different ways. Mika turns in from a very wide line - he isn't afraid to brake on the white lines that mark the track perimeter (except in the wet, of course, when to do so is suicidal). In fact, he uses the paint to induce the attitude I mentioned earlier. In fact, in qualifying Mika will sometimes even take to the grass on entry. Michael approaches corners from a narrower angle, but often uses more apex kerb than Mika does - especially in qualifying.

Overall, though, Mika is the better qualifier. At McLaren we used to talk about "ringing the three bells" - which meant getting all three lap sectors just right. Mika was brilliant at it, and he's even better now. He can build up to a truly spectacular qualifying run. Again, a Mika pole lap will be smooth, crisp and faultless -where a Michael equivalent will be a tad more ragged. He might overcook it in one corner and lose a tenth. It's still pole, but it isn't quite as perfect.

In terms of overtaking and lapping, they are both extremely good. I couldn't choose between the two. Michael has a small advantage in that his car is red. I really believe that. It just shows up in your mirrors in a way that a grey car never can. I'm thinking of Senna here: a Day-Glo yellow helmet sticking out of a Day-Glo orange Formula 1 car.

If the Senna-McLaren combo was 100% intimidation, then Schumacher-Ferrari is 95% and Hakkinen-McLaren 90%. If Michael has one significant chink in his armour, it's his starting. He isn't good at it. At Benetton Michael could outqualify me, but I'm sure he was usually looking in his mirrors at the start.

As a result he ran into a lot of people on lap one, trying to work out where I was going to be at the first corner. Mika is a magnificent starter. Starting is all about the head. OK, you need skill, balancing revs and clutch and throttle and so on,- but it's a pretty mechanical task, in truth.
The real problem is doing it under pressure - and the pressure, for the likes of Michael and Mika, is intense. Mika's starting is the barometer by which all others in F1 today should measure theirs whereas, for Michael, it's a constant cause of trouble. Not only does his mediocre performance in this area lose him places before the first corner but it also gets him into accidents.Too often he's moving backwards relative to cars behind him, which lead to first-corner shunts like those at Hockenheim and Austria last year. And that's why Mika is so hard to beat: because he's a fantastic qualifier and a fabulous starter, he's likely to be first into the first corner a very high proportion of the time. And that puts him in control from the beginning.

Even so, I think Michael will be an even tougher proposition in 2001. Now that the ghost of 1979 has been laid to rest, and Ferrari have got their elusive drivers' championship at last, I think he'll be a bit good. He may even step up a level. But the same could be true of Mika. - Michael certainly thinks so. He recently said he thought Mika would be strengthened by becoming a father, -the theory being that in times of stress a stable home life helps you get through. Mind you, Mika has always been very strong under pressure.

So, who is the better? I've got to stick my neck out, haven't I? You'd never forgive me if I signed off without giving one or other of them the nod. Let me put it this way. Of all the drivers I've raced against, the best was Senna. No question. In terms of the whole package, Michael runs him pretty close, with Mika a close third.

In terms of raw, God-given talent, Senna is still number one - but it's Mika, not Michael, who comes closest. If Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen were in the same Formula 1 team, with the same equipment, during qualifying, in the dry, and you asked me to stake my kids' building society accounts on who would bag the pole, I'd put my money on Mika.

But Michael would win the race.

There, I've said it.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Jenson Button impresses again

It was his fifth win for McLaren and his first in the dry. Jenson Button now has as many wins as Lewis Hamilton since he joined the Woking based team. One of the remaining criticisms of the Briton was that he could only win in changeable conditions. He has blown this one out of the water after a very controlled win in Japan.

With his girlfriend, Jessica Michibata being half Japanese combined with Jenson being a driver for Honda for 7 years; he has a lot of ties with and affinity for the country. It is his second home and it was a result that clearly meant a lot to him.

Some interesting stats on Jenson and Lewis’ performances as team mates; They are tied on 5 wins each Button has scored 424 points, compared with Hamiltons 418. Jenson has 16 podiums to Lewis’ 13. Jenson has also had bad luck with retirements that Lewis hasn’t had to contend with.

This is something that very few people predicted when it was announced that Jenson was signing for McLaren.

It is a remarkable achievement for Button and his stock in F1 has never been higher. His next goal will be to beat Hamilton over this season. He now has a sizable gap and with his consistency should be able to achieve this with ease.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Kimi Raikkonen returning with Williams?

It's a story that isn't going away. 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen is potentially returning to F1 next season to drive for Williams. If it happens, and Schumacher stays for another year, we'll have 6 champions on the grid, which I believe would be the highest ever.

However, I have to question why he wants to return to the sport. We have seen some brilliant drives from him, but too many times in 2008 and 2009 we saw a driver who seemingly had no desire left to remain in the sport. He could have partnered Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2010, but instead chose to make more money by leaving F1. He was the highest paid driver on the grid, money can't be in short supply for him. Quite why he is looking to join one of the backmarkers is a strange one.

His trips into WRC and NASCAR have both been unsuccessful. He doesn't have too many options left. Of course, I could be wrong, he could be using a year at Williams to show he has still got the talent and desire to succeed, before attempting a move to RBR/McLaren in 2013 once Webber retires. 

However, I believe that any move to Formula 1 will be because of money and not love of the sport.

Sebastian Vettel is a double world champion

You won't be surprised to read that title. Needing just the 1 point to become a double world champion, he drove aggressively to finish 3rd, behind Britain's Jenson Button and Spain's Fernando Alonso.

