Thursday, 13 December 2012

Schumacher: A Response to Bernie

Ok, so it's been a while since I've blogged, but today I finally caught up with the F1 news to read an interesting article with the views of Bernie Ecclestone on Michael Schumacher. In the article, Ecclestone states that Schumacher should never have come out of his 2006 retirement to return to F1 in 2010. It's easy to understand why he thinks this - Schumacher didn't have an easy return to F1, and when you compare his returning form to that of Kimi Raikkonen's the case against his return seems clear-cut. I've always been a steadfast supporter of Schumacher (maybe I have a soft spot for the German drivers?), and the post I wrote about Schumacher's return during his second year is by far and away my most popular article (possibly due to the fact that my Twitter handle was read out on 5 Live F1 by David Croft after I sparked a debate). If you've not read that post, then I suggest you do so, otherwise I'll be repeating myself here.

Since Michael's return, he's been confronted with criticism at every turn. In his first year back, he was consistently worse than team-mate Nico Rosberg, and ended up 9th in the championship with 72 points to Rosberg's 142. A lot of people were prepared to give on Schumacher, and simply say that he'd lost all ability to drive in F1 - largely as a result of his age. However, in his second year, Michael was much closer to Rosberg, finishing 8th in the championship with 76 points to Rosberg's 89.

I think the step up in performance is largely due to Schumacher having another season in F1. Since he retired, there had been a lot of changed in F1 in terms of the car setup. Every change requires adaptation and learning (here comes the psychologist/neuroscientist in me), and sometimes this can take time. While I tend to downplay Schumacher's age, there is evidence that our capacity of learning is changed somewhat by the ageing process. If you think that Schumacher is in his forties and competing with a grid made up of mostly 20-somethings, then I don't think that he's done so badly.

I know that at this point a lot of you will be willing to jump on me for not writing about Schumi's 2012 season, but I feel this requires a lot of explaining. 2012 was an exceptional year in F1. The first seven races brought us seven different winners - something we've never seen before. The championship was wide open until the closing stages of the season, and was eventually won by Vettel - someone whom many consider to be Schumacher's F1 heir. Among the first seven race winners was Nico Rosberg, however in 2012 Schumacher only managed to score one podium. Before you all start going off on one and crying this as conclusive proof that Schumi's lost it, let's consider the fact that this year Schumacher was beset by bad luck. Reliability issues and race incidents meant that Schumacher netted a total of seven retirements - obviously meaning that he was down on the points.

While the season was progressing poorly for Schumacher, the media were once again asking whether he was still able to drive in F1. Now, however much drivers deny that the media has any influence on them, I doubt very much that this is true. Everything that we hear can influence how we think, feel and behave (here's the psychologist again), and so whether the drivers consciously know this or not, the barrage of questions posed by journalists about their performance and driving style will undoubtedly have some influence during the races.Thus, we may have ended up with a vicious cycle of bad luck causing bad performances, which are attributed not to the luck, but to Schumacher's ability, decreasing his performance. A self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

As we approached the end of the F1 year, we entered 'Silly Season': a time of the year when driver changes are occurring left, right and centre. This brought the somewhat unexpected news that McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton would be moving to Mercedes, thus taking Schumacher's 2013 drive. Rather than try to find a seat in another mid-field team, Schumacher opted to announce his (second) retirement.

So, we return to Bernie Ecclestone's comments that Schumacher should never have come out of retirement in the first place. According to Bernie, Schumacher's performances in the past three years mean that people will now no longer see him as a hero of F1, and instead as a poor driver who was uncompetitive. Alright, I admit that it wasn't great for Schumacher to have such poor performances, and I agree that our perception of him has changed. However, I think that this perception has changed for the better, not the worse.

Let me explain. During Schumacher's dominance in which he acquired seven world championship titles, people began to draw away from F1. Claims of always knowing who was going to win turned people off the sport, and Michael wasn't revered so much as demonised for taking the uncertainty out of the sport. People grew to dislike Schumacher intensely for his success - and I think this is something that we're seeing with Vettel. I'm sure if Senna was in F1 for a while longer and started dominating the sport, people would feel the same way. The fact that Senna was tragically killed before his success became too wearisome instead means he's revered as one of the greats of F1 - quite rightly too.

The fact is, people have a chip on their shoulder if one driver starts performing much better than everyone else. Achievements are at first respected, but gather too many and people start to dislike you. This isn't just in F1 - it can be seen in many aspects of life (including in my experience of education, hence perhaps why I relate to Schumacher and Vettel so much). When Schumacher returned to F1 and started experiencing bad results and underperformance, our perception of him did change - we began to see that he was human and could make mistakes like 'normal' people. Although he was criticised for this (damned if you do, damned if you don't it seems), people began to warm to him. We like to cheer on an underdog rather than someone who seemingly has no problems in doing well (although of course, it has to be a realistic underdog - I'm not sure Narain Karthikeyan has a massive supporting). Thus, I view Schumacher's return to F1 as a good thing - we still have the legendary seven titles, however a lot more of us respect and have warmed to him now compared to back then, and this can only be good.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Yellow Lights, Green Flags

Just when we thought it was all over and done with, the 2012 F1 season springs another surprise on us. Yesterday, the BBC ran a story about how Ferrari were planning to protest Vettel's race result due to an unusual situation involving a yellow light. If you watch the footage posted on the BBC article, you can clearly see that the track lights are yellow, indicating that it is unsafe to overtake. Vettel passes these behind the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, however later he overtakes Vergne before reaching the next (green) light. This prompted an almighty row on Twitter, with people claiming that Vettel's pass was illegal, and so he should have a 20 second penalty added to his time - thus pushing him down to 8th and giving Alonso the championship title. Now, as you'd expect, I disagreed. There was other footage online which clearly showed Vettel overtaking AFTER a marshal had waved a green flag. Thus, the overtake was legal. Only this morning the FIA agreed with what many of us had been saying - Vettel's pass was legal, as flags take precedence over lights in terms of the track status. This clarification had been sought by Ferrari, as they had written to the FIA.

Now, this is another example of how things within sport - particularly F1 - can be grossly over exaggerated. The BBC had reported that Ferrari were 'considering' a protest, however it seemed that many people took it as read that Ferrari had already protested. Certainly, the BBC article made it appear as though the protest was inevitable. However, in my opinion a protest was highly unlikely for a few reasons. Firstly, the time. In the regulations, Ferrari only had until the 30th of November - tomorrow - to lodge a protest. This would therefore make any protest a snap decision, and this is quite a gamble considering the only evidence they had was a YouTube video. Second, protesting not only a race result, but a championship result three to four days after the final race would seriously damage the team's and the sport's reputation. If any protest were to be lodged, then it would have to be at the race circuit itself.

Obviously, it's not yet the 30th of November, meaning that theoretically we could still see a protest of some sort. However, it's highly unlikely that it would succeed. As I've already mentioned, flags are greater than lights. Even though we saw yellow lights on the side of the track and on the steering wheel of Sebastian Vettel, these are negated by the marshal waving the green flag. The main point of confusion to many people was the cockpit light, so let me explain. These lights are used to show the driver - and the driver alone - about the track status. All of the cars are fitted with these lights, and they can be red (to indicate that the race or session has been stopped), green (to show that the session is good for racing/hot laps), blue (to show that a faster car is overtaking) or yellow (to indicate that the driver should take care). The light on the cockpit changes colour as a driver passes a light on circuit. Thus, if the circuit's status goes from yellow to green, the light itself will only change once the driver passes the next light. So, what we saw with Vettel's light was a situation whereby the track was green, but he had not yet passed this next point and the light was yellow. Vettel knew that he was able to overtake from the fact that a green flag was being waved by a marshal at the side of the track.

Ferrari have sought clarification on this matter, as it still appears that people are unsure of what actually counts towards the track status - the flag, the lights or the cockpit lights. Charlie Whiting has previously stated that the first signal always counts. Thus, the first new signal was that of the flag - the green flag, not the yellow light. So, regardless of what the lights were doing, Vettel's pass was legal.

Another reason that I believe any protest would not succeed is the fact that the FIA and race stewards are usually pretty tight on overtaking under yellow flags, and tend not to let breaches slip. Thus, nothing was brought to the attention of the stewards, suggesting that the move was legal. During the race in Brazil, this was not the only time that the lights had been debated. Sky in particular were hooked on the idea that Vettel had apparently overtaken Kamui Kobayashi under yellow flags. Despite asking team principals and the fact that the FIA had not investigated, Sky would not let this idea go. The reality of that particular situation was that Vettel had gone past a yellow light, which was accompanied by a red and yellow flag - a flag used to indicate a slippery surface.

