Monthly Archives: August 2014

Mercedes Are Missing Brawn’s Brain

The fallout from the Mercedes meltdown at Spa has continued all week and culminated in Nico Rosberg apologising via social media for his part in the melee. I await Lewis Hamilton’s apology for his conduct in the interview tat has led it to come to this, although I am very likely to be disappointed.

As the Brackley-based soap opera has played out, I like a small number of people in the F1 community have began wonder how much a certain Ross Brawn, who left Mercedes at the end of last year, would have been able to stop this mess becoming what it is today.

Brawn is a man who is no stranger to dealing with the sharp end of Formula One, having done so at Brawn, Benetton and Ferrari. That career has seen him oversee a staggering eight World Drivers’ Championships and a further eight World Constructors’ Championships. A man qualified to deal with the situations that Mercedes currently find themselves in, even if like the current Mercedes management he and his decisions have come under intense scrutiny in the past.

Take the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. He and Jean Todt instructed Rubens Barrichello to move over and allow Michael Schumacher win the race, something the Brazilian eventually did. Brawn’s expert management ensured that whilst there was still controversy over the team order, neither Barrichello nor Michael Schumacher engaged in any sort of public spat, clash of opinion or any real dissent. Schumacher even showed gratitude, and whilst Rubens was visibly angry he remained in a calm state. It’s the same with team orders at Malaysia last year, when a clearly faster Rosberg obeyed them to stay behind Lewis whilst Sebastian Vettel caused a stir by ignoring them, something that again was badly mismanaged.

Hell, Brawn even managed to Schumacher to co-operate with Eddie Irvine in 1999.

What has unfurled over the past two races has been something of a disaster for Paddy Lowe, Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, the current top brass at the Silver Arrows. Mercedes, despite being the runaway leaders in both Championships, are now floundering.

Brawn left Mercedes in 2013, only officially retiring from F1 earlier this year. That suggests it wasn’t solely his decision to leave in the first place. If my instincts are correct, then this was extremely foolish.

Under the management of Brawn, Nico Rosberg would not have attempted to pass Lewis in the clumsy manner he did. Lewis would probably have obeyed the team orders at Hungary and he certainly would not have potentially leaked details of team meeting whilst making those absolutely pathetic, attention-seeking comments claiming Rosberg ‘basically admitted to doing it on purpose’.

Wolff has been an excellent link between the media and Mercedes and has in the main managed to halt a lot of driver tension with his down-the-middle answers at media briefings and in interviews. He expertly handled the team orders saga at Hungary when dealing with the media, who made less fuss than I expected. I put that down to Wolff, who did not choose sides.

So I was surprised when he did publicly blame Rosberg. I am aware that Lauda did too, but let’s be honest, Hamilton has been the apple of Lauda’s eye dating back to the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix, when he called the (Correct) decision to impose a time penalty on Hamilton for overtaking after cutting the final chicane ‘The worst in the history of F1’. Wolff, until Spa, had not put a foot wrong when dealing with the media, but his comments about Nico being directly at fault were poorly judged, even if they were correct. It is very difficult to imagine Brawn acting with such recklessness.

It is my belief that Brawn would have been able to put out the pan fire relatively quickly after the race, whereas Wolff, Lauda and to a lesser extent Lowe have allowed the pan fire to engulf the kitchen. Despite Rosberg’s apology and punishment, this fire has began to burn out of control.

Lauda and Wolff have failed to learn from Brawn and they have suffered the consequences. Their mis-management has caused this to explode.

The Fire Brigade are too late to salvage this house.

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Does Hamilton Really Speak The Truth?

Over the last 24 hours Mercedes AMG F1 has moved from choppy waters to a hurricane, through the fault of their two drivers and their inability to control themselves on the track, and in the case of Lewis Hamilton, in the Press.

Hamilton has been very vocal all season about Rosberg, claiming he (Hamilton) ‘Never wanted it easy’ and that the year will be difficult every so often. However, since Hungary, a competitive rivalry has descended into a personal one. There were instances of argument in previous races never anything as heated as what we saw in the aftermath, with a possible exception of Monaco. But it has never descended into the chaos that it has now. And the fault of that lies mostly at the feet of Lewis.

The reason for this is simple. Whilst it was Nico’s fault that Lewis ended up with the puncture, what he said afterwards was extremely poor. To say that Nico Rosberg admitted to deliberately caused that, especially when it was shown to be false, shows an extreme lack of professionalism. And I’m putting that nicely.

