Sunday, 6 July 2014

British Grand Prix – The Race

Lewis Hamilton triumphant at the British Grand Prix!

Sorry for kind of skipping over the Austrian Grand Prix. I missed most of the race live and then the World Cup, Wimbledon and kids stuff took over. Anyway it was another Mercedes one-two. Plus ca change.

But we are now at the home of Formula 1 in Silverstone and blogging will most definitely be resumed!

Silverstone hosted the first World Championship Formula 1 race back in 1950 and its still going strong!

If the race is anywhere half as exciting, frantic and stunning as the qualifying session, then we are in for a roller-coaster ride at the British Grand Prix today. To recap BOTH Ferraris and BOTH Williams were dumped out of Quali after Q1. Then in the final session Lewis Hamilton, when on provisional pole, inexplicably decided to abort his final flying lap only to watch on with horror as 5 drivers all set faster times and worst of all, his bitter rival, team-mate and no-longer-friend-and-now-nemesis, Nico Rosberg ended up as the man on pole. As days at the office go, this one was a total, abject disaster.

Nico Rosberg - on pole position for the British Grand Prix

So on the front row of the grid its Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel (will his shocking luck so far this season finally turn in the British Grand Prix?). Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg line up on the second row – a pairing no one would have predicted for the second row but how fantastic to see them so high up especially on a weekend where lovely tributes are being paid to Jenson’s late father, John Button. Jenson himself is sporting this fantabulous helmet for the race.

Pink for Papa

Time for #MartinsGridWalk and I am steeling myself for an appearance by the soon-to-be Mrs Christian Horner, La Halliwell. Thankfully first up its Eric ‘total petrolhead and occasional guitarist’ Clapton. He pointed out that Felipe is cracking on the start and predicted a top 5 finish for him. Maybe Eric should get back to strumming his guitar. Bless.

Ooooh breaking news from Ted - apparently there is an issue on Lewis’s car. There is an overheating right-rear brake and all the mechanics and tech bods are pouring over it. Lewis has reported that he could see smoke and even fire coming from it. Still its not like the race is due to begin soon or anything...oh.

Prince Harry is on the grid but he is Not Talking to the Media today. Zara wasn’t too posh to have a chat with Martin was she (back in Monza I think?). Could he really not manage a 30 second chat with lovely Martin Brundle? Whilst he is a very skilled interviewer, Martin was hardly going to rip him to shreds by interrogating him about technical stuff. Lets face it he has interviewed Geri Halliwell on the grid a few times. Bit disappointed with Harry there to be honest.

Prince Harry - alas his thoughts on F1 will remain an enigma to us all

Still moving on and its the demi-god that is Nigel Mansell! He isn’t too posh to speak to the public. Although he quite amusingly got temporarily distracted from the interview with Martin to give Bernie a bear hug and begin a very friendly and private conversation with Bernie. After reminding both of them they were on air, Bernie plumped for Nico and Nigel opted for Lewis as eventual winners.

Here we go then. Its time for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 red lights and they’re out. Its Go Go Go at the British Grand Prix. Nico cruises off smoothly and Vettel just goes backwards, first passed by Jenson, and then Magnussen before Hamilton squeezes past after a friendly nudge to the Red Bull.

The fast and frantic start to the British Grand Prix

And DRAMARAMA as we see replays of a huge shunt at the back of the field involving Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. Numerous replays (much needed as the overhead camera appears to be located somewhere on Mars) show that Kimi lost control of his car, left the track, rejoined it and clipped a bump before hurtling at speed into the armco barriers. Massa deserves enormous credit for taking lightning fast evasive action to avoid a head-on crash but still got caught up in the melee.

The aftermath of Raikkonen's horrific crash

The race has been red-flagged and stopped. Kimi Raikkonen is clearly limping as he is taken to the medical car and poor Felipe Massa is out of the race as his car cannot be repaired in time. How desperately unlucky for Felipe in his 200th Grand Prix. Sport is cruel.

