Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Bahrain Grand Prix – The Race


Hamilton and Rosberg - do they stand on the brink of war?

So a question to all the critics, doomlords and naysayers who have torn into Formula 1 in recent weeks – was that race exciting enough for you?!!!!

Just when you least expect it (and c’mon lets be honest who really thought in a gazillion light years it would be Bahrain of all places that would re-ignite everyone’s interest and passion in F1 again) along comes a race every once in a while that blows the rest out of the water.

The Bahrain Grand Prix of 2014 was quite simply the most exhilarating and thrilling race since Interlagos 2012. There was a battle of truly epic proportions between the two Mercedes drivers for 1st and 2nd place. The racing was so close, fierce and uncompromisng that you could have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a karting race albeit one showcasing the very best drivers in the world. And that’s before we even mention the ferocious battles that raged all race long behind the front two between Force India, Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams.

And before I forget, a round of applause to the beautiful gesture by the Bahrain race organisers:
 



Schuey winning the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2004

But first #MartinsGridWalk. I think I spoke for a nation when I prayed for it to be a Geri Halliwell-free zone. Surely I must have dreamt all that Christian Horner nonsense. Shudder.

Martin managed to intercept the Master of the Dark Arts himself aka Adrian Newey who was armed with a mysterious red file no doubt jammed full of Top Secret Stuff and Title Winning Modifications. I was however in full agreement with Adrian who pointed out that it was ridiculous for a driver (Ricciardo) to be slapped with a 10 place grid drop when he had already served a penalty in the previous race for the offence in question. It was over to ‘Danny Ric’ (a random Brundle-ism that probably won’t catch on) – the man of the moment – who was still smiling and saying this sort of thing could only make you stronger. Maybe Alonso has given him a lend of his Samurai Book of Motivational Sayings.

Martin then spotted Ron Dennis shooting the breeze with someone from Pink Floyd. Wowsers, Random Celebrities at a Race were ten a penny in Bahrain. Was there also a convention going on in Sakhir for aging posh rockers who feature in the husband’s Jeremy Clarkson’s music collection? Mike Rutherford was in town as well as AC/DC and Jools Holland. Apparently Ron believes that everyone should stop with the whinging and just get on with it. F1 should be proud of their technology and who really gives a xxxx if the cars aren’t that noisy. God at last someone who speaks sense. Enough already about the goddamn lack of noise. And back to Ron – ok its not F1 as we know it but the noise can be fixed. Most of the moans are coming from uncompetitiveness. Could Not Agree More. *Stares hard at Vettel*. Prescient words, Ron, prescient words.

Ron doesn't think F1 is boring and will fight anyone who says otherwise

Quick chat with lovely Jenson Button who was berating Martin for not wearing a ‘Jenson 250’ t-shirt. Wow is it really 250 races? <feels old> I remember watching his first race (for Williams) in the not-then-husband’s strange but nice converted church flat back in 2000.

#Jenson250

Its Go! Go! Go! at the Bahrain GP of 2014. Make it a good one guys.

And at the start Hamilton managed to nip in front of his team-mate and the pole-sitter, Rosberg. Brilliant start for Massa and somehow already Alonso was a few places ahead of Raikkonen. Although Fernando was already coming under intense pressure from a Force India. Let us just consider that for a moment. A Ferrari was under pressure from a Force India. How the mighty have fallen. And yet again Magnussen has hit Kimi (who was none too pleased about the situation “Magnussen has hit me again”) and there was a collision between Vergne and Maldonado – Vergne’s not-at-all-hysterical take on the situation was “that guy tried to kill me”. He wouldn’t be the first to say/think that. Methinks that Maldonado won’t be in F1 next season.

The frenetic start to the race

The Hulk made a move stick on the Ferrari of Alonso to move into 7th place. There’s a new game in F1 these days and its called Overtake a Ferrari. There was some delightfully ragged driving by Vettel who took a small detour off the grid after trying and failing to get past Magnussen. On lap 10, Button and then the Hulk passed Bottas. I remain VERY unconvinced by Bottas.

