News and views on motorsports

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Rumours

It seems that the Bild newspaper in Germany is at it again. Now it is alleged by them that Kimi Raikkonen will be replacing the German at the Scuderia. Another story on the same topic appears here on

I've never ever read the Bild and even if I could get a copy I don't understand German but by the look of their website, they're no better than The Sun tabloid in the UK. Whatever comes out of them must be taken with tablespoons of salt.

However, GrandPrix makes a valid point. Why did Ron Dennis have to go public a few months ago trying convince Kimi to stay with Woking in the long term?

Nevertheless, it is no secret that both Ross Brawn and Jean Todt fancies the Finnish driver in one of their cars. But its always been thought that this would only be the case when Michael retires.

Another interesting little tidbit surrounding the Schumacher-McLaren rumour is this latest article in ITV-F1. The Mole ties the rumours with Bernie Ecclestone's plans for a GP1 series that is to either be placed in between GP2 and Formula 1 or to replace Formula 1 entirely. Pitpass had this story a few weeks back discussing Bernie's possible plans for GP1.

Meanwhile according to, this is all simply a negotiation tactic by Schumacher and Willi Webber to get Ferrari to shell out some 50 million bucks a season for the 7 times world champion's continued service with Maranello. Thats serious money really. In fact I think its more than Minardi's budget for the whole season. What with Fiat being in serious financial distress, Ferrari can ill afford it.

However, I'd like to believe that Michael would stay true to the team he built and took to unprecedented success. After he doesn't really need anymore cash right? Surely, even in this modern world there is still some sense of honour and loyalty.

Well, you might believe that Michael wouldn't need any more dosh. I'm not so sure about Willi Webber though. The only manager to have a private jet, I wouldn't put it past him to want a nice little castle just like Mike. A 20% commission on 50 million bucks should be enough to pay for one. Jeez he gets paid more than most drivers. And all he does it talk.


Well, well. is running this story and this time its making no bones about it. Apparently sources say that a Kimi move to Maranello is sure to happen come 2007. However, it seems that Michael Schumacher will not be McLaren bound but is retiring at the end of 2006. Can't say anyone will be surprised by that. It seems a better than even chance that he will retire soon.

If this story is true, then I think Kimi is foolish for doing so. McLaren are on the up. Ferrari without Michael Schumacher just won't be the same. Kimi is a good driver but I'm not sure he's capable of leading the Ferrari team the way Michael does. In addition, once Michael retires so will Ross Brawn, another major asset to Maranello. My prediction is once these heavyweights retire, Ferrari will face another drought of championships.

Now who's looking good for a McLaren seat then? God I hope its not bloody Alex Wurz. He's overrated in my book and there's a reason why he was dropped by Benetton and now spends his time pounding the McLarens in testing. He's just not good enough.

All very well, but Ferrari are denying the rumours. Funny, they didn't have a problem when Jenson Button was linked to Maranello a few months ago. But they're getting worked up over this. Heh. Heh. Everyone's very strong on their denials. Something must be going on.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rumour Mongering

Amusing headline covered in various websites and even newspapers this week is the rumour that Michael Schumacher is thinking about switching to McLaren. This story was originally ran by the German Bild newspaper.

Apparently after a couple of meetings between Michael and Norbert Haug in Bernie's motorhome with Willi Webber in tow, the newspaper speculates that Michael has had enough of Ferrari's lack of pace and is ready for a faster car.

This has been denied not just by Michael but also by Willi Webber and by Norbert Haug.

I think the rumours are just plain bullshit though. There's just no way he'd leave "his" team for a place where a certain Ron Dennis would laugh at the thought of preferential treatment for any of his drivers.

Let's however, entertain the thought for a moment. If, I say again, if, it were true you might ask a few questions. Like which McLaren driver is likely to be dropped for instance. And would that driver then be Ferrari bound for another. As for Michael's motivations, could it be that Mercedes is looking for their former prodigy to return to the fold once again. Enough of Latin lovers its time to go back to the German wife as it were.

After all, Michael Schumacher along with Heinz Harald Frentzen was once part of the Mercedes Junior team. This being the Mercedes sportscar team run of course by a certain Peter Sauber. The seniors of the squad of course included multiple Le Mans winner Jochen Mass. I remember Jochen Mass saying that of the two, Heinz Harald was the more gifted talent wise. But perhaps Michael was the more intelligent of the pair. I guess it takes a whole lot more than fancy driving to succeed in the top ranks of the sport.

All highly unlikely of course given the heavy personal investment Michael has made in Ferrari through all the tough times. However improbable some things may be this is Formula 1. Only a few months ago it was unlikely that Barrichello would leave Maranello but look where he is now. And only a few months ago Peter Sauber was vehemently denying a BMW buyout and now look what happened. The only thing we can say is that the chances of Michael leaving is much smaller than Rubens leaving the team.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Turkish Grand Prix

At last the mentally challenged Hermann Tilke decides to pen a good circuit, after nightmares like Shanghai and Bahrain. Finally we see a return to a flowing layout instead of Tilke's tight drag race like affairs. A Spa Francorchamp it most certainly is not but Istanbul is a lot better than most. Top 5 I should think. Even the slow corners in the first and second sector have a nice flow to it.

