Tag Archives: Alonso

Penalty Fair?

2 Sep

The annual Grand Prix at Spa rarely disappoints when it comes to providing drama. Despite an amazing pole to flag drive from Jenson Button, this year’s race will be remembered for the dramatic first race crash and other controversies which resulted in penalties being handed out.

Cars fly at Turn 1 in Spa.

 

Penalties are always a massive talking point throughout an F1 season, particularly when one driver is making regular visits to the FIA stewards, or when a series of similar incidents occur and the punishments handed out are inconsistent.

Cause and Effect

Today’s incident at the start of the race which caused a terrifying crash resulted in Romain Grosjean being handed a 1 race ban by the FIA and a 50,000 Euro fine. This was not Grosjean’s first incident at the start of a race (for example, he was involved in a dramatic start to this year’s Monaco Grand Prix) and it resulted in the scariest incident we’ve seen in a while.

The replay of the start showed Grosjean making a quick start and then moving over to the right, which squeezed Hamilton who did not veer outside of the white line to avoid contact. If you take this part of the incident in isolation then it is quite similar to other incidents we have seen this year, but the impact was so much greater because the whole of the pack were bunched together so closely at the start, while also braking to go round turn 1. If the two had come together like this later in the race and nobody else had been affected, chances are it would’ve just resulted in a grid-drop for Grosjean.  It can be difficult to differentiate between the two scenarios, but ultimately drivers need to take extra care at the start of the race.  Grosjean described the incident as a “small mistake with big consequences” and has apologised to the other drivers involved (and their fans). I’ve seen some emotional comments on twitter attacking Grosjean’s words, but I suspect he would have learned from this incident with or without the ban for the next race. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t receive it, but I’d be gob-smacked if the gravity of the situation and good fortune that nobody was seriously hurt  doesn’t have a deeper impact on him than a race ban. We saw in October 2011 the devastating consequences that a small coming together between two cars can have on a race track when there is traffic ahead. Wade Cunningham and JR Hildebrand came together at the Las Vegas Speedway which sent cars in front airborne, resulting in the tragic loss of Dan Wheldon.

The role of the FIA

The inconsistency of penalties from the FIA is one of the most controversial issues in motor racing. The inconsistency applies not only within Formula 1, but also across the feeder series of GP2, GP3 and World Series Renault where young drivers (like Grosjean) usually graduate from prior to their F1 careers. Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari’s team boss called for a higher standard of driving to be required in these lower series: “In my view, the most important thing is looking at the behaviour of drivers. It has to start in the championships before Formula 1. You see it too often in the other series that drivers are very aggressive and try to do something almost over what it is possible to do, so it is important to be very strict since they start racing and then they will arrive in F1 in a better condition for that”. Others, including GP2 and GP3 world commentator Will Buxton have supported this view. We shall have to see if Jean Todt pays attention to this call for action from his former team.

The most irritating thing from the FIA today was one of the reasons given on their official notice confirming Grosjean’s penalty: “It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race”.

The FIA official notice confirming Grosjean’s penalty

This sentence is simply infuriating. It shouldn’t matter who is affected by the incident or their position in the championship standings. All drivers must have an equal standing in such incidents whether they drive a Ferrari or an HRT.

What next?

F1 moves to Monza in just a few days, and it is not yet known who will drive the second Lotus car. In theory it should be Jerome D’Ambrosio, the team’s official reserve driver, but there is already speculation that Jaime Alguersuari could be called upon given his experience this year as Pirelli’s test driver. I would be delighted to see either driver race next weekend. This is likely to be the main talking point for the next few days until Lotus confirm the driver line-up.

Will the FIA act on Domenicali’s call for new standards? The organisation has a reputation for changing regulations on a whim to hush the cries of teams crying foul about technical details, or to stall the progress of an exceptional team/driver. They are not so smart at responding to lucky escapes. I hope the F1 paddock will not let them ignore the issues which emerged today, and that we will see a sensible, FAIR, crack down on dangerous driving throughout all the racing formula which they control.

 

 

The F1 Week That Was (24 June 2012)

25 Jun

It’s a good job I described this as a weekly-ish column. The last few weeks have been really busy! Anyway, here’s the latest instalment.

Valencia GP – Alonso Reigns in Spain

Despite the unpredictable nature of the season so far, F1 fans were bracing themselves for the annual ‘bore-fest’ of the Valencian Grand Prix. and I remember BBC F1 viewers at the start of the season had been really annoyed that it was one of the 10 live races they would see. Luckily for all it was an absolute cracker. It was a race of mixed emotions for me; in the middle of the race two of my three favourite drivers had their races wrecked and I was bracing myself for the prospect of another Hamilton victory (sorry McLaren fans but I really can’t stand the man). Little did I know that less than an hour later I would be screaming with excitement that Hamilton was out and that Michael Schumacher would be on the podium. The podium made up of Ferrari heroes with Alonso winning his home race was an incredibly poignant moment.

The notable development of the weekend was the heavily upgraded RB8. It  was an impressive step forward for the team and it will be interesting to see how the car performs in different conditions. The other leading teams will need to make similar steps forward in the next few races to prevent the Bulls charging away. Lewis Hamilton’s comments and body language in the drivers’ press conference on Thursday implied this wasn’t the case for McLaren, and Ferrari openly acknowledge they need to move forward. The results of the 3 remaining races before the summer break will be fascinating.

