The Fast Lane – Vettel helps Red Bull seal the deal in a lacklustre Korean GP

October 16, 2011

Only a week after Sebastien Vettel wrapped up the 2011 Formula One World Championship, the circus reconvened in Korea. The quick turnaround no doubt took it’s toll on the teams, but they were all still hungry with a constructors championship and second in the drivers standings all up for grabs – race on!

It was almost like seeing the Korean track for the first time this weekend. A year ago the entire weekend was clouded out by a phenomenal amount of rain, many didn’t make the chequered flag. But despite a slight hiccup in practice, the weather remained dry for today’s race… I almost wish it hadn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there was some good racing through the field today – but the Grand Prix just seemed to me to be very lacking. The rather dull colour of the Korean tracks walls probably didn’t help, but I just felt that such a promising race just didn’t deliver.

It was an exciting race in prospect with Lewis Hamilton (albeit very downhearted) becoming the first non- Red Bull driver to claim pole position this year – what an incredible statistic. This however didn’t last long. Many have previously criticised Vettel as being a fast driver, but not a racer. I think this no longer applies as Vettel dispatched of Hamilton quickly and clinically before the end of the first lap. There’s no doubt it was a blitzing move from Vettel, but I can’t help thinking there was a groan around the world as we realised that once again this race was to be dominated by one man until the finish.

Hamilton was able to stay with the Red Bull for the majority of the race, but it was clear that the McLaren driver was really having to push to stay in contention whilst Vettel had plenty in reserve up front. This was obvious from the fact that Vettel always stayed just over a second in front, denying Hamilton that crucial DRS activation. Clever and frustrating driving from the champ.

Instead of battling for the lead, Hamilton soon had to switch to a defensive strategy to keep second place. Mark Webber had been closing on Lewis for the entire race and after the second pitstop came his chance. This was without doubt the highlight of the race. Both Webber and Hamilton raced wheel to wheel round the entire lap, each diving in front of each other only to lose it on the next corner. They showed how it can and should be done, each giving the other plenty of room without compromising their own race.

In the end it was Lewis who came out the better and remained in second. Some will argue that Lewis was saved by the DRS which he used to breeze straight back past Webber in the first instance, but lets not forget that Webber was able to use DRS on every lap after and still coundn’t re-pass Hamilton. Perhaps we have found Red Bull’s only weakness (just a little too late!).

Behind the Hamilton/Webber battle was Jenson Button who really failed to come alive today. After a shocking start, Button found himself battling with Rosberg as he rejoined the race after his first pit stop. Button came down the pit lane behind Rosberg but overtook the German by crossing the white line at the pit exit. This struck me as very strange as normally drivers are not allowed to cross this line and receive a penalty for it, yet here in Korea it seemed to go unnoticed as everyone tried it.

Once again, I think the FIA need to sort their rules out and decide what you can and can’t do as I believe Rosberg was only following the line he thought you were supposed to take out of the pits. Mind you, the pit exit itself is a complete shambles, allowing for less run off than a motorway entrance and nearly causing a collision between Michael Schumacher and Feranando Alonso in the middle of the race.

Of course, Michael didn’t have to wait long before he actually did have a collision. Soon after the nearly-incident with Alonso, Schumacher was whacked into from the side by Vitaly Petrov who had completely missed his braking zone. This was due to him racing to the limit with Alonso (who also missed his braking zone, but to a lesser effect) and clearly not spotting Schumacher in front. Another unfortunate exit for the German, but I was most worried Michael was ill as he told Lee McKenzie that other incidents between himself and Petrov were his own fault. Schumacher, admit a mistake – what?!

Fernando Alonso did not fall out of the race, but he may as well have done. The Spaniard had a horribly average Sunday stuck behind his teammate Felipe Massa. I think it was clear that Alonso could have been quicker, but Massa defended well and kept him behind – clearly both have been told they can race now. When Alonso did get some clear air, he did start to cruise up to Button but curiously said over the radio that he had ‘given up’. A very strange attitude from a racing driver and was most likely sour grapes from being stuck behind Massa. But I’m afraid the only thing I have to say to Alonso is, it’s a race – if you want to pass Massa, overtake him. Don’t expect to be given it!

Around 10 seconds ahead of the rest, Sebastien Vettel (remember him!) came through to win the race on lap 55 – sealing the constructors championship for Red Bull – and was just as excited as he has been all season. But I’m afraid I wasn’t. Perhaps we’ve been treated by such an exciting F1 of late that I forgot how bad the sport once was (and this was nowhere near as bad as the mid-2000’s) but I did just find todays race dull. Maybe it’s the track, maybe it’s the drivers attitudes, maybe it’s just me – but I’m hoping for a much more exciting race when we head to India in two weeks time.

And as a quick note, I’m afraid there will be no Fast Lane post from me for the Indian Grand Prix (well at least not on Sunday) as I’ll be otherwise engaged during the race. Never fear though, ‘The Fast Lane’ and hopefully a more upbeat writer will return for the 13th November for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!

The Fast Lane – Vettel loses the battle, but wins the war in Suzuka

October 9, 2011

After a dominant season, Sebastien Vettel came to to Japan needing only one point to secure the 2011 Formula One World Championship. But he was determined that he was not playing the percentages game and instead wanted the glory of another race victory. That became obvious when he stormed to pole position despite the Red Bull’s being consistently slower than the McLaren’s throughout practice.

So this morning we were a situation we’re all very familiar with, Vettel on pole ready to win another race easily from the front. But things didn’t exactly go to plan.

A poor getaway saw Vettel on the backfoot from the start with second place man Jenson Button (the only one who could still take the title from Seb) drawing alongside the Red Bull. Vettel did the only thing he could and squeezed Button’s McLaren to the edge of the track.