Apparently the armco has to be replaced so there’ll be no action for some time yet. I always find it totally fascinating observing the drivers in these interludes. Those who take themselves off to do a Garbo (ie. Want To Be Alone), those who take the chance to munch on a few snacks and those who spend the time endlessly debating and chatting over tactics and strategy with engineers. I'm with Nico Rosberg - give me potatoes in a fast food container!

When we do resume – the pack will be as you were – no standing restart but they will be led out behind the safety car in this order: 1. Rosberg, 2. Button, 3. Magnussen, 4. Hamilton, 5. Vettel, 6. Hulk, 7. Ricciardo, 8. Kvyat (and quite incredibly) 9. Bottas.

The surreal restart of the British Grand Prix behind a safety car

And at 2:05pm (one hour since the red flags) the cars are back on track, albeit under a safety car. The impact speed was measured at 47G and miraculously Kimi’s injuries aren’t too severe. His left ankle is heavily bruised but no broken bones. Fingers crossed he will be back for Hockenheim.

Right and we’re off again – wheels are turning in anger already as Bottas takes Kvyat AND Ricciardo, and meanwhile Hamilton has passed Magnusson. We have a fascinating top 3 of Rosberg, Button and Hamilton. Nope sorry spoke too soon as Hamilton easily takes Button to move into second place with a 5 second gap to race leader and no-longer-friend-and-now-nemesis, Nico Rosberg.

Bottas is now in 6th place and the husband has already invoked the memory of Gilles Villeneuve saying in a not-at-all OTT way “this could be one of THE greatest drives of all time”. And talking of great overtaking moves, Alonso executed an inch perfect move around the outside of Ricciardo to move himself up to 8th place after qualifying in 19th place (two places behind Bottas). Maybe he is another candidate for one of the greatest drives of all time (hey might as well join in the general hysteria). And Alonso is still ploughing through the field – he is now up to 7th place. The Hulk is really struggling for lack of pace and has now been passed by Ricciardo.

And its hasta la vista to Gutierrez who launched Maldonado airborne before then veering off into the gravel. As Martin Brundle observed you could pretty much apportion blame in that incident as 100% to Gutierrez. Not always Maldonado’s fault then. #justsaying

Maldonado literally flying around Silverstone

More misfortune for the Caterhams as Eriksson retires in what the husband described as ‘not very safe looking car’. The stewards have given Alonso a 5 second penalty for not being in the correct position at the restart. Big Fat Boo. The new Gilles Villeneuve (yes, apparently Bottas!) is now in FOURTH place. Even I have to admit he is having a very impressive race so far!

Holy cow – its only lap 14. My nerves are pretty much shredded already.

Next up in Alonso’s sights is the surely soon-to-be-passed Magnussen. Meanwhile Rosberg is getting all sorts of warnings about conserving fuel. Oooo-er. Honestly this is not Bottas-Watch but he is now in THIRD place having just scorched past Jenson Button. Unfortunately for all Bottas fans the Mercedes are several country miles ahead of the rest of the pack so there might not be much more overtaking for a while.

Remember that bit where Rosberg’s engineers told him to watch fuel. Well scrap that. He’s now been told to floor the car and really start hammering. Primarily because Lewis Hamilton is becoming an increasingly visible sight in his mirrors. And as we predicted, Rosberg has now been brought into the pits and Lewis is told over the radio that its 'Hammer Time’. I love Crofty but he must wonder where this strange phase that has made it into popular parlance has come from. Who’dve thought MC Hammer would have enriched the masses so meaningfully.

The wordsmith of our age that is MC Hammer

And on lap 25, the race leader, Lewis Hamilton, pits to whack on some hard tyres and looks like it was a fairly slow stop – could be crucial in a race where every second counts. Vettel meanwhile has taken advantage of a casual open door left by Magnussen to grab 6th place.