In a circuit likened to Spa, the McLarens were always going to look good and so it proved in the practice sessions spoilt only by Riccardo Zonta in the Toyota. In qualifying, Juan Pablo was the first one out and despite that set a time good for an eventual fourth on the grid. Giancarlo Fisichella benefitted from a later run than his teammate to start on the front row. Fernando Alonso's lap being spoilt by tail wind on the back straight. The Spaniard ran slightly wide going into the last corner and losing a few tenths there.

The Ferraris were absolute rubbish on this circuit. Obviously the older spec Bridgestone tyres simply not working at all, whether on a banzai lap or over the longer runs in practice, the cars some two seconds down on the frontrunners. To add to their predicament, Michael Schumacher spun his car going in to turn 9. Again, tail wind was blamed for this but really it boggled the mind to see his car suddenly spinning in the middle of turn 9 for apparently no good reason.

The BARs were looking good during practice and looked set for a good result in Istanbul. However, both Button and Sato made mistakes during qualifying. Both of them making it at the same corner, the much lauded turn 8. Before qualifying Button was quoted as saying that turn 8 was just about the best corner in Formula 1. I don't know about best corner, but it certainly is challenging and spectacular. In the end though, Sato was penalized for holding up Mark Webber during the Australian's flying lap and was stripped of his qualifying time.

Both Williams did well given their form in recent months to qualify sixth and seventh on the grid. Jarno Trulli as ever the qualifier for Toyota starting the race in fifth.

At the start, Kimi Raikkonen had a touch too much wheelspin and this allowed Giancarlo Fisichella to pip him going into the first corner. Fernando Alonso was also broadside going into turn 1 but Kimi managed to squeeze through in second. Behind them Juan Pablo Montoya did better on his start to stay ahead of Jarno Trulli. Two McLarens and two Renaults just like Montreal and it looked game on.

On that first lap, going into turn 9, Giancarlo ran wide on the exit and lost time. Kimi right behind was able to take advantage of it and was side by side with Giancarlo going into 10. The Renaults enjoyed a straight line advantage over the McLaren and Fernando was again side by side with Kimi going into the turn. Under braking though, the greater downforce of the McLaren helped Kimi nutmeg the both of them under braking and he was through.

Giancarlo stayed second at this point but once Kimi was ahead he simply drove away as expected. Renault getting nervous with this situation instigated a nicely worded team order. Fernando Alonso was told that he was quicker than Giancarlo and should therefore overtake. This he duly did on the back straight, and not even under braking as well.

I've always thought the team order rule is silly in motor racing, given its a team sport. Of course in the past there were incidents like Austria 2002 to blame for the current ruling but there were also other events that made it a good show. And as events showed on Sunday, this rule is hard to police.

Kimi kept on going up front with Fernando Alonso safe in second being protected by Giancarlo in third. Juan Pablo was looking rather racy in fourth and one could have no doubt that he would at least leapfrog Fisichella during the pitstops. Behind them, Jarno Trulli kept a watching brief in fifth but otherwise unable to close significantly and challenge the front runners.

Behind them Michael Schumacher had made a great start from the back of the grid and ran behind teammate Rubens Barrichello. Button though, with clearly a much faster car dispatched the both of them on consequent laps. Button had a terrific race and was soon making his way up the grid passing Klein and Coulthard along the way. He was soon up into 6th spot behind Jarno Trulli.

The Renaults pitted for fuel first and much earlier than the McLarens. With the Renaults in the pits the McLaren of Juan Pablo was free to run and at during his stop passed both the Renaults and ran second for much of the race until the last couple of laps. Fisichella though once again ran into bad luck. A fuel rig problem delaying his stop and putting him way down the order.

The top three remained the way the were until just before the end of the race but Juan Pablo was setting some scintillating lap times, setting fastest lap of the race with a high 1m 24. In the process though, he apparently flat spotted his tyres and was nursing his car towards the end of the race. Two laps from the end however, as he lapped Tiago Monteiro, the Portugese perhaps unsighted and losing downforce once the Colombian chopped across him to take turn 9 ran into the back of the McLaren.

As ever in this season, there are many arguments as to who's fault it was. I think it was both their faults. Juan Pablo could have taken his time to lap the hapless Tiago and need not have chopped across the Portugese. After all, Alonso was ten seconds behind and was no threat.

On the other hand, Tiago should also learn that as a backmarker it is your responsibility to let easily let the leaders through and ensure they get plenty of room to do it with. To be honest, I have not been at all impressed with the backmarkers this year. There have been plenty of races this year where the likes of Albers, Monteiro and Karthikeyan seem to suffer from blue flag blindness.