This is an incident I’m sure will be debated long into tonight. Button was clearly still angry after the race, confronting Vettel before the podium. The move was very aggressive and Vettel did take every inch of room he could, but in my opinion was just within his rights at a race start. By the time Vettel had moved fully over, Button had lost momentum and had only his front wheels alongside the German. Button moved onto the grass, but I think there was still just enough room on track. Button’s move was a precaution and ultimately cost him second place, but I do think he could have just stayed on track. Vettel was extremely aggressive, but just stayed within the rules of the FIA. It was right that no penalty was issued.

This move allowed Vettel to open up and early lead, with his competitors all rearranging themselves behind. Massa let the fast Alonso through (for about the twentieth time!) and Hamilton moved out of the way of Button after a puncture. With the faster cars now chasing him, Vettel was forced to pit due to tyre degredation on lap 9.

The race entered a stage of status quo at this point, Button was getting slightly closer to Vettel and Alonso continued to push. The gaps were coming down, but with still plenty of time between each car there was no real on track action to be had up front.

Things changed again on laps 19 and 20 when a combination of an average pit stop and outlap for Vettel and a supreme one for Button reversed the positions in the pits. Button took the lead of the race – now things got interesting. Vettel was on the backfoot again, if Button won and he failed to score due to an accident, the championship would remain open for another week.

Rather than stay out of trouble and protect his point, Vettel decided that he was still going for glory and harried Button for several laps. I do think it is great to see a racer so dedicated that they still put this effort in, even when it’s not necessary. Vettel helped to give us a very exciting battle – even if most of the world were willing him to make a mistake!

Further back, two more drivers were getting into trouble. Hamilton and Massa seem to like getting so close they touch this season and the same thing happened again today. Massa few down the outside of Hamilton coming into the final chicane. Lewis – not noticing the Ferrari – took his usual line and the two collided, all be it in a rather minor way. It’s tough to place blame here, Lewis clearly didn’t see Felipe and drove straight into him, but despite racing, perhaps Felipe should have known it was never going to work around the outiside. I personally would say Hamilton again was sadly more in the wrong the Stewards decided not to give a penalty today to the most penalised driver of the season!

This incident caused a small amount of debris and the safety car was deployed. After a four lap period, Jenson backed the pack up (to the extreme) and restarted the race. He was able to absorb some more pressure from Vettel who was now suffering with his tryes again and dropped back from the Brit.

Vettel pitted again, but must have been surprised a few laps later when Fernando Alonso emerged out of the pit lane in front of him. Unseen by most, Alonso had been on quite a charge and has mustered enough time to leapfrog the reigning world champion.

This battle would continue until near the end of the race. Vettel pressured Alonso for several laps, but was asked by the team to stop racing and  back off for the final five. This of course was the only sensible thing to do, win the championship rather than risk it with Alonso.

But Fernando wasn’t quite finished yet as he was able to close to just under a second behind race leader Button. Jenson however stamped his authority on the race by setting some new fastest laps to keep the Ferrari at bay.

And so Jenson Button came through to take his third victory of the season, but all eyes were on a very emotional Sebastien Vettel who has driven a Schumacher-esque season to win his second world title. If we’re honest, we’ve known this for a very long time, but that makes it none the less incredible – a class act right from the Australian GP.

Interestingly, for all the anoraks out there, we had quite an interesting top six with all five of the grids world champions in it (That’s right, Schumacher was best of the rest today!) and of course, Mark Webber in 4th…

So the drivers championship is over, but not the season. I predict a very close and hard fought fight for second place – Button, Alonso and Hamilton really have very little to choose between them and whose to say that Webber and Massa won’t mix things up as well. And now Vettel has nothing to lose, he could be even more daring and racier than ever before… oh great!

The Fast Lane – Supreme Singapore Vettel, But No Championship Yet!

September 25, 2011

It was with an air of anticipation that the Formula One World moved to Singapore for the fourth time racing in the night. Through a series of complicated and convoluted calculations, Sebastien Vettel has the chance to win the world championship today, six races before the end.

And Vettel started as he meant to go on. Pole position in Saturday’s qualifying was followed by a storming start to the Grand Prix, leaving everyone (especially his team-mate) standing. For Mark Webber it was the same old story. Another poor launch saw both Button and the fast-starting Alonso make their way through. It also caused an early charge from Lewis Hamilton to be blocked. As he became stuck behind the Australian, Hamilton lost momentum and ended up in a disappointing eighth place after the first lap.

With Vettel commanding the field with a lead over 5 seconds after just two laps, all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton who was really fired up for this weekend. After easily dispatching Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, the Brit lined-up Felipe Massa in his cross-hares. There’s no doubt the McLaren was working well – Hamilton eased up on the Ferrari driver and drew up side-by-side in the DRS zone.

But this was where the charge was to halt. Around the tight turn seven, Hamilton turned too close to Massa and the pair collided – Hamilton losing his front wing and Massa stuck with a punctured tyre. This later resulted in Hamilton being given a drive-through penalty and dropping the Brit to 19th place.

I feel I have to state this every race and it is a shame. Lewis Hamilton is a fantastic racer, he is probably the most entertaining one out there, but he seems to make reckless, needless mistakes which can ruin a race. It’s telling that this incident was a near carbon-copy of the crash that knocked Hamilton out last year. There’s always a risk in opportunistic racing, but Hamilton always seems to be on the wrong end of it.

It doesn’t help that a few times this season, it’s been against Felipe Massa that these incidents have occurred and it seems the Singapore heat did get to Felipe a little who ‘congratulated’ Lewis for his drive after the race… But of course Lewis bounces back and did so today with a dedicated comeback drive.

