Monday, 30 April 2012

Goodbye Teens, Hello F1 Car!

At the moment I'm on a lull in my revision just to get my head back together and relax for a while. In a week's time, my exams will start. I will also turn 20 years old and officially leave my teenage years behind me. During the course of my break today, I decided to look on the F1 website to catch up on news before the Mugello test (the first in season test since 2008 would you believe). While looking at the website, one particular article took my eye; Red Bull Racing (my beloved team) are raising money for Wings For Life (a Spinal Cord injury charity) by asking fans to donate 15 euros. When giving your donation, you are asked to upload a photograph of yourself. Why on earth do you need to do that? Well, every photo is going to form part of the RB8's livery for the 2012 British Grand Prix!

Of course, with me being somewhat obsessed with F1 and a massive fan of Red Bull, I couldn't refuse this. So, I duely uploaded my photograph and donated to Wings For Life as an early birthday present to myself. Once the team have received your photograph it goes into the montage, where you will be able to see it and will receive a certificate. Happy birthday to me!

I admire teams which do things like this for charities. Red Bull have also promised to match the amount of money raised themselves, so if everyone donates then Wings For Life will be guaranteed to have quite a donation heading their way! Honestly, I can see no down side to this scheme, and I think more of the teams should get involved with things like this. At what other time will a fan such as myself be able to say 'I was on an F1 car' without forking out hundreds of pounds? So, on donating you get to be part of Red Bull's history and the money you spend goes to a brilliant cause - I suggest you all participate!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bahrain Blogging

Last weekend I watched the Bahrain grand prix. As you're probably aware, before the race there was a ton of media hype about whether F1 should attend the race given the current situation over there. Arguments against ranged from the political, moral and ethical standpoint to the safety elements of holding the race. Personally, I didn't see exactly why the race should be cancelled providing that the area was deemed safe by the relevant authorities. As much as I agree that the human rights situation is diabolical, I hold the view that Formula 1 is a sport - no more, no less. It has no involvement with the politics of a country, and just because the race is held there doesn't mean that it endorses the political regime of the area. Besides, F1 has held races in several countries with somewhat dubious moral standpoints (China the week before, for example), and yet these races had not been questioned. As such, the only difference with Bahrain was related to safety.

While there were several off-track incidents involving a couple of teams, overall the weekend appeared to go smoothly. There was no interruption to the sessions, and so we could finally get down to watching the racing. Saturday's qualifying session came up with a surprise pole sitter (at least in terms of this year's performance standard). No McLaren or Mercedes this time. Instead, the Renault powered Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was back where it belonged on the first slot of the grid - much to my delight!

With the grid decided and (as far as I'm concerned) back to where it should be, the race on Sunday was promising. The previous race in China was fantastic, with lots of tight racing. Bahrain to me has never been a particularly thrilling race, however once again the value of DRS was proven and we finally saw an exciting race this year. Vettel got a fantastic start and ultimately went on to win the race. The biggest surprise was who was occupying the second and third place slots. While you'd have expected the McLarens or even the Mercedes' to be near the top, Bahrain was obviously favouring the Renault powered cars as Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean joined Vettel on the podium! If you never watch the press conferences, I suggest you try and catch this one - just to see Grosjean's expression of happiness!

So, the race was absolutely thrilling and great fun to watch. Hopefully, this is what this race will be remembered for, rather than for the political circumstances surrounding it. There was a lot of questions whether attending Bahrain would damage F1's reputation, but to be honest so far I haven't witnessed a lot of backlash - I think those of us who watched the race were just concerned with the racing, as any motorsport fan should be.

Now that Bahrain is behind us, we've got a bit of a break before the European rounds begin in Spain on the 13th of May. For me, this time will be filled with revision and exams, and I have no excuse to be distracted by F1 any more! The return to Europe also marks the countdown to Spa - the race that I will be attending this year. My race tickets were delivered today, and so the excitement begins...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Safety First

While browsing the BBC website in between revising for my exams today, I came across this video. For those of you who can't see it for whatever reason, it shows the drag racer of Matt Hagan pretty much exploding on the circuit. The explosion looks horrific, however I'm delighted to say that the driver walked away unscathed.

