Alelbuth goes to Enstone

Being the “hard hitting F1 journalist” that I am, I thought it best to go out and see a factory first hand, and what better place to start than at Enstone. Yesterday, the Enstone family at Lotus F1 Team kindly hosted me as their guest for the day. My adventure started in Oxford, where barely having recovered from my jet lag, I found myself sitting outside of the train station with two coffees. One for myself (needed), and one for Aurélie (also needed) who had kindly agreed to collect me from the station. I did Google Maps the journey to Enstone via public transport, but the route involved two bus changes, followed by a 30 minute walk along a field, so Lotus offered to pick me up from Oxford.

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Once I received my fancy visitors card I met with Ian, who’d I’d been in contact with. My tour started as Ian led me into a room telling me “Don’t hold your breath, it’s nothing special”, opening the doors to the conference room where Michael Schumacher’s 1994 and 1995, and Fernando Alonso’s 2005 and 2006 championship winning Benettons and Renaults lined the wall.

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As ingenious as the E22s twin tusk nose, Lotus’ Computational Fluid Dynamics centre is built in an underground James Bond style bunker to get around planning permissions. Though the feel of the building has more of a Teletubbies feel than a spy bunker, that is, if the Teletubbies were working on state of the art technical developments for the E22…

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I don’t mean to brag, but when I sat on the wheel the car moved about a quarter of an inch back, so *technically* I have driven a Formula 1 car. Just saying… Move over Pastor, I’m coming.

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We then moved along to the wind tunnel, where I was given a lesson in how the tunnel transforms the fast turbulent air generated from the fan, to fast smooth air by the time it runs over the 60% scale model of the E22. I wasn’t able to take photos in this area, but the scale of the tunnel is quite impressive. With the power needed to generate the fan, being enough to run a small village. Impressive.

The tour continued to the 3D printing facility, where an entire mock up of the car, from gearbox to front-wing end plate can be printed using a sophisticated combination of lasers, powder and/or liquid. Moving through the factory, I was taken to visit the composites department, where just next door Charles Pic’s chassis was being repaired. On closer inspection I noted that some of the bodywork on the car was being held together with masking tape, but just until the glue dried I was assured by Ian.

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After lunch in the Lotus cafeteria (I had a lovely fresh tuna sandwich in case you were interested), I went upstairs for a chat with Andy and Aurélie in the media communications office to get some advice on pursuing a career in motor sports. My VIP day ended with a visit to the trophy shelves, where I couldn’t resist taking a couple of “trophy selfies”, and hugging the headless manikin on the Lotus race suit.

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At 5pm, I left the factory with aching cheeks from my Daniel Ricciardo impersonation all day*. Andy dropped me back to Oxford station so I could get back to London. I’ve always heard rumours of the Enstone family being the friendliest in the Paddock, and I can confirm, that’s true. No other team would be that hospitable to a young (slightly F1 obsessed) Australian girl who’d flown 12,000 miles to ask for career advice. So thank you very much Ian, Aurélie, Andy, and the Lotus F1 Team for such an incredible day.

– Alex

* Ie. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Japanese Grand Prix: All Renault Podium

Today’s race could have been a very effective advertisement for Renault powered engines, as Red Bull and Lotus took out the podium. Sebastian Vettel didn’t manage to secure his fourth Word Championship title at today’s Japanese Grand Prix, despite taking home his ninth victory for the season. Team mate, Mark Webber came home an unlucky second after qualifying on pole, while Lotus’ Romain Grosjean had the drive of his career to finish third.

The first two laps of the circuit saw more incident than the rest of the race. Neither Red Bull driver had a particularly quick get away off line line, which immediately put both Vettel and Webber on the defensive. Grosjean executed a well thought out move into turn 1, going around the outside of Vettel, as the Red Bull marked Hamilton. Webber didn’t have the initial pace, and conceded the lead to Grosjean. Vettel and Hamilton made contact coming down the pit straight, resulting in an immediate right rear puncture for the Mercedes, sending him to the back of the grid and forcing him to limp back to the pits. Behind the rest of the field Bianchi and Van der Garde made a mess of each other, both retiring from the race. Hamilton’s damage to the under tray proved to be too much to recover from, and the team retired him on lap 7.

