Tuesday, 15 January 2013
At the circuit widely regarded as the greatest test of a racing driver in the world, Jenson Button took a victory in the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday that was probably the most dominant this season.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who finished second to Button after an impressive performance of his own, had an even bigger margin of superiority in Valencia but he was unable to make it count because his car failed.
Button had no such trouble. He stamped his authority on the weekend from the start of qualifying and never looked back, as all hell broke loose behind his McLaren.
The frightening first-corner pile-up helped him in that it took out a potential threat in world championship leader Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. The Spaniard was up to third place from fifth on the grid before being assaulted by the flying Lotus of Romain Grosjean, who had collided with the other McLaren of Lewis Hamilton.
But before the race Alonso had entertained no prospect of battling for victory, and while he would almost certainly have finished on the podium, there is no reason to believe he would have troubled Button.
The Englishman also comfortably saw off in the opening laps the challenge of Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen, hotly tipped before the weekend.
Raikkonen was left to battle entertainingly with rivals including Vettel and Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher, on whom the Finn pulled an astoundingly brave pass into the 180mph swerves of Eau Rouge which was almost a carbon copy of Red Bull driver Mark Webber's move on Alonso last year.
Button, meanwhile, was serene out front, never looking under the remotest threat.
For Button, this was a far cry from the struggles he has encountered in what has not overall been one of his better seasons.
A strong start included a dominant victory in the opening race in Australia and second place in China.
But after that he tailed off badly, struggling with this year's big Formula 1 quandary - getting the temperamental Pirelli tyres into the right operating window.
The 32-year-old had a sequence of weak races and even at other times has generally been firmly in Hamilton's shade.
Those struggles were ultimately solved by some head-scratching on set-up at McLaren, but they were undoubtedly influenced by Button's smooth, unflustered driving style.
Button's weakness - one of which he is well aware - is that he struggles when the car is not to his liking. Unlike Alonso and Hamilton, he finds it difficult to adapt his style to different circumstances.
The flip side of that is that when he gets the car's balance right, he is close to unbeatable. It is a similar situation to that of two former McLaren drivers - Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Senna, like Hamilton, was usually faster, but when Prost, whose style was similar to Button's, got his car in the sweet spot he was matchless.
"I obviously have a style where it's quite difficult to find a car that works for me in qualifying," Button said on Saturday, "but when it does we can get pole position."
Perhaps an elegant style that does not upset the car or over-work the tyres was exactly what was needed through the demanding corners of Spa's challenging middle sector.
That was McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe's view, certainly.
"It could well be," Lowe said, "because it's made up of these longer flowing corners rather than the short, stop-start ones. So that may well be something he can work with well, just tucking it all up and smooth lines."
Was this the secret to Button's performance in qualifying, when he was a remarkable 0.8 seconds quicker than team-mate Lewis Hamilton?
In a well-publicised series of tweets after qualifying, Hamilton blamed this on the team's collective decision - with which he agreed when it was made - to run his car on a set-up with higher downforce.
This is a perfectly valid decision at Spa -it was a route that Raikkonen also took - and in pure lap time the two differing approaches should balance themselves out. But for them to do so, the driver with the higher downforce set-up has to make up in the middle sector the time he has lost on the straights.
As the McLaren telemetry of which Hamilton so unwisely tweeted a picture on race morning proved, however, that was not the case. Hamilton was not fast enough through sector two - indeed his time through there on his final qualifying lap was 0.3secs slower than his best in the session.
Hamilton tweeted a photo of the McLaren telemetry, prompting a rebuke from his team.
That was the real reason why he was slower than Button in Spa qualifying - not the fact he was down on straight-line speed, which was always going to be the case once he went with the set-up he did.
It's worth pointing out in this context that Hamilton was also significantly slower than Button in final practice - a fact that led him to take the gamble on the different set-up.
How Hamilton would have fared in the race will never be known, because of the accident with Grosjean.
It was a scary moment - Grosjean's flying Lotus narrowly missed Alonso's head - and the incident underlined once again why F1 bosses are so keen to introduce some kind of more effective driver head protection in the future.