So at the half-way point (yes amazingly it is only the half-way point which is testament to how stupendous this race is!), this is how things look:

1.     Rosberg
2.     Hamilton
3.     Bottas
4.     Button
5.     Alonso
6.     Vettel
7.     Magnussen
8.     Ricciardo
9.     Hulkenberg
10.  Kvyat

Now Hamilton has just set a fastest lap on the ‘slow’ hard tyres. This absolutely never ever happens. A Fastest Lap on Hard Tyres! Lewis Hamilton is channelling the spirit of Our Nige big time.

And SENSATIONAL SCENES (Murray Walker style). You really could not make this up. Nico Rosberg has major gearbox problems and Lewis Hamilton has blitzed past to take the lead of the British Grand Prix. Nico’s race is clearly over – what chronically awful luck. Although he desperately tried to reboot his car, nothing was doing and you can’t help but feel robbed at the titanic battle for the lead that should have been. So Hamilton now leads with Bottas in an incredible 2nd place. All we need is for a replica gearbox problem to strike down the other Mercedes and the husband shall spin off into orbit.

Gearbox failure for Nico Rosberg

A fantastic battle is unfolding between Vettel and Alonso for 5th place culminating in a stunning move by Alonso to retake position. How much overtaking has there been today?! Formula 1 at its absolute finest. Battle is resumed on lap 37 as Vettel takes Alonso but yet again the Ferrari muscles its way back past. Vettel is straight on the radio to complain that Alonso cut him off and was over-aggressive. Dear Sebastian, given the chief steward is Nigel Mansell, you’re going to get no joy from him in complaining about aggressive driving! So STFU and drive. 

Lap 42 – Lewis pits for the final time and its hard to see what is going to stop him now. Alonso is putting on a masterclass out there – somehow managing to keep Vettel at bay causing Seb once again to freak out over the radio that Fernando didn’t leave him enough space. Duh. Its called racing. And its bloody brilliant!

The titanic duel between Alonso and Vettel

And on lap 48, Vettel has another go on Alonso and this time after some electrifying wheel to wheel action finally manages to get past the Ferrari. But, Sebastian, why should Alonso make it easy? Now Alonso is freaking out over the radio. Dudes, Nigel Mansell is the chief steward. Honestly just give it up!

And all of a sudden it is the final lap. Take a bow Nigel Mansell, you called it spot on by predicting a win for Lewis Hamilton. The crowd go wild in scenes reminiscent of Nigel Mansell’s win in 1992. Yes he rode his luck but still a fantastic comeback after the disaster of yesterday’s qualifying. Coming in 2nd place is Valtteri Bottas after a stupendous drive from 17th on the grid and Ricciardo just pips Button to the final place on the podium.

Three fantastic drivers on the podium - surely they deserved better than those pieces of red tat!?

Here are the results from a dizzyingly exciting British Grand Prix:

Hamilton – A weekend of contrasting fortunes but sealed the deal when it counted. Vital shot in the arm of the title race meaning Lewis is now just 4 points behind Nico.
Bottas – A truly Mansell-esque performace to finish 2nd (from 17th on the grid). There is no greater praise!
Ricciardo – A quietly efficient and impressive performance and yet again finished ahead of his illustrious four time champion team-mate.
Button – An excellent 4th place and came heart-breakingly close to his first podium in his home Grand Prix.
The intense duel between these two drivers in this race is one of the stand-out highlights for me this season. Utterly compelling stuff. Though much more kudos owed to Alonso who started in 19th than Vettel who was on the front row

So that was the British Grand Prix and what an absorbing and action-packed spectacle it was. And after a pretty rubbish summer for British sport it was a great result in front of an adoring home crowd. Next up, its Nico Rosberg's home race at the wonderful Hockenheim and battle will be rejoined again. 

But for now, the man of the moment (and indeed the only shining star in British sport!) is Lewis Hamilton

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Canadian Grand Prix 2014

Aussie Rules!