Magnussen’s tyres had given up the fight by lap 12 and Ricciardo blitzed past him. Perez then put a stunning move on Massa to move into 3rd place. From bloody nowhere, Force India were all over this Bahrain Grand Prix. One of many surprises this weekend. Sutil was forced to retire with a puncture – surely not another double retirement this weekend for Sauber. Replays showed that he forced Bianchi off the track. Naughty naughty Adrian Sutil.

Proving not all the bad luck strikes one side of the Red Bull garage, we heard that Vettel in 6th position had lost DRS and Ricciardo was now swarming all over the back of his car. Team orders to let Ricciardo through were duly issued and astonishingly listened to as Vettel surrendered the place to Danny Ric. Massa was having a titanic battle of his own with Bottas while the Hulk took Kimi.

Bahrain looks beautiful from other angles too
Suddenly by lap 19, Nico Rosberg was all over the back of Hamilton. There was now only a 0.3 second gap. To quote my notes verbatim we then had “some of the best wheel to wheel driving I have seen in years”. First Rosberg passed Hamilton and then Hamilton brilliantly retook the lead. The unbearable tension was slightly alleviated by Hamilton coming in for his first pitstop on lap 20 with what very much sounded over the radio like a change of strategy for Rosberg.

Next to score in the Overtake a Ferrari Game were the Hulk and Perez, both of whom easily passed Alonso. Vettel was told in dramatic tones that the majority of cars were 3 stopping so presumably he was on a 2 stop strategy. Now it was Button’s turn to score a point in Overtake a Ferrari by passing Kimi. Not to put too fine a point on it but Ferrari’s season so far is a total aberration.

Ferrari - a race to forget
On lap 21, Rosberg pitted and he rejoined the track just behind Lewis Hamilton. So as you were. The current running order at the top were the two Mercedes, the two Williams and it was that man again…the Hulk…driving another excellent race to lie in 5th position.

There was one hell of a scrap brewing down at Williams. Massa and Bottas were all over each other, with the Hulk lying in wait just behind them. On lap 26, Perez overtook the Hulk and somehow Massa clung on to live another day. And now fireworks down at Force India as the Hulk was furious that Perez pushed him off the track. Or as everyone else saw it, Perez just put a good move on and made it stick. He was now up to 3rd place after Massa dived into the pits. The brilliant mercurial Sergio Perez of 2012 is back in business.

HALFWAY POINT KLAXON:

1.     Hamilton
2.     Rosberg
3.     Perez
4.     Hulk
5.     Massa
6.     Button

And a Change of Overalls Moment as Bottas went flying off the track as he failed to notice Kimi was slowing, narrowly avoiding a horrendous crash. Next up to play Overtake a Ferrari was Ricciardo followed by Bottas, followed by Massa (ouch) all passing Kimi Raikkonen within a couple of laps and then Perez passed Alonso for P6 (I’m beginning to lose track now). I fear Stefano Domenicali is dead man walking.

There was a MAJOR ACCIDENT on lap 41 as Maldonado coming out of the pits went into Esteban Gutierrez flipping his car into the air. A real heart in the mouth smash but thankfully Gutierrez was ok. Poor old Sauber. Two double retirements in one week.

Gutierrez airborne 

And unsurprisingly, the Safety Car was deployed which meant anyone who had built up a nice little lead (Lewis Hamilton for example) would now see it all wiped out. In amidst all the melee and sneaky pitstops, Magnussen had stopped and his race was over.

TEN LAPS TO GO KLAXON:

1.     Hamilton
2.     Rosberg
3.     Perez
4.     Hulkenberg
5.     Button
6.     Vettel

The commentators were hotly debating whether team orders had been imposed at Mercedes after Paddy Lowe (very unusually) came on over the radio to tell the drivers “there are only 10 laps to go and can we make sure we bring both cars home” (or words to that effect). Like Brundle, I thought that meant, we’re not imposing team orders but if you do anything daft and take each other out, we will kill you. Generally if teams impose team orders they make it much clearer than that so there is no room for confusion.

