Monday, 25 June 2012

I Take it Back

Every race I seem to say this, but the 2012 season keeps delivering the excitement. As you could probably tell from my previous blog post (and probably from one or two others last year), Valencia is typically my least favourite race of the season. It seems to be one of those races which I tend to watch just for the completeness of the season, rather than for any actual racing action. Honestly, I usually find Valencia boring - and I stand by this fact for previous years of this grand prix. However, yesterday I was forced to concede my opinion, as Valencia was actually interesting.

Red Bull approached the race with some fairly major upgrades - this came through in qualifying for Sebastian Vettel, who once again snatched pole position at the street circuit (this in turn meaning that Seb has equalled the career total pole positions of Jim Clark and Alain Prost - not bad for someone only five years older than me!). However, Mark Webber did not fare as well at Valencia: technical issues meant he left the Saturday session in Q1, qualifying 19th. All in all, qualifying was a fairly standard affair, with the only surprises including Maldonado gaining third position in the Williams, and the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa falling out at Q2 - something which clearly did not amuse the boss Luca di Montezemolo. Lotus seemed to have a great qualifying by contrast, and indeed many predicted that we may see a Lotus on the podium, or indeed winning. One final noteworthy performance in qualifying included Heikki Kovalainen's performance in the Caterham. Once again, Heikki made it through to Q2, and ended up ahead of both Toro Rosso cars - perhaps signalling that the Caterham team may soon edge closer to the points finishes.

So, with qualifying decided it was time for race day - and I have to confess that I was still sceptical of an exciting race. Questions were raised as to whether we'd see an eighth winner, or if not then who would be our first double winner of 2012. At the start of the race, Sebastian pulled his usual trick of streaking away into the distance (of course, prompting smiles from myself), pursued by Hamilton and Romain Grosjean. Fernando Alonso, despite an abysmal qualifying session, managed a fantastic start in the race, and was soon closing in on the top runners. For a while, the race ran without too much close action (Vettel having pulled out a 20 second lead over Grosjean), however Jean Eric Vergne changed all of that by crashing into Heikki Kovalainen (later leading to him having a 10 place grid drop for Silverstone and a 25,000 Euro fine), prompting the safety car to intervene while the officials cleared the track of debris. After a while behind the safety car, the restart ran as normal, with Vettel again leaving the other runners in the dust.

While it seemed as though Vettel had the race in the bag, disaster later struck as his RB8 suddenly lost drive owing to a failed alternator. For the first time, we saw Vettel showing his frustration as he threw his gloves while walking away from the stricken car. However, in later interviews Seb claimed that while he was disappointed at losing the race win, he was encouraged by the car's pace - hopefully something we'll see at Silverstone.

Alonso had great luck at the safety car restart, managing to pass Grosjean after passing Hamilton earlier in the race. So, with Vettel out of the race, Alonso took the lead. Grosjean pursued Alonso closely for a few laps, when his luck also ran out with the same alternator problem as Vettel. No doubt Renault will be receiving some questions from both Red Bull and Lotus this week! Hamilton thus took over in the podium positions, and looked set to bag a great number of points. However, a collision caused by Maldonado meant that he too was forced out of the race.

So, with the top runners retiring, who was left to occupy the final spots on the podium behind Alonso? Well, those who predicted Lotus would be on the podium were correct, with Kimi Raikkonen taking over second place. While both Alonso and Raikkonen had amazing drives, perhaps my driver of the weekend has to go to the third place man: Michael Schumacher. Words cannot describe how great it is to see Michael back on the podium, and back where he belongs. After the huge amount of bad luck he's had this season, no doubt Schumi will relish this position and look forward to more podiums.

A final driver of note has to be Mark Webber. After qualifying 19th, the race didn't look like a promising prospect. However, as ever, Mark managed to pull something out of the bag and drive through the field to eventually finish fourth. Hopefully next time out Mark will have a better qualifying session and will too end up on the podium.

So, there we go. I take it back: Valencia was exciting. While I'm still not 100% convinced that the European grand prix should be held at this particular circuit every year, 2012 did show that the track wasn't completely a lost cause.