A non-Mercedes winner (for the first time this season) – check
A maiden Grand Prix winner – check 
Race leader changes unexpectedly in closing stages of the race – check
Safety car – check
Another safety car – check
Opening lap crash – check
Final lap crash – check  

Canada, you did it again. Against staggeringly high odds, you stuck two fingers up at this most metronomically predictable of seasons (the triptych of joy that has been 6 wins out of 6 and 5 consecutive one-twos for Mercedes) and gave us all a race of breathtaking excitement, drama, controversy, heart-stopping moments and a maiden race win for the enormously lovely and talented Daniel Ricciardo as the wheels finally came off the Mercedes juggernaut. I can’t think of a more deserving driver to take the race win and break the Mercedes stranglehold on victories. He is having a phenomenal season and doing something quite astounding. He is making Sebastian Vettel look a little bit like Rubens Barrichello.

Jean Alesi hitching a ride off Schumacher after winning the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix!

What is it about Montreal and first race wins? Gilles Villeneuve in 1978, Thierry Boutsen in 1989, Jean Alesi in 1995, Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and Robert Kubica in 2008. And now Daniel Ricciardo in 2014.

Straight up this was the best Formula 1 race that I have watched in bloody years. Definitely since the season finale at Interlagos in 2012 and its almost up there with the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011, a race that single-handedly shredded my nerves into a billion pieces. If we’d have had some rain on Sunday, we’d have had the complete package of perfect F1 race ingredients!

Hamilton vs Rosberg - Part 7

Naturally after escape road-gate in Monaco and “you’re not my friend anymore” playground spats, all eyes were on Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Quite interestingly it appears from Twitter and forums (that I very occasionally venture onto to escape the mundanity of life in a town that apparently was not ready for sushi - see here) that people’s allegiances seem to be polarising behind either Rosberg or Hamilton. Unless of course you’re a Ferrari fan (and I have enormous affection still for them) and you’re reaching for the gin to make It All Just Stop.
Messrs Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert did a feature on the curse of the Wall of Champions (which has claimed victims such as Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve x2, Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel as well as a whole host of other drivers). Quite reasonably, they wondered aloud whether a similar error there by Hamilton or Rosberg could end up being title-defining given the incredibly tight battle at the top.

Another Canadian GP to forget for Jacques Villeneuve

Damon and Johnny could end up being right in pinpointing Canada as a possible turning point. The Wall of Champions had an unusually quiet day but the fabled reliability of the Mercedes deserted them almost totally in the 7th race of the season. With both drivers utterly dominant and in control for the first half of the race, we were settling down to a classic humdinger of a scrap between Lewis and Nico. Until disaster struck when both cars were suddenly crippled by a loss of power. Hamilton’s was the first car to be struck down then Rosberg’s. But the German somehow managed to nurse his car home with some brilliant defensive driving and to finish 2nd and add a potentially very significant 18 points to his tally. Without for one moment suggesting Rosberg is in the same league in terms of pure racing ability, it was a very Senna-esque thing to pull off.
Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, was forced to retire with brake failure on lap 47 and he now trails his team-mate by 22 points. Admittedly that only leaves him one race win and a DNF for Rosberg away from leading the championship but momentum is a powerful thing. And the other big relevation from the weekend is that the Mercedes car is not infallible or bullet-proof. While there was Hamilton’s retirement in Australia (back in the history of forever), its fair to say we were all beginning to wonder what could derail the Silver Arrows. Admittedly it is telling that Rosberg clung onto second in an ailing car but there is a small glimmer of hope that the best of the rest (Red Bull and Williams – if only Williams had one stand-out driver to deliver the goods) might be within touching distance soon.
The start of the Canadian GP 2014