From the point of view of a disinterested observer, the only plus point of the accident, which also took out the two impressive Saubers, was that it has narrowed Alonso's lead in the championship. Vettel is now within a race victory of the Spaniard.
Despite this, to his immense credit, Alonso was a picture of measured calm after the race.
Invited to criticise Grosjean, he refused. Although, being the wise owl he is, he not only had at his fingertips the statistics of Grosjean's first-lap crashes this season, but slipped them into his answer.
"I am not angry [at Grosjean]," he said. "No-one did this on purpose, they were fighting, two aggressive drivers on the start, Lewis and Romain and this time it was us in the wrong place at the wrong time and we were hit.
"It's true also that in 12 races, Romain had seven crashes at the start, so..."
It was, Alonso pointed out, a good opportunity for governing body the FIA to make a point about driving standards this season, which Williams's Pastor Maldonado has also seemed to be waging a campaign to lower.
It was an opportunity the stewards did not decline.
Grosjean will now watch next weekend's Italian Grand Prix from the sidelines after being given a one-race suspension, the first time a driver has been banned since Michael Schumacher in 1994. Maldonado has a 10-place grid penalty for jumping the start and causing his own, independent, accident.
Earlier this year, triple world champion Jackie Stewart, who is an advisor to Lotus, offered to sit down with Grosjean and give him some advice about the way he approached his races.
Stewart is famous not only for his campaign for safety in F1 but also for his impeccable driving standards during his career. He has helped many drivers in his time, but Grosjean turned him down.
On Sunday evening, I was contacted by an old friend, the two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and former IndyCar champion Gil de Ferran, who was involved in F1 a few years ago as a senior figure in the Honda team.
That coaching, De Ferran said, "seems like a great idea".
Monday, 14 January 2013
Today's Caption Competition features the rookie class of 2001 including Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya and Enrique Bernoldi.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
Almost Fernando Alonso's first act after what must have been the huge blow of seeing Sebastian Vettel slash his world championship lead to just four points at the Japanese Grand Prix, was to quote that country's great swordfighter and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi.
"If the enemy thinks of the mountains," Alonso wrote on his Twitter account, "attack by sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack by the mountains."
That the Ferrari driver can reach for the words of a 17th century kensei warrior and strategist in a moment of such strain reveals a lot about the manner in which he combines an indomitable fighting spirit with a status as possibly the most cerebral Formula 1 driver of his generation.
But it will take more than relentlessness and clever strategy for Alonso to hold on to a lead for which he has struggled so hard this season, but which has now dwindled to almost nothing.
The 31-year-old, who spun out at Suzuka with a puncture after being tagged by Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus on the run to the first corner, has carried his Ferrari team on his back this year.
Alonso has won three races and taken a series of strong points finishes to establish what was until recently an imposing championship lead in a car that has never once been quick enough to set pole position in the dry.
He did so by driving, in terms of consistency and lack of mistakes, one of the most perfect seasons there has ever been - a feat made all the more impressive because it was done in not the best car.
Fernando Alonso leads Sebastian Vettel in the Championship by four points. Photo: Getty
Yet now, through no fault of his own, Alonso has failed to finish two of the last four races and in that time Vettel has made hay, taking 37 points out of his rival's lead.
Heading into Japan, it was already beginning to look as if Vettel was going to be hard to resist.
While the Red Bull has been a forbiddingly quick race car all season, the team did not in the first half of the season find it very easy to get the best out of it in qualifying.
But since mid-summer they have found consistency, and started to qualify regularly at the front of the grid as well. At the same time, luck has deserted Ferrari and Alonso.
More than that, Red Bull also appear in recent races to have made a significant step forward in the performance of their car.
Vettel looked very strong in Singapore two weeks ago, trading fastest times with Lewis Hamilton throughout the weekend and taking victory after the Englishman's McLaren retired from the lead with a gearbox failure. And in Japan the Red Bull looked unbeatable from as early as Saturday final practice session.