If you've not seen the race yet, I of course urge you to watch it - or at least catch highlights. While you're at it, it will be worth watching the GP2 races held at Valencia. If anything, these races were even more exciting than the F1, and it's great to watch the future F1 stars at work.

This weekend I'm heading off to the Goodwood

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Distinctly Underwhelming

This post might strike many of you as a little odd coming from me, but stick with it. This weekend sees the European grand prix from Valencia. Up until a few years ago, the European grand prix traditionally moved to different circuits - with the Nurburgring in 2007 being one of my favourite races. However, this particular race has now apparently settled on the street circuit of Valencia.

When you think of street circuits, the most prominent in the mind is Monaco. While there is arguably not much overtaking at Monaco (or indeed any street circuit) owing to the narrow race track, Monaco is nonetheless a spectacle to watch. The speed of the cars in such a circuit is inherently exciting, and with Monaco you get much more of a sense of the atmosphere of the race even if you're not in attendance yourself. However, Valencia is a circuit which often leaves me disappointed, and as such I'm not especially excited about the prospect of a race this weekend.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with Valencia is that nothing really ever happens there. The cars go round for qualifying, then I feel like we watch a warm-up lap for the entire race duration. Ok, now and again you see incidents - with Mark Webber's take off after hitting Heikki Kovalainen's then-Lotus being one of the most dramatic I've seen - however I don't feel that we should be watching races for the crashes, and we should get a chance to see racing. This simply doesn't happen at Valencia in my mind. There is a balance with street circuits as to the thrill of watching cars on the edge and getting enough chance to overtake and race. In all honesty, Valencia fails to hit either of these marks in my opinion.

Maybe I'm being overly harsh, however there are simply some races that don't excite me. What annoys me also with Valencia is the fact that the race is the European grand prix, yet it stays at the same circuit. I feel that the old way of moving the race every year was a much better way to host a European race. Instead, we're left with two Spanish grand prix every year. While I have nothing against this, I'd like to see the race at Valencia have some sort of appeal to the fans, and if this is not possible then perhaps Bernie Ecclestone should consider changing the circuit for the European race. A while ago, there were rumours that the return of the French grand prix would mean that the Belgian grand prix would have to alternate. Considering that Spa is one of the legends of the season, would not a more appealing solution be to remove Valencia from the calendar and keep the French and Belgian grand prix every year? That way we have one race in each of the countries, and we maintain the most enthralling circuits.

I understand that any sport is not necessarily enthralling all of the time. However, the consistency of Valencia's processional approach would signal to me that its place in F1 should be reconsidered. Of course, being a die-hard fan I will still watch the race this weekend - and who knows, maybe the magic of the 2012 season will spice the race up a little - however if this race retains its usual theme then I honestly think that something should change. The current trend in F1 to discuss money saving options might do well to look at how appealing fans find the races, and perhaps a neat cost cutting measure would be to do away with Valencia. I honestly hope that this weekend my opinions will change about this race. Street circuits should be something to look forward to - not something that is openly criticised. However, unless we get proper racing and overtaking this weekend, I'm afraid that Valencia will remain my least favourite race of the year.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Checklist

Over the past few years I've attended a fair few motorsport events. Last year, I saw my first F1 race in Germany, and this year I'll be going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Belgian grand prix in Spa. Attending big events like this is a must for anyone who is into motosport, and so I've been thinking of writing out a list of events which are a must for petrolheads of all kinds. Most of these are my personal choices, although a few friends and family have suggested events to include. If you're reading this and think of any others that belong on this list, drop me a message on Twitter.

Formula 1

First up, I'll start with my personal favourite: F1. If you follow F1 regularly, you probably understand the ins and outs of the sport. However, there are some things that you simply don't get unless you attend a race in person. When I went to the Nurburgring last year, I was hit by the sound. Yes, you know that F1 is loud, but until you actually go you don't appreciate how loud the cars actually are. Now when I watch F1 on TV, all I can think of is that we're getting an impression of how the cars sound only. If you think back to 2011, there was also the issue of the off-throttle blown diffusers, which caused an odd noise when the drivers lifted off the accelerator. This was one of the most surprising things when I attended the Nurburgring: the noise was nothing like on the television, and was incredibly loud! So, if you like the noise of a car, you have to go to an F1 race.