But this race was so much more than the story of Mercedes. It was cram-packed with drama and incident right from the very start. Coming out of turn one, Hamilton edged his nose ever so slightly ahead of Rosberg. But Rosberg was having none of it and he held firm, forcing Hamilton to take evasive action and lose a place to Vettel in the process.
The real drama of the opening lap meanwhile was the carnage unfolding down at the back of the field. Max Chilton lost control of his Marussia through turn three/four and caught the side of his teammate’s car sending it spinning into a wall. The rear of Bianchi’s car pretty much disintegrated while Chilton himself struck a different wall resulting in his first retirement in 26 F1 races. What a contrast in emotions for poor old Marussia after the euphoria of securing their first points in Monaco.
The remains of Jules Bianchi's Marussia

Its good to know that despite enormous technological and engineering development and innovation in F1 over the years, the designated procedure for clearing up debris and oil after a crash involves men pushing brooms around. Racing in anger resumed seven laps later. Hamilton was able to dispatch Vettel with depressing ease within three laps and it was game on in the quest to reel in Rosberg. After the first round of pitstops, Rosberg still had a moderately comfortable 2 second lead over Hamilton but he (Rosberg) was having a strangely twitchy race, nearly clattering into Bianchi’s Wall of Doom when under no real pressure. Except, of course, the pressure of the title race. Only another 12 races to go folks.
By lap 25, Hamilton was right up behind Rosberg and the F1 equivalent of DEFCON 1 was about to be deployed. Rosberg was forced to cut the chicane after locking up and managed to put a fraction more breathing space between him and his teammate. Controversially some might say Nico received a warning for ‘exceeding track limits’ but crucially was given no penalty. Another footnote to recall when telling the story of the 2014 championship?
And then it was as you were until reliability issues struck both Mercedes cars. One managed to make it to the chequered flag and the other didn’t. Nico Rosberg is living dangerously at the moment but is riding his luck brilliantly.

Lewis retires from the race
A very frustrated Lewis Hamilton

The final laps of the race were (appropriately enough given the name of the circuit) reminscent of the great Gilles Villeneuve drive in Jarama, 1981. For highlights of that tremendous race - click here. Sergio Perez was somehow quite incredibly in 2nd place with Ricciardo, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa, Alonso, Button and Vergne all swarming in his wake, just separated by tenths of seconds.

With 2 laps to go, Daniel Ricciardo made his decisive move on Rosberg who simply could not find enough power on the long, blistering straights of Montreal. But even then the drama was not yet over. On the final lap, with Massa dicing and battling with Perez for 4th place, the Williams smashed into the left-rear of the Force India at high speed. Endless slow-mo replays showed that as Massa pulled out to pass the Force India, Perez moved very slightly to his left. Perez rammed into a barrier to his right and Massa hurtled head-on into a tyre wall. It was a mammoth crash but thankfully both drivers were uninjured. It’s a very tough one to apportion blame for (although Perez has been officially held responsible and slapped with a 5 place grid penalty). It really looked like one driver moved right just as the other driver moved left. One could have shown a little more spatial awareness and the other could have used a little more racecraft. In my opinion, it was probably just a racing incident, however dramatic the impact. Still it must have been just devastating for Force India and Williams to miss out on a hefty haul of points so close to the end of the race.

The aftermath of the Massa-Perez crash (1 of 2)
Massa-Perez crash (2 of 2)

The lucky beneficiary of all the last lap fireworks was Sebastian Vettel. He just made it through all the carnage by the narrowest of margins to collect the final space on the podium. And to be fair that big slice of luck was long overdue for him this season. Behind the leading trio, Jenson Button (with all the drama I’ve still not managed to work out how Jenson managed this!) managed to claim fourth in his McLaren, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg coming home in fifth and Fernando Alonso in sixth.
If God made F1 races, they would look a whole lot like Canada. Austria, you have a very tough act to follow but it might just manage it at the newly restored Austrian Grand Prix in the beautiful Styrian mountains. A second Red Bull win of the season at the Red Bull Ring anyone?!!

And the final word goes to the happiest man in the whole of Canada on Sunday:

"I'm a Grand Prix winner"