News and views on motorsports

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monaco GP

No one expects any overtaking to happen on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo. Given that lack of expectation, one could then simply enjoy the race which was in fact quite exciting to watch. Or at least until Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber retired. Up until then, they were giving the world champion a helluva run for his money. I think if Michael were in the mix today, he could have taken all of them.

Its funny this circuit. You watch cars following one another nose to tail and it seems that even on the faster bits of the circuit through the tunnel, later on at Tabac and the swimming pool, the cars seem to have no problems at all following the car in front. At some stages Kimi Raikkonen looked like he would crash into Fernando Alonso's gearbox. I suspect that had this been a touring car race, some nudging would not go amiss. But the fragile wings and bodywork of a Formula 1 car simply would not do.

I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps because on this circuit the wings are set at their maximum angles and somehow are not so sensitive to the dirty air in the wake of another car. Perhaps the turns are simply too slow to create much turbulence in the first place. But I couldn't help but feel that if the circuit were just a little bit wider, there would be more of the brake locking tyre smoking lunges that Giancarlo Fisichella and Michael Schumacher made during the course of their progress. But then again, if the circuit were any wider the turns would be faster and there goes the aero once more.

Starting on pole with Michael nowhere near him, you felt it was always going to be Alonso's race. But Kimi I thought had a definite chance of winning had that safety car not come out. As Dennis would say in the McLaren press release, he had more fuel in the tanks than Alonso did. A lot more.

Praise must also go to Mark Webber for driving a brilliant race. He too was going very quickly and fully deserved at least a podium spot. David Coulthard I thought drove solidly but was hampered by the mobile road block named Rubens Barrichello. Later on his speed was not very apparent as the Red Bull team had switched him from a two stop strategy to just a single stop and he was carrying a lot of fuel. Had he been able to execute the two stop strategy I'd bet he would have been right up there with Montoya at least if not kissing the gearbox of Mark Webber.

Sneaky Schumi in fact drove a faultless race and ended up quite a brilliant fifth despite starting at the very back on a circuit with few overtaking options. Jenson Button in fact wilted under Scumi's pressure and had to give way. But his teammate Rubens, still smarting from last year, would give Michael no room at all. But Michael's speed today was undeniable. His fastest lap way faster than that of Kimi Raikkonen's.

As I said, given the lack of expectation of any overtaking, watching the traffic jams in Monaco was actually fun. Witness David Coulthard for instance who was simply all over the place trying to keep Michael behind him in the middle of the race. Limited opportunities perhaps but a driver still needs to keep the line covered just in case.

Strategy is everything on these streets. And it would have been interesting to have seen how it would all pan out after the second stops. In the end, reliability won the day for Alonso. This level of completeness, the blend of speed, tactics and reliability (and now it seems, fair play) from Alonso and the Renault team are what will win Alonso the championship for the second time.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Did He, Didn't He

My first reaction to Michael Schumacher's stall at Rascasse was thinking how convenient it was for the German. With everyone on their second balls out run, here was a situation that would help him enormously. Yellow flags out, the other drivers, like it or not, will inevitably be delayed at the turn. And indeed, more than one had to take a tighter line into the corner. That included Fernando Alonso who was at that time, going a great deal quicker than Michael through the first two sectors. Fernando missed it by only a few hundredths but that delay was enough to ensure that the Ferrari starts at the front.

A few minutes later I got an SMS from a mate of mine who suggested in no uncertain terms that the off was very deliberate. Well, being conspiracy theorists that I am, I agreed. Look carefully at the video replays. Going into the left hander it seemed that he went in there a little too quickly, braked hard, locked up, recovered but conveniently ran out of room at the exit. He stopped and stalled. Hmmm.... stalled or did he hit the kill switch? I mean, I've seen this guy go off in the kitty litter at the Nurburgring but kept the engine on and got a nice little (doubtful) push from the marshals. So it was certainly convenient that his engine decided at this moment to cough and splutter to a stop. Whether or not this is deliberate I certainly have no experience to say.