With so many journalists and media focusing on these particular incidents, it's easy to see why people got caught up in the idea that Vettel was not worthy of this title, or that he secured it under illegal means. However, what we have to remember is that throughout the entire season the FIA and race officials have known what they were doing with regards to the flags and track status, and it's not for individuals outside to say whether a pass was legal or illegal based only on a blurry YouTube video. The officials are able to see a lot more information that we have access to, and the Kobayashi pass is an example of this. While on the TV it looked like a yellow flag (thus an illegal pass), in reality the subtle addition of a red and yellow flag meant that Vettel was safe.

Hopefully Ferrari will not lodge a protest. It seems a little like being a sore loser to challenge something so long after the final race, and based on evidence which has been shown to be wrong. Also, I'm hoping that the race fans on Twitter can now let the issue of flags and lights drop. Vettel is a worthy champion, as would be Alonso had he scored more points over the year. All we now have to do is celebrate the entire grid's achievements of 2012, and look forwards to 2013, where I am sure more controversies will reign once more.

Monday, 26 November 2012

End of Season Review

It seems that almost as soon as the season began, it's over for another year. This 2012 F1 season was quite spectacular overall, and I think it's one of the seasons that will go down in history. Yesterday's title race in Brazil was one of the best races I've ever seen - although this was something that I had said after a fair few races this season!

At the start of the year, everyone was expecting Red Bull to continue their form from 2011 - a season which was utterly dominated by the team. However, while their car was still strong, it wasn't the fastest out there. That honour went to McLaren, with Button taking the early lead in the title hunt. Another team which looked to be struggling at the start of this year was Ferrari - almost a second behind the leaders in Australia.

As the season progressed however, Alonso looked as though he'd stepped up his (already exceptional) driving ability, and began to out-perform his disadvantaged car. He won in Malaysia from 9th on the grid, became the first double winner in Valencia, and by Silverstone had a 13 point lead over his nearest championship rival - Mark Webber. So, despite the bleak outlook in Australia, it seemed that Alonso was seeking his third championship title, six years after his last.

By stark contrast, the McLarens seemed to be dropping away from their early advantage. It wasn't until Canada that Hamilton finally got a win on the board, and they suffered from poor races towards the mid-season. Towards 'Silly Season' - the part of the year in which driver line-ups were confirmed - McLaren were dealt a surprise, with Hamilton announcing that he was going to Mercedes for 2013, leaving a team which had been his home since the start of his racing career. Although this could have been seen as a blow for the team, Hamilton showed towards the end of the year that he was still a key part of the team, winning in the US race. However, Hamilton still suffered from a large bout of bad luck, too often retiring from the race after taking pole position. Ultimately, these problems meant that the constructors' championship belonged to Red Bull, with Ferrari stealing second from the British team.

Red Bull too looked to be suffering from something which was almost non-existent in their previous years - reliability problems. Alternator failures meant that Vettel clocked up two retirements over the season, a loss of valuable points when looking for a third successive title. Over the first half of the season Red Bull were hardly dominant, with Vettel at one stage around 40 points behind in the drivers' championship. However, after the summer break and on to the Asian races, it looked as though Vettel and Red Bull had discovered some of their lost form, and Vettel took back to back victories from Singapore to India, putting him right back in the title fight, and sealing the constructors' championship for Red Bull in America.

Up until Abu Dhabi there were others still in the fight for the title. Kimi Raikkonen was notably in the hunt for the title, despite not winning a single race until Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi was (until recently) considered the greatest race of the season, full of F1's usual controversy and surprises. Vettel was disqualified from qualifying after stopping on track and not providing a fuel sample. Red Bull elected to start from the pit lane (rather than the back of the grid) to make set-up changes to Vettel's car. Even so, it seemed that Vettel's challenge to Alonso was dealt a serious blow, as this was a circuit which was not known for the chances to overtake, and it seemed unlikely that Vettel would get into the points. However, as the race got underway Vettel was steadily working his way up the field. After the first safety-car period he was forced to the very back again, yet once again came all the way through the field - perhaps now finally silencing those who felt he wasn't a real racer, and proving he could overtake just as well as any other driver. This champion's drive meant that he managed to finish in third, behind Alonso. The podiums for Alonso and Vettel at that race meant that mathematically, only these two drivers were in the running for the championship, and so we were set for an epic battle as the season came to a close.

The Abu Dhabi race gave us our eighth winner of the year - the first seven races giving us our first seven winners. This unpredictability was a feature of 2012, with the mid-field teams (Mercedes, Williams, Lotus) clinching wins and stepping up their performance almost unnoticed due to the action of the top three teams. As such, Brazil seemed to sum up 2012 with one of the greatest finales of F1.

Ferrari's achilles heel this year was qualifying, often being no higher than 7th or 8th. Brazil was no exception, and Alonso qualified well behind Massa, 8th to Massa's 5th. McLaren managed to lock-out the front row, with Hamilton first and Button second. The Red Bulls secured the third row of the grid, however it was Webber in front of Vettel. As such, quali set us up for a fantastic race with a title to be decided. For Vettel to be champion, he only had to come fourth overall, even if Alonso won. For Alonso to be champion, he had to get a podium finish with Vettel no higher than fifth if he won; no higher than 8th if Alonso was second; or 10th if Alonso was third.

The first lap of Brazil was perhaps the most dramatic of the year. Alonso made a fantastic start, pushing his way up to fourth place. It seemed as though Webber was slightly harsh on his team-mate, pushing him out of the way into turn one. As such, Vettel dropped behind towards the mid-field, and ultimately ended up in grief with Bruno Senna. This looked like a disaster - there was extensive damage to the Red Bull, and Vettel was once again at the back of the grid with a lot of work to do.

At the front of the grid, it was the McLarens leading 1-2, with Hamilton ahead of Button. Closely following behind however was not the sister Red Bull, or even Alonso's Ferrari. Rather, it was the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg - one of the overlooked mid-field teams. Alonso had gone wide, and allowed Hulkenberg to pass him for third position. As the rain began to fall in Brazil, the track became trickier, and Button - often a master in such conditions - managed to overtake his team-mate for the lead. Closely behind followed Hulkenberg, and by lap 19 he had taken the lead for Force India.

With Alonso out of the podium places, the championship was still Vettel's, even without scoring points. However, as he proved in Abu Dhabi, Vettel is not one to simply sit behind the other cars, and by lap 8 he had made his way through the field in a damaged car to get up to 7th position!

The weather meant that there was a lot of pitting for tyres, with all but Hulkenberg and Button taking on intermediates at the beginning of the race. During this phase of the race we saw a lot of people heading off the track - Alonso went wide, although managed to maintain his place. Webber and Grosjean also headed off track, however Grosjean's exploration off the circuit led to his retirement, while Webber was able to continue. Through the chaos, pit stops were abound, and the intermediate tyres lessened some of the spinning and sliding. As the rain stopped and the track began to dry up however, everyone swapped back on to the dry tyres.

As everything settled down, Alonso reported a lot of debris from the cars who suffered in the rain. As such, the safety car was called out while the track was cleared up - not before Nico Rosberg had suffered from a puncture. With time to breathe and regroup, the order was Hulkenberg, Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel - meaning Vettel would still be in control of the championship.

 Once the safety car was pulled in on lap 30, Hulkenberg managed to retain his lead of the race. Webber and Kobayashi tried to overtake Vettel on the restart lap, however while the former went off the circuit again, Kobayashi succeeded and took fifth place from Vettel. Shortly after this, Kobayashi managed to overtake Alonso for fourth, however Alonso soon regained his place and began chasing Button - now in third place after being overtaken by Hamilton once again.

Massa also showed that he was continuing with his amazing form of this half of the season. He managed to overtake Vettel for sixth place, and began hunting down Kobayashi to act as a rear-gunner for Alonso once more. With things once again steady for a brief while, Interlagos showed us that nothing is steady forever, and the rain began once more.

Hamilton wasn't going to let rain stop him this time however, and shortly managed to overtake Hulkenberg for the lead. On lap 54 though, with drivers beginning to come in for intermediate tyres, Hulkenberg attempted to overtake Hamilton for the lead. The damp track however made it difficult, and Hulkenberg slid into Hamilton - ending the McLaren driver's last race for the team.

With all this happening at the front, Vettel had pitted for fresh tyres. The Red Bull driver's radio wasn't working, and so he couldn't report to the team about the track. The team went for option tyres, however these tyres were not suited for the damp surface, prompting Vettel to come back in for intermediate tyres. The team were not ready for Vettel - and so he waited what seemed like an age for the tyres to be made ready.

