Category Archives: sport

2012 Malaysia GP Preview: McLaren Vs Red Bull?

The Australian GP a few days ago was a superb way to start the 2012 season as we finally got to see which teams have produced a competitive car. The Red Bull has been the clear dominant car of the past two seasons, but this year all indicators strongly suggest this is not the case. In fact, after Qualifying last Saturday, it seemed McLaren might be dominant, but Red Bull’s race pace showed they are very close to McLaren. So, will this continue at Sepang this weekend?

For the past two seasons, at least, Red Bull have performed well at circuits with high speed corners largely due to their exhaust-blown diffusers, so it will interesting to see if they are still best in class aerodynamically at these tracks, e.g. Sepang. The Barcelona track, where the F1 teams tested, is a much better indicator than Albert Park of performance at this type of track. If so, then Lotus could be much more in the mix than they were in Australia.

Mercedes look like they have a good qualifying car with their DRS system, but their race pace is not quite there. Williams looked refreshingly quick and that is great to see. Unfortunately, it is not good to see Ferrari struggling so much. I am sure they will bounce back, but it could take some time. Alonso’s drive in Australia was superb, all things considered, but what is going on with Massa?! He looked very ill at ease with the car, he was slow and was chewing up his tyres.

McLaren could perhaps be the dominant car this season as the close race in Australia masked them managing a fuel issue. So maybe this year’s championship will be Button Vs Hamilton? When they needed to up their pace, McLaren seemed to be able to do that easily in Australia, however, having said that, Hamilton struggled to have a go at passing Vettel after the safety car. If he was much quicker then he would have been a lot closer to Vettel’s rear wing. Perhaps the McLaren is quicker in the first few laps of a stint but once the tyres start to wear they are pretty close to the Red Bulls?

In any case, I will be at the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend, sitting in the stand at the first corner and will be able to report back. Here’s hoping for another exciting race!


Button’s Great Decision

No, I’m not talking about his decision not to go for the intermediate tyres like so many of his competitors at the beginning of the Chinese Grand Prix today, but his decision to drive for McLaren in 2010.

It was almost universal opinion last year that Jenson Button’s decision to leave Brawn GP and drive for McLaren was foolish. Even the most loyal fans questioned it and saw it as a risky manoeuvre.

On the face of it, it really didn’t make any sense:

  • Why leave a Championship-winning team?
  • Why leave a team where you are totally embedded into the team as the No.1 driver?
  • Why risk going to another team that had made a truly awful car that year?
  • Why risk being a team-mate to Lewis Hamilton, respected as being one of the very quickest drivers in F1?
  • Why risk being team-mate to Lewis where he is already totally embedded into the team?

Fans and pundits alike came out (e.g. Jackie Stewart andNigel Mansell) to criticise the decision or, at least, to say that Button would struggle against Hamilton in the first year.

Jenson said he needed a bigger challenge to motivate himself and on closer inspection you could almost understand that driving against Nico Rosberg he would not enhance his reputation, he could only damage it. If he drove against Lewis, with most people seeing Hamilton as the better driver, he could enhance his reputation and would not damage it that much if he wasn’t as quick.

Like most people, I was very surprised at his decision to go to McLaren, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood his motives. I think the reality is that he really does want the challenge. He has proved he can win a World Championship and now he wants to prove to himself he can go up against the very best drivers in the same equipment.

So far, after the 4th Grand Prix in Shanghai, he has proved a lot of people very wrong which is always nice to see. There is a long way in the Championship to go, but already Jenson has proved that he and Lewis are closely matched, but clearly are very different drivers.

Jenson Button is leading the championship and has won 50% of the races this year so far. His decision-making skills are clearly as good as his driving.

Who YOU think will be leading the Championship after 5 races?

An interesting statistic was raised by the BBC Formula 1 coverage earlier today that whoever has been leading the Championship after only 4 races has gone on to be Champion in 15 out of the last 20 years.

From just before the start of the first Grand Prix in Bahrain until just before this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix I ran a poll on this blog asking who you think will be leading the championship after 5 races.

