Archive for May, 2009

Monaco is always a tough race to predict because of the 50% chance of a safety car. For this reason a lot of teams split their strategies, putting one car on quite a light fuel load and the other on a heavier one. That way, if a safety car comes out early and wrecks the lighter cars’s race, the heavier car has a chance.

Last year Sebastian Vettel went from 18th on the grid to finish fifth, thanks to safety cars and Lewis Hamilton could do something similar if fate intervenes.

Jenson Button did a sublime job today, with a decent amount of fuel in the car and he is looking good at the front. I don’t think he faces much risk from the KERS of Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the start because the KERS only kicks in after three seconds and they will be almost at St Devote corner by then. Having said that, Button’s starts haven’t been that special this season, so he will have to get the bite absolutely right in order to keep Kimi behind him.

Kimi said this evening that he has nothing to lose, he is not part of the championship, so he can afford to risk more at the start than Button. Barrichello is third with a decent amount of fuel on board and he will be resisting Vettel who is very light in fourth place. Vettel’s strategy was damaged by getting stuck behind Nakajima on his final run. Red Bull had gone for the extreme low fuel option to grab pole and try to make a break at the front. Now he has three cars in front of him and a more difficult challenge.

Here are the fuel weights and the laps each car will stop on:

1. Jenson Button 647.5 Lap 20/21
2. Kimi Raikkonen 644.0 Lap 18
3. Rubens Barrichello 648.0 Lap 22
4. Sebastian Vettel 631.5 Lap 12
5. Felipe Massa 643.5 Lap 18
6. Nico Rosberg 642.0 Lap 17/18
7. Heikki Kovalainen 644.0 Lap 18
8. Mark Webber 646.5 Lap 21
9. Fernando Alonso 654.0 Lap 25
10. Kazuki Nakajima 668.0 Lap 33
11. Sebastien Buemi 670.0* Lap 34
12. Nelson Piquet 673.1* Lap 36
13. Giancarlo Fisichella 693.0* Lap 47
14. Sebastien Bourdais 699.5* Lap 51
15. Adrian Sutil 670.0* Lap 34
16. Lewis Hamilton 645.5* Lap 20
17. Nick Heidfeld 680.0* Lap 40
18. Robert Kubica 696.0* Lap 49
19. Jarno Trulli 688.3* Lap 44
20. Timo Glock 700.8* Lap 51

* I will be doing a live text chat at 9-30am UK time Sunday on the new JA on F1 toolbar which you can download on Firefox.

In the past week, we had a successful trial with a new gadget that we hope will make following the F1 scene easier and more fun for you. It’s a toolbar that you can add to your browser, if you use Interner Explorer or Firefox on a PC (including Linux) or a Mac. Download from


We have built in a range of news services and feeds, widgets that display our latest photo features, audio blogs and a new chat service we hope to run after the Monaco race is done and dusted.

The idea is that a bolt will not be tightened nor a contract drafted without you having a sniff of it on your desktop. It’s easy to put on and off, anyway, so we invite you to try it and let us know what you think.

[ PS: All updates on activities for the JAF1 community using the toolbar will be broadcast on that service alone and not on the blog. And any feedback about the toolbar should be posted using that service’s messaging tools. It will help keep the blog clear for F1 comments alone – Moderator ]

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Take nothing away from Jenson Button, that was a mighty lap this afternoon to take pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix, but Sebastian Vettel is left once again thinking about what might have been.

Vettel: What might have been

Vettel: What might have been

The German, who is the Brawn drivers’ closest rival in the drivers’ championship, felt that he had the car today to challenge for pole position, but when it mattered he came upon Kazuki Nakajima on a hot lap, which wasn’t so hot and he lost vital time. Like so many occasions this season, Vettel has been thwarted, but F1 is all about making things happen for yourself and somehow Button and Brawn are doing that more succesfully than Red Bull and Vettel.

Vettel was extremely light in that final session, some 16 kilos lighter than Jenson Button, which is about eight laps less! No wonder he felt he could have had pole. The weight difference is worth 4 tenths of a second!

