Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Few things in sport are guaranteed to generate publicity like someone high-profile in Formula 1 talking about running a grand prix around the world-famous sites of central London.
After all, what's not to like? Who doesn't think it would make one of the most spectacular sporting events the world had ever seen?
That's clearly what the PR agency which represents one of McLaren's biggest sponsors was thinking when they invited the media to a lavish event at London's RAC Club on Thursday to hear Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button talking about what it might be like to race around such a track.
An expensively produced video was played. Hamilton and Button said all the right things - while being careful not to be seen in any way to diminish the importance of Silverstone as the home of the British Grand Prix.
And a virtual race was staged around the track with teams led by the McLaren drivers featuring Rio Ferdinand, Melanie Sykes, Olympic gold medal winner Amy Williams and Radio One DJ Sarah-Jane Crawford.
All in all, an effective way to generate a bit of extra media coverage ahead of next weekend's ninth round of the world championship at, yes, Silverstone.
In what will doubtless have been fantastic news for the PR agency and sponsor in question, though, the story developed a life of its own even before the event was held, when F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was quoted in a newspaper saying "maybe we would front it and put the money up for it".
A London race would see the drivers go past a number of iconic monuments.
Within F1, the idea of a race in London in such circumstances has been greeted with intense scepticism. "Of course it's not going to happen," one senior figure said on Thursday. "You know that, and so do I. But it makes a great story, doesn't it?"
On the back of it, there was an inevitable media whirlwind.
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was asked about it, and said he was "broadly positive providing we can satisfy the air quality and noise issues".
Which, of course, they never could. So, apart from the fact that it's a PR stunt on which Ecclestone has chosen to offer an opinion, that's the first reason why it is unlikely ever to happen. There are many more.
Before we get into those, however, it is worth mentioning that Ecclestone has tried to make a London Grand Prix work before.
In the mid-noughties, he discussed it with Johnson's predecessor Ken Livingstone and the Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith, focusing on the two biggest hurdles - money and logistics.
Holding such a race would mean closing off part of central London for at least three days and disruption for much longer as preparations were made. There is an inherent cost in that.
Then there was Ecclestone's fee, setting up and securing the circuit, sorting out infrastructure, policing and so on.
On the plus side, a grand prix would showcase London and boost the city's profile, and probably - all things taken into account - bring in more money than it cost. Not that London, as one of the three biggest tourist attractions in the world, needs any extra publicity.
Five years ago almost to the day, I asked Ecclestone about these very plans. "I spoke about it with the mayor a couple of years ago, I think," he said. "He was very supportive. But we came to the conclusion that it would be too expensive."
A source close to Ecclestone expanded on that. "Bernie put a lot of effort into it," he said. "He said they looked long and hard at it and they couldn't make it work.
"There was very little money forthcoming from Livingstone, so it had to be self-supporting and they needed a way of getting people in.
"But there was only room for 30,000 people and, with the money they needed to pay to put it on, that would have meant charging �500 a ticket."
Damon Hill, then the president of the British Racing Drivers' Club which owns Silverstone, added that he had spoken "to Harvey Goldsmith about it a while back. I think it's dead. Logistically, it's a non-starter."
Which brings us back to the hurdles. The first being the idea that Ecclestone would put up the money for it. That's not how it works - venues pay a huge fee to the commercial arm of the sport, which Ecclestone runs, for the privilege of hosting F1.
That's not to say that F1 stumping up the money to host a race is a bad idea. Quite the contrary - some senior figures in the sport believe that's exactly what it should do to establish itself in America.
There is no market F1 wants to crack more than the US but last autumn Ecclestone played a game of brinksmanship with this season's new race in Austin, Texas, saying it would not be put on the calendar unless it paid its fee.
A similar situation seems to be developing with the proposed race in New Jersey overlooking Manhattan - an event F1 needs much more than one in London.
Then there's the fact that Britain already has a very popular grand prix at Silverstone, which has a contract until 2027, with a break clause either side can exercise in 2020.
With countries apparently queuing up for races - Russia is due in 2014, Mexico is also said to be imminent, Thailand is keen - the idea of holding two races in one country is seen very much as a thing of the past.