Alright to be fair, the backmarkers have also been wrestling to keep their cars under control more than anything, and really who's fault is that for making these stupid aero rules. Still, it shows incompetence if you're having trouble being aware of things going on around you.

As it were after being thumped at the back, Montoya went into a spin, recovered but lost time and soon Fernando was glued to his tail. A combination of damaged rear diffuser and flat spotted tyre then saw the Colombian run wide at turn 8 letting Alonso through to second much to Kimi's chagrin.

Behind them and earlier on in the race, Webber and Michael Schumacher also had a coming together. Michael was lapping the much delayed Webber (due to tyre punctures) but perhaps he was a little too slow going into turn 9. Webber retook him on the inside and Michael perhaps unsighted crashed straight into him. Mark and Michael both blame one another. However, if I'm being consistent, I should say that Mark is to blame here. Again, he's a backmarker. Move over and stay away for god's sake. However, as seven time world champion with vast experience, he should also have seen Mark side by side with him.

In the end, the top 4 was Raikkonen, Alonso, Montoya and Fisichella, who managed to recover from his pit disaster. Meanwhile behind Jenson Button managed to pass Jarno Trulli in the pits to take fifth. I think he deserved better today. He had a good car but it was his own bloody mistake in qualifying that led to his undoing. Jarno Trulli had a quiet weekend and ended up sixth. The Italian, being one of the few who's not impressed by this Otodrom. I don't know what his problem is because I think Istanbul is a fabulous circuit. But applause must be given to the Red Bulls who made up tremendous ground at the start and were quite quick. They took the last couple of points scoring places. A sixth for Coulthard and seventh for Klein.

The McLarens clearly are unbeatable at this moment. With the exception of the next race in Monza where its not so clear cut I would say they have the potential to win all the remaining races. However, with Alonso finishing second here today the championship you might say is done. The odds for Alonso winning the championship is clearly too great. Still I wouldn't mind seeing Kimi taking more race wins this year. In the constructors championship, I think McLaren are going to clinch it. With Juan Pablo at least landing in the podium slots and Kimi winning they're going to rack up enough points to haul Renault in. All told, perhaps thats the best and most appropriate outcome for this year.

Up next is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. This is perhaps the only race where the Prancing Mules can take a victory on merit. They have been testing a LOT at Monza and with these new spec Bridgestones available again they should do a fine job of it. I'm still hoping they get beaten in front of their adoring tifosi. By both Renault and McLaren.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Williams Cosworth; Rubens to BAR

All over the news yesterday was the official announcement that Williams will be Cosworth powered next year. Pitpass article here, article here and article here. An excellent commentary from the Formula 1 blog is here.

I totally agree that this British partnership will surprise a lot of people for a number of reasons. First, Cosworth are experts in producing V8 engines. In the 70s Formula 1 was accused of being a glorified Formula Ford because everyone except Ferrari were using the famous Cosworth DFVs. Their experience has continued to this day in Indycars and Champcars. Whilst people like Ferrari and Honda complain of vibrational problems, I'm certain Cosworth have none of those issues.

Second, the Cosworth V8 has been in development since last year. This is a huge jump on everyone else on the field. Cosworth have been beating 20,000 RPM on the dyno since early this year. The only problem perhaps is that whilst Honda, Ferrari and Toyota have stuck their V8s behind race cars, Cosworth haven't been able to do the same. Nevertheless, their powerplant is in some advance state of development.

Third, like McLaren over the last couple of years, Williams have been bringing in new facilities on line. Most notably their new windtunnel. Now they have both up and running and I can imagine next year's FW28 to be a totally different and far quicker animal than this year's charge. Clearly, McLaren are now benefitting from their new headquarters and I'll bet next year it will be Williams' turn.

Fourth, I believe Cosworth and Williams will work very well together. They're both British firms for a start. Furthermore, they're located very close together. This is important for I believe it was a clash of cultures that saw the demise of the BMW Williams partnership. Cosworth and Williams are different. Both are specialist manufacturers who cut their teeth in racing. They have a very purist side to them and this should result in a good working relationship.

BMW on the other hand are very much a corporation. Yes, you might say that Ron Dennis and McLaren work very well with Mercedes. But you see, that Mercedes motor is in truth an Ilmor designed and built unit. Ilmor formerly led by Paul Morgan and Mario Illien (both ex Cosworth engineers) are based in England. So the working relationship is inevitably better. Besides, Ron Dennis is a master at the corporate game. He's more corporate cultured than Mercedes. Of course, the Germans are going to like him. Frank Williams and Patrick Head are pure racers and bow not to corporations. As Mario Thiessen told the Guardian, "We made several approaches to achieve that but apparently the corporate culture and the way to run the business is different between Williams and BMW." At the end of it all, you can sense the bitterness thats going on between the two parties right now. Well, perhaps the split will be better for both and I'm sure these former allies will be running hard against one another on track soon enough.

