MMR Blog

Reflections on F1 2013

Posted on November 26, 2013 Comments (2)

Brazil is done. A race made interesting mostly by the threat of rain which never came. But didn’t the commentators and viewers wish it had. Other than that, it was notable for a couple of things.

First, of course, was the departure from F1 of Red Bull stalwart Mark Webber. A man of talent but also unlucky and inconsistent. Vettel may miss him most because he was not a serious threat. If it wasn’t clear before Malaysia, Mark’s position was very clear afterwards.

Frank Williams

Sir Frank Williams

Massa departs Ferrari. He appeared at times this year to require motivation. If driving for Ferrari is not motivation enough, he will surely disappoint at Williams. Sir Frank is not a cheerleader.

We learned, at this race, that in 2013 Ferrari and McLaren went to a different front suspension that allowed them an aero design advantage. This was apparently the major cause of their lackluster performance.

Heikki Kovalainen was consistent, sadly. Surely someone else could have done better and helped Lotus, themselves, and the viewers in the last two races. Management error.

Speaking of error. Red Bull’s on a pitstop for Vettel. A rare occurrence and a comfort to competitors.

Musical chairs will shortly end and many will be fitted for new uniforms and seats, but in the end, it is the cars that are the stars and Lotus, who do not have the budgets of RB, McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari appear to be punching above their weight. Where they will be after McLaren and Ferrari sort themselves out is an open question. On a positive note, they will have a Renault engine and a good chassis and a deserved reputation for being fast. Good drivers will be attracted to them.

Will Buxton’s interview with Nico Rosberg was a highlight of the interviews. Asked if he felt better about his improved performance this year over last, Rosberg replied no. It was due to an improved car and he left no doubt that he felt his performance was always good. He reminded Buxton that he had driven with Schumacher for three years and beaten him consistently. This is a driver who knows where he is at mentally and, should Mercedes deliver the car, he will deliver a championship.

Great credit is due and is paid to the Red Bull team, its drivers and management. Nobody on their side appears to say a word of thanks to their engine supplier Renault.

Red Bull

Finally, Vettel and records: A wonderful accomplishment for which he rightly thanks his whole team profusely. He is very good. He also owes thanks to Webber for not contesting his unexpected pass in Malaysia. That would have stopped the streak half way. Webber also deserves credit for taking 199 points that might have otherwise helped his competitors. He will miss Mark Webber.

In Will Buxton’s summary of the year he credited Vettel with finally realizing that he had to be ruthless to be a champion and that his pass of Webber in Malaysia showed he had come of age as a Champion.

This certainly fits the Senna–Schumacher mindset mold. Hardly fits the one from which Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Graham, and Phil Hill were cast.

As for Buxton’s comment, perhaps it is the times and perhaps it is the difference in our ages but when the goal is more important than the manner by which we achieve it, I lose interest. Fortunately for F1, I believe the majority of the drivers competing would not have needed to be reminded of team orders. It would never have crossed their minds to take a win away from a teammate.

NBC are to be supported for saving F1 from the Fox troglodytes. They have developed a first rate product and, if for them alone, the motorsports community should work like hell to grow F1 in North America.

As for the TV show itself, the sooner they get away from podium interviews the better. They are at best inept and mostly embarrassing to watch, and I would imagine to perform.

Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, F1 remains compelling.


Red Bull Gives You Wins

Posted on November 18, 2010 Comments (0)

Red Bull have won it all! And deservedly so.

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

The energy drink people at Red Bull have proven once again that unfettered money can beat the Fiats, Mercedes and Renaults of the world at what should be their game. Benetton were the last wholly owned non-automotive oriented team to win both Drivers and Constructors Championships and that was fifteen years ago.

But this was an interesting season. Not as much for the racing as for the people. We appear to have a group of drivers who have let their personalities shine through the corporate sponsorships and we find they are a diverse group.

The following are the impressions they left with me as the year ended.

Sebastian Vettel: His little-boy exuberance can be alternatively refreshing and annoying but there is no doubt that he can drive. He had the best car, he won the Championship and he really deserved it.

Mark Webber: Flashes of brilliance but not enough of them. Nobody ever thought he would accomplish what he did at his age and stage of his career. He has a sympathetic following but a dim future.

Hamilton: Quick and competitive. Somehow appears one dimensional. He will be better as he matures.

Alonso: Quick and competitive and smart. Interesting to see him being consoled by Ferrari after the race. I would have thought the check was enough. He has been with four teams in nine seasons.

Massa: Great guy who needs to step up his game. He is number 2 at Ferrari. The new Barrichello.

Button: In two years he has built a reputation for being smart, fast and easy on equipment. Moved from Mercedes at the right time and can give his teammate a run on any day. He was impressive this year.

Schumacher: Gave every aging F1 driver hope. Then dashed them with uncompetive drives. His crash on the first lap of the final race should be a message.

Rosberg: Quick and smart. Handled being Schumacher's teammate very well. He deserves a better team and car. I would love to see him at Red Bull.

Kubica: Very quick. Needs a top ride and then will be very, very competitive.

Kobiyashi: Exciting to watch and would be interesting to see what he could do in a better car.

Domenicali: The most refreshing team principal in years. After years of Dreary Ron and Silent John, he is a breath of fresh air.

The only difference between the cars is Adrian Newey and Renault power.

The last two races were good strategic battles on boring courses. If Abu Dhabi would have been the first race it would have been called a disaster for its lack of passing opportunities.

Formula One drivers are pretty evenly matched. Vettel had a car in which at least five other drivers could have won the championship.

A lot of people seem to speak for Red Bull but we never hear enough from the guy who really makes it all work, Adrian Newey.

Hopefully next year will see more teams competing at the front. Mercedes and Renault seem poised, Williams, less so, but could surprise. A few less boring Tilke tracks would help.

On to 2011, let the testing begin!


The Korean GP 2010 Settles Nothing

Posted on November 1, 2010 Comments (0)

I’ve waited up half the night for a lot of exciting things in my life. The Korean Grand Prix doesn’t qualify as one of them.

Red Bull's Korean Nightmare

Red Bull’s Korean GP debut was not pretty.

In a 16 race F1 schedule you can generally count on 75% of them being boring. The others are usually interesting either because they occur at the end of the year with a championship at stake, or it rains. Korea promised both. Instead it delivered a boring race in the rain and made us wait up for it. 

Alonso won by employing that clever old strategy of staying in front and not doing anything exciting. Webber and Vettel lost by being in front and being unlucky. In Webber's case he made a dumb mistake and was also unlucky enough to be caught out by it.

The really unlucky one was Nico Rosberg who was driving brilliantly until he was collected by the dumb/unlucky Webber who ended Rosberg’s bid for a podium and another trouncing of the once fabulous and now just plain old Schumi. Michael was jubilant with his finish and no one had the heart to point out that three guys in front of him had to crash for him to finish fourth.

In business or life, everyone needs a reserve of sympathy, understanding or forgiveness that gets one through a tough time. Supplying it is what friends are for. It’s what engenders a “second chance”. Webber may have eliminated himself from the championship and if he did and somehow there isn’t a great deal of that sympathy left in the tank for him. Odd, because he came into this race with the support of many but left it with much of that gone. At his level of pay and expectation, a self induced mistake at this point is really not forgivable.

If one of the Red Bull drivers or the team wins a championship, it will be despite their best efforts to throw it away. And if Alonso and/or Ferrari win, it will be because they never gave up. They took a “third best car on the grid” and kept making it better and they made less crucial mistakes. Ferrari Team Manager, Stefano Domenicali understands the sympathetic reserve and this season he has managed to put Ferrari in a position that the Todt-Braun-Schumacher team could never do. Through his thoughtful handling of interviews, he has mollified the ”anything-but-Ferrari” fans. Amazing what a little humility and grace can accomplish.

For raw talent there is not much to choose between the top six drivers and Rosberg. Experience and judgment are the determining factors and it is tough to take anything away from Alonso in either department. He is quick and he makes few mistakes and while that may win him a championship, it isn’t worth staying up half the night to see.


Singapore F1

Posted on October 8, 2010 Comments (0)

Racing into the Night

Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular fire

Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular fire

As a rule, televised night races hold little appeal for me. On the fully lit NASCAR and F1 tracks they simply render all the background objects dull or invisible. No blue sky, no green trees, no well known markers or bridges or signs. Just brightly lit cars travelling on varying shades of gray.

On poorly lit tracks like Le Mans, it becomes a procession of darting white and red lights rushing from one pool of light to the next. Because the cars have no lights, the track at Singapore is completely lit in a stark white and color comes only from the cars and the pit action shots. On TV it is impossible to know where the cars are on the track or even where the track goes. Gushing commentators aside, if this is “the crown jewel” of the GP world, from a TV spectators point of view, the crown is made of dull tin.

Alonso Wins Under Lights

Alonso Wins Under Lights

On the other hand, the lack of color highlighted the colors of the cars, particularly the Ferraris. Is it just my TV set adjustment or has Ferrari gone back to the beautiful blue-red of the sixties from the Marlboro orange-red of the past twenty odd years? This year’s car is the most attractively sculpted Ferrari in decades, and the new color does it justice. Removing decals could only help.

Also, Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular fire would not have been half as dramatic in daylight. And it was spectacular!

This viewer’s highlights of Singapore.

Alonso is unquestionably a great driver. But he always looks like he needs a bath and a shave, and unless he is on the top step of the podium he seems positively surly. By comparison Kimi and Mika are hilarious.

The drama of the race was watching Webber work his way through the pack and waiting for the guys in front to pit. Would that he could have made it to Vettel’s tail, it would have made interesting politics and racing.

Hamilton may have turned in on him, but Webber did nothing to get out of the gas or the way. Hamilton passed Webber in the first place because he got a really good run on him out of the previous turn. While Schumacher’s current driving style appears less forgivable in a lesser car, everyone else out there is just a mini-mike. Thank you Ayrton. Sorry Stirling.

My hero of the race is Kovalainen. What he did and how he did it was cool and you know it wasn’t something he could have practiced. It showed presence of mind. I like that kid.

What do you think?


Turkish Grand Prix: Sunday Morning in Turkey

Posted on June 7, 2010 Comments (1)

Sunday, I was watching a parade and a F1 race broke out.

Turkishf1

F1 Grand Prix of Istanbul - Race

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing leads from Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes at the start of the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Malcolm Griffiths/Getty Images)

On Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon two very different races, one in Turkey and the other in Indianapolis, left many questions unanswered.

The F1 race in Turkey was run for the benefit of only four cars. McLaren and Red Bull teams ran away from everyone else. As usual, qualifying well was the advantage that was needed to lead the first lap and the Red Bull cars, while not as quick as the McLarens in a straight line, had a distinct advantage in the twisty bits.

So Mark Webber who sat on pole, got away cleanly, his partner, Sebastian Vettel , slotted into second when Lewis Hamilton was held unexpectedly in the pits on lap 15 and it looked very much like a one-two for Red Bull and a three- four for McLaren.

redbullwaving

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing reacts as he crashes out after colliding with his team mate Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

At that point the cars were too evenly matched to expect a change and no passing had taken place among them on the track. But there were still technical unpredictables. The possibility of tires “going off” or “graining” and the ultimate F1 equalizer, rain, loomed.

Neither happened.

However, the human unpredictable did. The irrepressible Vettel in second place, due to different car set-up and team tactics, at one point had a slightly quicker car than his teammate, the repressible Mark Webber. On lap 40 of a 58 lap race he attempted to pass in a tight spot. In the process they both went off the track, the McLarens passed, Vettel was out and Webber finished third. It might have been stupid, but it was unexpected and entertaining.

Sebastian

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing reacts as he crashes out after colliding with his team mate Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

So now the McLarens were one-two with Hamilton in the lead when “vettelism” seized Jenson Button, the now in second place McLaren driver. He decided, on lap 48, to pass his teammate and race leader Lewis Hamilton. Well, that lasted for about five corners and then, once they had banged into each other, they were told by their pits they could have a fuel problem, so they should settle down to a parade formation to the finish.

“Conserve fuel! We have calculated that you are running out.” is code for “If you stupid bastards don’t cut this out we are going to trade you both for Kimi and you can learn to drive Renaults around elephant dung for the next ten years.”

The fact that these four guys actually raced each other was quite novel and great fun to watch. What it also gave us was a glimpse of what racing could be like without team orders. And while we are dreaming, suppose the whole track could be used instead of half of it being covered in rubber “marbles"?

And then TV witnessed the cleverness of the Red Bull engineers and managers when confronted with a management and PR situation. This is leadership! Vettel comes by the pits while the race is still on and they all hug him.

Turkishending

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes leads from team mate Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes on his way to winning the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The poor little boy, he broke his toy.

If that was my car that he had damned near destroyed trying to pass his teammate who was the pole sitter and leading the race, I would have grabbed him by his cute little ear and marched him straight down to the Lotus pit and told him to help them win a championship for the next few years.

And I would have had a word with Webber about doing something stupid like not moving over when my teammate does something stupid like trying to pass me in a tight spot that could have taken both cars out.

That’s a management point of view.

From a fan’s point of view it was unpredictably refreshing and I’ll bet we never see that again from these four.

So what did you think of the show?

pb