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Indian GP Preview

Tomorrow the engines of F1 will crackle and pop back to life at the Indian GP.  Below are some of the stories I will be keeping an eye on.

Sergio Perez is ill.  Not terminally, just sick enough for Sauber to issue a statement to that effect and name Esteban Gutierrez as their contingency.  Esteban, you may recall, is tipped to replace Perez alongside Hulkenberg (who is mute on a deal with Sauber that is taking longer than I expected to be announced).  Nothing major here, though, several drivers have had stomach issues in Asia over the years, most famously Mark Webber in Japan (I really don’t want to go into more detail than I need to on this one, if you want it, google is at your disposal).

Drivers are making typical end of season noises, you know, the kind about not backing down (Alonso), continuing to maintain an aggressive approach (Vettel), I swear I am really not in the title chase (Raikkonen) and, most amusingly, I am not getting out of his way (is anyone surprised that this is Mark Webber?).

Ferrari still seem to be having trouble with their wind tunnel.  It is no secret that Ferrari have had a horrid season (saved only by Alonso) but still the Italian team cannot get their wind tunnel data to match up with on track performance.  Add it up and the last few updates have not worked as Ferrari expected.  So the team headed to America for some sophistication (I mean that seriously) and have started using windtunnels based in the US of A.

Bring on India!

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Young Driver Test Announcements

As the season marches ever closer to its terminus in Brazil (only four races away!) we are beginning to hear more and more about the young driver test to happen at Abu Dhabi right after the weekend there.

All kinds of names are being bandied about as the man to take the helm of one of the current F1 monsters.  Only problem is, though, I have no idea who they are.  Any of them. At all.  No clue.

But that does not mean that these young drivers are not great drivers, nor do I mean to imply that they do not deserve their drives.  On the contrary, the young driver test is among the most important in the world of restricted testing in F1.

The young driver test is one of the few chances to give young drivers seat time in a modern F1 car and measure them against their peers, something that is virtually impossible without testing days.

I believe, in fact, that we are seeing the result of young drivers having so little chance to acclimatize themselves to the world of F1 prior to jumping into a race seat.  Young drivers have so little chance to prove themselves on the world’s toughest stage that they over extend in their driving, leading to silly accidents, start line calamities and all sorts of other, very rookie, issues.

In this respect, F1 reminds me a lot of baseball.  See, a prospect can make it to the majors, but then the prospect must have success to gain confidence.  It is only with that confidence that a prospect can live up to their potential.  In the world of limited F1 testing, though, prospects have no chance to gain that confidence, and so they continually underperform.

It does not help that F1 seats are commodities, unlike positions on the baseball diamond, that can be bought and sold to the highest bidder rather than reserved for the driver with the best lap times.  To many F1 teams, the best F1 driver is a combination of lap time and sponsorship.  But no driver wants to think of themselves as a “pay driver” so once they get to F1, they do their best to prove their skills to everyone.

The results have been out there for everyone to see and it is not a nice thing to look at.  Hopefully the young guns at Abu Dhabi will be a nice surprise.

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Force India’s involvement in F1

There was some rather odd news out of India in the week leading up to the Indian GP.  Apparently, Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines is in some serious financial straits and has not been paying either its employees or the airports the airline flies to.

Last week it was widely reported that one such airport had actually gotten an indictment against Mallya and was planning on arresting him upon his arrival back into the country for the Indian GP.  Since that story, the airport in question has been paid and the arrest warrant has been rescinded but trouble continues to brew.

That Mallya is in financial trouble should surprise no one.  It has been widely reported for years that the empire was suffering from mismanagement, culminating most recently in a partial takeover of the Force India team by Sahara, who have since added their name to the team’s.

Next week, however, at the Indian GP, it seems that there are threats by Mallya’s employees to go on some sort of hunger strike to encourage payment of back salaries.  The protesters see Mallya’s involvement in F1 as lavish, out of touch and indicative of an attitude that ignores the value of the work force.