Wheel to wheel combat at Mercedes

The Safety Car was coming in…let battle commence! The two Mercedes were fighting wheel to wheel, the two Force India’s were fighting wheel to wheel with Hamilton and Perez somehow managing by the skin of their teeth to hold off their team-mates. Vettel (remember him?) had very, very quietly manoeuvred his way up to 5th place. And the wheels were coming off (not literally speaking) for poor Jenson Button who was easily passed by Ricciardo, Massa and Bottas. Its says it all about the F14-T that the driver who struggled the most to overtake the ailing McLaren of Button was Fernando Alonso.

And sensationally (no team orders, no dodgy DRS – just fair dinkum racing) Ricciardo overtook Vettel with a brilliant move on turn one. A monumental battle for 4th place was now raging between the Hulk, Ricciardo and Vettel. But before that fully exploded into life, we had another heart-stopping moment on lap 53 as Rosberg squeezed in front of Hamilton, only for Hamilton to seize back the lead almost instantly. It really was a masterclass of defensive driving from Hamilton. Ricciardo, cool as you like, passed the Hulk to move into 4th place.

And things were similarly close at Red Bull

Button had finally conked out. That would be a double retirement for McLaren. Oh dear.

And with Lewis Hamilton clinging onto his lead for dear life by one second, he claimed the win with Rosberg crossing the line in 2nd place in close pursuit. With Sergio Perez completing the podium. And. Breathe. We had the almost surreal but incredible sight (in F1) of cars tumbling all over each other in their team pairings as they raced to the finish line.

A magnificent drive by the reborn Sergio Perez

So here are the results from the extraordinary and electrifying Bahrain Grand Prix of 2014:

Hamilton – Lewis now has back to back wins but this one is one of his finest victories ever. Well played to Team Mercedes for allowing the drivers to race and give us such a great show to enjoy!
Rosberg – A bittersweet result but one which hopefully shows we have a titanic battle on our hands for the title!
Perez – A phenomenal drive to take Force India’s second only podium ever.
Ricciardo – Genuinely ecstatic for Ricciardo who deserved it after that great move on Vettel in the closing stages of the race.
Hulkenberg – Started 11th and finished 5th. What more does the Hulk need to do to prove himself?

So F1 has become boring has it? Well it looks like the drivers didn’t get the memo. To quote the living legend that is Niki Lauda, “anyone who claims this sport is boring is an idiot.” And who would argue?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Malaysian Grand Prix - The Race


The first 1-2 by the Mercedes factory team since 1955 

The downside about live-blogging as I’ve discovered is that you pretty much have to post live or ‘almost live’. Which could be just about stretched to the day after the race. But not, erm, 6 whole days after the race when the Malaysian Grand Prix is but a distant speck on the consciousness and qualifying for the next race is [embarrassed face] ACTUALLY TODAY.

When I mentioned the whole timing conundrum to the husband this morning, he helpfully suggested I might want to try a different approach to blogging which I think is code for ‘keep it short’ or it is entirely possible he wasn’t actually listening. Not a whole lot of listening goes on in Power Towers.


Epic fail but at least I've posted before the start of qualifying for the next race

Without giving too much away (but unless you’d been living in deepest darkest Patagonia, everyone knows that Lewis Hamilton won), I think there may come a a point in the season when everyone (despite themselves) will slightly rejoice at seeing Vettel win a race. Because it will mean we won’t have had another Mercedes procession masterclass. Hashtag irony etc. Well I’m thinking of real F1 fans here as opposed to some segments of the Great British Media who will revel in Lewis’s domination (which in no way of course will resemble Vettel’s ‘boring domination that was damaging for the sport’). Unless of course Nico dominates. In which case, see Vettel.

And who could forget the Malaysian Grand Prix last year. The race that gave us Multi 21 and spawned a million t-shirts and ‘hilarious’ (ie. not really) internet jokes. What larks could Sepang 2014 have in store for us?


Really who would have bought one of these?