Update: For more on BMW and Williams, read this excellent article on Pitpass.

Some publications are saying that this is a transition year for Williams. The story goes that Williams will be using Lexus badged Toyota engines in 2007. There's no official confirmation of that from Williams or Toyota. And who knows? If the Williams Cosworth partnership works well, then it might do well for Williams to stay with them. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the dollars and euros I suppose.

Here's hoping a return to the true form for Williams. They've wasted 6 years enough with BMW. Time to get a championship under the belt again. Will it happen next year? Some say its a long shot. I say there is a small but significant chance. If it does happen, then a magnificent triumph it will be. Truly David v. Goliath stuff.

Moving on, Rubens Barrichello has now been confirmed at BAR Honda. Its not a big surprise now but 5 months ago it would have been if that suggestion had been made. This despite all the denials Rubens himself was making not a couple of months ago. It seems that in Formula 1, if you hear a denial, chances are its true.

So who will be his team mate next year? Some suggest that Nick Heidfeld is a good candidate. Apparently, BAR hold options on the German in the event Jenson Button leaves for Williams (as well he should). I would've thought that Mario Thiessen has plans for the young German to spearhead his new works BMW team.

Nick Fry suggests that Takuma Sato still has a shot at it if he does well for the rest of the year. But thats like the chairman publicly expressing confidence in you in the old PC game, Championship Manager. Not a good sign at all. Exit visas could be next.

Poor Anthony Davidson. That's two drivers who have a better chance in a BAR seat for next year ahead of him. The word is he's looking elsewhere. To BMW perhaps. All this after getting buggered by BAR last year by not allowing him to test for Williams. At that time, BAR stated they wanted Ant for a BAR seat once Jenson leaves. Now it seems they're still not going to give him a shot.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Nick Heidfeld GT4 Challenge

The UK based Evo magazine ran a series of articles about the Nurburgring recently. No, no, not that silly Tilke designed dog that holds the European Grand Prix every year. No, I'm talking about the original and peerless Nordschleife. Yeah, that track you get to play with on Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 4. One of the articles in Evo featured BMW Williams driver, Nick Heidfeld who gave a taxi ride at the fabled circit to writer John Barker in the latest V10 engined BMW M5.

As he trundled along the Nordschleife, Quick Nick more than once compared driving it in real life with Kazunori's masterpiece on the Sony Playstation. It seems our Nick, like a lot of these young drivers, loves to have a go on video games. And if the Evo article is anything to go by, the Nordschleife modelled in GT4 is quite accurate. Evo even suggests getting familiar with the track on GT4 first before tackling the real thing.

Anyway, in the article Nick Heidfeld states the quickest time he's lapped the Nordschleife on Playstation. And hence this challenge.

Playing in arcade mode, take the Opel Astra DTM racer, using soft (presumably R5) tyres, with the car set up for maximum horsepower (552 bhp as allowed in arcade mode) and minimum weight (900kg), Nick Heidfeld sets a time of 6m 04s.

The challenge is, using the same car i.e. the Opel Astra DTM racer, on the same circuit, the Nordschleife, beat his time. Its got to be done in arcade mode and for god's sake, no cheat modes and the like. By the way, Quick Nick uses the gamepad, not a steering wheel. I've never played GT4 using a force feedback wheel before. Though I'd imagine it to be harder than using a gamepad.

Now when I first set about trying to beat Nick's time, I thought to myself it wasn't going to be a big deal. After all, I once watched Nigel Mansell have a go at a grand prix arcade game (the name escapes me now) and he was just completely hopeless on it. He kept hitting the walls and going off. Driving on the video game was different he said because in real life you get to see far off into the distance and thus was able to better anticipate and plan ahead. So was Nick going to be any different? I thought not at first.

When I play GT4 on arcade mode, I usually just accept whatever the console gives me. I never ever change the set up of the car. The car's original 1000kg weight, 460 bhp power and R2 race tyres are used. So, it was on my first attempt. I took the Opel DTM, did a lap and 6 minutes and 44 seconds later came to a conclusion that I needed more work on this. Now, the Astra itself is a fine car to drive. Rock stable and very quick through the twisty bits, blunted only by the tiniest whiff of understeer but nothing to be concerned about.

I read the Evo article again and adjusted the set up of the car. I dropped the weight down to 900kg and increased the power to 552 bhp and stuck with R2 rubber. The lap times improved but not by much. Out went R2 tyres for R3. The lap times tumble again. 6m 24s. This is proving a little tough. So, I figured when Nick said he chose soft tyres he meant the R5 super softs. Alrighty then. R5 it is.

