Tag Archives: F1

Pondering Petrov

23 Jan

The delay by Caterham to announce their second driver, coupled with the shock exit of Timo Glock from Marussia this week, presents an interesting situation at the back of the grid.

Vitaly Petrov is the seemingly logical driver to take the Marussia seat – a Russian driver in a Russian backed team, with a Russian GP planned in 2014. He also has the vital sponsorship which the team needs. However, things are not that simple.

Petrov has been in the queue for the remaining seat at his current team, Caterham, along with his unlikely-to-get-it 2012 team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, Giedo Van Der Garde, Luiz Razia and Bruno Senna. Petrov’s manager, Oksana Kosachenko, has made it clear that they are focussed purely on securing the Caterham seat. This has caused some head-scratching in some quarters given the obvious Russian connection I mentioned earlier.

I have no doubt that the sudden vacancy at Marussia will have raised hopes in many quarters, including Petrov’s, but he and his manager are in a precarious position. Heikki Kovalainen has been publicly criticised by his team for seeking a seat elsewhere; indeed the somewhat egotistical senior management appear to feel personally slighted by him wanting to consider a seat in a more competitive car. If Kosachenko starts to make overtures to Marussia it could seriously jeopardise their chances with Caterham.

I suspect they have to play a waiting game (publicly at least) to see how things turn out with Caterham and if the seat does go to another driver I think we can expect them to be knocking on Marussia’s door very publicly immediately afterwards if that vacancy is still free. It is possible that Marussia may wait for that very scenario.


2013: A Make or Break Season for Paul di Resta?

19 Jan

The 2012/13 transition period between seasons has brought some fairly significant driver movement to the mid-field. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg were the big winners with new signings, while others like Kamui Kobayashi have no seat for 2013. Those who are staying where they are can breathe a sigh of relief, but you can never sit comfortably for long. As we have seen with Kamui Kobayashi, F1 is a ruthless game where seats can be lost if you don’t light up the field (or have buckets of sponsorship money to compensate) after a season or two. Scotland’s Paul di Resta is staying at Force India for a third season, but not without having tried to get a seat further forward on the grid and his frustration is evident.

Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta

Di Resta has made a few F1 headlines in recent weeks due to a minor twitter dispute that he had with McLaren’s new signing, Sergio Perez. It has emerged that both drivers were in talks with McLaren to replace Lewis Hamilton, but di Resta missed out to the young Mexican. From di Resta’s perspective this was down to money, but at the time it was widely commented that McLaren didn’t want another British pairing or two horses both from the ‘Sports Partnership’ stable (which manages both Jenson Button and Paul di Resta).

To be in F1 you obviously have to be a top class driver, but has di Resta really got what it takes to get to the front? He arrived on the grid at the start of 2011 (after a season as Force India’s test driver), hailed as the DTM Champion and Formula 3 Euroseries Champion who famously beat his team-mate; some German driver called Sebastian Vettel. Di Resta hails from one of Scotland’s finest motor-racing families, the most famous among them being the multiple Indy Car Series/Indy 500 Champion Dario Franchitti. But is Paul living up to what was expected of him? In 2012 Paul ended the season 3 places and 17 points behind his team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg. The contrast between them could not have been more apparent at the final race in Brazil where Hulkenberg took on the McLarens and lead the race for a period (albeit later then taking Lewis Hamilton off). Unfortunately, Di Resta’s biggest contribution to the race was to skid off in to the wall and bring out the safety car for the final few laps. With his team-mate having spent the previous year not racing (Hulkenberg was FI’s reserve driver in 2011), it must have hurt di Resta all the more for him to have then come back on to the track and beaten him. It was also Hulkenberg who was being talked about as a potential replacement for Felipe Massa at Ferrari, or for vacancies at Mercedes or McLaren. It is safe to say that in 2012 Paul was upstaged by his team-mate both on and off the track.

