Vettel the Villain

Sebastian Vettel’s dominant win at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday was a masterful drive. He dominated both qualifying and the race, putting all the rest to shame, giving him an almost unassailable points lead and puts him well on course for his 4th consecutive championship.

However, despite his stunning drive, the now standard pantomime booing of Vettel while on the podium once again emphasizes a nasty habit that F1 fans seem to have developed this year.

The Malaysian Grand Prix and the ‘Mult-21’ situation between Webber and Vettel 6 months ago was undeniably the catalyst for the ‘boo boys’ and despite plenty of clean racing since then, F1 race fans are still labelling Vettel as the F1 Villain.

I believe it’s a combination of factors, not just the Red Bull team orders row from the Malaysia Grand Prix. I believe the booing fans are actually making a bigger statement, that they are finally bored of Vettel’s dominance of F1 over the last 4 years.

Let’s be 100% clear, if this is true, it has nothing to do with Sebastian Vettel. The fault here lays with the other team in not doing a job as well as Red Bull team and Vettel.

Hypothetically I ask the question, if Vettel was currently 3rd in this years’ championship and behind say, Alonso and Hamilton in the championship and he picked up say, his second win of the year in Singapore, would there be the same reaction to a Vettel win? Unlikely I say.

So what can the German do about it?

I noticed both Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz supporting Vettel over the weekend, with Kravitz saying in his Notepad summary s that he felt it was for Vettel to show what a likable and nice character he was and that he isn’t as evil as the crowd make out. I find this view interesting, not least because it is essentially blaming Vettel again: His fault – he needs to change. This is a rather odd opinion if you assume he is actually guilty of the above charges in the first place.

Why isn’t it for the FIA, Teams, Drivers and Circuits to educate those race day fans who are booing him to stop? Help shape the culture and behaviours that we expect from the F1 community while at the race trace, but ultimately the blame lies with those who are the booing and it is them that need to change their reaction to him.

While Vettel is winning races and closing out the championship, the fans perspective of him will not change and no charm offensive from Vettel will nip this in the bud.

Vettel is no Villain! Nothing he has done on the race track in his career comes close to what Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher did on the track to win championships. In fact he is largely impeccable most of the time, on and off the track.

Time will tell if the F1 fans are aware of how poor it sounds to the global public when the winner of a Grand Prix is greeted with a chorus of boos. I wonder what the sponsors of Red Bull or prospective sponsors to the sport make of it? Is it worth the negative press on live global TV?

I have a feeling the F1 public will only be happy when Vettel leaves Red Bull and joins a lesser team to take that new challenge F1 fans seem to demand of multiple champions, before they finally seem to accept the greatness of a top driver.

People seem to forget though, Vettel won in a Torro Rosso and has contributed hugely to the success of Red Bull, who had never won a race before he joined the team.

Vettel the villain – Vettel the legend more like!

Modern F1 car launches are rubbish: They should be ditched!

Sauber-C31-launch-Sutton_2713949

F1 fans are a passionate lot. No sooner has the chequered flag dropped on the final race of the season in Brazil do the F1 fans start their countdown until they can get their next fix of F1 fever, and as we move through the dark winter months all eyes become transfixed on the F1 teams’ car launches for 2013.

Many see this as a chance to see how hard the teams have worked over the winter, to see the new driver line ups, to evaluate how the new car looks and to identify where a team has developed a competitive advantage or more importantly take it as a chance to predict just how the teams 2013 fortunes are going to pan out based on the new derivative car that they present to the public.

But these new car launches are a waste of time. Utterly pointless! So I ask the question; should F1 even bother with them.

Why?

Because these launches do not serve the F1 community with anything meaningful other than to see how the marketing and graphic design departments have conjured up the teams latest branding and colour schemes that emblazon the car and drivers overalls, and that is all. In a pioneering technical, mechanical and aerodynamic sport, these critical elements that determine a cars performance are all hidden away with deliberate act of smoke and mirrors.

Red Bull epitomised this perfectly this year. Their launch was in a room that resembled a sleazy night club, the invited press were forbidden to take any photos and no sooner were the covers off the 2013 challenger where they whipped back on again. To add insult to injury for all the disappointed fans that tried to streamed the event live over the internet, as a parting gift Red Bull presented the worlds audience with a hand drawn rendition of the 2013 car! I mean come on!