Equally, this is the second idea for a London Grand Prix that has come up in the past six days - on Friday another newspaper reported plans for a race around the Olympic Stadium.
Asked about this by BBC Sport at last weekend's European Grand Prix, Ecclestone said: "We're talking."
Hardly a surprise, is it, that F1 is so full of cynics?
In F1 - especially where Ecclestone is involved - one learns to never say never. But in a nutshell, what of the London Grand Prix?
Great PR coup? Yes. Likely to happen? Don't hold your breath.
I must confess, at the start of the year I wasn't sure what to expect from Formula 1 in 2012. The question for me was: how could a sport that has enthralled us so much in recent seasons deliver again - while at the same time hold its own in a year so packed with stunning sporting spectacles?
We've had the European Football Championship, now followed swiftly by Wimbledon and then almost immediately the London Olympics will be upon us. It's a veritable feast for those sports lovers keen to sit down on the sofa in June and not get up again until late August (if I wasn't working I'd be one of them!).
Among such sporting riches I wondered just how F1 would make its voice heard. Well, here we are, almost at the midway point of the season and it seems I needn't have worried.
Due to the fact that my brain has probably only a hundredth of the power of Adrian Newey's and works at roughly a tenth of the speed of Sebastian Vettel's, there are many things I still can't work out about this sport. One of them: just how does it manage to keep on delivering storylines that even Brookside in its heyday would have been proud of?!
Since the BBC team and I got involved it's been one drama after another. In 2009 alone we had the Brawn GP 'phoenix-from-the-flames' act, Felipe Massa's nasty accident in Hungary and then Jenson keeping us all guessing until we got to Brazil.
2010 then delivered arguably the most competitive season the sport has ever seen with five drivers in with a shout of the title, and the least fancied of the lot eventually winning it.
Meanwhile, last year was all about the record-breaking domination of our back-to-back champion, as Seb found his feet in the sport - and his place in the history books - with the most amazing performances week after week that all of us, bar Mark Webber, just watched in awe.
And then 2012 arrived. The year of the Union Flag. The year we all celebrate being British, and the Queen being on the throne almost as long as this sport has existed. The year that Wayne Rooney and England would chase glory in the east of Europe, while the likes of Chris Hoy and Usain Bolt would do the same in the east of London.
And among the flotillas, the flypast and the flag waving, Formula 1's job was to remind the British public that if you want to celebrate Britain, then celebrate this sport!
In an age of low profits and high anxiety, it's only natural that we lean on the things we know and trust, and we should include Formula 1 in that bracket. To most of us, it's always been here.
We should not only celebrate it because it employs thousands and contributes millions to the British economy each year. We shouldn't just feel pride because eight of the current teams are based on these shores, or that this was the country where Formula 1 actually began - but because in times like this, what we need is a bit of escapism, something to entertain us. And this sport is currently doing both.
And best of all, this weekend it's the British Grand Prix!
I have incredibly fond memories of this race, and we always try to find a way on the show to tell the story of you, the F1 fans, who attend in your thousands. And whether it's chants of 'BBC' from the grandstand or 'Eddie, Eddie, Eddie' as the crowds gather round us in our pre-show build-up, we appreciate the support you've shown us over the years.
Having arrived on a three-man tandem bike and hovered overhead in a helicopter in the past, we've decided on a quintessentially British, extrovert way of arriving for this year's grand prix. If you're there on the Thursday you won't miss us! I suggest that sometime late-morning you look to the skies and give us a wave... that's all I'm saying.
However, it's the drivers who will again provide the real entertainment this year. And after the British fans braved the rain of 2011 and despite there being no British winner since 2008, I truly hope that this year is a race to remember. As well as a grand prix that lives up to the high standards this season has set.
If Valencia is anything to go by then it looks like Silverstone will be a cracker. We won't have the sweltering conditions that some races have given us, but with another mixed-up grid full of mixed-up strategies, once again I hope it will have us guessing until the very end.