How much of this is to do with the new 'double DRS' system which came to light in Suzuka is unclear.
Team boss Christian Horner said he thought it was more to do with the characteristics of the track suiting those of the Red Bull car. Perhaps, but the 'double DRS' certainly won't be doing any harm.
Unlike the system that Mercedes have been using since the start of the season, which uses the DRS overtaking aid to 'stall' the front wing, Red Bull's works entirely on the rear wing.
What it means is that they can run the car with more downforce in qualifying without the consequent straight-line speed penalty caused by the extra drag, because the 'double DRS' bleeds off the drag.
This does bring a straight-line speed penalty in the race, when DRS use is no longer free. But as long as the car qualifies at the front, this does not matter, as it is quick enough over a lap to stay out of reach of its rivals.
It is not clear how long Red Bull have been working on this system at grand prix weekends, but to the best of BBC Sport's knowledge, Japan was the first time they had raced it. Coupled with a new front wing design introduced in Singapore, it has turned an already strong package into an intimidating one.
Vettel used it to dominate the race in the fashion he did so many in 2011 on his way to his second-consecutive title. As he so often does in the fastest car when he starts at the front of the grid, he looked invincible.
Alonso, though, is not one to be intimidated easily and will take solace from the fact that Ferrari's pace compared to Red Bull was not as bad as it might appear at first glance.
Alonso may have qualified only seventh, but he reckoned he was on course for fourth place on the grid before having to slow for caution flags marking Raikkonen's spun Lotus at Spoon Curve.
And judging by the pace shown by his team-mate Felipe Massa in the race, Alonso would have finished in a sure-fire second place had he got beyond the first corner. He might even have been able to challenge Vettel, given how much faster the Ferrari has been in races than in qualifying this year.
Alonso's problem for the remainder of the season is that salvaging podiums is no longer enough - he needs to start winning races again. Which means Ferrari need to start improving their car relative to the opposition.
Meanwhile, spice has been added to an already intriguing final five races by a seemingly innocuous incident in qualifying in Japan.
After slowing as he passed Raikkonen's car, Alonso continued on his flying lap, but when he got to the chicane, he came across Vettel, who blocked him.
Ferrari reckoned this cost Alonso somewhere in the region of 0.1-0.2secs, which would have moved him up a place on the grid. The stewards, though, decided to give Vettel only a reprimand.
They justified this on the basis that they believed Vettel had not known Alonso was there - and they let him off not looking in his mirrors because they felt he had reason to believe no-one would be continuing on a flying lap following the Raikkonen incident.
But some would see that as flawed thinking. Alonso was one of several drivers who had at that point not set a time in the top 10 shoot-out, and all of them were likely to be continuing their laps because whatever time they did set was going to define their grid slot.
Although there is no suggestion Vettel held up Alonso deliberately, the Red Bull driver is a sharp cookie, and almost certainly would have known this.
Even if he did not, his team should have warned him. And on that basis, it can be argued that Vettel's offence was no less bad than that of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, who was given a three-place grid penalty for delaying Williams's Bruno Senna in similar fashion earlier in qualifying.
Ferrari were distinctly unimpressed by the stewards' verdict, but Alonso being Alonso, he has not mentioned any of this publicly. Alonso being Alonso, though, he will have lodged it away for the future.
In the meantime, before heading to Korea for another potentially pivotal race next weekend, might he be studying Musashi a little more?
You must "know the times", Musashi wrote. "Knowing the times means if your ability is high, seeing right into things. If you are thoroughly conversant with strategy, you will recognise the enemy's intentions and thus have many opportunities to win.
"If you attain and adhere to the wisdom of my strategy, you need never doubt that you will win."
Emerson Fittipaldi in his heyday
Saturday, 12 January 2013
Posted on 01.12.2013 18:00 by Kirby Garlitos
The world is replete with supercar manufacturers that are determined to stamp their presence in the industry. But only a few can lay claim to having had the same success as German supercar manufacturer Gumpert.
As the folks behind the Apollo supercar — once considered as the fastest car in the world — Gumpert has become an industry legend, so much so that National Geographic has even taken notice.