The second reason why you should attend F1 is for the atmosphere. With many sporting events, you gain a sense of community and motorsport is no different. I often discuss races with other like-minded petrolheads on Twitter for example. When you go to a race, you actually feel the sense of community. At the Nurburgring, we got to chat with the others around us (of course, with friendly banter between me and the Hamilton fans!), and could feel the atmosphere generated by large numbers of people with a common interest and understanding. This is something that I would highly recommend experiencing at least once in a lifetime.

Finally, in attending an F1 race you get to experience the history of the sport. Legendary tracks such as Spa, the Nurburgring and Silverstone allow you to get more of a feel for the sport than you would if you simply watched a race on television. While not all circuits are accessible to all people due to distance and cost, if you plan a trip well I'm sure that most will get to visit an historic race track for a high profile event such as F1. The Nurburgring was an amazing experience, and hopefully Spa will be just as great as well. I can't imagine that watching an F1 car at Eau Rouge is anything less than amazing!

More information:

Le Mans

This weekend sees the annual Le Mans 24 hour race. If you're on Twitter, you'll have noticed how this motorsport event has completely taken over the most talked about topics, giving you a hint of how popular this event is. I've never actually attended Le Mans myself, but it's on my list of things to do in the next couple of years. It seems as though this event is another one with a fantastic atmosphere - and with 24 hours of racing you're sure to get your money's worth!
More information:

Bathurst 1000

The Bathurst 1000 comes in as a suggestion from Brenton Holden (Twitter: @Bjholden1). The event is a 1000 kilometer touring car race taking place in Australia, and regarded as one of the most spectacular motorsport races. The cars themselves are V8 supercars - so again if you like the noise of a car, you should probably put this one on the list! Another epic, which is definitely worth watching if you're lucky enough to be in Australia!

Motorsport Shows

Next up on my list is attending big motorsport shows. I've attended loads of these in the past couple of years, from Top Gear Live to Autosport to the Festival of Speed in a few weeks. At events like these, you get a chance to be up close to the cars, and if you're lucky to the people who drive them. While nothing really compares to watching racing in person, if you're interested in seeing the cars up close then you should attend a motorsport show. 

Top Gear Live was one of the first motorsport shows that I attended. The main focus of this event is supercars, although at the first show there was an awesome classic car display too. There are a lot of stands there where you can buy pretty much anything and everything to do with cars, although if you're buying stuff be prepared for a spending spree! The other feature of Top Gear Live is the show itself. Presented like the BBC series of the same name, you get to watch Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond playing around with cars. Expect lots of fireworks, stunts and general entertainment. 

The Autosport International show is another great one to attend. Dad and I have visited this event in the past two years, and every year there's loads to see. The focus of this show is more motorsportAutosport has its own live show, based on Fifth Gear. In this show, we get to see demos of various race disciplines, as well as the ever popular stunts. Definitely one to attend if you like your racing!

One of the clear greats in motorsport shows is the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I've wanted to attend this one for a few years now, and this year I'm finally getting my chance to go! This event is a whole weekend of action, with a moving motorsport show on Thursday, followed by the chance to see a whole load of racing cars and supercars in action on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is one of few events where most F1 teams are in attendance, and you really get a chance to meet drivers from pretty much every discipline of racing. Of course, you can expect to see me blogging about the show when I return - only a week and a half before I will be in attendance!

