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Vettel on pole at Indian Grand Prix


But tire strategy could put Webber ahead.

It should come as no surprise that for the 2013 Indian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has once again put himself on pole position. From its first iteration in 2011, Vettel has been on pole each time, set the fastest lap each year,  and has lead every single lap to date. History suggests that tomorrow we are unlikely to see anything different than the overwhelming Red Bull and Vettel dominance at the Buddh International Circuit, but there are a few details that might make this year’s race a little different.

Before we get to qualifying positions and all that good stuff, news flashes regarding Pirelli. Already under fire for bringing their two softest compounds this weekend, Pirelli made a statement Saturday vowing to leave Formula 1 unless the FIA allows preseason testing. This is bound to create quite a stir in the paddock, but Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery backs the decision. “We have to do some testing. If we can’t, we won’t be able to provide the tires.” Hembery explained that for the tires to be optimal for the 2014 season changes, Pirelli must test over the winter on current cars. However, with the season still underway and early season testing at Jerez in February, the timeline looks doubtful.

Saturday’s qualifying was thankfully incident free, and Saturday’s Free Practice 2 was nearly the same. WilliamsPastor Maldonado was fined 60,000 euro over a lose wheel nut which flew off during FP2 on Friday. This incident is the second in two weeks for Maldonado, as he lost a wheel nut in Japan in an identical scenario. Otherwise, there were no retirements or accidents, but many drivers seem to be pushing the limit and sliding around on all the curbs in Sector 2.

The Mercedes‘ of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will follow Vettel’s pole position. Both cars seemed to be on pace, ironing out a few balance issues in preparation for Sunday, but Hamilton seemed expectedly nervous and displeased with his car. Vettel, Rosberg, and Hamilton all qualified on the supersoft compound, while Red Bull #2 Mark Webber utilized a different tire strategy and qualified on the prime tire. This decision may put Webber on top of the podium Sunday afternoon. Although his starting laps may be slower, as long as he maintains position he will be able to run his harder compound further into the race while the frontrunners dive into the pits.

Behind Webber on row 3 is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and LotusKimi Raikkonen. Massa, arguably driving for his chance to stay in Formula 1, has out-qualified his world champion teammate in 4 of the last 5 grand prix, however Fernando Alonso has finished ahead of Massa in all of those races, most of the time on the podium.

Speaking of Alonso, he’ll be starting behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who has come alive in the past few races. Due to a new aero setup on the Sauber, Hulkenberg has become a Q3 staple as of late, and a tough competitor well into the grand prix. In Korea, Hulkenberg fought valiantly and finished just off the podium, having held off Alonso, Hamilton, Rosberg, and the McLaren of Jenson Button.

Button will start behind fellow McLaren teammate Sergio Perez on row 5, wrapping up the Q3 starters. Saturday marked the first time all year that a McLaren managed to get to the top of the Qualifying board, a dreadful reminder of poor performance this year, but perhaps a sign of good race pace going into Sunday.

Towards the middle, Sahara Force India was relegated once again to Q2, with Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil starting in 12th and 13th spots, respectively. The team will be hoping to make a strong showing at their home grand prix. And at the very back of the pack, a usual frontrunner of late, Romain Grosjean will be starting from a dreadful P17. Lotus ended their run in Q1, expecting Grosjean’s time to stand up against the field, however at the very last moment he was bumped out by the second Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.

This has been a largely uninteresting and technical synopsis, hopefully the race will be a little more eventful, but before tomorrow… a few words on our Champion-to-be, Sebastian Vettel. Watching everyone moving around the track, fighting for grip, and generally slipping all four wheels occasionally off the track made me realize how good of a driver and car combination Vettel possesses. For those that insist Vettel is only as good as his car – your wrong. The Red Bull chassis has proven to be the best around, but just watching Vettel put in fast lap after fast lap is truly tremendous. On Saturday, every single driver on the field looked twitchy, looked strained, and some, like Kimi Raikkonen, looked absolutely on the limit to get their qualifying time in. Vettel is different. Vettel always looks calm and never hints that he is out of control. Watching back to back laps of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel defined that point for me. Although a fantastic driver, Webber looked a little shaky at points, sometimes even putting three or four wheels off the track. Vettel looked shaky once, on his last lap, already having topped the charts, and then quickly into the pits.

The hype is real. Like him or not, Sebastian Vettel has the talent and will win this championship. Having the best car isn’t everything, and you certainly don’t win three championships in a row without having a special talent.

