Friday, 30 March 2012

Motorsport, or: How to Survive the Thought of Six Exams

I'm at the end of my penultimate week of my second term of my second year of university. In this time, I've had a hell of a lot of ups and downs and a phenomenal amount of coursework and revision. Over the past couple of weeks, it's been pretty intensive. We've had written coursework, as well as exams crammed into the last two weeks. It's honestly felt that I've had no life outside of university. So, how do I still have a shred of sanity left? The answer: Motorsport.

I have to admit that in the week before the first F1 race in Australia I was going completely mad. I was writing up an essay for cognitive psychology, I was working on another essay for social psychology and I was writing a practical report for statistics. I was also revising for the two exams, and trying to plan my revision for the summer exams. The only thing that kept me from going mad was the thought of having a weekend off at home watching the race. I also think that the F1 race helped me massively with my organisation, and consequently I'm now finished with all of my coursework for the year. I know it seems incredibly random, but the reason for this is simply that to justify having my F1 weekends off, I had to finish my work early.

So, now that my coursework's over, I'm looking towards the six summer exams. It's going to be pretty intensive over April and May, but I'm not worried at all and I have a huge motivator. Namely, that in the summer my Dad and I will be going to the Grand Prix in Spa, as well as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Having motivators like this is a huge help I find. If I don't have anything to look forward to in the summer, the work seems kind of wearing and drags along. However, because of the thought of these trips I know I'm going to increase my preparation and work especially hard, just because it feels as though I'm working towards my holiday and my motorsport trips. Of course, the race weekends over this time will be of massive help, so that I actually remember to have some time off and relax a little. If I didn't have those weekends then I know I would just work almost 24/7 and end up more stressed and wound up than Massa when he's being told to let Alonso past...

With this in mind, let me give you an overview of the trips Dad and I will be taking this year. Firstly, we'll be going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed at the end of June and start of July. I've wanted to go to this for the past couple of years, but financial constraints have often been a bit of a barrier to this. However this year the festival have introduced a young person's ticket, which is half price of a full adult ticket. So, if you're under 21 and can prove this then you're allowed this cheaper entry. A big attraction of this festival is the sheer proximity to the cars and drivers. At other shows and events like Autosport or even F1 weekends you're fairly closed off from the cars and drivers, however at Goodwood everything's made more accessible and you are allowed just a bit closer to the elite world of motorsport. This is a particular attraction for me this year, as Red Bull Racing will be in attendance with both drivers of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, as well as Christian Horner and Adrian Newey. Hopefully soon we'll get the tickets booked up, and you can definitely expect an update when I've been to the race!

The second big trip this year is another F1 weekend away. Last year, Dad and I went to the Nurburgring to watch the German Grand Prix. It was the most amazing weekend I've ever had, and it still brings a smile to my face to remember it, and honestly I don't think you can have a more vivid memory than standing next to the circuit's fence with Schumacher's Mercedes passing by you at eye level! This year, we're heading to Spa Francorchamps, one of the most iconic races on the calendar. I booked the tickets last week, and we've got access to most of the circuit. We've also got camping booked, so we'll be staying just outside the circuit itself. If the atmosphere at the Nurburgring was anything to go by, it should be another amazing weekend!

So now that I've given you an overview of where we're going and what we're doing, it should give you a bit more of an idea why motorsport is such an important feature in my life. University work is hard, I don't care what anyone says. To some people, having nights out in clubs or bars is what they do to relax and (possibly) motivate themselves. Personally, I don't go anywhere near the archetypal student stuff. Instead, my motivation and relaxation comes from watching cars zoom round circuits, or occasionally driving in off road competitions myself. When I go on big trips to F1 races or to shows like Goodwood, it reminds me that the work I did throughout the year was worth the effort, just to get to this break. Hopefully there will be many more trips in the future!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rain, Heat, and The Ice Man Melteth

For the second weekend in a row I'm having a break from university work having dedicated a few days to F1. This week's action came from Malaysia, a race known for its extremes of weather. After the spectacular race in Melbourne, Malaysia held high hopes for us race fans, to see whether the racing in 2012 would be staying exciting or whether Australia was a fluke. As it turns out, if these two races are anything to go by then we're in for one hell of a season.