I really love the Nordschleife. I've never driven the real thing ever but I've promised myself that I'd do it once at least in my lifetime. The combination of medium and high speed sweeps is completely intoxicating. Even on the Playstation. I've yet to meet anyone who prefers that awful Tilke like Twin Ring Montegi to the Nurburgring. There's just no contest. Other console and pc games claim to be more realistic than GT4 but hey, none of them include the Nordschleife circuit. Plus GT4 was developed by a petrolhead in association with a group of petrolheads including those good folks at Evo magazine UK. In addition, if its good enough for Nick Heidfeld, its good enough for us mere mortals.

Back on the Playstation, my first run on R5 tyres saw me do 6m 15s. Goddamn. When I first started GT4 I played the Nordschleife more than any other circuit. In fact, I didn't play any other circuit except the Nurburgring. Of course when you first start there's not much choice of cars so my favourite thing was to go in arcade mode and lap it in the '05 BMW M5. 7m 27s is my record in the V10 monster. (Oh and to my rivals... you losers have yet to beat that!) Standard power and weight on S2 tyres. I actually prefer to lap in normal cars because it feels more realistic. After all, I wouldn't know how a real Audi R8 feels like but the M5 would be more familiar.

So, after my first run I was a little disturbed knowing that I'm 11 seconds off Quick Nick's time. Still, I figure I must be lifting off where I shouldn't and plain just not quick enough in the twisty bits. I make a renewed effort. After a few times, I'm down to 6m 9s. That's more like it but I'm still 5 seconds off his time. Over 73 corners this means that on average I need to be 0.068 seconds quicker on each one. That's quite achievable.

If I didn't have that 6m 4s record to chase I probably would've stopped right there. But ain't no way I'm stopping at that. As it is, I'm learning that I'm too slow in the first third of the lap, from turn 1 all the way Schwedenkruez. After a few runs I'm gaining 2 seconds just over that section alone. Flugplatz can be taken in top gear after the slightest of dabs on the brakes. And the left kink after Fuchsrohre and into Adenauer-Forst I needn't shift down to fifth. Just a slight tap on the brakes.

My favourite section of the Nordschleife is from Karusselll to Galgenkopf. Mostly medium speed corners in third and fourth but those really are the best bits. I discover that I'm too slow in the Opel through Wipperman and Brunnchen. I'm so used to the M5 you see. The bewinged and diffusered Opel can take those beautiful turns way way quicker. I also discover that whereas you'd brake and downshift before the jump going into Pflanzgarten 2 in the M5, you needn't worry about the Opel. Just go through it flat in fifth. Brilliant. Even in arcade mode the Opel copes with the bumps of Pflanzgarten 2 perfectly ensuring you can snatch sixth in that section. Normally in simulation mode I'd set the suspension really soft and raise the ride height so that the suspension has more travel to cope with bumps and jumps. My Audi R8 for instance is set with near road car levels of spring stiffness, with the absolute minimum of bump damping but an appropriate level of rebound damping.

Still I'm 5 seconds adrift. The other challenge with the Nordschleife is keeping consistent. Because its such a long lap, my performance over a section of the lap differs greatly from one lap to another. On some runs I'm quick of sector 2 whereas on others I'm quick on sector 1 but completely blow it on sector 2. Keeping consistent is a must.

In the end I do it. The lap wasn't perfect but I made it. Again I find massive gains on sector 1 of the lap, especially through Hatzenbach and Flugplatz. I'm up by nearly 2.9 seconds over there. But then I start losing time at Fuchsrohre and Adenauer Forst. And again I lose it at Exmuhle. That nasty bump in the middle of Exmuhle sending the Opel into understeer and I'm forced to slow down. Still I'm 2 seconds quicker overall on this run. I do well over the next sector and coming out of Galgenkopf and hitting the timing beam on the long straight I'm 3.999 seconds ahead of my previous record. I'm not sure if I've come out that tricky corner before the straight well enough but we'll see. My foot is flat on the floor all the way to the third last tight right hander before the start finish. At the start finish line the time on the board is 6m 04.417s.

Phew! That was tough. OK so I know there are some of you out there quicker than Nick and I but this was a challenge for me and my limited abilities at least. Could I do a faster lap time? I know I can. In fact on subsequent runs, again I find massive gains of over a second at the first sector. Man, I must have really sucked through there previously. Alas, on those subsequent runs I end up crashing at one point or another, overdoing my effort. Still, I know I can go quicker. I just need to be more consistent.

Though, using a joypad on the Playstation being consistent is kinda hard but its all a matter of timing your button presses correctly. Some people might not know this but its also possible to keep a constant throttle using the joypad. Just feather the throttle button and keep it steady. The car will assume a constant throttle. Essential especially when going through slow corners and hairpins like the Karussell.

I haven't beaten Nick Heidfeld... yet. But I've matched him. Well, at least on Playstation. I know I'll never even come remotely close to him in real life. Even Quick Nick has reservations tackling the Nordschleife in the M5. In the article he admits to easing up during the taxi ride. On the Playstation you don't have to contend with g-forces and the violence that actually goes on during the course of a lap in any car. There are also no problems about whether you're brave enough to take Fuchsrorhe flat out. In real life, the Nordschleife must be a scary place. Thrilling but really scary. Getting it wrong there would in Nick Heidfelds words "be madness."