2013 brings new challenges for Paul di Resta. He still doesn’t know who his team-mate will be (and at the time of writing this there are rumours swirling that Force India are in serious financial difficulties), but it is expected to be either his former team-mate Adrian Sutil or Ferrari Academy hotshot Jules Bianchi. Whichever it is, Paul needs to beat his team-mate in 2013 or his credibility is going to stall and he will be at serious risk of being eclipsed by those around and behind him.

Paul’s other big challenge (from my perspective), is that he needs the British public to get behind him more. To do this, he needs more publicity and he needs to give them a reason to really cheer for him. A higher public profile could also bring more sponsorship money. Publicity-wise, Paul reminds me of Andy Murray. Both nice Scottish guys, but both are quiet and a little grumpy, and Murray has struggled to break through in a way not dissimilar to di Resta. The press doesn’t bash Paul di Resta like it has bashed Andy Murray, but the British public only fully embraced Murray when he was making it to the finals of the big tournaments. A heroic podium place for Paul di Resta or period where he leads a race could bring him back in to the spotlight and get the fans behind him.

In 2013 Paul won’t be the new Brit on the block any more. Max Chilton is the new British rookie – young, talented, wealthy and likely to be a hit with young female F1 fans – who will be looking to turn heads as he competes at the back of the grid. Chilton won’t be a threat to di Resta on the track, but he could be a threat off it.

I like Paul di Resta. He seems like a genuine talented guy, but 2013 could be his make or break season. He is lucky to be signed with the Sports Partnership (even though it may have counted against him for the McLaren spot) who will do their best to seat him in a better car in 2014 (hopefully with increased sponsorship), but he needs to deliver on track for them to stand a chance of doing so.

British readers can watch Paul on A Question of Sport this Wednesday – BBC1 10.35pm.

F1 Winter Break 2012/13 – Key Dates

30 Nov

The 2012 season may be over, and the 2013 season still months away, but the next few months won’t be completely quiet. December in particular sees a number of activities going on to close down the 2012 season. I’ve pulled together the dates that have been announced so far for anyone who wants a handy reference for when we may get even the smallest F1 fix or titbit of news. I will update this when additional events and their dates are announced.

December 2012

2nd – 21.30 GMT – Autosport Awards, London. Sadly not being streamed live online this year but you can follow a live text feed on the Autosport website.

7thFIA Prize-Giving Gala, Istanbul, Turkey. The event will be streamed live here at 22:00 GMT.

8thSwatch Snowmobile Race, Saalbach, Austria. Kimi Raikkonen is racing again this year. The event is broadcast live on Motors TV at 19:00-21:15 (internet stream on their website, or on Sky TV 413/Virgin Media 545).

14th Race of Champions Asia, Bangkok, Thailand. F1 drivers Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok are confirmed to be participating. It isn’t currently in the UK TV listings.

15th – 16thRace of Champions, Bangkok Thailand. F1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Romain Grosjean and David Coulthard are confirmed to be participating. The event will be broadcast on Motors TV at 13:00-16:00 GMT each day (internet stream on their website, or on Sky TV 413/Virgin Media 545).

Mid-December – expect driver line-up announcements from Lotus and Force India.

January 2013

7th – Release of the 2012 Season Review DVD/Blu-ray.

18th – 11.30am GMT – Sid Watkins Memorial Service, Marylebone, London.

February/March 2013

5th – 8th – First Pre-Season Winter Test, Jerez, Spain.

19th – 22nd – Second Pre-Season Winter Test, Barcelona, Spain.

28th Feb – 3rd Mar – Third Pre-Season Winter Test, Barcelona, Spain.

F1 Festive Shopping Guide

29 Nov

Earlier in the year I wrote a couple of pieces on F1 merchandising. The first, a look at alternative merchandising, and the second, an assessment on whether teams have got their merchandising right. These went down well with fellow fans, so I’m now following up with a special festive edition. If you’re trying to write your list for Santa, or looking to buy a gift for an F1 obsessed friend/relative and are lacking inspiration, then I hope this piece helps you.

