Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - The Season Finale

I have been a bad bad blogger. Completely failed to blog about the Russian, US and Brazilian races. Actually I did write a blog for the Russian Grand Prix then never got round to posting it. How rubbish is that? I never got to see the US GP as we were on holiday livin’ la vida loca in Center Parcs and I can only presume some other child-related stuff was going on during the Brazilian GP. The stuff of life has an annoying habit of getting in the way of grand prix watching.

Still better late than never. I’m getting my act together just in time for the last race of the season. How to describe this season? Tense (just ask Toto Wolff), controversial (run-off gate in Monaco, the Hamilton/Rosberg crash in Spa), devastating (Schumacher’s and Bianchi’s horrific accidents) and unpredictable. Yet another title race comes right down to the wire.

This race marks the end of an era in so many ways with one of the biggest driver reshuffles in years coming up in 2015. The giants of F1 are on the move. Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari, Alonso definitely leaving Ferrari for somewhere else (probably McLaren). Jenson Button possibly leaving F1 for good. How must he be feeling today knowing this might be his last race ever in F1. It would be hard to imagine F1 without Jenson. Its not time for him to go yet.

Without further ado for the final time this season (sob sob sob) drumroll please…its #MartinsGridWalk.

Paul Hembery of Pirelli (he used to be Public Enemy No.1 but this season has been feeling a whole lot more love) says it will be a two stop race, all pretty straightforward etc. It’s a slamdunk then.

There are a literally gazillion people on the grid. The combined wealth of them all is probably more than several countries’ GDP combined. Prince Harry is in attendance but we all know he doesn’t give interviews. Probably because he doesn’t know much about F1. I look forward in a supremely cringe-face way of seeing Harry and the soon-to-be-Mrs Christian Horner discussing the finer points of the impact of tyre degradation on Vettel’s race strategy during the race. Remember way back when I used to mention Geri Halliwell as the ultimate unworthy random celeb who would always pop up at Monaco. Well just to totally spite me, she will now ALWAYS be at races. That grid-stalking definitely paid off. Well played Ginger Spice. And actually she probably knows more about F1 than Prince ‘when will we see someone throw an oval-shaped ball’ Harry.

Ah lovely Tanja from German TV is interviewing Martin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in my slightly dotty mind this is one of the greatest love stories of our times. Dawn and Tim from The Office have nothing on them.

Valterri Bottas (the husband’s new favourite driver crush) is pretty happy to be starting 3rd. He said he has had a ‘cool’ season. If there is an opportunity he will have a go at the Mercedes’ cars (presumably until they disappear off into the glorious Abu Dhabi sunset). Anyone else think Bottas will end up at Ferrari as a replacement for Kimi (the season after next). Not that I want to see him leave Williams but Ferrari will be desperate to rebuild. Actually just put the full stop after desperate.

The two Mercedes drivers don’t want to talk to anybody. And honestly who can blame them. My own nerves are close to being shredded with it all. And it is time. The world awaits the crowning of a new champion after four years of Sebastian Vettel sweeping all before him.

Lights out and its Go Go Go at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

In a textbook ‘that’s how to win a world championship’ Lewis Hamilton has jumped Nico Rosberg immediately at the start. I don’t think I have EVER seen Lewis make such an electric start. Given the stakes, that is phenomenally cool from Lewis. Famous last words but it could be game over…

How on earth is Massa already in 3rd and Button in 4th. In a lot of ways the race behind the front two, though far less significant, is the race that will probably entertain more – Massa, Button, Kimi and Alonso scrapping and fighting each other for position. All power to Mercedes for designing and constructing such an outstanding car (the snappily named W05 Hybrid – how the winter nights must fly by in Brackley). It is definitely one of the best F1 cars ever (*lightbulb ‘idea for a blog’ moment*) but their relentless dominance does slightly sap some of the life out of the races.