So if you fancy benchmarking yourself with a Formula 1 driver, then take up the challenge. Again, no cheating. Use the Opel DTM racer in arcade mode. 6m 04s is your target.

I suggest you buy a copy of Evo and read the article. Its brilliant especially if you're planning a trip to the Nordschleife any time soon. Its got a complete guide to the legendary circuit including where to stay and places to go. Also check out for more information. Ben Lovejoy's guide must be the web's best.

I really must go to the Eifel region in Germany before I die. Oh and to John Barker of Evo magazine: You may have helped develop GT4 but you suck! 6m 25s? That's chump change. 5m 53s in the Audi R8 (simulation mode, R1 tyres, 911 bhp) is your time to beat mate.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

News Roundup

Summertime... and the living is hazy. But for the Formula 1 teams, at least some are taking a break from the activities. Unless of course, you're Ferrari in which case you do whatever you damn well please.

Maybe I've been spoilt by back to back grand prix thats happened quite a lot this season but three weeks before Istanbul seems like an age. And where there is no action, there's very little news. Its even quiet on the silly season front.

The Formula 1 news websites seem to be out of ideas as to what news to publish. So, we get silly things like news of Jenson Button getting back together with Louis Griffiths. And some congratulatory articles like this one.

Elsewhere, someone started a rumour saying that Mika Hakkinen is being pursued by BMW as they embark on their journey as a full fledge team. This is simply most unlikely as our Mika is getting on and is currently quite happy at the DTM. I'm sure some people are connecting him to BMW on account of his connection with Williams last year. Frank and Mika were in discussions but that plan fell through when Frank decided to try and take Jenson Button instead. A non plussed Mika decided to drop plans for an F1 return and take a drive in DTM. Still, he remains an incredibly popular driver and one that a lot of Formula 1 fans really miss. In a recent poll on Planet F1, he was voted as the driver most people would like to see returning.

Everyone these days wants to keep their options open. Fernando Alonso being one of them. Ferrari is clearly an option once his Renault contract runs out in 2006. Driving for Maranello appeals to the Spaniard but his first priority is to get behind the wheel of the fastest car. At the moment that is clearly Renault and McLaren.

Fernando had this to say: "At Ferrari there’s always been a number one and a number two driver, and things have always been very clear. For the other nine teams, I’d say that in theory the car conditions and the priority among drivers are equal." True but it should be noted that this situation came to existence only when Michael Schumacher arrived at Maranello. Enzo Ferrari in his day would laugh at the notion. Like Frank Williams, Enzo Ferrari believed that the most important thing was to win the constructor's championship. The driver's championship to Enzo was strictly secondary and was completely up to the drivers to fight for it between themselves.

When Schumacher arrived at Ferrari, he was joined a year later by Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn and clearly it seemed that the three would do another Benetton. At Benetton clearly the entire team was structured around the German. Even the design of the Benettons and now the Ferraris were optimized for Michael's driving style. If his team mate could adapt to the car fine otherwise it wouldn't matter.

Even though he'd hate to admit it but Michael's style is very much like the late great Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian was also notorious for demanding the complete attention of Lotus when he signed up for them. The difference between Michael and Ayrton was that Ayrton then went to McLaren where he had to contend with that other great driver Alain Prost. And despite not winning the 1989 championship, Ayrton generally had the measure of the Frenchmen. Michael has not been similarly tested. Sure, some would argue that he had Nelson Piquet for a team mate at the start of his career but surely it can be said that Nelson Piquet was already on his way out at the time. When Senna joined Prost at McLaren, the Frenchmen was still at the height of his powers, in a team he fashioned as his own.

At the end of the day, once Michael leaves, I'm sure the powers at Maranello will be going back to the days when both their drivers got similar attention. I doubt if anyone will be able to pull off another stunt like that in the future. Nevertheless both Kimi and Fernando (and perhaps Button) will be looking for signs that the Italian team will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. I doubt it myself.

Harking back to the old days, here's a little rant by Nigel Mansell on ITV-F1. A very enlightening article, not least for this link to Anyway, Nigel gives us an account of events that transpired during the 1994 Australian Grand Prix. Yes, you remember, the one where Michael Schumacher took out Damon Hill to win his first world title.

Nigel alleges that some of the powers took him to one side and told him to stand back and simply let the two championship contenders duke it out for the race. All this, after sticking his Williams on pole position by a full second. He got in trouble for that too and was told to hang back during the race.

Mansell further alleges that Michael Schumacher had asked for some bits of kerbing to be lowered after the German ran over them and damaged his Benetton Ford during qualifying. Mansell, having none of it told them to stop work. For this, he apparently got into hot soup again with the powers. Michael didn't get his way that time but at Sepang in 2000 he managed to get a pole stuck at the apex of Turn 2. This I suppose was to prevent a repeat of David Coulthard's move on him at the same corner.

