British GP Silverstone 2010

British GP Silverstone 2010
Hamilton gets pushed to the second row ready to start the British GP

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

F1 (Not So) Silly Season 2011

As the teams left Budapest to enjoy a four week summer break, it was notable how little speculation there had been about which deals may be on the horizon concerning next season’s driver line-ups. The reason that this year is different is pretty simple really, the teams at the sharp end of the pit lane have, by and large, all got their personnel signed up for next term, whilst the teams further down have got more pressing issues on their minds, namely trying to secure their budgets for 2011, so that they can start to plan for which power units to deploy in their cars and which nuts they want to hold the steering wheel. These teams though, are where the majority of the intrigue will play out in the driver market, once the more pressing issues have been dealt with, not least who will pilot the entries of the new team (whoever that may be) that will be announced sometime around the resumption of the season at Spa.
Here we take a look at each team, considering announcements that have already been made, contracts which are in the public domain and what each of their options include for 2011 (we will probably throw in the odd bit of wild speculation and gossip for good measure).
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
With both drivers already signed on deals that will keep them at the Woking based squad until the end of 2012, along with an ongoing deal for Mercedes-Benz HWA engines, it only leaves testing duties to be decided, which will likely continue to be performed by Gary Paffett, possibly rejoined by Pedro de la Rosa, should he find himself without a drive.
Mercedes GP Petronas
Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg both have Mercedes deals for 2011 and beyond, and while many people have plenty to say about the merits of Schumacher’s comeback, the man himself has recently reiterated his desire to continue next season. Regardless of the critics, his employers are highly unlikely to try and push him out after the resources used to acquire his services. Nick Heidfeld is also on the books and may be farmed out to a Mercedes customer team.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull were in the fortunate position of having tied Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to deals for 2011 before the recent implosion, with rumours abound at the time that Ferrari were ready to offer the Australian a drive next season. Renault will be retained as an engine supplier, with reliability issues seemingly resolved, Red Bull seem to be content to favour the driveability of the unit at the expense of the power of some of its peers.
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
Felipe Massa has been retained to partner (or support) Fernando Alonso through until the end of the 2012 season.
AT&T Williams
With Rubens Barrichello’s 2011 contract just waiting to be signed and Nico Hulkenberg almost certain to be retained, the team should continue to improve as they grow accustomed to each other and the Cosworth engine.
Renault F1 Team
Having secured the services of arguably the most impressive performer of all in 2010, Robert Kubica, for another two years, Renault look as though they have been creating an exit path to send Vitaly Petrov down at the end of this season, although he has so far delivered on the goals which he has been set. Should the second seat become available, the speculation around who will occupy it will be huge, as it is already, due to it being probably the only available seat in a car which could win races. Timo Glock, Heikki Kovalainen (as part of a Renault engine deal for Lotus), Adrian Sutil and Heidfeld have all been linked, whilst Kimi Raikkonen (staying in WRC), Sebastien Buemi and Mark Webber (signed new deals) have ruled themselves out. The team are also looking to add a title sponsor for next season, with Mastercard seemingly best placed to do a deal.
Force India F1
Adrian Sutil is yet to pen a deal for 2011, and both the crash prone German and Italian team mate Tonio Liuzzi (who has a deal for 2011, but will be lucky to last until the end of this season) may be seen to have taken the squad as far as they can. Paul di Resta should have proved himself quick enough in Friday outings this term to be tried in ’11, and should Sutil also leave, expect Heidfeld to be linked, whilst Karun Chandhok should not be discounted, despite Vijay Mallya turning down previous opportunities to run his compatriot.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Both Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have been announced for 2011, and the deal to run Ferrari engines again has been agreed, with the Faenza based outfit also running the Ferrari KERS system, due to its integration within the unit.
Sauber Motorsport
Neither of the Sauber drivers have yet signed a deal for 2011, but while Kamui Kobayashi’s recent performances must make him a likely candidate to stay on, they must make it harder to justify keeping Pedro de la Rosa for another season especially due to the fact that the team is going to need either fresh investors or well backed drivers to plug the gap which will be created by the withdrawal of BMW’s financial support. Drivers linked with most of the seats who require this sort of backing include Telmex backed Mexicans Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez and state oil company (PDVSA) backed Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who incidentally also recently commented that controversial President Hugo Chavez, “is pushing” to get him an F1 seat.
Lotus Racing
With both of its experienced drivers, Jarno Trulli and Kovalainen signed for 2011, Lotus seem to be quite settled. However, if they wish to get out of their Cosworth contract and move to a Renault supply as rumoured, it has been suggested they may be forced to swap Kovalainen for Petrov as part of such a deal.
Hispania Racing Team
Plenty of uncertainty surrounding their existence in 2011, let alone their drivers. HRT will need to build their own chassis and judging by the way they have shuffled their drivers of late to accommodate the slow but well financed Sakon Yamamoto, trouble is on the horizon. The team will need to secure some major financial backing if it is to have any freedom to choose to stick with Bruno Senna and/or Chandhok. If they were really serious about car development, giving tester Christian Klien a chance in the car could only be a positive thing.
Virgin Racing
Virgin will be hoping that Timo Glock honours the terms of his contract which lasts until at least the end of 2011, although Lucas di Grassi is believed not to be signed for next year. Virgin haven’t thrown money around in their maiden season, but that is due to the team’s philosophy, by the same token they are not in a position to have to sign pay drivers, and may choose to give di Grassi the chance to build on his experience.
We will have to see how it plays out over the coming weeks and months, I would be grateful for anyone to leave any comments or suggestions about omissions or rumours that I haven’t picked up on – or even if you just think I’m wrong. A piece will follow later in the week on the subject of the new teams bidding to get an entry for 2011, their possible line-ups and what their chances of survival will be in the cut throat world of F1.
Be sure to follow me on twitter:@daimccann and @ifitsgot4wheels.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Anyone else think this stinks? I thought so.