However, gamesmanship is not beyond both Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. Perhaps the Ferrari pits did not tell him to do so but heh, Michael is not exactly lacking in grey matter is he? The effect of his "enthusiasm" was to delay the other drivers and one could argue that it delayed them in a most unfair manner.

Reports have it that the entire paddock was up in arms with the incident and no doubt the protest was a result of this discontent. But as I said before, it was certainly convenient for Michael. There are of course other places that would have achieved the same delaying effects but Rascasse is probably the best place. Narrow, very tight and in actual fact quite easy to go off there.

Well, in the end the stewards after careful consideration over 8 hours decided to penalize Michael. I don't know what Pitpass is on about though. A Black Day for Formula 1? Not everybody would be displeased by this really. As I said, Ferrari have had their fair share of gamesmanship in the past and its high time someone put paid to their underhanded tactics. If indeed it was proven so.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

There May Be Trouble Ahead

Well, it was always going to happen wasn't it? The Sporting Working Group voted over the weekend to scrap the engine homologation rules but unsurprisingly, this has now been rejected" by Max Mosley. According to Max: "By entering the championship, a team accepts the regulations as published and, of equal importance, is entitled to rely on them when deciding whether or not to enter." Thats true enough and sounds reasonable. But then, errr.... whats the point of the Sporting Working Group Max?

It seems that Max is going out of his way to protect the interests of the minority here. The SWG motion was passed by majority vote with Ferrari, the two Red Bull teams and Prodrive voting against. Significantly, independents Super Aguri, Midland and Williams voted for the motion. Max Mosley cites spiralling costs as a reason to overrule the SWG together with protecting those teams that had entered the championship on the basis of the published rules. Funny how the 3 independents didn't seem to be very concerned by "costs."

Its also very significant that Max Mosley had said that he would stand by whatever changes and proposals were made by the SWG. Well, looks like he's gone back on his word saying that teams entered the 2008 world championship agreed to abide by the rules as published.

And this will greatly upset the manufacturers. Do I hear the sound of MOU pages being ripped apart? Its a real pity. The SWG process provided a mechanism to decide on the rules in a very fair manner. In the words of Ron Dennis, it was a very democratic process. After years and years of requiring a unanimous decision to change anything (as required by the Concorde Agreement) here was a way to ensure that things got done and done in a proper manner.

Well, it looks like it was all for show. I guess Max was hoping the SWG would publicly reaffirm his position and show people that he can be a reasonable man. But in the face of a major U-turn by the majority, he's gone and shown his true colours once more. Quite where this leaves Formula 1 is anybody's guess.

An excellent article appears on explaining the issue in greater detail. And if you receive Racefax, you should check out the latest in your mailbox.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Peace In Formula 1?

One of the biggest news over the weekend in Barcelona was the announcement that the GPMA have signed a memorandum of understanding with CVC affirming their commitment to Formula 1 in 2008 and beyond. Perhaps prompted by this announcement, Renault themselves have confirmed their commitment to race at least until 2012.

"Peace In Our Time," declared ITV-F1. "Peace breaks out in Formula 1" ran the proud headline on A sentiment echoed pretty much everywhere in the media. Well, the racing media at least.

If I had a dollar for every MOU I've seen that in the end never amounted to anything..... An MOU really means bugger all if you ask me. In my experience its just a piece of paper that says hey we've met and talked a bit about this venture. It looks interesting so, lets we work together to make it happen. We'll spend time drawing up the legal paperwork and discussing the commercial agreement.

And that's basically it. You can't enforce an MOU in court and the parties can walk away anytime they want. Its a nice gesture but really corporations walk away from MOUs all the bloody time. So I wouldn't be too quick to say that peace has arrived. Not until there actually exists an actual legal document that has been signed by all the parties involved. It seems extraordinarily naive for the racing media to make such claims of peace in the meantime.

However, in related news this weekend was the inaugural meeting of the Sporting Working Group at Barcelona. The group is made up of representatives of all the teams competing in the 2008 world championship. This group includes Prodrive. It was significant because it can be considered a success by the GPMA. The way it works these days (at least for 2008) is that rather than requiring unanimous decision among the teams before a regulation is adopted, nowadays a majority vote is enough.