His championship rival, Alonso, meanwhile managed only just to keep his car on track after the rain. Luckily, he made it back to the pits for his intermediate tyres. After this round of stops, the race order was Button, Alonso, Massa, Webber, Hulkenberg (having taken a drive-through penalty for the collision with Hamilton), Schumacher and Vettel in seventh. In this position, Vettel would still be the champion - but only just. Alonso was still in the hunt for the win, in which case Vettel would have to be fourth. Luckily, Schumacher pulled out of the way of Vettel, giving him 6th position easily.

As the race drew to a close, Button had a 21 second lead, with Alonso seemingly unable to catch him. The last few laps were tense, and I was hoping that Vettel and Button could just bring it home. On the penultimate lap, we were given a last throw of the dice, when Paul Di Resta hit the wall, prompting the safety car to return for a second time - meaning the race ended with no more passes.

While Alonso drove an amazing race, finishing second, Vettel's 6th place meant that he was crowned the youngest ever triple world champion (6 years younger than Ayrton Senna, the previous record holder), and only the third driver in F1 history to win three titles back to back (Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio being the other two).

While Alonso was clearly disappointed at losing the title, he can be proud of his team for what they have achieved this year. Even though they had the slower car, Alonso managed to fight to the bitter end, such is his skill and prowess in an F1 car. Vettel undoubtedly had the drive of his career over 2012. While the car was significantly faster towards the end of the year, nobody can say that this championship was easy for him, and I think he's finally managed to prove that he is a worthy champion.

At the end of this year, we also say goodbye to Michael Schumacher once again - although it's beginning to look as though Vettel will soon become the next Schumi. Next year looks to be another storming season - driver changes left, right and centre will mean that the grid is perhaps more mixed than this year. However, regardless of what happens next year, 2012 will surely go down in F1 history for the most exciting, dramatic and unpredictable season of all. Only four months until battle resumes.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Irrational Criticism

As you're all well aware by now, I'm a fan of Sebastian Vettel. I like how he drives, and, more importantly, his approach to racing in general. While you see some drivers sulking, moping or getting angry, this is somewhat rarer with Vettel, and it makes me have a whole lot more respect for him over some other drivers. I'm not saying he's ever had an off day (the infamous Turkey crash with Webber for example), but overall it seems to me that Vettel has an optimistic yet realistic approach to the races.

While I'm therefore convinced that Vettel is one of the greats in F1, others are not so sure. While watching Sky F1 recently for example, I noticed that the TV team are somewhat reluctant to give him credit for anything. It's always the car that got the job done, or the fact that he went off into the lead, while the others were too far behind. It's not just Sky F1 who have spoken like this before. Sir Jackie Stewart also said that Vettel is 'not yet a great' as he hasn't managed to get a championship in a non-dominant car. Indeed, the comments from many people on Twitter also reflect this: whenever Vettel wins, it's not due to his own merit, but it's simply due to the car. Although I agree that having a good car gets you better results, I don't think this is entirely the story with Sebastian, so let me set a few things straight.

First off, perhaps the most obvious evidence that Vettel is one of the F1 greats is his track record. At the age of 25, he already has two world championships, and is in with a great chance of a third. You have to remember that 2008 was Vettel's first full season in F1, so this is only his fifth year in F1 - 1 year less than Hamilton, 5 years less than Alonso, 8 years less than Button and 9 years less than Raikkonen (all the other champions, bar Michael Schumacher). Looking at it this way then, Vettel has much less experience than the other F1 champions. As well as Vettel's championships, you have to look at his standings in the all-time statistics. Recently, Vettel has hit several milestones of number of wins, consecutive laps led and number of pole positions. While he's not quite topping the boards yet, he's well on his way to beating most of the records held by Michael Schumacher. There are quite a few of these statistics, so I'll summarise below:
  • Vettel has overtaken Senna and Prost for percentage wins, almost level with Jackie Stewart
  • He's equal with Schumacher for number of wins in a season for 2011
  • In 2011 he won 58% of the races - more than Fangio, Mansell and Ascari
  • Vettel is equal with Clark, Brabham, Rindt, Senna, Prost, Schumacher, Alonso, Hill and Button for consecutive wins
  • He's the youngest winner of an F1 race
  • He's third on the all-time list for number of pole positions 
  • He got the most pole positions in a season last year
  • Youngest pole-sitter
  • Just under 50% of starts from the front row
  • 14 consecutive front row starts (Singapore 2010 to Britain 2011)
  • Third in the all time list for number of career points - 1013 (not bad for 5 years' work!)
So, quite a few records to be getting on with for such a young driver! Ok, I know not many of you will be convinced by stats - the age old cry of 'but he has the fastest car' can't be falsified with stats alone, so let me raise a few more points.

When you look at these all time records, Mark Webber (Vettel's teammate) isn't really in contention for any of them. Now, if it was just the car doing the work, surely Webber would be right alongside Vettel for these stats? If not, we have to argue that driver ability plays its fair share of gaining records and taking wins, poles and championships. Admittedly, if you stuck another driver like Alonso in a Red Bull, it would be interesting to see how Vettel compared, but I would think that there wouldn't be much between the two - you'd just end up with two drivers streaking off into the distance.

On this point, how many of you would be prepared to argue that Alonso wasn't a great driver just because the car is also good? While I know a lot of you aren't exactly Alonso fans, I doubt many of you would argue that he doesn't have serious talent in an F1 car. I'd be safe to say that Sky F1 wouldn't be putting Alonso's great performance down to the car should he be driving a Red Bull - so why the discrepancy with Vettel?

A great example of the car doing a lot of the work comes from the 2009 F1 season, where Button and Barrichello were in the Brawns. While both are good drivers and had suffered their fair share of bad luck, 2009 showed how much difference the car made. However, the difference between Brawn and Red Bull is the fact that BOTH drivers were performing relatively equally. This just isn't happening with Webber and Vettel at the moment. This isn't because Webber doesn't have talent - don't forget he was in contention for the championship in 2010 - but maybe Vettel just has that extra something that means he gets the better of the car.

Another argument arises based on the fact that Vettel's championships are simply due to the fact that he had the best car at the time, and streaked off into the lead from the start of the championship. I agree that this was the case last year, however this was not so in 2010, and neither is it the case this season. In 2010, Vettel took the championship at the very last race. He was completely unexpected to do this - while he had a mathematical chance towards the end of the season, the realistic chance wasn't there. If the car was the only element, then the championship should have been Webber's. This year too hasn't exactly been easy. While the performance of the Red Bull has stepped up in the latter half of the season, the first half wasn't as easy as 2011. So, if Vettel gets the championship, it'll be down to more than the car.

Finally, I want to remind you all about the early years of Vettel. While all of his full seasons have been with a Red Bull team, we must remember that the latter half of 2007 and 2008 he completed with Toro Rosso - hardly the best car out there. In the Toro Rosso, Vettel managed a 4th place finish after qualifying 17th in China in 2007, a 5th place from 19th in Monaco in 2008, 8th place in Canada from 19th on the grid, and Vettel also managed to win a race at Monza in the rain. It's been said that to be a great, you have to achieve something in a car that isn't the best. Surely this is a prime example?

So, overall to judge a driver's greatness you have to look at his past achievements in context. A lot of people seem a bit blinded to the fact that Vettel has achieved so much in spite of relatively little experience and - at times - not being in the best car. While it might be annoying that the same driver keeps winning, this doesn't mean that his performance is down to the car alone, and more credit is deserved by Vettel. I know not everyone will agree with me (Jackie Stewart?), but in my opinion, Vettel is one of the greats of F1, and I'm sure he'll carry on doing great things.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Early Starts

We're officially into the closing stages of the 2012 F1 season. The European stretch of the year is over, and now we're onto flyaway races. The Japanese grand prix marked the start of this part of the year, and I have to say it was well worth sacrificing a weekend of catching up on sleep!

Suzuka has been a circuit which has often played a large part in championship deciders. Vettel last year managed to secure his second world championship at this race, long before the season's end. This year however the season is much tighter, with Alonso currently in the lead. Before the race, Alonso had a 29 point lead over Vettel, however as we head into the Korean race this lead has been cut to just 4 points.

Over the course of a season, all the drivers seem to have their fair doses of good and bad luck. At the first part of the season, it looked as though Red Bull and Vettel were getting their bad luck out of the way, while Fernando Alonso's Ferrari could do no wrong. However, in these closing stages of the year the tables seem to have turned somewhat, resulting in the championship being blown wide open again.

This effect on the championship can be put down to the opening lap of the race at Suzuka last weekend. Vettel managed to clinch his fourth pole position at the circuit, and thus pulled off his usual trick of streaking away into the distance once the five lights went out. However, behind the leader things weren't so straightforward: Grosjean pulled away incredibly well from his starting position, however once again he seemed to put his car in completely the wrong place, and had a collision with Mark Webber. The other Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen also got into the danger zone, and ended up giving Alonso a puncture, forcing him out of the race and therefore out of the points. Due to the chaos of these incidents, Nico Rosberg also got into trouble with Bruno Senna, resulting in Senna taking a drive-through penalty.