Back to the race. There’s no doubt that Singapore, despite the stunning sights of the cars under the lights, can be a little bit of a procession. Luckily the 2011 regulations did help to ease this. It was enjoyable to see several moves up and down the field. Mark Webber was certainly on form finding an crafty way past Fernando Alonso not once, but twice!

But despite the increased action in comparison to previous years, it was still a welcome sight to see the safety car bunch things up on lap 29. What wasn’t nice to see was Michael Schumacher’s rather scary crash that cause the race suspension. The German mis-timed a move up the inside of Sergio Perez and ended up flying into a barrier, literally!

The safety car helped keep some action coming up to the end of the race (things had got a bit stale before hand), but I do think it’s a shame that Jenson Button wasn’t able to have a go at the leader Vettel at the restsart. Four backmarkers stood between him and the race leader. Personally I see no reason why, in a safety car period, lapped cars shouldn’t be able to pass around the track and unlap themselves. This way we get a clearer and potentially more exciting restart without Jarno Trulli getting in everyone’s way  –  isn’t this what Bernie ‘DRS’ Ecclestone wants? Sort it out… please!

The second part of the race saw most positions remain status-quo. Hamilton was the main mover after working his way up to fifth position, twice! The tyre degredation clearly affected the teams heavily here with all top-runners pitting three times. However, some mid team drivers gambled and only pitted twice helping the likes of di Resta, Rosberg and Sutil into 6th, 7th and 8th (another solid performance from rookie di Resta)

The closing laps of the race gave us one final push from Jenson Button. The Brit had sat in second place for  the whole race protecting his tyres, but now it was time to throw caution to the wind and go after Vettel. It was a valiant drive from Button, the gap was clearly tumbling and with backmarkers, Vettel was forced to push a little to ensure his lead.

But in the end it was little more than an annoyance for Vettel who finished yet another supreme drive from start to finish. This man is unbelievably dominant and thoroughly deserves this World Championship, regardless of how annoying that finger is.

But despite all the hype, the championship is still not Vettel’s yet. That’s right, Sebastien Vettel has got only five races left to make… one point! That means that Jenson Button has to win every single other race this year with Vettel failing to score a single point… hmmm

As David Coulthard said ‘It’ll take some doing…’

The Fast Lane – Red Bull back in front, Hamilton back in the wall

August 28, 2011

After a long summer break Formula One finally returned this weekend to a track which has consistently produced enthralling racing. From the first corner pile-up in 1998 to Giancarlo Fisichella’s stunning drive in 2009, Spa-Francorchamps has hosted many of the sports greatest moments and makes the Belgian Grand Prix one of the most anticipated races of any season.

A damp qualifying had produced a few surprises, Alguesuari and Senna had made it to the top ten whereas Schumacher had fail to set a time and started in 24th. But one thing never seems to change – Sebastien Vettel made his way comfortably to pole position.

However, for one Vettel didn’t have the easy start you would expect. A challenger came from right back on the third row. Nico Rosberg placed his car perfectly into La Source to jump from fifth to second. A great run out of Eau Rouge and a massive slipstream later and Rosberg was past Vettel and up into the lead of the race. I feel that Nico has always been a bit of a nearly-man since he entered the sport, so it was great to see such skill, race craft and determination in todays GP to take the German into the lead.

Although not as catastrophic as 1998’s GP, the start of the race did serve up a few incidents. The newly re-signed Mark Webber bogged down at the start for what must be the umpteenth time this season and fell back from third to eight almost immediately. Bruno Senna got a bit too hungry into La Source, outbreaking himself and taking Jaime Alguesuari with him. Disappointing to see the two bright sparks from qualifying have their races ruined so early on. Also getting caught up in it all was Jenson Button who ended up damaging his front wing and lingering around in sub tenth place for most of the race, but more on him later!

Despite making the faster start (as he often does) Massa was clearly the slower of the two Ferrari’s and had to yield to his team-mate Alonso, but not before a fight. That’s right, an actual race between the Ferrari’s! It was fantastic to see these two finally clash in a proper racing situation. Alonso steamed up the inside of Massa, but nearly lost it all as a wheel on the grass forced him wide. But the Spaniard held his line and showed why he is often the favoured driver within the Maranello team.

At the front, Rosberg was struggling with the Mercedes. His car was strong on straight line speed, but lacked in the corners. Despite some great defensive driving, it didn’t take long before Vettel, armed with DRS found a way past. And this was how it was to continue for Rosberg as both Alonso and Hamilton both made their way past easily.

Pit stops came early on, it seemed all were worried about their tyres and the extreme blistering the Pirelli’s were experiencing here. Red Bull were the most cautious, pulling Vettel in very early on. Perhaps there was no need to be though as later in the race, Vettel consistently pulled out blistering lap times, even on the damaged tyres – is there no stopping that man?!

It was shortly after the pit-stops that the ‘most-talked-about’ incident (particularly in the UK) of the day occurred. Hamilton had overtaken Kobayashi on the long DRS straight, but Kamui was fighting back. As the tow reached the following corner, they collided spectacularly sending Hamilton into the barriers with quite a large shunt. Once again his hopes had ended with disaster.

This incident went without any punishment and I can kind of see why. It’s quite had to place the blame. Kobayashi did start turning into the corner – on the outside – before Hamilton. However, Hamilton was moving over to the left to take his line. I don’t think Lewis had realised Kamui was as close to him as he was and was taking his line as normal instead of giving the Japanese driver room. This misunderstanding and the overconfidence of Kamui led to the incident. It’s unfortunate, but I think both drivers were slightly to blame. Hamilton obviously agrees as he has apologised to Kamui on Twitter earlier this evening. It’s pleasing to see how gracious Lewis is in defeat considering his more hot-headed opinions earlier in the season.