If you cut through the bluster and navigate your way around the blasé attitudes of the battle hardened members of Formula One’s travelling circus, the underlying feeling among the stakeholders of the sport must be that events at Hockenheim on Sunday marked a dark day for its integrity.

Let’s disregard the fact that I have a vested interest owing to the fact that I attempt to make a living from writing about it. I am one of the millions of people around the world who share a passion for Formula One, and the question I have found myself agonising over in the wake of Ferrari’s antics is this: Does this passion outweigh all feelings of what is right and wrong? Does it blinker me in such a way that I shrug my shoulders, seemingly in unison with many paddock insiders, and accept that this is how it goes? The short answer is that no, it doesn’t.

I was annoyed when I realised that Ferrari were engineering a situation that would lead to a manufactured change of leader. I cringed while Fernando Alonso, Stefano Domenicali and the team’s press office treated the entire F1 world like fools with lie after pathetic lie as they squirmed in front of the media. These feelings were to be expected after what had happened, what I didn’t expect, however, was having to watch respected experts from the paddock, notable members of the racing fraternity, attempt to justify it. Yes, they said, the team had contravened article 39.1 of the sporting regulations by instigating team orders that interfered with the result, but it didn’t really matter. This is just the way it goes in the “business” that is modern Formula One. This ridiculous attempt to justify what in any other sport in the world would be called match fixing, was the aspect that disturbed me the most.

The BBC received a number of scathing emails from various members of the public on its F1 forum. David Coulthard, a man who I hold in the highest regard for his usual no nonsense attitude in the face of his excitable colleagues, brushed off the concerns of the correspondents by advising us not to get “all tabloid” about a situation that “has gone on for years”. Was he being serious? The overwhelming majority of fans of the sport felt that they had been cheated, the fans who not only pay the wages of the pundits, but also of every other person involved at any level of the sport. These people, if they felt anything like I did, felt as though Ferrari had violated their rights as fans to watch a fair battle between two evenly matched drivers. The viewers wanted the people who are paid to enhance their viewing experience to listen to these concerns and take note. What they got instead was a verbal pat on the head from a bunch of analysts acting as if they were telling their younger siblings that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. As for the ridiculous assertion that it is ok because it has been going on for years, so have assault and fraud, and yet I don’t ever recall ‘it’s been going on for years’ being used as a successful defence for either.

Somewhere else on Sunday, I was listening to another expert explaining the pressure that was placed on a modern day Grand Prix team to attract sponsorship. This was being cited as a justification for the Scuderia's actions, a statement which was both factually correct and ridiculous in equal measure. Of course, teams need to raise huge sums from sponsors to keep themselves afloat, but a “modern” company places huge emphasis on corporate responsibility, and aligning any brand with a team that have been labelled cheats, whether rightly or wrongly, has become a huge turn off for marketing departments around the world, just ask ING.

In terms of Ferrari, it is evident from the blank spaces on the car, that they are not an organisation which faces the sort of budget constraints which mean that they need to convey a squeaky clean image. However, surely even Ferrari cannot afford to alienate the whole of the watching public who reside anywhere but Italy and Spain. It seems that they have learnt nothing from the battering that their reputation took in the fallout from the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, a race which saw Rubens Barrichello forced to move aside for the Schumacher express to take a similar hollow victory. Michael himself was on hand yesterday to offer his support to his beleaguered former employers, insisting that he would have done the same, as it’s all about winning the World Championship. Erm, yes, we know you would Michael, you already have.

The real irony of the day of course is that while one half of the team made itself look pretty pathetic, the other side, particularly Felipe Massa, covered himself in glory. The way that he handled himself in the face of an impossible situation was full of class. It would have been career suicide for the likeable Brazilian to have disobeyed the order to let Alonso by, but the way he conducted himself afterwards only strengthened the betrayal felt by the neutral observer, especially on a day which marked the anniversary of his horrific accident at Budapest.

I have always found Domenicali to be one of the more likeable characters in the sport, and whilst I’d like to think that Alonso’s incessant whinging had led to yesterday’s call, there is obviously a greater degree of structure around the arrival at such decisions at an organisation the size of Ferrari. How the decision was actually made is pretty immaterial, the whole team lost a lot of respect this weekend, and not just by the decision to make their drivers switch places. Their biggest mistake was thinking that the viewing public were stupid enough to believe that they had not just witnessed them doing it.

My seven year old son watched the race, he is mad about F1. Even if he doesn’t realise his dream of competing in it when he is older, he will at least be one of the fans who will be propping up the next generation of superstars with his hard earned. He asked me after the race why I was cross about Alonso winning, and he genuinely didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I thought hard about the best way of explaining the events without dampening his enthusiasm, and I couldn’t think of any way to dress it up. “Because they cheated, son” I replied reluctantly, and from the look in his eye at that moment, it was as if I had told him that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. That is why I will struggle to forgive Ferrari for this sorry episode, and also why I think that the members of the F1 paddock who shrugged their shoulders and brushed it off should be ashamed of themselves.