Alonso has executed a beautiful move on Kimi on lap 6 (and Kvyat cashes in to pass Kimi for good measure) and promptly asks to pits knowing he has first call as the leading Ferrari. I just freaking LOVE Fernando Alonso – he is the wiliest of foxes. I am not sure that signing Vettel is the massive step up for Ferrari that everyone thinks. There is a whole lot of other stuff at Ferrari that needs fixing before they can be a title contender again. Well done to the Abu Dhabu (Bernie controlled?) TV bods for showing all the action lower down in the field. Such as Alonso jostling with the Caterham of…er…Will Stevens. Cue radio message from Alonso “who is this guy?”. Way to get noticed, Will Stevens. But actually who is he? Apparently a racing driver from Rochford in Essex who has competed in such series as Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Toyota Racing Series and the British Formula Renault Championship. Wikipedia is a marvellous thing. Whatever else happens in Will’s life he will dine out on the moment he vexed Fernando Alonso for a very long time!

At the front, it is as you were – Hamilton now has a modest 2.4 seconds lead. And he comes into the pits on lap 11 with the departing instruction from his team of ‘turn up your engine and push hard’. Well obviously not too hard guys – he only needs second place.

Rosberg pits just one lap later and comes back out in second. The two Mercedes cars are now trading fastest laps just to underline how utterly awesome their car is. But even if Rosberg gets past Hamilton (which would be a Herculean achievement in itself) he is then relying on Massa for overtake Hamilton. With the greatest of respect to Massa, he isn’t exactly from the uncompromising-and-fight-to-the-bitter-end Nigel Mansell Stable of drivers. They might as well start etching Hamilton’s name onto the drivers’ title trophy now. Can anyone apart from Nico get past Hamilton in a Mercedes? Probably not. Its looking highly likely now that Rosberg’s only hope is reliability issues hitting Hamilton’s car. And no one wants the world championship to be decided that way.

Magnussen, Vettel, Button and Alonso are having a feisty battle for 7th place. What does three potential McLaren drivers into two driver seats give you? That’s one for Ron Dennis to ponder while preparing potions of hemlock.

Is it just me or would not Interlagos be a more exciting and majestic stage for the finale of the F1 season. I don’t mind Abu Dhabi as Tilke-bot tracks go but it just doesn’t cut the mustard for the final race. Someone needs to have a word with the powers that be. 

And all of a sudden there has been a plethora of Significant Developments. Rosberg’s car has suffered the failure of its energy recovery system which in turn has impacted on his brakes. This time it really is game over barring the most cataclysmic accident. After the next round of pitstops, Nico has just asked his engineer “how am I looking for fifth”. The answer:  “not good at the moment, Nico”. Look away now, Nico fans.

In the midst of the dramatic denouement to one of the fiercest title battles we’ve seen in years, we were treated to a magnificent drag race between Alonso and Button (all four of us – even the 4 year old who is a fan of Button’s pink helmet - were on our feet shouting). High five to the old timers for proving they’ve still got it!

Williams are having a stunning race. This makes me very happy. Massa is currently leading the race (do not readjust your set) and Bottas has rejoined in 4th. What a renaissance for Williams – looking good for 3rd in the Constructors Championship (AHEAD OF FERRARI) after finishing 9th last season. Hopefully that’s the perfect tonic for the legend that is Sir Frank Williams who has been in hospital for the last few weeks. Get well soon Frank.

So a quick recap of the leaderboard: 1. Massa 2. Hamilton 3. Ricciardo 4. Bottas 5. Perez 6. Vettel. There’s a whole bunch of names in there that I didn’t expect to see. Rosberg is 7th which won’t be good enough even in the unlikely event that Hamilton’s race disastrously capsizes. Hamilton has told his team he isn’t interested in racing Massa – all he needs and wants to do is just keep on keeping on until the end of the race.

Its clear that Rosberg is really struggling now – veering off the track and suffering lack of pace. He has just been passed by Jenson Button to drop back to 8th place. His brake pedals are pretty much shot to pieces and he is going to be lucky to see this race out.