Once things had settled down in the pack, Vettel extended his lead over someone who you might not expect to be in second - Felipe Massa. Recently, Massa has been under a lot of pressure and has faced a lot of criticism for his driving ability. People have been questioning whether he really deserves his place at Ferrari, and if he is perhaps lacking in pace. However, of late Massa seems to have returned to his old form - the form of 2008 when he almost won the world championship. In my opinion, Massa's driving had never fully recovered after his accident in Hungary. Me being a psychology student and looking to studying traumatic brain injury in the future, you have to wonder whether that accident caused more damage than it appeared on the surface. Brain injuries are tricky things, and recovery can take years, so from the way in which Massa has been driving I'd not be surprised if that incident was responsible for such a loss of form over such a long time. In any case, Massa's skill at driving in Suzuka was enough to earn him his first podium since 2010, and hopefully has silenced some of the doubters out there.

Third place was more of a battle than perhaps the first two steps of the podium. Jenson Button had a good drive after his 5 place grid drop, however in the end he couldn't quite make the third step of the podium. Instead, this went to another surprise: Kamui Kobayashi. While Kobayashi's teammate, Perez, has managed to secure a few trophies this year, things haven't always gone Kamui's way, making the team question whether to keep him for 2013. However, a great drive meant that he secured his first podium of his career, and in front of his home crowd too! In all the years I've been watching F1, I've seen plenty of podium ceremonies. However, up until this weekend I'd never heard a driver's name being chanted before! Having such support out there must have been a fantastic experience for Kobayashi, and no doubt his desire to secure more podiums must have grown.

So, with only one championship runner finishing on the podium, we've got a bit of a fight on our hands for the rest of the season. With five races remaining, I'd be very surprised if anyone other than Vettel or Alonso got the title. However, in this season anything has been possible, and with 125 points left it's still mathematically possible for Raikkonen or Hamilton to sneak in and take the title. Whatever happens in the championship, we're certain that the last five races will be just as thrilling as the previous showdowns along the season. With any luck, the early mornings will be worth it!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Silly Season

Those of you who follow F1 regularly are probably aware of the time of the year termed 'Silly Season'. For those of you not aware, this is the part of the F1 calendar when drivers start switching teams, and it's probably one of the harder times to keep up with the F1 news. We're well within this timespan now, and speculation has been rife as to who is moving to which team.

The only team immune from speculation this year has been Red Bull. Aside from a few stories about Vettel signing a pre-contract for Ferrari for 2014, Red Bull have avoided the limelight as both of their drivers are staying for next season. However, the other teams in the paddock have been under the spotlight much more.

Ferrari and McLaren have been the biggest names up for debate. It's thought that Felipe Massa will not be staying with Ferrari, owing to his loss of form over the past few years. I can't help but think that this is somewhat harsh, as recently Massa has been performing very well, and seems to slowly be regaining the form that he lost after his accident in Hungary a few years ago. A recent interview with Fernando Alonso however suggested that Massa would be staying, and that Alonso was happy with Massa in the team. If Massa were to leave Ferrari, then his replacement would likely have to be happy with playing second fiddle to Alonso.

McLaren have perhaps seen the most hype about their 2013 driver line up. A while ago rumours were abound that Hamilton would be leaving the team to join Mercedes. A lot of people (me included) were sceptical about this however, as the performance of the Mercedes has always seemed to be far worse than that of McLaren, and so a move to this team would be a step down for Hamilton. Indeed, it seemed that the only attraction for this move would be the salary, with Mercedes reportedly offering Hamilton a much bigger salary than McLaren. Now, this decision would speak volumes about Hamilton's involvement in racing - if he went to Mercedes then it seemed that money, rather than racing, would be the motivation.

The shock indeed came this morning when it was confirmed that Hamilton would move to Mercedes, leaving the McLaren team that had so far had exclusive access to the driver. I have to admit that this was a shock to me, and it suggests that either Hamilton himself or his management prefer the size of a bank balance to chances to race. Of course, not many people know about the inner workings of the team, and so there's every likelihood that Mercedes have an ace up their sleeve and will have a competitive car for 2013. However, in terms of winning world championships (which we have to assume that all 24 of those drivers are after), moving from McLaren to Mercedes seems a bit of a mad move. Time will tell on this front.

Of course, all teams need a second driver, and it was interesting to see who would move to McLaren as Hamilton's replacement. A few big names were apparently up for grabs, including Massa and Schumacher, however McLaren surprised everyone by taking on Sergio Perez. Perez has shown great form in 2012, and so you have to think that a move to such a big team would be a great opportunity for him. For a while it was thought that Ferrari would be taking Perez as a replacement for Massa, but now you have to think that they've missed out on an opportunity in this young driver.

So, with the big move completed, we can now wait and see how the biggest (and most expensive) game of musical chairs will end. There are still questions over Massa's seat at Ferrari, and what will happen to Schumacher. There are several GP2 drivers who have also shown great promise, and it would be great to see new faces in the F1 paddock. As with everything in F1 though, there will still be rumours and speculation right up until the last place is filled, and all we can do is wait and see how Silly Season pans out.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Improving the Show

The other day I read this article on the BBC, in which Ferrari president Luca De Montezemolo claimed that F1 races were "...too long for young people". He claimed that the average of an hour and a half were perhaps too long to provide enough of 'a show' for younger audiences. He also claimed that having races on in the early afternoon were a bad idea, comparing F1 to soccer games which typically air in the evening.

Now, speaking as a relatively young person, I disagree with pretty much everything that De Montezemolo said in that article. The races this year have been fantastic, and the phrase "time flies when you're having fun" is applicable on race weekends. For the past couple of years, F1 has been talking about 'improving the spectacle' to appeal to broader audiences and excite more people. This has led to some interesting developments, such as the introduction of DRS to improve overtaking. I don't think anyone would argue that F1 in recent years has become more exciting - more overtaking in the races, and closer championships (if you follow the sport long-term) have certainly made things more interesting than perhaps in the past, particularly the Schumacher years, when many people wrote off F1 weekends as a foregone conclusion.

So, with all this excitement and spectacle going around, what is Montezemolo talking about? Perhaps he feels that the attention spans of young people can't keep up with F1, and instead we prefer sports that have short bursts of activity and breaks so that we're not having to remain focused for such long periods of time? In this case, we're not being given enough credit by the Ferrari boss. While at Spa, there were plenty of young people around. We watched the entire race, without once having to stop to check Facebook, Twitter or play Angry Birds.

Young people are capable of engaging in something for much longer than an hour and a half, you just have to give us the interest. Of course, if a young person is not interested in F1, then they're not very likely to watch it however long or short the race may be. The same goes for any sport. For example, I have absolutely zero interest in football. Even if the match was only five minutes long, I still wouldn't watch it. However, I'm probably too interested in F1, meaning that I happily watched the epic Canada race from the start of the F1 coverage to its very end.

The excitement within each race weekend that we've seen this year means that people new to the sport don't have to watch a race in its entirety to get an impression of it. Thus, if a young person has a vague interest in F1 and they catch a glimpse of a race, they're probably quite likely to watch future races start to end. I doubt you'd find many people who would claim that they enjoyed watching a race, but wouldn't watch future races because they were too long. So, Mr De Montezemolo, the races are not too long at all, it's just a matter of whether you're interested in the sport itself and what happens during the event and across the season.

As for the time slot of F1, I don't think many people have found this much of an issue. The races are broadcast on a Sunday afternoon, a time when most people are not at work, and can set aside time to relax and recover from the working week. F1 provides an excellent excuse therefore to sit for a few hours and not have to worry about work and life. Indeed, F1 can also have a wonderful impact on family life, bringing everyone together on the sofa to watch a race, perhaps then followed by a traditional Sunday roast. If you switched to broadcast races in the evenings, you might lose this element, particularly if families have very young children who need to be up early for school on a Monday morning. In any case, we still have a large proportion of races which are broadcast in the very early morning - something which is perhaps more problematic than watching a race on a Sunday afternoon. While hardcore fans such as myself are quite happy to get up very early on a Sunday morning, many casual viewers are less likely to do this, and a fair few young people would much rather sleep. So, Sunday afternoons are perhaps less of an issue than Montezemolo is making out.

