Archive | September 2013

Singapore Grand Prix Recap

251188-mark-webber-fernando-alonso-valencia“Alonso is probably more supportive of Webber’s racing career than Vettel and Newey are, atleast judging by his mechanical reliability…”

Hot, sweaty, tired, desperately thirsty. The emotions of the drivers following this 2 hour long epic in Singapore are undoubtedly pinging on redline, but the story remains the same. Sebastian Vettel stands once again on the top step of the podium, his third consecutive win this season, matching his third consecutive win in Singapore. At this point we might as well say it; short of Adrian Newey quitting the team, Christian Horner going to the big house for drug charges, and Sebastian Vettel taking up a hobby of excess drinking – the championship is nearly clinched. While Vettel may not be the best Formula 1 driver ever, he is certainly the smartest, most calculated and has the best car of this day and age – cough *Prost* cough. Care to disagree? Vettel was lapping a full two seconds per lap faster than Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes after the Safety Car, pulling away to a 15 second gap in about 6 laps. So congratulations Red Bull #1, we sincerely hope next year’s changes even out the playing field.

Overall the racing was sporadic, bordering on dull at points. Fernando Alonso did impress once again, making a jump from 7th to 3rd place off the start, to finish on the second podium step. Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa was not so lucky, finishing a distant 6th after a poor start set him back behind the midfield. Unluckier still was Vettel’s teammate and future teammate. Mark Webber showed good pace throughout the race until lap 60 (of 61) when an engine issue caused him to lose all power. Webber retired on lap 61. His replacement, young Daniel Ricciardo locked the front right tire very early on and plowed into a barrier, ending his run and bringing out the safety car.

Kimi Raikkonen clinched third position on the podium after a poor qualifying and while suffering from a pinched spinal nerve. His teammate, who out-qualified him handily, retired due to engine issues. LotusRomain Grosjean pitted and subsequently retired after engineers spotted a pneumatic failure in the engine valve system of the car. Grosjean was quite verbally displeased as the radio messages made evident, and wasn’t the only driver to come across a little fierce on the 2-way. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton both had tense moments of discussion with engineers, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

McLaren had a moment of glory where tire strategy had put Jenson Button on third position and Sergio Perez firmly within the points  with just 9 laps to go, but the quickly degrading compound forced both cars back quite a ways from the desired third spot. Earlier on Paul di Resta made a massive show of skill as he nursed his first set of prime tires nearly half the race before pitting. The Scot hadn’t made it out of Q1 in yesterday’s qualifying and looked to be in good standing until the safety car disrupted his tire strategy. He ended up crashing with a handful of laps to go. di Resta keeps showing impressive skill and brilliant control that are deserving of a top drive, but for nearly every great drive there is an equally poor showing – like Monza’s lap 1 retirement. Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg remained in the points finishing ninth right behind Perez. These two drivers may have uncertain futures, as Perez may be out of a McLaren drive for next year and Hulkenberg may be in line for the upgrade.

Amidst all this talk of silly seasons, team swapping, and one sided championships, it’s sometimes hard to see what makes this sport so unique and mystical. For me, I saw that essence return once again at race’s end when Alonso gave Webber a ride back to the paddock after his Red Bull began sporting flames. I’m sure it’s a health and safety nightmare each time one of these “ride alongs” happens, but it’s damn good to see those two in good spirits. The comradeship, that exclusive fraternity of F1 drivers exudes such a powerful message when men fierce competitors of every nationality can chum up and be so supporting of eachother. Who knows, Alonso is probably more of a support of Webber’s racing career than Vettel and Newey may be, atleast judging by his mechanical reliability…

Quick Post: Driver Shuffle has begun!

Well, just like we expected! With 7 weekends left in the season, drivers and teams are already making the shuffle for 2014. Two weeks ago we learned that Daniel Ricciardo would replace ‘Mahk Webbah’ as the #2 Aussie for Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. Now news has just broken that Felipe Massa will no longer be wearing red next year, as Ferrari announces they have signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2014 and ’15 to drive aside Fernando Alonso. Both drivers express their interest to work together, but can’t you already see the sparks flying? This marks the second time that Ferrari has ever employed too world champion drivers (previously Nino Farina and Alberto Ascari in 1953).