When accidents like this happen, it reminds everyone just how far motorsport has progressed in terms of safety. Formula 1 was once notorious for fatalities; Jackie Stewart stated that there was a 1 in 3 chance of surviving a race. Today, F1 is lucky in that when accidents happen they are rarely life-threatening. The design and technological advancements in the sport are part and parcel of this fact. The regulations in F1 also aim towards driver safety, and now this is a massive priority when designing an F1 car - unlike the old days when casualties were seen as 'just one of those things'. Items such as the HANS device are also vital in protecting the drivers from injury, especially traumatic brain injuries which are common results of motor accidents on the road.

However, as much as safety is emphasised in motorsport of all forms, accidents do still happen and officials within the sport have to remain vigilant. The deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli last year highlighted this fact.

As well as driver safety, it's important to consider the safety of the spectators in the sport. Rallying for example is renowned for its spectator friendly atmosphere, allowing people to get tantalisingly close to the cars. However, while this is a great spectacle and hugely exciting, this isn't risk free and a few weeks ago four spectators were injured while watching a rally in Scotland. Luckily, the four spectators are now recovering, however accidents like this force people to realise how much risk is involved in a sport such as this.

A subject which has been covered endlessly in the past few weeks is the safety of F1's attendance in Bahrain. In my last post, I stressed how the sport should be removed from the political and ethical motives for not attending the race, and said that the only thing that should be really investigated is the safety at the race. Ultimately, the FIA have taken the decision to stage the race, after being assured that it would be safe and not too much different from normal races. However last night it was reported that a Porsche Supercup team, MRS, had withdrawn from the support race due to their own safety concerns. It was also reported today that team members from Force India were caught up in a petrol bomb incident, prompting two team members deciding to return home based on safety grounds. While the attack was not targeted at the F1 team, it does prompt questions to be asked about how safe people will be travelling to and from the circuit, and no doubt the officials in Bahrain will be forced to step up their security to protect those involved in the race weekend.

So safety in motorsport has a range of facets. Ultimately, it could be argued that the people at most risk are the drivers, and it's down to technology and innovation that they are kept safe. However, there are risks for everyone involved in motorsport, whether you're part of a team of just spectating. Of course, nothing is risk free in life, but for something like motorsport the health of everyone involved should always remain a high priority.

I guess that the danger aspect to motorsport is what makes it a thrill for some people. I posted a while back how I don't like people watching races for the crashes - I stand by this post, as I just don't find it exciting to watch people in that level of danger. As the sport progresses and the great thinkers among those involved look at new ways to protect the drivers we would hope that the risk of injury is decreased. Motorsport's links to the real world automotive industry also mean that advances in safety are likely to be implemented in real cars - protecting ordinary people in their everyday lives - and that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

That Bahrain Race

In my last post, I briefly eluded to the latest controversy in F1; that of whether the F1 circus should be making its way to Bahrain given the difficulties currently faced there. There's been no end of coverage in the media about this point, with different outlets giving different views on why F1 should or shouldn't attend this weekend.

Last week, Bernie Ecclestone met with the teams to discuss the race after the FIA had previously stated that everything would be going ahead. Sure enough, after the meeting Bahrain was confirmed as going ahead, prompting criticism from some.

There are a lot of media outlets discussing the ethical issues surrounding attendance in Bahrain. I'm obviously not an expert on the situation in the country, but I can see the point of those citing this reason for cancelling the race. There are massive human rights issues in Bahrain, something which I'm sure most people want to see changed. It's obviously unacceptable that people in the country are being treated poorly, and it should be a matter of importance to rectify this. However, I'm in disagreement with many who claim that F1 should abandon the race on these moral grounds. Personally, I'm with Bernie Ecclestone et al. who state that F1 is a sport, and as such should not be involved in the political debates of the country. Yes, F1 does bring benefits to the countries it visits by way of tourism and so on, however I disagree that F1 itself can be a catalyst for political reforms.