But let’s put ourselves in the position of Red Bull or any of the leading F1 teams, why on earth would you use your launch event to reveal all or any of your hard work and secrets to the public and other F1 teams in one fell swoop?
That’s right, that genius diffuser configuration your team had painstakingly drawn up, modelled, built, tested, revised, tested and then fitted to the new car in time for launch day which included many man hours and late nights has just been sold down the river in go or broadcast live on SkySports News! Bosch, there goes your 0.5 seconds a lap advantage as all the other teams find it, copy it and have it on their car in time for the first race of the season.

It is this hyper competitive environment that means F1 team will never openly display what their real 2013 challenger looks like and why we should not even bother to look at the car on display at a F1 launch. Yet, they continue to persist with the format of inviting the world’s media to travel to each team headquarters to enjoy lunch while F1 fans get to watch the event over a crappy buffering web streams.

In my view we should just ditch this futile exercise all together and just skip to the track and testing. F1 should hold a standard launch day on the afternoon/evening prior to the official first day of testing. Each team is given a slot whereby they roll up their car, pull off the cloth their latest model, say the nice things to camera, let the photographers take the pictures, then just get on with testing, where we really start to learn something.
The concept of a united F1 launch event for the team was banded around a few years when cost saving was being driven through by Max Mosley in his fight with the FOCA, but that seems to have died a death as the strength of FOCA has slowly dwindled.

Currently the F1 cars are testing in earnest in Jerez and slowly we will begin to see a picture of how the season is going to pan out. Testing reveals how the cars will look, how the concepts from the drawing board will play out, how contenders are shaping up. Modern F1 launches are pointless because the need for secrecy is paramount. They should be ditched but instead the teams should spend more time in coming up with better ways they can engage in a meaningful manner with their fans for the year ahead.

Vettel wins third World Championship in amazing final race

Wow! Just Wow!

The Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday served up some of the most captivating sport I have ever experienced.

For a championship decider, this race had everything. Absolutely everything!

From the moment the rain began to fall around 10 minutes before the light went out, this race took every twist and turn and placed the two championship protagonists under the most extreme pressure.

No one would deny that Alonso, because of the gap he trailed Vettel in the championship, would have wished for some bad fortune to strike Vettel in some way in the race, well, Alonso’s prayers were answered almost immediately as on Lap 1 Bruno Senna spun Vettel round and then was thumped hard by the Sauber of Perez.

An unbelievable turn incident and one that gave Alonso with an wide open goal to win the world championship, but somehow Vettel’s car was not seriously damaged and re-joined the race dead last and set about delivering the comeback under extreme pressure.

As the rain intensified and then eased and then intensified again, and through multiple pitstops for tyres, Vettel was able to storm through the field to work his way back in to championship winning position and when the second and final Safety Car came out on the last lap, Vettel was crowned champion for a third time.

Throughout Vettel’s career, he has been criticised for not being a true racer or being able to overtake, but the last 6 months have proven way beyond any doubt Vettel can do this. He is truly world class, a deserved winner and if winning 3 world titles makes you in affect, a legend of the sport, then that hat sits perfectly well on the young German.

Alonso fought valiantly throughout the year and it was a noble achievement to get his Ferrari in to a position where he could have won the championship at the last race, but his Ferrari fell short in pace over the course of the whole year.

Alonso should take massive credit from his 2012 performances, which should cemented his position as the best driver on the grid and that easily elevates him in to the realms  of being one of the best F1 drivers ever.

It is easy to forget Button won the race, but only after losing out in an exciting battle with his team mate. Hamilton then lost out when he was caught up in a silly incident with Hulkenburg who was driving, in my opinion, the race of his life, having taken the lead before the safety car and mastering the tricky conditions. Hulkenburg spun and took Hamilton out of his final race for McLaren.

It was a frantic and pulsating end to the 2012 championship, a race which defined the pattern of the whole season, and I am sure many of us F1 fans are already counting down the days until lights out in Melbourne.

Congratulations Sebastian.