And we're also at a crucial stage of the season as far as the title is concerned. Can Fernando Alonso now string some success together and build a championship lead? Meanwhile Mark Webber can really show what consistency can do. If Lotus really harbour title aspirations then now is the time to start turning pace into wins, and what kind of form will Michael be in now he's bagged his first podium since 2006?
And that leaves the three lions. Paul Di Resta continues to show flashes of brilliance and stunning raw speed - surely it's just a matter of time until he makes a move to a big team. But he's also got the likes of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean battling for the crown of top rookie.
Is Jenson going to be cut adrift after struggling on Saturdays and having to fight for scraps in recent races? And as for Lewis, he may well arrive at Silverstone like a bear with a sore head after the way his Valencia race ended, but I predict he will make it British Grand Prix win number two on Sunday.
So, if you can't make it to the race then don't take down your Jubilee bunting and put the fizz back under the stairs just yet. Chill a bottle, settle down in front of the TV and watch a British love affair unfold that is every bit as special as we've seen so far this summer.
And if you are coming to the race, then make sure you bring that Union Flag. This feels like a year that we've fallen in love with being British again, so as the world tunes in to see what Northamptonshire has to offer on Sunday, let's help make it a race to remember.
And after the race, head to Luffield for the grand prix party, as we're hosting the F1 Forum live on stage and we want you to be part of the show.
Pirelli will use the hardest tyres in their range for the next two races in the championship at Spa and Monza.
Lewis Hamilton needs one more win to have as many as another driver who won all his races in a McLaren-Mercedes - Mika Hakkinen.
Monday, 30 July 2012
Pictures from the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring, won by McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
Pictures from the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring, won by McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
Sunday, 29 July 2012
Lewis Hamilton's dominant pole position on Saturday allowed him to save new tyres for the race which was crucial to his strategy.
Scarecrows adorn the entrance to a barren Korean International Circuit
Saturday, 28 July 2012
There was a certain inevitability, given the history of Michael Schumacher's career, about the fact that his first podium finish since his comeback involved a degree of controversy.
In Valencia, Schumacher drove the latest in a series of strong races to finally deliver on the potential he has shown with Mercedes more or less since the start of the year.
In the end, the controversy was much ado about nothing - the man who is notorious for pushing the boundaries of acceptability did nothing wrong.
Red Bull's Mark Webber reported to his team that Schumacher had his DRS overtaking aid, which boosts straight-line speed, open as they passed waved yellow caution flags late in the race.
The rules say a driver must slow down significantly for yellow flags; Schumacher did - case closed.
His third in the European Grand Prix has been a long time coming. It was Schumacher's first podium finish since the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, when he was driving for Ferrari, but it should arguably have happened already this season, by far his strongest since his comeback at the start of 2010 after three years in retirement.
In 2010 and 2011, Schumacher struggled compared to team-mate Nico Rosberg.
In the first year of his comeback, Schumacher was nowhere near him; by the second half of last year the two were evenly matched in races, but the younger man out-qualified the veteran 15-4 over the whole season.
This season, finally, has been different. On performance, there has been virtually nothing to choose between them in qualifying or races.
Each has scored a pole position - although Schumacher lost his in Monaco to a grid penalty - and only a dreadful reliability record on the seven-time champion's car has stopped him scoring many more points than he has.
While Rosberg has completed every lap, Schumacher has finished only three races and of his five retirements only one has been his fault.
So where might a podium have come based on his performances prior to this one?
Schumacher was running third in Australia when he retired, but he would probably have finished fifth there. His tyre degradation was too severe to challenge Lewis Hamilton's McLaren or hold off the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Webber, who filled the three places behind winner Jenson Button.
Mercedes think Schumacher would have gone on to finish second to a dominant Rosberg in China had he not retired immediately after his pit stop because a front wheel had not been fitted correctly.
But other teams believe the two McLarens would have beaten Schumacher and possibly the Red Bulls, too.
His pole lap in Monaco was particularly impressive and that would almost certainly have been converted into at least a podium finish. But first there was a five-place grid penalty for causing a crash in Spain, and then he retired from the race with a fuel-pressure failure.