The press appear to have only taken Lewis’ side on the matter and Nico was roundly hammered by most in the Formula One community and indeed the press. But why, when Lewis has history for misleading and throwing toys out of the pram? Nico doesn’t have such history, so why is it then that Lewis is perceived to be the most credible and why is it that nobody appears to have either noticed the development after Lewis’ interview or to not take it into account?

The simple answer is that we should take everything Hamilton says with a pinch of salt. Here’s why.

Hamilton has a history of lying or petulance. Exhibit A comes from the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, when after Jarno Trulli went off behind the Safety Car, Hamilton slowed down and Trulli re-passed. Hamilton told the media that this was intentional, however he then told the race stewards that he had not intentionally let Trulli pass. What followed was an initial time penalty relegating Trulli to 12th from 3rd, with it taking almost two weeks to uncover that Hamilton had orders to allow Trulli to pass, something he had denied. Hamilton was eventually disqualified for misleading the stewards.

The second instance comes from the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix. Hamilton claimed that his frequent visits to the stewards offic was ‘an absolute joke’ before stating that ‘maybe it’s because I’m black’ after he had been given two penalties over the weekend. I understand he would have been annoyed, but surely it’s a bit far to accuse the FIA of racism no matter how much you mean it? It would hamper apparently the credibility of many a driver, but, seemingly not so with Lewis.

Then we get to the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, where he openly criticised his team for the car set-up before tweeting a picture of telemetry showing where Button was faster. In Formula One terms, that is a huge deal. That provides so much help to other teams and once again shows a distinct lack of discipline. On that occasion, he apologised to the team and driver and went from there until 2014 with little in the way of a tantrum.

At Spa on Sunday, things came to a head. Now, whilst Nico was probably in the wrong at Spa it was just a racing accident. Proving a point and ‘basically admitting to deliberately causing that puncture’ are two completely different things. Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes operations, worked very hard to try and smooth things over but by then the damage was done. The press were having a field day and Rosberg’s reputation amongst a lot of the Formula One paddock was completely ruined. I would ordinarily feel fine about this if it wasn’t so soon after a race and the comments were found to have substance. Wolff’s comments about Lewis ‘Misconstruing Nico’s words’ suggest that there is little of that. What would Nico gain from certainly damaging his front wing, where it was not guaranteed Lewis would get the puncture?

But in an instant, Nico became the bad guy. For an accident akin to that of Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi, where Grosjean has not had his head ripped off. The only title fight that has seen a scapegoat such as this was Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, with that, according to the Frenchman, all starting from him being misquoted by a French journalist. Hamilton was never misquoted.

Those comments therefore smack of a need to be loved, of a need to have a cult following and of a desperation to put a target on Rosberg’s back.

And they also have a waft of deceit behind them.

Youth Is No Barrier In F1

The announcement by Toro Rosso of the decision to hire Max Verstappen for 2015 has understandably caused some stir in the F1 paddock and wider community. Verstappen will be 17 in September and whilst most people his age will be contemplating buying a car similar to a Citroen Saxo, he will be stepping into one of the most expensive vehicles ever made. 

At 16, Verstappen is not legally allowed to drive in most countries around the world. Yet, he will be driving something seen on many a boy his age’s bedroom wall next year. Fans have been extremely divided about his appointment, with some claiming he’s too young and immature with a lack of experience, and some claiming it to be too early to judge the decision by Red Bull’s junior team.

Well, a lot of things go in favour of the young Dutch sensation. A lack of senior racing experience proved to be of no harm to Kimi Raikkonen, who joined Sauber in 2001 off the back of just two years and around 20 races of senior motorsport in British Formula Renault. His career wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan, was it? Verstappen will have completed his first season in senior racing by the time he makes the jump to F1, as he lies second in the European F3 series and joins a team of a similar standing to the one a fresh-faced Finn walked into 13 years ago. 

As a 17-year-old, very little will be expected of Verstappen. The experts will write him off as a rough diamond in the early season and this may prove to be a great help to Verstappen. He will be given time to adjust to his new surroundings, and big results will not be expected of him straight away. 

If he does hit the ground running, then he’ll have effectively bought himself another two years with the team, where he will be able to develop both as a driver and as man, meaning that he will be able to deal with the media attention a lot better and without the advice of his dad Jos, also a successful F1 driver. 

If 2015 does not work out, then there’s no reason why could not go down the Romain Grosjean/Tai Woffinden route of taking a step back and competing further down the ladder before resurfacing to ultimately much greater success. In the case of Grosjean, a disastrous 2009 debut was followed up by a largely successful, if quite erratic, return to the elite. Woffinden had much the same in the Speedway Grand Prix series, with a dreadful debut series when he himself has since admitted he was too young and not ready for. He took two years out, and made the most triumphant return possible by winning on his comeback last year. 

