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

Advertisements

What a race. The Brazilian GP had to be the single best sporting event ever performed in the history of humanity. It was seriously that good. In fact, just thinking about it now necessitates a change of pants. I brought Valentin and Marvin along to discuss this epic conclusion to the 2012 season, and the year in total. We give out some awards, talk shit about Grosjean, and all the other goodness you expect from us here. Time references will be here shortly, and be warned, this is another long cast.
Quick note, I did record myself playing Chivalry while we were doing this cast. It requires a lot less concentration and reaction time than a racing game, and it was easier to record live instead of trying to find the exact length of race required to fill the space. I’ll link it here, but just a note there is game audio in it as well, so if you just want to hear us talking, stick to the recordings I’ve attached below.
I want to thank all of you listeners and fans out there for making 2012 amazing. Between the show and Twitter banter/debates/fights over drivers you guys have made this something special. Roll on 2013. 🙂

Link to video w/ hot Chivalry action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFJiHdntHCc&feature=plcp

Normal Audio:

Download:

Time References:
0:00:00 - Intro
0:01:07 - Proper Intro
0:02:17 - Best Race Ever
0:09:00 - Vettel Magic (Red Bull)
    0:10:40 - Webber's Moments
    0:14:00 - Praise for Red Bull's Strategists
    0:15:40 - It Wasn't Yellow
    0:16:50 - Classification Confirmed
0:17:30 - Oh Dear, It's Happened Again (McLaren)
    0:19:20 - Where Lewis Drops Out, Jenson Picks Up
    0:21:00 - Could Lewis Have Won It?
    0:21:40 - McLaren Season Summary
0:23:00 - "Felipe Massa Is Back" (Ferrari)
    0:25:10 - Kimi Gets Funnier - Intermission
    0:25:50 - Stellar Fernando Not Enough
0:26:10 - Grosjean Crashed, Nobody Noticed (Lotus)
    0:27:50 - "They're Gonna Get Rid of Him" - "They Won't"
    0:28:00 - Kobayashi in for Grosjean - Matt's Dreams
    0:29:10 - Kimi's Different Race
0:31:00 - "Das Wonderboy of the British Isles?" (Force India)
    0:33:50 - Force India Season Summary - A Fitting End
0:34:50 - "A Team We Ignored" (Mercedes)
    0:35:20 - "P15 for Rosberg" - "Ooooh"
    0:37:30 - "We Kinda Forgot About Something Here" - Schumacher's Last Race
0:38:20 - Sarcasm for Kobayashi (Sauber)
    0:38:50 - First Lap Accidents
    0:39:30 - "A Strong Feeling FOM is Run by One Guy in a Room"
    0:40:50 - Kobayashi's Great Race?
    0:42:30 - "Those Japanese People on Twitter"
0:43:00 - First Lap Accident - Senna's Fault? (Williams)
    0:43:50 - "And Then Maldonado Dropped Out... At Some Point"
0:44:40 - Esteban Gutierrez "From Mexico" - Back to Sauber
0:47:30 - Jean-Eric Vergne, "P8, Good Job" (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
    0:48:10 - Toro Rosso Season Summary
0:49:30 - "Speaking of Caterham" (The Backmarkers)
    0:50:00 - Did Marussia Deserve P10?
    0:50:40 - "A Nice Battle at the Back"
    0:51:20 - Kudos to HRT
    0:54:30 - Heikki, Vitaly or Giedo?
0:55:50 - Season Review: The Races
0:59:00 - Season Review: The Teams
1:02:50 - Season Review: Awards Ceremony
    1:03:10 - The Gurke of the Year ("Worst" Driver of the Year?)
    1:07:30 - The Most Dissapointing Team of the Year
    1:14:20 - Rookie of the Year
    1:15:20 - Driver Who Improved Most During the Year
    1:16:50 - Team That Improved Most During the Year
    1:19:10 - Best Race Apart From Brazil
    1:21:00 - The Drive of the Year
    1:23:25 - Funniest Moment of the Year (and Second Funniest Moment of the Year)
    1:24:35 - Driver of the Year
    1:33:00 - Best Driver on Social Media
1:34:30 - Expectations for 2013
    1:37:40 - What's in Store for Lewis?
    1:41:40 - Who Are Going to Take the Remaining Seats?
    1:51:40 - New Teams to Join F1?
1:53:00 - Outro

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.