And they are absolutely right.  Mallya, more so than any other F1 outfit, has always seemed to be in the sport purely as an ego trip.  Toro Rosso exist as a Red Bull B team.  Williams has a long history as a racing team, as does Sauber.  In some ways Force India Sahara is still very similar to the new teams on the grid in that I cannot distinguish why any of those particular brands are involved in F1 (save maybe Caterham).

Despite all this doom and gloom, though, we have to remember that this has been going on for years and Force India are still going strong.  They have two outstanding drivers and a pretty good car this year.

So while common sense may call for Mallya to retreat and lick his wounds, that does not seem like a likely outcome.  We will see what happens when Mallya arrives in India, particularly if he is forced to confront his employees.

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So what now?

This week off between Korea and India has proven to be particularly necessary.  Besides the title fight taking a dramatic or inevitable turn (depending on your point of view) we have also seen some dramatic driver line up changes, political changes at the top of F1 and F1 teams as well as the beginning of gossip focused on next year.

While on the one hand the top team driver market is settled, there are now some open seats at the midfield teams which need to be filled.  To my mind, this year has been one to forget for the midfield.  Both Sauber and Williams had cars this year that could fight at the top but were let down by inconsistent driving.  There is no doubt that Sauber should be ahead of Mercedes and maybe Williams too.  How many races did Maldonado go after Spain without scoring a single point?  A lot.  How many races has Bruno Senna had where he was completely anonymous?

While Sauber is a bit of a shut case, Force India and Williams are not.  There is no shortage of drivers on the market, the issue is trying to figure out which one is F1 worthy.  And that is where the rub is.

See, while most of the F1 field has graduated from GP2, the most recent recruits have had alarmingly little success, and have more often than not made complete nuisances of themselves.  Grosjean, Perez, Maldonado, to name a few.

Nor is the Red Bull Development program doing much better.  After sacking both drivers (yes Buemi is the reserve at Red Bull) Ricciardo and Vergne have both underwhelmed at Toro Rosso.  Now I personally think that they have not been in a position to succeed, but the fact that both driver programs are failing so comprehensively means that F1 teams are in a bit of a lurch.

There are options, but it will be interesting to see how these two midfielders deal with the lack of obvious talent in the lower ranks.

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Catch up time

Jeez, take a couple of days off and the whole F1 world blows up.

Lets jump right in and start with Korea.  It was boring.  Sorry, it just was.  Some great close action between Grosjean (who managed to not wreck) and Hulkenberg.  Some great passes and all that.

Frankly, though, I think it is the track.  It is just such an oddity.  It is sitting in the middle of no where, it has no history, the place is smoggy and therefore the image sucks.  And yet the walls are close and the track confined looking.  It is just not a pretty place to look at.

To me, that can be said about all of Tilke’s tracks.  They may be technically sound, but they are just not very nice places.  Think of the list.  Hungaroring, Hockenheim, Korea, India, Valencia, etc. etc.  Something about the colors and the surroundings and the track, its just not very nice.

But, nevertheless, there was a race, and Sebastian Vettel won.  The car is on top form and frankly, Alonso is in a bad spot.

And lets admit it, Alonso should win the championship this year.  His year has been far more impressive and inspiring.  Vettel, on the other hand, has a better team supporting him, a team that has overcome adversity at the start of the year and produced a very nice racecar that will most likely take the young German to his third consecutive title.

But, as Jackie Stewart says, Vettel is not great yet.  He is not great because he has not done the exact thing that Alonso has done so well all year.  He has not taken a subpar car to places it had no right to be.  He has taken a middling car and put it on top, but we have never seen inspired performances from Vettel, just the ability to execute at the highest level at the right moment (no small feat, just not as great a feat as Alonso).

Vettel now leads by six points and Raikkonen is well and truly out of title contention, though it seems that the flying Finn will be back at Lotus next year alongside Grosjean.

Speaking of drivers, Felipe Massa is back at Ferrari for all of 2013 and it is an open secret that Sauber will field Hulkenberg and their reserve driver Esteban Guitierez (whose name I have yet to learn how to spell).  The former is for his proven speed and the latter to satisfy the Mexican sponsors who will stay with the team after Perez’s departure.