Most of the race was led by Romain Grosjean, who, on a track where tyre degradation plays a key role in strategy, managed his tyres and his pace extremely well. Particularly of note was the Frenchman holding off an attacking Webber during the final stint of the race. Grosjean is a completely different driver compared to this point in the season last year, and I now enjoy watching him race for very different reasons. Team mate, Kimi Raikkonen had a fairly standard race, despite being out of position in the middle of the pack. The Finn had a good battle between Button in the final laps, and finishing well in the points in fifth.

It was refreshing to see a race where not only did Vettel not have his usual head start from pole, but also have to manage his tyre strategy to ensure he had enough fight from third. The championship leader had quite a scruffy race, locking his brakes on several occasions. Webber had a much more controlled race, despite finishing second. The Australian was forced to run a three stop strategy, after using more of his tyres up in the opening laps of the race. Tyre strategy was always going to be the podium decider today, and Webber was unfortunate, but wouldn’t have been able to keep a competitive pace on two stops due to the increased downforce from his rear wing set up.

Massa had a disappointing finish to what had been a good race. The one-man-team kept Alonso at bay for most of the race, despite at times lapping slower than the other Ferrari. Admittedly, Alonso only managed to get close enough to Massa while being stuck in the train of cars following Ricciardo. Later in the race, Massa was handed a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, the Formula 1 equivalent of running in the school corridors. The order for the drive through took Kimi by surprise, misinterpreting his team’s message, thinking that he’d been given the penalty.

Sauber had their best points finish of the season, as Hulkenberg  took advantage over the squabbling Ferrari’s and pitted early. Gutierrez delivered the race of his career today, starting from fourteenth, to finish well in the points in seventh. The rookie driver demonstrated some quite controlled battles for position against the Ferrari’s, and Kimi, and finally Rosberg as they approached the checkered flag. Not a bad 70th birthday present for Peter Sauber.

Both Force India’s finally managed to make it to the checkered flag today. Neither Sutil nor di Resta made contact with another driver, or any part of the circuit they weren’t meant to. Quite an achievement for the team, as both drivers were in a constant battle for position with Pastor Maldonado.

McLaren made a mess of their pit stops today, costing first Button, and then Perez valuable time. Button spent most of his race battling for position in the middle of the pack against the Ferrari’s and Kimi Raikkonen. Button made the most of a less than ideal race for the team, and finished just inside the points in ninth. Perez had a less than fortunate race, irritating several drivers, and making contact with Rosberg. The Mexican might have been the recipient today a rather dodgy sounding radio message from Vettel to his pit wall. “Keep him away from me, even if he’s on fresher tyres”, went out over the radio as Vettel approached to lap him. There are some thoughts that this may have been directed at Webber, who at the time was fast gaining on the leader. On the one hand, Perez was on fresh tyres, and particularly reckless earlier in the race, having already made contact with Rosberg (suffering from a puncture and sending himself to the back of the grid in the first place). If I were Vettel I’d want to make sure Perez well and truly obeyed the blue flags. On the other hand, Vettel could have been feeling the pressure knowing that Mark too was on fresher tyres, and putting in faster lap times.

Further getting caught up in the Perez debacle was Toro Rosso’s, Daniel Ricciardo. Although this time it was Ricciardo who fared second best. Ricciardo overtook Perez on the outside leading into 130R, but failed to keep traction and ran off track. The Toro Rosso managed to get back on track, and still ahead of Perez. The stewards, however, viewed this as gaining an advantage by leaving the track, and awarded him a drive through penalty. An interesting decision by the stewards, as this time the punishment outweighed the offence, and cost Ricciardo his race.

So, at Suzuka we were once again treated to the never-ending German National Anthem, as Vettel took the top step. Had Webber been able to overtake Grosjean sooner, maybe we would have heard the Australian National Anthem*, alas, Formula 1 is not a sport of “ifs”. I’d like to see Webber take at least one victory in his retiring season, possibly when Formula 1 moves across to the subcontinent.

– Alex

* Ours is much shorter, I think you’d enjoy it.