Unfortunately Lewis was gone, but the race went on. Through good strategy and some strong laps, Mark Webber found himself back in contention towards the end of the race. By lap 30, the Australian had caught and overtaken Alonso, who had now clearly lost Vettel several seconds down the road from him. Things were starting to look good for a Red Bull one-two.

But then, enter Jenson Button! From the middle of the race to the chequered flag, the last remaining McLaren came alive and started picking off his prey. With some stunning laps, a patient head and a little bit of DRS, Button blasted through the field and managed to dive past the faltering Ferrari of Alonso by lap 42. Suddenly he was in contention, especially bearing in mind he had already used the harder compound tyres and was now on the faster soft tyres until the end.

However, Vettel and Webber found something extra on the harder tyres and were comfortably able to hold the lead of the race. Alonso was never able to mount another fight, the harder tyres worked very poorly on the Ferrari and simply saw the Spaniard stuck in fourth. Just down the road from him we saw our second inter-team fight of the day. Michael Schumacher had managed to move from 24th on the grid to 6th on the track and was giving his team-mate quite a lot of trouble. Team radio confirmed that the drivers were free to race and despite great defending from Rosberg, Schumacher made his way past, again with DRS to take fifth. Surely one of the best drives of Schumacher’s second career and a sign that perhaps things are slowly turning around for the Mercedes team.

I’ve mentioned DRS a lot today and that’s because I feel it’s been a big feature. I’ve actually defended it a lot this season, but I think today it was a step too far. The die is to get drivers side-by-side by the corner, yet today we consistently saw drivers several car lengths ahead by the time they reached the corner. It’s disappointing to see the possibility of proper racing taken away by this device, the driver in front is a sitting duck frequently. Although I like the idea, I think a lot of aspects of DRS needs to be rethought and I really hope it will be for next year.

And that was the Belgian GP 2011, not a vintage year but still a top race. Red Bull have made it back to the top step of the podium after only three races off it. And lets face it, they do have this championship wrapped up, no-one will beat their constructors points and I can’t see anyone topping Vettel. They are a class act and that should be celebrated, but it also makes it all the more fun to see someone beat them. Maybe next neither Webber or Vettel will make the podium, or maybe I should stop hoping!

The Fast Lane – A comedy of tyre errors helps Button to the win

July 31, 2011

We come to the Hungaroring, notoriously one of the dullest Grand Prix’s of the year. As far as overtaking is concerned, Murray Walker always described it as Monaco but without the scenery. With Vettel restoring his pole position on Saturday, it was looking like another possible procession. But the McLaren’s, along with a bit of help from the weather, had different ideas.

From the start we saw Vettel under pressure, a sight which has become so rare in this 2011 season. Hamilton was all over the back of the Red Bull driver and often alongside – great wheel-to-wheel racing.

But the most noticeable thing off the start was how difficult the track conditions were. The track was slightly damp due to some earlier rain, but I was surprised to see everyone struggling on the intermediate tyres and really fighting the cars not to slide off. The Ferrari’s seemed to have the worst problems, a wide first corner had allowed both Mercedes drivers through. Despite getting past both Rosberg and Schumacher in subsequent laps, Alonso found himself back behind Rosberg soon after when he slid off the circuit entirely. It seems we’ve learnt another thing about those Pirelli’s today, they don’t get up to temperature in the rain very well at all!

This (along with pressure from Hamilton) eventually led to Vettel sliding wide and losing the lead to the Brit. From this point, Vettel did not look very strong at all, it was hard to see this as the same man who has been bullet-proof in the first half of the championship. He continued to slide back from Hamilton into the clutches of Button who also overtook the German just before the first pit-stops.

By the first stops, the track had dried out causing everyone to switch to the dry super-soft tyres. Webber and Button were first and looked pretty cautious on their outlaps, but this soon turned in their favour when they got up to speed, helping Webber to jump Alonso. The tyres would continue to play a big part throughout this race.

Hamilton continued to lead out front, but when he stopped for the third time, he made a fatal error which likely cost him the race. Lewis opted to stay on the super-soft dry tyres. It seemed the sensible decision, they had proven faster over the weekend and seemed the safe choice. Alonso also made this call, but the other front runners opted for the soft prime tyre, which had seemed slower in practice, but could go a much longer distance.

It didn’t take long to see which tyre was best. The track was clearly coming into the territory of the prime tyre (due to the lower temperatures) as Sebastien Vettel caught and passed Fernando Alonso (who had managed to jump him in an earlier stop). He then proceeded to pull away from Alonso at an astonishing rate, proving the speed of the primes at this stage of the race.

Realising the mistake, Hamilton pushed hard for fast laps, he needed to make a gap to pit again. But there was another curveball to come. The rain started coming

down, not very intense, but enough. Hamilton hit a curb and spun his McLaren. In a bid to keep the lead, he quickly spun around – not noticing oncoming cars and forced Paul Di Resta to drive off the track to avoid him. This later earned Lewis a drive-throgh penalty, destroying his race – and I’m sorry to say it was the right decision, it was a dangerous move (although not as dangerous as the Heidfeld incident which I’ll come onto later).

This allowed Button through, but also produced some of the most thrilling racing seen all season as the two team-mates diced for the lead, swapping position every few corners. The racing was ferocious but fair and kudos has to go to both of the McLaren boys for making such a great spectacle. The lead was important to both as with rain coming down, they needed to make the decision about tyres. And this is where Lewis got it wrong again, opting for intermediates. Both he and Webber made this choice and felt the consequences. The rain was not heavy enough and it seemed the prime was still the tyre to be on. Both switched to this a few laps later.