I’m sure many will have F1 race tickets on their Christmas list, and those would really be the ultimate gift….but what I’ve included here is a little more reasonably priced.

Fun stuff

I suspect there are very few F1 fans who haven’t enjoyed the McLaren ‘Tooned’ series on Sky Sports F1 (I don’t like McLaren but even I liked the cartoons). Great news for fans of the cartoon is that McLaren have brought out a range of merchandise for kids, including a DVD, for Tooned. It’s a shame for big kids that there aren’t adult clothing items…

Tooned Kids Socks £7.95, DVD £9.95

The other fun range I’m featuring here was created off the back of *the* radio messages and off-track excursions of the 2012 season (both courtesy of Mr Kimi Raikkonen) by the excellent Unlap. There are two ‘leave me alone’ designs, which are available on t-shirts (£10 kids, £14 adults) and mugs (£8).

‘Leave me alone’ designs from Unlap


There’s a huge range of F1 related books available if you look on Amazon – biographies, annuals, memoirs…enough to fill many shelves. Here I’m picking one new book and one ‘classic’.

Through the Eyes of Formula 1, by Caroline Reid and Christian Sylt. Earlier in the year, Zoom organised a charity auction of photographs taken by a number of drivers and key personnel in the 2012 F1 paddock. These photographs have now been compiled in to a book – available on Amazon for £11.80.


The Grand Prix Saboteurs, by Joe Saward. This book was published in 2006 after meticulous research by the author (who is also a journalist in the F1 press pack) in to this amazing true story. It tells the story of F1 drivers in 1920’s and 1930’s who became secret agents during WW2. There have been plans to make a movie of these events but there are currently funding issues. Available new on Amazon for £12.99 (less for second-hand copies).


F1 experiences at Silverstone

Silverstone has an ever-increasing range of experiences available for petrol heads looking for an adrenaline rush, and they have some excellent Christmas offers available.

Their ‘Thrill Super Choice Voucher’ is £79 and allows the lucky recipient to take their pick from a range of seven cars and go for a spin around the track. The best deal, however, is to pay the higher rate of £99 and get two adult tickets for the Friday of the 2013 F1 Silverstone Grand Prix.

If you’re looking for something a little cheaper or less exhilarating, Silverstone also offer tours of the circuit for £15 and helicopter flights over it from £39.

Passing the Baton – Germany’s F1 drivers

27 Nov

The fall of the chequered flag in Interlagos yesterday saw the passing from one era of German F1 history to another. The legendary seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher retired from the sport for the second and final time, while his young friend Sebastian Vettel claimed his third WDC title in as many years, making him the youngest triple world champion in the sport’s history. There are few who doubt that Vettel will win more titles, and many now wonder if he can beat his childhood hero’s WDC record. Vettel’s achievements in 2012 certainly make him a worthy recipient of the ‘German motor sport hero’ baton.

A successor is anointed – Michael Schumacher congratulates Sebastian Vettel on his 3rd WDC title, as the 7-times champion retires for good.

With Vettel now moving up to ‘top dog’, I have been pondering who should or can succeed him as Germany’s next big hope. Germany currently (although the UK will equal their number if Max Chilton does race for Marussia in 2013) has more F1 drivers than any other country, so in theory should be well positioned to have another up and coming star, but who deserves the mantle?

Timo Glock is the eldest of the four German drivers on the grid, but while he is a great guy (and another of my favourite drivers), he is stuck at the back end of the grid in a Marussia. The team are improving, but it is highly unlikely we’ll be seeing him on the podium any time soon. Timo’s new role will essentially be the elder statesman of the German camp in F1. He is good friends with Sebastian Vettel and is another useful wing man for the new leading light.

Within F1 this leaves the two Nico’s: Messrs Rosberg and Hulkenberg. Both have potential, but which, if either of them, will be great?

