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Archive for the ‘Drivers’ Category

It was Alfa Romeo who won the first ever F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone, Ferrari won the second. Will Sunday see the Scuderia claim victory in the final race there? Never say never, but they were not as competitive in Turkey as many had imagined they would be.
Massa pits st.

However for Silverstone they have some upgrades for the car which were tested in a straight line aerodynamic test on Monday by Felipe Massa. The Brazilian was driving a new chassis, which has a lower centre of gravity and is slightly lighter than the previous one, like the chassis Raikkonen has been using for the last two races. The car is sufficiently different that it has required a new crash test.

In addition Massa tried some new parts on the car, including a new front wing and new front suspension designed to get the weight further forward and get more out of the front tyres. This should help them in qualifying, particularly.

The car also has a revised KERS system, which is lighter and one hopes, more reliable. There are also some modifications to the sidepods and wheel covers.

I saw Felipe this afternoon in London and pointed out that forecasts say it is unlikely to rain on Sunday. He was saying that with this car he would not have the difficulties in the wet he encountered last year, as this car should really get the tyres working in the wet.

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There is a fantastic interview with Fernando Alonso in the Gazzetta dello Sport today, in which he gently moves closer to talking about Ferrari and his possible move there.

According to Pino Allievi, the number one writer on the paper, Alonso has moved to a house on the border between Switzerland and Italy, near Lugano. He spoke about the affection he has for Italy and Italians: “As a Spaniard I feel more at ease with Italians,” he said. “We have a lot of shared culture and character. We have identical feelings.”

There is a big following for Alonso here in Monaco

There is a big following for Alonso here in Monaco

As for Ferrari he started talking about the team, when asked how he imagined life would be inside the team. “It’s difficult to imagine from the outside. I can only say that when we race in Bahrain the circuit is full of Ferrari banners. You go to China and it’s the same. I see Ferrari as a symbol. At the moment I’m driving for Renault, where we are doing a great job. I only think about winning, the rest we’ll have to wait and see.”

The word I’m hearing is that these next few races are pretty important for Kimi Raikkonen. Although he has a contract for 2010, the suggestion is that he has certain criteria to meet and that an agreement, which is in place with Alonso for 2011, has a clause which could bring it forward to 2010. The next couple of months will be decisive.

One GP driver I spoke to recently said that in the briefings and at moments when the drivers are all together, Kimi seems like he doesn’t care any more. It’s as if he’s going through the motions. It’s a shame if this is true, as Raikkonen is one of the most exciting and most talented drivers in F1.

However the Italian media has started treating him with a little less respect, calling him “Forrest Gump” earlier this weekend and today’s Gazzetta piece looks to me like a preparing of the ground for Alonso and the future, in a very Italian sort of way.

Ferrari went for Raikkonen in 2006 rather than Alonso because Jean Todt, the boss at the time, had fallen out with Alonso over a test driving agreement in 2001, which Alonso went back on. Now Todt has gone and the feeling in Ferrari is quite different.

Alonso also shed a little more light on what happened at McLaren. Asked what question he would ask Ron Dennis if he had the chance he said,
“I would ask him, ‘Why didn’t you listen to me?’ “

And on relations with Lewis Hamilton he said: “I spoke to him when we were team mates, in Turkey. I said, ‘We are fighting for the world title, one against the other, we both want to win, but we also have to find a way to work together.’ It was a frank discussion, very open. In reality, he wasn’t the problem. The team was.”

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I caught up with Fernando Alonso this afternoon at his press briefing in the Renault motorhome. He’s one of the few drivers to do this session on the first day of practice.

I was interested to hear how good it felt to be back on the streets here, brushing the barriers, feeling that unique adrenalin rush of Monaco. His answer surprised me a little,

“Not feeling good because being close to the barriers is not something you enjoy too much it’s a bit stressful. It’s always nice to be at Monaco and you get a different feeling, but it’s very demanding in terms of concentration in terms of how precise you are with your lines etc, because a little mistake and you finish your session. On Thursday you need to do as many laps as possible, so from a driving point of view you need to start risking, improve some racing lines, but you need to allow some margin because you want to do as many laps as possible.”

Today went pretty well for the team. Alonso wound up 11th, but he set his fastest time on the eighth lap of a 12 lap run on used soft tyres, so his time is not particularly representative of his outright pace. He thinks that with a bit of luck, a clear track and a bold lap he might squeeze into a slot on the front three rows of the grid.

“Top five, top six will be the absolute maximum. Maybe a more normal result will be fighting for the last couple of points. It’s a good opportunity for us to fight against teams we cannot fight on normal circuits. We know that when we get to Turkey we will be between position eight and position ten, more or less. So here is a bit different. Maybe here the position changes, if you have a good lap in qualifying, if you are close to the barriers, everything goes perfectly on your lap then maybe you start fourth in the race and you can keep that position.”

