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?