Overall, I think Luca De Montezemolo is giving young people too little credit. If we're really into a sport, it doesn't matter whether it's on for five minutes or five hours - our attention will be held just fine. The 'show' as he puts it is more exciting than ever, and arguably we don't really need to make it more of a spectacle. F1 in general needs to get over what seems like a lack of confidence in its ability to entertain. If you ask the fans, I think most of us would agree that we're perfectly happy with the hour and a half of races on a Sunday afternoon. You wonder though what will happen if this obsession with 'improving the show' continues - will we see drivers in fancy dress? Will we see fireworks and dancers to rival the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies? Will the whole thing just descend into a high-budget version of Wacky Races? While I might be exaggerating somewhat, I honestly think that the F1 officials need to stop worrying about the spectacle. We fans are perfectly happy with what we're getting - let's stick to 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', rather than 'If it ain't broke, fix it 'till it is'.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Spa Treatment

I'm the first to admit that when a 20 year old girl talks about going to 'Spa' in the summer, most people assume that they'll return with manicured nails and a whole host of skincare products. My own Spa experience was quite different, and, honestly, far more exciting.

Every year, F1 has a month long hiatus with an enforced two week shutdown. While this is great for those working within the sport, a time for rest, relaxation and seeing family members rather than travelling across the world, for F1 fans the break often leaves a void. Once the season starts back up again, we're often celebrating the sport's return. What better way to celebrate the restart of the season than by going to the first race back?

Back in March, Dad and I ordered the tickets to go to the first race back - Spa. This circuit is one of the most legendary on the calendar, and features perhaps the most well-known corner of any race track: Eau Rouge. Thus, selecting Spa was an easy choice.

After such a long wait, August finally arrived. In the run up to leaving, we were however beset with problems. Numerous health-scares in early August were followed by the discovery that the Range Rover had a serious problem which could not be fixed in time for us to leave. Despite all these problems, we managed to get everything together (thanks to a hire-car company and an understanding GP) and on Wednesday we set off for Belgium.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful. The weather was good as we were heading over the Channel on the ferry, although I did feel like Jack Sparrow once or twice while walking around the shop on board. The car we had hired was pretty boring, although the bonus was we didn't have to worry whether it would overheat or stop working while stuck in traffic near Brussels. When we neared the circuit, there were signs to the green campsite along most of the way. However, once we actually got very close, the signs suddenly stopped, and we were left driving around the forest for quite some time before getting in to the campsite near Les Combes. Luckily, we managed to set up the tent before the daylight ran out, and we spent the evening watching a lightning storm way off in the distance.

Thursday: Stavelot and the Pit Walk

For those of you who haven't been lucky enough to go to an F1 race in person, on Thursday afternoons the tracks usually hold a pit walk. Spa was no exception, and so we planned to get to the pit lane nice and early to get ahead in the queue. As the pit walk wasn't until 4, that left us plenty of time to explore the local area. Before we left for Belgium I'd read about a nearby town called Stavelot. Stavelot Abbey was at the centre, and in the basement was a museum dedicated to the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. 
We told the people who were camped near to us about the Abbey and museum, and so when we arrived at the town we saw quite a few F1 fans who'd had the same idea as us. Stavelot itself is a gorgeous place, with a market being held and lots of picturesque buildings around. The museum and abbey are also pretty cool, and it was great to learn more about the history of the circuit and what sorts of events were held there. 

Once we'd finished having a look around we headed back to the campsite, ate lunch and started the long walk to the pit lane. We were camping up near the top of the circuit, and of course the pit lane was at the opposite end of the track. Normally, this wouldn't be much of an issue, but on Thursday the gate to the circuit nearest to us was closed, so we had to walk miles to the only open entrance. 

It took us two hours to walk to the pit lane, and once we were there we were pretty tired. We managed to buy something to drink in the shop nearby to the entrance, and then began queueing. When we were in the queue, we were chatting to an Australian couple. They said that they lived practically on the Albert Park circuit, and went to the grand prix there every year and this year decided to venture to Europe for the Belgian and Italian races. This is one of the great things about going to races in person: you get to chat to fans from all over the world, and everyone tends to be incredibly friendly. It makes you realise how one common interest such as F1 can unite people, regardless of their backgrounds. 

Eventually after two hours of queueing, we were allowed into the pit lane. We had to walk through part of the circuit, and so had ample opportunity to take photographs. The pit lane wasn't too crowded initially, however as we headed towards the bigger teams the crowds grew bigger. We managed to see all the usual sites, including pit lane practices, and even a driver or two! Once we'd headed through the crowds, we wandered out of the pit lane and onto the starting grid, where of course I posed for a photograph on pole position. Overall I think we stayed in the pit lane for another two hours, and then headed back to the campsite on our long walk. On the way back we were walking by the side of the road, when a car passed us. Who was in that car? Felipe Massa. That's the beauty of being at a race track!

Friday - Practice Sessions and The Rain

practice sessions from GP3, F1, GP2 and the Porsche Supercup, and so I thought that I'd have plenty of opportunity for photographs. However, not far into the morning the heavens decided to open, and from that point it did not stop raining until well into the evening. Safe to say, we were soaked, even with the umbrella and raincoat! 

However, being the hardy F1 fans that we are, we stayed out for most of the day and watched F1 cars at Eau Rouge, something that every F1 fan needs to do at least once. We wandered around most of the circuit on Friday, before calling it a day just after the GP2 qualifying. 

When we headed back to the campsite, disaster had struck. The tent that had survived the Nurburgring weather wasn't a match for the Spa rain, and was flooded. Dad had to bail water out of his side of the tent, and so we took the decision to sleep in the car. While this was a hell of a lot warmer and drier than the tent, sadly it wasn't much more soundproof and was infinitely less comfortable, so I didn't managed to get much sleep that night. Still, the F1 was what I was there for, and I could catch up on sleep upon my return home!

Photos - Friday Practice

Saturday - Qualifying and Spa Sunshine

After sleeping in the car we woke up early on Saturday morning to see blue sky and sunlight - a stark contrast to the rain of Friday. In the morning we had the GP3 qualifying and F1 practice, and it was great to finally see the F1 cars getting up to speed instead of holding off in the rain.

I have said this before, and I will continue to do so (at least until the 2014 engine reg change), but the sound of F1 cars is perhaps the best part of watching the sport in person. While you get an impression of the sound on the television, nothing compares to how they sound in the flesh. This year you heard a bit of a difference due to the change in the regulations about off-throttle blown diffusers, but once again the cars sounded fantastic - although we did opt for buying ear defenders after a while!

Once the F1 practice was over, we wandered towards Eau Rouge in time for the qualifying. In between we had the Porsche Supercup qualifying, which we watched near Pouhon. The walk around Spa is really, really long, and if anyone is planning their 2013 trip you need to be ready to walk. The bonus of this though is that we get to see things that aren't spotted on the television - namely, the trucks and transporters. It was here that we got a reminder of how much money is in F1: 14 FIA trucks, each with personalised numberplates.

After posing next to some trucks, we continued our walk towards Eau Rouge and qualifying began. While we'd seen F1 cars in practice 1 coming up the hill at Eau Rouge, we hadn't seen them at full throttle. Watching them at speed during quali was pretty special, although you cannot imagine how disappointed I was that Sebastian didn't make Q3. Also, being the one of few Vettel fans in amongst a lot of Jenson fans was pretty funny, although F1 fans are generally a good-natured bunch (as evidenced by the Italian guys who offered to take a photo of Dad and I in front of Eau Rouge) and friendly banter is expected. Ultimately, Button took pole position and the race was set for Sunday.

Once quali was over, we walked up towards the pit lane and the Bus Stop chicane to watch the GP2 race. GP2 is a new discovery for me this year, and often the races are as exciting - if not more - as F1 races. The race got off to a good start, although Nigel Melker had quite a nasty accident requiring him to be airlifted to hospital. Thankfully, he was unhurt and the race continued after a lengthy delay, making it the longest GP2 race in history. Following this race was the GP3, which turned out to be one of the shortest due to another horrible accident. Luckily, the driver, Robert Cregan, was also unhurt - a testament to the safety of the sport. After the race was over we headed back to the campsite and our now dry tent to get ready for an early start on Sunday.

Sunday - Race Day and The Chain
We got up early on Sunday to claim a spot within the circuit. We grabbed a croissant from the stall on the campsite and headed towards Rivage to watch the final support races (GP2, GP3 and Porsche Supercup) and the drivers' parade. Again, all of those were a sight to see, and during the lunch break we grabbed the Belgian speciality of frites and mayonnaise and stood near the top of the circuit, where we got a view of the start of the race.

Watching the start of a race is usually a treat reserved for those who pay mega-money for tickets during an F1 weekend. However, due to the elevation of the Spa circuit we were able to see the grid (with the aid of binoculars of course) and the first movements of the cars.