Predictions for the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix – Suzuka

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Valentin Khorounzhiy in 2012 Predictions

Hello, chaps, me again with the predictions post as both of the site’s founders were sadly unavailable… actually, no, I just beat them to it. This time it’s Suzuka in what sounds like sunny Japan, first Grand Prix after the massive amount of announcements over the previous week – Hamilton to Mercedes, Perez to McLaren, Schumacher to retire – you know it.

FP1 and FP2 have outlined mostly trends that seemed fairly predictable pre-weekend but also some peculiar ones. It seems fairly obvious that the main tossup in the “quickest car” category will be between McLaren and Red Bull. Button was quickest in FP1 ahead of Lewis while, in FP2, it was Mark who shined… also ahead of Lewis.

On the other side of the spectrum, Lotus and Ferrari looked okay-ish, with their usual faster drivers seemingly mixing it up with the leaders in FP2. However, both might have to expect a difficult weekend ahead of them – Ferrari is still going through the “windtunnel crisis” while Lotus is still reluctant to run the DDRS, probably because it doesn’t seem to work particularly well. Kimi’s no-run in FP2 after his KERS gave out is also more than a bit worrying.

Mercedes is looking decent even though the entirety of FP2 has pretty much gone to waste with Schumi binning his car and Rosberg doing a minimal amount of laps. Sauber, despite the hype, is seemingly nowhere, while Force India are looking pretty confident. With Williams, it seems really hard to tell, while the remaining four teams seem to be occupying their usual positions.

Got a bit distracted there with the massive amount of rumours going on on Twitter. I have a feeling those might amount to something even before I post this. 😀

Onto the predictions. In qualifying, I fully expect there to be an accident of sorts, as FP sessions so far have been… eventful. Hopefully I am proven wrong.

Q3 should be a fun one, as lots of cars appear competitive. I personally expect to see both McLaren drivers, both Red Bull drivers, both Mercedes drivers, Alonso, Romain, Pastor and Nico to make it, but you never know. Your guess is obviously as good as mine.
For pole, I’d imagine it’s going to be Webber as this seems to be the track that suits him relatively well. Lewis alongside him on front row with, say, Romain in third. The three after that I’d expect to be spread out between Alonso, Vettel and Button. Shame about Jenson’s five-grid drop then.

Sources on Twitter start overwhelmingly suggesting that Hulkenberg will go to Ferrari and Alguersuari will go to Force India. I know a couple of people who will be overjoyed with that. Shame, really, I got a bit used to the idea of seeing Massa race in F1 for another year.

At this point, it is a touch hard to write up approximate expectations for the race, as team tactics are sure to come into play. If I expect Mark to outqualify Seb (and I do), then I might have to account for the fact that they will either ask him to move aside or favour Seb with strategy. Still, if Mark does get on pole, I don’t think he’s likely to lose that in the first lap of the race and, well, spoilers, I have him down as the winner of the race. In second, Grosjean, cause why not – the car seems reasonably faster than in Singapore and maybe Lotus will finally have at least part of a decent weekend. In third, Seb would mirror his finish last year that secured him the title.

Cucumber of the race – honestly don’t know. Something in my mind suggests it might be Paul di Resta – he didn’t exactly have the best week in terms of contracts and opportunities and already crashed in practice. Hopefully not.

Qualifying: 1. Webber 2. Hamilton 3. Grosjean

Race: 1. Webber 2. Grosjean 3. Vettel

 

So I went full GURKE mode and completely forgot to edit/upload Episode 15 in time for the Singapore GP.  To make up for that, Valentine and I decided to do this quick cast while playing Dirt 3! We discussed Hamilton’s move to Mercedes, the effects that has on the rest of the field, and how we think Silly Season 2013 will work out. We are also officially opening a BackmarkersF1 Dirt 3 championship for those with Dirt 3 on the PC. Join Valentin, Marvin, and myself in some racing insanity and whatnot and… yeah… fun. We’ll start this sometime in the near future.
Speaking of YouTube based stuff, expect to see an increase in the number of videos produced. Bortz and I are about to (re)-launch our co-op championship, and full race footage as well as commentated highlights will be posted. What I’m thinking of doing is posting raw video from both our perspectives, and having a highlight reel with commentary from the various members of the B5. Hopefully this will lead to a more regular content stream instead of this sporatic nonsense we have going on right now.

And fans of the podcast proper don’t worry, we aren’t abandoning the podcast proper. These YouTube casts are just for things that don’t warrant a full podcast like driver announcements and random off-track stuff. Race recaps and stuff will all still get full casts.
So enough yammering. Sit back, relax, and enjoy watching Valentin kick my ass in Episode 16!

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.