In qualifying it was the McLarens who were the big winners once again, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button locking out the front row. The surprises started with the occupation of the third grid slot. Red Bull? No. Lotus? No. A silver Mercedes. However, this wasn't the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, but rather Michael Schumacher; a man who many in the media have criticised since his comeback. I was delighted that Schumi managed to get this grid slot; I've always been an advocate of Schumacher's return, as is highlighted in a previous blog post of mine (as discussed on 5 Live F1 too I believe). It's nice to see that Schumacher still has the ability to drive these cars. So with the Red Bulls losing out again and the Mercedes powered cars at the front after qualifying, today's race was set to be an interesting one.

As Malaysia is another early race, I set my alarm for 7:30 (the start time of Sky's F1 coverage) after moving the clock forwards an hour due to British Summer Time. I'd thus prepared to get up that extra hour earlier - I often sacrifice my sleep for motorsport. Sadly, my phone decided that it would add an extra hour advance to my phone's clock, so I ended up getting up even earlier than planned... Something I feel I will probably pay for when at uni tomorrow. No matter, eventually the race coverage began and I can safely say that this one was a treat, and worth the sleep deprivation.

The Malaysia weather wasn't disappointing, with a shower 5 minutes before the start of the race. This brought back memories of 2009's race - yep, the one where Kimi Raikkonen abandoned his car during the red flag to wander off and have an ice cream. While rainy races are always exciting, there's a fine line between the weather making things interesting and making things dangerous. At the start of the race things weren't so bad, and so the race started as normal. However, the safety car soon came out and 9 laps in the race was stopped. For those of you who aren't so clued up on the rules of F1, when red flags are given the cars line up on the grid in race order. At this point of the race, we had a couple of surprises in the top 10: the Sauber of Sergio Perez and - please believe me when I say this - the Hispania of Narain Karthekeyan. After half an hour of halted running, the race finally resumed under the safety car, and it was from there on that things got really interesting.

Fairly soon after resuming, the track had dried sufficiently to move back on to intermediate tyres. The pit stops led to a lot of confusion on the timing screens, but when things eventually settled down we had our leaders: Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton. Honestly, I knew we would have a surprising race, but this was completely unexpected! Perez's pace in the Sauber had to be a highlight of the race for me - at one point it looked as though he was going to take the race lead. No doubt Perez would have won the race had he not gone wide in the closing stages of the race.

Sadly, the races of the Mercedes cars didn't turn out as promised, with Schumacher claiming the last point and Rosberg finishing behind in 13th. To my disappointment, the Red Bulls also had a bit of a poor race, with Webber finishing fourth (ok, not so bad but considering last year's performance it could have been better) and Vettel finishing 12th after sustaining a puncture when lapping the HRT of Karthekeyan (yes, he sadly lost his 10th place). To be honest, Vettel was lucky to finish the race at all: radio messages from his engineer in the last couple of laps told him first to retire, then stay out, then retire again due to a serious problem. I can only hope that Red Bull work out where their problems are for the next race in China. Jenson Button also finished outside of the points, after again colliding with another car and having to have a front wing change. After this change, he couldn't get the intermediate tyres to work, and suffered through the remainder of the race.

There's no way I can do justice to the entire race here, you'll just have to go and watch it. It was one of the best I've seen in a while. After the chequered flag fell, we had the most surprising podium for a long time: Alonso, Perez and Hamilton (ok, the last one isn't so surprising). So, despite the speculation of the pace of the Ferrari, Alonso didn't get a bad result at all. In fact, he was probably as surprised as we were. However, I don't think anyone can argue that the driver of the day is Perez, and there are a lot of us who eagerly await to see what he can do in the future.

blogs. Until next time...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

And we're back!