Nico Rosberg

Nico R is the most experienced of the German drivers on the grid. He has now completed seven full seasons in Formula 1; four with Williams, and three with Mercedes. During that time Nico has been on the podium seven times, taken one pole position and one race victory. His pole and race victory finally came this year in Shanghai, and many commentators at the time talked of him finally being able to “shake the monkey from his back”. Since then, the performance of his car has been less than impressive so he has been unable to repeat these successes.

Victory at last – Rosberg wins in China, 2012

Nico’s biggest achievement to date has to be his ability, at times, to race on a par with, or better than, Michael Schumacher in his second F1 career. His biggest test is yet to come though. His new team mate will be keen to stamp his authority all over the Mercedes team, and despite having been promised equal treatment, Nico will need to prove he can race as hard as Lewis Hamilton. Few are expecting much of the 2013 Mercedes car, but 2014 is cited as being their big opportunity.

Nico Hulkenberg

Nico R has the least experience of the German drivers. He has been racing in F1 for only two seasons; one with Williams and one with Force India with a season as Force India’s reserve driver in between. He is the same age as Sebastian Vettel.

Although he is yet to step on to the F1 podium, Nico has already bagged a pole position at Brazil in 2010, and led part of the 2012 Brazil race (Interlagos must be his lucky track). During 2012 he has out-performed Paul Di Resta and made a good enough impression on Sauber’s management to secure a drive with them for 2013.

The Hulk makes his mark in Interlagos, Brazil 2012

Nico Hulkenberg has made a few mistakes along the way like any young driver, but he seems to have an edginess and energy about him which Nico Rosberg perhaps lacks. His move to Sauber is a great opportunity, and with a rookie team mate he will be in a strong position to drive the team forward as the more experienced driver. I’d be very surprised if he isn’t on the podium in 2013.

Both Nico’s have an opportunity to step further in to the German limelight, but which will it be, if either? Does Germany need to wait longer for its next star?

The only German in GP2/GP3 at the moment is Daniel Abt, who finished second in the GP3 series in 2012. He is just 19 years of age, but has Red Bull sponsorship and is recognised within Germany as a future star. The next few years will be key for Abt.

Shuffling the pack – 28 Sept 2012

28 Sep

What a day.

After an absurdly protracted silly season, the F1 driver pack shuffling finally began today. In case you have been hiding in a cave all day, Lewis Hamilton is leaving McLaren who are replacing him with Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez, while Michael Schumacher who was ousted by H.A.M. appears to be seeking gainful employment elsewhere. The entire F1 twittersphere has been expressing its displeasure/outrage/bafflement/pleasure (delete as appropriate) since the early hours.

This was the news I was dreading, and now we are 12 hours in I’ve gathered my thoughts. I am pissed off. Not as pissed off as I may have been, as this news is definitely not the worst I have received this week by one heck of a long way. The only thing which is pissing me off is the now-serious risk that my beloved über-weltmeister Schumi may have to retire permanently from the sport. Beyond that I have mixed feelings. Here is my take on the key players:

I don’t believe he wants to retire. If he did, he’d probably have said as much today through a joint statement with Mercedes. His manager Sabine Kehm has been quoted today saying that Michael wasn’t sure in the summer if he wanted to re-sign when offered a deal. Given the nightmarish first half of the season he had, this really doesn’t surprise me. Why would he want to keep driving in the team, or at all, given all those DNF’s which were beyond his control? Was he thinking of looking around elsewhere back then? We will probably never know.

I really, really want Schumi to keep racing, but only in a team where he has a good, reliable car. Sauber would be a great fit. I don’t believe he should, would or could go back to Ferrari.

The team do need to think of the future, and while I personally don’t get the hype around Hamilton, he is a big name. He also has an ego to match. The arrival of Lewis, Simon Fuller, Pussycat Nicole & guest rappers will probably be quite a culture shock for the team compared to the quieter team of Michael, his manager Sabine and occasionally his wife Corinna. I suspect it will take a while for the two parties to gel, particularly with Simon Fuller.