Hamilton to leave McLaren: A racing relationship turned sour

So, as James Allen reports today, Lewis Hamilton is likely to sign for the Mercedes team for 2013. His move away from McLaren would see him cut the ties to the team that grew and nurtured him from a young unknown kart driver, to the peaks of being the 2008 world champion.

For all the messages coming from the paddock, Hamilton, it seems wants to leave McLaren for “commercial reasons” which is fundamentally the salary his is paid and his potential to control his earning ability through his own image rights and sponsorship. I say seems, because on the face of the decision it cannot be one down to purely racing factors. Mercedes have won just one race this year and have struggled to develop the car around its ability to use the Pirelli tyres.

However, that tells just one side of the story, for Hamilton has endured a generally unhappy season with McLaren, who have underperformed after early promise despite recently turning there fortunes round by winning two of the last three rounds.  Hamilton has managed to create a number of awkward PR ‘situations’ from within the McLaren team as he struggles to show respect to some of the team’s recent performances on track.

But let’s be clear, the issues in the last paragraph are fixable, far quicker than the issues that the Mercedes team are confronted with, so why has there been this feeling of negative inertia from Hamilton that has brought him to the point on closing the door on his motor racing family at McLaren.

Truth is Lewis Hamilton has endured 4 grotty seasons in F1. Since winning the title in 2008, Hamilton has consistently been on the wrong end of under performing McLarens, race steward decisions through over aggressive driving, press and media errors and a draining celebrity personal relationship that have come together over this period that I think means Hamilton’s mind set right now is that he has had enough with the way things have been going for him and that a change is what is needed in his life.

From the outside he seems joyless and devoid of and real pleasure. Massive credit where credit is due, his performances on the track recently have not reflected this and he has driven superbly, so we know his mind-set when his visor is down is fully committed to racing, it just seems that he has lost the love and respect of the management team around McLaren and he cannot see an end to the dark clouds that follows him around the F1 paddock.

I think a move away from McLaren on a personal level will benefit him in the long term. He will be stepping out of the shadow of  Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh and like a young teenager does when he leaves for University, for the first time in his life he will be fully responsible for his own actions. This will hopefully change Hamilton, who constantly seems to be pushing the boundaries and patience of his team.

He will have to develop a resolve that is much stronger than he has now, knowing that the Mercedes project is still a work in progress because for all of McLaren’s faults, they know they will be there or there about in 2013, and Hamilton probably knows that too.

It is a shame, as both parties seemingly don’t want the partnership to end. Mclaren are stronger with Hamilton in the team, but would like him to evolve his personality slightly, and Hamilton wants to be where he can win the title next year, but wants the freedom to be who he feels he wants to be.

Who knows what the long term future will hold for both parties and who will have made the right choice, one thing is for sure, neither party will be truly happy about a split in their racing relationship

Thoughts as we head to Spa

It seems like an age ago that there was an F1 weekend, and this year the races have come and gone thick and fast while having to compete for headlines with the Olympics and the European Championships. Truth be told, the recent break at times, has felt far too long. But, there is a positive, it has given me reason to pause and contemplate something I believe a lot of of us F1 had taken for granted, that we are in the middle of what could potentially be a magical year.

Who would have thought in March that Fernando Alonso would be sat on top of the championship come the half-way point? What odds would you have given for there being 7 different winners in the first half of the year, with the promise of maybe more to add to that list? And as we turn in to the final 7 races of the series there are at least 5 drivers who have a possibility of the title.

There are 7 more rounds to go, 2 more in Europe before the long haul races wrap up the season. Writing this sounds like we are in to the final throws of the championship, but in reality that’s nearly 3 months away so much is yet to happen.

What the title contenders must do is leap-frog Ferrari and in particular the amazing Fernando Alonso. The contenders have to as a group, force Alonso off the top 3 places in the majority of the races to come. To use a cycling analogy: they have to form a high speed leading peloton that puts Alonso out of contention for the big points, and that must start this weekend in Belgium.

Lotus will be bringing their DDRS, McLaren will be hoping that Lewis Hamilton’s return to form in the Hungarian Grand Prix is there to stay for the remaining 8 races and Red Bull with the super team of Vettel-Webber-Newey will be able to find consistent race pace to put them back at the front.