Lewis is telling his team in no uncertain terms not to put any more pressure in his car’s system. Massa is now out on his new supersoft tyres and has 11 laps to try and catch Lewis before the end of the race. Basically Lewis doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about winning the race but Mercedes would like to seal the deal in style. But if it comes to it, surely the team can’t mind too much if Lewis doesn’t put up a fight. After all Massa is prone to the odd moment of madness as we all know. Why risk anything?

Rosberg who needs to finish 5th (as we have now being reminded around a trillion times)  has now been passed by Hulkenberg. His car has failed him when it mattered most though arguably a failure in Brazil would have been pretty critical for his title chances but hey we are where we are.

Five laps to go and the gap is 5.5 seconds between Lewis and Massa. Almost certainly Lewis has won the title so wouldn’t it be amazing if Felipe Massa was to take Williams’ first win since Maldonado in Spain over two years ago. Its not too much to ask is it?

Oh and Nico Rosberg with 4 laps remaining is about to retire from the race. He has slowed down drastically and is now in 13th place and (OUCH) might even get lapped by Hamilton. Poor old Massa, he is now having to battle the new F1 Champion-Elect. Nothing like that ‘discovering you have just won the title’ feeling to make your car go faster hey. Mercedes have just told Nico to box but he wants to finish the race. Classy to the end. That's the true spirit of a F1 racer right there.

And Lewis Hamilton wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and more importantly he is the new F1 WORLD CHAMPION. The first British double champion since Jackie Stewart. Blimey. And the first Mercedes-Benz F1 world champion since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955. Double blimey.

In Mansell-esque scenes, Lewis is sailing round the track with a giant Union Jack trailing behind him. The boy gone good. It really is a proud day for British motorsport (and I suppose some credit must go to the German car that gave him the title!). Where there is a winner, there is a loser and we see a clearly tearful Nico Rosberg driving round the track after the race. The agony and esctasy of sport.

Amidst all the jubilation, shock and school’s out madness, I nearly forgot to bring the results of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

1. Lewis Hamilton – wins the title in style
2.  Felipe Massa – a superb end to the season after his podium in Interlagos
3. Valtteri Bottas – that makes it six podiums this season
4. Daniel Ricciardo – fittingly finishes ahead of his team-mate 
5. Jenson Button – a fine result in what may be his valedictory race
6. Nico Hulkenberg – the highest placed German (not many would have predicted that!)

And the final standings are:

Lewis Hamilton
Without question the right person and the better driver won the title. Some doubted (including me) whether as prodigiously talented as he is, could he hold his nerve. A resounding yes.  The second world championship has been a long time coming (largely due to the unbreakable hegemony of Red Bull) but richly deserved.
Nico Rosberg
Without Nico we wouldn’t have had this thrilling and topsy-turvy championship battle. He pushed Lewis far closer than many thought he would. And it will be fascinating to see if he comes back stronger next year. His dignity and class in how he handled the devastating disappointment in Abu Dhabi was  remarkable.
Daniel Ricciardo
The best of the rest (and some of the rest aren’t too shabby). To say Daniel Ricciardo surprised me this season is a huge understatement. Who would have thought he’d wipe the floor with Vettel. But what do I know?
Valtterri Bottas
This guy really arrived this season. Everyone take note – he is a future world champion in the making.
Sebastian Vettel
Remember him? Not a bad season but not a particularly good one either. First and foremost you always measure yourself against your team-mate. Seb definitely needs a new challenge and he will certainly get that at Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso
To end up only 6 points behind Vettel is pretty incredible given the absolute heap of junk that was the Ferrari this season. If further evidence was needed, his team-mate (Kimi) only mustered 55 points. A driver as brilliant as Fernando deserved one title at Ferrari but it just wasn’t to be.