Was it the challenge or the $$$? Who knows. More so than Mercedes, I think Lewis is also in for a culture shock. He is no longer the protegé, no longer in the environment he grew up in where he appears to have been treated with kid gloves. If he puts a toe out of line or gives it too much attitude, the Mercedes management will come down on him hard. Niki Lauda, Norbert Haug and Ross Brawn are all fierce when it comes to discipline. This could be exactly what Lewis needs, but it could easily turn in to a disaster zone.

Did they drop the ball? Yes, maybe. But did Ron Dennis want to keep hold of it? With relations soured it is probably best for the team that they have a new start. Jenson is an excellent team player and will give them the continuity, while their new young rising star will be a breath of fresh air. If Checo keeps Jenson on his toes from the start and only grows stronger, how long will it be before they stop looking wistfully down the pitlane to Lewis’s garage?

Mexico’s rising star is undoubtedly the one with the most to gain here. After being held back by Ferrari, he now has a seat at a top team which will give him a shot at becoming another of F1’s youngest world champions. I can’t wait to see what he can deliver next year.

Back in Bahrain…

4 Sep

It is hard to believe that it has been five months since the F1 paddock was making its controversial visit to Bahrain. The race made world headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it temporarily reminded us that Bahrain has not yet followed other countries in the MENA region on the path to democracy. Since then F1 and the mass media attention have left the Bahraini troubles behind them and moved on to other races and other stories. Meanwhile, little has changed back in Bahrain.

One of the key names the media focussed on back in April was Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights protester who had embarked on a hunger strike to protest the life sentence he was given in response to his role in the 2011 protests in Bahrain (which led to the F1 race that year being cancelled). Al-Khawaja ended his hunger strike in May, and along with others had appealed his sentence.

Today, an appeals court in Bahrain ruled that the convictions  of al-Khawaja and his fellow protesters were to be upheld. You can read the story on the BBC website here.

Of particular interest is Frank Gardner’s (the BBC’s Security Correspondent) analysis of the situation: “The decision by a Bahraini civil court to uphold verdicts handed down last year by a military court on 20 activists sends a tough message to the opposition. Bahrain’s government and ruling family have now drawn a red line on how far they are prepared to compromise. There had been speculation, following King Hamad’s visit to the UK last month, that serious dialogue could resume between the Sunni monarchy and the Shia-dominated opposition. That dialogue has not progressed and now these verdicts will delight hardliners in the government camp and depress moderates in the opposition. Despite numerous reforms, Bahrain is still being criticised for its human rights record.”

It is hard to predict how things will now progress (if at all) in Bahrain, but if the government are going to take a tougher position with pro-democracy campaigners,  progress is likely to stagnate further and F1 cannot expect to find an improved, let alone resolved, situation when they return in 2013. The event will again be a chance for campaigners to (rightly, IMHO) capitalise on the publicity the race attracts and remind the world again of their cause.

The 2013 provisional F1 calendar has not yet been released, but when it is there is little doubt that Bahrain will feature on it as the circuit still has a contract with Bernie Ecclestone. When the calendar appears, F1 will once again face its moral dilemma over Bahrain. After the tensions witnessed in 2012 (and the negative press) teams will be again be reluctant to return if tensions are still high, but of course they will be contractually obliged to go.

The 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix’s controversial slogan.

The best F1 can hope for is that organisers do not try to exploit the race for international political gain as they did in 2012 with the farcical ‘UniF1ed’ slogan. Another heavily politicised race can only be bad news for the sport. We shall have to wait and see how things unfold in the next six months.

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.



Red Bull – Living on the Edge

26 Jul

So here we are, in the middle of the season and once again Red Bull have been making the headlines for what many consider to be all the wrong reasons.

The German Grand Prix was not a great weekend for the team; the mapping issue, the passing and penalty issue, Mark’s struggles, and some perhaps unfortunate comments that the press and the F1 community on twitter are devouring like a pack of rabid hyenas.