Qualifying Pole Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:34.587 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

 

Japanese Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Konnichiwa, this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix gets underway in Suzuka with the Red Bull’s once again topping the time sheets. The Suzuka Circuit is a drivers favourite, and it’s not hard to see why. The 5.087km track runs anti-clockwise, and is the only circuit on the F1 calendar that has a figure of eight where the track loops over itself. Being one of the oldest circuits on calendar, Suzuka has a true race-track feel to it. The circuit isn’t ridiculously modernised, nor is it particularly wide. There are few run off areas, translating into little room for error. One mistake here, and you’re off into the grass or gravel pits.

It was Mark Webber’s turn to out qualify his team mate, showing considerable strength through all three qualifying sessions to take provisional pole position. Webber is reported to be running a smaller rear wing compared to Vettel, and this seems to be working for him, setting an impressive lap time of 1:30.915. Vettel suffered momentarily from a KERS issue, though a quick stop in the garage saw the issue resolved. On his final flying lap he suffered a lock-up costing him a few tenths of a second, and pole position. It’s yet to be seen whether Webber will retain his pole position as the stewards investigate a possible grid penalty for impeding Perez on a slow lap. Leave the man alone, I say, he deserves this pole.

Hamilton qualified third ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg in sixth. Once again the Mercedes were quick and consistent in qualifying. The F1-W04 is undoubtedly quick, though still just lacks the race day pace against the RB-9s. The constant defeat seems to be getting the better of Hamilton, as he’s not been much of a happy chap in the paddock. Rosberg continues to drive consistently lapping at 1:31.397. However, the German has been handed a reprimand by the stewards for slow driving in free practice, it is his second one for the season.

Both Lotus cars are looking promising ahead of Sunday’s race. Grosjean was unlucky miss out on P3 on the grid by just over a tenth of a second, posting a time of 1:31.365. I’m not sure what happened to the Lotus driver during the summer break, but it appears he’s finally figured out how to race his E21 (without crashing it into anyone/anything). Despite an off road excursion during free practice, Kimi lapped well in qualifying. The Finn had considerable grip and pace in the car throughout most of the sessions. However, his time of 1:31.684 wasn’t quite enough in the end of Q3, so he will start from ninth.

Ferrari looked as if they’d found some pace in the car in Q2, as Alonso briefly held the quickest lap time. Unfortunately for the Scuderia, this didn’t translate into Q3. In a further move to stick it to the team, Massa once again managed to out-qualify Alonso, qualifying fifth to his team mate’s eighth. I doubt whether Alonso will spend much time in the middle of the pack tomorrow, realistically I see him running around fifth.

Hulkenburg had a good session, and is still currently quicker in a Ferrari engine than Alonso, qualifying ahead of the Spaniard in seventh. Team mate, Esteban Gutierrez was less lucky in today’s session. To begin with the Mexican was on fire*, though he failed to make it out of Q2, qualifying a respectable fourteenth.

Button will round off the top ten, while McLaren team mate will sit next to him on the grid in eleventh. Di Resta for once had better luck than his team mate, and (even more surprisingly) didn’t appear to slag off the team throughout qualifying. Sutil, unfortunately suffered from his crash in free practice, and failed to make it out of Q1. Williams drivers Bottas and Maldonado will start from thirteenth and fifteenth on the grid after an uneventful session for the team.

Toro Rosso had a disappointing qualifying session today, with Ricciardo starting from sixteenth tomorrow, and Vergne from eighteenth. Ricciardo just couldn’t seem to get the pace out of the car, perhaps he was fearful that his brakes would over heat like his team mate. Vergne in the final minutes of Q1 had the session briefly red flagged as the back of his STR8 caught fire.

For the first time this season, Chilton out qualified his team mate, and will be starting a career best nineteenth. Pic, Van der Garde, and Bianchi make up the final cars on the grid.

Tomorrow, Vettel has the opportunity to secure the Driver’s Championship if he comes home in P1, and Alonso fails to finish higher than P9. While it’s very possible that Vettel will indeed win tomorrow at Suzuka, the probability of Alonso finishing lower than he qualified is slim. It’s more likely that the battle for second and third will be between Webber, and the Lotus’. Hamilton, and Mercedes do still stand a chance, though I feel the Lotus is better suited to Suzuka. We’ll have to wait and see how tomorrow unfolds.