What should we expect for tomorrow? Will Webber shake things up with his tire strategy? Will Grosjean fight his way up from 17th to make a podium finish? Hopefully it’ll be a nail biter.


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.

Rumors mount amidst sleepy Win

Daniel+Ricciardo+F1+Jerez+Previews+B3KJrkXulxwlLocking another win away this season, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel strengthens his points lead on second place man Fernando Alonso, albeit amongst telltale “boos” signaling that nobody wants a fourth Vettel championship this year. Vettel cements his second Belgian Grand Prix win, as well as the notion that the German national anthem will end about three different times before it actually does. To round off the podium is Mercedes‘ pole sitter Lewis Hamilton.

All teams kept an eye to the sky on Sunday with dark clouds circling a remarkably dry track at Spa-Francorchamps. From start to finish we saw a remarkably unexciting display of dominance from the Red Bull of Vettel. Following turn two Vettel made his only move of the race by passing Hamilton, walking to an easy win over the next 43 laps. The comparisons to Michael Schumacher’s decade of dominance should be ever present in 2013, as the 2014 rule change seems to be the only thing that will bring racing back to… uhh… racing?

Nico Rosberg returned to pace at fourth position, following his poor result in Hungary last month. Mark Webber finished his last Formula One outing at Spa with fifth. Impressively, McLaren returns to the points with a surprising sixth position from Jenson Button. It seems the summer break has indeed brought some development to the weak performance of this historic team. Button started the race on a daring one stop strategy, pitting on lap 17 and attempting to run the last half on the hard compound. Rather oddly, McLaren reneged their strategy in favor of a two stop on the option tire.

Felipe Massa fell well behind his Ferrari teammate in seventh position with another vanilla performance for the Scuderia. Allegedly with only one race left to display his talents, the Ferrari veteran inches closer and closer to the door. Filling out the top ten is recently new parent Romain Grosjean for Lotus in eighth, the solitary Force India of Adrian Sutil in ninth, and a grinning Daniel Ricciardo for Toro Rosso.

Two big name retirements came Sunday, with brake failure for Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and another stroke of bad luck for Paul di Resta. Coming into view of the pit lane, Williams‘ Pastor Maldonado made a foolish dash to the pit, turning right into the side of the Force India, leaving di Resta once again in poor standing after an electric qualifying the day prior.

Off the track, speculation and badmouthing are starting to mount regarding the possibility of a large driver shuffle between teams. Rumors point to young Daniel Ricciardo as the replacement for Mark Webber at season’s end. No official press release has been issued, but Ricciardo seemed a little too happy at day’s end for his tenth position finish. Button threw his name into the fray, mentioning that he may not finish his Formula One career at McLaren amid a tumultuous season.

So what to expect for Monza in two weeks? Ferrari should be very quick following great improvement by Alonso. Mercedes remains right in the thick of things with Hamilton and Rosberg, but realistically it will take a miracle for any driver to steal this championship away from Sebastian Vettel, who now holds his biggest points lead – ever. 2014 can’t come soon enough. See you in two weeks.

Record-breaker in Hungary

F1-Grand-Prix-of-Hungary-Practice-2093448With near-record high temperatures in Budapest on Sunday, the stage was set for some exciting racing at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix. MercedesLewis Hamilton walked away with his fourth win in Hungary, tying the winning record of F1 legend Michael Schumacher and surpassing the total number of laps lead, previously held by Ayrton Senna. Hamilton gained his first win of the season, braking a stale 10-race slump since his last win in Austin, Texas. The second Mercedes however was not so lucky. Nico Rosberg retired with an engine fire just 6 laps from the finish, after falling off the pace early on following contact with Romain Grosjean.

Grosjean once again showcased his talents as a young driver. The Frenchman held a top three position throughout the first half of the race until a questionable drive thru penalty set him back to finish 6th. Lotus‘ recovered a podium finish with Kimi Raikkonen, who finished second on the podium, despite Raikkonen qualifying three places behind Grosjean.

Rounding out the podium was Sebastian Vettel, who managed to maintain his points lead in lieu of an undoubtedly challenging race. Vettel battled a damaged front wing as well as KERS failure, identical to the issue which ended Mark Webber‘s Saturday qualifying. Webber rebounded from tenth position on the grid to finish just off the podium in fourth place.

Onto Ferrari, the Scuderia finishes with both drivers in the points: Fernando Alonso at fifth, Felipe Massa at 8th. Both cars seemed to be aggressive but neither could compete with the speed of Red Bull or Lotus. Is it a step back for Ferrari? Definitely not – the team has been hot and cold since Monaco and Sunday’s race builds upon Alonso’s German Grand Prix efforts.