I don’t agree with many of the comments made by Dr Helmut Marko, I don’t always agree with Christian or Sebastian (yes I do think he should have given that place back and passed later). Their comments in interviews do sometimes let them down. The creative genius of Adrian Newey however, does not and it complements the ethos of the team and the brand.

I don’t need to write a paragraph waxing lyrical about Adrian and what he has achieved in Formula 1, you already know all that. What I will do though, is highlight one of the things that Adrian has in buckets; creative genius. He thinks outside the box and will push things further to the limit than his counterparts at the other eleven F1 teams and it pays off every time. Everybody is looking for that extra edge, and Adrian knows how to get it. Does he live within ‘the spirit of the rules’? I think so, but again he will push that spirit to the limit to get the most out of the car. Unfortunately for the team, the rest of the paddock don’t agree, and the FIA will respond to a sufficiently loud level of whining by rewriting the rules. In F1 rules aren’t made to be broken; they are made to be rewritten.

Many F1 fans have described Red Bull as cheaters. They aren’t cheating. Ordering a driver to crash to affect the outcome of a race, or photocopying documents from another team is cheating.

Red Bull, not just the F1 team but the whole company, lives life on the edge and pushes to the limit. While the F1 paddock has been grumbling all week about engine mappings and passing manoeuvres, another Red Bull venture, Red Bull Stratos, was completing a second test flight before Felix Baumgartner does a jump from the edge of space back down to earth. This is an incredible project and I can’t wait to see coverage of the actual jump.

Red Bull Stratos


I may not be too keen on the drink itself, but I love the ethos of the brand, the events and athletes that they sponsor, and the F1 team’s creativity and skill at pushing the rules and convention to the limit complements that ethos perfectly. I suspect that the majority of the people who read this have pushed rules to the limit in their own lives – driving right on the speed limit, going through an orange light just before it changes to red, trying to outsmart our parents and the rules they imposed on us when we were kids….the list goes on.

When any team uncovers a new feature which pushes the limits it is easy to point the finger if we support a different team, and cry foul. We want our boys to win. It is easy for me to write this because I love Red Bull, but if like me you drive on the limit, or tried to be a smartass when you were a kid, join me next time the rules get rewritten in a wry smile and a tip of your F1 hat to acknowledge that same creativity in the sport we all love.

F1 Drivers – The Age Issue

15 Jul

Age can be a delicate subject for many, but in the world of Formula 1 it has become a somewhat contentious one. As someone of an age considered to be ‘a bit past it’ for sportsmen, I always find it somewhat bemusing to read about someone being too old. I can’t help but wonder, is 40 the new 30 in Formula 1?

Before I start to look at the age issue, here’s some basic figures for you:

The average age of the 2012 Formula 1 drivers is 28.75 years old

The average age of the 2012 race winning drivers is 29.75 years old

The driver contract ‘silly season’ always re-ignites the age debate in Formula 1, with contract lengths always being assessed against a driver’s age. Drivers of a ‘certain age’ who sign long contracts, such as Fernando Alonso and his contract extension with Ferrari until 2015, are predicted to see out their careers with that long contract. Alonso will be 33 in 2015 – not exactly over the hill – and the chances of him retiring then are incredibly small.

The ‘old timers’

The most controversial ‘old’ driver in Formula 1 is of course Michael Schumacher. He’s 43, on his second career, and his contract with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 expires at the end of the current season. No decision has been made as yet about whether he will extend, but both he and Mercedes team principal, Ross Brawn, have alluded to him extending for at least one more season. After two difficult years with the car, and despite some awful luck this season, Schumi has found his feet and is pushing hard for more success. There is no reason for him to retire other than any lack of personal motivation to continue, and the 7 times world champion appears as motivated as ever.

Michael Schumacher on the podium in Valencia, 2012.

Second oldest is Pedro De La Rosa, the 41-year-old Spanish driver for HRT. It could be argued that Pedro has been HRT’s most successful driver. He has duelled very effectively with the Marussia drivers this season, and wrung everything out of the worst car on the grid. Like Schumacher with Mercedes, De La Rosa can be a very strong asset for HRT to improve their car in the future, given his experience and ability.