The voting was reasonably close, but Alonso emerged as a winner with 30% of you predicting him to be leading after the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. Jeremy Clarkson’s son, Sebastian Vettel, came second with 22% of the votes and Lewis Hamilton third with 17%.

Although Massa is currently leading the championship (after 3 races) by 2 points, only 13% of you think he will still be leading in 2 races time. Michael Schumacher received a few votes, but his teammate Nico Rosberg, who has been outperforming him, received no votes at all. Neither did Mark Webber?

EXCLUSIVE! Sebastian Vettel’s true parents revealed!

It has been revealed today that Sebastian Vettel, 22, is in fact the secret love child of Jeremy Clarkson, 49, of BBC TV’s Top Gear fame AND fellow star from the same programme, The Stig (age unknown).

Mr Clarkson was unavailable for comment, but a close source explained that in the latter part of 1987, whilst Jeremy was a rising motoring journalist, he and the Stig met at a party in London and had a one night stand. They went their separate ways the following day, but when The Stig realised he was pregnant with Jeremy’s child he got back in touch.

The Stig did not want an abortion but they both realised it would be bad for their respective careers to have to raise a child at this time. They agreed that they would give him up for adoption in a place far away and found the Vettel family in Heppenheim, Germany who took in Sebastian when he was born in July 1987.

Sebastian and Jeremy shared genes: long face, nose and questionable hair

Clarkson would make his TV debut on Top Gear the following year hoping this scandal would never catch up with him. In 2002 the shocking truth almost came out as The Stig threatened to go to the papers as he had fallen on hard times, but Jeremy gave him a position on the show.

Jeremy and Sebastian both known for their eccentric behaviour - Last year Seb named his Red Bull F1 car 'Kate's Dirty Sister' and this year he's named it 'Luscious Liz'

When Sebastian Vettel made it into Formula 1 in 2007 they immediately realised what had happened to their long lost son. They were scared that people would recognise and notice Sebastian’s similar looks and eccentric habits to Jeremy’s and his inheritance of the great driving skills of The Stig.

Three years later and the truth is now finally out. Sebastian Vettel is so shocked by the news that he may not be able to race in Malaysia. Jeremy Clarkson has gone into hiding and The Stig is silent as always.

It's reported The Stig is secretly very proud of his boy

Unconfident Start for Red Bull

None of us have being talking about Red Bull much over the winter. It’s all been mainly Mercedes and the return of Schumacher as well as the Button and Hamilton pairing at McLaren. However, Red Bull were the quickest at the end of last season and many people have put them as favourites to win in 2010. Actually, not many people, most people have them as favourites and their launch at Jerez today has been eagerly anticipated.

Red Bull, a team renowned for its flamboyance, launched its new car without the glamour and showmanship of other teams. Webber and Vettel simply pulled the cover off their car in the pit lane. No razzmatazz, nothing special happened, not very Red Bull-esque at all. So does this mean now they are contenders they are now getting more serious or are they experiencing problems/doubts?

Time will, of course, tell about Red Bull but on the face of it the new car looks good and the team is boasting a schedule of new developments and parts to be added in the early part of the season. However, although they talked confidently about their continuity in a strong driver line up of Webber and Vettel, one could pick up signs and reading between the lines  that they are perhaps not actually that confident and a little unsure about how competitive they will be.

Red Bull mentioned that some of the delay in getting the car ready (they had to miss the first F1 test) was due to deciding whether to stick with the Renault engine or move to the Mercedes, which they believe is a better engine. They tried to play down the delay and were vague, which means it was a significant delay. They said all the correct things about how great it is to work with Renault, blah, blah, but they clearly have doubts about the competitiveness of the engine. This can be strongly inferred from team boss Christian Horner’s comments about car manufacturers pulling out of the sport due to freeze on engine development.