And I guess that’s a wrap. End of season awards will be coming up so stay tuned and to all my lovely F1 Twitter friends thanks for your brilliant company in all the races this season. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Japanese Grand Prix - The Race

A dark day for F1

I debated long and hard whether to still post this blog after Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident near the end of the Japanese Grand Prix but whatever happens (and we pray that Jules makes a full recovery) a motor race did take place, there was a winner, a 1-2-3 and points were awarded. These things are not hugely important while a man’s life hangs in the balance. The Japanese Grand Prix of 2014 will forever be remembered for what happened on lap 44 but the results of the race will still count. We can forget sometimes that Formula 1 is dangerous and whilst you can work to minimise the degree of risk that drivers are exposed to, you can never make it completely safe. It is 20 years since the last driver race fatality – Ayrton Senna, the best driver of his generation – but there have been some very near misses since then. So I decided to post my blog as a record of a race with sadly very tragic undertones.

I blogged while watching the race ‘recorded but as if live’ (avoiding all news, spoilers and Twitter). Apologies if the tone seems irreverent or flippant at times in light of later events. Like all F1 fans, I started watching the race in a happy state of anticipation and sadly by the time it ended we were all in a state of shock.

Thoughts and prayers are with Jules, his family, friends and the Marussia team.

Back to the start.

Sorry about the lack of blogging (life has an annoying habit of getting in the way – and also three little letters called ‘PTA’ and if you don’t know what that means then lucky you) but wow Singapore hey? Who knew Singapore could be SO exciting? Well that spiced things up nicely didn’t it. With just four races to go until the Boom or Bust Finale in Abu Dhabi. In a highly unusually prescient moment, I did say in my preview blog for Singapore that Lewis Hamilton was less than a race win away and a DNF for Nico Rosberg from leading the championship race. And guess what? Its game on. What a stupendously exciting season this is proving to be.

Last time out, Hamilton triumphed in Singapore

I am currently home alone with the 3 year old while the husband and the 7 year old have trekked off to some rugby tournament in another county. I actually got a comment yesterday from the husband "you are not a rugby mum are you". Erm let me think about that one. No. So I have Sunday morning heaven of coffee and the Japanese Grand Prix in a warm roasty toasty house.

Japanese GP races have been a little bit disappointing in recent years but still I love Suzuka and am so looking forward to this race: (1) Japan can give us epic races and has provided some of THE most dramatic and emotional F1 moments ever, (2) Japanese F1 fans are absolutely brilliant and (3) clearly it is all shades of exciting as the husband was frantically checking his phone every 2 seconds for updates just before he left on rugby-martyr-watching duty and he was only up to lap 26!

Apparently, we haven’t had ANY rain during a race so far this season or apparently had any rain during a race since the 2012 Brazil GP. Blimey. If ever a season needed some rain it was the Death-Defyingly Dull 2013 season. Puddles, rivers, reservoirs, oceans you name it, the Suzuka track has got the water equivalent. So not surprisingly the race is starting behind a safety car. I’m beginning to think I’m going to need something much stronger than coffee to get through it.

Martin is very surprised the race wasn’t brought forward and said he had a chat about it all with Charlie Whiting this morning. Charlie said the job of the FIA is to monitor safety and all he can do is to assess whether its safe to race at the times they are allocated. Whoever is to blame then for not moving the race it is not Charlie. It is all down to the Japanese organisers/promoters. Maybe they had their £££££ reasons hey.

The race gets underway behind the Safety Car 

It’s the first safety car start since Canada 2011 – and we all know how that race turned out?! 4 hours of pure F1 gold. So we’re off, albeit very, very, very slowly and already the drivers are struggling to get heat in their brakes behind the safety car. I pity the poor safety car driver being sent out in those conditions. When Vettel comes over the radio to report he is aquaplaning you know things are horrendously difficult out there.