– Alex

* Arguably this was due to the fact that his car was literally on fire in the garage.

Season Comparison: 2012-2013

For a bit of visual aid, here is a comparison of race results for the first nine rounds of the 2012 and 2013 season. It’s not hard to see why (from a driver point of view) the 2013 season so far hasn’t been as thrilling as the 2012 season. This year we’ve consistently seen a swapping between Vettel, Alonso, and Rosberg on the top step (and a bit of Kimi). Where as last year the points were still so close together where is wasn’t until round 8 that Alonso became the first driver to win more than one race.

 

2012

2013

 

Round 1: Australia

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Jensen Button (McLaren-Mercedes) Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)
  Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
  Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:29.187 Jensen Button (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:29.274 Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)

 

Round 2: Malaysia

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Sergio Perez (Sauber-Ferrari) Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:40.722 Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault) 1:39.199 Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes)

 

Round 3: China

Qualifying Pole Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
  Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)
  Jensen Button (McLaren-Mercedes) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:39.960 Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) 1:36.808 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

 

Round 4: Bahrain

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)
  Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:36.379 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) 1:36.961 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

 

Round 5: Spain

Qualifying Pole DSQ Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium Pastor Maldonado (Williams-Renault) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
  Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)
  Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault) Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:26.250 Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) 1:26.217 Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)

 

Round 6: Monaco

Qualifying Pole Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
  Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:17.296 Sergio Perez (Sauber-Ferrari) 1:16.577 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

 

Round 7: Canada

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
  Sergio Perez (Sauber-Ferrari) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:15.752 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) 1:16.182 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

 

Round 8: Europe

Round 8: Great Britain

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
  Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault) Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:42.163 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:33.401 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

 

Round 9: Great Britian

Round 9: Germany

Qualifying Pole Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
  Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault)
  Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:34.661 Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault) 1:33.468 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

Mid Season Review

From round 1 in Australia, it was thought that tyre management was to play a crucial role in the performance and strategies of teams. This has definitely been the case as the season has unfolded. It seemed only Lotus were immune from tyre management issues with Kimi securing a comfortable win at Albert Park. Round two, and off to Malaysia, saw a very controversial win for Vettel and a very tense podium for the Red Bull 1-2 finish. Red Bull weren’t the only team to issue team orders in relation to driver orders. Mercedes’ Hamilton finished third, but felt his podium finish was more deserved by Rosberg (who was arguably faster, but respected his orders not to pass his team mate).

Alonso was next to secure a win at the Chinese Grand Prix after a superb race by the Spaniard. Mercedes were looking strong in qualifying, but again couldn’t maintain race pace against Ferrari and the Lotus of Kimi. It seemed to be a race between Alonso and Kimi, until Kimi sustained front wing damage after a collision with McLaren’s Perez. Despite suffering considerable understeer, Kimi raced on and was able to fight off Hamilton to secure second place 10.1 seconds behind the Ferrari.

Vettel was victorious again at the Bahrain Grand Prix, though Red Bull and Formula 1 fans alike were split down the middle of a Team Webber/Team Vettel debate surrounding the “Multi-21” team orders. Rosberg got off to a strong start but conceded the lead to Vettel on the third lap and was unable to maintain his pace eventually finishing ninth. Again, Mercedes were strong in qualifying, but hadn’t quite got the tyre management which was crucial on race day. Alonso’s race was anything from perfect in Bahrain, who suffered from a malfunctioning DRS (remaining open) and was forced to battle the straights without it, eventually finishing eighth. Button had a strong start to to the race but eventually succumbed to tyre management and a late fourth pit stop saw him finish tenth. Both Lotus’ had my attention in Bahrain. After a poor qualifying Kimi gained six places to finish second, and Grosjean gained eight places to finish third.