Raikkonen will vacate his seat at Lotus, which may give Massa a chance to stay with a top team, but more importantly… in Formula 1 at all. Ferrari has been candid of their approval and comments of Massa, however his performance has been lacking over the past few seasons. His last race win came all the way back in 2008 at his home grand prix, Brazil. More than likely, that new seat will be offered to an up-and-coming driver… who better than Nico Hulkenberg, who hasn’t had the best experience at Sauber.

We’ll see how things play out in the next few weeks. Who is the next to jump ship? Grosjean? Button? More to come in Singapore…

Vettel Wins in Italy, Midfielders Shine

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - RaceWith yet another big points haul for Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull driver puts himself further and further in the lead for his 4th consecutive world title, a title that very few fans at Monza are hoping for. The Tifosi Ferrari fans came out in droves to don their red caps and support the Scuderia as Fernando Alonso clung to a second spot on the podium, followed by Mark Webber in third, and the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa in fourth.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a Vettel fan. He’s clearly one of the best drivers on the grid, but he doesn’t have those likable faults that so many other drivers and teams possess. That being said, I think we’re starting to see a new Vettel, and honestly I don’t mind him. To make the comparison, this repeat world champion is becoming less ’92 Nigel Mansell… and more ’92 Ayrton Senna. More to come on this.

The biggest news of the Italian Grand Prix comes from the midfield once again, with some very impressive and upsetting performances. The young drivers of 2013 keep becoming the talking point as already we’ve had the huge team swap of Daniel Ricciardo in for the retiring Mark Webber. As we progress into the end of the season, we should see more and more For Sale signs popping up as drivers wish to shuffle the cards in expectation of top team #2 drives and the daunting rule changes for 2014, but back to the youngsters…

Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg may have possibly made the most important drive of his career in Italy today. Following a staggering P3 slot in qualifying, Hulkenberg held onto a fifth place finish that made his driver equity value skyrocket. Not only did he keep his Sauber on the pace behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris, he held off the major players from Mercedes, Lotus, and McLaren as well. Out of the mid level runners, I’d say Hulkenberg will be the next to find a top seat. Two spots behind him was Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, undoubtedly putting on a drive to show he’s worth his new gig at Red Bull. Jean-Eric Vergne, Ricciardo’s teammate and another mid level runner fell out of the race early with a transmission issue. Earlier this week he discussed his unhappiness with being snubbed the Red Bull seat as he had been one point higher in the driver’s standings.

In an event common in the past few races, Force India’s Paul di Resta retired after an incident following turn one, lap one. di Resta locked the tires into turn two, and slid into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, causing his left front wheel to come off. Bad luck seems to follow di Resta like a shadow, and whether it actually is luck or a bit of inexperience, he keeps proving that he can make dominant race decisions among Force India management gaffes. Remember his overtaking in Monaco, 17th to 9th… on the toughest street circuit in the world? He repeated with a 17th to 7th drive in Canada following another team qualifying issue, and then again in the UK from 21st to 9th. di Resta will be another driver to watch, maybe this year as there is a possibility for major team swaps, but definitely next year as he settles into the F1 drive.

Felipe Massa extends his no-win streak in the Ferrari after finishing just off the podium. Massa’s last win was in Brazil… in 2008. Rumors mount regarding Massa’s future employment by the Scuderia, and he’s responded by announcing that he will not drive at a second rate team. This could produce an excellent opportunity for Hulkenberg, di Resta, or Adrian Sutil to make the jump.

Back to the controversial comment I made before. Is Vettel one of the best (if not the best) drivers on the grid? Yes. Does he have the best car on the grid? Oh yes. Is this season changing him as a driver? I believe so. I think Vettel has been grounded by this season. He’s had some super runs of speed and has surely secured the title, but his legacy will be in question. Vettel is alone, undoubtedly distanced from fans (hence the boos and jeers) and no one wants to see this man succeed. I think next year will be pivotal in how the history of F1 looks back on the career of one Sebastian Vettel. He will need a points struggle and some adversity to get his reputation as a fighter back to where it was after races like Italy 2008. It’s obvious Vettel knows his advantages and fans will need to see a Senna-like struggle (’92) in order to regain their respect for the dominant German. Nobody likes to see a blowout on repeat for years. We certainly don’t need another Schumacher era.