In a strange turn of events, McLaren seem to have recovered quite a lot of speed following the new tire specifications. The Woking-based constructor finished with both cars in scoring position: 7th for Jenson Button and 9th for Sergio Perez. The tire strategy seems questionable to say the least (starting on Mediums then to Softs), but this is the best result we’ve seen from them so far this season. Force India was not so lucky today. Both of its cars were retired, Adrian Sutil very early on after a hydraulic issue and Paul di Resta with only 3 laps to go. Pastor Maldonado finishes 10th, collecting Williams’ first championship point of the season.

Rumors persist surrounding who will be appointed to the Red Bull #2 spot, vacated by Mark Webber at the end of the season. Red Bull has said that Toro Rosso‘s Jean-Eric Vergne is no longer in contention, which leaves the battle between Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. Raikkonen topped Red Bull’s #1 man today, however Ricciardo fell from 8th on the grid to 13th at race end. Does the young Aussie have the legs to keep up with the front-runners? We think so.

Constructors will close up shop for two weeks, unable to work on the cars at all over this duration. So as they rest up for summer holiday, we hope you do as well!

Big Blowout! British GP Down to the Tires

2012_f1_tyres_pirelli2I have mixed feelings watching a race like today’s British Grand Prix. Yes, it turned into a last-few-laps nailbiter. Yes, we saw some great overtaking and wheel to wheel racing. But the tires were exploding. Big congratulations in order for Nico Rosberg. The man fastest in FP3 returns to win this years British Grand Prix from the second spot on the grid, amidst debris flying from all angles.

The biggest news being the the curse of the race leaders and tire delamination that plagued today’s racing. The front-running Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton (hadn’t looked this cheery in months by the way), was cut down early by a blowout on his left rear tire as he lead the pack on lap 8. The silence of the British faithful was eerie to say the least. Hamilton regained footing to finish just off the podium in 4th place. You can bet there’s no cheering in the Vettel camp today. The Red Bull ace lead the pack by a substantial margin today until gearbox failure forced him to retire at with 12 laps to go. A blitzing Felipe Massa seemed to get his pace back, until he suffered the same delamination blowout of his left rear tire, and went straight into the gravel pits. STR’s Jean-Eric Vergne and McLaren’s Sergio Perez both retired later in the race due to severe delamination and subsequent body damage, Perez blew out two tires.

Although circumstances were dire, what an amazing show of racing we saw following Vettel’s retirement. Aussie Brit Mark Webber, claimed 2nd spot on the podium with a massive drive today after a truly terrible start (4th to 15th). In the last few laps, Webber was catching Nico Rosberg at a rate of 0.2 seconds per lap, but not enough to overtake the German on the final straight. Webber adds another fastest lap to his tally (1:33.401). Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa contributed much needed speed today to a stale-performing Ferrari. Massa overcame his blowout to finish 6th, Alonso finished 3rd on the podium (9th in qualifying).

The young guys fought hard today, putting themselves just in the points. Force India continues to impress, as Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta take 7th and 9th places. Sutil had climbed as high as third after Vettel’s incident. di Resta pulled off another remarkable drive, working his way from last place on the grid all the way up to 9th – engaging in stellar battles with Lewis Hamilton. Daniel Ricciardo had a similarly close battle with Fernando Alonso, finishing in 8th.

Lotus will be pleased to get Kimi Raikkonen back into the points this weekend. Raikkonen started 8th behind teammate Romain Grosjean, and finished 5th. Grosjean still looked too dangerous for a Formula 1 car, coming in contact with Webber at the start and nearly hitting Alonso in the pits. Is this the last year for Kimi at Lotus? I’d put money on it.

Stay tuned for Pirelli tire backlash. Exactly one week to go until the cars fire back up on the grid in Germany.

Hamilton, Heartbreak, Hangar Straight – British GP Qualifying

450893-lewis-hamiltonThe rain of FP1 is gone, and it looked to be a beautiful day at Silverstone for the qualifying sessions of tomorrows British Grand Prix. The saying goes “F1 comes home to Monaco”, but in reality they should substitute “Silverstone”. Nearly all of the current Formula 1 teams base their efforts in the surrounding countryside of the British midlands. Whether its Red Bull of Milton Keynes, Lotus in Enstone, or McLaren in Woking. Needless to say, spare parts aren’t far for most, especially if you’re Force India – they’re right across the street.