All of this allowed Button to stay comfortably out in front. Both he and Vettel already had the prime tyres and had managed to live through the short shower. With

Vettel still looking like a weaker force (and more than happy in second), this was Button’s race to lose. His team-mate Hamilton, now down in fifth and almost a minute behind the lead, still had some fight in him and took Webber for fourth position with six laps to go.

But no-one could stop Button now and he drove magnificently to his 11th career win on his 200th Grand Prix start!

Further down the field there was a mixed day for all. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa must be disappointed with sixth after fighting higher up early on and setting several fastest laps, but then both Ferrari’s under performed their cars today with errors galore (I think Alonso was off the track more than anyone else).

Another under performing team was Mercedes. The fantastic start for Schumacher and Rosberg was the only highlight as both cars slipped down the field, Rosberg finishing 9th and Schumacher retiring with a gearbox failure.

The less said about Renault the better. The only notable part of their Grand Prix was when Heidfeld’s car exploded on the pit exit. I was not comfortable with the handling of this. In tricky conditions for the drivers, the car was left in a prominent position, smoke billowing everywhere at a point where the drivers sharply accelerate. Things got scary when the stricken Renault was towed back into the pit-lane as Vettel exited. After a slide, the German missed the marshals by centimetres. I think when the Stewards criticised Hamilton for his move, they should seriously look at the danger of this incident – a safety car was needed.

Final thoughts go to Paul Di Resta who drove fantastically (if a bit under the radar) to secure seventh position – the best of the rest(a!). Paul is really starting to show a lot of promise with his speed in a Force India, surely a star of the future.

And that was the Hungarian Grand Prix… really? But it was interesting!

I Know! We’ve gone three races since Vettel last won, yet due to the victories being shared by Alonso, Hamilton and Button, he has still extended his lead today.

But do you know what? I don’t care. So long as the on track racing remains exciting (which it certainly is) I will continue to  enjoy watching it… well for this year at least…



Formula One UK enters Pay TV market with BBC/Sky deal

July 29, 2011

After weeks of speculation, we finally know the outcome of how F1 will be broadcast in the UK for future years. It’s not back off to ITV, Channel 4 won’t be nabbing it, it’s not even leaving the BBC entirely. But it’s caused uproar amongst fans of the sport (myself included) as from next year you will need a subscription to Sky Sports to enjoy the full Formula One season.

A number of things about this are very bad, not least the fact that a basic Sky Sports subscription will set you back almost £40.00 per month – money that many people simply don’t have. When channels can charge this amount, it makes the humble BBC license fee (£12.13 per month) seem a drop in the ocean!

I fail to see why people should be forced to pay for a sport that for several years they have had free access to. Not only that, it’s a sport amongst the richest in the world. F1 doesn’t need any more money, why should we now have to fork out cash to continue seeing this ‘spectacle’ on our screens.

Now of course, I am missing out part of the deal which was announced earlier today. The sport isn’t entirely leaving Free-to-air TV, the BBC will still broadcast half of the races live. But what’s the point in that? I don’t really want to watch half a season of a sport, I want to see the entire picture.

We have been promised ‘extensive highlights’ by the BBC, but what exactly does that mean? Will it be more or less than the rather disappointing highlights package which currently airs after every race on BBC Three? And regardless, I think I speak for all sports fans when I say watching highlights after the event is never the same as seeing it unravel live.

Then there’s the deal itself. The BBC have apparently secured such gems as Monaco, Silverstone and the final round of the championship live for 2012. But how long will that last? Sky aren’t going to be happy if people choose not to subscribe to their service (after all, this deal is no doubt costing them millions). They will keep pushing the boundaries until the BBC is left with only the poorer races of Bahrain and Valencia. Don’t deny it, recent events have proved how sneaky a Murdoch company can be.

I also fear for the many thousands, even millions of casual fans. F1 viewership is at a 10 year high and that is in no small part down to the current BBC broadcast. The Beeb have put the sport everywhere, provided so much more access than their predecessors and really helped engage a whole new range of fans. But casual fans aren’t going to want to pay an upgrade fee and neither will they enjoy the disjointed-ness of live races some weeks and highlights the next. The sport will lose them, no doubt about it.

The BBC have made a terrible decision to end this contract early (they had exclusivity until 2013) and opt-into this 7 year ‘partnership’ with Sky. But lets not forget, their hands may have been tied. The corporation is trying to make massive savings at the moment and rumours suggest that they had to choose between full F1 coverage or Wimbledon (we all know the result of that one).

What I don’t like is how badly it’s been handled. Commentator Martin Brundle tweeted that he was only informed of the news last night and anchorman Jake Humphrey only heard the news this morning with the fans. These people are the ones who have made the show, they should have been involved in the negotiation process rather than letting some BBC execs make the decision with no input from the people that matter.

And the less said about Mr Ecclestone the better. Bernie said only a couple of weeks ago that F1 would not be going to subscription TV, yet here it is. And what’s more, it looks like he’s managed to talk the teams into the idea also, lessening any chance of a rebellion due to the Concorde Agreement.

There is however a possible glimmer of hope emerging from a meeting held earlier today. Martin Whitmarsh, team principle of McLaren has hinted at the BBC possibly still showing full race coverage for every Grand Prix, just delayed for half the season. This would, for me make a huge difference and could save me from a painful decision between the BBC and Sky.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that this isn’t the end for F1. It will still be shown on the BBC, just not as in-depth as we would like. Sky have also (whatever you think of them and their management) done wonders for sport, particularly football and I’m sure those that choose to watch with them will get a very detailed and all-encompassing service.