There are many reasons to doubt Mansell's story. I mean, if he really was as quick as he says he is, why was he so hapless at McLaren the following season? Mika Hakkinen completely blew him away. Nevertheless, if Mansell's story is true then its quite troubling. I have no doubt that Bernie was behind all that but it all reeks of WWF wrestling style sports entertainment. Completely bullshit that is.

Still, Bernie or whomever it was probably had their reasons. Business related reasons that is. After all 1994 was a terrible year that saw the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola. This lead to a safety paranoia everywhere which was making the action a little boring. Michael Schumacher was running away with the championship at one point before a two race ban was placed on his Benetton team for cheating. Some way it was the traction control in his car (which was banned that year) and others say it was for the wooden plank at the bottom of his car being of an illegal thickness. In fact, Nigel Mansell's return to Formula 1 after a year and a half in Indycars was a move to spice up Formula 1 again. So, I guess they didn't want this old geezer getting in a way of an otherwise classic showdown at the final race of the season.

Moving along, here's a good article by Mike Lawrence of Pitpass showing us the history of wind tunnel technology in Formula 1. An interesting read but I don't agree with the conclusion that aerodynamics is a technology that has no meaning to most fans. I'd say there are plenty of fans with huge interests on any technology, aero being one of them. Its just that we hardly get a glimpse of the technology involved because its all so secretive. But I'm certainly fascinated by such aspects and when a previously secret technology is revealed, I'm the first to read about it if I can get my hands on it.

Lastly, we see 6 time world MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi doing yet another test with Ferrari at Maranello in last year's F2004. His times were a couple of seconds off Michael Schumacher's lap record set last year. Valentino has already signed up for Yamaha in 2006 but after that anything's possible. This has lead to speculation that he would be taken on as an official test driver for Ferrari. I think a lot of people would like to see the Italian driving in Formula 1. I'm sure Bernie would want that as well as it would attract plenty of new viewers who normally only watch MotoGP.

If Michael Schumacher were to retire, then a Rossi/Alonso or Rossi/Raikkonen partnership at Maranello would go a long way towards making up for the loss. To be honest, I like the sound of that but it would only work if Rossi is able to go as quickly in a car as he is on a bike. Perhaps a year spent testing will prove the case.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rubens Out Massa In

Whilst the cheating continues unabated in the 3 week break, Ferrari have officially announced that Rubens Barrichello will be dropped at the end of this season. His replacement to no one's surprise will be Filipe Massa, currently team mate to Jacques Villeneuve at Sauber.

After 6 seasons at Ferrari, it is still to be confirmed where Barrichello will end up in 2007. A seat at BAR is looking very much a distinct possibility what with Jenson Button being Williams bound, seemingly against his will.

My distinct impression of Barrichello will always be that of his magnificent showing in his debut season in the Jordan Hart at a rain swept Donnington Park in the summer of 1993. He made quite an impression that day running in third behind Damon Hill for much of the race and the peerless Aryton Senna. Nigel Roebuck of Autosport hailing him as someone to watch out for in the future.

Since then, he hasn't had many opportunities to shine until he joined Ferrari. Eclipsed by Michael Schumacher at Maranello, lets hope he ends up in a team where his talents can once again stand out. The German was indeed too much for the Brazilian to handle at Ferrari. Much of it I think is due to a lack of force in his personality unlike his idol Senna. Had he had that sort of strength I doubt if Schumacher would have got things all his own way. And lets face it, because of that he lost out on the track, what with priority always being given to Schumacher.

None more clearly than in Austria in 2002 when he was forced to make way for Michael Schumacher to the furore of the crowd and fans worldwide. Rubens certainly deserved better than that on the rare day that he had the German licked. The stupidity of it all was the fact that the F2002 was so superior to anything else on the road Ferrari really didn't need to do what it did. In the end no one can accuse Ferrari of being very sporting.

Well hopefully on to greener pastures for Rubens. If he is paired with Takuma Sato at BAR next season, he'll really have a superb chance to lead a team that's backing him for a change.

As for Filipe Massa, here's a chance for him to rack up some race wins. But as long as Michael is over there, well, he can keep dreaming about winning the world championship. But for some I suppose, its better to be Michael's bitch than being in another team. We can't all be Raikkonen and have a choice of teams that will cater to both drivers equally.

I know Massa's being out doing his ex world champion team mate a lot but I still don't rate him that highly. His performances are steady to be sure but he's hasn't really set the world alight. Says more about Jacques Villeneuve than it does Filipe really. Well, whatever it is, his apprenticeship in what effectively was the Ferrari junior team and a testing stint at Maranello has paid dividends.