Formula One is not a business, it’s a sport, and while it is of course undeniable that teams must generate the revenue with which to operate, this should never come at the expense of the enjoyment of the fans. There would be no Formula One without them and make no mistake, the fans are angry about this, mostly because of the human element surrounding Massa. Not only were we deprived of a fair result at Hockenheim, we had one of the greatest feel good moments in the modern era of the sport snatched from under our noses and replaced with a stench of rotten stallion.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Christian’s Autograph Book: Part 4 (International Edition)

Seeing as I haven’t stopped talking about it for the last two weeks, I’d be surprised if readers didn’t know that I spent a long weekend last week at the home of Formula 1, Silverstone, for the British Grand Prix. Welcome to part 4 of a regular feature that I post after our trips to watch motorsport, documenting the great (and sometimes not-so-great) and good that we have cajoled into adding their moniker to Christian’s autograph collection. The great thing about having a seven year old son is that it gives me an excuse to get over excited if I spot a racing driver, and his dimensions make him perfect for pushing him to the front of the crowd.
Highlights so far in this series have included Romain Grosjean, Darren Turner, Daniel Ricciardo and Tim Harvey, and although we were delighted with each of those at the time, the bar, as I’m sure you’ll agree, was set pretty low heading into the Grand Prix weekend.
So here goes, the international edition of Christian’s Autograph Book:

19. David Coulthard – DTM and 13-time Grand Prix winner. (DC was appearing at a Red Bull publicity event at the beer tent on our site, and was supposed to be coming with Christian Horner and Sebastian Vettel, although they were somewhere else trying to stop Mark Webber doing a Basil Fawlty on Vettel’s race car. Tester Ricciardo was also in attendance, but we already had his)

20. Vitantonio Liuzzi – Force India F1 driver. (The Italian was staying at the hotel on the site where we were staying, and spent time signing autographs for the fans)

21. Tony Fernandes – Lotus Racing team principal. (Thoroughly nice chap. Turned up outside the hotel and signed autographs and posed for pictures whilst asking everyone’s name and chatting away like he was one of the lads. Stayed for about twenty minutes, and then got back in his Aston Martin and drove off – he wasn’t even staying at the hotel, just came to meet the fans. Had the desired effect though; I bought a team hat the following day. Legend)

22. Fairuz Fauzy – Lotus Racing test and reserve driver. (I knew I had seen him somewhere before. He was a little taken aback when we recognised him, but didn’t mind signing for the people who wanted one)

23. Lucas Di Grassi – Virgin Racing driver. (Seemed nice, even smiled when my friend’s son asked him if he could have his team cap – then ignored him)

24. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari F1 driver and double World Champion. (Don’t get me wrong, I get just as mad as the next person when I hear his constant whining over the team radio, and when his car pulled up at the hotel, my head was full of pre-conceptions of how he would snub us all and head indoors. I was wrong. He headed for the far end of the queue and proceeded to sign for every one of the 100 or so people in attendance, smiling for photos, and being generally very pleasant, I couldn’t bring myself to dislike him for those ten minutes, there was something very special about being that close to a World champion, something very hard to explain. After he finished signing, he ran the full length of the crowd and remembered exactly whose marker he had taken to sign the autographs, handed it back and thanked them. He shocked me, did Fernando – I still cheered when he got a drive through on Sunday though)

25. Robert Kubica – Renault F1 driver and Grand Prix winner. (I don’t know if it was coincidental that his Renault Megane (I bet he doesn’t drive one on his day off) drew up at the hotel at the same time as poker-buddy Alonso, but it did. As a consequence, what would usually have been the one of the highlights of the evening passed by without much fuss)

26. Nick Heidfeld – Mercedes GP test driver. (Signed inside Christian’s programme, and then signed the cover as he pulled it away – nice touch?)

27. Gordon Shedden – Regular BTCC race winner. (Definitely the most random of the weekend. Parked in the space next to us at Stafford services on the M6 on the way home. He too was on his way back from the Grand Prix with his wife, and we had a good chat. Very nice guy.)

The ones that got away:

Michael Schumacher. (Saw the crowd outside the hotel and got his driver to go around the back).

Vitaly Petrov (and his mum). (Signed a few, but got bored before he got to our end).

Felipe Massa. (Pulled a very clever (if a little mean) stunt, by sending his brother out, complete with big shades, so everyone would think it was him. While everyone was calling over his bemused looking sibling, Felipe sneaked in on a moped (nearly running Alonso over [by mistake? You decide]), and went straight into the safety of the hotel).

Jean and Nicolas Todt. (Resisted some pretty half-hearted calls from fans for an autograph).

Next update will probably have to wait until World Series by Renault, at Silverstone in September, at the earliest, although it will probably be an anticlimax after this one.

Follow me on Twitter: @daimccann
My limited pictures will be up on Flickr page soon: Ifitsgot4wheels.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Red Bull - Who should carry the can?