Predictions for the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix

Posted: September 21, 2012 by thevillainf1 in 2012 Predictions

Since this international cartel of mudbutts from the US, Germany and Russia have made a dastardly attempt at a coup on our beloved BackmarkersF1 I have come back with furious as I returned to my Nigerian lair. I would have expected an underhand coup from the Russians, that goes without saying it is just in their nature. Hell, as a Belgian I still watch the Germans with a leery eye as well, but to have the Americans betray me like that – our partners from the first hour on the podcast-  was a tough hit to take. Therefore with a vengeful counter-coup I take the reins again with this predictions post for the Singapore GP.

We’ve seen the Mclaren’s finally come good on their pre- and early season form to take three successive wins, however always with a disappointing no-score for the other car which does not massively help them in the WDC. Nonetheless after having taken about 8 races to get on top of their monumentally bad pitstops, Mclaren do seem to have found something special cranking out record pitstops at great consistency, with little to no major fuckups. With Hungary, Spa and Monza the car has been strong on three different types of circuit and there is no obvious reason to believe they will not be strong here. In Hungary Lewis was supreme, at Spa Jenson was untouchable and similarly in Monza Hamilton cruised to an early victory, the team only being robbed of a 1-2 by a mechanical failure.

Ferrari was strong – as they always are – in Monza and Nando drove another great race to stay firmly in the driver’s seat of this WDC. He’s also somewhat of a beast around Singapore (that is, when his teammate isn’t ordered to crash his guy by a middle aged fat bloke who wears mankinis) and could very well seal the title right here if the cards fall into place. Especially if the race is wet, with the Ferrari seemingly the best in the field in those conditions (well, Alonso is, Felipe may go into another ballerina spinfest). Qualifying will be tight but Hamilton in beast mode with the best car on the grid will not be stopped, while Vettel will also have a point to prove in a fun shootout in q3 seeing him fall just short and saving us from the finger.

Nonetheless I’m going to be predicting what we all have predicted at one point or another this season: Raikkonnen will win it in a titanic scrap with Hamilton which sees the Briton off into the barriers and another WDC campaign shattered. Alonso will always be there to pick up the pieces, but judging from their pace in FP1 and 2, the Bulls should not be discounted either. Nonetheless I don’t think they will fully see it through to the race.

Indeed, the Kimster is going to do it, nab his comeback win and with it launch his last ditch assault on the title (which Alonso in the end will never let slip).  Hamilton will crash trying an outrageous move on the Fin, sulk, and sign that Mercedes contract just to have a change of scenery. I wonder if he has talked to Button about this, he should have some interesting experiences to share from his Benneton-Williams-BAR days and contract negotiations…

Speaking of the Mercs, they  will come up short despite their much vaunted developments, while Schumi will shock the grid by wearing glasses because he can’t see well anymore in the dark.

Further in the back, with his last gazprom dough evaporating, Petrov will try to claim the spotlight in a desperate bid to hang on to a seat (but srsly, who’d want a Petrov but then without the money)  and make an idiot of himself by ramming off his teammate fighting for 10th, because the race will be so full of attrition that Caterham will be getting that point at last. Glock will also throw another hissyfit at Pic and reports will emerge that Pci’s funny walk on Sunday evening in the paddock were due to Timo’s boot being firmly lodged up the youngsters’ ass. Max Chilton will be watching it awestruck (and with clenched buttcheeks)

Back to the midfield the Force Indias are looking good and the showdown between Di Resta and the Hulk can continue, while I do not see the Sauber’s doing as well this time around. Williams has two crap drivers and I’m done even considering them (unless it’s for cucumber of the week). Lastly,  Grosjean will be responsible for much of the attrition giving Kovi a point by doing something stupid again despite the claims of having matured thanks to the ban. Jerome, get ready!

To sum up my predictions:

Quali:

  1. Hamilton
  2. Vettel
  3. Raikkonen

 

Race:

  1. Raikkonen
  2. Vettel
  3. Alonso

 

Cucumber: Petrov (almost tied with Grosjean)

Predictions for the 2012 Italian Grand Prix – Monza

Posted: September 7, 2012 by Valentin Khorounzhiy in 2012 Predictions
Tags:

Hello there. If you looked at the column that says “Posted… by” up there under the title of this post, you probably figured this isn’t Matt or Steve posting this. But, since I now happen to have privileges that allow me to write articles for this wondefully-managed (thanks, Matt) blog, and since Matt is now full-on in sleep mode, I figured I’m gonna write up the usual predictions post since this is the kinda thing that we do here.