Because of the events in Bahrain making the issue of human rights more salient, a lot of people have been talking about F1's presence in China - another country with problematic human rights issues. People have questioned whether it is morally right for F1 to take place in countries which treat their citizens poorly, and it's right to question these points and get an insight into the politics of a country. However, politics is just that. It's not the place for a sport to try and reform a country by protesting and withdrawing. Reforms should be left to people in places of authority - governments and such. While Bernie Ecclestone undoubtedly has power and influence, this influence does not - and should not - extend into the range of changing a country. The attendance of F1 in a country with poor human rights records does not mean that the sport is an advocate of this country's mode of operation, it simply means that a sporting event is going to take place. As such, I'm not wholly swayed by the argument against Bahrain on moral grounds.

What I am more concerned with is the safety of the people who will be in attendance of the race - not just teams, but spectators, officials, caterers and so on. Mark Webber summed this up nicely when speaking to the BBC - there is always large security precautions for the teams and drivers, however it's also important to protect everyone else in attendance at the race. There has clearly been unrest in Bahrain, leading to violence and injury. These outcomes are intolerable for anyone to experience, and so I would question whether it's right that F1 should attend if there is a large risk of the event becoming a target. 

Of course, at any event there are security issues. Red Bull announced after the meeting with Bernie Ecclestone that their security would be tightened at Bahrain, however that this was not far removed from the security provided for any other race. Any large event is going to appear to be a target for violence, and the situation in Bahrain is just enhancing that. However there's no reason why the event shouldn't take place providing that precautions are taken and the whole thing stays safe.

Ultimately, the FIA has taken the decision to hold the race, and everyone has to accept that judgement. Bernie Ecclestone stated that nobody was forced to take part in the event if they genuinely had concerns (although he also reminded everyone that all teams were bound to a contract stating they had to take part in all events on the calendar, so this point is arguably dubious), and all teams have been consulted. Nobody wants anyone to be at risk during a sporting event, and it's up to the officials to make sure that risks of all sorts are minimised. If the FIA honestly believed that there were huge safety implications to racing in Bahrain then we can safely assume that the event would have been cancelled. As for the moral issues in the country, well I'm sorry but this has little to do with F1 or any other sport (let's not forget the large golfing tournament taking place in Bahrain as well). While ethical problems are damnable, it's up to politicians and the like to fix them - not F1 teams. Providing the situation in Bahrain doesn't worsen, in all likelihood we'll be watching the racing action this weekend. Hopefully it will be another memorable race, but let's hope that's for the on-track racing than for any other reason.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Three to a Corner

After yesterday's qualifying giving us a mixed-up grid, we all knew we'd be in for a treat for China's 2012 grand prix. For the first time since 1955, it was Mercedes locking out the front row of the grid, while the bigger teams were somewhat further down the field. In the mix we had Saubers and Lotus-Renaults, so the prospects for the race were promising.

After the lights went out, Vettel had an absolutely terrible start and slipped from 11th to 15th - a disappointment for the Red Bull fans. However, if you're a fan of German drivers you'll be pleased to know that Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher maintained their place at the front of the field during the first stint. The McLarens also had a pretty good start, and Button and Hamilton made their way towards the front alongside Mark Webber's Red Bull. With all these top drivers at the front, there was a hell of a lot of close racing - it was a miracle that we only had one retirement during the race; Schumacher's spell of bad luck continued with a mistake in the pitstop and ultimately a loose wheel.

If you've not watched the race, you should just to see the epic battle towards the end of the race involving both Lotuses, both Red Bulls and both McLarens. Seeing three F1 cars heading into a corner at the same time is quite a sight to see, especially when getting off-line leads the car into the marbles!

China is a race when it's notoriously difficult to find a good strategy. A two-stop strategy was feasible, however the driver's tyre management would have to be sublime for it to be pulled off. Because of the tyre wear, the majority of the top teams elected for a three-stop - even though they'd lose the time of an extra stop compared to those on the alternative strategy. So, who did what? Well Nico Rosberg ended up on a two-stop strategy, and eventually went on to win the race by quite a comfortable margin. It could be argued that we were deprived of a battle between Rosberg and Button, as Button's third stop was less than perfect, however nobody can deny that Rosberg deserved that first win - especially considering that so many of us doubted the Mercedes' ability to maintain their pace in the race. Third and fourth place men Hamilton and Webber also elected for three-stop strategies, which allowed them to pass the fifth place man on a two-stop strategy, Sebastian Vettel. Yep, the guy who can't race managed to recover to fifth. Make of that what you will, but I'm pretty pleased...