The crowds were thick and fast where we were stood, and so we decided to get closer to the track and stood near Les Combes, where the crowd was thinner. Here, I was the only Vettel fan in amongst a lot of McLaren fans - something which much have looked amusing as I cheered at different times from the rest of the crowd. Vettel made up for his poor qualifying position by an absolutely amazing drive, landing him second - I finally got to see him on the podium! It was an amazing race, and it's slightly surreal watching the TV coverage on a big screen with the cars passing by right in front of you.

After the race was over, with a great win from Button, we managed to get on to the circuit. We crawled under the fence near Rivage, and wandered down the track towards Eau Rouge. Another thing you don't quite see on the television is how much of a hill Eau Rouge actually is - it was tiring walking up and down so much! On the circuit were a lot of Kimi Raikkonen fans - who apparently felt the need to stand naked at Radillon. Now, I'm a Vettel fan, but I'm not sure I'm dedicated enough to remove my clothes on the middle of a race circuit. Still, in F1, anything goes!

We also had the chance to chat to a GP3 driver while we were wandering around, and it's great to chat to potential F1 starts of the future. The whole atmosphere at the race was just fantastic. It's probably true that F1 fans are the best in the world.

So, once again F1 gave me a great holiday. Honestly, if you get the chance to watch a race in person, go. The sound, atmosphere and spectacle can't be compared to anything else. Now all that's left is to plan next year's trip!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Summer Countdown

Well, with the first 11 races of the season over and done with we're now into the F1 summer break. For teams and drivers a force shut-down of two weeks gives time to relax and recover, with the final two weeks of break left for developing and enhancing their prospects for the rest of the season. For me, the summer break means that it's time to prepare for 2012's F1 road trip, this year to Spa.

Last year, I had the chance to go and watch the F1 in person at the Nurburgring. It was such an experience that Dad and I decided we had to go and watch a second race, again at a legendary track. Nothing really compares to watching F1 in person. You don't get the atmosphere when you watch the sport on television, and you don't really understand how amazing those cars sound until you're standing a few feet away from them.

So with 25 days until we catch the ferry there are only a few things left to sort out. We're taking our awesome blue Range Rover once again, and we're braving the elements by staying in a tent on the Spa campsite. When we went to the Nurburgring, we drove through Wednesday night and Thursday morning to arrive at the campsite at around 6 in the morning. The pitches were already pretty much gone, and we were lucky that we took the Range Rover so we could camp wherever there was space. This time around, we're leaving on Wednesday in the afternoon, so no driving through the night. Luckily, the official Spa camping has set out pitches by the look of it, so hopefully we won't have to find an unoccupied patch of forest!

The weekend will consist of a load of motorsport, with F1 as the main event. We'll also see racing from the Porsche supercup, the GP3 series and the GP2 series. Last year I wasn't much into GP2, largely because the supporting races never received much television coverage. However, this year GP2 has completely caught my attention, with some races being even more exciting than the F1! So this time around I'll be sure to catch more of those races in person.

Aside from the racing, we also get the chance to wander around the pit lane - with the pit walk at the Nurburgring being my first glimpse of my hero Vettel in person (I later managed to meet him at the Goodwood Festival of Speed). The pit walk is great, as you get to see what goes on behind the scenes of the sport, so this is something else that will be a highlight of the weekend.

So, this year's F1 trip is inching ever closer. As in 2011, I'd like to know what you think I should do while I'm in Belgium, whether it's linked to the circuit or the surrounding area. Send me a message on Twitter (@Mooevilboffin), and maybe your suggestion will appear in pictures when I return! The countdown begins...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Halfway There

It's exactly one year since I went to see my first F1 race at the Nurburgring. Last weekend's German grand prix also marked the halfway point of the current season, and I feel like it's time to sum up how the year's gone so far. 2011 was a year in which Red Bull were absolutely dominant, and it was a year in which we saw some phenomenal racing. While we more or less had the same winner and pole sitter in each race last year (one Sebastian Vettel), the races were so exciting that it almost didn't matter who was winning. This year, we've seen none of the dominance of any one team, however the racing has managed to become even more enthralling than last year.

At the opening round this year, we all expected Red Bull to continue their form of 2011. However, due to various rule changes it appeared as though the team were not quite as far in front this time around. Many people were also surprised by how different the cars looked - the introduction of the stepped noses on most of the cars prompted harsh comments around the aesthetics of the cars, although the McLaren team were perhaps rather smug on this front, having worked their way around having a step.

As ever, anticipation was high for Australia. A long break from F1 seems to have this effect on the fans as we rediscover what it is we love about the sport. The opening round also provides hints about how our favourite teams and drivers are likely to fare over the rest of the season. Once the famous five lights went out and the racing began in 2012, we started our season. The racing was much closer this year, and in the end it was the McLaren of Jenson Button who had the honour of taking home the first win.

With the scene set for the rest of the season, the next round in Malaysia would provide a hint as to whether McLaren's form in Australia was the start of a dominant season, or whether we'd see a range of top teams. A stunning race once again, it was the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso who took the second win. This was somewhat of a surprise, given the speculation surrounding the Ferrari team at the start of the year. 2011 was perhaps a bit of a shocking season for the team, and many people wondered whether the team had simply lost their pace. So, Alsono's win could be regarded as one of the surprises of the season.

Race three in China was again stunning, and we saw a third different winner in 2012. However, rather than the winner coming from our usual top three teams (Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari), we saw Nico Rosberg take the win in the Mercedes. This was great news for the team, as we'd not seen the performance we expected since the team was re-branded from Brawn. After the third different winner from as many teams in as many races, many people began to wonder whether the trend would continue, and if so for how long?

The following week was the somewhat controversial race in Bahrain - a race that many people wished to be cancelled. I myself took a somewhat neutral standpoint, figuring that a sport cannot - and should not - be expected to sort out the problems within a country, and if all was safe for drivers, teams, staff and spectators that the race should go ahead. This is exactly what happened, and finally 2011's top team showed that they had regained some form, with Sebastian Vettel taking the win.

With Bahrain over, F1 returned to Europe to begin the mid-season. Spain was first up in May, and we again had a surprise. By this point, the top three teams had all had a win each, thus many people were expecting to see one of these teams take a second victory. However, an absolutely stunning drive by Pastor Maldonado led to Williams taking their first victory for a very long time. This made five winners from five teams in five races - a point which I think was great for the fans, although perhaps not so great for anyone trying to predict results. Thus, five races in and many believed that anything was possible in F1.

Monaco followed Spain, and this was again one of the most anticipated races of the season. The glamour of Monaco means that it's an absolute treat to watch. As with most street circuits though, there is very little overtaking, even with the DRS. However, given the circuit's nature, it's a treat to watch. Monaco also brought us our first team to secure its second win, with Red Bull's Mark Webber taking perhaps the most coveted win of the season. This made six different winners from six races: a feat that meant 2012 was already on its way to being a record season in F1.

Canada was the next race on the calendar, and after last year's madness with the rain we were all anticipating another thriller. However, given the number of winners so far, it was a race when most had given up predicting who would win. In the end, a second team secured their second victory: McLaren. However, we still had not bucked the trend of different winners, as it was Lewis Hamilton who took victory number seven. So, by seven races 2012 was officially record breaking, and the first season in F1 history to have so many different race winners in so few races.

prix in Valencia that held my attention. We also gained our first double winner of the season: Fernando Alonso - a winner that of course delighted the home fans.

This month, we also saw the British grand prix at Silverstone; a circuit which is full of history and considered a classic on the calendar. As the race was held in July, Britain did not disappoint and we had a traditional British summer: torrential rain so bad that people were actually turned away on qualifying day. Come Sunday however, we saw yet more magnificent racing and gained a second double winner of the season: Mark Webber.

So, last week in Germany brought us to the halfway point of the season. Once again, the racing was exciting, with overtakes and close battles galore. In the end our top-three finishers were Alonso, taking his third victory of the year; Button, whose second place brought him back up in the drivers' standings, hopefully to re-kindle his championship chances; and Raikkonen, who had managed to bring Lotus F1 home on the podium a number of times this year. However, these were not the drivers stood on the podium. Rather, Vettel took home second place, but had 20 seconds added to his time after a pass on Jenson was considered to be against the rules. So, even with the race over and done with, it's still hard to predict who gains which place!

In terms of the top three teams' performances, Ferrari were the big surprise of the year in my opinion. The speculation and talk at the start of the year set us up to expect a lower performance than we've actually seen. Alonso is currently 34 points ahead in the drivers' championship, and you'd be hard pushed to bet against his third championship at this point. During more recent races, we've also seen great performances from Felipe Massa - signs that Massa's maybe getting closer to his previous form before his accident in Hungary. Hopefully the rest of the season will make this clear.

