The most famous driver in F1 without a drive?

In a continuation of yesterday’s post, I thought today would be a good time to discuss the implications and ramifications of the Hamilton move from the perspective of the drivers, Hamilton, Perez, Rosberg and Schumacher, each of whom finds themselves in new and unique positions in their careers.

Somewhat amusingly, it is Hamilton whose position is the least astonishing and also in some ways the most understandable.  No one is going to argue that Hamilton made this decision based on short term gain.  Mercedes is simply not in that position and no one denies that fact.  So, Hamilton made his decision based on long term rationals, which we can now debate as rational or not.  Everyone also agrees that these decisions were based on a combination of factors, discontent at McLaren being the primary motivator combined with some good arguments made from the Mercedes camp, harkening back to when Michael and Ross first teamed up at Ferrari.  Of course it was that same Michael they kicked out to make room, but never mind the details.

In some ways, the two most interesting spots in this whole game of musical chairs is Sergio Perez and Nico Rosberg.  Lets start with Hamilton’s team mate.

Nico Rosberg has always been a difficult driver to judge.  There has never been a doubt about his speed, we just wonder how much of it there really is.  We knew he was quick but is he on the level of the other top drivers in the sport, a Hamilton say?  When he was at Williams, he outclassed his teammates but the car was never up to spec and so we never saw him at the sharp end.  And then with Mercedes, Michael Schumacher was never back to his former self.  “Senior moments” plagued the legend, though, eventually the two seemed to be more evenly matched.

But does that mean that Rosberg is better than Michael Schumacher, or just better than a 40 year old Michael Schumacher?  Finally, Nico Rosberg will be up against a known quantity in Lewis Hamilton.  And the answers will become a bit more clear.

And what of Sergio Perez, up against Jenson Button.  The supposed tire whisperer up against the smoothest man in the business.  While McLaren say that Perez is not an apprentice, he just kind of is.  McLaren take him for his third year in F1 and there have been some serious rough edges that need ironing out.  And, we have no idea of his technical abilities.  Now Hamilton was no great shakes at setting up a car, but between Button and Perez, McLaren may have a much smaller margin for error than they did when Lewis could just wring a car by its neck.

Which brings us to Michael.  Where oh where will Michael go, having been unceremoniously dumped from Mercedes.  Make no mistake, Michael, if he wants it, will be able to find a drive.  It should not be too difficult,  but the options he will have are not enviable.  Lets look at who would take him.  Ferrari (big maybe and probably not), Sauber (absolutely but not a winning car) Force India or Williams (same problem as Sauber) or any of the lower pack.  It will be very interesting to see, but we will only know when Michael decides to tell us.

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Hamilton and Mercedes

Unless you (and by you I mean any somewhat serious F1 fan) have been living under a rock for the past couple days, you will most definitely have heard that Lewis Hamilton has signed with Mercedes.

No need for specifics, there aren’t any, besides the length of the contract, three years.  No inkling of money or associated team commitments.

Now it would be perfectly fair if you accused me of being under a rock in that its Tuesday night and this is the first I will have posted about the single most important driver market development in the past three years.

Well, in some ways, I was.  See the news broke on Friday and I was in the middle of shooting the Grand Am Season Finale at Lime Rock Park (see the pictures here) as an accredited photographer, my first time with such designation.  Then I spent Sunday getting everything ready to post yesterday.  I was busy, to say the least.

But enough with my excuses.  See, Lewis Hamilton’s position in the driver market was the single most important piece the entire year.  His decision seemed to have the whole F1 paddock holding its breadth leading up to Singapore.

Its ramifications are wide spread, but lets start with cold, hard facts.  See, right after Hamilton announced, McLaren announced that Sergio Perez would be joining Button.  This means that Schumacher is without a drive and an opening has just developed at Sauber.

It also means that McLaren felt that Sergio Perez felt that he was their best option to fill in for Hamilton, which is also very interesting.  Obviously a team like McLaren has their pick of the litter.  They could have also gone with either Paul di Resta or Nico Hulkenberg (now rumored to be Felipe Massa’s competition) or even Romain Grosjean (not as likely he would accept seeing how well Lotus is doing) or Charles Pic or brought back Heikki Kovalainen.  They did none of these things.