Just as Lewis comes on over the radio to say he can’t see Rosberg in front of him the race is RED-FLAGGED. Maybe Charlie had a vision of the apocalyptic fall-out if Lewis crashed into the back of Nico. So all the cars are now parked in the pitlane and NOT the grid. The red flag came out before the leader had completed 2 laps. So are we into half points territory yet? No one seems to know. And Martin and Crofty are pouring all over the rule-book. I need another coffee.

We have had an announcement that ‘tents are allowed in the pitlane’. Ever tried to put up a gazebo in the rain? Hell on earth. But in a cram-packed pitlane? Still F1 engineers are made of sturdy stuff. I always find these random atypical moments in a race quite interesting – Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Eric Bouillier all chewing the cud. Presumably like me they are dismayed that Mel B took Emma Bunton and not Geri along to the Judges Houses on X Factor.

The most expensive campsite in the world

Martin reads out to us the relevant provision – Article 41.2: If the race is suspended during a Safety Car intervention and if the Safety Car is directed into the pitlane, cars should stop in a line behind the Safety Car in the fast lane of the pits. So what has happened is totally spot on. I love a good legal type clause. I know I know Saddo Klaxon. But GOOD NEWS we are going to get some racing very shortly. The 3 year old has just looked up from her play-doh table and spotted Charlie Whiting on the TV and squealed “he’s not on holiday any more”. Ain't that the truth. That’s what I call a stressful job.

And we are off. Behind the Safety Car. Again. And we have a new Natural Hazard to contend with – the sun will set in around two hours and Suzuka isn’t exactly awash with floodlights. Oh Alonso has suddenly stopped with some electrical failure. Nooooooo. Bet he is thinking I won’t have to put up with this crap next year at McLaren.

Holy cow it has actually stopped raining. Some of the drivers reckon its time for intermediates. The Safety Car has been out for an eternity and Martin is seriously unimpressed. But on lap 9 we are told that the Safety Car is coming in at the end of this lap. Hallelujah!

And still the Safety Car leads the two Mercedes cars

Lap 10 and we have real proper wheels-turning-in-anger racing! So to recap its 1. Rosberg, 2. Hamilton, 3. Bottas, 4. Massa, 5. Ricciardo (who surely will be on the right side of team orders today given Vettel’s defection next season to Another Team Who Might Have Red Cars) and 6. Magnussen. Button has moved very early onto inters and now a lot of the cars are starting to come in and whack on inters as well. Lets hope there are no stray tent pegs lying around.

Button who was in 20th place a minute ago is now already in 8th place. Clever old Jenson and McLaren hey! So who will get the first pitstop nod at Mercedes? The race leader or the championship leader? Vettel meanwhile has pitted and rejoined just ahead of Ricciardo – wonder how long those positions will be maintained.

And its Rosberg who has got the pitstop nod. He slots back in 2nd place which shows just what a whopping lead the Mercedes had already built up. Button is now in 3rd place. Go Jenson! Right Lewis is now coming into the pits…..drum roll please….. and its Rosberg who retakes the lead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Wet conditions, unpredictable conditions? Button is your man.

Massa has now been passed by both Red Bulls and the next Williams to be gobbled up by Vettel is Bottas. Vettel is now in 4th place and Ricciardo not to be outdone pulls off an exquisite move to pass Bottas himself. And now Hamilton is right on the back of Rosberg. Squeaky Bum Time to nick one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sayings.

Ferrari is having a torrid day. Kimi pits and has a problem with the wheel gun and loses places to Kvyat, Bianchi and Ericsson. Dear god. And Hamilton is now only 0.289 seconds behind his team-mate. The Red Bulls are the fastest cars out on track, admittedly a VERY long way behind the two Mercedes cars but still there are 28 laps to go. Hamilton is swarming all over the back of Rosberg who is complaining of oversteer. Toto Wolff must be having heart palpitations on the pit wall.

Hamilton is pushing and pushing and has just gone wide. Good to know he is keeping it nice and steady as per his the team’s instructions! But he is clearly so much quicker than Rosberg and to my surprise apparently he has never won at Suzuka. Halfway order is 1. Rosberg, 2. Hamilton, 3. Button, 4. Vettel and 5. Ricciardo.