This leads me nicely on to the potential drawbacks. 

The lack of racing experience may hinder him throughout his early career, and in certain situations throughout qualifying and the race he may compromise the weekend of other drivers. He will not have experienced blue flags before, something he quite likely will experience throughout next year. At circuits such as Spa and Monza, this will not be much of a problem. However, at Monaco and the Red Bull Ring track space will be limited, and scenarios like these may prove to be his undoing in his earlier career.

Verstappen’s youth and probable exuberance may earn him a reputation that he may have to work hard to shake off. He will have to learn about the opening laps of an F1 race, and will no doubt have endless briefing and coaching right up until they hurtle into the fearsome first chicane at Albert Park next year. However, as Grosjean will testify, that counts for little in the hustle and bustle that is the first lap of a Formula One race. Verstappen would do very well to curb his enthusiasm and nerves in the fledgling races of his career.

The stresses of Formula One may prove to be too much for someone of his age. He will lose certain aspects of his adolescence and will not be doing the leisure activities that some of his friends will be doing. This may end up having an effect on him, as the business and commitments of Formula One is one of the more tedious and demanding aspects of one of the most commercialised sports in the world. A boy/man of his age could find that side very tough if he isn’t managed properly and exposes himself to too many media commitments too soon. 

It is unquestionable that Verstappen oozes talent, and if that is harnessed correctly we could be looking at a future World Champion. There appears to be an unnecessary haste to judge Red Bull’s decision to hire Verstappen, with the judgments being based solely on his tender years. The truth is that it will be some time before we see whether Red Bull have made the right decision in trying to polish the rough diamond that Verstappen undoubtedly is. But as the old adage goes, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.  

F1 – Just How Good Is Daniel Ricciardo?

Much has been made of the meteoric rise of young Daniel Ricciardo this year, with Red Bull’s hottest of hot properties lighting up a Formula One World Championship dominated by Mercedes thus far.

Ricciardo is the only man to win a race, or two of them, this season with the exception of the two Mercedes drivers of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The affable Australian has won the hearts of many in 2014 by outperforming his car in performances not unlike what we have become accustomed to seeing from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Red Bull this season have been a shadow of what they were in previous years, mostly down to the slow, unreliable Renault Power Unit giving away 50 bhp.

And yet, if Ricciardo had kept his second place in Australia and had things gone smoothly in Malaysia, where he had been fifth, he would be 44 points behind Rosberg. Or, in simpler terms, 2 race wins. He has comfortably beaten Sebastian Vettel when both have made it to the chequered flag in a large portion of races, and whilst Vettel has bore the brunt of Red Bull’s reliability issues he has simply been little match for the man from Perth. And when you consider just how easily Vettel dominated Mark Webber, you start to see just how well Ricciardo has been driving.

In what appears to have been a whirlwind of large smiles and youthful enthusiasm, Ricciardo has taken 2014 by storm after two solid years with Red Bull’s B team, Toro Rosso. There he was always a notoriously strong qualifier, whilst falling away in races often because of a poor start or the strategy constraints starting so high up put on a traditional midfield team such as the Faenza squad. Nevertheless, Red Bull knew that they had unearthed a star, and when Mark Webber passed on the mantle at the end of 2013, Ricciardo was always the likely choice over teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.

And boy weren’t Red Bull vindicated?

Ricciardo has made the transition as naturally as a caterpillar to a butterfly. A series of strong performances post-Malaysia showed the viewing public fragments of what we were going to get from him, before that elusive, if somewhat inherited win, came in Canada. He backed this up with a podium at Silverstone and an excellent recovery in Germany to finish fifth, before that breathtaking victory in Hungary in which he showed true guts and determination to pass the wily old fox of Fernando Alonso in the dying embers. Hamilton, in a much powerful Mercedes, could not do likewise. And that’s a credit to Daniel, rather than a criticism of Lewis.

Ricciardo has stated that whilst the maths says he can win the title he will do his utmost, and whilst it looks more than unlikely that he will actually take the World Championship he has certainly done his stock no harm at all. Of all the drivers this year it is he who has performed the best comparative to his car, and he who has therefore been the best pound for pound driver this year. His performances coupled with the sackfuls of honours Vettel has have made the Red Bull driver pairing the strongest, on talent alone, on this year’s Formula One grid.

The question remains, can he show the type of consistency that matches the performances of Alonso and Vettel over the last four years. If he can, then given the right car he will go on to conquer all before as Vettel and Schumacher have done before him, and we may just be witnessing the beginning of something very special indeed.