It should be noted that one of Max Mosley's complaints was that the technical directors can never agree on anything. Not a hundred percent true. I can recall plenty of times when they did agree on a regulation with the exception of a single interloper among their ranks. The guilty party? You guessed it. Ferrari. Take these V8s they run these days. If the teams had their way, it would have been law since 1989 when turbos were banned and engines had to be normally aspirated. But those smart alec boys from Maranello wanted to run V12s so it had to be dropped. Same thing with refuelling. Those V12s are thirsty little buggers. In fact, the teams were all shouting for a single tyre manufacturer not long ago. Only Ferrari dissented.

The majority rule in fact is a real godsend and should pave the way for quicker resolution of technical regulations. And the GPMA teams, joined by Williams used it to great effect last weekend.

First the proposal for increasing the engine homologation period from 3 to 5 years was rejected by a vote of 8-4. The four in support being the "Friends of Max" brigade that is Ferrari, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Prodrive. Nice to see that good old Frank decided to go with the GPMA, despite the fact that he's signed up with Bernie. Surprisingly, Midland also joined up on the side of the GPMA. Perhaps Shnaider is not so useless after all but then again, he's running Toyota engines which might explain things.

Second, the proposal for penalty ballasts in place of the current penalty of grid positions were also rejected by majority vote. Third, everyone agreed on standard ECUs to be used for testing and racing.

Then Ron Dennis decided to propose that engine homologation be trashed altogether. And this was supported by the GPMA teams, Super Aguri, Midland and Williams with the Friends of Max voting against. Now thats a GPMA victory in my book.

But ultimately the FIA have the power, through various commitees such as the kangaroo World Council, to veto any motion that it decides as being against the interest of the sport. Now there's the big catch. I can forsee it now. The teams decide on a regulation. Ferrari doesn't like it and makes a call to Max who decides to veto the whole damn thing. Putting that aside for the moment, nearly everything the FIA proposed has now been washed aside by the SWG. As Pitpass notes, will Max accept that?

Well I think he better. Otherwise the GPMA teams will be the first to rip that MOU up and shove it up his ass. But if he does accept everthing the SWG decides I think the GPMA will fall over themselves to sign whatever commercial agreement CVC, FOM and the FIA come up with. Over to you Max.

Spanish Grand Prix

Whilst I was quite thankful it wasn't yet another Maranello victory, nevertheless I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that this was a terribly boring race today. What is it about these Tilke tracks that make them such a bore? Never mind the slow speed, hairpin infested Shanghai. Here we have a high speed track and yet its still notoriously difficult to overtake on.

As Michael Schumacher would say in the post race interview, the race was really won on the first stint. Fernando Alonso was simply running away in front leaving all else including his teammate for dead. It was these initial 17 laps that won the race for Fernando. Essentially the Spaniard ran almost the exact strategy as he did at the Nurburgring. Lighter fuel load but put the car on pole and try to run away with it.

In contrast to a week ago however, this time it worked really well. The lighter load enabling Fernando to put in a very solid first stint where he was able to pull out a 10 second gap of Fisi and 12 seconds over Michael before pitting in. Significantly also, once refueled he was able to keep pace with Michael after his stop. Somehow, Michael could not hook up his car enough in those extra laps before his diving into the pits. He was only slightly quicker than Alonso, the gap in lap times measured in tenths. At the Nurburgring, Michael was at least 1 second or more faster than Alonso before the pitstops.

In the second stint, all Fernando did was simply maintain a 10 second gap and put the hammer down at precisely the right time before refueling. Try as he might but Michael couldn't do anything about it. As Pat Symonds would say after the race, the Renault was simply too quick for anyone else. Or at least in Fernando's hands.

Traffic was always going to be a problem here given overtaking difficulties. Not helped by some backmarkers who are most notoriously difficult to pass. The two Midlands are very much guilty of this. First it was Albers refusing to get out of Alonso's way, then it was the turn of his teammate Tiago Monteiro running in close company. I can't believe people voted this idiot as rookie of the year last year. He has a bloody bad habit of getting into people's way when he's about to be lapped. It just shows either bloody mindedness or sheer incompetence through a lack of awareness on his part. I think its both. Like the whole Midland team and Alex Shnaider, he is a bloody waste of time.