From Hamilton’s side, the wisdom of this decision is very much up for debate.  I tend to think that it is foolish and predicated on emotion rather than factual analysis, but that’s just me.  The fact, though, is that no one knows nor will they know for the next year or so.  What we do know, though, is that Mercedes is here to stay, something that was not certain before this signing.

Finally, Hamilton’s move also opens discussion on Felipe Massa and the final piece of the driver puzzle.  Felipe is standing on some pretty strong drives of late and rumors are getting stronger that he will stay on next year.  He has, however, enjoyed the shadow that his sparing buddy from last year has cast over the F1 media.  The light will be swinging back to him and we will have to see how he handles it.

I plan on writing an article per day on the three fields of discussion I just outlined starting tomorrow so keep your eyes peeled.

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Circuit of the Americas given Green Light

The Circuit of the Americas, AKA, the GP in Texas, has been given the green light by Charlie Whiting and the FIA.

Which means the race in the desert, the first race in the US since Indianapolis, is going to happen!

There is a press release that you can read, if so inclined, and word is the track matches closely with the version generated by Codemasters in their F1 game, youtube has videos of that.

Now if only the future of the GP in Jersey were as clear.

 

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Daily Update 9/25

I know its the first one of these in a while, but today’s developments fit the format for this type of post too well.  A lot of disparate things to talk about, each of which important in their own right.

Lets start with post Singapore updates.

There have been noises from Ferrari on two fronts.  The first is that Alonso deserves a car worthy of his spectacular performance this season.  Alonso has said that Ferrari cannot become complacent and must continue developing in such a way that will minimize the car’s weaknesses at stop start circuits such as Singapore, Abu Dhabi or Korea.

Full story here

Ferrari has also said that there is no deadline on the Felipe Massa decision.  Hamilton’s own contract issues have in some ways shadowed the issues of the diminutive Brazilian.  Not only that, Massa’s performances have also taken some of the edge off.

Read the full story here

Moving down the standings, Lotus has announced that a major update will be coming to Korea that will put Kimi Raikkonen firmly back into the hunt.  Raikkonen’s lack of pace was one of the more disappointing parts of Singapore.  Between now and Korea, Lotus will be bringing their Device to Japan.

Read the full story here

Finally, and somewhat depressingly, the planned race in NJ is in doubt.  Bernie has stated that the existing contract for the event is void due to deadlines being missed and the like. He has not ruled out the race, saying that there is a meeting soon that the organizers could pitch to, but seemed to suggest that finances (surprise surprise) are the limiting factor.  This was a race I was very much looking forward to, living only 30 miles away from the track.  Nothing to do but wait and see.

Read the full story here

 

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Sebastian Wins in Singapore

Sebastian Vettel won in Singapore, mainly thanks to Lewis Hamilton’s retirement.  Second was claimed by Jenson Button and third by Fernando Alonso.  Further down Kimi Raikkonen took sixth, Webber got bumped out of his tenth place by a penalty into eleventh, and both Williams cars retired.

As promised, Singapore was a massive race for the championship.  With only six races to go, the points remaining is getting very limited and the number of championship contenders has been severely depleted.

As it stands now, the standings look like this:

  1. Alonso – 194
  2. Vettel – 165
  3. Raikkonen – 149
  4. Hamilton – 142
  5. Webber – 133

To me, we have gone from five contenders, pre Singapore, to two serious contenders and two long shots.

The reality is, being around 50 points back, two race wins, from Fernando Alonso, considering his performances this year, is a very dangerous position.

But dangerous does not mean invincible.  McLaren and Red Bull have shown that their cars are the class of the field, with McLaren with a defined advantage.  With those four cars taking the top four positions, it will be hard for Alonso to continue to get big points without some serious upgrades.

Also, expect Lotus to come back in the mix at some more conventional tracks.  Unlike some columnists, I was not too surprised that Lotus was uncompetitive at Singapore.  The team was uncompetitive at Monaco and stop starts have not really been their strength.  I think of Hungary instead where the car was hugely competitive in sustained cornering situations.