NBC has also secured broadcast rights for F1 from 2013 onwards.

Analysis and further discussion forthcoming.

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The Driver Market

Now that the log jam that was Lewis Hamilton has cleared, the rest of the market has been freed up and I must admit that I am a bit surprised at how much movement there seems to be in the lower ranks.  I look through team by team and see what the rumors are versus the realities.

HRT and Marussia are both sort of wild cards.  Particularly Charles Pic who is very highly rated and has given Timo Glock a run for his money this season.  He is a pure rookie but might be appealing to a midlevel team who is about to lose one of their drivers to a top team.


Both drivers are a bit of a question mark but for their own reasons.  Heikki Kovalainen has seen a rebirth at Caterham after getting humiliated alongside Hamilton at McLaren.  Caterham’s progress has disappointed and Kovalainen might be looking for a faster ride, one he does deserve from his performances the past couple years.  Vitaly Petrov, on the other hand, is a pure pay driver.  He has speed, but at both Lotus and now Caterham, he has shown that he is not ready yet to be at the top level.  It seems he needs more money to continue at the team.

Who Caterham would replace him with is a bit of a difficult story.  Caterham needs money, so they might be willing to take a Senna or Maldonado, should they free up from Williams.

Toro Rosso

While firmly in the Red Bull purview, the junior team has been an abject failure this year, due in no small part to having two junior drivers, both of whom have experienced peaks and valleys.  Daniel Ricciardo seems to be the favored child at the moment, but with Marko, who knows what will happen.  These drivers do not have their own backing so it is hard to see them going anywhere  in a world so dictated based on finance.


Both seats are up in the air after a disappointing year where the car was there but the drivers were not.  Both, however, bring money and that might be a crucial part of the decision making.  Who they would get to replace either driver is hard to know because the need for money.

Force India

This is where the real issue is.  See, both of these drivers are at Force India based on merit.  They are both valued commodities and are both looking for the faster rides they feel they deserve further up the grid.  Problem is, space is limited.  After Sergio Perez’s promotion, I bet these guys are taking a peek at Sauber.


With Sergio Perez gone and Kobayashi rumored to not have a drive for next year (his podium non withstanding) this is getting to be a hot seat.  Lets start with Kobayashi, though, because the crowd favorite may be ousted at the end of the year to make room for some more consistent and fast talent.  Make no mistake, I really like Kobayashi, but his big skill is now no longer necessary with the end of the Bridgestone era.  His qualifying is erratic and speed questionable.  There is a reason he was not taken by McLaren.  He may, however, find Japanese backing after his performance in Japan, but without that it will be tough for him to stay on the top step of motorsport.

To fill potentially two vacancies, there is both Force India drivers as well as those in GP2.  Sauber has a long history of bringing young drivers up, though they may want to fill the other spot with someone with experience, maybe Kovalainen?

Mercedes is all set this year so no need to worry about them.


Grosjean is staying.  He just is.  He is managed by Boullier’s management company.  He is highly regarded and definitely has the speed.  First lap incidents are a huge problem, but there is no maliciousness in Grosjean.

Raikkonen, however, is a bit of a question mark.  He has an option for next year, but he is stonewalling and refusing to give any hints.  Classic Raikkonen.  If Raikkonen leaves, Lotus may start looking at Di Resta or Hulkenberg as well.  I do not see them getting younger blood as the quality of the cars they build demands some more documented talent.


Felipe Massa is probably going to be at Ferrari next year.  He has been on a tear and seems to have finally gotten over his crash two years ago.  This is the Massa I remember and it seems foolish to disrupt team dynamics that are already so clear.  Hulkenberg and Di Resta are in the rumor mill for that seat but I don’t see it happening, especially after Japan.

McLaren, all set

Red Bull, all set.

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Vettel wags his finger, again

Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese GP in dominant fashion.  And his performance could not have come at a more important time, Alonso crashed out, courtesy of the other Lotus, Raikkonen.