Also suffering brain fade today was Ralf Schumacher. I mean, what was he thinking? He was miles behind Trulli and rather clumsily attempted an outbraking manuver, locking his brakes in the process and clipping Trullis tyres with his wing. It must have done a lot more damage for the hapless younger Schumacher retired after that. And just what is going on with Juan Pablo these days? He is not helping his cause for next year by committing mistakes like that. As if to shout his shortcomings, Juan Pablo suffered the ignominy of being beached on the kerbs, rear wheels spinning away uselessly.

Just as in 2005, there are really only two teams with any hope of the championship this year. The rest of the field were simply at sea. Just look at poor Raikkonen, almost a minute behind. Jenson Button keeping him company whilst Rubens Barrichello despite improving his own performance in the Honda was lapped by Fernando. The rest of the field long gone with no chance. Villeneuve strating at the back of the grid, was lapped before even making his first and only pitstop.

What a difference 12 months makes. A year ago it was Kimi that was in front showing Fernando how its done. This year he finishes a distant fifth in a car that simply and utterly did not have any pace at all. Honda has clearly been exposed as a pretender with not much substance. They did some sparkling lap times over the winter on this very circuit but it was very much a flash in the pan result done on vapour.

I think the result in Barcelona does show that Renault and Ferrari are quite evenly matched. It would seem that Ferrari are quicker on the tighter, more technical circuits whereas Renault are faster on the high speed circuits. Also, it could also be tyres at work here. Track tempratures reached 41 degrees in Catalunya and perhaps the Michelins have the advantage. Thankfully, the coming races have a mixture of fast and slow circuits and it will be interesting to see how the pendulum swings between both the leading teams.

Since there was not much else to comment on in terms of race action, I'd like to point out just how quick these 2.4 V8 cars are. A quick look at the fastest lap times in Barcelona over the years will illustrate this.

2006 - Filipe Massa, Ferrari 1m 16.648s
2005 - Giancarlo Fisichella 1m 15.641s
2004 - Michael Schumacher 1m 17.450s

Despite a loss of about 200 bhp and a much greater percentage lost in torque, the V8s are a only second slower than last year's V10 powered cars. You might say that the gap would have been greater since in 2005 tyre changes were banned. But then you look at 2004 lap times and you see that the V8s are almost a second quicker. And remember in 2004, the aero rules weren't quite as restrictive as the current spec cars. The wings are higher, the diffusers are smaller in size and despite having significantly less power, the cars this year are lapping faster. This time next year, Fisi's 2005 lap record will probably be overtaken. Thats the pace of development in this sport. Amazing.

One can also put to rest the argument over the V10s in the Squadra Toro Rosso cars having some sort of an advantage. Take a look at the lap times below.

2006 Vitantonio Liuzzi, STR 1m 18.488s
2005 David Coulthard Red Bull RB1 1m 16.947s (Slower than Filipe's time this year!)

Given that everyone else is a second or more slower this year than they were last year, it seems that the equivalency rules have worked quite well. At least in the high speed circuits. I'm still betting that in the next race in Monaco the torque of the V10 will tell. Just how well it will do I don't know for sure but here's a chance for Scott Speed to make it into the second round of qualifying!

One thing this race highlights is the fact that Renault are going to need someone very special to replace Fernando next year. I mean, just look at Giancarlo. Despite putting his car on the front row, he finished 23 seconds behind his teammate. Plus he put his car in the kitty litter losing him around 6 seconds on that lao. He is not the man to be leading Renault's championship challenge. If he were the leading Renault driver, the championship would definitely be in Michael Schumacher's hands for sure. Fernando is definitely a class act.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Leave Him Alone

Note: This article was edited several times. Hopefully this is the final version.

Bernie Ecclestone claims that Fernando Alonso in his capacity as world champion doesn't do much for the sport. This may well be true but Bernie, I think you haven't done much either have you? Indeed most of the promotion is done either by the local circuits or the television companies. In no small measure promotion of Formula 1 is done by the manufacturers who participate in the sport.