Is it any wonder that Adrian Newey has got no hair? You design a car which blows away the rest of the field, you've managed to bolt on the exhaust blown diffuser that you have been aspiring to perfect since the fateful, never seen McLaren MP4-18 of early 2003, and through a combination of unreliability and the complete implosion of the operational team that you're working with, all of your hard work is in grave danger of being frittered away,
The problems are many, and during the early season when reliability seemed the biggest problem at Red Bull, most notably when Sebastian Vettel had to nurse his ailing car home at the opening race of the season after earlier having held a comfortable lead at the front. Newey was on the receiving end of some flak for making a car which was so fast that it was fragile by design, but he is now no more than an innocent bystander, wincing through a crack in the energy station door as his hapless colleagues bounce from one crisis to another, seemingly intent on throwing their championship challenge away.
It would be an absolute travesty if this car did not win one, if not both, of the titles this term after it's early dominance. If they do fail, where will blame be most likely, and justifiably apportioned? Here is a rundown of the key actors in this comedy of errors turned horror show:
Dietrich Mateschitz - Team owner, has ploughed vast amounts of his own money into the team, and remains largely in the background, perhaps only his recruitment policy could be called into question.
Helmut Marko - Never has anyone involved in sport had a more appropriate christian name. His role at Red Bull Racing is murky, but every problem encountered at the team usually coincides with his pearls of wisdom. Publicly blamed Webber for the crash at the Turkish GP, outwardly favours Vettel (likely due to the fact that he is a product of the Red Bull young driver programme), and seems to constantly make contradictory public statements about the team's affairs.
Christian Horner - Until recently, you would have had difficulty finding anyone involved in F1 who had a bad word to say about team principal Horner, but his thinly veiled suggestions that Mark Webber was to blame for the collision at Istanbul Park that cost his team the 1-2 saw his man management skills called into question for the first time. That, followed by the almost unfathomable decision at Silverstone, to take the surviving upgraded front wing from Webber's car and hand it to Vettel, without offering Webber any explanation in advance, has opened up many more questions about his leadership amongst even the most loyal Red Bull apologists.
Drivers - You couldn't conduct this discussion without analysing the drivers role in this debacle; Vettel, by the admission of people far more qualified than I, should have taken the lion's share of the blame for the Istanbul cock up, rather than parading around the run off area at turn twelve, gesticulating that Webber had lost the plot. As for Webber, there are only so many times that you can make a rash statement to the world's media and then retract them, citing "heat of the moment stuff", before you become a liability.
The fact of the matter is, is that none of the protagonists of the sorry affair come out with much credit, and if I were in their position, I would watch my back. Mateschitz has already shown that he is willing to put his money where his mouth is when he brought in Newey and the design team and should he find himelf in a position where he feels his operational staff, or indeed his drivers, are holding the team back, then expect heads to roll.
You can find me on Twitter: @daimccann

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Our Weekend at the 2010 British Grand Prix