Pedro De La Rosa, HRT 2012

2011 saw the F1 retirement of Rubens Barrichello, who recently turned 40. After leaving F1 Rubens moved to Indy Car. Four days after his 40th birthday, Rubens won the trophy for Best Rookie at the Indy 500. Not bad for an old dog.

Fast heading in the ‘old timer’ direction is Mark Webber, with his 36th birthday only just over a month away. Everyone’s favourite Aussie driver is a serious contender for the 2012 title, and appeared to have a choice between driving for either Red Bull Racing or Ferrari next year. Mark has just signed a year’s extension with Red Bull, and it is highly unlikely that 2013 will be his last. Lewis Hamilton was very recently quoted as saying he hoped he’d still be racing when he’s as old as Michael. Sounds to me like Schumi is going to become a trend-setter.

Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen, both aged 30, are worthy of a seat further up the grid and Heikki in particular may well get one in the next year or so, rather than eventually slipping away.

2012 is proving challenging for all of the drivers on the F1 grid. Pirelli’s new tyre compounds, and a tighter development race are testing the patience of many. Maturity and experience appear to be serious assets for F1 drivers in 2012.

When adversity challenges drivers, maturity wins the day. Hamilton may be young, but he throws away points through a lack of maturity on the track and an attitude problem off it. Yes, there’s the principle of being a ‘true racer’, but at the end of the day points win prizes. When adversity strikes, whether it is your own doing or not, how you conduct yourself affects everything around you. One of the most impressive things about Michael Schumacher this year has been his ongoing public support for his team, despite the many technical failures which have put him out of contention for a shot at the title. A younger Schumacher, or a younger driver like Lewis would be highly unlikely to show such maturity and restraint.

The Young Guns

At the other end of the age spectrum from Schumacher and De La Rosa are the three youngest guns at the tender age of 22: Sergio Perez, Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne. All have recently graduated from GP2 and Formula Renault.

Now if you’re a big fan of the F1 feeder formulas, you’ll be keen to see the top talents from GP2, Formula Renault etc securing a seat in F1. The longer the established drivers stick around, the fewer seats there are available for these young whipper-snappers. GP2 commentator Will Buxton highlighted this issue earlier this year in an interview with fellow blogger Jack Leslie: “There have been some incredible talents in GP2, but for as long as the likes of Grandpa Schumacher want to carry on trying to get a podium to prove to themselves they’ve still got it, there won’t always be space for them over the road in F1.” Derogatory references to Michael Schumacher aside, Will is right, and the lack of seats opening up, combined with the difficulties of obtaining sponsorship present a serious challenge to young drivers.

The current reality

With the majority of the top seats in F1 filled by drivers aged over 30 (only four out of the ten drivers in the top five teams are under 30 years old), a log jam has developed in F1. This will result in greater pressure on the young mid-field talent trying to push their way forward, and fend off the threat of ‘pay drivers’. If I could be confident that talent would always trump sponsorship money I’d be inclined to say this is a good thing as the quality of driving in F1 would increase further.

There will, however, be those who just don’t make the cut and never break in to F1 when they may have had the chance ten years ago. Given the years of dedication it takes to reach the top, this will always be frustrating for those who don’t make it, but the prize for those who do will be all the sweeter. Not only do they get to race at the top, but they get to do so alongside their heroes.

There’s no right or wrong opinion about the age of F1 drivers, as it is just that; opinion. My personal view is that having a range of ages and experience in F1 makes it a richer sport. The six world champions on the grid, and some top (more mature) dogs like Webber are making 2012 a fascinating season.

In other walks of life, the age of retirement is increasing. It would be naive to assume that the standard retirement age of an F1 driver should stay the same when the rest of us are going on for longer. 40 definitely seems to be the new 30 in the F1 world. Older drivers are here to stay, and the average age is only likely to increase in the coming years.

What do you think?