But more than Bernie's dumb comments, the bigger question is why should we need drivers to do anything at all except mesmerise us with their skill and bravery on Sundays? I don't know but I think this is originally an American phenomenon. The idea that the drivers should be out there putting on a fake smile, meeting people, signing autographs and thanking sponsors. Its disgusting. I mean come on. I'm not there to see charming personalities and PR filtered speeches. I'm there to watch sporting rivalries and battle.

Yes, I realise that ultimately its the sponsors who pay for the cars but they get something in return, that is the advertising reach and eyeballs. And yes, fans can claim that since those advertisers pay to reach us, we're the ones who ultimately pay for the cars. But that doesn't mean we own the drivers. And it doesn't mean they owe us anything. Hey, turn off the telly or don't turn up for the race if you don't like it. Personally, I turn up to watch their driving. And I prefer to watch the interactions amongst the drivers especially when there's a huge rivalry. I really don't care how they interact with me.

A lucky bastard friend of mine once had the privilege of being in the Ferrari guest box at Sepang in 2000 (or was it 2001?) and he told me this little anecdote. You see, one of things these lucky sods get to do is meet the drivers who turn up at the guest box to say a quick hello to everyone. Naturally, everyone is really excited when its time for Big Mike and Rubens to show up. Some PR guy comes into the box and tells everyone to give a big cheer when the both of them appear and when time comes they give an enormous roar. The drivers reaction of course is nothing less than disappointing. Long faces and the appearance that this was very much thrust upon them against their will. Next door in the Williams guest box, a big cheer went out to Ralf Schumacher and Button who apparently greeted and entertained their guests with big smiles and seemingly genuine warmth. My friend being a huge Ferrari fan was nonplussed by the attitude of his heros. They were, in his words, unfriendly arrogant and pompous prima donnas.

Well, I explained to my friend that these drivers are human beings as well. Sundays are a stressful time. In modern Formula 1, there can be no mistakes. And the level of detail in the preparation means that any of them including Michael Schumacher, would prefer to be spending time with their engineers than be forced to meet sods like him. In the midst of all that pressure, the last thing on their minds are to go out and be forced yet again to go meet a bunch of strangers you don't know and really couldn't give a toss about. That's a fact and if you were one of these blokes, you would feel exactly the same way. But then again, you might argue that the Williams guys were doing just fine and you'd be right. But then again, maybe brother Ralf is simply a more personable fellow. But what the hell do I care? I'd rather see him work his genius on the track.

Some others argue that these guys are lucky to be in Formula 1 and earning their million dollar paychecks and they owe a debt of gratitude somehow for the privilege of being there. This ignores one big point. And that is, they're not there because they're lucky (well, at least most of them aren't), they're there because they're just plain unbelievably good drivers and f***in geniuses behind the wheel of a car. If they weren't we all wouldn't be watching the sport in the first place. Their talent means they are simply the best in the world. Think about it, in a world of 6 billion people there is only one world champion and a few handful of other blokes who can challenge him. They have an uncommon talent and they deserve to get paid for that talent. If we all were that bloody good then those drivers wouldn't get paid so highly. Simple economics of supply and demand. And don't forget with the money they earn, those drivers are under enormous pressure to perform. One slip and they have everyone on their backs. You and I would simply crumble to a heap if we were the ones subjected to such strain.

I simply cannot abide the attitude that simply because these guys earn their fat paychecks they deserve to be treated as less than human and be stripped of all that makes a human being and be forced as puppets to do their teams and fans bidding. Perhaps it because the great drivers make it look so easy, it makes some people think that the drivers are simply overpaid and that somehow its just pure luck that the drivers are up there whilst they are lower than whale shit at the bottom of the ocean. So in their warped minds they think the drivers owe them something. Yes, luck has something to do with it but their talents had plenty to do with it as well.

Okay now I'm going to go off track but I really must touch on this issue. And that is, why does Formula 1 need more promotion? So that greedy Bernie can make more money? Bugger off. Formula 1 represents (or should represent) the pinnacle of motorsport. I keep repeating this point again and again but I feel I must. First and foremost, it should be about sport. But increasingly people think it should be about entertainment. Horrid artificial NASCAR style entertainment. To those people, I say go watch a movie or NASCAR if you want entertainment.