However it’s hard to ignore the fact that todays deal was entirely driven by money at the expense of the fans. You have to wonder how many more times sports can keep doing this and push their fans patience before they lose interest themselves.

The Fast Lane – Hamilton heroic and not a Vettel in sight!

July 24, 2011

It’s not been a good season for Lewis Hamilton. Nine races in and the former champion had only win to his name after a season marred with controversy, anger and disappointment on his part. But things turned around for Lewis this weekend, on the chilly Nurburgring track (where no-one expected anything from McLaren, the Brit blitzed the track and left all others standing.

It started well for Lewis on Saturday. An astounding qualifying lap put him sec on on the grid behind Mark Webber and crucially ahead of everyone’s rival, Sebastien Vettel. The race pace of the McLaren proved even more impressive as Hamilton stormed past a slow starting Webber at the first corner and continued to lap at remarkable speed. Others got faster laps at various points in the race, but Lewis remained the most consistently fast and I think that’s the key factor in how race win today.

But of course it’s never as simple as that in F1 (well not anymore anyway!) as we were treated to a fantastically entertaining battle around one of the worlds most famous circuits. Throughout the race, the top three drivers were consistently close, spending a period of around 10 laps within 2 seconds of each other in the middle section of the race. And it wasn’t just a close procession, there was overtaking – lots of it.

Near the start of the Grand Prix, we saw Hamilton have a slight wobble causing him to be overtaken by an opportunist Webber. But this lasted mere seconds as Hamilton powered down the pit-straight and outbreaked the Australian to retake the lead. It shows how racy Hamilton was today that he was not prepared to give an inch to anyone. He showed this again later when coming out of the pits alongside Webber. Hamilton calmly and cunningly moved his McLaren out to the right and forced Webber onto a wet patch of track, keeping his lead competently. Later on, he gave Webber a masterclass on how to overtake on the outside by punishing Alonso as he exited the pits, giving him track position and potentially the move that won him the race.

Hamilton has been criticised a lot this season (in my opinion fairly) for his clumsy moves – racing headlong onto a situation without thought of how it was to end. But today we saw the racer we used to love return. He took every opportunity in an aggressive manner, but never reckless and it pid off for him.

Both of the Ferrari’s were also feeling very racy today. Alonso took the opportunity to be the first man this season to pass Vettel at full racing speed (without the German making a mistake) and made it stick. Massa also showed great form, passing several competitors and ending his race battling with Sebastien Vettel in a thrilling fight for fourth on track.

And that brings me to Mr. Vettel. There’s no doubt about it, he had an off weekend. We saw him off the track a couple of times after mistakes and his raw pace was never really there today. Who knows what the reason for this was – is he becoming complacent with his massive points lead, was it the pressure of his home GP? It was most likely neither of these factors, he just had a slightly poor weekend. From post-race interviews, he seems unhappy – suggesting Red Bull need to improve, but I think he’ll look back at this weekend and laugh. After all he still has a 77 point lead!

On track action was of course only half of the race today, with strategy playing a big part. It was interesting to see what the UK commentators refer to as ‘the undercut’ failed this weekend. The Pirelli’s were lasting longer, no doubt due to the cooler track and it meant that staying out longer was the smart thing to do on the options. This left Mark Webber all at sea when both Hamilton and Alonso passed him easily in the second stops.

The reverse was true later in the race, when it turned out the prime tyres (which all the teams believed to be extremely slow) were actually a lot quicker than expected. This gave Hamilton the final advantage he needed when he pitted first for his set of primes and quickly pulled out a lead over Alonso and Webber.

I wonder if Ferrari regret not bringing Massa in earlier for the primes, knowing what we know now. The Brazillian was battling hard with Vettel, but both drivers stayed out until the final lap, opting for a thrilling pit-race between Red Bull and Ferrari – eventually lost by Massa. If Massa had have pitted earlier for the primes, he could have increased his lead enough to stay ahead of Vettel instead of losing a place on the final lap – never a good feeling!

Of course it wasn’t just the top five racing today – further down the field there was a sterling, if quiet, performance from Adrian Sutil who progressed his Force India

into sixth position. Mercedes continued their mediocre season with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher finishing 7th and 8th respectively.

There was drama early on between Nick Heidfeld and Sebastien Buemi as the Toro Rosso ploughed into the Renault knocking Heidfeld out of hie home race, Buemihas been given a five-place grid drop for the next Grand Prix. And Renault will probably be disappointed with Petrov’s 10th place, which was looking stronger earlier on. The team promised much this year but have failed to deliver.

One person I have yet to mention is Jenson Button who had without doubt the worst weekend. After qualifying low down, he simply went backwards at the start, losing out to Petrov and Schumacher. There was comeback and a glimmer of hope for the Brit later on, but that was quashed as his car was retired with a hydraulic problem – quite unusual considering the reliability of post 2009 F1. After two disappointing races, Jenson will be hoping for an actual race finish in Hungary.

The final twist of the day came after the chequered flag when Alonso’s Ferrari ran out of fuel and stopped on track. In a repeat of the legendary Mansell-Senna lift at Silverstone, Mark Webber offered Alonso a ride back to the pit lane – breaking several FIA regulations, but providing us with one final spectacle for the weekend. Luckily the stewards have seen fit to not hand any penalty to either driver for this incident.

F1 leaves Nurburgring with it’s head held high. It was another stunning weekend with a very worthy winner. In fact, it makes me wonder why the FIA ever demoted Nurburgring from holding the European GP, it beats Valencia hands down and that way we could have it every year! But as it is, we will look forward to our next Nurburgring race in 2013 and head off to The Hungaroring. The same man still leads the standings, but a different man has the pace – do we have a fightback on our hands?