Don't you hate it when people ask you if you're glad to be back when you've been away somewhere? I do. Especially when I have just come back from the best weekend I have had in years. We went to Silverstone this weekend, my seven year old son Christian and I, and camped with a great group of people at Whittlebury, the first Grand Prix I have attended since the 1999 Belgian round, and the good news is that it was at least as good as I remembered - maybe even the best time I have ever had at any of the seventeen races I have attended.
We left North Wales at 9am on Thursday morning so that we could get there nice and early and get ourselves settled before the rest of the group arrived, I even thought we might have a wander round inside the circuit while it was quiet, only to find that Bernie has now stopped anyone bar VIPs getting anywhere near the place before Friday morning. We had been to Silverstone in May to watch the FIA GT1 World Championship so we knew our way around the new layout, but it would have been nice to have a look around at the teams setting up, but it wasn't to be.
Friday morning Christian was up at 6am, and considering we had had quite a heavy night, coupled with the fact that we were sharing a caravan with my friend Lee, his son, Ben and mutual friends Gez and Phil, this didn't go down especially well, particularly the bit where Christian was using Phil's camp bed as a tunnel to race his toy cars through. Everyone seemed to excuse him because he was obviously so excited, and came out with responses to my apologies like "Don't be silly, one up, all up", it was very noble, but I could see they didn't mean it. We went and met the rest of our group at their motor home, Ronnie and Rhian, Steve and Dawn and their son Liam and the idea (well my idea) was to get into the circuit nice and early, in good seats ready for the 10am start of FP1. After negotiating the session times from a very confusing timetable on the tickets, which displayed everything in Central European time, we sat in the Becketts grandstand and waited for the first car to come out on track.
Christian was absolutely blown away by the sight of the cars that he watches on TV, and also by the noise, for which we needed to go and buy him some headphones, which was a drag because the view of the reconfigured circuit from Becketts is now absolutely fist class. We called back in the afternoon and watched FP2 from the pit straight grandstand, before ending our day at the track with a jug of Pimms, anyone would think it was Wimbledon; mind you had it been Wimbers, I doubt that we would have stolen the Pimms jug when we'd finished (does it count as stealing if you have paid a deposit?).
We spent another good evening on Friday at the pavilion bar, before heading back to the tent for the obligatory nightcap. I left the other three sitting up drinking when I called it a night about 1am, but heard them bouncing off the walls later on, on their way to turn it in for the night. When I woke up on Saturday morning there was an empty litre bottle of Bacardi (other Jamaican white rum is available) on the table outside that I know didn't even have the seal broken when I left them - no wonder I was first up. After a nice leisurely barbecued brekkie we ventured off to the circuit to find somewhere to watch qualifying.
The lads who we were staying with hadn't bought grandstand tickets so we all sat on the bank on the exit of Becketts and watched the Porsche Supercopa qualifying while we waited for F1 to start. We had purposely found a spot which was directly opposite one of the big screens so we could watch the action, but as we found to our frustration, they're great to watch the action, but unless you have binoculars (which of course we didn't) they're useless for the timing side. I began Q1 using the BBC live timing on my Blackberry for reference, but by Q2, I realised that the Twitter app was getting the news out much faster. I had already spotted that Jenson was in big trouble because I could see the green stripes of his option tyres half way through Q2, this was backed up by a tweet by Keith Collantine (F1 Fanatic) who observed that JB was in danger off missing out on the top ten shootout. The groans confirmed our fears, Button had qualified 14th, this wasn't supposed to happen. The rest of qualifying went as expected, Red Bull 1-2, Hamilton had wrung every last ounce of performance from the MP4-25 and put it on the second row.
Shortly after qualifying, news began to filter through about the implosion at Red Bull over “wing gate”, and some of our group saw this as maybe a chink in the armour and perhaps opening the door for a McLaren fight back on Sunday. After yet another barbecue on Saturday evening (I felt like I was on the Atkins diet by Monday) we headed off to the hotel within the grounds of our campsite where some of the drivers were rumoured to be staying, programme in hand, searching for autographs.
A nice security guard came out of the hotel and gave Christian a Ferrari hat, which was nice (although I was cringing with fear that he might proclaim his passion for McLaren – thankfully, he didn’t), and then a buggy turned up with some site staff on it, telling us that David Coulthard, Seb Vettel and Christian Horner were going to be making an appearance at the beer tent on the site at 5.30 to meet the fans and have a pit stop competition. When we arrived at the beer tent, surprise, surprise, Coulthard was there but had brought test driver Daniel Ricciardo along with him, stating that Horner had some management issues to address (I bet he did), and offering no explanation as to why the pole man was not in attendance.
After spending some time there we went back to the hotel where we met loads of other names from the world of F1, who I will tell you about in this week’s instalment of Christian’s Autograph Book (includes a World Champion), and we rounded the day off with pub again and bed.
The masterstroke of buying grandstand tickets paid off massively on Sunday morning as Christian and I didn’t have to rush when the rest of the gang were off to find a bank to watch the race from, and we strolled into the circuit at about 11am. We took up our seats which were dead opposite the McLaren pits, level with the start line, two rows up, just as the Porsche race was about to start, and I was made up to see Nick Tandy not only on pole, but win the race after holding off an early challenge from championship pacesetter Rene Rast. Fellow Briton Shaun Edwards drove the race of the day, battling up from the back of the field into points contention, only to be crudely stopped by compatriot Tim Bridgman. Great news for Tandy though, who after everything he has been through in the last year or so got an unbelievable reception when he mounted the top step of the podium, and I for one came over all emotional for him as he received the national anthem.
The F1 drivers then took to the circuit on a flatbed to wave at the crowd, and then the Red Arrows gave a great display which had the crowd ‘oohing’ and ‘aaghing’, I don’t know if they are much better than they were when I was little or whether I just appreciate it more now (probably the latter).
Then the action started, we watched as Martin Brundle went off with Coulthard for the grid walk, and as the cars went off on the parade lap, and then sat with tears in my eyes in awe of the whole package as the lights came on, and then went out and BANG, it was like an explosion, everyone jumped to their feet and the crowd went absolutely wild as we all realised that Lewis had got the jump on Alonso, another huge cheer half way round the lap when they showed Vettel limping round on the big screen. Everyone was back on their feet as the cars came round at the end of the first lap, willing Lewis (rather naively) to catch Webber, the roar doubled as Jenson came round in 8th.....8th from 14th on the grid, could the first lap have been any better? Further big cheers were heard as Alonso received a drive through, as Jenson drove a remarkable few laps prior to his pit stop to elevate him to within a few seconds of Rosberg, which ended up giving him 4th place, and Vettel’s battle back up through the field to 7th was well received (he could have finished even higher had he not made a meal of trying to get past Sutil).
We went back to the caravan after watching the podium celebrations feeling that it was about as good as we could have hoped for, Webber was a popular winner with Lewis a driving one of the performances of his life to even stay within touching distance for second. Sunday night saw one last Barbie and one last trip to the pavilion bar, where we were delighted to see Spain overcome the disgraceful Dutch hackers.
Next morning we were up early and the dynamic of the group had totally changed, we were all in ‘getting packed up and going home’ mode. It made me feel a bit sad to be honest; we had had an amazing few days, where acquaintances had turned into great friends sharing experiences that will never be forgotten. In some ways the racing becomes secondary to the atmosphere and the experience. If you want to know every strategy detail and sector time, you’re better off staying at home and watching it on TV (I have Sky Plus’d it to make sure I can still enjoy the geeky bits). Christian is still getting over it a few days later, my ears are still ringing from being too tough for ear plugs, but we are definitely going to go back next year, to the same place, with the same people.
If you are thinking of going for the first time, in terms of pure atmosphere, don’t travel in and out by car, it’s all about the camping. Even on Monday after everything had finished Christian didn’t want to leave, in some ways neither did I, it’s like being transported into a fantasy world of things that only usually happen on TV. But I thought we’d better go; as the golfers were ready to turn our campsite back into a driving range, and that wouldn’t be much fun - for us anyway.
Follow me on Twitter: @daimccann
I'll stick the photos on Flickr: ifitsgot4wheels this week.
Coming up this week, an international edition of 'Christian's autograph book, and various other waffle.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Like a child before Christmas