Once again we had an absolutely thrilling race, with closer battles than anything I've seen for a while. It doesn't seem that any one team has a straight advantage, although for the time being both McLarens are leading the championship. As for who is the favourite for the title this year, I think it's way too soon to tell. In races like today's, anything can change in an instant - again it was a massive surprise that only Schumacher retired. As I said in a previous post, although we've had to wait so long over the winter for the season to begin, it was definitely worth it.

Next weekend is the race in Bahrain - something which has been subject to a lot of speculation given the situation there. The FIA confirmed yesterday that the race would definitely be going ahead, something which I'm in two minds about. I know there was a lot of talk about whether F1 should be going to Bahrain or not based on ethical concerns, however personally I'm not sure this has a lot to do with F1. My personal misgivings about the race taking place aren't based on the ethical dilemmas in the country (although obviously this situation isn't acceptable), but are more linked to the safety aspects. Mark Webber commented on this beautifully in an BBC article earlier this week, arguing that safety isn't so much an issue for teams and drivers, but the other people heading to and from the track every day. Overall, it's the FIA's decision whether to race or not, and obviously they wouldn't have chosen to attend if the situation was unsafe. With any luck, the race next weekend will be memorable for its racing, rather than the political situation surrounding it. Either way, 2012 is shaping up to be an interesting season.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Qualifying Surprises of a Different Sort

Once again it's a grand prix weekend, with this week's action coming from China. Qualifying took place at 7 this morning, and it definitely held a few surprises which should make for an intriguing race tomorrow. This season, McLaren have been confident in all the race weekends so far - despite Lewis Hamilton's sometimes grumpy demeanour. While 2011 was Red Bull's qualifying season, this year it looks as though McLaren have the advantage, securing a front-row lock out in Australia and a third place slot for Lewis in Malaysia. However, this weekend the team have had a few hurdles, with Lewis having to take a 5-place grid drop due to a gearbox change, meaning that his second position on the grid actually translates into seventh. Jenson Button also had a somewhat disappointing session, only qualifying sixth (translating into fifth after Lewis's penalty).

With the McLarens further down, you'd expect the other two big teams to be ahead. Well, this also prompted suprise this morning. Despite Alonso's promising win in Malaysia, Ferrari this week could only manage 9th and 12th, with Alonso out-qualifying Massa once again. Whether the team can turn this around in the race is a question to be answered tomorrow. So what of the Red Bulls? Well, this was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, with Webber no higher than 7th and Vettel not making Q3 for the first time since 2009, instead only managing 11th place.

Now, you should all be aware that I'm a Red Bull girl anyway, and Vettel is without doubt my favourite driver, so I'm leading on to a slight rant here. After Q2 with Vettel out of Q3, Twitter was awash with what I can only describe as childish tweets. Some people were simply laughing at the driver's misfortune, others were making sarcastic comments, and still more were questioning Vettel's ability in F1. While I understand that we all have our own favourites and not all drivers are to all tastes, the frankly low comments I saw on Twitter were embarrassing. I know for example that I'm not the biggest fan of Lewis Hamilton (largely for the fact that his personality has shifted since he first started driving and since he won the 2008 championship - that and the earrings), however I don't ever mock him if he gets a bad result. I certainly don't question his ability in an F1 car either. I recall a comment by Martin Brundle that there are seven billion people in the world, and only 24 F1 drivers in the sport right now. Surely then we should all have respect for every one of those drivers on that grid, as they've proven their talent throughout their careers? Thus, one bad result doesn't mean that the competitor isn't a good driver, and we have to examine other aspects to the session which could contribute to a poor result (for example, Vettel running an old spec exhaust while Webber ran the newer spec).

