Tag Archives: Vettel

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh what a circus, oh what a show…

17 Mar

After months of deprivation of our beloved sport, F1 fans have been given a cracker of a season opener so far, with the F1 circus rolling in to town in Melbourne. I am incredibly tired after watching the FP sessions and Quali live, but it is worth every yawn and bid to keep my eyes open.

Here’s my take on qualifying today.

Given the drivers and teams I’m supporting this year, it was a mixed blessing for me. I’d have liked to have seen Mercedes further forward, though obviously 4th on the grid is still very good for Michael Schumacher, particularly given his ability to make stonkingly good starts. I was really pleased that he managed to out-qualify Nico Rosberg too. Caterham were disappointed not to have done better, but I think that their race pace will be good, and both drivers will be pushing hard tomorrow. So what about Red Bull?

After rooting solely for Seb in 2011, it felt a little odd to not be disappointed by today’s outcome for Red Bull. I think both he and Mark could have done better (given SV’s mistake and MW’s KERS failure), but I really want Seb to be tested after such a dominant year so he can prove himself at fighting through the pack rather than leading at the front. I expect he’ll make a strong start tomorrow, and should be able to move up one or two positions, and then rest will come down to DRS and strategy. I don’t think anyone should write off the 2011 champions based on today, and I have been disappointed to see so many snarky/gloating comments from some McLaren fans on twitter. McLaren undoubtedly have a very strong car and impressed everyone today, but it is early days.

There were some real surprises today. The obvious one was Ferrari being in fairly dire straits, not helped of course by Alonso beaching himself in the gravel. I have no doubt he will be fighting hard tomorrow, but his car may not give him the ability to push forward as easily as he is used to. Besides Ferrari, the evenness of the mid-field was fairly surprising. and I was particularly pleased to see Williams making a strong start. It was a real shame Senna wasn’t able to get further forward, but for Maldonado to qualify 8th must’ve brought immense relief to the team after their annus horribilis.

The 2012 rookies also fared well in their first season. Grosjean took the media (though not the drivers) by surprise with his impressive 3rd place, while both Vergne and Pic impressed me too. I hope they all fare well tomorrow and finish their first race.

Off the track, the other ‘rookie’ is, of course, Sky Sports F1. Today saw the first real comparison of Sky v BBC, with Sky showing full live coverage, and the BBC showing edited highlights. I think Sky are doing a really great job for their first race weekend, and it is inevitable that the team will take some time to settle in to their new roles. The two most at ease seemed to be the commentating duo of Martin Brundle and David Croft – this pairing really is superb. I’d like to see more driver interviews than Sky Pad time, but it is difficult to capture all of those and show them live, so the BBC did have an advantage in being able to include more in their highlights package which was created after the event. I’m still not sure if Georgie Thompson has any purpose there other than being eye candy. I’d prefer to see more of Natalie Pinkham who knows the in’s and out’s of the sport a lot better.

The BBC edited highlights show was a mixed affair for me. I really hated seeing such an action-packed qualifying session being edited down so much, as it really didn’t do it justice, and the editing was quite poor. I appreciate that editing quality aside there is little they can do when they have a time-cap on how much footage then can show. On the other hand, the presentation was good, and I liked all the new graphics. I’m not sure about the new title sequence – it moves around too quickly, and by showing some historic footage in the clips it is not dissimilar to the Sky opening sequence (especially since they are using some of the same footage). I will be watching both Sky and BBC coverage, and will just look to enjoy the best of both. Again, the twitter banter between fans of each camp was disappointing – fans should be focussing on rivalry between drivers and teams, not on which broadcaster they watch.

Tomorrow’s race should be fascinating, and if today’s action is anything to go by, we are in for one heck of a Formula 1 season.

Going for the Hat-Trick

3 Mar

The 2011 season left many F1 fans in fear that a new era of dominance by a single team and driver was dawning. After clinching his first world title in Abu Dhabi in 2010, Sebastian Vettel blazed his way through 2011 to claim his second in truly dominant fashion. The technical supremacy of Red Bull Racing in both seasons earned them back-to-back constructor’s titles.

As the 2012 season dawns I, like pretty much everyone, have been wondering how things will pan out this year, as well as pondering that eternal question of whether dominance from one driver or team is a good or bad thing.

The new season

As always, pre-season testing has been like an elaborate game of poker with none of the teams showing their true hands. The experts on location currently believe Red Bull have the edge, and this is likely to be extended by the major upgrade that the team are running for the final two days of the test. See here for details: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/97811 McLaren have also brought some significant upgrades to Barcelona, but not on the scale of Red Bull.

We won’t know how things really stand until Melbourne, but if a Red Bull is on pole position, particularly Sebastian Vettel, and then goes on to win the race, then many will resign themselves to another white-wash.

Team/Driver Dominance

Different people will perceive dominance from a driver or team in different ways. General consensus will always be that it is a bad thing; after all there will always be 11 other teams and 23 other drivers who are racing and they and their fans aren’t going to be too pleased about it.

Although there are twenty four cars on the starting grid and action throughout the pack during the race, attention is inevitably focussed on whoever wins the race. If this is where your attention is focussed then yes, dominance is never going to be a good thing unless you support whoever keeps winning. Personally speaking, I like to focus on the whole race and don’t mind a consistent winner as long as there has been some great action further back. I am a fan of racing, not of supporting a winner. Readers may be cynical about this given who two of my three favourite drivers are (i.e. Schumacher and Vettel), but I honestly take equal pleasure in watching Kovalainen fighting forward in to the mid-field.

I was interested to get some views from other Vettel fans about driver dominance and what they felt about Seb in 2012 and the future (many thanks to those who helped me out by completing a quick survey).

60% of those asked thought that dominance from a single driver was a bad thing. This is pretty much as I expected. Even if you like the driver who is winning, it is easy to see that other fans will become disillusioned, to the detriment of the sport.

I was also interested to find out who they would like to see win the WDC in 2012 if Vettel didn’t claim the title again. The Sebson ‘bromance’ clearly extends to Vettel fans, as Jenson Button was clear favourite. Although I’d love to see Schumi come through and win the title again, realistically speaking that is unlikely (even less likely for Heikki), and so Jenson would be my next choice. He’s a decent competitive guy with none of the nonsense associated with his team-mate.

It is likely that Vettel and an Adrian Newey-designed car could form a formidable pairing for years, and many of Vettel’s critics have claimed that his car should be credited with his success. It is inevitable that having the best car on the grid is going to  be a significant factor, but claims like this do Vettel a real disservice. My final question for Vettel fans was whether or not he should seek to stay at Red Bull beyond his current contract (which runs until the end of 2014). Responses were split on this – some would like to see him stay and succeed, while others want him to prove his talent by driving another car. It is good for drivers to race for at least two teams in their career, and the 2015 season would be a sensible point for Vettel to seek pastures new, as long as the set up is right. I don’t think McLaren would suit him, but if Ferrari don’t improve their form then there’s little incentive to move.

Final thoughts

Whatever happens in 2012, I think we’re in for a cracker of a season throughout the length of the grid. If Vettel and Red Bull do dominate I hope that disenchanted F1 fans will take a look further down the grid and appreciate all the great action happening back there.

I’d like to close this article by setting out my stall for 2012. In 2011 I focussed mainly on Vettel, proudly waving my pointy finger whenever he won, but my focus this year will be on Schumacher and Kovalainen. Both are likely to have great stories and great battles.