I failed totally to watch any build-up so moving on quickly to the race. It was a blistering start from Lewis and especially Nico Rosberg who brilliantly leapfrogged Vettel into second! For reasons I can’t quite explain, I don’t think Vettel massively rates Rosberg so that overtake gave me enormous pleasure. And in a do-not-readjust-your-set-moment Ricciardo then passed Sebastian Vettel. Ricciardo is really proving me wrong but in an entirely brilliant way.


The very lively start to the Malaysian GP

Just as I mentally noted what a clean start everyone had off the line, Bianchi and Maldonaldo had a coming together down the back of the field as did Magnussen and Kimi while scrapping it out for 7th. That turned out to be very costly for Kimi who started dropping places at a rate of knots and had to come into the pits to sort out a problem with his right rear tyre. Magnussen’s car didn’t come off much better and he started falling back down the field. Meanwhile normal service was resumed as Vettel deployed his DRS to retake Ricciardo for 3rd place.

F1 Bingo Alert (I must must must compile a bingo sheet – I’m going to add it onto my ‘to do’ list in Center Parcs in one of my small pockets of ‘me time’). We had our first 5 second stop-go penalty of 2014 – the grand honour went to Jules Bianchi for the Maldonado incident. No consolation at all to poor old Maldonado who had to retire shortly after. What a wretched season he is having (sadly I’ll probably be able to cut and paste this statement for the rest of his 2014 season).

Malaysia is the race that keeps on giving in terms of Team-Mate Wars. Massa was merrily venting on the radio about Bottas clattering into him. Bottas was told to hold station behind Massa until he (Massa) got past Magnussen. Bottas was clearly not amused and pointed out he had more pace. But in the true traditions of Malayisa, we had the annual unveiling of a New Code from those zany Red Bull guys – this year it was all about Default 13. Never did find out what it meant. Magnussen was next in line to be slapped with a 5 second stop-go penalty for the Raikkonen incident. Big Ronnie D wouldn’t be happy. Mind you he never is.


We need to talk about Kevin

Already this breathless dizzying start (well it was vaguely eventful) had brought us up to The First Pitstop Window. Alonso and Ricciardo pitted on the same lap and rejoined side by side with Ricciardo showing real cajones to take the position from Alonso. Lewis Hamilton pitted on lap 15 which meant that the Hulk briefly led yet another Grand Prix. All hail the Hulk – The Most Underrated Driver in F1 History. We were told there was a problem with Ricciardo’s car. Of course there flaming well was. Apologies that was a bit Alf Stewart. The FIA sensor was broken and so he was driving to a pre-agreed calculation which is programmed into the beeps. Or something like that.

Hamilton had now opened up a huge lead and it was possible that this race may have entered a Boring Phase as my notes slightly thinned out at this point.  All credit to the Malaysian Grand Prix producers who did show us every single scrap down the back of the field. Maybe there was no ‘home favourite’ to track relentlessly but who in their right mind wants the cameras rigidly fixed on one driver for the whole race (à la Hockenheim in the early 00s, although I feel quite teary thinking of those times now).


Schumacher triumphant in Hockenheim in 2004

Half-way point leaderboard:

1.     Hamilton
2.     Rosberg
3.     Vettel
4.     Ricciardo
5.     Hulkenberg in a Force India – Pointing out the freaking obvious but the only cars ahead of Hulkenberg were the two Mercedes and the two Red Bulls. That is pretty freaking impressive.
6.     Alonso

We had now entered The Second Pitstop Window. Alonso and his race nemesis (he always seems to have one nemesis every race) Ricciardo were still having a very close battle out on track.

RAIN ALERT! Finally a sign of deliverance that the Boring Phase of the race might come to an end. Crofty didn’t want rain as the race was shaping up to be ‘a great tactical battle’. Really? Or will Mercedes just win? Vettel pitted with the usual Red Bull clinical precision. Rosberg pitted and emerged a hair’s breadth ahead of Vettel. Well played Team Mercedes. One more lap and Rosberg would have been toast. But still 22 laps to go.