Horner said that “The problem with engine freeze is that you freeze an advantage” and continued “I think there is a disparity currently with engine performance … The engine isn’t supposed to be a key performance differentiator and therefore the ruling body will balance out somewhat the differences there are at the moment”. (Read full report here)

When Red Bull’s Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey was asked about staying with Renault in 2010 rather than Mercedes he responded, “The reason we looked at other manufacturers was because it was clear one had gained a large power advantage. But we’ve had discussions with Renault and are confident they will redress that imbalance.” The key word in that statement is ‘will’ and not ‘have’. If it hadn’t been for ‘political’ reasons Red Bull would have preferred to have had the Mercedes engine and so must feel they are at a disadvantage.

Webber in the wet at Jerez

Although it must also be said that the Renault engine has low fuel consumption which will be an advantage in 2010 as they will not have to carry as much fuel at the start of the race.

The delay caused by the engine decision (Red Bull were readying themselves for a Mercedes engine) ultimately caused them to miss the first test session at Valencia and although not a massive disadvantage it is still a disadvantage that Red Bull recognise and the wet weather at Jerez makes the situation worse.

Mark Webber piloted the new car in testing at the Spanish circuit today and managed to complete only 50 laps. The car got to 47 laps in the morning before an oil leak shortly after midday halted Webber’s car and red flagged the session. He was not able to return to the track until the very end of the day and completed only 3 further laps. There was not time for Webber to put up a quick time whilst it was dry at the very beginning of the day and his times in the wet appeared (as we don’t know fuel levels) to be of a similar pace to the other cars. Not a terrible start, but not a confident reassuring one either.

Webber stopped on track (Note: he used his helmet to hide the diffuser!)

The fact that Red Bull seemed to emphasise the additional parts due on the car also indicates they think the car is not as good as they know it can be. This is true for all teams, of course, but did not come across in the same way as it did with Ferrari or McLaren for instance. These two teams and Mercedes had confident launches displaying a lot of expectation in the car and enjoyed the attention from the media. Red Bull seems conspicuously quiet. Is this just a ruse to lull the other teams into a false sense of security or do they know that they are significantly lagging behind and have some work to do to catch up?

This is all speculation as that is all we can do at this stage and nothing is certain until we are actually at Bahrain. After last year Red Bull have the highest expectations and at this stage Red Bull do not seem confident they will be performing at their best at the start of the season.  Also, just because they are not confident, does not mean they are not the quickest!

The 1st F1 Test – What do we think we know?

The first Formula 1 test at Valencia in Spain this week has been followed with more interest than any other test session I can remember. Valencia officials reported that 59,100 people attended over the 3 days with 36,400 attending on the final day and a report of a 4km traffic queue trying to get into the track!

We must be very cautious about what we infer about what happened this week. Taking into account the below, we actually know very little indeed:

  • We do not know the respective fuel loads each team/driver is carrying
  • Even if we did know the fuel loads, we do not know the tyre wear rate of the different cars
  • Even if we knew the fuel loads and tyre wear rates, we don’t know the fuel consumption of the different engines
  • There is approximately 6 seconds difference between a fastest lap on low fuel and on maximum fuel
  • A fast lap on low fuel means very little as teams will only be on low fuel for qualifying and at the very end of the race
  • There are 3 more tests and a lot technical development still to come
  • We haven’t seen the performance of all the teams, notably Red Bull
  • The Valencia track is not a representative track of a lot of F1 circuits

So you get the point, we don’t really know much, but surely we can glean some information, trends and likelihoods? Yes, we can.

Here is the combined times from Valencia this week over the 3 days:

The only true conclusion we can make from the Valencia test is that Ferrari is quick. They may not actually be the quickest, but they are definitely quick. If the Bahrain Grand Prix was this weekend you would put your money on Ferrari and probably specifically on Alonso judging by his pace today. But it wouldn’t be a safe bet.

Here is a review of the teams and drivers and what we might take away from their performance at the Valencia Test:

They were quickest each day and the only team to get under the 1min 12secs barrier. Alonso’s time of 1min 11.470secs was 0.6secs quicker than the next quickest car (Sauber – also using Ferrari engines!). The completed over 350 laps during the 3 days, far more than any other team and proved to be reliable.

Alonso – He was quick straight away and will feel good that he was quicker than Massa. He was cautious in the interviews as he thought last year’s Renault felt good but was not quick.

Massa – He should be pleased that he has come back into F1 after a horrific accident and is right back on the pace and was fastest for the 2 days he drove.

They will be pleasantly pleased at their pace and rather glad they are using Ferrari engines. They were 2nd fastest each day and both experienced de la Rosa and new boy Kobayashi were able to put in consistently quick times.

Kobayashi – He seems very confident and was pleased he was able to get some testing time in to get used to the car.

De la Rosa – He will be satisfied that he is testing knowing he will actually be racing too. He and Kobayashi may be closely matched all season.

I think they will be a little disappointed that the car did not seem quicker straight out of the box. They were very confident at the launch and now know they have a lot of work to do. They seemed neither fast nor slow and their running times were very similar to that of Mercedes, Toro Rosso and Renault. The teams and drivers will not admit it publicly, but they will be worried by the pace of Ferrari.

Hamilton – He will be pleased that the car does not seem to perform as badly as last year’s car and will also be pleased he finished with a fastest time 0.7secs quicker than Button.

Button – He will be disappointed the McLaren and himself were not quicker, but will not read too much into this week’s test. If next week they don’t seem quick, then he will begin to worry.

Mercedes GP
They are difficult to read as Ross Brawn said today in an interview he thinks that they are “a little off on pace” and has said that they are having some handling problems. The car has not blitzed the field like last year, but then no one expected that. Schumacher is also playing down their chances and not expecting to win any GP’s in the opening races and that they need to “nail their reliability”. Brawn has also said they are yet to use its new front wing or double diffuser.

Schumacher – he will be pleased as he still has the pace and that he was 0.4secs quicker than his teammate, but maybe worried about the pace of the car compared to Ferrari.

Rosberg – He seems a tiny bit phased, although he acts confident in interviews and will want to be a match for Schumacher

Toro Rosso
The first couple of days did not go well and they had technical problems (gearbox) and reported downforce issues. Buemi was over 2 seconds off the pace on both days. However, on the final day with Alguersuari they seemed to have made some improvements as he was able to complete 97 laps and had a fastest time only just over a second behind Alonso.

Alguersuari – I think he will be pleased with his performance, but worried perhaps by the team’s reliability

Buemi – He will be worried by the technical problems and his lack of speed.

They seemed to struggle on the first day and then came good on the second day with Kubica putting in a fastest lap just under a second slower than Alonso. Considering the state of the team I think they will be pleased their times were comparable to McLaren and Mercedes, but know they have work to do.

Kubica – I don’t think he will be unduly worried and will be focused on developing the car over the next month

Petrov – I think he will be pleased his first test session went okay and he was only 0.6secs behind his teammate.

They were at the bottom of the timesheets around 2 seconds behind the fastest time of Alonso. However, they did not look particularly worried. Barrichello seemed very relaxed and stated that they were doing runs with very heavy fuel loads, much more than he ever did at Brawn. There were no low fuel runs he claimed. So they seem slow, but maybe they are not as slow as they appear.

Barrichello – He seems relaxed and positive and genuinely seems not to know, like the rest of us, what to make of the times produced this week.

Hulkenburg – He had a good session today getting used to the car and the team, completing 126 laps and even did a couple of race start practices. He was only 3 tenths of his vastly more experienced teammate and will be satisfied with that.

So, we do not know much. Next week’s test at Jerez will help us know a little more as we will have a more representative F1 track, more teams (Red Bull!), but we won’t get to know a lot. If Ferrari are quickest again each day then it will confirm their pace, but if another team is quicker, then we won’t know if this means we are clearer about who is quickest or more confused?

My expectation for the season is that it is going to be very close with a lot of teams with some tracks suiting certain teams and/or drivers. Jerez is a different track and so I am expecting different results. We shall see.


Jake McMillan

Final Day of the 1st 2010 Test

As expected, there was an amazing buzz around the final day of the first 2010 Formula One test at Valencia. An amazing 36,400 fans showed up at the Spanish tack today according to the official Valencia spectator figures, each paying 5 euros. With 3 Spanish drivers on track, as well as the reigning World Champion and a 7-times World Champion, that 5 euros was a bargain!

Alonso drew in a lot of Spectators

Today was a day of firsts:

  • Fernando Alonso drove the Ferrari for the first time
  • Jenson Button drove the 2010 McLaren for the first time (F1 geeks will know he test drove a McLaren in 1999 after winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award)
  • Last year’s GP2 Champion, Nico “the Hulk” Hulkenburg, drove his Williams for the first time
  • Russian driver and rookie Vitaly Petrov drove his Renault car for the first time
  • and in the UK, brand new F1 team, Virgin Racing, launched their car

As always, we have to be careful about what conclusions we make from these tests as we don’t know the respective fuel loads and there is still a lot of testing and development work to be performed before we get to  Bahrain.

The main headline from today is that Fernando Alonso took little time in getting to grips with his Ferrari and topped the timesheets for the majority of the day. He quickly got his times down to 1min 12secs pace and by midday had just pipped Massa’s time from yesterday. He then lowered his time further and then further again to achieve a 1mins 11.470secs lap which would be the fastest of the day and, indeed, of the whole 3-day testing session.

Alonso in the Pits

The fastest lap times from today were as follows:

1.  Alonso (SPA) – Ferrari – 127 laps – 1min 11.472 secs
2.  de la Rosa (SPA) – Sauber – 80 laps – 1min 12.094 secs
3.  Schumacher (GER) – Mercedes – 82 laps – 1 min 12.438 secs
4.  Alguersuari (SPA) – Toro Rosso – 97 laps – 1min 12.576 secs
5.  Button (GBR) – McLaren – 82 laps – 1min 12.951 secs
6.  Petrov (RUS) – Renault – 75 laps –   1 min 13.097 secs
7.  Hulkenburg (GER) -Williams- 126 laps – 1:13.669 secs

Current World Champion Jenson Button had a quiet day in his new McLaren and finished with a fastest time 0.7 secs off the time Hamilton produced yesterday and 1.5secs slower than Alonso. He did not complete many laps in the morning and reported suffering seating problems. In the afternoon he seemed to concentrate on heavier fuel load runs rather than going for a quick time.

Button returns to pits after first outing

Today’s test saw de la Rosa and Hulkenburg have a minor coming together but no real damage was done. Late into the day the crowd got excited as Alonso in his Ferrari closed up to Button in his McLaren. Alonso got right up to the rear wing of Button and fireworks were let off in the grandstand. Button held firm and Alonso backed off. A few laps later Alonso was behind Button again and the Brit let him through.

So, what did we learn from today?

  • Alonso is very much settled, comfortable and quick at Ferrari
  • The Ferrari is fast and reliable, completing 127 laps today.
  • Sauber (also using a Ferrari engine) continue to be quick, being 2nd fastest for the 3rd day running. De la Rosa could not quite beat Kobayashi’s time from yesterday.
  • Mercedes, McLaren, Williams, Toro Rosso and Renault all seem to have a similar pace. Ross Brawn admitted that Mercedes are, at this stage, “a little off on pace”
  • Alguersuari did well today and produced a fastest time 1.3secs quicker than his teammate

Some photos from today posted on twitter from a variety of sources:

Petrov's debut in the Renault

Alonso wheeled into pits, being watched by many!

Alguersuari had a good day

Rookie Hulkenburg had a full day - 126 laps

Schumacher trying out new black Helmet

McLaren try new cockpit vent

A lot of attention on Alonso

Schumacher with Red Helmet in the Afternoon

de la Rosa stopped on circuit after a little bump with Hulkenburg

Alonso looks like he's been with Ferrari for Years

Button on Track

Ross Brawn speaking to BBC's Sarah Holt

Petrov leaving the pits

The Hulk's Williams Car

Alonso leaving the pits

Schumacher's Mercedes

Jenson and lots of Press


Jake McMillan