I started counting down the weeks to the British Grand Prix as soon as I ordered my tickets in January, for the last couple of weeks I have changed it to counting down days, and now that my tickets have arrived I started on hours (207 and a quarter until we leave at 9am Thursday, in case you’re interested – which I’m sure you’re not). Why am I so excited? It’s the first Grand Prix I have been to since 1999, when I did Silverstone and Spa with my Dad. I stopped going originally because I was deemed grown up enough to pay for myself by then, and then as the years passed I bought a house, had some children, that sort of thing, but now I’m back.
Although this will be my first F1 race in 11 years, it will be my eighteenth in total - I started going when I was six, and I never remember being this excited before. This is in part due to the fact that I am taking my son, Christian (7), to his first one, and also because we are going with a great bunch of people. We are camping in the grounds of Whittlebury Hall and anyone who is familiar with camping at Grands Prix will know that it is the only way to do it, the atmosphere is fantastic.
Christian, too, is beside himself with excitement, although this is mostly attributable to the fact that he is convinced he is going to meet Lewis Hamilton, my girlfriend, on the other hand, thinks it is crazy to spend all of this money to go and watch “sport” (it’s a good job she doesn’t know how much it’s really cost). In comparison to the prices from 20 years ago, I suppose it has marginally outstripped RPI (and the rest!!), but it’s worth it, we have got pit straight grandstand tickets, which were worth paying a little bit extra for so that Christian doesn’t spend two hours on the Sunday trying to battle his way through the crowds to catch a glimpse of the top of someone’s crash helmet, like I had to on my first trip to Silverstone.
I started getting really excited when the race finished at Valencia on Sunday, and I said to Christian that the next time a Formula One car turns a wheel it will do it right in front of us.
Regular updates to follow on the build up and then on the weekend itself, both here, and at @daimccann and @ifitsgot4wheels.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Not what it's about

First post for a while, I've not long started a new job and it's taken its toll on my ability to post I'm afraid. Thankfully though I am now past the stage where I am trying to make an impression, so with my head removed from between the new boss' rectum, I thought I would throw a quick thought out there about something which has really got my goat over the last couple of weeks. Here goes.

Those of you who follow me will know that I use Twitter (albeit quite infrequently at present), now Twitter is a great platform for like minded people to engage in smalltalk on their favourite subject. For me of course, this is F1, and I follow various people involved in the business as well as many fans of the sport. Recently I have noticed a considerable number of these fans have very strong, almost partisan ties to certain teams, in many cases taking it to a level where they want rival teams to do badly, commenting that they hope "driver x" breaks down, or that they "hate driver y". Now I have enough faith in human nature to be aware that these people wish no harm to the subjects of their derision, but it's the principle that riles me.

Formula 1 is not a members club and I'm glad, similarly it isn't my place to decide who can and can't follow, and comment, on the sport; but I do feel I have an obligation to explain to these fans, most of whom I guess are relatively new to following F1, that this is not how it is meant to be done. Yes, by all means support the drivers that you enjoy watching, whether for patriotic reasons, or any other reason you see fit, nominate a villain of the piece if they upset you, but leave this childish, tribalistic, "I'm a Ferrari/McLaren/Red Bull/HRT fan" rubbish at the gate. Formula 1 is a showcase of the finest minds and athletes competing at the absolute pinnacle of their field, and all of them should be admired for what they do.

It is a new phenomenon which is probably a by-product of our cynical, adversarial society, but I find it particularly annoying, bordering on pathetic. It's a gentleman's sport, and if you can't get your head around this concept then maybe you'd be better off going to watch the football.

Whinge over, probably won't make the slightest difference, but I feel better. If you like listening to me moan, I do a lot of it on Twitter: @ifitsgot4wheels or @daimccann.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

2010 GP2 Season Preview

As if any extra incentive was required for the field of GP2 hopefuls getting ready to start their campaign’s in Barcelona this weekend, one statistic will that will be at the forefront of each of their minds is that all of the five rookie Formula 1 drivers this season are former GP2 race winners, as were two of the mid season replacements in last year’s championship. Added incentive or added pressure? Both, probably.
The new season is the last of the current GP2 car which has been in service since 2008 and will be decommissioned later in the year ready for the new 2011 charger.

It is difficult to see a clear favourite for the new season, although reigning F3 Euroseries champion Jules Bianchi must be right up there. The Frenchman tested for Ferrari over the winter and his place at the ART team who have won three of the five GP2 titles to date, including last year with Williams new boy Nico Hulkenberg, and previously with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, should ensure he is there or thereabouts come Abu Dhabi in November. Bianchi dominated Euroseries last year, but found GP2 a harder nut to crack, scoring one points finish from six races in the Asia series this winter.

Someone who did impress in the Asia series was Davide Valsecchi, the Italian claimed three wins and three second places from the series eight races to comfortably win the title, he stays with iSport for the main series and although GP2 Asia form doesn’t always translate into the main series (ask Kamui Kobayashi), Valsecchi will be expected to challenge. Another man who will carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders will be 2008 World Series by Renault champion Giedo van der Garde of Holland, piloting a Barwa Addax car and already a race winner at this level.