In other random incidental news, Adrian Sutil inconsiderately came to a halt on the side of the track and we had news from Kimi’s cockpit (as rare as hen’s teeth) that it was raining on the back of the circuit. Vettel was now berating his team over the radio “speak up when you talk, speak up!”. I would be so tempted to say back “just shut up and start closing the gap on Rosberg”.

Remember the McLaren Pitstop Disastometer of the 2012 season? I think the mantle has well and truly passed to Red Bull but only if it is a Ricciardo pitstop. Natch. He had his race destroyed in 20 seconds by his team failing to put the front left tyre on properly.  Guys, this is like on Page 1 of the Pitstop Manual. He came to a screeching standstill in the pitlane and had to have his car pushed back by the Red bull mechanics to his grid spot. And then something else went wrong in Daniel Ricciardo’s car. His front wing was hanging off and shredding bits all over the track. And shortly afterwards he succumbed to the inevitable and retired from the race. Gutted for him.


The aftermath of Ricciardo's disastrous pitstop

TEN LAPS TO GO KLAXON. Top 6: Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Button. And a feisty old battle was developing between Button and Massa for 6th place with a superb display of defensive driving by Button to keep Massa at bay. Alonso was at this stage the fastest man out on track and chowing his way into the Hulk’s lead. Vettel came into the pits with 6 laps to go and was warned to stay off the kerbs to avoid a repeat of Ricciardo’s problem. Meanwhile Kimi was battling it out with Grosjean further down the field. Its fair to say his Ferrari career part 2 hasn’t exactly re-ignited. Yet.

Scandal of scandals – Williams (who never used to do this kind of thing) were issuing team orders as if they were…ahem...Ferrari. Massa was ordered to let Bottas through. Poor Felipe – it must feel like Groundhog Day. But try as he may, Bottas couldn’t get past his team-mate despite increasingly frenetic orders to Massa to let him past.

The Williams cars fighting tooth and nail for position (and what pray is wrong with that?)

And with 3 laps to go Alonso put a brilliant sequence of moves on the Hulk and all those Malaysian locals of Spanish and Italian extraction (arf) in the grandstands went all kinds of crazy. Mention must be made of Grosjean who in the relatively diabonical Lotus was STILL keeping Kimi Raikkonen at bay. Penny for them, Luca di Montezemolo.

It couldn’t have been closer between the two Williams cars. Claire Williams must have been going spare in the garage. Felipe was refusing point blank to let Bottas past. But then again why should he? Its race no.2 of the season for crying out loud and by no means was it guaranteed that Bottas would catch the next car up the field (Button) given the dog’s dinner he was making of passing his team-mate.

And with no further ado, Lewis Hamilton crossed the chequered flag first and Rosberg made it a Mercedes 1-2. All I was waiting to see was which Williams car would cross the line first. It was…..drum roll…..MASSA! Well done that man for ignoring the quite frankly daft team orders.


Lewis and Nico - no far no trouble in paradise

So here are the results from the Malaysian Grand Prix 2014:

1.     Hamilton – Imperious drive from start to finish.
2.     Rosberg – and Nico made it the perfect weekend for Mercedes.
3.     Vettel – Podium
4.     Alonso – Drove the wheels off that car…but still Ferrari aren’t quite close enough.
5.     HULKENBERG – Simply superb (lest we forget IN A FORCE INDIA).
6.     Button – A fine drive demonstrating all his years of experience.
7.     Massa – Well bowled Felipe.
8.     Bottas – Word to the wise, if you say you are faster than your team-mate then prove it and pass him.
9.     Magnussen – Not quite as sensational a race as Australia but still points on the board.
10.  Kvyat – This guy is One To Watch.


Benedict Cumberbatch interviewing Lewis Hamilton - just TV gold

And OMFG <reaches for smelling salts> none other than BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH did the podium interviews. This might be the greatest (non-racing) moment in Formula 1 IN LIKE THE HISTORY OF FOREVER. Someone give Bernie a knighthood please. Passes out.