Round 5 and the Spanish Grand Prix was a home victory for Alonso. The Sunday was a perfect race for the Ferrari, who despite qualifying fifth on the grid, made his way to the front and become to first driver to win at Catalunya from further back than the first row on the grid. Webber had a poor start but eventually finished fifth behind his team mate. Tyres were again an issue for every driver, except for Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi drove with a perfect balance aggression while still nursing his tyres, and was capable of a three-stop strategy (while most drivers struggled with four). The Lotus’ strategy paid off as he was able to take Vettel as he slipped in for a fourth stop, eventually finishing second. Mercedes’ Hamilton showed a stronger race day finishing third.

There was a bit of drama at the Monaco Grand Prix after it had emerged that Mercedes had conducted a secret tyre test after the Spanish Grand Prix. The test seemed to pay off for Mercedes as Rosberg secured a victory after qualifying on pole.  Teams discovered after the race that Mercedes managed to get extra wear out of the tyres but swapping the L-R rears. The race was red flagged when Maldonado crashed into a protective barrier after making contact with Marussia’s Max Chilton. Kimi was lucky to score a point in the race after a late puncture and pit put him in last place. The incident stricken Monaco Grand Prix concluded with Rosberg maintaining a comfortable lead, and the Red Bull’s of Vettel and Webber taking out second and third on the podium.

In contrast, the Canadian Grand Prix went ahead with very little incident for the drivers, though following the apparent success of Mercedes rear tyre switching in Monaco, most teams could be seen adopting the same strategy for round 7. Webber pace suffered from an incident with van der Garde, Sutil executed a very impressive pirouette mid race (in which he somehow managed to avoid contact with everyone and everything), Hamilton and Alonso has a brief battle for second and third, and Kimi secured a points finish to equal Schumacher’s most consecutive race finishes in the points. The resulting podium consisted of Vettel, Alonso, and Hamilton (in that order).

The British Grand Prix was strewn with tyre blow outs from the likes of Hamilton, Massa, Vergne, and Perez. Webber had a poor start, and to add insult to injury, suffered considerably after wing damage from contact by Grosjean.  Apart from being a dangerous race, the blow outs cost  Hamilton his shot at the podium. Vettel looked set to take the podium until suffering from gearbox failure forcing him to retire on lap 42. Grosjean was the final car to retire from the race on lap 52. Webber showed us all just what he is capable of  by making a spectacular comeback after the final safety car to eventually finish second. Alonso, who was on a similar pit strategy to Webber during the safety car, was able to get better speed and grip out of the tyres to make his way past Kimi. The final podium stood as Rosberg, Webber, and Alonso.

The most recent race in Germany was a home victory for Sebastian Vettel as he managed to keep Kimi’s preying Lotus at bay during the final laps. Webber again suffered from a race incident that considerably impacted his position putting him a lap behind his competitors. Though following the safety car deployed after Bianchi’s retirement, Webber was able to un-lap himself and had fantastic drive from there on out to finish an impressive seventh.  Romain Grosjean had an flawless race in Germany, demonstrating a truly impressive drive throughout the entire race. After a incident stricken British Grand Prix, all teams were banned from rear tyre swapping, resulting in considerably less grip and slower lap times by the Mercedes and Ferrari teams.

Looking back over the first half of the season, the Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Lotus teams have been successful on race days. Lotus are currently sitting fourth in the constructors championship, but this is largely accountable to incidents occurring later in the race affecting Kimi’s position. I’d expect in the second half of the season for Lotus, and especially Kimi, to gain more points on race days. Tyre management has been an issue for all teams over the first half of the season. Though following the Pirelli Tyre Testing at Silverstone, I’d expect tyre wear not to be as strong of an issue for teams for the remainder of the season. Mercedes early dominance in the season has been attributed to their participation in tyre testing in Spain. Although, aerodynamic improvements to the Mercedes F1 W04 would have had considerable advantage on track like Monte Carlo, where downforce and grip around the many corners play a more vital role than speed in race performance. Consequently from participating in the tyre test in Spain, Mercedes are the only team not to test in Silverstone this week.