Live Racing at Local Circuits

Of course, if you're into motorsport you probably don't need me to tell you that you should go and watch live racing at every opportunity. While big events such as F1, Le Mans and so on may be expensive and require long trips, watching club events at circuits close to you is a great way of getting involved. I'm lucky enough to live not too far from Brands Hatch, and so whenever we can we go and watch the racing. Some notable events that I've attended at Brands include the DTM, the BTCC and the Historic Master's Festival. Unlike larger events, attending races at local circuits gives you much better access to the cars. At Brands for example you get to go on pit walks, and the paddock is almost always open. The prices are often lower than for massive events, so this is a fantastic way to get close to the racing! Of course, it's up to you what you consider a local circuit, but it's worth looking around to see what you have on your doorstep.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of motorsport events to attend, but rather it's a selection of events that I consider to be absolute musts. Overall, if you're a fan of motorsport the best thing is to simply get involved in anything that you can. Of course, motorsport is often expensive, but even if you can't compete you can still be involved through spectating or even marshalling at events! As I said earlier, if anyone has any other suggestions of what should be featured on this list feel free to let me know. Also, expect lengthy updates when I check off more items on this list - next stop, Goodwood!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Trend Continues

A while ago, Jenson Button was quoted as saying that he didn't think the fact that the first six races of the season brought six different winners was a good thing. In fact, Jenson believed that having such variability was off-putting to us fans. Well, he'd be disappointed with the race we saw in Canada - a race that brought us our seventh different winner of seven different races!

Canada is always an interesting circuit. The infamous 'wall of champions' on the main straight has claimed many victims over the year - last year catching out Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel in the final practice session. Luckily last year this didn't seem to affect Seb too much, as he went on to grab pole position. This year, it was Heikki Kovalainen who suffered during the practices, although this incident happened on Friday practice, and sadly didn't lead to a Caterham pole! Pastor Maldonado however was caught by the wall during qualifying, and although he did his best to try and complete his lap with only three wheels, this was clearly a strategy that didn't pay off.

I think we can say that we had a pretty exciting qualifying session overall. It was a genuine mystery as to who would grab pole position. Red Bull had earlier suffered controversy once again over the holes in their car. Last race, a hole in the floor at the rear of the car was controversial, and between the races was deemed illegal - even though Red Bull had previously asked for clarification and were deemed legal. F1 in the last few years is a bit notorious for its sudden changes of mind on aerodynamics (in fact, I'd argue that this is perhaps the more off-putting to fans, rather than having different winners). So, in Canada another controversy arose with the Red Bull holes. This time, holes in the hub were deemed illegal for providing an aerodynamic advantage, and had to be changed before qualifying on Saturday - but whether this would disadvantage the drivers is another story.

Hamilton was perhaps one of the more favourited drivers for pole position in Canada - the circuit which granted him his first win. Q1 saw the Caterhams of Petrov and Kovalainen out-qualify the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne - quite an achievement for the team! Q2 was fairly straightforward, with the usual suspects (McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, the Lotus of Grosjean and the Force India of Paul di Resta) making it through to Q3. So, with the final part of quali to go, we were still no closer to understanding who would be on pole. Vettel set an early time in the low 1:14s, and took pole. However, the McLaren of Hamilton was still in with a good shot, as was the Ferrari of Alonso. Button seemed to opt for a race-strategy, choosing the soft (rather than super-soft) tyres, leading to him finishing in 10th. With the first runs out of the way, the leaders came back out for their final qualifying lap and we got our answer of who was fastest. While fantastic times were set by Alonso and Hamilton, Vettel took his 33rd pole of his career, with a 1:13.7! So, despite the controversy of their car, it looked as though Red Bull had the advantage in Canada.

Race day was another exciting affair - something we're all getting quite used to now. In the early stages of the race, Vettel did his usual trick of flying off into the distance at the start. However, he was swiftly followed by Hamilton and Alonso. When the first round of pit stops came up, there was a lot of switching around at the front. Hamilton took the lead after Vettel pitted, only to be replaced by Alonso after his own pit stop. With the top three still Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel, we could expect a fair amount of close racing. However, the leaders tended to bide their time during the second stint -possibly waiting for clues on each others' strategies. Tyre degradation was such that Hamilton was forced to make a second stop, although on the team radio he did ask whether Alonso and Vettel would also take second stops. As he was assured of the second stops of his rivals, Hamilton pitted. However, it seemed that Alonso and Vettel did not want to stop, having gained the advantage over Hamilton at last.