Third Drivers

Timo Glock’s unfortunate illness in Valencia, which led to him missing the race, raised the issue of reserve drivers. Marussia do not have a reserve driver, and the sudden onset of Timo’s illness made the team unable to draft in a temporary replacement (Jaime Alguersuari and Nick Heidfeld were both in the paddock, albeit with broadcasting commitments, and there may have been others). It is unusual for a team not to have a reserve driver, and Marussia’s test driver, Maria De Villota does not have a superlicence so is unable to participate in F1 races.

So why not have a reserve driver? Marussia are clearly short on funds this year – no KERS etc, and as a team at the back of the grid I think they have made the right call. Having a reserve driver is a big financial overhead for a team, and as they aren’t realistically going to be in with a chance of earning points, they are better off running with just one driver in circumstances like the ones that befell them in Valencia. If either Timo or Charles had a longer term problem then there is no shortage of drivers who they could draft in for multiple races.

A London Grand Prix?

News emerged during the week that Bernie has started talks about staging an F1 race at the London Olympic park. This news has been greeted with both cynicism and enthusiasm. I’d absolutely love to see a race in London, and when I go to the Olympics later in the summer I’ll definitely be envisaging an F1 circuit around the park. Bernie has tried for many years to get a race in London and this may be his best chance. The odds aren’t in his favour though.

Inevitably British fans love the idea of having two races. Silverstone has a long-term contract (not that those mean anything to Mr Ecclestone), and Britain is the base for the majority of the F1 teams. I’ve never been convinced, however, that it is a good thing to have two races in one country when there are so many other countries wanting to get a place on the calendar.

We’ll have to wait and see if the bid is successful.

Every Underdog Shall Have His Day

25 Mar

The Malaysian Grand Prix rarely disappoints when it comes to on-track action, and the 2012 race was certainly no exception. The weather played a predictable hand which helped bring great, potentially unpredictable achievements for many drivers/teams who could be considered to be underdogs, while those who were predicted to excel struggled.

The Underdogs

Alonso & Ferrari – the F2012 has been one of the most highly criticised cars at the start of this season, and nobody expected a victory for them. I’m not really a fan of either Alonso or Ferrari, but I was genuinely touched by their emotion after the win, and their determination to improve.

Perez & Sauber – we’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Checo in previous races, but today was the start of something new for the young Mexican. Had he not made that one mistake he may have won, but second place is still an incredible achievement and his delight at his first podium was truly infectious. His achievement today will only further fuel rumours about his future, particularly given Felipe Massa’s performance.

Image via Sauber F1 Team

Image via Sauber F1 Team

Senna & Williams – after a disappointing first race in Australia, Bruno Senna gave the best performance of his F1 career today by finishing sixth, showing both what he can do and what the FW34 can deliver. It was a real shame that Maldonado’s engine failed, as he is starting to really show his skill. If both of them can keep this up then Bruno should be able to step out from the shadow of his uncle’s legacy and build his own reputation, while Maldonado starts to shake off his reputation of just being a pay driver.

HRT – a mixed bag for who many see as the joker in the pack today. First achievement was meeting the 107% requirement, and despite an issue for De La Rosa at the start and drive-through penalty caused by a team member being on the track at the wrong moment, a clever early tyre strategy saw Karthikeyan up in tenth before the race was red flagged, the team’s best ever position. Sadly for them it inevitably wasn’t to last, and at different stages Karthikeyan got hit by both Button and Vettel. Button conceded responsibility for his incident, but Vettel harshly blamed Karthikeyan, who ended up with a 20 second penalty being applied to his race time.

Webber and Red Bull – the Bulls are struggling at the moment, but Mark Webber is quietly getting on with racing and gathering points while his team-mate struggles. He has out-qualified him in both races so far, and is currently ahead of Vettel in the tables.

Marussia – this back marker team had another strong race, with Pic up in 7th position at one point during a pit-stop phase. Both cars finished the race despite the tricky conditions and the team appear really pleased with their performance.

Caterham – both cars finished their home race, despite a minor incident for Heikki. Petrov finished ahead of his team-mate, while for one brief moment Kovalainen set the fastest lap of the race. The pace of the car was good and it will be great to see how they perform in a normal dry race.

Vergne & Toro Rosso – the young French rookie climbed ten places up the grid and scored his first points in Formula 1; quite an achievement in what would have been incredibly difficult race conditions. It’s early days for him at Toro Rosso, but these early points will certainly please his lords and masters.

How the Mighty Fall…

The two most obvious casualties of the race were Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. As noted above, JB showed his maturity and admitted he’d made a mistake while the current world champion was particularly ungracious in defeat. As a Vettel fan I was really disappointed in how he conducted himself on and off the track, and felt Karthikeyan’s penalty was unfair.

JB should be able to put this behind him quickly and focus on China whereas Vettel, who is already unhappy about the performance of the RB8, will have a greater mental hurdle to overcome in the next three weeks. I’m sure there’ll be some serious head-scratching going on in Milton Keynes over the next couple of weeks.

It was also disappointing to see the Mercedes perform poorly after such an excellent qualifying effort from Michael Schumacher. I hope they can turn this around and deliver some strong results.