Today was more about the drivers getting comfortable with the car and the track than anything else, doing as many laps as possible to get into the groove. The circuit changes a lot here over a weekend as the rubber goes down. But already we saw how fast these cars are with the slick tyres and improved mechanical grip compared with last season. the fastest time today was a 1m15.243, which is only a tenth slower than the fastest low fuel time in qualifying from last year. So I reckon we will see some very fast times on Saturday.

“The set up was good more or less straight away,” says Alonso. “We tried not to change too many things on the car because the circuit keeps changing on every run, improving and improving when you put some rubber down. It’s quite clear for everyone that supersoft tyre will be better for qualifying for the one lap performance and the soft tyre will be better for the race with better consistency.”

Alonso got the maximum out of the car in Spain, finishing fifth behind the Brawns and the Red Bulls. He’s punching well above the car’s weight this season, so keep an eye out for him on Saturday.

He finished by reiterating his comments from yesterday about not wanting to drive in F1 if the manufacturers pull out at the end of this season,
“If all the manufacturers retire from F1, it’s not any more F1. It’s not about technology, it’s not about improvement it’s not about the maximum category in motorsport. I won’t consider driving in a category that is not the maximum of technology.”

The teams meet tomorrow morning to discuss the situation with the budget cap and then they meet again at 4pm with Max Mosley. With a week until entries open for the 2010 championship it will be a time for cutting to the chase.

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I wasn’t surprised to hear Jenson Button saying that racing is dominating his life at the moment.

Button is like many drivers who have found themselves in with a chance of winning the world title. Presented with an unexpected opportunity to fulfill his lifetime’s ambition, Button is finding that he can think of little else between races.

“I’m probably a right boring bastard at the moment, I really am,” he said.

Jenson has always had a relaxed air about him in person and in the years when things were not going so well, he found it easy to switch off between races. But beneath the relaxed facade there is an intensity about him; he was always unsettled by not being competitive. He appears to be wearing his current situation quite easily, but it’s clearly taking over his life. He finds himself thinking through all the scenarios, considering every possible thing which might help him to land the grand prize,

“It’s different because things are going well and you want to be thinking about how you can improve. When things aren’t going so well, you know you need to improve the car and where you are, but you also need to get away from the racing, to forget about it for a few days. At the moment, that’s not possible.

“This season is weird because after the last couple of races I’ve won. I’ve obviously enjoyed the weekend, but I wake up on a Monday morning and I’m already thinking about the next race.

“It’s quite a strange feeling, very different to the rest of my Formula 1 career, winning four races out of five, but you do get used to it very quickly. I will never forget how difficult it can get, how tough it can get, but when you’re winning, finishing second is a disappointment.

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve been non-stop thinking about the next race, running through it in my mind, getting all the data. It’s been quite a stressful few weeks, you wouldn’t think so, but it is more stressful.”

Michael Schumacher lived in this mental state for the best part of 12 years. It’s hard not to become compulsive-obsessive in that position.

Racing is a kind of controlled chaos, there are so many variables at play, especially at the sharp end of Formula 1. A driver always wants to try to master every aspect, control every situation, to bring it under his control, to dominate.

In this he will have been influenced by the mentality of Ross Brawn, who knows all about maintaining competitiveness and giving nothing away.

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Two weeks ago Felipe Massa’s hopes of a podium in Spain were wrecked by a strange situation with the refuelling of his Ferrari, which meant that the team believed he was running out of fuel and was telling him to slow down in the closing stages of the race. He lost places to Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

Massa track.
When we spoke to him after the race he and the team had not worked out the reason, but yesterday he explained what happened,

“What happened to my car especially in the last race was something that I never saw before. We had the fuel in the car but the car was reading wrong numbers, so the refuelling machine was putting the right fuel in, it was reading the right numbers of the amount of fuel that went inside but the car was saying to the engineers, to the telemetry, that all the fuel was not inside.

“Then we changed the refuelling machine, we did exactly the same thing, and we again had the wrong numbers, so maybe I saved fuel for nothing.”

A very frustrating situation, unusual too.

This weekend the Ferrari should be pretty competitive, so Massa has another good chance to get that first podium of the season.

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You will have seen some of the interviews Lewis Hamilton did this week, on Reuters, in the Times and on the BBC.

The Times one caught my eye because it was an open expression of regret that Formula 1 has become a job and that he does not enjoy the political environment around him.

Ham grid
Hamilton has slotted into the space left vacant by Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, clearly massively talented, unloved by his fellow drivers and always seeming to find himself tangled up in controversies. Senna occupied that space before Schumacher.

The Times interview reveals the state of mind of the driver in the third season of his F1 career. He is weary of the politics, no longer enjoys the banter with the media, he is on his guard, feeling caged and also unfulfilled because his car isn’t fast enough to get him in the game.

“It doesn’t feel so good,” he said, “Getting up in the morning and knowing you can’t win that weekend no matter how hard you drive or how good a job you or the team does.