With this fact in mind, the team were back on the radio to Lewis and asked him to push as much as he could. Of course, the circuit of Montreal is much more suited to the McLaren of Lewis than it is to the Red Bull of Sebastian, and with much fresher tyres the move on Vettel was easily made. This prompted Vettel to pit himself, and eventually Sebastian finished the race in fourth place. With Vettel out of the way, Hamilton only had to pass Alonso - often easier said than done. However, the gamble of Ferrari to only one-stop did not pay off, and the pass was easily done with the aid of newer tyres and DRS. Hamilton thus became our seventh winner.

Things went from bad to worse for Alonso however, as due to his crippled tyres he was passed not only by Hamilton, but by Lotus's Grosjean and Sauber's Perez - people who had otherwise had fairly uneventful races! Now that Vettel was also on fresher tyres, Alonso was easily passed by the Red Bull, and Alonso eventually finished fifth. All of this in the final five laps of the race!

Someone else who has been suffering with a bout of bad luck is Michael Schumacher. Although he managed to qualify in the top 10 once again, SchumacherDRS failed in the open position - something which isn't meant to happen at all! I'm really hoping that Schumi's luck starts to pick up, as he has been showing more promise lately after his pole position a few races back.

Massa was driving an amazing race at the start, however a spin on lap six meant that his amazing form wasn't continued into a higher result. He did, however, recover from his spin to finish 10th. It seems as though Massa is having a second chance at the season, and hopefully we'll see more improvements from him as the season goes on.

So, overall another fantastic race. The next time out is at Valencia - surprisingly one of the races I rarely look forward to, largely because nothing ever really happens. However, the way the season's been going we could see a change in this trend, and maybe we'll end up with an eighth winner! The week after Valencia I am also happy to report that I will be attending the Goodwood Festival of Speed! So, expect a very long update when I return.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

007 Would Be Proud

As you're probably all aware (well, if you're in Britain anyway), this week we were gifted two extra days off due to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. I must admit, I'm not exactly a royalist and so the only difference that these extra days off made was the opportunity to go outside and see some live motorsport once again! If you've not realised, I'm based in Kent, and so I live a short journey away from one of the most well known English racing circuits: Brands Hatch. I've blogged about Brands before, and so you should know that this racing circuit is almost a second home to me, as my Dad and I have been visiting since I was very young.

So, with the prospect of a day off Dad and I went to Brands to watch the racing of the Aston Martin Owner's Club, accompanied once again by my nephew. When we arrived, qualifying was underway for the Formula Juniors - an open wheel class racing that's been running since the 1950s. These cars are completely open, and I must admit I didn't envy the drivers when it was raining for their race in the afternoon!

During the course of the afternoon we also saw a lot of classic car racing, with historic GT racing and historic V8s - definitely one for those who like the noise of a car!

 As well as the classic cars (my personal favourite - I think I must take after my Dad in that respect), we also saw a 2 hour long Aston Martin race and a shorter Ferrari race featuring the newer models. The Aston Martin race was quite a surprise really - mostly because not a whole lot happened! At the initial stages of the race, one car took off on its own and lapped almost everybody else, however this position was swapped around during the pit stop window, when a different Aston repeated this feat, lapping everyone up to third place.

While spectating at Graham Hill bend, the noise and sight of the Astons wasn't particularly enthralling, however on moving nearer to Clearways and Surtees you could start to hear the sound of the engines a lot more, and see the speed at which the cars were travelling - this definitely improved matters! Overall though one of the best races was the final GT Challenge, won by a pretty good looking Cobra.

Another massive highlight of the day was the chance to walk on the grid before the Le Mans start of the V8 race. I can now honestly say I know how Martin Brundle feels, although I didn't quite get round to interviewing anyone.

So, yet another great day out at Brands! I love how open the circuit is to spectators - every time we go we get access to the paddock, which is a good way to get to chat to drivers and see the cars up close. When we were roaming around, I saw an absolutely amazing Aston Martin DB5, which I initially decided I would quite like to own:

However, after roaming the paddock some more, I changed my mind and decided upon a little Triumph:

Honestly though, if anyone would like to donate one of these cars to a worthy cause (making me happy!), then please feel free!