In the latest episode of their Megafactories series, the fine folks from Nat Geo take us on a chronological journey through the creation of one of Gumpert?s ultimate beasts, the Apollo Enraged, and the time frame it took for it to make its debut at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
In addition, National Geographic also caught up with Roland Gumpert, the father of the brand, where he disclosed his plans for Gumpert to eventually hit mainstream. We?re not sure how that?s going to work, but if there?s one niche supercar brand that can pull it off, we won?t be surprised if it?s Gumpert.
Surtees says young drivers’ path to F1 needs overhaul is an original article from F1 Fanatic. If this article has been published anywhere other than F1 Fanatic it is an infringement of copyright.
In the round-up: Surtees says talent should count for more on road to F1 ? Sauber tester Frijns 'can't afford GP2' ? Mallya's Kingfisher woes continues
Surtees says young drivers’ path to F1 needs overhaul is an original article from F1 Fanatic. If this article has been published anywhere other than F1 Fanatic it is an infringement of copyright.
Friday, 11 January 2013
FanVision will not continue in Formula One in 2013 after failing to agree terms with Formula One Management.
The 2013 F1 season looks likely to begin without an Asian driver on the grid. Where will the next one be found?
Posted on 01.10.2013 20:00 by Simona
Just a few days ago we brought you a first rendering of the next-generation Maserati GranCabrio. Today is time to take a first look at its coupe sibling — the GranTurismo. Both models are part of Maserati?s bold plans of increasing its sales number to a total of 50,000 units a year — an impressive jump over the current 6,159 units.
Few details are known at this point about the next sports coupe, but who said we can?t speculate a little, right? The model will be smaller than the one it replaces and our rendering reveals a more aggressive design language. Up front we will see all-new headlamps, a redesigned front grille, a larger lip spoiler and larger air intakes. On the rear, Maserati will place redesigned taillights, a discrete rear spoiler and new tailpipes.
Under the hood, rumor has it that Maserati will place the company?s new V-8 engine developed by Ferrari at Maranello.
Just like with the GranCabrio version, the second-generation GranTurismo will be unveiled in 2014 with sales to being in early 2015.
Image Note: The above image is a TopSpeed rendering of the new GranTurismo and is not an official image.
gallery: 2015 Maserati GranCabrio
Kimi Raikkonen already had a bottle of beer in his hand by the time he joined his Lotus team for the now-traditional group photo following a grand prix victory.
Knowing Raikkonen's reputation, it will almost certainly not have been the last drink that passed his lips in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night as he celebrated his first win since returning to Formula 1 this year after two years in rallying.
"For sure we're going to have a good party today," the sport's most famous hedonist said on he podium, "and hopefully tomorrow, when we are feeling bad after a long night, we will remember how we feel."
How long will you celebrate for, he was asked.
"I have almost two weeks," he said. "As long as I manage to get myself to the next race I think the team is happy. I try to get home at some point."
The party is well deserved. Raikkonen's comeback year has had its ups and downs, but a win has looked a probability since the start of the season, and in many ways the big surprise has been that it has taken so long.
Raikkonen has been remarkably strong and consistent in races this season, but until Abu Dhabi his best chances of victory had been squandered by starting too far down the grid.
Raikkonen has now taken 37% of his career victories after starting from outside the top three on the grid. Photo: Getty
He is the first to admit that he has made too many mistakes in qualifying. Indeed, for the first half of the season he was generally being out-paced over one lap on Saturdays by his novice team-mate Romain Grosjean.
But in the second half of the season his qualifying pace has edged forward, the mistakes have dried up, and this weekend everything came together to produce the result the team and he undoubtedly deserve.
Out of the car, Raikkonen is about as uncommunicative as they come. He simply refuses to engage in the media game. That can be frustrating for journalists who are searching for insight from an undoubtedly great driver, but still there is no mystery about his true character.
The radio messages that caused such amusement during the race sum him up.