But I begin to wonder though. Had Giancarlo Fisichella remained at Sauber this season, would he have got the drive at Ferrari? After all, Giancarlo was so desperate to drive for Maranello last season. A planned test for Ferrari was thwarted because of sponsorship clashes. Petronas sponsored driver testing a Shell sponsored car. No way the cronies would allow such a thing.

This looks like the start of a driver shuffle for next year. Lets see what comes next. One thing's for sure though, Jenson would do best to stick to his contract rather than being neither here nor there. Take it like a man Jense. After all, he's not exactly moving to Minardi is he?

Hungarian Grand Prix

This race has consistently been voted the most boring race of the year by both fans and critics. Strange then that I found it to have passed quite quickly. Usually I'll be falling asleep by the hour mark.

This year there was some excitement what with the Ferraris experiencing a revival of sorts and duking it out with the McLarens for honours. The Ferraris were looking good all weekend and promised to spoil the 2005 applecart.

In the end, they just confirmed what I suspect happened during the German Grand Prix. Obviously starting mid field is not helping them so they've switched to a strategy of qualifying at front of the grid, try and make a break during the race and as the tires wear out, fight a rearguard action.

A strategy not without merit especially at this, a notoriously difficult circuit to pass. Not helped of course by these confounded aero regulations that make following another car difficult let alone pass. Of course, what Ferrari could not keep at bay were the mighty McLarens of Montoya and Raikkonen. Kimi's qualifying of course handicapped by having to go out first during qualifying. So McLaren short fueled Kimi and chose a completely different strategy for Juan Pablo.

In the end, both strategies looked to be good for winning the race. Lightly fueled as Kimi was, Michael was not that far heavier, running just 4 laps more than Kimi at his first stop. Despite all those extra laps on a lighter load, when he came out Kimi was right back there behind his tail. Later when Montoya came out, he was running close to Kimi who was shadowing Michael Schumacher.

It was interesting during the opening laps as Michael was obviously trying hard to make a break. His car was simply not good enough for it and whatever he did, Kimi simply matched it.

Kimi's second stop was simply a brilliant move by the McLaren team. Coming in just one lap after Michael Schumacher's second stop, the team short fueled him, whereas Michael had put in more fuel. Kimi was right behind Michael when the Ferrari pitted. But when Kimi emerged from his fuel stop, he was 7 seocnds away, thanks to a brilliant lap and that short stop.

This allowed Juan Montoya into the lead and Kimi emerging ahead of Michael, could not simply leave the Ferrari for dead. A brave but ultimately futile attempt by Ferrari to make something out of their pathetic race pace. As the McLarens were released, it was plain and obvious that Michael's tires were starting to fade for his lap times kept going slower and slower as had happened in Germany.

Juan Montoya was looking good for another win but ultimately his driveshaft gave way in an incident similar to Kimi's Imola exit. McLaren just love letting their drivers down. In Germany, some fool forgot to fasten some sort of valve properly thus causing Kimi's exit. I hope Ron Dennis remembers put the bloke to the guillotine.

At this point however, one can imagine Ron Dennis and everyone at McLaren just praying that nothing happened to Kimi. And thankfully nothing did. As happened in three other occassions this year, when his car is working well all weekend, Kimi is simply unstoppable. He built up a massive lead over Schumacher after the second stops that by the time he took his third, he could come out again still in the lead by some margin.

The fates must have been beaming at Kimi today because championship leader Fernando Alonso scored no points after a first lap first corner incident that completely wiped out his aero. According to Briatore, Alonso was driving with near zero downforce throughout the entire race. In the end he finished in 11th spot.

Ralf Schumacher was another surprise during the race. Just as he did in Germany, towards the end he caught up with Michael Schumacher and this time was much closer at the finish line. A consistent good drive by Ralf saw him running in fourth virtually all day and in the end he finished on the podium after Montoya's retirement. His first podium for Toyota and I believe their fourth(?) this year.

The BARs of Button and Sato were completely nowhere this weekend after admittedly choosing the wrong set of Michelins for the race. I believe had they put on the right type of boots, we could have seen another Button vs Michael Schumacher battle towards the end.

The Ferraris are proving quicker now. At Magny Cours and Silverstone, they were almost lapped. In Germany they finished 51 seconds down on winner Fernando Alonso. At the Hungaroring they finished just 33 seconds behind winner Kimi. In qualifying and in free practice, their pace is beginning to show whereas previously they'd still be nowhere at all. Its obvious now that they need a tyre that can take that pace throughout the race rather than fading away. Perhaps their cars are not as light on the tires as the McLarens, which are clearly more agile as well.

Ultimate pace must still belong to Woking as was evident during the race. I believe Renault too are still up there ahead of the Ferraris. But Ferrari's blatant cheating with regards to in season testing is clearly bearing fruit as they get quicker and quicker. Ross Brawn says that no more development time wiil be spent on the F2005, so its interesting to see just how much Bridgestone will develop their offerings for the rest of the year.