Further challengers can be split into two groups, first of all there are the series veterans, the men who will probably not get another crack at F1 should they not perform this term (and may not anyway). Falling into this bracket would be Pastor Maldonado, the well backed Venezualan was linked to a drive in F1 over the close season, but was pipped to drives at Sauber and HRT and will have to convert his rapid pre season form into regular victories to kick start his stagnating career. Joining him in what could be the last chance saloon is Rapax team-mate Luiz Razia, involved at Virgin Racing, but still no closer to a regular Grand Prix seat.

Then you have a group of GP2 rookies who need to hit the ground running in order to make the grade in the highly competitive feeder series, two of the most fancied of this group are German Christian Vietoris, a winner in the Asia series at Abu Dhabi, who moves to Racing Engineering for the main series and will challenge for podiums if he can keep the car on the track, and Frenchman Charles Pic, who was hugely impressive for his Arden squad in Asia.

Britain will have three drivers in the championship who will all hope to be running at the front, Sam Bird (ART) and Oliver Turvey (iSport) will both be hoping to upstage their more illustrious team-mates but could both fight for victories, and with luck, the title. Meanwhile, Ocean’s Max Chilton was lightening fast in F3 qualifying last season but will need to improve his race starts in order to chase regular points and keep pace with the sister car of Fabio Leimer, who makes a big step up having dominated the International Formula Master series last year.

Elsewhere DPR and their drivers, Michael Herck and Giacomo Ricci, will look to build on their unexpected GP2 Asia pace; only a no score at the first round stopped Ricci from claiming the series runner up spot, while Adrian Zaugg, Sergio Perez and Marcus Ericsson have all shown enough in their early careers to suggest that they could figure in the shake up. Add to that the DAMS entry being rebranded the Renault F1 Junior Team and running F1 testers Jerome D’Ambrosio and Ho Pin Tung and we are well set for a competition where the prize of the championship is only secondary to the benefits that should follow.

For those having trouble making sense of the last sentence, here are the final 2009 GP2 standings: 1st Hulkenberg, 2nd Petrov, 3rd Di Grassi, 4th Grosjean, and some of the winners since the series began: 2005 Rosberg, 2006 Hamilton and 2007 Glock. There is a pattern developing here.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Christian’s Autograph Book: Part 3

As promised, after our weekend adventure, here is another instalment of Christian’s autograph book, the section of the blog which tracks which drivers and other people of note that we have met on our travels around the circuits of the UK. This update comes after our visit to the revised Silverstone Grand Prix circuit to watch the first ever running of the FIA GT1 World Championship on British soil.
Autographs 1-12 can be found on earlier posts.

Silverstone, May 2nd 2010-05-04

13. Karl Wendlinger, FIA GT1, ex-F1. (About 20 years on from the day when I asked for his autograph twice in one day and he reminded me on the second occasion that I’d already had it)
14. Henri Moser, FIA GT1. (Wendlinger’s team-mate)
15. Oliver Gavin, FIA GT1.
16. Romain Grosjean, FIA GT1, ex-F1. (Trying to reinvent himself after a difficult time in part season for Renault last season, nearest thing Christian has had to an autograph from an F1 driver)
17. Tomas Enge, FIA GT1, ex-F1.
18. Darren Turner, FIA GT1. (Popular works AMR driver was in his element giving away lots of Young Driver AMR freebies)

Pretty decent haul made possible by buying £10 pit lane walk ticket – a good investment.

Next instalment will come after next month’s trip to Oulton Park for the British Touring Car Championship.

