Tag Archives: GP2

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.

 

 

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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?

Storm Clouds Are Gathering

22 Mar

The Formula 1 season has barely begun, but it already feels like it’s never been away. As race 2, Malaysia, rapidly approaches, tensions appear to be increasing, and I’m not just talking about the stormy weather forecast for the weekend. Here’s my look at what has been bubbling up over the last few days, as well as a look ahead to the weekend.

Inter-team bickering

A new season always brings new technical developments, and an inevitable knock-on effect of that is disputes between teams about who may be breaking FIA rules or breaching informal agreements between teams. Red Bull and Mercedes are currently engaged in a spat about the respective legality of their Renault engine behaviour and the  Mercedes ‘Super F-Duct’. The FIA has ruled that both are legal, and since Ferrari aren’t involved in the dispute those rulings are likely to stay in place (ooo handbag!). I hope this dispute doesn’t rumble on all season as it can get incredibly tedious.

A ruling in the long-running intellectual property theft case between Sahara Force India and Caterham F1 and Aerolab has also emerged today. If you’re not familiar with the case, Force India accused Aerolab, a wind tunnel supplier, of copying the F1 team’s design in the development of the Team Lotus T127. Legal proceedings were also launched against Mike Gascoyne (Caterham F1’s then-Chief Technical Officer) and the team. The ruling conceded some intellectual property ‘theft’ on the part of Aerolab and awarded Force India 25,000 Euros in damages. However, much more significantly, the High Court ruled in favour of Aerolab with regards to £4 million of unpaid legal costs; a bill which Force India really could do without right now with the near-collapse of Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines.

Drivers

After their performances in Melbourne, all eyes are on Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa and for once this is due to unrelated events.

Lewis Hamilton’s disappointment at coming third in Melbourne was plain to see last Sunday as he stood stony-faced on the podium and then spoke through gritted teeth during the post-race official press conference. After such a tumultuous season in 2011, the media are desperately looking for any sign that Lewis hasn’t got over all of his ‘issues’ from last year. Whether he has or not, Lewis really needs to learn some good sportsmanship and appear graceful in defeat. In his Telegraph column this week, David Coulthard pondered whether Jenson Button’s seemingly easy success in Melbourne has knocked Lewis’s confidence. I think there is little doubt that it has knocked him, and if Lewis can’t strike back with a strong victory in the first few races then his frustrations may re-emerge on the track.

Felipe Massa did not fare well in Melbourne, and an unusually worded press release from the Ferrari team about his new chassis has ignited speculation about whether he will still be driving for them all season: “Felipe knows he can count on the team to do everything, both from the technical and the operational point of view, to put him in a better state to show off his talents – even at the cost of extra work in these few days that separate the Australian race from the one in Malaysia. For example work has already begun in the Sepang pits to prepare chassis number 294, which replaces the number 293 and will be used by the Brazilian in the second race of the season. This choice was taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park” (from http://www.ferrari.com). A number of drivers have been linked with Massa’s seat, including Sauber driver Sergio Perez and currently unemployed Jarno Trulli. Ferrari and Massa have been quick to dismiss these rumours but they have a habit of not going away. If Massa doesn’t improve his performance on track then this will only continue to distract all parties.

F1 this weekend

Melbourne saw all cards get thrown up in the air, and it still isn’t clear exactly how things compare between some of the teams. Mercedes and Lotus both clearly have very strong cars, but they were hindered by problems over the weekend. Hopefully the race at Sepang will bring both teams more luck and we’ll see what they’re really capable of.

The mid-field appears to be a tightly bunched pack and we should see some fierce battles for points.  Williams, in particular, appear to have turned themselves around, and I really hope to see them do well and score the points they so narrowly missed out on in Melbourne.

At the back of the pack, Caterham will be seeking to show what they can really do after some bad luck in Australia. Heikki Kovalainen will be hindered by a 5 place grid penalty, but he should be able to push forward through the field. Whether he will need to negotiate the mobile chicanes of the HRT cars won’t be known until after qualifying – will they be able to pass the 107% rule?

The greatest unknown in all of this though is the weather. Stormy weather is forecast which would inevitably complicate things further. If the race is wet I’d expect Button and Schumacher to do well, given their particular skills in the rain.

Other action this weekend

The GP2 season kicks off in Malaysia, and after only occasionally dipping in to coverage in previous years, I’m looking forward to getting to know this formula a lot better in the coming year. Coverage on Sky will, of course, help this rather than somewhat erratic coverage on Eurosport last year.

Also starting this weekend is the Indy Car season. The first race from St Pete’s is being broadcast on Sky Sports F1, and I’m looking forward to getting in to it again. I’m sure interest will be higher amongst F1 fans this year, with Rubens Barrichello competing, and it’ll be great to see him getting his teeth in to the races. I also can’t wait to see Dario Franchitti back in action.

Some Reflective Moments

There’ll also be a real sense of poignancy races on both sides of the globe this weekend.

It is the first Indy Car race since the tragic loss of Dan Wheldon, and this street circuit takes place in his adopted home town. Dan’s sister Holly will be waving the green flag, as well as presenting the winner’s trophy. A street on the track has also recently been dedicated as ‘Dan Wheldon Way’.

Back in Malaysia, the scene of the equally tragic loss of Moto GP rider Marco Simoncelli, drivers and teams have been visiting T11 where Marco lost his life, and pausing to remember their friend. Fernando Alonso’s comments about being in Sepang this weekend and remembering Marco have been particularly touching.

 

This will be a weekend packed full of racing action; bring it on.