As much as Singapore was a vital race, Japan will be just as vital.  Should Alonso not finish, and the rest of the contenders do, than the whole championship will tighten massively.  But, if Alonso finishes well, say in the top 5, as he has been the whole season, than the opportunities will be scant for the other contenders to dramatically close the gap.  This will be easier for guys in top cars, Red Bull and McLaren, but not as much for Kimi Raikkonen.  Lotus better hope their DDRS Device is very effective, as they need the biggest bump to take the fight to Alonso.

Bring on Japan

 

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Hamilton on Pole

It came as a bit of a surprise when I opened the F1 home page to find that Lewis Hamilton, not Sebastian Vettel, was on pole, and by some margin at Singapore.  Vettel had been the class of the field right up to Q2 when Hamilton went onto “another planet” according to Alonso, who starts fifth.

Lotus underperformed, and Maldonado again proved that he has some prodigious pace, putting his car into P2.  Red Bull say the damage is not that bad, but no race, except the crashgate race, has been won from any position but pole at Singapore.

A difficult day ahead, than, and one that may further define the championship contenders.

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Singapore, here we come

In just a couple day’s time, F1 will fire its engines for the FIGHT IN THE NIGHT (yeah, just made that up), the Singapore GP.  Now, I know I have not written much over the past couple of days, but I do not think much has really happened in the intervening weeks between Italy and Singapore.

The F1 media is seemingly holding their collective breadth, waiting for decisions on both Massa and Hamilton that we thought would happen much sooner.  Both sides, though, are quiet and so it is hard to write stories about the chirping of crickets.

Being, as it is, so close to the end of the year, focus has also shifted somewhat to next year, and the rule changes that are in place for 2014.  We are hearing more about engines on dynos and testing programs progressing.

Teams, though, are also starting to voice concerns about the additional budgetary strain they will be under with the new engines, an expense that could reach into the tens of millions every year.  Teams are already stretched thin, and worry that this may be a backbreaker.

Teams, though, have always stretched themselves thin in the pursuit of wins and points.  If there is an F1 team not spending every dime they have, then they shouldn’t be in the sport.  Yes, new engines means that some aerodynamic staff will be lost, teams will cut down to pay the engine suppliers and electricians will have a greater impact in F1 with the more intense KERS equipment.

The 2014 rules will make F1 more relavent, and teams will always need more money.

As far as the standings go, they are the same as when we left Italy.  Alonso is clearly the favorite, and deservingly so.  Kimi Raikkonen is still being called the dark horse, but I am not so sure.  The split between second and fifth in the championship is insane, one point spreads and Mark Webber.  Frankly, I see Red Bull losing out as Mark Webber will fight until he is mathematically out, whereas Massa and now Grosjean are on record as saying they will help their teammate over their own results.  McLaren are in a similar position, but that team is in all kinds of disarray.

As for the constructors, Red Bull’s double DNF has meant that what looked locked down is now up for debate.  I still see Red Bull win the constructors, provided the alternators hold up.  McLaren is just too much of a mess and I see operational errors as continuing to play a part, despite their lack in the past couple races.  Ferrari has reclaimed third in the constructors on the back of improved performance from Massa.  If Grosjean can really start finishing races, that will be a very close fight.

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Rosberg For Hamilton?

With rumors of Hamilton leaving McLaren for Mercedes hotting up, especially in the week off between Italy and Singapore, all of the reasons for Mercedes being unavailable have to be re examined.

Chief among them was the assumption that Hamilton would take Schumacher’s seat when he retires at the end of the year.

What if that assumption is wrong?

What if Nico Rosberg is about to be ousted from his seat, perhaps to head to McLaren?

To many F1 observers, Nico Rosberg has been a confusing driver.  It has never been easy to get a read on the German’s potential.  He was always on an underperforming team with an underwhelming team mate.  It was very hard to see if he was getting the most out of the car, or if he was just not being pushed by his team mate.