Follow me on twitter: @ifitsgot4wheels and @daimccann

Sunday at Silverstone: FIA GT1 World Championship

Regular readers of the blog will know that it is traditional that my racing companion, Christian, 7, and I always stop at McDonalds for breakfast on the way to get our fix of motorsport and the plan on Sunday was no different. We had got up extra early, 5.45am no less, due to the extended run to Silverstone, as opposed to our leisurely 6.30 for the usual run to Oulton Park. I wanted to break the back of the journey before we stopped and remembered from my childhood trips to Silverstone that my dad had always stopped at Keel services on the M6, due to it being exactly half way (and if my dad said that then it was EXACTLY half way, coming from the man who used to boast that it only took him 64 and a quarter breaths to blow up a double airbed), so nostalgia won the day and we plodded along until we reached said services.
I had already noted the lack of any golden arches on the slip road and my fears were confirmed as we entered the building, we did find somewhere that was serving breakfast and I had to make do with a bacon, sausage, hash brown and mushroom roll, oh the deprivation. Two men sat next to us in overalls and were chatting about why the bridge over the M6 was closed, the conversation went along the lines of the travelling Everton fans who had been through the night before trashing KFC and jamming the fire alarms in the on position (and that was after a goalless draw), it reminded me why, even though I enjoy football as much as the next person, I take Christian to watch motor racing, they’re a much more civilised bunch.
We carried on our journey, Christian playing on his DS and me remembering making the trip so many times as a boy, all the old landmarks still there; Spaghetti Junction, Villa Park, RAC Centre and the icon that is Fort Dunlop – I always knew we were close when I saw that. Soon after, Jane, the SatNav, had led us as far as she could and the circuit’s signage took over. We were led into a huge car park, where we could see the GT1 cars on circuit for their warm up, and could tell instantly that everything, from the approach road to the car park to the stewarding was hugely more functional and professional than the last time I was there, although the last time I was there Michael Schumacher slammed his Ferrari into the barriers at Stowe (to huge cheers from the faithful, maybe we’re not so civilised after all), breaking his leg and bringing his 1999 season to a premature end.
We entered the track on foot over the bridge at…..well at Bridge, where the operators have been careful to ensure that there is no viewing capacity to avoid bottlenecking of cars and pedestrians on the bridge which was out of bounds to spectators prior to the revisions. We were passed on the bridge by a host of exotic cars on their way to the various owners club areas, Christian spotted three Dodge Vipers line astern drive past us as we crossed the second road bridge which now brings you out at the back of the paddock, adjacent to the short straight between Copse and Becketts, an area where I am certain will be restricted when Bernie comes to town in July.
Aside from my initial observations about the recent changes and the changes that had taken place over the ten years since I was last there, one thing really stood out; it was absolutely bleeding freezing. I tried to work out from the direction of the wind, which of the completed grandstands would offer the best protection from the weather, I decided Copse would be the best place and we made our way there in time to watch a master class in wet driving by ART’s British hope Alex Sims, including a fantastic ‘wall of death’ move around the outside of Gabriel Dias at Copse, which it looked like the Brazilian had bottled and backed out of, although I’m sure he would call it ceding the place to an ‘Invitational class’ driver, whom he was not directly competing with. Sims duly drove off into the sunset to claim victory in his first ever weekend of British F3. After the F3 had finished, and still freezing, I decided to seek warmth within the confines of the paddock; I didn’t find it, what I did find was a very reasonably priced programme (£5), and while I was marvelling at the fact that it cost only the same as a programme at Oulton, I was stung for £10 to go on the pit walk, which people were already queuing for.
The ten pounds turned out to be money well spent as after braving the lengthy wait for access, it transpired that everyone of note from the GT1 series was sat at the front of their respective garages meeting the fans, we met Karl Wendlinger (who I met here about 20 years ago), Romain Grosjean, Oliver Gavin and Darren Turner amongst others and were given some pretty nifty free stuff by Young Driver AMR in particular, along with having a chance to see some of the machinery close up.
After our pit walk we had a good walk around the paddock, and then ventured off for a walk up towards the hangar straight where I thought we could get some lunch from a less congested burger van, and watch the GT3 race from a different place. As it turned out we watched the race from many, many different places as we walked to try and find this elusive queue-less food outlet, and as we walked first around the outside of the Maggotts/Becketts complex, and then around Stowe it dawned on me, the place is an absolute tip, nothing more than a building site. The track is finished, but the rest of the place is just mud, both in the spectator areas and trackside, I’m sure it is under control, it has to be, we would be the laughing stock of the entire F1 world if we held a Grand Prix at the venue in its current state, but with only 75 days until free practice, there must be some concerned people within the FIA and the BRDC.
Anyway, we found our food stand, not only was there no people waiting when we got there, I don’t think there had been any people there all day, I paid the usual race meeting £10 for a hot dog and a burger, the burger was like a Frisbee (I was concerned when I saw the vendor drop it into the chip fat when I ordered), and while I was pretty sure the hot dog was dog, it certainly wasn’t hot. The man serving was on the phone while serving us complaining about being left out in such a remote place while the competition had been allocated plots in and around the paddock area, and as such I decided that I wouldn’t voice concerns over our food for fear of ending up hanging upside down in a refrigerated van.
We wandered around the rest of the circuit before we arrived back, still shivering in the Baltic conditions, at the infield, where Christian had a brief go on some quad bikes before being removed for being unable to a) keep his going in a straight line, and b) slow down for the corners, two aspects of quad bike riding that the operator seemed to think were pretty fundamental to the safety of the other children (look out Valentino). We had another loop of the paddock (catching the GT4 race from the Paddock bar), before heading back to Copse to watch the GT1 feature race from almost the same spot that I watched Johnny Herbert win the Grand Prix nearly 15 years ago. The GT1 race was great, as was the spectacle; it has the makings of a great series, perhaps it might fill that gap for drivers who take single seaters as far as they can without making the impression they need in F1 circles (Grosjean being a case in point). The race itself saw the former Frenchman spin out at the first corner into retirement, and further drama was provided by one of the Phoenix Racing Corvettes expiring in a ball of flames on the new loop. Meanwhile the Aston Martin teams fought for the win which was eventually claimed by Darren Turner and Thomas Enge in the Young Driver AMR entry, before later being stripped of it due to a technical infringement, handing the win to British pair Warren Hughes and Jamie Campbell-Walter in their British run Sumo Power Nissan GTR. We stayed until mid distance in the third British F3 race of the weekend at which point the conditions got the better of us and we left for the car in order for our toes to thaw.
A great day, bringing back some great memories, like watching Senna win in driving rain in ’88, the Herbert victory amongst many other home successes; Hill, Mansell, Coulthard. I hope the circuit is in good shape ready for our next visit to Northamptonshire for the Grand Prix in July, and that when everything is finished it still has the character that it had the last time I saw a Grand Prix here, I know that things had to change or we wouldn’t have a Grand Prix to watch, but facilities aren’t everything, all the shiny new pit garages, tarmaced car parks and dual lane bypasses in the world won’t compensate for the loss of the most fundamental facet of this special place, its soul.
Look out for more posts over the coming days, including Christian's autograph book, part 3.
Follow me on twitter: @ifitsgot4wheels or @daimccann.
Photos will be on ifitsgot4wheels Flickr page in the next day or so.