His poor race engineer was only doing his job when he informed him of the gap to Fernando Alonso's Ferrari behind him, and some may find it rude that Raikkonen would respond by asking him to "leave me alone, I know what I'm doing".
But that is Raikkonen all over. He's a no-nonsense character, and he just wants things the way he wants them. And if he is not comfortable in the spotlight, he was born to be in a Formula 1 car at the front of a grand prix.
"Kimi is a man of few words but he's all about racing," McLaren driver Jenson Button said, summing up the Finn's unique appeal.
"It's good to see him have a good race here and collect the victory. He does deserve it. He is back for the racing. That's what he loves and it's good to see that."
For all his impressive performance, Raikkonen owed his win to Lewis Hamilton's wretched fortune at McLaren.
Yet another failure - this one in a fuel pump on the McLaren's Mercedes engine - cost Hamilton another victory. It's the second time it has happened in five races and it is the story of his season.
Hamilton said on Sunday that he had "been at my best this year" and so it has looked, but he also made a pointed reference to McLaren's myriad problems throughout the season: "We have not done a good enough job to win this championship."
For the men who can win it, it was a weekend of wildly fluctuating fortunes.
Following Sebastian Vettel's exclusion from qualifying because not enough fuel had been put in his Red Bull to provide the requisite one-litre sample, it appeared that Alonso had a golden opportunity to close down some of the advantage the German had eked out with his four consecutive wins through Singapore, Japan, Korea and India.
But after a wildly topsy-turvy race and an impressive drive by Vettel, the German joined his Spanish rival on the podium.
All three podium finishers gave an object lesson in racing to the many drivers who crash-banged into each other behind them, including each of their team-mates, and while Vettel's drive quite rightly stood out, so too was a little luck involved.
Vettel damaged his front wing against Bruno Senna's Williams on the first lap, but was able to continue and overtake the rabbits at the back of the field.
Then, not for the first time in his career, he made a mistake behind the safety car, misjudging the pace of Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso as the Australian warmed his brakes, veering to avoid him, and finishing off the front wing against a marker board.
The mistake forced Red Bull to pit Vettel when they were not going to and the fresh tyres he fitted at the stop meant he had a grip advantage over the drivers he now had to pass.
Again, he sliced rapidly through the backmarkers - this time without incident - so that he was up to seventh by the time the pit-stop period started for those in front of him.
By the time the leaders had all stopped, Vettel was in second place, and suddenly it looked like he might have a chance of pulling off a sensational victory.
Raikkonen's Lotus team, for one, thought Vettel would not be stopping again, but Red Bull were concerned enough about tyre wear to want to play safe, and the 20 seconds he lost in his second pit stop were then wiped out by another safety car.
Fourth at the re-start, the fastest car in the field and on fresher tyres than Raikkonen, Alonso and Button ahead of him, it again looked like he might win.
In the end, though, Button's clever defence kept him behind long enough to ensure that although he could pass the McLaren, third was as far as he was going to go.
BBC F1 chief analyst Eddie Jordan said Vettel's ability to salvage a podium finish from a pit-lane start must feel like a "dagger in the heart for Ferrari" but if Alonso was disappointed you would not want to play poker with him.
He talked about his pride at finishing second in a race Ferrari had expected to deliver a fifth or sixth place - and as Red Bull team boss Christian Horner pointed out, Alonso celebrated on the podium as if he had won the race.
For a while now, Alonso has been saying Red Bull's winning run would end, that eventually they would have some bad luck.
Well, in Abu Dhabi they had it, and still Alonso could gain only three points on Vettel, and it was noticeable that the tone of his remarks after the race shifted slightly.
In India two weeks ago, he said he was still "100% confident" of winning the title. After Abu Dhabi, though, he did not repeat that remark.
"Without the problem for Sebastian we were thinking we would exit Abu Dhabi with 20 points deficit or something and we are 10 (behind)," Alonso said. "In the end it was a good weekend for us.
"They will have the fastest car in the last two races. There is no magic part that will come for Austin or Brazil. But as I said a couple of races ago, they have the fastest car, we have the best team. So we see who wins."