It's 8 in the morning, and I've been awake for 3 and a half hours already. The weekend's race in Australia has just ended and marked the start of the season. I have to say, it was worth sacrificing the weekend's sleep!

On Saturday, the qualifying session presented us with the first opportunity in which to see what teams had the edge. People who aren't so experienced in F1 might wonder why we had to wait until qualifying to see who was fastest what with the weekend's three practice sessions and the preseason testing. Well, testing is notoriously unreliable for predicting who will be the fastest, and so there is very little that anyone can glean from these sessions. In practice sessions, it's often unclear as to who is sandbagging and hiding their pace. So, it's on the qualifying sessions that we can see who is genuinely fast.

After Red Bull's dominance of 2011, a lot of people were wondering whether they could do it again. As the three quali sessions progressed, it looked increasingly like this wasn't the case. Q3 sadly confirmed that the massive gap of Red Bull had diminished over the break, and we didn't see Sebastian's perfect lap. Instead, the McLarens appeared to have the edge over the rest of the field, with Hamilton getting pole and Button second, locking out the front row for the first time in a few seasons. You might expect Red Bull to be just behind this, however you'd be surprised. Romain Grosjean instead took the third spot in the Lotus. So, where were Red Bull? Fourth? Nope. That spot went to none other than Michael Schumacher, suggesting that the experienced racer might be returning to his old form. Of course, it's early in the season so this is a question which may remain unanswered. Finally, in fifth and sixth positions we found the Red Bulls, with Webber out qualifying Vettel. Rosberg followed the two Red Bulls, himself followed by the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, again suggesting that this team might be having a much better season than in 2011. The Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo made up the last of those in Q3, and I think this year the mid-field battles will be much close than last year. You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned the Ferrari drivers. Well, qualifying for the red cars was a bit of a let down, with Alonso beaching himself in the gravel in Q2, and Massa just not getting up to speed in the session. They eventually qualified 12th and 16th. The final surprise of the first 2012 quali session was Raikkonen's inability to get out of Q3, qualifying 18th.

So, with a fairly jumbled grid set up all we had to do was get up at 6am to watch how the race would unfold. The McLaren of Jenson Button made a fantastic start, overtaking Lewis to take 1st. To my delight, Vettel also had a brilliant start, getting behind Schumacher and Nico Rosberg after another good start for the Mercedes. Alonso also appeared to come from nowhere and managed to get himself in the top 10. The race unfolded fairly eventfully, with a lot of overtaking (not least from Vettel, prompting me to ask whether we can leave behind the argument that Seb can't race - I think he's proven himself as a racer for quite some time now) and one safety car after the Caterham of Petrov pulled over on the pit straight. While the safety car was out, Seb pitted the Red Bull (named Abbey this year, following on from Luscious Liz, Kinky Kylie, Kate's Dirty Sister and Kate) and managed to leapfrog Hamilton's McLaren. From there on, there was a lot of close racing between second, third and fourth places, however eventually this resolved into a train of Vettel, Hamilton and Webber (Webber's best finish in his home race). Jenson Button ultimately won the first race of the season.

Further back in the field, there were a lot of surprises and disappointments. Schumacher's car broke down, so sadly we didn't get to see whether he had returned to his old ways. After Maldonado's close racing with the double world champion Alonso, he dipped a wheel on the grass and crashed into a barrier on the last few laps of the race. Despite Grosjean's amazing qualifying position, the race wasn't quite as favourable after he ended up in the gravel having almost lost a wheel. Raikkonen's fate, however, was much better. Even though he had an abysmal qualifying session, he eventually ended up in 7th place, securing six championship points on his return. Honestly, I think that Lotus will be a team to watch this season, providing their races go without incident and they have decent qualifying sessions. Again, it's early in the season so watch this space!

Overall, it looks as though the season will be a close fight between McLaren and Red Bull, with Ferrari having some catching up to do like last season. Sauber also appeared to be moving up the mid-field, with (the remarkably entertaining) Kobayashi ending up just behind Alonso in 6th place, and Perez finishing 8th. Williams appear to be having a better season than last year, however some bad luck during the race meant that they couldn't reap the rewards this time round.