Increasingly also, the sport has deteriorated because of money. More money for Bernie. More money for the teams. More money for the damned media. The route to that seems to be getting in more fans in and hence there is this big talk about some supposedly urgent need to do more to promote the sport. When sport deteriorates into a business, you find all sorts of measures designed, not to preserve the purity and essence of all that made the sport great in the first place but are designed to expand the business. No I'm not saying that things increased overtaking is not needed, they most certainly are. But the measures put in place should preserve the soul of the sport. Expansion and measures to broaden the appeal of the sport dilutes it.

Listen, if you are a true blue racing fan, Formula 1 would automatically appear on your scopes. You simply cannot miss it. You follow racing all the way up the ladder and eventually you'll get there. If there weren't a Formula 1, somebody would invent it. Because its needed. Just as football has a world cup to determine the world's best, motorsport needs Formula 1 to decide just who is the best driver. Its inevitable. And just as a Premier League fan would find his way to the world cup or the European Champions league the racing fan would find his way to Formula 1.

But whats happening right now is this need to cultivate the casual viewer. That seems to be the key in everyone's mind to capture more advertising and sponsorship and hence more money. Well let me give a better alternative to that. Whats really needed is more racing fans. Most casual viewers that I know in actual fact don't give a flying f*** about racing. They really don't. Ask them about GP2, World Touring Cars, Formula 3, Formula Renault or Sportscars and they simply just haven't got a clue. And really they don't care either. So how about, instead of promoting Formula 1, the FIA, the broadcasters and the media promote these other forms of racing?

Think about it. These are the series that desperately need a greater profile and larger followings. Do you know how hard it is for those poor blokes down below to get sponsors? Its bloody unbelievably competitive down there, whether its about fighting for the cash or for position on the race track. Michael Schumacher may be living in a castle and takes spins in a Ferrari Enzo but just ask him about his early days driving an old Ford Escort and living in poverty because everything he had, had to go into the bloody race car. I bet he could have used a few more logos on his car and overalls. Promote junior formulae and other forms of racing. Let sponsors get to know them and draw more crowds there. Get more people to know more about grassroots cut and thrust racing. You'll automatically get more Formula 1 fans. More importantly, you get the right sort of fan. The proper racing fan not a bunch of clueless morons who know nothing and demand the silliest of things.

Back to the main issue. So lay off Fernando. I mean, he bloody well deserves to be where he is now. And if, as Bernie claims, he, like many other drivers, take a lot out of Formula 1, then he bloody well deserve to. He's worked his ass off, paid his dues and now he deserves every good thing he gets. And if you're lucky enough to meet him and find that he's a little reserved (which he is) and doesn't put on that big smile you think you deserve from him (which he won't) and really isn't interested in finding out who you are (which he isn't), just remember he owes you bugger all and you're there to watch him drive and compete. The only person he really owes is God, the universe or whatever you may choose to call providence for him giving him sublime talent.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Euro GP

Well, well. So the Great Ferrari Fightback is well and truly on it would seem. The way Michael Schumacher won the race was fairly copybooks stuff, something we've grown accustomed to over the years. When the opposition dives into the pits (first naturally), the German would still be out, pounding the circuit and setting fastest lap after fastest lap. Effectively overtaking in the pits since doing it on the circuit is not only difficult but risky too. Still, like the man he beat, Michael is a driver you can depend on to deliver when it truly matters. When Ross says go, Michael Schumacher is like a heat seeking missile, and a fantastic sight to behold.

It was a great battle of course between Fernando and Michael but given the way the Ferraris had been going all weekend, you would have guessed that no one else stood a chance. In Imola, one could argue that it was a tactical mistake by Renault that cost them the race but at the Nurburgring, no amount of tactical prowess could save them.