Being honest here – I don’t remember how last year’s race went, so I’m sure Matt or Steve could edit that in for me. However, the classification leads me to believe that Vettel won it, which means it was probably no different to 75% of the races last year in everything but the first corner. So, in my predictions, I will have to draw any semblance of reason I decide to put in them from Spa and FP1 which just unfolded before my eyes. And, let me tell you, that will be no easy task.

Since Spa happened less than a week ago and is in many ways similar to Monza, you’d expect the previous race to serve as a benchmark for this one. As such, you can easily observe that, say, Sauber is obviously on the rise, their summer break upgrades (?) having worked out quite nicely for them even if all of that easily amounted to nothing in the actual race due to factors we’ve talked enough about. McLaren, meanwhile, is looking lovely but mostly that should be attributed to Jenson Button who produced a stunning race and could be on the verge of repeating the fantastic second half of the season that he had last year. Meanwhile, both Red Bull and, to a certain extent, Ferrari looked fairly stagnant despite Vettel’s podium. The Enstone team’s weekend seemed to be undone by car problems, uncertainty over the DDRS and… other things, while Mercedes just looked appaling in every way.

Going by that alone, my original prediction for qualifying was Vettel – Button – Hamilton, with the podium for the race being Vettel – Button – Alonso. However, after FP1, it seems that I will have to do a Romney and change my stance on things in record short time.

Qualifying

So, I’m not sure when that happened, but Mercedes are suddenly looking good again, possibly due to their drivers’ morale boosted by the rumours of being replaced by Lewis Hamilton. As such, I’d expect both of them to get the car firmly into Q3 but with the current tactical standards in the house of Brawn that’s about as far as they’ll go. Hamilton, who I originally expected to place third in qualifying, doesn’t look like he’ll be able to do it to me anymore, because during this week he’s been put under a lot of stress and you know how that works out, right? Both Red Bulls, meanwhile, look pretty bad and with Vettel saying that nobody there knows where the qualifying pace is, you know even his abilities probably won’t be enough to put that car on front row. Lotus doesn’t look too hot as well, having had to push their DDRS thingie until 2027 or something (actually until the Japanese Grand Prix) and… other factors, their weekend will probably be a recovery one – as many points as possible. And, honestly, you can’t really tell what to expect from all the midfielders – Sauber and Force India are where they usually are in FP1, while no Williams predictions will ever be justified by anything.

So, going by that, let’s say we’re on for a repeat pole from Jenson, who’s looking very strong and confident indeed and certainly has the car to accomplish just that. I reckon that Alonso might just put that car into second, because he is Fernando and that’s how he does things. Third – yeah, I’ll go with Seb. Car doesn’t look good, but he doesn’t need that sometimes. I also expect to see Kimi, Lewis, Hulk, the two Mercs, Sergio and Pastor in Q3, although I’d hope Mark can get in there as well.

Race

The first back-to-back victory of the season is yet to come and how fitting it would be if in 2012 it would be a driver virtually out of contention for the championship. However, Jenson could do it and I would be massively happy to see him do it on Sunday. However, it might prove not quite so easy this time, with Alonso apparently being renowned for his Monza starts and the car looking fairly good.

Even so, throughout the race, I’d expect the Red Bull strategists to prevail and put Vettel ahead of Alonso, where he’d hold up the Spaniard for the majority of the race. That might be a bit of a long shot, but with this being a track that’s been kind to Vettel over the years, it could happen. As I predicted safety cars, I’d also expect to see both Lotus drivers do well, as Kimi is really consistent when it comes to staying out of trouble and I just generally have faith in Jerome. Mercedes should be there, but you just never know with their tyres, while Sauber look like their Spa form was just a one-off. Even still, Monza is not too different looking (and in layout) from Montreal, so I’d expect a solid race from Perez, barring any accidents. I’d also expect another solid performance from Hulkenberg, even though Paul di Resta should be a lot closer this time.

Who do I give the “Cucumber Award for Sporting Excellence” to? Well, honestly, even though I imagine Pastor to have one hell of a qualifying yet again, you do imagine he’ll have to start in the midfield and fight his way up, which is usually recipe for disaster. Yes, him crashing in Monza would be some kind of a statistical anomaly, but who else are you gonna bet on?

Post yours below, as always, you amateurs.

Qualifying:

1 – Jenson Button

2 – Fernando Alonso

3 – Sebastian Vettel

Race:

1 – Jenson Button

2 – Sebastian Vettel

3 – Fernando Alonso

Cucumber: Pastor Maldonado