The Fast Lane – Vettel Victorious in Valencia

June 26, 2011

This years Formula One season has been edge of the seat stuff (well if you ignore the guy out in front which has hardly changed!). Tracks which have traditionally served up little overtaking have given us amazing on track action and a record number of overtakes thanks to the new Pirelli tyres and DRS addition. But some things never change. The European Grand Prix in Valencia has seen very few overtakes since it’s introduction in 2009 and today was no exception.

Having said that, the beginning of the race did see some great opportunistic moves, mostly from the Ferrari’s. Massa continued his current run of good starts by powering past his team-mate and the slow starting Hamilton. Heading towards the second corner, Felipe moved to the inside of Webber and looked certain to take second place from the Aussie, but was forced to yield. This allowed Alonso back through (after he too had passed Hamilton) into third place.

Further down the field, the second McLaren had made an equally poor start with Button losing out to Nico Rosberg, but just keeping in front of Michael Schumacher. Vitaly Petrov also had a poor start losing five places by the second corner, a bad weekend for Russian who also fell out of quali early on Saturday.

With so many moves at the start, it was looking like a good race was in prospect, but sadly it never materialised. After Button had dispatched of Rosberg, there was very little action on track. The top three of Vettel, Webber and Alonso stayed close for several laps, but there was no sign of an overtake early on, each having a comfortable margin over each other. Massa and Hamilton were close on track for fourth place, but again, despite DRS, Hamilton was unable to capitalise and take the position.

Eventually on lap 20, there was a bit of interest once more as Alonso made the move on Webber to take second place. It was a well executed move from the Spaniard, but it lacked any real excitement as it was completed with DRS (although one has to wonder if we’d have had any overtaking if it wasn’t for this system).

The Webber/Alonso battle did admittedly continue throughout the race, but the rest of it was to be played out in the pits. The positions were revered on lap 29 when Webber retook the place by undercutting Alonso. But a combination of traffic and some poor outlaps from Webber on the hard tyres gave the position back to Alonso after the final round of pit stops.

Further down the field, there were a variety of small battles, Paul Di Resta stands out as one of the drivers who made an impact, taking several opportunities and making them work without losing his front wing this week. That’s more than can be said for Michael Schumacher, who after a brilliant showing in Canada, faded into the background this weekend after losing his wing in a clumsyaccident coming out of the pits.

Kobayashi had his fair share of tussles, but none of them really paid off except passing his team-mate! Jaime Alguesuari is perhaps the man to mention from the rest of the field. By gambling on a two-stop strategy instead of three he was able to move up to eighth and battled hard to keep it to the flag.

One man I’ve hardly mentioned is Vettel. It’s perhaps unfair that I don’t say much about Sebastien, he drove impeccably as always. But the problem is, when he makes no mistakes and is involved in no incidents/fights there’s not a lot to say. The reigning champion stayed a few seconds in front of the field for the entire race and made it obvious that he had plenty in reserve, pulling out an 11 second lead by the finish line. A pure class drive as always, just a shame it makes it a bit dull.

So the story from Valencia has two clear conclusions. Firstly, not even the new tyre strategies and DRS can liven up this street-circuit. It’s never been entertaining, has never captured the magic of Monaco and Singapore and I quite frankly wouldn’t miss it if it was cancelled from next year onwards.

The second is that there’s still a lot of catching up needed for anyone else to even be competitive with Vettel, let alone beat him. Ferrari were strong today (for the first time this season really), but McLaren failed and were no real match at all.

Vettel remains way out in front, in fact he could miss the next three races and still be leading the championship! I’m starting to think it’s more likely he’ll quit out of boredom rather than someone will actually overtake him in the championship!

Next time out we’re at Britain, the new Silverstone. Hopefully the speedy straights and tight corners can reignite the F1 flame!

The Fast Lane – Canadian Grand Prix Part Two: Masterclass from Button!

June 13, 2011

Wow, where on earth do I begin with my review of the Canadian Grand Prix 2011. How about a quick summary.

We endured a grand prix yesterday on 12th June 2011 in length of 4 hours, 4 minutes and 39 seconds, there were five safety car periods leading to several shots of a bored looking Bert Mylander, Jenson Button was in every position at some point in the race, The track went from wet to moist to monsoon to wet to moist to dry to whoa, don’t drive on that bit!, Lewis Hamilton was blamed for everything including no doubt the two marshall slip ups during the event, Schumacher Webber and Button drove around everyone, seven drivers didn’t finish – six of those were weather related crashes, Kobayashi made both brilliant and terrible decisions and everyone got very wet (well except Mercedes,they had tents!)

Phew, I think that covers it, if you want more about the first part of the race, I wrote all about it during the break yesterday, if not read on for part two!

Now that’s out of the way, lets have a look at some specific detail. Jenson Button is undoubtedly the talk of the sport right now and rightly so. he produced a belter of a drive to come from the very back of the race to the very front by the end of the final lap. Lets not forget Jenson was hit by his team-mate, was haemorrhaging time using intermediates too early, lost even more time hitting into Alonso and found himself stuck behind several slower (and faster) cars.

This would on any other day be game over, but not yesterday as Button drove magnificently around his opponents and kept up consistently impressive lap times in the second half of the race. But Jenson did this rather quietly. We were all focusing on the battles at the front between Schumacher, Webber and Vettel. Most people no doubt had forgotten Button was even in the Grand Prix. But due to a combination of great driving, handling the conditions superbly (in the latter stages of the race admittedly) and a little bit of luck, the Brit closed in on the top three. With the help of DRS he was able to dispatch both Webber and Schumacher with ease and then it was on to Vettel.