Michael has a lot to thank for his teammate. Filipe did much of the hard work on Friday and in the process using up his own tyres to his own detriment, meant that Michael had plenty of brand new sets of tyres left for the race. Crucially, he had one more than Fernando Alonso. Its funny how a brand new set of tyres means so much in the race nowadays, as Fernando himself demonstrated at Imola two weeks ago. However, at the Ring, Renault placed huge emphasis on getting the pole position and in the process, using an extra set of brand new tyres. Still you wonder about these tyres. I remember a couple of years back, there were races where Michael would go out on scrubbed sets which worked better in fact. This year, brand new tyres are a must.

But really, whichever way Fernando Alonso went, he couldn't do much against a man whose entire team is dedicated to his own glory. Of course, Ferrari themselves couldn't give a damn on whether this is right or wrong. They want the world championship and Michael is clearly the favourite and is the best choice in the team to do so. So, just as Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello were sacrificed for the greater good of Maranello, now its Filipe's turn. Quite why a racing driver or any sports person would volunteer to do so is simply beyond me. Sure, Renault or any other team could follow the same game plan, but somehow to my mind it just doesn't feel right.

But its a strategy thats worked for Michael and his team and really is a carry over from the days when he, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne were at Benetton. One could argue that in those days the situation was even worse. The car was built to suit Michael's style and screw whoever else was doing driving duties. At Maranello at least they have the resources to give the second driver at least a car he's comfortable with.

And indeed, Filipe did well to bring the car home in third and on the podium. He could have done worse. In fact he could have done a Giancarlo Fisichella. Fisi may argue that Jacques Villeneuve held him up and in fact the Villeneuve did. But going up to him and berating him in public was like watching the idiot blaming the moron for his own mistake. The fact of the matter is, he did have the opportunity to do a quick lap prior to that but it just wasn't quick enough. The fault dear Fisi lies not with the waning star but with yourself. Having said that Jacques too could have moved out of the way. I'm not surprised if both these drivers are out of their teams at the end of the season and possibly both of them on their way out of Formula 1.

Despite a good turn of speed at the end, Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren simply didn't have the legs of the Renault and Ferraris up front. He may have ended up with second fastest lap of the race but in truth, the pace of the McLaren was very erratic even given its fuel heavy strategy. In the first stint, the leading four were all lapping in the 1m 33s bracket but significantly, Kimi's laps were always that little bit slower. Mere tenths but still very significant over an entire stint. Also, it did not seem to me that the McLaren had any consistent pace. On some laps Kimi would keep pace and on others he was simply at sea. But at least he comprehensively outpaced his teammate who ran a one stop strategy that never seemed to quite work out.

Everyone else were simply nowhere. Great mid field battle though with cars from fifth to twelfth running nose to tail, but alas overtaking is mighty difficult. A lot of commentators would say its due to the circuit and yes I'd agree. Its another Tilke horror. But really there are places to overtake but the aero on the cars are simply not up to the job.

Nico Rosberg's driving this weekend was very impressive given the machinery he had to work with. But I cannot for the life of me fathom why Williams decided to go for two short stints after the extra long first one got them as high as fifth. Once Nico came out again, the others in the pack dived in again not long after. And he was back in fifth. But then they pulled him in again. I mean, why mess with a strategy that had worked so well? Funny times at Williams. They've been out of the winners circle so long that they are starting to act like a typical midfield runner. Mark Webber in the meantime must be seething with yet another failure. I'm not so sure he'd turn down a Renault offer should it come to him. And I have a feeling he would make better use of the opportunity than Fisichella. Williams is a proud team with a tradition for excellence. But I have a bad feeling about them right now. I sincerely hope they don't go down the path of Lotus or Tyrell.

I think the rest of the season will really be about Michael vs. Fernando and at the moment its advantage Michael and Ferrari. He will be doing what Kimi did last season and that is chase the Spaniard all summer. However, its possible to say that Michael has the advantage of having a reliable car beneath him. And that will make all the difference. Despite what the ITV commentators have to say, I think its going to be very difficult for Fernando and Renault to pull level in terms of development. And of course now that the tyre regulations are back to what they were, Bridgestone are having a much easier time. Expect Michael to win a string of races in the summer and eventually overhauling Fernando, to the delight of everyone who will once again praise his brilliance and that of his team. Oh and the supposedly loyal tifosi, conspicuously absent last year will be back in Monza this time round.