I think the Vettel-hate on Twitter is largely to do with the success of the driver, and from reading comments (and through personal experience in my academic career) I've noticed that people generally don't like successful people and rejoice when they fall. It seems silly to question Vettel's ability as a result of one bad qualifying session. The guy's won two world championships and was absolutely dominant throughout last year. Before you utter the age old cry 'but it was the car!', I'd ask you to consider that Webber could not match Vettel's performance in the identical Red Bull, so I think that this is a point which is null and void. This year, Red Bull clearly haven't got the dominance with the car, hence the poorer results for both drivers. A similar thing happened after Brawn became Mercedes - the car which dominated 2009 just dropped away in 2010. These things happen, even if the ability of the driver stays the same.

Another case in point is the performance of Alonso. Ferrari have obviously been having issues in the past couple of years, and yet I don't see anyone questioning whether Alonso is a good driver or not. So why the target on Vettel? Like I said before, all 24 of these drivers have exceptional talent to make it this far, and to post childish comments on a social networking site is just petty to me and I'm urging fans to grow up just a little, and at least form some coherent arguments! With any luck, as the season progresses we'll be able to see an improvement for the Red Bull guys, and hopefully the petty comments will stop so we can all go back to watching races and appreciating them no matter who is driving.

So, with the top three teams suffering in China's qualifying session, who took the top slots? Well, after Hamilton's penalty we've got an all Silver Arrows front row, with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg occupying the first slot (a career first for Rosberg) and Schumacher following close behind. This is a phenomenal achievement, and Mercedes are proving that their car has the pace in qualifying. It could be argued that the aerodynamic system on the rear wing of the car is helping a lot during qualifying (as use of DRS is pretty much unlimited during quali and practice sessions), however we've yet to see this sort of advantage during the race itself. Again, tomorrow will tell us exactly what Mercedes can do.

The third and fourth slots on the grid are also occupied by some surprising drivers. Third place went to Kamui Kobayashi, which is promising for Sauber considering their excellent achievements in Malaysia. Fourth place went to Lotus Renault's Kimi Raikkonen

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Rallying Of Sorts

Last weekend I headed home for my four day Easter break before the start of revision. During my time off, I was randomly browsing Facebook (well, what else is there to do when you're not studying?) when an advert for a rally across Europe popped up at the side of the screen. This got me investigating just how feasible it would be for me to get involved with something like this.

The whole idea of a rally through Europe is to drive your car from home to an end location in Europe across a very short time span, from a weekend to a week. For example, one rally started in France and ended in Italy, driving through several countries along the way. During your trip, you participate in challenges such as wearing fancy dress every day of the event or decorating your car. While this isn't a race, you are able to score points for participating in the challenges and at the end of it all there's the potential to win prize money. Sounds like a hell of a lot of fun to me!

Most of the places I looked at asked you to buy a car for £200-300, or use a car over 20 years old. As we have the trusty Range Rover classic and my awesome Series III Land Rover, the car would be theoretically sorted. So, this would leave me to raise money for entry fees (around £200), fuel (gas for the Rangey, so we'd probably take this car as gas is a hell of a lot cheaper than petrol) and accommodation (apparently around £30-40 a night, depending on where you want to stay). While this probably isn't possible for me to do myself, I got thinking about doing the rally for charity, and getting sponsorship for the event, and should I win any prize money it would go to charity.

In terms of what charity I'd support, the choice for me is simple. If you're not already aware of it, I have a massive interest in neuropsychology and I'm currently studying towards a BSc in psychology and ultimately want a PhD and research career in neuropsychology. As I'm nowhere near patient enough to wait before working in the field, I also volunteer for Headway, a brain injury charity. This charity aims to provide support for people who have sustained an acquired brain injury of some form. I've been volunteering for Headway for around 6 months now, and I've really noticed how much of a difference the charity makes to the clients. So, if I were to rally across Europe I'd be donating my money to these amazing people.