2012 then looks like a good one. With 19 races left to go, the championship is far from decided and anything can yet happen. I can definitely say that the sleep deprivation was worth it, but if you weren't as keen on getting up a stupid o'clock then go watch

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hours to go until the first green flag of the season

It's Thursday evening and I'm sitting in the living room of my student house nearing the end of the university term, reflecting on the fact that it's now only a few hours before F1 2012 starts. In the six or so years that I've been adamantly following F1 there have been vast changes to the sport, some good, some perhaps not so good. One thing I have noticed though is the increasing length of the seasons.

For those of you who perhaps don't follow F1, the season usually runs from mid-March to November, giving us fans eight months (or thereabouts) of weekends filled with the sound of those beautiful cars (of course, with the stepped noses we might have to rethink the term 'beautiful'). However, I find that the time in between seasons we're left somewhat in a void, where there is very little news until we near the start of the new season.

At the end of November last year I genuinely didn't want the season to finish. I'd pretty much based my time around watching the races. For people like me who have to dedicate most of their lives to university work and passing exams, the relief of a weekend watching F1 is beyond comparison. It's more than just watching a sport; for me it's a time when I get to go back home with my family and just spend time enjoying a break from work. So, when the season ended I was completely lost. I'd not been able to justify spending a weekend away from university work, and so over the last four months I've mostly been removed from regular motorsport.

While the off-season sounds completely like a down side, there is a massive bonus to a lack of F1. Simply that with no F1 on the television, we have to go out and seek things to do. This year, like last year, my Dad and I went to the Autosport International Show.

If you've never been to this show before, I'd wholly and completely recommend it. Dad and I have been to our fair share of Top Gear Live shows, and while admittedly the live action show there is beyond comparison, the motorsport element to Autosport is simply amazing. This year, an Ayrton Senna display was one of the highlights, as well as the F1 grid. When I first went to Autosport International in January 2011, I was amazed by the F1 grid. The cars there (although labelled as the most recent are actually from several different years - you know you're a bit too obsessed with F1 when you're lecturing why a car is from 2008 and why another is from 2009...) are really up close, and so it's a rare opportunity to see them in all their intricate detail. My first trip to Autosport represented the first time I'd actually seen a range of real F1 cars in the flesh, bar the odd one or two at other shows. That year I must have managed to spend at least a whole hour staring at the cars, looking at the smallest details on them. You can stand and stare at those cars for ages and still notice everything about them - it's testament to the sport's attention to detail that the smallest things count. When I went to the show this year, I was prepared for seeing the F1 cars, I'd seen them on track at the Nurburgring after all. However, being so close to them was again mind boggling. I was also in for a rare treat courtesy of Caterham F1 (formerly Team Lotus). I got to get next to an F1 car with no restrictive barriers. For the first time, I was able to get within inches of a car and see literally everything about it really up close. Going to that show honestly makes you appreciate the sport all the more. So, while the off-season has the massive down side of no on-track action, it also makes you see the sport from new angles by getting off of the sofa and actually doing something.

What else can be said about four months with no F1? Well, quite simply it makes you appreciate it more. The anticipation you feel when you're coming up to that first race of the season is special. The first race of the year is also kind of magical in its own way. The atmosphere among the fans when preseason testing starts up is perhaps the first indication of a new year to come, and it's then that the excitement starts. Honestly, I know Bernie Ecclestone wants to extend the season to 25 races, and have F1 nearly all year round, but it just wouldn't be the same. Where would the anticipation be? Would you really get the interest around who will be the fastest? And would you have to actively seek out new things to do when the racing was off? Probably not. The off-season is, in a way, an important part of any F1 fan's appreciation of the sport. If that four month break wasn't there, I doubt very much that we'd be as excited and interested by this weekend. I also doubt that I'd take the effort to get up at a ridiculous hour to watch the testing. However, the break's been a long one and so in a few hours from now I'll be tucked up warm in bed with my (personalised) Red Bull Racing blanket (I know, it's one of the awesome Christmas presents I got this year) and my laptop, watching the ugly nosed cars and listening to that amazing sound. It's been a long winter, and frankly it's great to be back at last.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