Now lets look at some stats;

2012

2013

Position

Driver

Points

Driver

Points

1

Fernando Alonso

129

Sebastian Vettel

157

2

Mark Webber

116

Fernando Alonso

123

3

Sebastian Vettel

100

Kimi Räikkönen

116

4

Lewis Hamilton

92

Lewis Hamilton

99

5

Kimi Räikkönen

83

Mark Webber

93

In the Driver’s Championship for 2013, we are still looking at the same drivers taking out the top 5 positions (although with some order change). Vettel has moved up three places to currently sit at the top of the championship with a very healthy 34 point lead on Alonso. On that note, Alonso was taking out the top position last year, and is currently second. Kimi has moved up two places to third. Lewis Hamilton, despite changing teams has stayed in roughly the same points and is fourth. Mark Webber was second in the championship this time last year. In 2013 Webber is currently in fifth position, a hefty 64 points behind his team mate. Despite a 34 point difference between Vettel and Kimi, I think the second half of the season will close the gap between the two. Mark Webber’s announcement to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season (and the open seat at Red Bull) could result in some quite successful races for Webber. Now that the pressure is off him, and he’s got a clear path in Le Mans, we might see some more of the old Mark Webber (before he went all dark and twisty). I think his race performance will improve, but mainly his attitude may be a bit nicer.

Ricciardo, Vergne, and Kimi will also be drivers to watch for the second half of the season, largely due to the seat that Webber is leaving open at Red Bull. Personally I would love to see Daniel Ricciardo in a Red Bull seat (and we’re getting a taste of that this week as he tests for RB at Silverstone), but I’m worried that he isn’t quite ready to leave Toro Rosso. Ricciardo is a driver will tremendous skill and potential, and I want to see him master that before he moves on. Vergne, another young driver with potential often placing higher race days than his team mate, will be a driver to watch closely in the following races as both the Toro Rosso drivers are essentially undergoing a job interview (at 300km/h). Kimi Raikkonen has been favourited as the driver to fill the empty seat at Red Bull, and to be honest, he’s the driver I’d most like to see in the RB10 next to Vettel. There is a lot of talk about who’s a better driver out of Vettel and Kimi, but when it comes down to it you can’t really compare the two until they’re in the same car. So if Kimi does join Red Bull, we can finally see the two race against each other from an equal footing. Now that will be a season to watch.

2012

2013

Position

Constructor

Points

Constructor

Points

1

Red Bull-Renault

216

Red Bull-Renault

250

2

Ferrari

152

Mercedes

183

3

Lotus-Renault

144

Ferrari

180

4

McLaren-Mercedes

142

Lotus-Renault

157

5

Mercedes

98

Force India-Mercedes

59

The gap in the Constructors Championship is huge. 67 points between Red Bull and Mercedes. It’s obvious who the favourites are to take out the Constructors Championship, but (as I mentioned in relation to Kimi), I expect to see Lotus move up in the points and possibly bump Ferrari down to fourth. Despite Alonso driving consistently well for Ferrari, his team mate seems to be struggling with his F138, and this may cost the team points in the later half of the season. Force India, while being 98 points behind Lotus in the Constructors Championship, have performed well in the first half of the season. Paul di Resta has consistently scored in the points, and looks in good set to finish off the season well. His team mate, Adrian Sutil, has had less luck only managing to finish in the points on three more occasions since Australia, though he’s a strong driver and the car is looking better in each race (especially on the corners). While McLaren have had a shaky first half of the season, the week of testing at Silverstone and extra time between races to work on their MP4-28, should see a more successful second half.

There’s a lot to think about for the races to come. Personally I most interested to watch the competition for the Red Bull seat unfold, but we’ll see what happens.

– Alex

Pirelli Blames… Everything

Pirelli have issued a statement saying that the tyre issues we saw at the Silverstone Grand Prix were due to teams swapping tyres and running them below recommended pressure, and at extreme camber angles. This, combined with sharper curbs at Silverstone. An “anything that could go wrong, went wrong” situation it seems. The manufacturer have also stated that teams will be  switching back to Kevlar reinforced tyres for Germany this week.

Here’s the deal though, Pirelli hadn’t raised issue to side-to-side tyre swapping during the Canadian Grand Prix. Looking back over the season, it appears that Mercedes were the first team to trial swapping the left and right rears during the tyre testing after the Spanish Grand Prix. Mercedes seemed to get better grip and degradation from tyres, so they trialled the move in Monaco (proving successful), and more teams it seemed followed suit in Canada, and again at Silverstone.