He is the youngest double world champion by an impressive margin. He has 7 years to win his next title to become the youngest triple world champion, to eclipse the late Ayrton Senna's record.

Vettel has had a remarkable career so far - in just 70 races he has amassed 19 wins, 27 pole positions and 2 world titles. Fernando Alonso, widely believed to be the best driver on the grid has 27 wins, 20 pole positions and 2 titles from 174 races - more than double Vettel's achievement. 

It will be interesting to see how far Vettel can go - the comparisons with Schumacher are inevitable. 7 Championships is possibly too far to stretch, such is the talent in Formula 1 today. He will certainly win more titles though. The Red Bull has been the class of the field this season, but it has to be said that Vettel has been outstanding. Small errors in Canada, Hungary and Germany aside, he's been faultless.

His worst position this season is a 4th place, in the other 14 races he has been on the podium. It is a staggering achievement.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Vettel takes pole again...

Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, his 27th in total, 12th of 2011.

It was more difficult than the majority of pole positions have been for him this season, with McLaren arguably having the quicker car. Jenson Button finished 2nd, just 0.009 away from the German. Lewis Hamilton once again was involved in something he shouldn't have been, his final out lap too slow meaning he didn't get a chance to beat Vettel's time. Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher were also caught up in this. It's yet another mistake in a long line of them for Hamilton and his side of the garage this year.

Races have often shown that McLaren have better race pace than qualifying pace, and with a fired up Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, I think money should be on them to win the race.

Brazilian Felipe Massa had another strong showing, outqualifying his team mate Alonso but if past form is anything to go by then Alonso will finish ahead of them, with Webber once again a long way behind his world champion team mate.

Barring any mechanical failure tomorrow, Sebastian Vettel will seal the 2011 title and become a 2-time champion.

Maybe that will impact Hamilton again next season, who sees himself as the best driver in Formula 1.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Why Robert Kubica will struggle...

Robert Kubica's management and doctors have been making noises that he'll be back in Formula One next year. I'm not convinced, his accident was horrific and he is still a long way off a full recovery.

Even if he does make it back into F1 next season, recent history has shown how hard it is to get back to your best. Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld have all spent time out of the sport (for 3 very different reasons) and on their return haven't been able to match the heights that they previously mentioned. I'll come back to that in another post.

Considering the state he was in after the crash, it would be remarkable for Robert to make a return, but I am almost certain we won't see him return to his best. You wouldn't find many people in F1 who wouldn't have predicted that Kubica would become an F1 Champion. What a shame that it's unlikely to happen. 2008 was a fantastic season for him, and moments of 2009 and 2010 showed glimpses of brilliance.

How much must he regret that rally now?

I hope I'm wrong, I hope we see Robert return as the driver he was previously and win a title. What a fairytale strory that would be.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Curious Case of Jenson Button

Firstly, apologies for the unoriginal title, it had to be done.

Jenson Button has had an unusual career in Formula 1. Between the 2008 and 2009 seasons it looked like his career may be over. It was in real danger of becoming a wasted talent. We would have had no idea how much of a wasted talent it was, either.

His early career was a story of inexperience and poor focus and then he made some bad career moves with the BAR/Williams contract negotiations. 2004 and 2006 were good years for him, with a 3rd place championship finish in 2004 with his first win (unsurprisingly) in changeable conditions in Hungary 2006. However, the disastrous Honda's of 2007/8 and the emergence of Lewis Hamilton saw Jenson's stock fall a massive amount.

Once Honda pulled out of F1, it did look like Jenson had much of a career left. Most of the talk before Brawn GP were announced was that he had only Toro Rosso as an alternative option. Thankfully, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry saved the team. We almost missed one of the best F1 cars ever. With minimal testing they took a 1-2 on their first Grand Prix.

This is when Jenson showed what he can do. When the Brawn car was the best on the grid, he won. 6 out of the first 7 races. China, the one he failed to win, saw the Red Bulls dominate in the wet. By Silverstone, the Red Bulls had caught up. And it wasn't too much longer for the McLarens and Ferrari's to be mixing with the front runners.

Jenson then drove like we expect him to now. Qualifying wasn't brilliant, he often had bad starts but he kept his head and maximized the points he could get from the weekend. Combined with an absolutely brilliant Brazilian Grand Prix, he was World Champion with a race to spare.

The move to McLaren shocked F1 and lead to many people saying it was a mistake, that he wouldn't be able to cope with Lewis Hamilton.

"It's a mistake and will be like walking into the lion's den for Jenson," - Sir Jackie Stewart

"Jenson has entered the lion's den. It was madness of him to move [from Brawn]. He thinks he's going to be able to eat his steak, and that's not going to be the case – I think he's going to get murdered. It's the worst decision he could have made." - Eddie Irvine

We are now almost 2 years in on the partnership and Jenson is on course to become the first man to beat Lewis Hamilton as team mates. His calm approach to racing, combined with 4 fantastic wins in tricky conditions have made him in demand. He walked into the lion's den when very few people gave him a chance and he is performing admirably. His lead over Lewis is all the more impressive when you take into account that despite 2 DNF's each, neither of Jenson's were his fault and both of Lewis' retirements came down to mistakes.

He is now one of the most desirable drivers to have. He has shown he can consistently score good points, win races and not cause any inter team grief. There is persistant talk of a move to partner Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, there has also been talk of a move to Red Bull. I expect him to stay with McLaren until at least the end of 2014. The talk of him being in this situation when Honda left the sport is unthinkable.

I can't think of a career turnaround so dramatic as this.