When it finally came, the podium finish owed something to the unusual circumstances of the race and a lot to Hamilton being taken out by Williams's Pastor Maldonado. But it would be hard to argue Schumacher didn't deserve it on the balance of the year.
When he announced his comeback, he said he wanted to win another world title. But as soon as it became obvious from early in 2010 that he was going to struggle, he has always maintained that getting back on to the pace would be a long-term matter.
No-one expected it to take as long as it has. But perhaps that is to underestimate how much he lost in his three years away, his age - he is now 43 - and the incredible depth of talent in today's field.
Schumacher is still some way short of the driver he once was, a man who could consistently dance on a limit beyond that of anyone else.
But taking this season on average, there is now virtually nothing to choose on pace between him and Rosberg - the one exception being China, where the younger man had the best part of half a second on his team-mate.
That, though, puts Mercedes in an intensely awkward position and facing a very difficult decision - because Schumacher's contract runs out at the end of this year.
The problem is, good as Rosberg is, few outside Mercedes believe he is a match for the three towering talents of this generation - Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel.
Yet this is a team with aspirations to win the world title and some would argue they are putting themselves at an automatic disadvantage with their current driver line-up.
So do they offer Schumacher another contract on the basis of his improved performance, continue to benefit from the undoubted marketing benefits of his presence in the team as a driver and hope they can build a car that is better than a Red Bull, a McLaren and a Ferrari? Or do they go for someone else?
They are known to be interested in Hamilton, the only one of the big three who is potentially available to take his place.
But Hamilton may well not be available - he seems more likely to either stick with McLaren or to try to persuade Red Bull they should take him on given the reasonable possibility they could lose Vettel to Ferrari at the end of next year.
Yet how long can Mercedes expect Schumacher - who will be 44 next January - to be able to continue at this level?
In which case, should they gamble on a younger man who may represent the future, someone like the increasingly impressive Paul di Resta, for example, who just happens to be a Mercedes protege?
What would you do?
Just weeks ago, Spanish F1 driver Maria de Villota was in a horrific crash during testing of her new Marussia MR-01 racecar. In fact, it was her first test drive ever and the injuries were apparently very serious. The only injury we were made aware of initially was the fact that she lost an eye.
Fortunately, the injuries were not so severe to put her life in direct risk, as it was just announced that she was released from the hospital. There was some speculation that Maria would require brain surgery, but following some testing, it was found that there wasn’t any damage that would require this risky surgery.
Though she will not spend any more time in the hospital, physicians will continue to monitor her at home to assure that her recovery stays on schedule. She will be undergoing surgery to repair damage done to her face during the accident, so we wish her the best in the rest of her recovery and her future plastic surgery.
Marussia has also officially chalked the crash up as a combination of several driver errors. The first error was that she was unable to find the clutch lever, which was in an unexpected position because the wheel was not centered. Also, when she came into the pits, de Villota forgot to press the neutral button to keep the car out of gear. These are all freak lapses that most F1 drivers remember almost instinctively, but while testing a new car, these steps can sometimes be forgotten.
On an aside, Maria will likely have to take significant time off, as the FIA does not issue international licenses for five years following the loss of an eye. This give the brain time to adjust using just a single eye.
Our best wishes go out to Maria de Villota and we hope for a speedy recovery.
Follow the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix third practice session on F1 Fanatic Live.
Just about every day, we see a new on-car camera shot that is exhilarating, but it’s always lacking something. This ?something? that they always lack is the "real" feeling of the driver’s point of view, as the camera is usually connected to the car or on the top of the driver’s helmet.
Well, F1 Driver, Lucas di Grassi decided that it was time to give us a real-life driver’s-eye view of him racing his open-wheel car. He accomplished this by placing a small camera directly in front of one of his eyes, so he was literally driving with just one eye.
Granted, there were no other drivers on the course, but to see him navigate the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the rain was a thing of beauty. In addition, he gave us a taste of some of the speeds they drive by getting his car up to 280 km/h (174 mph) at the 2:45 mark, which is impressive enough in the rain, but with just one eye is simply nuts.
Take a look at the above video to get a true driver’s-eye view of the craziness that F1 drivers have to deal with every race day. It’s pretty intense to say the least.