The Front Jack Man – Formula One Has Become Too Much About Location

The Front Jack Man

Formula One’s biggest provisional calendar was released towards the tail end of the 2013 season, with a possible 22 races included. It was in the end cut down to 19 as Korea disappeared, India delayed and the New Jersey circuit yet again ‘would be ready for next year’. Russia has come in to make its debut on the F1 scene whilst the popular Red Bull Ring returns after a hiatus of 11 years. As well as this, Mexico is likely to make an appearance in either 2015 or 2016.

However, in recent times there has been a great turnover of circuits in recent years as controversial F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has taken the F1 circus to destinations such as Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bahrain, India and Korea. He has also elected to go to the street circuit in Valencia rather than stay in Germany for the race, again for more money…

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F1 – Conspiracy Theorists Do More Harm Than Good

This year has probably been the most divisive season in Formula One since the Senna/Prost era at McLaren in the late 1980’s. That does not mean that the following driver rivalry comes anywhere close to that rivalry. The continued dominance of Mercedes means that one of Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton will win the World Driver’s Championship. That lends itself to one particular problem.

The sheer dominance of Mercedes has led to there being only two serious title contenders this year, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lock horns for this year’s honour. The two previously great mates have seen their relationship turn somewhat frosty as their championship battle threatens to turn ugly. Since Rosberg’s mistake (Yes, it was just a mistake) at Monaco we’ve been constantly subjected to headlines about a ‘psychological battle’, and whilst that will come into it, the psychological battle has barely gotten started yet. The sledging will come in Asia, and only then will we see the strength of each driver.

LHNR

But by far the most annoying thing about what should be a tantalising teammate battle between two magnificent is the reactions on social media of quite a number of conspiracy theorists. There are these such people on both sides, although Hamilton’s corner has no doubt been the most prominent in the social media battle of the bozo’s.

Due to Lewis’ appalling luck in recent qualifying sessions in Germany and Hungary coupled with two retirements this year, a small but albeit well-covered and ultimately now notorious bunch have decided that Mercedes, his own team, are out to get him. This defies all logic of any team top brass. Even that of Flavio Briatore, who infamously asked Nelson Piquet to back into the wall at Singapore to help out Fernando Alonso. The circumstances were completely different, although no less foul than what has been suggested.

Do these people honestly think for one moment that Mercedes would tamper with the brakes? Or cause an oil leak to set his engine on fire? Or make his electrics fail? Some of these people display the same F1 knowledge as a meerkat has about fly-fishing.

It is almost tragic that they follow our sport. Never before this year in all of the fourteen years have I seen anything like this, at anywhere near the frequency. It would be half-understandable if there was any fact behind Mercedes supporting Nico over Lewis. Last year, Nico Rosberg retired three times. Lewis Hamilton retired once. Nobody claimed foul play on the part of Mercedes last year.

This year, Lewis has had two retirements in addition to two mechanical failures in qualifying. Nico has had one gearbox failure in a race situation. The qualifying problems have in all likelihood cost him 16 points, if all of the races had ran smoothly. However, in Hungary it actually served to benefit him, simply because of when the Safety Car came out.

If he had been at the front, he would not have been able to make up ground on German in the pit stops to make the switch from Intermediates to Slick tyres. It will never be known how much Lewis cost Nico when he refused to move over for him, but again it would be foolish in the extreme to suggest it was to solely aid Nico Rosberg. Mercedes jumped the gun in giving the order as Nico was catching very quickly, but they will have been eyeing the race victory, which at that point Nico would have been in the best position to do had Lewis behaved himself. Mercedes were simply looking to get as many Constructors points as possible. Case closed.

It isn’t just one-sided, as a very small minority of Rosberg’s following were irate after his gearbox failure cost him a victory at Silverstone. However, they are nowhere near as frequent as those following the other side of the garage.

None of these people do the reputation of your average Formula One fan any good whatsoever, with outsiders now seeing the conspiracy theorists at work and guffawing with laughter. Those people will look at the conspiracy theorists (And I’m being very kind) and make the assumption that a fair amount of Formula One fans are of a similar vein. With social media, especially Twitter, now playing host to a lot of Formula One fan interactions, that could spell trouble for people wanting to get involved in future.

So, I ask those who claim foul play of Mercedes one thing. Only state so if you have concrete evidence of Mercedes deliberately hampering one of their drivers title chance. Otherwise, you do nothing to maintain the reputation of one of the most peaceful communities out there.