So, here’s what strikes me as odd… Obviously Pirelli would do extensive tests during the winter break when developing the next seasons tryes, a much more thorough test than Mercedes were able to do in Spain. It’s not difficult to see that fitting tyres backwards could be dangerous at high speeds (ie. 300km/h), so why did Pirelli sit back and let the teams do it?

Monaco Grand Prix: Preview

“Driving in Monte Carlo is like riding a bike in your house” – Nélson Piquet

That pretty much sums up my expectations for this weekend’s Monaco, Monte Carlo Grand Prix. This track is considered one of the toughest and most exhilarating on the calender (and for good reason), the Monte Carlo streets are ridiculously tight so there is very little margin for error and can be quite unforgiving in this sense. Over-taking on this track, when it can be done, is startlingly skillful. The challenges of the track translate in to teams having to optimise their qualifying sessions and focusing on the mechanical grip and downforce through the corners. Most drivers will try and aim for a little bit of oversteer in the corners to make the most of being able to accelerate out from the corner sooner.

I have to be honest, it’s one of my favourite races on the calender. It is the first race I remember watching when I was young, and the atmosphere of the weekend epitomizes the sport, absolutely ridiculous.

– Alex

Mark Webber Retirement: Are the rumours true?

Well it seems my hoping for Mark Webber to harness his anger from the Malaysian Grand Prix didn’t really go to plan in China. I was disappointed to see him collide with Vergne on lap 15, and to be honest I was a little surprised to see him make such a careless mistake. As a result Webber has been handed a three-place grid penalty for today’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding Mark Webber this week, but this time about his apparent move to Porsche’s Le Mans team in 2014. The rumor broke last week via @F1Kate’s twitter:

“Don’t know if this has done the rounds via Twitter yet, but the talk in China is that Webber has signed a 5-year sportsdeal with Porsche”

However Porsche spokespeople have dismissed the rumours saying they will make the decision later in the year as whether to sign more drivers.

Whether Mark does move to Le Mans, or to Ferrari (as there are rumours every year), I’d be most curious to see who fills the seat at Red Bull. Personally I’d love to see Ricciardo get a chance as the number two driver.

I get pretty damn excited watching that guy drive, and with good reason. It’s only his second season in F1 and he quite consistently finishes within the points. Last week he had his highest F1 finish in seventh place, and well lets face it, He awesome. One of my favourite points in the race is when the advanced drivers start to pit (Alonso, Raikkonen, Button, all those boys), a lot of the time they come fresh out of the pit right in the positions where Ricciardo is driving before he has his first pit. Watch him. It’s amazing the pressure he can put on some of these drivers, and again let me stress that this is his second season! I shall be watching him avidly this season, and in the seasons to come (hopefully in Red Bull).

– Alex

Welcome to Alelbuth

I’m fairly new to the Formula 1 scene. I began following the race in the 2011 season as a complete novice. As the season wore on and my interest grew, I began to read in to the technical and strategic aspect of the race so I could learn and understand more.

It didn’t take long for Formula 1 to become an obsession. In the 2012 season I flew to Malaysia (my old home) to see the Grand Prix at Sepang, and moved to Singapore for six months to see the night race. If watching the Sepang 2012 race live didn’t cement this obsession for the sport, the Singapore race certainly did.

Formula 1 has reached, what I feel is a very exciting time. This season saw the return of Adrian Sutil to Force India and Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton find a new home with Mercedes, and overall the newest team of drivers the championship since 2004. As the 2013 season commences I’m definitely no expert, with each race I learn and understand a little more. It’s a learning curve, but one I’m going to share.

– Alex

Turn 1, Lap 1 of the Malaysian Grand Prix 2012
Turn 1, Lap 1 of the Malaysian Grand Prix 2012
Pit Grandstand Weekend Pass with the Drivers on the podium (1st: Vettel, 2nd: Button, 3rd: Alonso)
Pit Grandstand Weekend Pass with the Drivers on the podium (1st: Vettel, 2nd: Button, 3rd: Alonso)
Post race, sitting on the finish line
Post race, sitting on the finish line