And on lap 29, Lewis Hamilton takes the LEAD of the Japanese Grand Prix after some very overly defensive driving from Rosberg. A defining moment in the championship race? We shall see.

Button pits from 3rd on lap 32 and has to change his steering wheel just like Magnussen (the McLaren electronics clearly like rain about as much as Alonso's car) and unfortunately as a result loses his place to Vettel who pitted a couple of laps earlier. Rosberg pits ahead of Hamilton who seems quite happy to stay out. But Lewis then comes in on lap 36 meaning that Ricciardo (who has not yet pitted again) leads the race.

A huge round of applause for Kevin Magnussen who unlaps himself by passing Ricciardo in audacious style. Just sometimes he shows us exactly what McLaren saw in him. Vettel is having a lively time out on track and Jenson Button is now starting to play catch up. Can he snatch a podium with 14 laps to go?

It is raining a lot more once again. And is it just me or does it look very dark out there? Button is now embroiled in a full on battle with Ricciardo and is using every ounce of his considerable guile and experience to keep him at bay. For now. The rain is tippling down and DRS has been disabled which is good news for Jenson. The 3 year old has just asked “is the red car winning?”. Bless. For reasons I haven’t quite ascertained, Alonso is her favourite driver. Not that I am questioning her excellent judgment but she might need to rethink her allegiances next year. For her the redness of the car is pivotal.

In the ever deteriorating conditions, Sutil appears to have emplanted his car into a barrier. Mad Gamble Alert. Jenson is now pitting for FULL WETS. His call apparently. And it’s the return of the Safety Car. Oh dear a medical car is out on track. Presumably for Sutil. And a stream of cars head into the pits for new tyres. Poor old Jenson. He could not have timed that pitstop any worse.

Martin has just said those awful words “something is not good up there” and then it went eerily quiet in the commentary box. Feeling very, very worried now. They have just spotted another car in that incident – the Marussia of Jules Bianchi. Oh how terrible. Sutil is definitely ok but we don’t know anything else.

Poor Adrian Sutil looks on in horror at the scene of the crash

There is now an ambulance out on track and on lap 46 the race has been red-flagged. Because of the ambulance on track? Or the track conditions? Or something worse? It is now so dark that surely the race won’t be restarted. No news is being made public about Jules Bianchi’s condition but Ted just said there was no response from Jules when the team radioed him.

The cars once again are all lined up in the pitlane. And I can’t help but wonder what the drivers know or don’t know about Bianchi’s accident. I am trying to push Imola thoughts out of my mind but it has that same terrible wall of silence feeling about it. Perhaps I am just over-analysing but Martin, Crofty and Ted sound very sombre – which of course is entirely understandable and appropriate even if they don’t know much more than all of us sitting at home. But I fear that they do know more than they are able to tell us.

We are told the race will not resume. Ted says its complete chaos in the medical centre and the FIA’s press delegate is having to force open the door to let in Bianchi’s team members and his manager (who is the son of the FIA president).

Lewis has won the race in what must be the strangest win of his race career. It doesn’t seem at all important with the uncertainty as to Bianchi’s condition but it finished: 1. Hamilton, 2. Rosberg, 3. Vettel, 4. Ricciardo and 5. Button.

A sombre Lewis Hamilton on the podium

Rosberg has clearly just passed on an update to Hamilton in the Green Room after speaking to Herbie Blash and a few moments later very quietly and very discreetly Lewis does the sign of the cross. Every single F1 person looks shocked and devastated. It has transpired that Bianchi's car hit water and aquaplaned off at exactly the same spot where recovery vehicles were attending Sutil’s car that had crashed the lap before. Bianchi suffered a severe head injury and has been transported to hospital where he is now in surgery.

Such a desperately shocking and tragic end to the race.

Forza Jules.