Thankfully it was an incident free day of qualifying, other than a severe tire blowout from Sergio Perez’ McLaren. Felipe Massa’s Ferrari was back on the track following his nosedive into a barrier during FP2, however the Brazilian made very little impact upon elimination in Q2 at the 12th spot. Massa’s teammate Fernando Alonso did only slightly better, edging out elimination and finishing 10th in Q3. Alonso was displeased with the Ferrari performance on Saturday, “10th and 12th are not the results we want. Obviously we can only improve tomorrow, we must do it.” Ferrari however were using the hard compound on Alonso’s car, perhaps showing their hand at a tire strategy for tomorrow.

—News is currently breaking regarding a post-qualifying penalty. Force India’s Paul di Resta will be awarded a grid penalty due to his car failing the current minimum weight requirement. The VJM06 weighed 1.5kg under the minimum weight of  642kg. This is a huge blow to the young Scottish driver who pulled off an astonishing 5th spot during Q3 today. This turn of fate is not so surprising when you look at di Resta’s past few races in which team action hasn’t been nearly quick enough. In Canada, di Resta  was one of the fastest in practice, but negligence in the pits meant he was released into qualifying too late, and subsequently eliminated in Q1. He worked wonders, making his way from 17th all the way to 7th, but obviously not an ideal scenario. Force India is given two options: either start at the back of the grid, or adapt the car and start from the pit lane.—

Lewis Hamilton takes pole position, and Mercedes once again dominated their 5th qualifying session of the year (a first of the season for Hamilton). The fans came out in droves to support the homegrown hero in his first year at Mercedes. This year’s atypical pole sitter, Nico Rosberg, settles for 2nd on the grid, locking out the front row for Ross Brawn and his Mercedes crew. Both Red Bull’s were pushed back to Row 2: Sebastian Vettel a staggering 0.6 seconds off of pole, Mark Webber right behind him. Webber has won this race twice (2010 and 2012), neither of those times from pole position. Wishful thinking? You bet.

Rows 3 and 4 get real interesting. Paul di Resta would have filled out the 5th spot behind Webber, but instead all the following drivers now move up one slot. Australian Daniel Ricciardo will follow his compatriot in 5th, with Force India’s Adrian Sutil behind him. Ricciardo is now competing for the coveted #2 spot to be vacated by Webber at the end of the season, so this show of speed will definitely help his chances (if Kimi Raikkonen isn’t already signed…). Speaking of Kimi, he and fellow teammate Romain Grosjean fill out the 4th row for Lotus. Grosjean out-qualified Raikkonen for the 7th spot. Jenson Button, who narrowly missed Q3, will move up one spot in his McLaren to the 10th spot behind Alonso.

Tire strategy will be very crucial tomorrow due to fast corners like Maggotts and Becketts, as well as the outright speed on the Hangar Straight. Ferrari looks to maximize the harder compounds for longer, while presumably frontrunners Mercedes and Red Bull will make a two stop (soft, hard, hard).

Many questions surround Sunday’s race. Have Mercedes mastered their tire wear? Will McLaren finally make a change to this nightmarish season? Is the Ferrari that far off the pace? Why are Will Buxton’s (of NBC Sports) pants so colorful?

Race starts at 7:30am EST on CNBC. See you there.

Tragedy at la Sarthe

Simonsen1Only 4 hours into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, #95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE driver Allan Simonsen succumbed to injuries sustained in an early morning crash. Simonsen, the 34 year old Danish racing driver lead the GTE Pro Category from pole position on Saturday, until his impact at Tertre Rouge, which brought out the safety car. Simonsen was rushed to the medical center in serious condition, but injuries proved fatal.

This marks the first death in recent Le Mans history since the deaths of Sebastien Enjolras in 1997 and Jo Gartner in 1986.  Simonsen was truly a racer, with wins in the Formula Ford, Australian GT, and Asian Le Mans Series. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Simonsen family and Aston Martin Racing – his 35th birthday only two weeks away.

We so often lose touch with the extreme athleticism and risk taking that drivers must commit to when competing at this level. Drivers like  Ronnie Peterson, Jochen Rindt, Gilles Villeneuve, and the absolute best – Ayrton Senna – have made the ultimate sacrifice in search of ultimate speed, which grounds us in reality. Not anyone can go out there, put their foot to the floor, and make their cars dance across the tarmac. It takes an unbelievably skilled and talented individual to drive at the limit, over and over again. Today we mourn a man who could do just that, but we celebrate his life and commitment to the fraternity of the racing drivers.


Allan Simonsen

July 5th, 1978 – June 22nd, 2013