“It’s hard to take but it’s a fact and you have to deal with it. You just have to adjust your expectations and find new goals.”

In other words he now finds himself in the same position as most drivers in F1, who have no chance of winning a race, even though their career up to F1 was probably gilded with victories and championships. Hamilton described some of these drivers as ‘the monkeys at the back’ last season and that went down like a cup of cold sick. Few have any sympathy for him now.

In Spain last weekend he found out how it felt to be at the back, lapped by Jenson Button in the closing stages of the race.

“I have known Jenson since I was 10 years old, ” continues Hamilton. “He has had some tough tough years and I think I can appreciate that even more after this year exactly how he felt. I have a huge amount of respect for how he dealt with it all.”

What is happening at the moment with Hamilton is that he is having to rebuild relationships. Imagine a telephone switchboard, with loads of leads plugged in all over the place. Well Hamilton is unplugging all the leads and taking care over how he plugs them back in again. It is a root and branch reconstruction of some of the key relationships which make up the ebb and flow of his F1 life; his relationship with his team after the lying episode in Melbourne and the human damage which ensued, his relationship with the media, his relationship with his fellow drivers.

The media one is a perpetual battle. Hamilton will have hated being made to go in front of the press in Malaysia to apologise for lying. It worked well and most of the media respected him for doing it, but the trouble now is that whenever he finds himself in the middle of another controversy, there will be the inevitable, “Are you going to apologise, Lewis?”
DSC00267

Exactly the same thing happened with Schumacher. He tired of dealing with the media and always refused to give them what they wanted, when they demanded apologies for things. He was stubborn like that. I bet Lewis will be the same.

Schumacher, despite in later years growing to hate his dealings with the media, was very professional and always did what he had to do, always gave an answer. He found a coping mode, which got him through to the end of his career. He was extremely well advised by Sabine Kehm, a former F1 editor on the German equivalent of the Times.

Lewis has his Dad and the McLaren media department to help him, but no-one who’s done the Fleet Street nasty stuff and who is there to look after his interests alone. He’s lost out because of that, no question.

Lately he’s been trying the disrespectful grunt or monosyllabic answer, particularly to the Fleet Street tabloid contingent and it has got him no-where. They are a thick skinned lot, however, and he will be a big story as long as he stays in F1. I am sure Lewis will slot into ‘Schumacher media mode’ too, once he’s unplugged the leads and plugged them back in again, figuring out out who are the good guys and who are the bad.

To be reworking relationships across so many sectors at once seems to be taking a lot on. At least he has the mental space and time for that this year. He’s not under pressure for the title race. The car isn’t going to give him much this season, it will improve, but it’s one of those McLarens that doesn’t really work, so he’ll be ‘polishing a turd ‘ as racing folk have it, for the rest of the season.

Let’s hope the same cannot be said for his relationship rebuilding exercise.

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Jenson Button’s chances of winning the world championship improved dramatically today with a fourth win from five starts.

Smiley Jenson-3-thumb
It means that from a maximum 45 points he has scored 41. And with the next race in Monaco likely to be one of Brawn’s strongest tracks of the season, he looks set to cut down the number of people who can challenge him down to an absolute minimum. It’s starting to look like he is uncatchable. It’s a good job we don’t have the controversial medals system in place as he would be close to clinching the championship now.

Thus far the man most likely to challenge apart from his own team mate, is Sebastian Vettel. But Vettel has lost seven points to him in the last two races and now lies 18 adrift. Who else can challenge?

The Ferrari drivers have pretty much written of their chances, despite making a huge step forward here this weekend in car performance. It is possible that Ferrari will catch and pass Brawn on pace, but now that Felipe Massa is 38 points behind with only 12 races to go, he thinks he’s already run out of time to catch Button.

He said to a group of us this evening: “I don’t think so. We need to be realistic. After five races they won four.

“Even if we improve massively and we are three or four tenths if front of them they will still score points. Forget it.”

Toyota, as always are erratic this season, so it’s hard to see them winning consistently. That leaves Lewis Hamilton, who is 32 points behind. I said after Bahrain that the track had flattered them a bit, but that if they could keep up the development on the car they could still challenge.

This weekend they went backwards, with a new front wing which didn’t work. It is now starting to look as though this car may be possible to improve, but is destined not to be a front-runner. In the past McLaren might well have built a new car mid season, but they cannot afford it now and also it’s already too late to save the championship.

So that leaves the championship between Button, Barrichello, Vettel and Webber. And over the next few races we will lose a few more contenders. Brawn should dominate Monaco, because it is the best stop-and-start car. A glance at the tight sector 3 here shows you that. The Ferrari could go quite well there, but it won’t be a Red Bull track.

Turkey will be a good battle, while the fast curves of Silverstone will suit Red Bull. Nurburgring, Budapest and Valencia will be Brawn tracks, so you can see that it is looking very good for Button.

And he’s helped by the fact that all his rivals seem to be squandering their chances to beat him.

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