So many questions left to be answered, so many more thrills and spills, incidents and accidents before we crown surely the most deserving world champion in what has been a golden era of F1.

Thank you summer break, for rekindling my love of F1 again!

Schumacher shows poor level of driving standards!

In quite frankly the worst piece of driving standards of the season so far, Michael Schumacher is refusing to accept his move on Rubens Barrichello in the Hungarian Grand Prix was any thing but a normal racing incident.

As Rubens pulled up alongside Schumacher in the battle for 10th place, Schumacher continued to force Barrichello wide  and drive him up to the pit wall giving the Brazilian just inches from safety.  I am sure most of the F1 public agree that what Schumacher did was very dangerous and could have resulted in a high speed accident with the barriers.

After the race Schumacher refused to acknowledge his forcefulness and insinuated that Rubens always complains.

The move is being investigated by the stewards and my own personal opinion is that they should punish Schumacher with a 1 race ban.  It would send out the right message that dangerous moves to defend positions have no place in the highest level of the sport.

Ferrari team revisits its murky past

Sunday’s German grand prix saw the headlines grabbed by Ferrari for the wrong reasons. Their decision tell Felipe Massa to let Fernando Alonso past for the victory, over shadowed the major headline of the day. That Ferrari was back to winning ways and had fair and squarely beaten the Red Bull’s in a straight fight. However no one was talking about this as the knives were out for the Italian team for unnecessary team orders.

Ever since 2002 when Ferrari brought the sport in to disrepute after contriving the worse organised finish possible by having Rubens Barrichello pull over on the line to hand Michael Schumacher the victory, ‘team orders’ have been outlawed. The ‘team orders’ rule was brought in due to the huge amount of negative press and damage the incident did to the sports credibility. It was seen more of a moral deterrent to such public displays of race manipulation that would allow the F1 public sleep easy knowing that what they were watching was in essence a honest and fair fight for victory.

I don’t think any experienced F1 follower thinks that this rule is likely to stop F1 teams manipulating situation where they get their number 1 driver to the front, but what it did do was change the obvious way the teams went about it. This year we have seen cases that have stoked the flames of potential claims of team orders with Red Bull in Turkey and Silverstone and with McLaren at Turkey. But in both cases, the teams found creative ways of being subtle. But the clumsy and obvious manner in which Ferrari went about the German Grand Prix ensured the shit hit the fan come the chequered flag.

The emotional and clunky way in which Rob Smedley went about telling Massa that Alonso was faster than him, and implied there was a hidden subtext by implying “do you understand this” followed up by a almost grovelling “sorry” indicates that what we was hearing from Rob was indeed an instruction to let Alonso past. The fact that shortly after Massa let Alonso past in a non overtaking area affirmed that team orders was in play. In fact you didn’t even need to be a F1 regular to understand that Massa gave that race to Alonso on instruction.

So the team from Italy were guilty! Yet they tried to tell us that we were wrong which just pushed the team further away from creating an understanding with the f1 public. The team has been hauled in front of the WMSC in September, where by the letter of the law, the team should be punished in terms of their constructors’ points. It would be hard to be able to take points away from the drivers as they are not the ones responsibly (lets leave Alonso’s influence on the team for another day)

I find it hard to understand those that are saying that the ban on team orders should be scraped as it is not a rule that can be regulated properly. The rule should be simple. Once a race is under way, any instruction by team management to any of its drivers that has an influence on the race result is illegal. If a team wants to have a ‘plan B’ should they find themselves in, then they should think of a way that doesn’t rub the public’s nose in their politics.

Many say that by hiding away their intention make it worse and that the public would be better served if everything was out on the table, but my point here is, sometimes the general public need to safeguarded from some of the intentions of the racing teams, for example they lengths they go to poach information, break the rules and fund money for them to go racing might not sit well in the stomach of job public.

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 25: Fernando Alonso (C) of Spain and Ferrari talks to his engineers on the grid before the start of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 25, 2010 in Hockenheim, Germany. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

The rule must stay, and if it stays comes the belief that F1 races carry at least some integrity!

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