My F1 (Blog) Comeback

Well, it's been a while. The 2011 F1 season has been and gone, and this weekend the 2012 season is back up and running. What with all the F1 comebacks in recent years, I thought it was only fitting that I get back into blogging. I've not posted on here since October. Shocking, I know, but as well as my life as a motorsport geek I also have a life as a psychology geek, and it's the psychology geek which has had the upper hand in the past few months while I work towards my degree. Luckily, we're heading towards the end of the spring term, and so I have a bit of extra time in which to get back into my motorsport geek role. So there we are, I'm back, and I'm planning to stick around for quite some time.

Since my last post in October, the F1 season finished on (for me and other Red Bull Racing fans at least) a massive high. Sebastian Vettel won his second world championship title, and Red Bull also secured their second constructor's title. I have to admit, watching the season review a few weeks back I felt kind of overwhelmed at 2011's racing. It was a very special year for me, as it was the season which marked my first live F1 experience. I often look back at the photos of the Nurburgring as a reminder of what a special weekend it was. I don't think you'll find many people out there who would be disappointed with 2011's F1, and regardless of what you think of DRS we definitely saw some exceptional racing. Speaking of whihc, my favourite moment of last year (bar the entire Nurburgring trip - that is definitely at number one) had to be Webber's overtake on Alonso at Eau Rouge. Hopefully the coming season will bring more of this.

So, to 2012. F1 seems to be loving the comebacks just lately, and news that has not gone unnoticed is that of Kimi Raikkonen's return with Lotus (formerly Lotus Renault - the Lotus naming saga has hopefully come to a close now, with Team Lotus now becoming Caterham. Keep up...). In pre-season testing (which I managed to follow while typing up an essay about Freud, I got a good mark for that essay too, so I'm planning on watching more F1 and typing essays simultaneously... I digress), Lotus looked to me like they had gotten something right, as Grosjean (another comeback, but less prominent) was one of the only men to top the timesheets twice in a testing spate. Whether this testing form converts into race pace is another matter.

The 2012 cars have been branded by many people as ugly, as new regulations have prompted most teams to have a 'stepped nose'. I'll admit that the noses aren't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing, but I kind of have a bit of a soft spot for the ugly cars. The biggest surprise was McLaren's lack of a stepped nose. They've either hit on something genious, or they've missed out on a trick. With any luck we'll have the answers to this question this weekend. Red Bull also appear to have a trick up their sleeves, as their stepped nose features a gaping hole; something which Adrian Newey (Red Bull's technical genious and referred to by internet nerds as 'The Chuck Norris of Formula 1' [yes, really]) has insisted on being nothing more than driver cooling. Again, we'll wait and see this weekend if the Red Bull team have pulled something out of the bag.

The last of the big names, Ferrari, have also been watched intently. 2011 was a poor season for the red cars, and there have been some big claims from team members that in 2012 they will be back fighting. However, this hasn't really appeared to be the case in testing. The car has been, frankly, unpredictable. As such, it's not really all that clear how long it will be before Ferrari are back where they would like to be.

Testing is always a notoriously unreliable indicator of race pace and such, so the real test for the cars will come this weekend in Australia. I for one am hoping for Red Bull glory once again, but for the most part I'll be happy that the season is back up and running. The off-season break seems too long to me, although I'm still ambivalent towards Bernie Ecclestone's idea of having F1 most of the year. I always think that once you have a break from something, the return is all the more appreciated. Although we'll have to see whether I'm still saying this once this season draws to a close!

Hopefully we'll have another awesome season, and see whether Sebastian can chase down a hat trick of championships. This year will also bring another epic F1 trip for me and my Dad: Spa here we come!

Hello 2012.