Red Bull have shown none of their dominance, although consistently good performances have meant that they are still at the top of the constructors', if not the drivers' championship. Webber is currently Alonso's closest rival in the championship, with team-mate Vettel close behind. As we're only halfway through, it's to be expected that the team will push even harder to get back on top of the drivers' standings. Currently, Red Bull are at the centre of a row over engine mapping. While cleared to race in Germany, it's believed that the team have found another loophole in the regulations to be exploited. Whether the loophole is closed, or whether other teams simply try to emulate the team's discovery remains to be seen. It's certainly not the first technical row in which Red Bull have been involved, and I very much doubt it'll be the last.

McLaren showed impressive form at the start of the year, however recently things have slipped somewhat. Jenson's podium finish was surprising, and hopefully heralds the end of their underperformance of late. However, this is something we'll have to watch as the season progresses. Both drivers have had a large share of bad luck and performance issues, which is why both are slipping down the championship standings, and why Ferrari have overtaken second place in the constructors' championship.

A fourth team worth mentioning is Lotus. We've seen both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean on the podium several times this year, hence Raikkonen's fourth place in the drivers' championship. This is a team which we've been expecting to win for quite some time now, and I'm fairly certain that we'll see one of their two drivers taking a victory before the season is out. The team itself is in fourth place in the constructors' championship, ahead of Mercedes.

So, overall we've seen a lot of credible performances, a lot of poor performances and everything in between this year. It's difficult to predict who will gain the ultimate victory of the championships by the end of the season, although this isn't necessarily a bad thing. This weekend, F1 heads off to Hungary before the month-long summer break. When we come back to the racing at the end of August, I'll be off to watch the race in person once again. It can't come soon enough!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Always Meet Your Heroes

You know that phrase 'Never meet your heroes'? Well I've never stood much score by that. I honestly think that you should always meet your heroes - if you're disappointed when you meet them then maybe they don't deserve to be your hero in the first place. On the other hand, every time I've met one of my heroes, I've been thrilled and all the happier for the experience. This past weekend, I was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with my Dad. This is a huge motorsport event in the UK, and one of the best places for you to meet your motorsport heroes - something which meant one of my dreams was made a reality on Saturday...

Wednesday - The Shaky Start

The Festival of Speed is spread over four days, with Thursday hosting the Moving Motor Show; a place for manufacturers to show off their latest models. As Dad and I had bought tickets for all weekend, we decided to set off on Wednesday so we could be at the show bright and early on Thursday. We left the house around midday, hoping to arrive in around three hours. As per usual, we took our Range Rover - a car which has served us very well in the eight years that we've owned it. We also decided to take the caravan with us, as there's a lot to be said for having heating when you come back from a long day out!

So, with the Range Rover packed up and the caravan close behind, we made our way towards the motorway and on to Goodwood. However, after only a few miles on the motorway we hit a problem: the Rangey was overheating! We managed to get off of the motorway and into a nearby garage to let it cool down, however this situation was far from ideal. Dad had the idea that maybe the radiator was blocked up with mud from the off road trials. So, once the Rangey had cooled down we set off to a nearby relative's house to clear out the radiator. 

After a long time clearing out the mud, we set off for attempt two of Mission to Goodwood. Once we'd been on the run for 15 miles, we hadn't hit any problems, so we assumed all was well - although we didn't take any chances and stayed well clear of the motorway. A few hours of travel and what seemed like an endless traffic jam, we finally made it to the campsite at around quarter to 6 in the evening. We got the caravan set up, had dinner at the campsite's cafe and got ready for the first day of the show.

Thursday - The Moving Motor Show

We got up bright and early on Thursday, after hearing horror stories about the traffic getting into and out of Goodwood. Luckily, Thursday is one of the quieter days at Goodwood so we got in with no problem. After parking, we wandered over to the aviation exhibition (which was the way to the main gates), where a Lewis Hamilton look-alike was standing at an RAC trade stall. Of course, I posed for a photo before we continued in to the show. 

The first thing that we saw was the huge moving motor show area next to the start of the hillclimb. Inside was where manufacturers (including Ferrari, Mercedes, Fiat, Renault, Honda, Porsche and so many more) could show off their latest models. We had a look around, and so at 8:15 in the morning Dad and I got to sit in not one but two Rolls Royce cars - the Rolls Royce Phantom and Ghost! Now there's an opportunity that doesn't come along that often.

After wandering around the moving motor show for a while, we progressed on to the trade stands and the other manufacturer exhibitions outside. We walked past the Honda stand, where the BTCC car was on display. From there, we walked past Mercedes, which had loads of old and new models all together. The Lotus display was one of my favourites - mostly because they were showing off two Lotus-Renault F1 cars on the corner of their stand! When we went inside, Dad got chatting to a guy who worked for Lotus, hearing about the new technology and development that Lotus had conducted. That's one of the best things about Goodwood - you get a good chance to talk to other like-minded petrolheads without any restrictions. After looking over the Lotus cars, we moved on to the Renault display. Inside I saw my first Red Bull F1 car of the day! Of course, I ogled this car for quite some time before progressing to the other cars Renault were showing - some of them the very earliest models. One thing that did let me down in the Renault display was the showing of their latest electric car - the Twizy. This car honestly looks ridiculous, and throughout the rest of the day I must have seen hundreds being sent up the hillclimb - much to my distaste! All in all, I think I'd rather walk than get inside a Twizy... While browsing the stands, we came across a TVR Tuscan - one of my favourite cars, and one I intend to own some day. As with most exhibitors at the show, the guys at the stand were very welcoming and allowed me to sit in the Tuscan - yet another photo opportunity!

After more wandering around the stands, we headed over to the Goodwood Action Sports Arena; a place obviously for the daredevils among us. In this area, people who have no sense of danger launch their motorbikes and pushbikes over large jumps and perform stunts such as backflipsmotorsport!

From there, I caught eye of a large Red Bull logo, and of course I went over to investigate. It was the Red Bull Gridster's area; a place where people could compete in videogames to be crowned the virtual racing champion. In this area, we also saw another Red Bull F1 car (another photo opportunity of course), and the Gran Turismo car designed by the brainboxes at Red Bull as a "What if there were no restrictions" exercise. After staring at my beloved Red Bull F1 car once more, we then watched the hillclimb for a while.

On Thursday, the hillclimb is full of demonstration runs of the newest makes of car. While some manufacturers were showing off the big, shouty-engined supercars, others were demonstrating their electric models. I'm kind of against electric cars. While I understand the ethos of being eco-friendly, I must admit I like the sound of a noisy engine much more. That probably says a lot about my character, but there we go!

When we'd seen enough Renault Twizy cars than we could stomach, we wandered over to the F1 paddock. On the way, we saw the amazing Lotus sculpture outside Goodwood house. The reviews were right: the sculptures outside the house are really impressive! When we got to the paddock, we saw so many F1 cars that I thought I'd died and gone to petrolhead heaven! The contemporary F1 cars on display included Lotus, Caterham, McLaren, Red Bull and, somewhat to my surprise, Ferrari. We also saw F1 cars from every other era from teams including Williams, Ferrari, Tyrrel, Lotus and way too many more for me to list. We also saw other race cars from many disciplines, and even the odd supercar.

Once we'd been overloaded with racing cars, and after we'd watched the Ferrari F1 car being delivered, we headed over to the Cartier Style Et Luxe display to look at the luxury design icons of the car world. To our joy, there were even a couple of Land Rovers thrown in! Directly opposite this display was the supercar paddock - probably one of the most expensive areas of the show. In this area, we saw almost every type of supercar worth seeing, including two Bugatti Veyrons, the Red Bull Infiniti cars and Pagani cars for good measure. As well as the supercars, a third Red Bull F1 car was thrown in! See what I mean about petrolhead heaven?

You might think that by now we'd seen every possible display of cars, but oh no. We walked down from the supercar paddock over to the Cathedral Paddock, where more racing cars were being held before their attempt at the hillclimb on the coming days. We saw contemporary racers, as well as some lovely classics from the very early days of motorsport. It was great to see the evolution of racers, and it's a rare opportunity to see so many cars in the same space.

The day still wasn't over, and so from Cathedral Paddock we wandered back up through the F1 paddock and along the hillclimb to the rally stage. This was the only time we did this walk: let me tell you now that the hillclimb at Goodwood is LONG! On the other days we opted to take the tractor shuttle towards the rally stage - a wise decision I feel! However, once we did get up to the rally stage we were rewarded by being able to see loads of rally cars up close. Once we'd had our fill, we wandered back down the hill, through the F1 paddock one last time (where we saw Alain Prost, but at the time didn't register who it was!) and eventually headed back to the campsite absolutely exhausted!