I'm not able to do an event like this in 2012, however I'm looking towards doing something like this either in summer 2013 or 2014. Of course, I wouldn't be doing this on my own, and I'd be taking my Dad along with me, as well as anyone else I could persuade to join me. Now, I'll get to the point: There's no way I can afford this on my own, and if I'm to raise enough money for Headway I need sponsors! If I've sent you the link to this blog, you're either someone who's really interested in motorsport, or someone I consider kind and loving and caring and stuff. So, if you'd be willing to sponsor me for this event - or if you know of anyone else who would - please leave a comment on here or get in touch with me via Twitter. I'm not asking for money right now, I just want to test the waters to see who'd like to sponsor me for something like this. If there's enough interest, then I'll get planning! I'll keep you all updated as to how it's all going, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Road Rage

This weekend I watched the last race of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Brands Hatch after finishing my revision for my last exam this term. The start was delayed for quite some time due to Matt Jackson's car suffering damage after running over the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend and spilling oil everywhere. Oil on a race circuit is a bad thing, as I'm sure you'll all be aware. In this case, it ended up with eight cars sliding off of the track at Druids, the hairpin corner at the top end of the Brands Hatch circuit. So, the race was inevitably red-flagged while clean-up commenced and the cars were recovered. While the delay was unfortunate, the following race was well worth the wait, with some incredibly close racing for the top positions.

Now, when I say close, I'm not talking about people being within 0.5 of a second of each other, or even 0.2 or 0.1 of a second. I mean that the second place man (Jason Plato) was literally shoving the bumper of the first place man (Andrew Jordan). Those of you who regularly watch the BTCC probably aren't that surprised: this discipline of racing is some of the closest, and certainly one of the most... aggressive. It's quite a sport for the drivers to push each other out of the way, whether deliberately or due to the other driver not wanting to move while the cars edge ever closer. In F1, when someone makes a move towards another car more often than not someone will get out of the way, and contact is (usually - we hope) rare. It's a whole other story in the BTCC. If someone goes to push you, you try to push them back. It's what makes this form of racing exciting, and most of the time the drivers are adept at keeping their cars on the track.

Sometimes though, this doesn't always work out, and thus there are some cases where the pushing and shoving gets a bit extreme and people end up off the road. Doubtless if you go to YouTube and look up BTCC, you'll see footage of this pushing and shoving - when it works and when it goes wrong.

Watching the BTCC prompted me to think about what I can only describe as road rage within motorsport. In F1, we do see drivers wander off sulkily if they've been involved in a 'racing incident', and often we hear back from them afterwards each blaming the other driver.

The most notable incident (or should I say series of incidents) last year occurred between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. In the 2011 season, it appeared as though these drivers had magnetic cars, and there were around 5 incidents involving these two drivers spread over the season. These things happen, and the drivers have now moved on. However at the time it made for some ugly interviews. After one particular race incident, Massa came over to Hamilton and sarcastically told him 'Good job' while patting him on the back. Hamilton responded with a simple 'Don't touch me, man'. Now that the drivers have mended their rivalry for this season and moved on, this particular event seems quite amusing in retrospect, and it highlights to me that racing drivers aren't immune to the particular annoyances suffered by most of us when we're driving.

Another instance of this type occurred at the last F1 race between Sebastian Vettel and Narain Karthikeyan. Vettel was about to lap Karthikeyan and had moved mostly past him, however on pulling in front the drivers collided, eventually leading to Vettel missing out on 4th place. After the race, I noticed the most interesting headline in motorsport news: Vettel calls Karthikeyan a 'cucumber'. I am not making this up: after the race, Vettel called Karthikeyan a 'gerken' (cucumber), a word used to describe bad drivers in Germany. Of course, Karthikeyan responded and accused Vettel of being a 'Cry-baby'. In this context, the name calling is kind of funny, mostly stupid, but again highlights that racing drivers aren't so different from us drivers on the road. Oh, and I'm happy to report that Karthikeyan has since called a truce with Vettel, so hopefully the playgroud jibes will have stopped by the next race in China.

If you follow motorsport in the same way as me, you'll understand that following the sport isn't just about what goes on at the track, but hearing from the drivers' opinions and feelings. The squabbles are all part of this, and as I've highlighted before it just goes to show that racers can get road rage too. I'll leave you with perhaps the most hilarious racing driver road rage footage that I've come across: the Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar fight at Hockenheim in 1982. Enjoy: