Archive for the ‘Insights’ Category

Why Hulkenberg should not go to Lotus

Posted: September 24, 2013 by thevillainf1 in Insights

As the entire F1 paddock is still reeling from the knockout punch delivered by Vettel and Red Bull during the Singapore Grand prix, it was the minor stories which took the headlines. Some people booing Vettel on the podium and Webber’s taxi ride on Alonso’s Ferrari… who cares! I promise, I will NOT get into that malarkey and try to steer the debate back towards the real serious stuff: Silly season of course!

Almost as soon as the initial fervor about Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari had died down, all eyes turned to the next piece in the 2014 driver market domino set: the now vacant Lotus seat, and the first name that popped up was Nico Hulkenberg.

Now Nico’s career is a bit of a conundrum. Year on year he has delivered those special kind of performances which would normally set off alarm bells at any major F1 team to pick him up, yet he is still mired in the midfield. After a pole in his rookie year in an uncompetitive car and a respectable showing overall against Barrichello, he was dropped for some Venezuelan petrodollars.  Last year, he missed out on Lewis Hamilton’s vacant Mclaren seat to the Telmex money of Sergio Perez. This year, he was tantalizingly close to a Ferrari seat until Maranello decided to clutch its lost son Kimi back to its bosom.

Since he missed out on a top drive last year, he figured the logical thing to do would be to look for the next best car, but the Sauber turned out to be a dog while his former Force India became a genuine top 5 contender – at least in the beginning of the season.

Having missed out on a top drive again for 2014, one would assume that once more he’d be looking to at least move one more step up and jump ship to a more competitive team, and at first glance that would be the now vacant Lotus seat next to Grosjean, who will probably be retained unless he tries to kill world champions again before the season is over.

But here’s the rub: nobody knows what the balance of power will be in 2014. Why does everyone seem to assume that the Lotus is going to be a competitive package next year? Is it better to end up with a Merc engine? A Renault? A Ferrari? Will Newey be able to work his chassis magic or will it be all about the engine? Even the best placed insiders do not really know how things will pan out.

The Lotus seat would look like a tasty prospect indeed; after all they have been genuine podium contenders throughout the year. But Kimi has left because they would not pay him on time, and rumors about the team’s dire financial straits just won’t die down. Aside from their star driver Kimi , they have lost several key senior figures over the past few months, people who would have been leading the 2014 car development.  Lastly, a deal with Infinity has been announced long ago but has still not materialized.

At this key moment in the development race for 2014, all these elements combined do not bode well for Lotus F1 teams’ financial future and competitiveness next season. I believe they are even the only team left to not have finalized an engine deal for next year! As the former Renault works team,  that must sting a bit. While there are rumors of a Renault buy-in of their old Enstone based team, a recent autosport article pretty much ruled that option out as well.

Should we really be rooting for Hulkenberg to go to Lotus? Would he not be better off to sign another one year deal with Sauber, and keep that Ferrari link intact just in case the Kimi and Alonso relationship blows up next year? Would it not be better to choose continuity for once, and show he team he is working with some faith? Of course Sauber has also had its share of financial troubles this year, having had to resort to dubious Russian money and a teenage pay driver (talented as he may be) to secure their future on the grid. But with the Russian money secure (supposedly), who is to say Sauber will not be able to build a nifty car next year? Surely they would recognize the value of continuity by keeping the hulk, and after four seasons in F1, he should have the experience to lead the team as well. It can also boost his CV if he can show to be a true team leader, not just an opportunist who jumps ship every year as soon as something supposedly better arrives.

Going to Lotus or staying at Sauber, either choice is a bit of a gamble considering next year’s sweeping regulation changes, but I for one do not assume that the Lotus seat will necessarily be more competitive next year and believe it is best for the Hulk to show he can truly lead a team at Sauber.

In the end too many variables are at play to determine the 2014 running order and it’s up to Hulkenberg to roll the dice again… With his luck he’ll probably end up in the gutter no matter which ride he ends up with.

What do you think? Should he stay at Sauber? Go to Lotus? Chase another drive perhaps?

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While you would think F1 would be used to having to deal with fading tyres after three years of ‘Pirelli spec’ racing, criticism on the Italian tyre manufacturer has never been so loud. It is painfully obvious, even to the untrained eye, that Formula 1 cars and drivers nowadays no longer push on the limit of what they and their vehicle are capable of. Webber famously called it ‘racing at 7 tenths’.  While precious few would like to see Red Bull and Vettel sweep to a fourth consecutive title, which is what Pirelli would have us believe if we’d bring back ‘Bridgestone spec’ racing, it also does not sit right that the fastest cars can’t actually exploit their prodigious speed because the tyres are such a severely limiting factor.

While Hembery shows great weakness with his often snappy and overly defensive attitude, we cannot lay all of the blame squarely at Pirelli’s feet. Sure, it does look like they went a step too far this year, with not only tyres degrading faster than an appearance on Jersey shore, but there have been a raft of suspicious tyre failures this year which Pirelli has not fully addressed yet. However, even that is not the point I want to make here.

After all ‘F1’ did ask Pirelli to re-create Canada 2010, where crazy unpredictable tyre degradation made for quite an exciting race in what for the most part were fairly boring spectacles during Vettel’s first title winning year. Pirelli was asked to deliver what are in essence crap tyres, in order to spice up the show. The number one point F1 tried to address with this was the severe lack of overtaking. For at least 2 decades now, F1 development has been dominated by aerodynamics. As the aero got stronger, so did the effect of the wake of dirty air behind the cars, which in turn made it even harder to overtake. At its peak, it was not uncommon to see those processional races Pirelli is now threatening us with – anyone remember the Schumi years? I don’t, I was asleep through 90% of the races then. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to those days where the finishing order is basically decided on Saturday, especially with today’s’ reliability records.

But are the rapidly degrading tyres really the only way forward to ‘spice up the show’? It is undeniable that the tyres do produce overtaking, but people are becoming more disillusioned with it. How many times do we hear drivers and engineers on the radio that it’s no point to defend position against a car on fresh rubber lapping 2-3 seconds per lap quicker than you? Is that really the show we are looking for. While I have my criticism on Pirelli and do not think they are doing an awesome job as some would suggest, I think the elephant in the room here is that F1 made a colossal mistake turning towards to tyres for spicing up the show, instead of looking at the root cause of F1’s overtaking problem.

The number one reason we did not see much overtaking anymore in the Bridgestone era (and before) was not the rock hard rubber, it was the aero wake making it nigh impossible to follow a rival car close enough in order to set up an overtake. When the number one cause for the lack of overtaking is well known to everybody, why do we turn to artificial measures which treat the symptoms, but not the cause. DRS, KERS, Pirelli, all would be unnecessary if F1 would just curb its dependence on aero performance.

This brings me to that other ‘artificial measure’ introduced to treat the symptom: DRS. Many purists still cry themselves to sleep thinking of the latest DRS pass where someone sails by a powerless opponent on the straight, slotting in in front of him before the next corner, and I cry with them. Again, we can fine-tune DRS to make sure that it does what’s intended: allow a car the chance to overtake by bringing him alongside in the braking zone. Still, we are only just treating the symptom. Nonetheless, DRS could go a long way to alleviate fears of processions. After all, we have never tested a ‘Bridgestone spec’ race with DRS enabled. It may very well already be enough to overcome the dirty air effect and bring overtaking back to F1 without relying on trick tyres which have the drivers cruising around 90% of the race in a desperate effort to eke out some extra tyre life, rather than fight the other guys around them.

F1 missed a crucial appointment in developing its 2014 rules. While the focus on new engines is probably a good thing for the sport in the future, and adding in another key performance differentiator other than aero, a bold F1 should have tackled aero dependence as well. Now you might say I want to ensure backmarkers F1 own Matt Ruda doesn’t end up getting a job in F1 when he graduates by banning aero altogether. While it would make me chuckle, such extreme measures are not needed. Back in the sixties teams did start bolting on wings as they discovered aero effects, but the first phase of true aero dominance in F1 focused on a whole different kind of aero to the one we are so familiar with today: ground effect…and it is effectively banned in F1 by the current rulebooks.

Ground effect sucks to cars down to the tarmac – rather than pushing them down with wings- but more crucially significantly reduces the impact of driving into a rival car’s dirty air. This way you can have the best of both worlds: the aero still ensures that cars go around corners at unimaginable speeds, retaining F1’s reputation as the pinnacle of motorsport, but it does not penalize the guy trying to overtake you behind. Sure, it would still drive up temperatures if stuck too long behind a rival car, but your grip levels would still be largely the same, opening the door to some pure overtakes again. You could see it clearly in the Spanish grand prix, the high levels of understeer generated from following close to another car in an attempt to set up an overtake. Pirellis do overcome this challenge by creating such huge lap deltas depending on where in the tyre’s life cycle a particular car is running at, but again, it’s treating a symptom, not the underlying cause.

I do not like what Pirelli was asked to bring to the sport, and I do not think Pirelli is doing the best job it can, even within the detailed brief they got from F1, but the real problem here is still being ignored. Let’s stop bashing Pirelli and attack the root cause of F1’s problems:  reduce ‘wing’ aero dependence, re-introduce ground effect aero,  return to ‘normal’ racing tyres. We can even keep DRS as an intermediate measure just to make sure processions do not occur. Maybe then F1 will be a real show again, with drivers pushing 100%, all of the time, rather than a Cirque du Soleil fantasy piece it is becoming.

F1 Fratricide! Teammate Wars Predictions

Posted: March 13, 2013 by thevillainf1 in Insights

We’ve had our mouths full about F1 teams over the past few months. First we got all giddy for a few car launches – seemingly less flashy every year – of this or that team, then we were happy to just see some cars going around a track in Jerez and Barcelona. The tech experts were analyzing every minute detail to be found on the teams’ 2013 contenders, trying to unravel what 2013s special innovation would prove to be. But in all that excitement to see what the design teams have come up with this year, we almost forget to look at that most captivating of components in a formula 1 car: the drivers. When talking about who is the greatest: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso or Raikkonen, there is massive fanboyism guiding people’s view, but the one nagging problem remains: you will never really know who is the best unless they are pitted against each other in equal machinery. Top Gear is a cool show, and I love watching the laps in the ‘reasonably priced car’, so while it was fun to see Hamilton get a lot of pleasure ousting Vettel from the n1 spot recently, it can never really be an accurate measure of speed. What we want is to watch F1 drivers battle each other in F1 cars on the limit. While we are robbed of this in most cases, we can still cherish those wonderful teammate rivalries, where – unless you drive at Red Bull or Ferrari – two drivers are given an equal chance to go out there and see who’s best without the car coming into play. With this post I want to dive back into the F1 season here at backmarkers F1, and in a first installment of 2013 predicitions, predict the winners of the teammate wars!

 

1.Red Bull

No surprises here. Webber is just not as good as Vettel over the course of a season so one kind of has to agree with Marko (shocking, I know), that while Webbo can have his gifted moments when he’s unbeatable, they are much too rare to make him into a world champ anytime soon, especially with the triple world champ at his side. Nobody is in any doubt as to who the number 1 is in this team, and whether both drivers really do get an equal chance is therefore debatable.

 

2.Ferrari

Even worse than Red Bull, Ferrari only knows 1 leader, and that’s Nando. Felipe can just about tie Alonso’s shoelaces when it comes to comparing skill, and is just happy to still be driving an
F1 car (and so he should after last year’s horrifying performance)

 

3. Mclaren

Here it gets interesting. Losing their wonderboy Hamilton, Mclaren thought to have landed a coup by signing young hotshot Sergio Perez, who caught the eye with some great podiums last year, but also raised some eyebrows with lesser inspired events, especially during the latter part of the season. Button has been a quick and reliable hand for Mclaren, but he has never shown that outright one lap pace needed to be able to fight at the front at every GP. The same problem befell Perez last year, so one must wonder how much Mclaren will suffer not having that ace qualifier up their sleeve. That said, with Button’s experience Perez should be easy pickings for the most experienced driver on the grid, and if he does get beaten by the Mexican many will wonder whether he still has a place in F1. Anyway, I predict Button to rather comfortably beat Perez, all the while squandering another great Mclaren car mostly due to poor qualifying performances.

 

4. Lotus

Raikkonen and Grosjean are quite an exciting pairing. While Grosjean  seemed to have the upper hand in qualifying last year – no mean feat against the iceman – Kimi’s superb racecraft ultimately made him beat Grosjean quite handily over the course of the season, topping it off with an emphatic (though inherited) win. Having been given another chance by his team to prove he can turn that blistering speed into something worthwile when there are others on track around him, Grosjean could put pressure on Kimi. However, while we granted Romain a second rookie year in 2012, we shouldn’t forget that Kimi was also coming back to F1 after a long absence, and having seen Schumi struggle with the vastly changed formula this was no mean feat. In his second year at the team, it is clear Kimi has galvanized the team around him, fully acclimatized back to F1 and I predict to see more stunning performances of the Fin this year, leaving Grosjean behind in the dust…but hopefully not in the gravel trap..

 

5.Mercedes

Perhaps the most exciting battle to look forward to.  The back story works perfectly: good friends and teammates in the old karting days face off again with equal weapons. While nobody would label Rosberg a slouch, there has always been that reluctance to count him as a truly great driver as he has never really been measured against a known quantity within a team. While he did easily have the measure of Schumacher in their years together, there will always remain the doubts of whether Schumacher was more than just a shadow of the 7 time World Champ he retired as the 1st time around. This is a huge opportunity for Rosberg to finally prove what he is really worth against Hamilton in his prime. If Rosberg can make life difficult for Hamilton then it is already mission accomplished for him in 2013. While I do think Rosberg will keep Lewis honest I do not think he will be a match for the Briton’s blinding pace.

 

6.Sauber

The Swiss team has an all new driver line up for 2013 after seeing Perez swooped up by Mclaren and mercilessly sacking Kamui Kobayashi. 2012 was the best year for the team since the BMW days, and they look keen to build on that success with an innovative car which raised some eyebrows in testing. With the field looking so close again this year, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Sauber take a few more podiums again. The signing of Hulkenberg was a major coup for the Swiss team, however their n2 driver for the year is a bit of a doubt. To keep the Mexican backing going Gutierrez was almost a shoe in for the team to replace compatriot Perez, and he has some pretty big shoes to fill. I’d think another year in GP2 would have probably served him better, and going up against the Hulk he is just going to get eaten alive.

 

7.Force India

While a bit of a shock decision, the return of Adrian Sutil is after all a fairly conservative choice as he had shown in testing that he has not lost much of his edge during his 1 year of forced leave. With the team in financial trouble – though nobody within the team is ready to admit it, the financial woes of the two main backers Mallya and Sahara are well documented – the Medion sponsorship money brought by Sutil will also have played a part. After all, Bianchi’s backing is down to Ferrari support, not necessarily  the cold hard cash the team would have needed. Sutil is a known quantity and a safe pair of hands capable of a good turn of speed on his day, as he has shown on the final few GPs before his sacking in 2011. Di Resta came into the sport on a wave of hype but has largely failed to deliver. Having been severely trounced by Hulkenberg in the latter half of 2012 his reputation – and probably his confidence too – has taken a hit. If he does not show anything special again, he is likely to remain stuck in the midfield for eternity..like Sutil.  With an extra year under his belt, and Sutil despite his strong showing in testing probably a bit rusty still, I do believe Di Resta will edge him out, but the FI this year doesn’t look competitive enough to allow either of them those eye catching performances which lift you out of the midfield.

 

8. Williams

If you’d ask me about Williams around this time last year, I would have told you about the most embarrassing pay driver line up  in the history of F1. Maldonado the 30 million dollar crash baby and senna the 15 ish million dollar ‘cousin of..’ was truly an embarrassing line-up for such an iconic squad. You’d expect something like that from a backmarker team but Williams? But low and behold, Maldonado proved that when he is alone of the track and stays focused, he does actually possess talents beyond the hard Venezuelan cash by winning in Barcelona and pulling off a few remarkable qualifying laps throughout the season in proper balls hanging out of the cockpit style. Senna on the other hand continued to disappoint with lackluster weekends all around. Sadly the weaknesses of their driver line up resulted in the team ending up ridiculously low on the WCC standing despite having had a pretty damned good race car all year long. This year they are bringing in the hottest new F1 talent in a few years with Valterri Bottas. With 15 practice outings last year he should be better prepared than most rookies, but we should not expect miracles from the next flying Fin in the first half of 2013. After all he has never raced anything bigger than a GP3 car, and has not competed in a Grand Prix since then. However once he gets the hang of it he will have Maldonado fuming at the wheel by being bitchslapped by a younger – unfunded – driver with the same equipment. #BOTTAS ftw oh, and also #PERRRKELE

 

9. Toro Rosso

Red Bull’s bitch squad had a pretty torrid 2012 after unceremoniously sacking its previous crop of wannabe Vettels. Having two rookies at the wheel of a difficult car will always keep you on the backfoot, and the STR team never really seemed to get their head round the 2012 season. Having now had their rookie year, the excuses will be running thin for the Red Bull juniors if they don’t want to end up like Buemi and Alguersuari. Like their predecessors and their internal fight, there was not much to choose between them last year. While Ricciardo did largely edge Vergne due to his much superior qualifying pace. Vergne will really need to get on top of quali to fulfill the great potential I do believe he has. The car doesn’t look like it will be much more competitive than last year so either one of their drivers will have to trounce the other one to stand any chance of survival in Helmut Marko’s madhouse. His qualifying needs to be sorted but in terms of racecraft he more often than not had the upper hand on Ricciardo last year and we all know that in the end it’s only the result on Sunday which counts.. Ricciardo did show glimpses of greatness last year so this is a fight that will be very hard to call. Still,  I tip Vergne for this year.

 

10. Caterham

…..Meh…

 

I guess with this being backmarkersF1 and all I should be exited when talking about the backmarkers, especially the lovely Caterham team.. and then they had to go and drop Heikki ‘PERRRKELE’ Kovalainen (boooo) and Vitaly ‘InRussiaCarDriveYou’ Petrov  (applause). They have pushed Williams off the throne for 2013’s ‘grab the cash and go’ driver line-up award by signing Guido Van Der Garde and Charles Pic. While Pic did show some proper ability in last year’s Marussia, where he showed more than respectably against experienced hand Glock, Van Der Garde is someone who has ended up in F1 just because he had the biggest sack of money available at the time. Sure he was WSR champion about ten decades ago. Then he spent a few lightyears in GP2 being mostly just not good enough to consistently compete with the top guys. Pic will handily beat him this year, and may just be able to get me excited about this team again if he continues the way he ended last year.

 

11. Marussia

While their lineup was looking dire as well with Max ‘MyDaddyhaslotsofmoney’ Chilton and Luis ‘HeresaCheckbutdonttakeit tothebankjustyet’’ Razia, the latter’s last minute funding trouble gave un unexpected chance to Bianchi to finally grab an F1 race seat after a few years of waiting in the wings. In the end, it is probably even better for Bianchi to start at the back of the grid where there is little pressure than there would have been at Force India. The guy has speed but has shown a remarkable weakness under pressure and this low profile entry into f1 might just be the ticket to unlock his full potential. The Marussia team is looking better than ever, having already largely caught up with Caterham last year, which is no mean feat considering they had the crummy Cosworth engine and no KERS. With KERS coming onboard for 2013, Pat Symonds fully into the team having served his crashgate ban and a technical partnership with Mclaren ongoing, I think this year Marussia will beat Caterham on merit. As far as the teammates go, Bianchi will easily dispatch Chilton to go crying home to poppa. I’s official:  my backmarkersF1 support now goes to Marussia instead of Caterham.

 

Share your take on the 2013 teammate wars below, just a few days left now for us to start finding out!

Your Comprehensive Silly Season Guide: End of the Year

Posted: December 11, 2012 by Valentin Khorounzhiy in Insights

Even with the 2012 season of Formula One wrapped up, we still can’t tell who all the winners and losers are as several teams are still stalling with the announcement of their 2013 lineups. However, before we dip into that, let’s see, how the rumour-reliant method has ended up working for me previously. Below is the list of my previous “likely estimations” and whether or not they have stood the test of the many announcements made by the teams since then:

  • Ferrari: Fernando AlonsoFelipe Massa
  • Lotus: Kimi Raikkonen – Romain Grosjean
  • Sauber: Jaime AlguersuariEsteban Gutierrez
  • Force India: Nico Hulkenberg – Paul di Resta
  • Williams: Pastor MaldonadoValtteri Bottas
  • Toro Rosso: Daniel RicciardoJean-Eric Vergne
  • Caterham: Heikki Kovalainen – Charles Pic
  • Marussia: Timo Glock – Max Chilton
  • HRT: Pedro de la RosaDani Clos

Bolded are the predictions that ended up correct (or, honestly, were already correct as of writing that previous piece – as with Alonso and, seemingly, Glock). In italics are the predictions that fell flat – obviously, I did not see the HRT demise coming and Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber was slightly surprising, though, it didn’t come straight out of the left field.

Finally, a more recent development links one Nico Hulkenberg to Sauber. Can’t comment on that much besides saying that it’s a rumour, but news have come out of less.

In regular text are the names of the drivers whose position is still not confirmed or whose seat is being heavily contested for by other hopefuls, but more on that later. Finally, underlined are the names of the teams that have already confirmed their driver lineups for 2013 (or, in the case of HRT, have unfortunately ceased to exist) and are of no interest to us in this analysis.

With that in mind, let’s go into the remaining stretch of the silly season and see, team-by-team, which driver is linked with which squad.

Lotus – after the comeback season Kimi Raikkonen has been enjoying, it was pretty much a no-brainer for Lotus to keep him in the team at all costs and that they did. It’s become much more complicated with the second seat, as Romain Grosjean, who’s enjoyed a fantastic first part of the season, seemingly lost a huge chunk of his confidence after being handed a one-race ban after Spa. In the second part of the year, Grosjean, while still remarkably quick on one lap pace, was never particularly impressive with the races, especially when they didn’t last very long for him as he continued to struggle with completing the first lap without any accidents, whether his fault or not.

As such, Lotus have been stalling on re-signing the Swiss-born Frenchman for another year, reportedly asking Total for more money in sponsorship. Also, reportedly, Total wouldn’t be so keen on that as some rumours suggest they’re slightly wary of being associated with Grosjean due to them being major proponents and financiers of safe driving campaigns and him not exactly fitting that image.

With that, naturally, rumours of Grosjean being replaced have been appearing all over the place, though the media has hardly concentrated on one particular figure to consider.

The most major option for Lotus as of now seems to be Heikki Kovalainen – the Finnish press have been reporting that alleged negotiations have taken place between Heikki and the team from Enstone. From a certain perspective, it’s a move that would make sense – it’s looking highly unlikely that Heikki will get to keep his Caterham seat and, having spent 2007 driving for Renault F1, Lotus as of now is probably the team he has most contacts in. Still, apart from the occasional mention, there has been nothing solid linking Heikki to Lotus, but, again, crazier things have happened, this very year in fact.

Another option, this one especially popular with the fans of the sport, seems to be for Lotus to go with Kamui Kobayashi who has been dropped by Sauber in favour of either Hulkenberg or Gutierrez. Following that, Kamui has started a fundraiser campaign and managed to raise, at this point, more than two million US Dollars – a sum that’s nothing compared to what the likes of Senna, van der Garde and others are reportedly carrying around with them, but could still be an indicator to teams that Kobayashi is the popular man in F1. Still, there’s been nothing definite or particularly reputable connecting Kamui to that seat, so, I’m afraid, it might just be a whole lot of wishful thinking.

Finally, Lotus always have their reserve driver, Jerome d’Ambrosio, but, even though he did reasonably when replacing Grosjean at Monza, he probably is not the level Lotus would be looking for.

EDIT: According to @GrandPrixDiary and numerous other sources, Italian journalists are spreading info about Lotus looking into signing GP2 champion Davide Valsecchi. It’s hard to see happening, but then again, he did test for them at this year’s YDT and top the timesheets against drivers in better machinery – could it be they’re that impressed? Doubt it.

Recent rumours suggest that Grosjean’s future could be announced either this or next week. And, honestly, it’s really hard to see Lotus dropping him at this point.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Kimi Raikkonen (confirmed) – Romain Grosjean

Force India – while there has been no official confirmation of sorts, it seems widely believed that Force India will retain Paul di Resta for 2013, even though the Brit’s perspectives have been looking a tad less bright since Mercedes announced Hamilton with di Resta also seemingly losing the teammate battle to Hulkenberg at the end of the year. Still, with Force India officials being super defensive about Paul’s season and sounding pretty sure they’re retaining him, I wouldn’t bet against this one.

As to his likeliest teammate, while the rumours have been suggesting that the usual suspects are being considered (Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, reserve driver Jules Bianchi), it seems that two people have been regarded as the prime candidates for the seat. The first one of them is Bruno Senna who, even after being expectedly laid off by Williams, still has plentiful backing and seemed to be the likeliest choice for the latest few weeks.

However, as of now, the tide has changed, and the vast majority of rumours now suggest that FI are very close to signing Adrian Sutil. It might seem far-fetched to some as Sutil still has that whole suspended sentence for inflicting bodily harm on Genii Capital’s Eric Lux, which would complicate quite a few things, not the least of which is him even getting access to some of the countries where F1 races in. At the same time, on every other level it makes perfect sense – Sutil has been with the team in its various iterations since the beginning of his F1 career in 2007, has always been decently quick and has especially impressed in 2010 – so much so, that it was suggested he was dropped only because FI already had an agreement with Hulkenberg in place.

With the announcement of FI’s lineup (or, rather, according to Autosport, di Resta’s partner) due this week, don’t be surprised if the squad ends up giving you a massive feeling of déjà vu.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Paul di Resta (almost confirmed) – Adrian Sutil

Caterham – it was relatively well-known that Charles Pic was a major candidate for a race seat in Caterham, however, to have him confirmed right in the middle of the final race weekend of the year was a bit of a shock. Still, in a sense, it made the situation a whole lot clearer – with Fernandes stepping down as the team principal and Abiteboul taking his place, it seems now that the fight for the second Caterham seat is a two-horse race.

Seemingly not a part of that race is Heikki Kovalainen – while many pundits suggested that Caterham saving 10th place in the 2012 World Constructors’ Championship could give Caterham enough money to keep him, it doesn’t seem that either the team or, really, Heikki are too keen on that idea. While Kovalainen has been fast enough in the three years it has spent with Caterham (or Team Lotus, if you like), 2012 was arguably his weakest season, as good qualifying performances were usually followed by races where things didn’t go so well, especially compared to his teammate. As such, the cost of keeping Heikki around might be too high for Caterham now, when there’s a plethora of drivers who can be generally as productive and bring money with themselves.

One of those drivers is, yet again, Bruno Senna, but rumours have stated his backers aren’t interesting in paying for a seat in one of the backmarker teams. Surely, Caterham could use the money he’d bring along, but it looks like Senna is counting on more.

With that, the list is largely narrowed down to two candidates. One of them is Giedo van der Garde, who spent 2012 as Caterham’s reserve driver and seems to have decent financial backing from the Dutch firm McGregor. A WSR winner, van der Garde has been in the whereabouts of an F1 seat for quite some time now but always came short. At 27 and after another decent year in GP2, this might be his final chance and, in this author’s opinion, he is one driver who’s been long overdue a proper F1 shot.

Who’s the other one? Why, the man who gave Caterham 10th in the standings at Interlagos – Vitaly Petrov. While mid-season things seemed to have went haywire for the Russian as he was noticeably struggling to come up with sponsorship for a 2013 seat, to the point where his manager had to pretty much postpone all negotiations with teams. However, lately, it’s all been looking up, as reputable sources (among which, Joe Saward) believe he might just have the backing to edge out the competition for the seat. Again, even disregarding the money, Petrov has looked mighty impressive in comparison to his teammate on Sundays, so it would make sense for the team to retain him. As of now, his manager is reportedly in advanced negotiations with Caterham and it seems likely that the outcome of that will decide the fate of the 2nd Caterham seat.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Charles Pic (confirmed) – Vitaly Petrov

Marussia – while there hasn’t technically been a confirmation that Timo Glock will be one of Marussia’s drivers for 2013, both the team and the press appear more sure of it than even in di Resta’s case. Glock is reportedly on a multi-year contract and it’s hard to see Marussia wanting to pay him off as he is obviously both quick and experienced and very nearly gave Marussia the much desired 10th place in the WCC with his excellent Singapore drive.

As for whoever the second driver is going to be, you’d have expected Max Chilton to be officially announced by now but, for whatever reason, he hasn’t been. Again, with no evident competition for the seat and Chilton reportedly bringing in lots and lots of money, it’d be very hard to imagine why not everything is clear at Marussia at this point. Alas, I’m afraid I’m at a loss here – the only possible reason for Chilton not to be signed, as this was something all of us were 99.9% certain of when he was announced as their reserve driver, is someone else showing up with even more money.

Some of the recent rumours point to Ma Qing Hua – and, while you’d imagine he can probably outbid the Brit, it would be one massive risk to take for Marussia if they want to take the fight to Caterham next year.

It is worth noting that Carlin, the GP2 team partnered with Marussia, have already announced their 2013 lineup, replacing their 2012 drivers Chilton and Rio Haryanto being replaced by Felipe Nasr and Jolyon Palmer. While Haryanto is expected to be signed by one of the top teams for the 2013 season of GP2, same can not be said for Chilton, who probably isn’t even considering that possibility – so, looking at those signs, you’d imagine his future to be F1-bound already.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Timo Glock (multi-year contract) – Max Chilton

Silly Season Aftershocks

Posted: October 24, 2012 by thevillainf1 in Insights

At this time each year when the silly season is dying down after the wildest rumors have circulated – usually for most things to remain the same – we start seeing the winners and losers of this year’s carousel. Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Mercedes was definitely the catalyst for the scrambling for seats which ensued down the grid. With one of the most coveted seats in F1 suddenly available it must have been a frenzy of driver managers at Woking, but the Telmex backing and Sergio Perez’s eye catching performances this year seem to have quickly swayed Martin Whitmarsh, taking the wind out of the sails of Lewis’ announcement with the surprising signing of the young Mexican.

Mclaren is taking another gamble, and the more I think of it I believe the team may have acted too rash in signing Perez. After all, with talents like Hulkenberg and Di Resta available (and probably looking for a way out of Force India) better options were available to them, and aside from PR purposes, there was no reason for MClaren to take such a rushed decision. It seems a bit rash to go for Perez, who – if you can look past the bling of the podiums – seems to be much rougher around the edges than the Force India pairing whose only limiting factor has been the car this year. Instead, it looks like the Hulk will go on to take Perez’s Sauber seat, in the hope the team can produce another great car for next year. This would then make Perez and Hulkenberg the big winners out of the reshuffle brought about by Hamilton’s move and Schumacher’s subsequent retirement..but who are the losers in this affair?

The biggest loser would seem Paul Di Resta. From the time he entered Formula One, he seemed destined to inherit Schumacher’s Mercedes seat once the latter finally chose to retire (again). Heavily backed by Mercedes throughout his career –winning a DTM title on the way – which reportedly  came with a good engine deal for his current team Force India, the Scotsman has now been left out to dry. With Rosberg already firmly entrenched and signed on a multi-year deal, Hamilton’s three year contract with the team effectively barred him from following what seemed to be his ‘natural’ line of progression.

Ditching Anthony Hamilton as his manager for Jenson Button’s management company may have come back to haunt him, as with daddy Hamilton’s links at Mclaren who knows what he could have concocted behind the scenes. As it was know, Mclaren were probably reluctant to have both their drivers in the same management stable, especially if one of those drivers co-owned the bloody thing. The future therefore looks pretty unclear for Paul. Within the space of a few months he saw a high chance of a Mercedes seat transform into a scramble to keep a Force India seat.

Not that the Indian team has any reason to sack him, but it’s reasonable to think that if it exists – though the existence of this has always been denied by both parties –  the engine deal on the back of Di Resta’s contract will no longer hold, as why would Merc continue to support a driver they do not seem to have a place for anyway in the next few years. With Hulk then taking the Sauber seat, there seems to be no other option higher up the grid for Di Resta but to stay put at FI and hope that the collapse of Vijay’s empire doesn’t bring down the F1 team as well. The team will need money next year, lots of it, and I doubt Mallya will be able to bring the funds needed when he’s not paying staff of his crashing airline. FI may be reduced to having to hire a  pay driver in the end, but Paul is probably too good to be ditched by FI.

Perez moving to Mclaren initially seemed to relieve some pressure on Kobayashi to retain his Sauber seat, and his podium in his home country surely encouraged this optimism. However it’s looking likely Sauber will replace Perez with the other Mexican from the Telmex stable, Esteban Gutierrez, so in fact the Perez move did not change much at all for Kobayashi. Even if Sauber decides it’s better for Gutierrez to mature another year in GP2, there is no shortage of candidates for the Sauber drives with their tidy 2012 car. With all the top drives already handed out a Sauber seat is just about the hottest property in F1 right now. Granted, Lotus have not confirmed their line-up for next year but Kimi will stay and unless Grosjean does some more dumb stuff he will also keep his seat. Williams also have not officially confirmed their drivers yet, but with Pastors 28 million, Bruno’s weak performances and Bottas’ obvious talent their 2013 line-up is the worst kept secret of the paddock. That leaves Kamui on the hot spot, with everybody and their momma scrambling to Monisha Kaltenborn’s trailer with their resumes.

As said, if we believe the rumor mill, Hulkenberg is pretty much a shoe in for one of the seats, and the likes of Alguersuari and Buemi have also been linked to a drive with the Swiss team. In a way, it looks like the decision on Kamui has already been made, as even during the high of the Suzuka podium, you could sense the unease between Kamui and the team, the way they looked at him on  the podium to me was with eyes full of guilt, not joy for your driver’s first podium. In a way Hamilton’s move gave him some breathing space by at least opening up the second Sauber seat as well, but I’m afraid it will be to no avail for him, unless his Suzuka heroics inspired some Japanese sponsors to start pouring some money into F1 again.

Two other drivers who may have seen some chances to move back up the grid  as a result of Hamilton’s move were Kovalainen and Glock. Both veterans must be getting pretty miserable now that for the third year running they are still nowhere near the back of the midfield. Especially Heikki, who till recently always seemed upbeat and motivated seems to have fallen out a bit with Caterham. Glock on the other hand is buoyed by the Marussia upturn in performance, now regularly challenging the Caterhams despite the Marussia’s lack of KERS. While Kovalainen was tentatively linked to a 1 year move to Ferrari those hopes disappeared when Maranello made the silly move of retaining Massa for another year and it doesn’t look like he is seriously in the running for any other rides.

The only uncertainty then remains over the Force India seats and the rest of the backmarkers. If Hulk indeed gets to Sauber, either Bianchi, Alguersuari or Buemi will get the 2nd seat next to Di Resta. Bianchi has a chance by virtue of his test driver role, and the fact that the past 2 FI testers have gone on to have race seats the year after, however I do not think he has much of a shot. After all, he became FI test driver as part of a deal with Ferrari – not by the teams own choice as before with Hulk and Di Resta – and his failure to win the WSR despite all his experience over rookie Frijns surely also speaks against him (though granted, Frijns did punt him off at the title decider, I’d go for the rookie challenging the vet any day). If Bianchi wanted an F1 seat he needed to dominate WSR like Grosjean did last year in GP2. He failed to do so, so I’m afraid his star has faded too much now despite his illustrious early single seater career.

Alguersuari is an interesting prospect to rejoin the grid, as his role as Pirelli test driver this year will surely make him a valuable asset in a formula where tyre management is increasingly important.  Equally Buemi has an outsider shot at a drive, as his in depth knowledge of Red Bull as their simulator monkey will surely carry some very valuable pieces of information on the genius of Neweys’ designs.

All these men are thus fighting for the last Force India and Sauber seat, with all that remains available the crumbs with the backmarkers. Despite an impressive rookie season for Charles Pic, Marussia seem to be ready to continue their sad practice of dumping rookies after 1 year as they find an even richer rookie for the next, with Max Chilton all but confirmed to be alongside Glock for 2013. Pic had undeniably had the best rookie season compared to his predecessors, pissing off Glock in the process so it would be wholly undeserved for him to lose his seat to some other rich kid. Then again, Pic himself doesn’t exactly come from a poor household either so who is he to complain. After all, Pic was the bstard who pushed out my compatriot D’Ambrosio.

Even HRT have some sense of clarity and direction this year, with De La Rosa near certain to stay on, but Khartikeyan’s seat will likely be sold to the highest bidder, which could be anybody. Dani Clos may have a shot, considering his role as test driver and the team’s obsession to be more Spanish than King Juan Carlos, but I don’t know if he brings the Tata kind of money Narain can put on the table and cold hard cash is still more important to the team than flagpants.

That leaves us with the Caterham. Petrov’s future in F1 is looking grim as the sponsor money has apparently dried up. While performing more decent than I’d have imagined pre-season, Heikki has still spanked him pretty bad and he hasn’t done anything to warrant another team getting excited about him as a future prospect. Petrov without the money is unlikely to get another year in F1. As said earlier, Kovalainen seems pissed at the team but has no other option but to stay with them and hope for the breakthrough next year. Van Der Garde has been getting some Friday seat time so if he brings enough cash he may wind up next to Heikki for 2013. If he doesn’t, his single seater career is likely to be over. Either way, the 2nd Caterham seat will come down to money again – especially now that Marussia have done a major coup by snatching 10th in the WCC from them, which will surely cost Caterham millions of dollars unless they get very luck with attrition in one of the final races.

The next few months will draw the lines and determine who will fight it out next year. Either at the top or fighting to get out of Q1.

The 2012 season may not even be decided yet, but I’m already excited for 2013!

Apparently we have seen a dramatic upturn in Massa’s form since the summer break, that is what Ferrari would like us to believe anyway as they announce their cowardly decision to retain the Brazilian for what will no doubt be another fruitless year shining Alonsos’ shoes in 2013. Sure he’s scored more points in those few races since the break than he did in the first 10 races of the season (not too hard to do since he barely scored any), but was it really on his own merit?

In Spa Massa came off what probably was a long summer break pondering what the hell it was he was doing wrong with the car, with his teammate proving week in week out that the car was capable of doing so much more than what Felipe got out of it. It got to the point that Felipe and his engineer judged qualifying three tenths behind Alonso was a good performance. That may be the case if Massa were a rookie, but a man having spent the last seven years driving for Ferrari? It all gets down to what you classify as a ‘good’ performance. If your standards are that low, it’s hard not to deliver good performances.

His average qualifying position for the season is 10.44, failing to make q3 on nine occasions where his teammate only dropped out twice and is averaging 6th on the grid. The average qualifying gap between Massa and Alonso is almost half a second at  4.306s. He has outqualified Alonso just once…when the latter had a failure during Monza qualifying.

But I hear you, apparently we should immediately discard all the suck dripping from those woeful statistics because he allegedly had a serious upturn in performance since the summer break. We all know a few good races should evidently erase two years of abject failure – at least that’s what it sounds like hearing some reactions on Massa’s contract extension.

I’ll readily admit I’m the first to call for some proper Felipe bashing, but to me his first truly good performance on merit came last weekend in Korea however the claims are that he’s been putting in strong weekends since Spa? Let’s debunk that foolish idea shall we?

Belgian Grand Prix

Quali: 14th

Race:5th

In Belgium Massa finished 5th, till then his highest position of the year 30 seconds behind a dominant Jenson Button and behind an impressive Hulkenberg in 4th. On the face of it, one may argue that indeed, there is an upturn in performance there as 5th place – while disappointing for the man driving the other Ferrari – seemed to be very satisfying for Felipe. But did he really get that place on merit? Did circumstances not massively help him obtain that mediocre result? It’s hard to argue against the idea that had Grosjean not been a first lap nutcase, Romain, Lewis, Kamui, Pastor  and Alonso would have all been comfortable ahead of Massa come the end of the race? That would translate this ‘good’ fifth place into another 0 points haul for Felipe baby.

After all, he had only qualified in a measly 14th place, just edging out the Toro Rossos by two tenths in a 1.49.1 while Alonso’s q2 time was again over half a second faster at 1.48.5.

Spa a ‘good’ performance? I’d rather say another mediocre one at best, embellished by the stupidity of one and misfortune of others.

Italian Grand Prix

Quali: 3rd

Race:4th

On to the next one, the Scuderia’s home turf in Monza, where Felipe almost made his return to the podium, scoring a season best 4th and had his best qualifying of the year to boot, beating Alonso for the first time. However as I said earlier, he only beat Alonso because of the failure that hit Nando’s car late in q2. After all, Alonso’s Q2 lap was faster than Felipe’s q3 lap. A dejected Alonso even claimed to have lost an easy pole to to the failure, suggesting he considered it easy to take at least 2.5 extra tenths out of Felipe’s time to beat pole man Hamilton. A good performance by Massa indeed, but smelling like it got a bit embellished again by having the fastest car on the day and an unlucky teammate. In the end, he qualified 4 tenths ahead of Alonso’s wounded Ferrari.

Granted he raced quite well in the first half of the race, but when Fernando came charging through the field – again demonstrating the great pace of the Ferrari at Monza, the team understandably ordered him to move over. While one cannot imagine what goes on in the mind of a racing driver when being told to let someone by for Felipe I imagine it to be a tad different, as he is so desperate to hang on to this seat there is not even a question about his role as number two in Ferrari. Fact remains, that while I’d have expected him to hang onto Alonso, to show he did have the pace, Felipe kept falling back to finish 9 seconds behind, unable to match Nando’s pace again. In the end he netted a fourth place (would have been 5th if not for Button’s retirement). While on the surface of it a good weekend indeed, having the fastest car and a teammate out of your way, arguably Felipe should have gotten more out of it.

Monza a ‘good’ weekend – Yes, but nothing exceptional.

Singapore Grand Prix

Quali:13th

Race:8th

Moving on then to Singapore, where the articles of Massa’s upturn in performance started gaining traction despite having very little to show for it. The weekend started off like  so many others have in Massa’s 2012 season: with a q 2 exit. He qualified 13th with a 1.48.3 some 8 tenths off Alonso’s 1.47.5 in another pitiful performance. This put him in the danger zone during the tricky turn 1 when he got a puncture after a collision with Petrov, dropping him all the way down the order. Somehow, his drive to 8th was hailed in some quarters as a great performance, conveniently forgetting that without the safety car working in his favor, Felipe would have made little progress. By the time Khartikeyan hit the wall and brought out the safety car on lap 38, he had not managed to get further than 16th place, and within the space of two laps jumped from 16th to 10th. Then he managed to overtake just two more cars to finish 8th.

How Singapore can be hailed as a somehow good performance is a bit beyond me, but then again, I’m a Felipe basher.

Japanese Grand Prix

Quali: 11th

Race:2nd

On to the land of the rising sun, where Massa finally scored his podium after a 2 year draught (during which his teammate has scored a ridiculous string of podiums and wins) and came home 2nd in another race where Alonso was hit by misfortune, another Lotus sending him out on the first corner. Felipe’s qualifying was lackluster again, falling out in q2 again as he would line up 11th on the grid with a 1.31.8, his customary half a second behind Alonso’s Q2 time of 1.31.8.

His race pace was good, but he was again – much like in Spa – gifted race position rather than that he had to pull of some great driving to get where he ended up. The first lap shenanigans with Grosjean, Webber, Rosberg and Alonso playing into his hands beautifully as the dice fell his way and he emerged in fourth as they ran up to the esses. Button and Kobayashi then hit traffic after their first stops which allowed Massa to jump them in the pits, to cruise home fairly comfortably to 2nd place. The stats will show a great weekend, but looking at what actually happened, Massa’s performance was massively helped by circumstances, not his own merit.

Korean Grand Prix:

Quali: 6th

Race:4th

Finally we get to last weeks’ Grand Prix in Korea where even I have a hard time to find fault. His qualifying was decent  compared to his other performances this year making it to q3 with a sixth place and a 1.37.8, ‘only’ three tenths behind Alonso’s 1.37.5.  However, looking a bit deeper the gap to his teammate was still unacceptably large, and he was the slowest of the drivers in top cars (bar Button who dropped out of q1 due to the yellow flags). The Korean race is where to me, we saw a great drive from Felipe for the first time this year. He had great pace throughout, was smart and aggressive off the starty but was still stuck behind Hamilton until Lewis hit problems with his car. Near the end of the race it became clear that for the first time in living memory, Felipe actually had better pace than Alonso, and was told to hold off by the team, without which he may have been able to catch Webber. Korea: mediocre quail, good race.

Let’s add all that up shall we and then I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the claimed upturn in performance has really been enough to warrant a new contract.

Qualifying:

–          Massa 1 – Alonso 4

–          Eliminated in q2 3/5

–          Average gap to Alonso: 3.4s

–          Average starting position: 9.4

 

Race:

–          Massa  2 – Alonso 3

–          Average finishing position: 4.6

His qualifying performance is barely improved compared to the season overall, and while he has seen an improvement in finishing positions, except for Korea and Monza he was helped a great deal by other drivers misfortune and the Singapore Safety car. If Massa were a rookie the statistics of this year would have led him to be butchered. The statistics of the past five races are not much to write home about either. Yet because Alonso does not tolerate a strong driver next to him, because Ferrari is comfortable squandering their chances in the WCC, beacuse Kubica damned near killed himself in a rally car and because frankly, Webber just did not want the job, Massa will still be in a Ferrari seat next year…but  let’s not fool ourselves thinking it was because of his ‘good’ performances of late.

Your Comprehensive Silly Season Guide: The Domino Effect

Posted: October 2, 2012 by Valentin Khorounzhiy in Insights

Lewis Hamilton’s out-of-nowhere move to Mercedes, a move nobody could have predicted before the beginning of the season, is undoubtedly a good thing for the sport. It provided us with a shake-up that the driver market desperately needed and, while one has to (and, surely, will) question Hamilton’s motives, it could be the career break Lewis needed.

That is not the point I’m aiming to make with these few paragraphs though as for me one of the best parts about this whole ordeal is that the outlandish move happened despite most people refusing to believe it until the very second it was announced.

You see, this, for me, was a perfect demonstration of what separates a casual fan from somebody who you could refer to using the terribly negative term “hardcore”. Casual fans aren’t worse by definition and, in fact, we obviously need more of them to keep the sport sustainable, but it has to be said for the thousands of people who went onto forums and said the story was complete tosh because Eddie Jordan broke it – they were completely and utterly wrong.

While EJ is a loveable (your mileage might and probably does vary) clown, you’d have to be very silly to not take what he said seriously. Three years ago, he called Michael’s return to F1 just like now he called his possible retirement. The guy’s around the paddock all the time, as good of an public inside source as you can get and works for BBC, who have a reputation they need to keep up. In fact, the most surprising thing about Hamilton’s move post EJ’s announcement was that it took them so long, which, as far as I know, could’ve had something to do with the overeagerness of Simon Fuller to sign with Mercedes.

It was reportedly going to be Wednesday last week when all hell was supposed to break loose, but the revelation came two days later, first reported by The Telegraph’s Tom Cary – first, he broke the news that Lewis finally made up his mind and then correctly called the, quite frankly, shocking Perez move. Enough of the preaching from me, though – the morale of the story is that there usually is a lot of interesting stuff in the rumour mill and with F1 it is likelier to be true than with any other sport I’ve ever watched. With that in mind, having read up on a ton of transfer rumours spurred by the big move, here’s my guide to the silly season for you – what could happen, what seems likely to happen, what’s outlandish but might just be crazy enough for 2012 to happen.

Sauber – Monisha Kalterborn might be saying that the team was going to try to retain Perez but it doesn’t seem they were banking much on it, as rumours that Sauber already have their lineup prepared appeared immediately after the big announcement.

Seemingly in pole position for the Sauber seat was Jaime Alguersuari. The Spaniard reported a couple of weeks ago that he will definitely be racing in 2013, confirmed that in his BBC column a few days ago and even gave SPEED one hell of a hint as to where he’ll be racing – look at teams from 5th to 7th in the constructors standings.  The teams in question are Mercedes, Sauber and Force India.
With Mercedes obviously out of the question and Force India the less likely option, that meant that Sauber was the obvious choice.

It does seem, however, with Jaime and whatever team is in question stalling that announcement, that all is not well. As suggested by Rob Sinfield (@GrandPrixDiary) in his F1 press roundup, Jaime reportedly told a Spanish mag (Marca, I think) that it was indeed Sauber he was planning to go to yet, without a definite contract, he cannot be particularly certain of that anymore.

A shame for Jaime, then, that there is certainly immense competition for the seat. Third in GP2 this year, Mexican Esteban Gutierrez is another prime candidate for the Sauber seat. He has been their test driver for two years and seems to have the Telmex sponsorship behind him. With Gutierrez obviously ready for F1 and Perez pulling out of Sauber, you’d imagine that the team has no choice. To avoid losing the sponsorship you would think they have to bring Gutierrez on board. And, of course, there have been rumours to that regard – so much so that, according to the info some of my pals who cover junior series found, the announcement might be made as early as Tuesday… oh wait that’s today. Sure hope this blog post doesn’t become obsolete the second I post it.

There are other juniors who probably have a mathematical chance of earning the seat. Enter Fabio Leimer and Robin Frijns. The former, a Swiss driver (see the connection?) already tested for Sauber last year in the YDT, while the latter is rumoured to be doing that this year. Leimer is certainly more mature than his Mexican competitor but seems to lack the raw pace which is sort of proven by him finishing seventh in GP2 this year. He’s had his share of atrocious luck, yes, but in his third year of GP2, I’d imagine more was expected of him.

Frijns is a much hotter property but it looks like the best he can look forward to is being a test driver. Weird, since, despite the fact that he’s been rising through the ranks fairly quickly, you wouldn’t call him unproven – the kid has been regularly beating the likes of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird in WSR and, coming into the last round, has a major shot at the title.

Still, while Sauber does have a sort of reputation for hiring young talent, they might just go with an older, more experienced quantity. And when you look for “experienced”, it doesn’t get much more of that than Michael Schumacher. With no retirement announcement from the German, you’d have to assume that he isn’t done just yet and, reportedly, his manager has been seen talking to Kaltenborn. Weak link, you’d say, but it sure seems the journos think otherwise.

Finally, a more recent development links one Nico Hulkenberg to Sauber. Can’t comment on that much besides saying that it’s a rumour, but news have come out of less. And, well, forgive me for forgetting, but they could always re-sign Kamui Kobayashi, although the chances of that are looking increasingly slim.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Jaime Alguersuari – Esteban Gutierrez

Force India – our own @TheVillainF1 suggests that the team might not even exist in its current form in 2013, but, for the sake of the article, let’s assume that it does.

With Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta losing out on the McLaren seat they both had major chances of getting, you’d expect them to stay with the team. A couple of problems with that, though. Firstly, Hulkenberg could always still get a promotion (more on that later) and the same seems true for Paul. Secondly, you have to wonder whether Force India are too keen on keeping di Resta anymore, now that his future Mercedes chances seem gone and you could be forgiven for thinking Mercedes probably don’t support him anymore.

So, say either of them vacates a spot. Who is it then? Jules Bianchi is the prime candidate, as suggested by Mallya himself (who said there’s no reason why they wouldn’t promote Bianchi like they promoted Nico a year earlier). Much of that might depend on whether Bianchi wins the WSR title or not (or it might not depend on that at all), but Jules in undeniably quick and certainly ready.

Obviously, don’t count Jaime Alguersuari out. It might still be Force India he was planning to return with and, if so, there shouldn’t be much of a problem with that, seeing how the team desperately wants money and Jaime could bring just that with CEPSA.

That’s pretty much it right there. Schumacher has not been linked, neither have any of the young guys, and, really, just to mention someone else – GP2 vice-champion Luiz Razia tested for them in the YDT. Might be him.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Nico Hulkenberg – Paul di Resta

WilliamsPastor Maldonado is probably going to be retained and, while you can’t be certain that Bruno Senna will be fired, his chances of staying aren’t looking that great. The team’s test driver, one Valtteri Bottas, is the prime candidate for a seat. The team, mostly Toto Wolff, seem really happy with him as he has been sublimely quick in the practice sessions that he got to run. And, at some point in the season, I’d almost be ready to call Bottas a certainty for that seat.

I still do but some, namely, Edd Straw, suggest that Williams could go with Michael Schumacher. It would make sense, certainly, from a marketing perspective as well as for team balance – Pastor, while insanely fast, is still very, very inexperienced and a massive crasher while Michael, while also a crasher, has lots of experience and could score consistent points. That looks like fantasy at the most, folks, but, hell, why not.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Pastor Maldonado – Valtteri Bottas

Ferrari – all of us know Fernando Alonso is staying, but for whoever his partner’s going to be in 2013, it’s a total randomfest. You’d expect Felipe Massa to have been dropped already, but it’s silly to deny he’s been strong recently, which is probably what’s getting Ferrari to consider keeping him. It’s just for another year, after all, as them letting Perez go suggests they have some mighty plans for the future. Perhaps a German driver for 2014? Eh, I dunno.

For now, there are two other main candidates. While other names have been extensively linked all season, according to BBC’s Andrew Benson, it is now squarely between Massa and the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. Benson stated on Twitter he’s been getting different reports on who is to land that seat, with one insider suggesting Massa is a certainty and another saying that it is likely to be Nico. Not sure how good the di Resta link is, but it certainly seems reasonable.

For everyone who’s been wanting Michael Schumacher to score a one-year deal with Ferrari – I wouldn’t call it too outlandish, but it seems terribly unlikely now. PA’s Ian Parkes suggested, rather hilariously, that a representative told him Ferrari were more likely to hire Ascari than Schumacher.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Fernando Alonso – Felipe Massa

Lotus – Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying he would want Michael Schumacher to join Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus. However, the final word might not be his, as Boullier has already suggested that they were really interested in retaining both of their drivers. Since there’s not much else where Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean could go (and why would they), this one is fairly obvious.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Kimi Raikkonen – Romain Grosjean

Scuderia Toro Rosso – alright, this has absolutely jack to do with Hamilton’s move, but I wanted to mention it anyway. Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are both likely to retain their seats even though their season has been fairly anonymous (due to the car, in my humble opinion). However, with the recent noise Antonio Felix da Costa has been making in the junior series, he could just score the drive. After finishing 3rd in GP3 against more than talented opposition, Felix da Costa focused on his part-time campaign in WSR and quite literally began kicking ass. His recent results against the likes of Frijns, Bianchi, Bird and Sorensen have been nothing short of incredible. As Will Buxton (F1 coverage for SPEED and GP2 + GP3 coverage for Sky) suggests, that might be enough for Marko to decide that Antonio should get a drive. Even if he doesn’t, I wouldn’t bet against him coming in midway through 2013.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Daniel Ricciardo – Jean-Eric Vergne

Caterham – seemingly nowhere to go for Heikki Kovalainen so he might just have to endure another season at Caterham. By the sounds of it, the team is very close to signing him for another year and could announce that soon.

The fun begins with the other seat, as Vitaly Petrov seemingly ran out of sponsorship money that led his manager to suspend all talks with other teams. Now, he could still find the sponsors, so I wouldn’t write him out, but it doesn’t sound good, going by international news as well as Russian news.

The drivers who are tipped to replace him are well-known. Firstly, Charles Pic would like to have a drive (although he’s also been linked to Sauber and Force India a long time ago, but after the shake-up, it’s all been quiet) as he might be looking at the possibility of being ousted by Marussia for 2013 (more on that later). Charles is quick, has sponsorship, has been very impressive in his first season in F1 and you’d imagine Caterham are seriously considering them.

Don’t count their test driver out, though. Giedo van der Garde also has sponsorship, is also quick and hasn’t run his share of FP1 sessions yet. While he’s getting just a bit old, he’s still seemingly very capable, which he has shown this year with a commendable 6th place in GP2 (an achievement considering the bad luck and the team’s inexperience). You’d imagine he’s the reason why Caterham hasn’t made moves – they want to see how Giedo fares in comparison to Kovalainen and they will get to observe that in the last races of 2012.

Among other rumoured Petrov replacements is, peculiarly, Sebastien Buemi. Not sure what cash he’d be bringing but, should Heikki leave, I’d imagine Caterham would look into signing the Swiss driver.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Heikki Kovalainen – Charles Pic

MarussiaTimo Glock seems to be staying. According to Glock, that is, although he does have a contract for 2013 and Marussia is in no position to buy things like that out. So, if anyone would be leaving, you’d expect it to be Charles Pic.

Now, why would Marussia not try to retain Pic who’s been very good for them this season. Because, according to the rumous, GP2’s Max Chilton (4th in his 3rd year) is going to bring them sponsorship deals that would put Maldonado to shame. While that might be hyperbole, Marussia seem keen on signing Max, who’s already running for their GP2 squad and has obvious ties to the team. The sponsorship would come from his father who is quite wealthy and runs a pretty noteable company – Aon. Whatever money that sort of partnership would bring to Marussia – I’d bet it would be more than Pic is bringing right now.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Timo Glock – Max Chilton

HRTPedro de la Rosa says he’s staying. Again, he’s on a deal for 2013 and HRT, even more so than Marussia, are in no position to argue. That leaves it between Narain Karthikeyan and their test driver, Dani Clos.

Both would be bringing money, although I imagine Narain has more than Clos to offer. However, Clos is Spanish and this, after all, is a team that wants to be distinctly Spanish.

Estimated likeliest pairing: Pedro de la Rosa – Dani Clos

Obviously, other drivers could come into the picture for most of these situations, but, as far as the rumours go right now, this is about it. Thanks for your attention and thank you so much, Lewis Hamilton, Simon Fuller, Ross Brawn and others. You made this fun we’re having possible.

Apart from the sources linked in the article, most other info I get has been coming from the Russian resource championat.com as their “auto” section is very nifty as a compilation of daily F1 rumours from non-international sources. Not exactly a plug – none (or, I guess, most) of you can read what they write, cause it’s all in Russian.

Lewis got Merced

Posted: October 1, 2012 by thevillainf1 in Insights

In the biggest driver move since since Alonso signed for Ferrari in 2010, Lewis Hamilton has finally jumped ship and signed for Mercedes. Some call him crazy for leaving the winning team which nurtured him since childhood, even more so because the Mclaren currently has the quickest car in the field and has in fact been so for the majority of this season. However despite having the overall fastest car, Hamilton finds himself 52 points down on Fernando Alonso.

While much could be said of Lewis’ lackluster 2011 season, he has been driving brilliantly all year, and but for a lapse of judgment in Valencia (he should have known by now that Pastor is a dangerous idiot and just let him go) he has been blisteringly fast and without mistakes on track. For the mistakes Hamilton has not made, the team have paid him back in full during this 2012 season. While Mclaren may now be boasting a remarkable pitstop record of 2.5 seconds, over the first 8 races they let both their drivers down massively on multiple occasions. Combined with some weak and baffling pitwall moves (Barcelona qualifying being the prime example), we should perhaps not be so surprised Hamilton chose to jump ship after all.

Hamilton won’t just remember the Monza win, he’ll also still be remembering those head shaking moments in the cockpit  vividly, when yet another wheelnut escaped his crew or the incredulity when he hears the news he’s got a perfect pole position snatched away from him due to the team’s inefficiencies. The F1 press and fans alike are often only looking at the previous race to see how ‘well’ somebody is doing, hell it is allowing people like Massa to claim some sort of credibility, as if 1 decent performance magically erases huge mistakes of the past. While Mclaren have clearly had the best car over the past 4 or five races, they have not capitalized on it, with mechanical failures (and a silly franco-swiss) taking out Hamilton and Button, meaning the team struggles to outscore Red Bull in their fight for the WCC.

Would Lewis have started looking elsewhere if the team had not let him down so massively in the first half of the championship, which by all accounts he should have been leading had it not been for failures through no fault of his own? Would Lewis have even considered the move to Mercedes if the team had not let him down so badly this year, and in a way, the two years before that?

I’m not too much into the ‘boy becoming a man’ story now circulating the web. Sure, it’s tempting to look elsewhere, and the Mclaren way of doing things surely does get suffocating at times, but Lewis is a purebread racer and if he was truly convinced Mclaren would offer him the best chance to add to his title tally he would have stayed with them. He may make an idiot out of himself at times with the bling lifestyle, but I will never believe that when in Formula 1, he would choose money or bling over getting championships. He is there to win, period.

That a guy of his caliber loses faith like that is a sign of serious worry for the team. Mclaren have built Hamilton race winners in every season he has competed in, not a mean feat I will admit, however it has delivered him only one title, and that is already 4 years ago now. Mclaren haven’t won a constructers title since ’98 (although, granted, the ’07 one should be considered theirs). They are race winners, but the championships prove very elusive for them…and it’s championships Hamilton is after, not ‘mere’ race wins. While I rate Perez highly, few would disagree when I say that Mclaren’s line-up for 2013 is weaker  than what they have now.

Since 2008, Mclaren have been outdone by first Brawn (and pretty much the rest of the field early on in that season), then the might of Newey’s bulls for 2 more years. This year, when finally Woking managed to build their drivers the class of the field from the bat in Melbourne, the team squandered away their driver’s chances. In that context, would you re-sign with Mclaren? Lewis is carrying the burden of three season’s worth of disappointments and perhaps this is what pushed him to Brawn, not the romantic boy coming of age story (which anyway, with Lewis at 27, would be a tad late for that now wouldn’t it).

This is not saying going to Mercedes wasn’t a gamble by Lewis, of course it is. While Mclaren’s recent record is not as rosy as they sometimes like to present it, compared to them Mercedes’ has been wholly subpar. One race victory since joining as a constructer in 2010 is simply not good enough for a team with their technical staff and resources. However Ross Brawn has been chipping away at it to make sure everything is in place for another glory run. Let’s take a look at the history there: in 1991 Brawn joined as technical director at Benetton, three years later, the team won the title with Michael Schumacher (granted, through a fair amount of cheating and underhand tactics, but still). Moving to Ferrari in 1996, four years later he started an unprecedented run of success with the Scuderia and Michael Schumacher, the guy who he has now dropped in favor of Lewis Hamilton. The more nostalgic among us could very well see a story coming full circle here.

Brawn, having taken 3 years to build up the Mercedes team into a contender, takes one of the most talented drivers on the grid – and also the most controversial –   to another run of title successes. Looking at it this way, Lewis’ move starts to look more rational all of a sudden. See it however you want, but Mercedes DID win a race this year – and arguably could have won 2 of them had Michael not run into the back of Senna in Barcelona robbing him of his Monaco pole, so the team has some winning pedigree. While the car may not have been there all season long, the innovative double DRS did show some innovation prowess from the team Brawn has now carefully selected to drive the team forward. Combine that with the engineering and financial might of commercial giant Mercedes and there is no reason why this team would not be able to build the best f1 car around….perhaps in its fourth year as a constructor?

Lots of commentators seem to view this as a move with an eye on 2014 and tend to dismiss 2013 as a building year but Lewis may not even have to wait for 2014 to start winning races – and why not championships – with Mercedes.This time last year, who would have expected the Sauber and Williams to be contenders for victories? I would not put it beyond Mercedes to build a winner at any given time. While Brawn will be the first one to admit the team has not done what was expected of them in 2012, there is no reason to think he could not hit that sweet spot next year already. However it is true that the sweeping regulation changes heavily centered on bringing in a new engine formula should indeed benefit manufacturer teams over clients like Mclaren.

Next year will be Mclaren’s first year as a simple customer team and while Mercedes is committed to bring equal equipment to their customers, the added gizmos for 2014 in the energy recovery systems could prove a crucial area of development Mercedes may decide to keep for itself, or only bring older spec to the customers. While the current V8s have been frozen for years, 2014 and beyond will see a renewed focus on engines as a performance differentiator, and when that happens you’ll always be in a better position to be backed directly by the manufacturer like Mercedes and Ferrari. Last time McLaren lost their long standing engine supplier it heralded a period of severe draught for the team as Honda pulled out in the early nineties. A blow from which the team never really did recover until…Mercedes came along.

In the light of all this, Lewis could very well have pulled off a masterstroke, and much like the legend he now replaces, build his legacy together with one of the marquee teams of Formula 1.

Time to get Silly as F1 takes a holiday

Posted: August 1, 2012 by thevillainf1 in F1 Addicts Anonymous, Insights

While the F1 crowd is off to a month long holiday (well the factories are only closed for two weeks) any F1 news will quickly start dying down untill all that is left by mid-August will be some unfounded rumors of this or that driver being ‘in the picture’ at an F1 team for a 2013 seat. August is where the silly season will really kick into gear as there is not other news to report.

As we are no different at backmarkers, and after some prodding on twitter, I figured I’d slap up a post with my dream grid for 2013, and invite you to do the same in the comments below. In fact, it will not be a total fantasy grid but more like a wishlist while keeping in mind the realistic possibilities for 2013. For instance, with Webber re-signing it is clear no Red Bull seat will be available next year.

I’ve tried writing this a few times before but it gets really hard when you try to factor in which young drivers you want to give a rookie season in F1, and which guys you really want to see move up to more competitive machinery. One thing which wasn’t very hard for me was to decide which driver I’d have pulling ovals in NASCAR or Lada racing instead of another F1 season.

True to the blog’s name, let’s start off with the backmarker teams first:

HRT:  

Alguersuari – Razia

The fledgling team clearly wants to go Spanish, and while Pedro is a likeable guy and his long experience as a test driver could be valuable, with an eye to the future Jaime is the obvious choice. He probably deserves a better seat but I don’t see many other options available to him. After a year on the sidelines he’s probably desperate enough to accept an HRT seat as well.  Pedro can even stay on as an advisor to help guide the project, but get him out of that seat. Alongside Jaime I’d put a young gun to get a taste of F1. It’s no gift to be handed such an uncompetitive car as a rookie, but guys like Pic at Marussia are showing that you can still impress in them if you can beat your teammate. However HRT needs money more than anything else so they’ll need a pay driver rookie, the likes of Razia would therefore be a good choice for them. I’m not particularly a fan of Razia but he’s got money and a decent amount of talent so would be a good choice for HRT. Narain should go spend his rupis elsewhere, while he’s not embarassing himself, aside from his nationality he brings nothing to F1.

Marussia:

Pic – Glock

A bit unspectacular to stick with the same line-up but I believe it is the best way forward for the team. Pic’s performances should really let him escape the fate of former Marussia rookies Di Grassi and D’Ambrosio of getting dumped after 1 year as the team found a bigger wallet to squeeze out despite more than decent seasons for both. However Pic is the one who has shown more than his predecessors that he has what it takes to handle the experienced Glock, regularly beating him already in the first half of the season. Of course one could wonder how motivated Glock still is driving a dog of a car for 3 years running, but that doesnt take away from Pic’s performances. On top of it Pic comes with a good sponsorship package so they would be foolish to let him go. Marussia should be happy to have a driver of Glock’s caliber and since he can’t really go anywhere else he’s kind of doomed to stay on and improve the team if he ever wants to get close to the points again.

Caterham:

Rossi – Kovalainen

I was a bit torn on what to do with Heikki as he does deserve another crack at a good ride, but on the other hand not many drivers can say they drove for Renault and Mclaren. granted the Renault wasn’t a great car but still relatively competitive, and at Mclaren well he just got destroyed by Hamilton. While Caterham has been disappointing this season, still not having made that definite step up into the midfield, they are doing all the right things, hiring the right people and setting up a good structure so they will get there eventually. Heikki has been an integral part of the team since the launch and therefore I’d like to see him take those first points for the team. With F1 set to attempt to conquer America (again), it would be a smart move to promote Alexander Rossi to an F1 race seat as well. While not setting WSR alight this year, he is doing well in a startup team there and has shown to possess some real talent. Therefore Petrov can go ice rink racing again.

Toro Rosso: 

Ricciardo – Vergne

I was kind of tempted to say Carlos Sainz jr should get that seat but as has been shown with Alguersuari, throwing a youngster in the deep end like that has a very high risk of burning them and he would be much better served with some more higher level junior series experience as he is still very young and has time on his side. While neither STR driver has particularly impressed me this year, the car they were handed was definitely not a gift either. Vergne however has been quite a big disappointment to me. I was expecting great things from him in F1 but so far he is mostly making a name for himself as a very bad qualifier. The move he pulled on Heikki in Valencia didn’t convince the world of the quality of his racing brain either. Perhaps the teams decision to run two rookies is not heliping as they seems to be going nowhere in terms of car development either as they have the Caterhams at their heels. I’d give both of them another year to settle in and start proving that they have what it takes to take Webbo’s seat when he finally retires. They have their work cut out for them..

Force India:

Paul Di Resta -James Calado

A bit of a punt on this one, with of course everybody knowing that Bianchi is the man waiting in the wings for Force India this year. While Jules can boast a good junior series record, he seems to have tailed off in the past 2 years, and he hasn’t been particularly impressive in the practice outings he’s had with the team. Binning it on his first winter test day wasn’t exactly endearing him to the team either I’m sure.  I’m venturing more into ‘wishful thinking’ territory here by appointing Calado to the Indian squad. Completely under my radar last year in GP3, He has been hugely impressive in his rookie season in GP2, and if not for some rotten luck would be higher up in the standings. We can fault Mallya for many things but one thing FI does is choose its drivers on merit alone, and in that case Calado’s lack of sponsor money becomes less crippling. The second surprise at the team is the disappearance of Hulkenberg and Di Resta staying put. IT will make more sense as we go up the grid as I’m not taking the Hulk out of F1… While Di Resta is probably in pole position for Schumacher’s Merc seat, after a tough first few races to adapt to F1 racing again, I believe the hulk will start showing Di Resta who’s boss…and he’s German. I like Di Resta and think he’s a very competent driver, but do also believe he’s a tad overrated by the british dominated f1 media.

Williams:

Bottas – Raikkonen

The line up they should have already had this year actually. I still cannot believe they passed up the opportunity to have Kimi in the Williams. It probably is good for Bottas though that he got a year to mature and get used to an F1 car with the Friday outings as the jump up from GP3 is huge. Pastor may be a Grand Prix winner now and has some raw speed ‘for sure’, but his behavior on and off track should really see him out of a seat. Very much wishful thinking for Raikkonen to switch from Lotus, especially after last years’ aborted negotiations so realistically it will be Pastor and Bottas in the car, with Bruno probably having spent his last season in an f1 car unless he can dramatically turn the tables on Pastor in the 2nd half of the season.

Sauber

Kobayashi – Gutierrez

Perez is destined for better things and with that second Ferrari seat becoming untenable for Massa there’s only one way to go for Sergio and that’s to Ferrari. Kobayashi is showing he definetely has the skill and bravery, but does seem to be lacking that last extra tenth which makes a guy like Perez a potential superstar and will leave him as ‘just’ a good driver. That said Kamui can put in some great drives in his day and his performances are good enough to warrant another year in the car. With Perez gone, Sauber will need to keep the pesos flowing and with Gutierrez already on their books he’s the only logical replacement for Perez. His performance on track in GP2 also warrant a proper stab at F1 for the youngster.

Mercedes:

Rosberg – Hulkenberg

The Nico Bergs will rule at Mercedes in 2013. Schumacher should head into retirement now that he’s had his comeback podium in Valencia and leave F1 to the youngsters. Even though I’m about to hit old fart territory myself as I’m heading into my thirties tomorrow,  this is not  sport for 44 year olds. As I hinted at above I believe the Hulk will get the final word in at FI in the showdown to see who gets to replace Schumi in the silver arrow. Di Resta may be a long standing Mercedes protege but another all German line-up would still be very enticing to Norbert Haug.

Lotus

Grosjean – Bianchi

This was a bit of a tricky one to decide with Raikkonen leaving to Williams but I found his stand in with Jules Bianchi. With Boullier not afraid to take a punt on discredited young drivers (though in Bianchi’s case it’s a bit of a stretch to call him discredited, his stock has just fallen a bit over the past 2 years) and he will do so again with Jules. Being French also helps. Bianchi will be pissed off by seeing Perez promoted to the Ferrari seat instead of himself as the former wonderboy of the scuderia untill that pesky Mexican came along, so he will turn his back on them and take this chance with both hands. As said he’s been quite disappointing the past 2 years, but has shown some serious talent in the past and should get a shot.

Ferrari:

Alonso – Perez

Well I don’t think I’ll be surprising anyone massively here. I’ve said it a million times in a thousand different ways: Felipe has to go. Goodbye Felipe baby, you came close, but no cigar. One would be pants on head retarded to do away with Alonso and as explained earlier Perez would be a good sidekick. He’s probably not going to challenge Alonso consistently just yet, but will be much more able than Felipe to take points off the competition and pick up the pieces if ever Alonso would trip up. Also with Felipe doing so horribly the pressure won’t be that high on him…it’s hard to do worse…

Mclaren

Button – Hamilton

Boring I know but at this point there are just no realistic alternatives. I was toying with the idea of shifting Lewis over to Williams and while it would be a huge challenge – in the same league as Schumachers’ move to Ferrari in 96 to rebuild a fledgling but once great team- I just don’t see it in Lewis character. The door to Red Bull is shut with Webber re-signing and Ferrari would never risk having two number ones in their cars and unsettle Alonso. Button could also be a dark horse for the Ferrari seat but I don’t see him signing up to the docile no.2 driver role as his time at Mclaren with Lewis has proven he doesn’t just roll over for his teammate.

Red Bull

Vettel – Webber

I would have preferred to see Webber retire and Hamilton move to give Red Bull a proper teammate war but alas the Aussia bastard has chosen to put another year in. Who can blame him ofcourse in a season where he’s back on form and still in with a shot at the title. Vettel is still married to Red Bull for the time being so has no reason just yet to move. Neither of the 2 youngsters at STR are showing they are ready for it, and Buemi will just be good for being the simulator slave for eternity.

All this makes it pretty boring at the top sadly enough.

 

Since the break is so agonizingly long we invite you all to join in on the fun and send in your wishes for the silly season so we have a bunch of fun stuff to read during the off-time and see where the backmarkersF1 crowd allegiances are.

Write up a post with your grid wishlist and send it to backmarkersf1 [at] yahoo [dot] com and we will post it up here! You can also send nude pictures in support of your application – in fact, it’s recommended –  because it’s Matt opening that mail account anyway so give it your best #BallsyBoullier.

 

How to Lose Championships: Mclaren in 2012

Posted: June 29, 2012 by thevillainf1 in Insights

After a very challenging 2011 which saw him frustrated by a dominant Red Bull and being left with a lot of soul searching to do having been involved in too many silly incidents, most of them of his own doing, 2012 saw a new Lewis Hamilton piling up the controlled, calculating drives which saw him propelled into the championship lead having at last taken a win in Montreal. It is fair to say that judging by his outstanding performances this year, Lewis could have been fairly comfortably leading the championship had the team been on par with their main rivals when it comes to the efficiency of the pitcrew and the people on the pitwall, yet time and again Mclaren have failed their driver this year.  But how many points did he actually lose over these first 8 races of the season?

In this article I intend to do some theorycrafting to determine just how many points Lewis has possibly lost due to his team’s errors this year. To make it a bit balanced I will give an optimistic and realistic alternative scenario as to the amount of points Lewis could have picked up if it was down to just the car and his driving. Both alternate scenarios presume smooth pitstops and decent strategies during the race and qualifying, but the optimist scenario is one where everything falls into place, while the realist one does take into account that after all, no F1 race ever goes completely according to plan.

1.       Australia

After a tense winter wait already in practice it was starting to show that the combined engineering might at Mclaren HQ had finally managed to build a car that was challenging for the win from the start of the season. It only got better when they locked out the front row, and while Button had jumped Hamilton into turn 1 as the race got underway, the team looked set to be cruising to a 1-2 finish to start the year with a bang. However a safety car brought on by Vitaly Petrov’s stricken Caterham saw Vettel jump Hamilton through the pits. We should not lay too much blame on the pitwall as nobody can predict when a safety car will happen, and it came at the worst possible moment for them, but had the team not taken the completely unnecessary risk of pulling both their cars in the pits on the same lap, Lewis would have kept his second place and may have even lept Button. The lead driver always gets priority in the pits of course so Button could have been the one hurt by the SC.  There was no need at all to stack their drivers, and while it went off without a hitch, this unnecessary risk taking did lead to the situation where Hamilton was bumped down to third. Had the team not done so, Lewis would have pitted a lap later and still come out ahead of Vettel; and it’s very possible he could have leapfrogged Button too.

He ended up third but the optimistic scenario says Lewis could have gotten the win due to Button pitting first and being hit by the SC– 25 points – 15 = 10 points lost . Realistic would say he’d have just stayed put in 2nd  – 18 -15 = 3 points lost

Number of errors:1 – unnecessary risk of double pitstop

2.       Malaysia

Having secured pole position again, Hamilton was determined not to get trumped by teammate Button again but this time the weathergods and the Mclaren pitcrew saw to it that again he could only convert the pole into another third place finish. Of course the changeable conditions in Malaysia makes this one a bit harder to theorycraft, but Hamilton was leading as he dived into the pits for his first stop of the day to slap on a set of intermediates only to come out behind Button and Alonso. A problem with the rear jack made for the first in what would sadly become a long series of botched pitstops for the Briton. His woes were not over for this Grand Prix, as later on in the race it became really farcical as one mechanic took ages to tear off a piece of  tape from the brake duct. In the end, Hamilton lost a total of 8.5 seconds in the pits to Alonso. Here’s what Hamilton had to say about it: “In general, we lost some time in the pit stops and I was pushed out of the fight somewhat” (source: F1Fanatic)

In reality he nabbed another 3rd place and 15 points. The optimist would argue he lost another win as he may have held off Alonso and Perez had he come out in front of them during his first pistop and not lost time during the second so 25 -15 = 10 points. The realist would say it did not change much as Alonso and Perez had great pace and he would’ve finished third anyway. No points lost.

Number of errors: 2 slow pitstops

3. China 

In China Nico Rosberg took a dominant maiden victory while Hamilton grabbed his third consecutive third place. It started bad for Hamilton as he was hit with a 5 place grid drop due to an unforeseen gearbox change. But these kinds of mechanical problems do happen in F1 so it would not be fair to chalk this one up to a team error. For once there were no problems for Hamilton’s pitstop although the team did fumble with Button, arguably robbing him of a chance to challenge Rosberg for the win. Anyway, since we are focusing on Hamilton here, no points lost for Lewis in his only team-error free race of the year so far.

Number of errors: 0 (for Hamilton)

4. Bahrain

The Bahrain GP saw the end of Lewis Hamilton’s streak of third place finishes as he only managed to pick up 4 points for an 8th place finish. He was hit by not one, but two pitstop failures, which according to F1 Fanatics’ calculations lost him 13.7 seconds over his three stops, a massive amount of time in this extremely tight field of 2012. Having qualified in p2 behind Vettel he stayed put until the first round of stops saw him parked for 10 seconds as the left rear was slow to come on. Shaking his head, Hamilton rejoined having lost many positions. But again, 1 mistake was not enough for the boys from Woking, as they managed to screw up a second time, again with the left rear which saw Hamilton condemned to drive a recovery race ith which he salvaged 8th place.

The optimist would say that he lost at least a third place finish there, as the pace of Vettel and Kimi is likely to have been too fast for the Mclaren – although it’s tough to tell what the ultimate pace would have been for him if he had no traffic to contend with but let’s stick to saying he could have grabbed another 3rd: 15-4 = 11 points lost. The realist would say that both Lotuses and Webber would have still gotten ahead of him for Lewis to finish 5th: 10-4= 6 points lost

Number of errors: 2 slow pitstops

5. Spain

Lewis had looked set to dominate proceedings all weekend, determined to wash away the disappointment of Bahrain with his first victory of the year. In qualifying he produced a flawless performance to grab the pole by a half a second margin over surprise p2 man Pastor Maldonado. However all would soon unravel after qualifying as it started to become clear that Mclaren had made a monumental blunder sending Hamilton out with too little fuel to make it back to the pits with the required 1 liter fuel sample. True to form, Hamilton drove a near perfect lap but was urged by his team to park the car at the start of his inlap. The utter stupidity of the Mclaren pitwall – and Sam Michael in particular – then started to emerge.

It all started with an amateur mistake by a Mclaren mechanic, who for a few seconds had set the fuel tank to drain rather than to fill as the team prepared for Q3. Already this is the kind of mistake that should just not happen in a team like Mcaren, but it is also a mistake which could have been easily corrected by a competent pitwall. As they sent him out, the team must have immediately noticed that if Lewis went for a hotlap, he would not make it back to the pits.

Instead of doing the only sensible thing, which is to call him back in and do what you can from p7 (which is where he would have qualified based on his first run in q3) with a brand new set of options to boot. In any case, it beats the disqualification he suffered which saw him demoted all the way down to the back of the grid and ruining any chance of a good result, on a track notoriously difficult to overtake on. In a very clumsy defense in front of the steward, Sam Michael tried to call ‘force majeure’ – but it was clear to all this could never fall under that category as the team could have at any time made sure Lewis did have the sample. Instead, they chose to risk it all for a pole that was bound to be taken from them anyway. To me, this was the most damning team failure of the year.

As it unfolded, Hamilton drove a remarkable race to salvage 4 points for 8th, but we all know he probably would have taken the win judging by his dominant form all weekend and superb race pace. Therefore, I’m putting both the optimist and the realist down to say he would have won the race. The car was quick and Hamilton was on fire. 25-4 = 21 points lost.

Number of errors: 1 humongous mistake during qualifying

6. Monaco

The Mclaren car disappointed around Monaco as it made for Lewis’ worst qualifying of the year (disregarding the Spanish DSQ of course) in fourth, which will always put you on the backfoot around the tight streets of Monte Carlo, and everything would depend on either the weather or the pitstops. He did catch a break with Schumacher getting his 5 place grid drop so Hamilton could start in 3rd. Since the expected showers only came just after the race had ended, the pitstops would be where the positions could be gained and lost, and judging by Mclaren’s pitcrew form in 2012 we should have know things were going to go wrong. First Fernando Alonso jumped him by staying out a lap longer and putting in a blistering inlap.

Had both cars pitted at the same time this would not have happened. It was the first error of the day, but in line with their recent performance, Mclaren needs to double up on the mistakes of course. Having had a difficult qualifying, Vettel was out of sync with the rest of the contenders as he ran a very long first stint on the primes. With the tyres holding up very well, he managed to put in the laptimes that brought him back into play. Meanwhile the top 5 were merrily cruising around Monaco as nobody saw a passing opportunity as they were pacing themselves to make sure the tyres lasted. Vettel then created the gap he needed to drop back into the fight for the lead and everybody could see it coming from a mile away that if Hamilton was not careful, Vettel would jump himcoming out of the pits.In a damning show of incompetence, apparently Hamilton’s pitwall failed to alert him of the danger Vettel posed to his position, so Lewis’ surprise to see the German slot just in front of him as he exited the pits must have been great. Had Hamilton known the threat surely he could have eked out the few tenths he needed to keep Vettel behind but if your pitwall lets you down like that it was amazing how calm Lewis remained at the end of the race as he finished in 5th.

The optimist would say he lost a third place in Monaco, as with a better pitstop strategy the team could have prevented both Alonso and Vettel to jump him. 15-10= 5 points lost. The realist might argue that judging by Alonso’s stunning inlap, and of course Mclaren not being able to predict when Alonso would come in as he was still behind them, that he would have lost third to Alonso anyway but kept 4th if the team had informed him of the Vettel threat: 12-10= 2 points lost.

Number of errors: 2 strategic mistakes

7. Canada

In Canada Hamilton finally took a well deserved victory, however this was despite another pitstop error which could have easily ruined yet another race for the Brit. As Hamilton was exiting his box, the mechanics on the left rear (yes, them again) did not get the old tyre out of the way in time as Lewis bumped into it and the car had a strange little jump as a consequence. With F1 cars such fragile machinery this could have caused serious problems – and it already cost Hamilton some time which led to him being jumped by Alonso in the stops. Nonetheless, Hamilton made a decisive move on Alonso as the latter was still trying to get his tyres up to temperature to regain the lead. After that, the team sort of lucked into the right strategy by Hamilton stopping twice as Vettel and Alonso tried to make a one stopper work. Showing the incompetence, while 10 laps before the engineer seemed fairly confident the others were also 2 stopping, he had to come back on the radio and say that they may do a one stop after all. An attacking drive by Hamilton made that he still won the race but it could have turned out very differently as the team’s strategy worked out more due to luck, Hamilton’s balls to the wall final stint rather than actual strategic skill on the pitwall..

Nonetheless, Hamilton won so we cannot say he lost any points in Montreal.

Number of errors: 1 pitstop delay

8. Valencia

Up until that penultimate lap in Valencia, Lewis’ seemed to have turned a corner to put the demons of 2011 aside and was absolutely blameless for all the points he had lost during the past races. Then of course came that run in with Maldonado, which as I have posted on the blog before , Lewis could have prevented had he raced a little bit smarter. The stewards agreed that Maldonado was to blame for the incident, yet Hamilton failing to recognize he was fighting for a lost cause could also be seen as Lewis’ first mistake of the year which has cost him valuable points, on top of the bucketload the team and the pit errors have cost him already this year. However as in my discussion about the incident during the live on twitter review, it is another mistake by the Mclaren pitcrew which put Hamilton in the position he was in, when he could have been out in front and far away from Maldonado had the pitcrew not messed up again.

With a clearly struggling Mclaren he managed to drag himself back up from p6 to p2 following another pitstop blunder in which the front jack failed and the pitcrew reacted a bit panicky before a spare jack was put in place. Vettel and Grosjean’s retirements of course helped, but one might argue that if he did not have to fight back from 6th, his tyres may have held up better until the end, as we know that even the slightest of extra stresses running in traffic put on the tyres can make the difference between falling off the cliff and cruising to the finish. With this in mind, the pitstop blunder may have cost him more than those who say he wouldn’t have held on to 2nd anyway as he hit the cliff about 3 laps from the finish.

Optimists would argue that if Mclaren had not fucked up and Lewis coming out ahead of Alonso at the safety car, he would have been able to nurse his tyres more and get to the finish on the podium at least, perhaps even the win – as Alonso was not really able to gap Hamilton until the latter hit the cliff, so their pace was fairly similar during the final stint. The optimists would say it cost him a possible win so 25-0= 25 points lost. The realistic scenario would say he probably would have struggled with the tyres and ended up in close proximity to Pastor with the result we all know. no loss.

Number of errors: 1 pitstop delay

 

Let’s round off then to see how Mclaren is losing Hamilton the championship this year:

Total points lost in the optimistic scenario: 10+10+0+11+21+5+0+25 = 82

This optimistic scenario presuming 0 mistakes from the team and the luck of the draw falling his way would have bagged Lewis Hamilton a massive additional 82 points. Added to his real tally of 88 that would mean a whopping 170 points total.

Total lost in the realistic scenario: 3+0+0+6+21+2+0+0 =32

While not as shocking as in the optimistic scenario, even if we look at things through a bit less rosy tinted glasses Hamilton is still down 32 points on what he could have had if Mclaren did not keep failing him time and again, bringing his total points haul up to 120, still a handy lead in the WDC.

Of course both thes scenario would see Lewis take points away from his competitors as well so his lead would be even more impressive than compared to Alonso’s current tally of 111.

Mclaren had the fastest car and fastest driver in the first part of the championship but utterly failed to capitalize on it, in part due to Pirelli’s unpredictability but for the most part  through their own mistakes. Now in Valencia Red Bull has shown that they might very well be the car to beat again, and instead of having a healthy margin to defend, Hamilton is just 3 points up on Vettel and 3 down on Webber. With almost a full win seperating him fron the championship lead.

In 8 races Mclaren have managed to rack up a total of 10 race-ruining mistakes for just one of their drivers which is completely unacceptable for such a top rated team. Even the backmarkers would not allow for such levels of incompetence. Finally sporting director Sam Michael is getting under some pressure for this seemingly never-ending series of mistakes, but so far Whitmarsh seems to have somehow been able to stay out of the eye of the storm.

However with contract negotiations coming up, I would bet that Hamilton has these things in mind when he goes back to the negotiating table and may well decide that while Mclaren have given him great opportunities in his career, they have probably also lost him more than any other team would have (and not only this year, remember China 2007…).

All in all Mclaren is giving a masterclass in how to squander your advantage and lose F1 championships. If Hamilton is to stand any chance to challenge for the WDC against a resurgent Alonso and Red Bull, the error in Valencia must be the very last one we see from Mclaren for the rest of the season…and who can honestly say they believe that will be the case?