Thursday photos:

Friday - Our First Stars

On Friday we got up a little later, mostly because of the tiredness from Thursday! Unfortunately, this meant that we caught the traffic and it took us an hour to travel four miles. Still, we managed to get into the circuit for 9:00, giving us plenty of time to look around. When we arrived, we saw the first lot of cars attempting the hillclimb in anger. Even though some people were attempting timed runs, those who were on the hill for show managed to perform some stunts to entertain those of us in the crowd. One person who was performing a timed run who managed to entertain us - Terry Grant, who attempted the hillclimb in reverse!

We managed to wander around most of the bottom section of the hillclimb, before we headed off to the F1 paddock for a second time. While we were in there, we saw a pre-war Mercedes being fired up. In stark contrast to the electric cars, this Mercedes sounded great - although most of the crowd jumped at the noise! As we were walking away Dad spotted an F1 star - Nick Heidfeld! Sadly, Nick disappeared into the crowd before we got a chance to get any autographs or photos, but it was cool to know that F1 stars were still wandering around, even on the main show days.

From the paddock, we headed up to the shuttle tractors to the rally stage. We had to wait a fair while, however eventually we got on to the tractor and up to the rally stage. When we were up there, we managed to catch a glimpse of the Red Arrows display - something which is always impressive. Once the air display was over, we walked into the rally stage to watch the rally cars in action. We walked around most of the outside of the stage, before heading back down the hill. As we were wandering out of the woods, a car crashed into a tree right behind us. This highlighted the dangers of the chalky surface in the stage, coupled with the rain we had on that day!

We watched the hillclimb as we walked back down the hill, seeing cars ranging from F1, endurance racing, touring cars, supercars and many more. I don't think I've seen so many cars from so many disciplines in one weekend.

As on Thursday, we wandered back through the F1 paddock before we set off to the campsite. When we were in there, I spotted Jerome D'Ambrosio by the Lotus truck! Just as he was setting off to the driver's club I managed to have my photo taken with him - the first F1 star I met over the weekend! 

After the final wander through the paddock, we went back to look at the Alain Prost display. In here, there were F1 cars that Prost had driven over his career, as well as photos documenting his career to date. What we weren't expecting to see was the man himself! I of course went over and managed to get my first autograph of the weekend. Smiles all round!

Friday Photos:

Saturday - Meeting My Hero

Now, I'll digress for a moment. As you're probably already aware, I'm a Vettel fan. Sebastian is my absolute hero, and I've been a fan of him for quite a long time. I love his attitude and approach to races, and it's something I have tried to incorporate into my academic career. On Saturday at Goodwood, Vettel was due to attend. As I mentioned at the start of the blog, I've never believed in the 'Never meet your heroes' phrase, and I was desperate to meet Seb in person for the first time. 

We left the campsite much earlier than Friday, something which paid off as we arrived before the gates had even opened! This gave us plenty of time to wander around the trade stands once again, where Dad bought me a Team Lotus backpack (my usual Land Rover bag had been killing my back, so I needed something a little more practical!). Once we'd looked around for quite some time, we headed over to the Red Bull Gridster's area. Seb wasn't due to arrive until 9:45 so, content in the knowledge that this was the place to meet Sebastian, we headed back over to the hillclimb to watch the pioneering cars set off from the start line. 

We stayed at the hillclimb for a while, but knowing what the crowds were like at Goodwood we wandered back over to the Gridsters area to ensure we got a good spot to have the best chance of meeting Sebastian. We arrived just in time, and I managed to get a good place right at the front of the crowd! After quite a wait, I spotted Sebastian standing in the VIP area of the Gristers stand. When Seb had completed his interviews, he headed over to the stage through the crowd. He signed loads of autographs - but walked straight past my Red Bull Haynes manual book! I worried a little that I wouldn't get my autograph after this, but I was still happy that I got to see Seb so close. We stayed for the whole event, during which Sebastian raced the current Gran Turismo champion and gave an interview. After this, I thought that Sebastian would simply head off to his next appointment, however to my joy he came back down to sign more autographs! I got my autograph (the smile was even bigger), and asked whether he'd mind if I had my photo with him. After a nervous second waiting for the answer, Seb replied 'Sure! Just let me sign these autographs and we can take it' - to my delight of course! Another worrying moment arrived though, as a member of Red Bull staff tried to pull him away to his next appointment. Luckily, Sebastian was lovely enough to still let me have a picture together, and he even waited to make sure the photo came out alright - what a guy! I have to say, by this point I was probably the happiest person alive, and Sebastian/Red Bull, if you're reading this, THANK YOU! You've made a motorsport geek very happy! After wishing Seb good luck for the rest of the season, we headed away from the Gridsters, mission accomplished and ready to enjoy the rest of the day.  

From this point (still with a large grin on my face) we headed back over to the hillclimb to watch the bikes and F1 cars. Of course, the riders and drivers were keen to impress the crowd, and we saw our fair share of wheelies and donuts - cue the tyre smoke! There really is nothing like the sound of an F1 car in front of you - it's something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

By this time, it was around lunch and we were both pretty worn out from the wandering of the past few days, so we headed over by the Blackrock Driver's Club, where people were waiting for more autographs. I waited there for a while, not really expecting to meet anyone, but to my surprise Karun Chandhok came over! I managed to get another autograph, and then had a much needed sit down to rest for a while.

After resting, we once again watched the hillclimb. In between stages, we also saw a 'Jubilee moment' featuring cars which had at one time carried royalty. This was accompanied by canon fire, fireworks and the Irish Guards - quite a spectacle, even if you're not a royalist. Saturday also featured another air display - that of the Tornados. Again this was quite something, and honestly it was one of many moments when nobody knew what to look at!

Our final visit of the day was to my beloved F1 paddock, where the F1 cars were returning from their second runs. Vettel was the last F1 car in, and for the second time in my life a Red Bull F1 car performed a burnout two feet in front of me. It was worth the damage to my ears - thank you Sebastian!

Saturday Photos:
Part 1
Part 2

Sunday - The Rally Stage

On Sunday we decided to spend most of the day at the rally stage. The tractors weren't running when we arrived, so we investigated more of the trade stands. While we were browsing, we came across some wacky racers - both from the cartoon and some more innovative and realistic versions! We saw real-life versions of the cars from the Wacky Races cartoon, probably one of the TV series from my childhood that got me in to motorsport. We also saw cars made from a double bed and an office (where the steering wheel was actually a keyboard!). Honestly, we saw new things every day.

After we'd wandered for quite a while, we headed up to the rally stage. We managed to wander quite a way in to the stage, seeing the jumps and a load of sideways cars. As much as I love rallying, I'd never actually seen a rally stage in person. After watching it at Goodwood, I still think that if money were no object, I'd happily become a rally driver. 

When the stage had closed for lunch, we headed over to the top paddock, where the cars waited to descend back down the hill after their climb. The F1 cars had come back from their first run, and as we arrived we saw Nico Rosberg giving out autographs. We also heard from the commentators that Nick Heidfeld was up at the rally stage, after asking Skoda whether he could have a ride around. Of course, we didn't want to miss the opportunity to meet yet another F1 driver, so we wandered over to the rally cars. Nick didn't sign any autographs before heading out, but when he returned he happily posed for a photo and signed my programme - thanks Nick!

We had lunch after this, then wandered back over to the top paddock. At the time, it wasn't that full, so I managed to get a spot right next to the fence. This paid off, as the supercars came up next - with the Infiniti cars being driven by Mark Webber and Adrian Newey. I managed to get two photos with each, and my Red Bull Haynes manual gained two more signatures. So, once again Red Bull made my weekend!

We stood around there for a while longer, and watched the F1 cars come back up the hill. I have to say now, that I have never seen so many F1 cars doing donuts in my life. Mark Webber must have gone for the record, with at least seven consecutive spins around. You have to love a bit of showing off!

Once we'd watched the F1 cars for the last time, we headed back into the rally stage to watch some more sliding around and drifting cars. We walked through the stage to get back to the hillclimb before watching the top 20 cars competing for the fastest time up the hill. This was yet another moment when we didn't know where to look, as we could see the rally stage, hillclimb and racing buggies all at the same time! When we'd watched all of the cars, we walked back down the hill and watched the last cars of the day make their way around (including a great few stunts!). We eventually left at 7 after the curfew fell on the show, and headed back to our campsite. 
Sunday Photos:
The End
So, all in all a fantastic weekend! One last thing to mention was that when we were leaving the campsite on Monday, we passed two Infiniti supercars - one of which was showing off the Red Bull logo. This was pretty cool in itself, but when I looked over to the other Infiniti I looked at who was in the passenger seat. It looked suspiciously like my hero - Sebastian. With that last moment of awe, we drove back home (a much less dramatic journey than getting there!). Same time next year?