It’s incredible to think that after all this time with Vettel strongly leading from pole and Button having been in every position thinkable, that the two were seconds apart in the final laps. Button was closing, but not quite fast enough – it was all going to come down to the final corner of the race, surely!

But it happened a few corners earlier when we saw the truth that Vettel is human. I don’t know if it was the pressure or just a wheel offline in the wet, but Vettel slid giving Button the lead. I did feel sorry for Vettel at this moment, he’s a great driver and doesn’t really deserve the wave of cheers that no doubt happened across the UK (and possibly a few other countries) when he made his error. But it was an amazing moment, high power sporting action at it’s best. Jenson Button won what was one of the most enthralling races I have ever watched.

But it wasn’t just Button who shone. I couldn’t be happier to see Michael Schumacher back up there in the mix. It was the first time since his comeback last year that Schumacher has actually driven like the Schumacher of old. A combination of good decisions and great handling of the wet weather (was always his strongpoint), Michael battled through the field and made it up to second (after a great bit of opportunistic driving against Massa and Kobayashi). This really is where he deserved to stay in my opinion. He lost the position due to DRS as both Button and Webber (eventually) streamed past him with the new system.

It’s a great shame because although DRS helped set up the Webber/Button battle, it also denied us of a proper fight between Schumacher and Button. Jenson was two car-lengths ahead of the German by the corner after the DRS zone. It was just a bit too easy. And who on earth decided that Canada should have two DRS zones, one was more than enough – that system still needs refining.

But despite losing out on a podium, Schumacher drove excellently yesterday, well above the capabilities of a still disappointing Mercedes racecar. It will be interesting to see if this was a one-off or whether Michael can keep this momentum and continue challenging for the bigger points in 2011.

Despite the success, a few teams had a torrid day in the rain. Ferrari were looking very strong before Sunday, but it all fell to pieces in the race. Alonso never really looked comfortable in the wet weather and ended up a victim of it when Button slid into him. Massa was driving impressively, fa better than his team-mate, until he also made a mistake tagging the back of Kartikeyan and losing his front wing. He recovered to sixth, but it was still a bad day in the office for all involved at the prancing horse.

Renault Lotus (or whatever they’re now called) must also be feeling quite disappointed thinking at what could have been. Nick Heidfeld was running high throughout the entire race until he had a frightening incident with Kobayashi in which the German drive over his own front wing and lost control. Despite fifth place from Vitaly Petrov, it was very disheartening for a team that need to be getting better results now.

Kobayashi ended up having a much more enjoyable day, running as high as second for the majority of the race before falling to seventh by the chequered flag.

Just a quick mention to Emerson Fittipaldi who I don’t suppose had any idea how busy a day it was likely to be in the Stewards room. It seemed every five minutes there was another stewards inquiry announced, but luckily they decided against giving Jenson Button any penalties for his questionable antics with Hamilton and Alonso.

But wow, what a Grand Prix. You can’t call formula one boring after that. It was a long old wait leading to a five-and-a-half-hour long broadcast from the BBC, but it was more than worth it, sport at it’s absolute best. And the winner wasn’t a certain man called Vettel… normal service will be resumed in Valencia!

The Fast Lane – Canadian GP Part One: Lewis Storms Out!

June 12, 2011

Thought I’d write an impromtu blog post in this period of race stoppage. So we’ve had 25 laps of the Candian Grand Prix and we’ve had enough incidents to pack an entire race in previous years – love the 2011 season!

But one man who probably isn’t enjoying it so far is Lewis Hamilton. The man has had his fair share of incidents this year, in fact hasn’t he been involved in all of them? Today has of course been no different after Lewis became involved in 3 investigations after 10 minutes of racing.

The first of these was his attack up the inside of Mark Webber at the start of the race. This was a great piece of opportunistic racing from Hamilton, but it sadly went slightly wrong. Due, no doubt, to the poor weather conditions, Lewis lost grip and crashed into the side of Mark Webber. I do think in this instance, Lewis was more to blame than Mark. There’s no doubt that Webber gave the McLaren driver room, admittedly not much, but it was Lewis that slid and hit the side of Webber – a victim of the conditions.

Unlike Webber, Lewis recovered quickly from this and it wasn’t long before he was back in the thick of the race, taking the Renault’s and his team mate back. He was then challenging Schumacher (who like everyone was sliding everywhere) and ended up sliding so far that he pushed Hamilton I think unfairly wide.

This eventually led to the next and final incident for Hamilton. Stuck behind his slower team-mate, it was clear that Lewis needed to get back through if he was to have any chance in this race. Hamilton saw his moment and pulled to the inside of Button on the start/finish straight. Jenson clearly didn’t see him and pulled across the track, causing the two to make contact ending in Lewis’ retirement from the Grand Prix. This is a tough one to call. Button did pull across on Hamilton, but I don’t believe he could possibly have seen Lewis’ hot-headed attack on the inside. I don’t think either are to blame at all, it was a very unfortunate racing incident.

This of course ended Lewis’ race. I don’t believe he was really in the wrong today, more a victim of the conditions. But he does seem to get that title quite often!

As for the other contenders, Vettel is looking very strong here (apart from a trip over the grass at the start) whereas everyone else seems to be struggling. Interestingly, I’d say Vettel’s main competitor at the moment is Massa who is coping very well in the conditions, outperforming Alonso and possibly giving Vettel something to think about.

But of course all of this can change in a heartbeat, let alone a long rain delay. As I type this, the Montreal track is looking more like a river (a bit worried the island the track is on could sink) so it’s not looking like a restart any time soon – but hopefully we’ll be racing again later today… sorry Antiques Roadshow fans!