That story has not changed much when Michael Schumacher arrived at Mercedes.  Michael is a shadow of his former self and everyone knows it.  It is true that Rosberg has generally gotten the better of the elder statesman for the past couple of years, but that gap has consistently closed to the point where the two drivers are about equal.  Not only that, but, besides Rosberg’s win in China, there have not been too many outstanding performances from the younger German while the elder produced a stunning lap in Monaco to take pole.

From McLaren’s perspective, which seems to be a lot more financially constrained than one would think, Rosberg is an appropriate candidate.  He is a high quality, mature driver who would cost considerably less than Hamilton.  But, one has to wonder about the quality of the driver they are getting.  Is he worth the cost savings?

McLaren are in a bit of a tricky spot.  Starting next year, they will have to pay for engines themselves, at about 8 million a year.  Not only that, but sponsorship is getting tight.  That and the car has not been the dominant force in F1 since 2005 by some measures, and the team from Wonking is not in great branding shape.

Rumor has it that this whole thing will play out in the next six days, but either way, there will be some major ramifications in the world of F1.

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Where do we Stand?

Well, good-bye Europe, it was nice knowing you.  Having spent the last eight races on the European continent (well except Canada which kind of subs in for the French GP), F1 heads back to Asia for races in Singapore, Japan, India, etc, etc, etc.

Before we go gallivanting off to the far east, lets take a moment and look back, and see where we are.

Europe has offered a spectacular set of races but it has also established top dog.  It separated the contenders from the pretenders (so to speak).  When we arrived on Spanish shores, we were in the middle of a remarkable run of seven unique winners in seven races.  And we were about to get the biggest surprise of them all, Pastor Maldonado, F1 winner.  Mark Webber was also firmly in the title hunt, about to win at Monaco.  I still wasn’t sure about Alonso as world champion, back in Spain and Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were no where.

Nine races later, and a different picture has emerged.  Alonso is clearly the title favorite.  Consistent performances, highlighted by his win at Valencia, has meant that he is fully deserving of the title in a year where Ferrari are just now getting consistent pace worthy of race wins.

But just because he deserves it, does not mean he will get it.  Lewis Hamilton is leading a pack of three cars separated only by one point each and only thirty odd points behind Alonso.  They are Hamilton, Raikkonen (hasn’t won yet) and Vettel.

Mark Webber has fallen a bit back, ten points off of Hamilton and Button is nowhere to be found, despite his first round win in Australia.

The competition couldn’t be closer.

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Hamilton untouched in Italian GP

Lewis Hamilton won the Italian GP with nary a wrinkle in sight.  Apart from losing the lead briefly to a good starting Felipe Massa during pit stops, the Englishman was untouchable.

Sergio Perez drove a storming drive for Sauber, using his one stop strategy to tear through the field and claim second place.  Alonso took third over Felipe Massa in fourth.  It was another brilliant drive from Alonso, charging up four places on the opening lap and he extended his lead over most of his rivals, particularly Jenson Button, who retired due to fuel pick up problems.  As much as Spa boosted the Briton, Monza really crushed him.  Button is now 78 points back of Alonso, and realistically out of the championship.

The other notable retirement for the day was both Red Bulls.  Sebastian succumbed to alternator failure, the same failure at Valencia and during practice on Friday.  Mark spun by himself with a couple laps to go and flat spotted his tires.  The team retired the car but was still classified in the final results.

Kimi Raikkonen used a daring one stop strategy, but unlike the other front runners, got his stop out of the way back on lap 17, running the rest of the distance on the harder tire.  He just barely beat out Schumacher at the line.

With race 13 of 20 in the bag, the race to the championship has managed to only slightly resolve itself.

Fernando Alonso leads with 179 points.  Below him, with 142 is Lewis Hamilton who is closely followed by three other drivers, all within ten points.  They are in order, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.  Jenson Button, as I said, seems to be out of it, a further 30 points behind.

Overtaking at Monza was plentiful, both of the DRS assisted kind, but also drivers getting creative entering Parabolica and the chicane before the Lesmo corners.  Of particular excitement was when Sebastian Vettel pushed Alonso completely off in the Curva Grande, very similar but roles reversed to last year.  The stewards decided, fairly so, that Vettel did not leave room and so was given a drive through penalty.

Roll on Singapore!

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