The race itself was not too interesting, frankly.  There were first lap calamities, Alonso being one, Senna, Rosberg, Grosjean and Webber were also involved in separate incidents.  Webber has called for another race ban from Grosjean and it is getting hard to argue.  7 first lap incidents in 14 races is just unacceptable.  Even Maldonado’s record is better.

Beyond that, Hamilton made a great move on Raikkonen into turn one.  Senna went around Grosjean on the outside of 130R.

The drama was really on the final podium that Vettel shared with Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi, two truly great stories in F1.  This is Massa’s first podium in years and Kamui’s first ever.  Both are really great guys who have always seemed to be on the bad end of the deal.  Yes, Massa has really underperformed the past couple of years, but more and more there are signs his form has returned and the rumors have become just as strong that Ferrari will keep him.

Kobayashi, on the other hand, was brought into F1 as a replacement with the Toyota team back in 2009 for Brazil and Abu Dhabi.  In both races he was massively impressive, both for his overtaking abilities (previously thought impossible in the Bridgestone era) and his defense of position from Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi.

Sauber picked him up after Toyota dropped out, but a lack of sheer pace meant that while he was always interesting on track, he wasn’t necessarily fighting for the top positions.  When Sauber picked up Sergio Perez last year, it was immediately evident that Kobayashi was outclassed in pace.  Ever since it has been Perez who has most frequently enjoyed Sauber’s up turn in form with multiple podiums this year while Kobayashi, despite starting from good positions, could never convert.

In Japan it all came together for Kobayashi and I applaud him for it.

Other than that, the storyline is really now firmly on the Driver’s Championship.  Sebastian Vettel is now only four points behind Fernando Alonso and what seemed like Alonso’s party even after Singapore, it is now a real race.  Technically Kimi Raikkonen is also in the championship race, but did himself no favors by only finishing 6th.

We can also expect that the next couple of weeks will see a lot of movement when it comes to the driver market.  We will see.

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Friday in Japan

FP1 and 2 were yesterday and told us exactly as much as FP1 and 2 always tell us, absolutely nothing.

The Red Bull and McLaren are quick.  Force India is enjoying a resurgence, Ferrari are right there but wind tunnel issues are recurring.  Apparently the team will have to shut down their tunnel again this winter to fix more correlation errors.  There is also concern about a lack of development, making it more difficult for Alonso to secure the crown he so thoroughly deserves.

Lotus had a rough time, abandoning their DEVICE.  Kimi Raikkonen in particular was affected, and did not get much track time with a KERS issue in FP2.

There were some wrecks too.  Vitaly Petrov misplaced his rear wing on the front straight and Michael Schumacher couldn’t place his rear tire, pushing right onto the grass and crashing hard as a result, ironically in the same place as Paul di Resta.

Qualifying tonight.

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The Experiment Ends

Michael Schumacher announced today his retirement (again) from Formula 1.

I must admit, though, that I do not feel qualified to write the closing chapter on Michael’s career as I simply was not around to see it in all its glory.  I know the stories, I know the headlines, but my enduring idea of Schumacher is of him bumbling around in an inadequate car and generally making a fool of himself.

I remember Singapore last year, I remember Turkey a couple years ago.  Not only was Michael slow, but his racecraft was seriously lacking.

Make no mistake, I wanted Michael back.  I wanted him to become a force to be reckoned with.  His pole lap in Monaco was absolutely brilliant.  But at the time, I saw it as a signal of his return to form.  Now, as I re-watch the lap, I see it for what it now means, a last flash of brilliance in a great expanse of mediocrity.

All that being said, the manner in which Mercedes has made these moves has left me with a very sour taste.  I know, I know, he brought this on himself.  By refusing to give Mercedes a decision on next year during the summer break, he opened his position and when a driver like Hamilton is on the market, you take Hamilton, every day.

He deserved a chance to go out in style, retiring for no other reason but because he wanted to, not because he was unceremoniously kicked out.  Make no mistake, I agree that this is the best move, but I think Mercedes has treated him rather harshly by announcing Hamilton’s arrival before Schumacher’s departure.

Goodbye Mr. Schumacher, thank you.

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