That said, I expect Vettel to dominate the next two races in Istanbul and Silverstone, because of the RBR car’s performance on medium and fast corners.

“We had a strong car today and should have been quicker,” said Vettel. “I wasn’t really blocked, Nakajima was on a timed lap, but he was three seconds off the pace and that’s why I caught him up very quickly. ”

Vettel did a two lap run, but had team mate Webber behind him so he couldn’t drop back enough to get himself a gap to Nakajima.

“The car would have been good enough to have a shot at pole, yes. The first runs showed that we were extremely competitive. We had a good chance to put the car on the front row, it’s very tight for pole position and you never know what you could have done.”

Jenson Button has the pole, though and he is in great shape for the race. Ross Brawn says that he has 20 laps of fuel in the car, which is a fair amount, it’s two laps more than Raikkonen has in his car.

Button described the pole lap as, “One of the best laps I’ve ever done.” What was impressive to me was the way he built up to the final lap. He wasn’t happy with the balance of the car and was being dominated by his team mate in practice and even the early part of qualifyiing, but he kept calm, made some changes and then delivered the perfect lap when it really mattered.

There’s no hype here, all the engineers from other teams whom I speak to all say that Button is driving exceptionally well this season. He’s qualifying well and racing well. There is no doubt that he was helped by the switch of strategy in Spain, where he went onto a two stop while Rubens was kept on a three. If Rubens had been given a similar switch he would have stayed in front of Button. As it was he lost time in his third stint and fell behind.

But Button has been making things happen for himself mostly, with performances like today’s.

Ferrari looked pretty competitive this afternoon and it was good to see Raikkonen back on the front row. Massa had a ding with the barriers early on and never quite rediscovered his rhythm after that. But that was nothing compared to the shame of Lewis Hamilton who made a mistake under braking for Mirabeau and broke the left rear suspension on the barriers.
“It was my mistake and I’m sorry to the team that I wasted their time,” said Hamilton. “It looked like we had a better shot at winning the race, but these things happen and we just have to learn from it. I locked my rear wheels and tried to catch it and hit the barrier.”

Quite a few teams who had two cars in the top ten split their strategies, running one car lighter for a shot at pole and running the other car heavier as a hedge against a safety car in the race. There is a 50% chance of a safety car here in Monaco and if it falls at the wrong moment it will wreck your race.

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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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Although nothing concrete came out of yesterday’s meetings it seems progress was made and there is something still to talk about. Everyone seems to have calmed down and there was no more talk of Ferrari leaving the sport following the meetings.

The boss of the Monaco Grand Prix, Michel Boeri, however did have something to say on the subject: “What would the Monaco Grand Prix be without Ferrari? A catastrophe. Like the Cannes Film Festival without the stars.”

Picking up more details of how things are moving, it seems that the teams are pushing to have a more gradual reduction in costs than a straight £40 million budget cap with immediate effect. For many teams it will cost tens of millions to lay off hundreds of employees and that is a major concern. But the idea is to get to that level over two years without the intrusiveness of the budget cap.

Here are some quotes from the key players that I have managed to gather,

Montezemolo: “What we want is that F1 stays F1, that we don’t keep changing things which disorientates the public. We want things to stabilise and over the next two years move to a real reduction in costs.”

Mosley: “It was a constructive meeting but the discussion goes on. The problems are still the same. We’ve made a little progress and I’m hopeful we’ll get an agreement.”

Brawn: “It’s not a situation which is going to be solved simply. But at this point I have to say I am more optimistic.”

Briatore: ” We want F1 to be the best it can be. We want it to be the pinnacle of motor sport, we can’t run GP2 with F1, we have to give the public the best cars and the best drivers. But at this moment I don’t feel a lot of energy in our sport, the public know that something isn’t right.”

Patrick Head: ” The only two teams who don’t want a budget cap are Toyota and Ferrari. But in the end they will find themselves isolated in a corner. Now that Ferrari has lost the law suit in Paris they will not be so rigid. I cannot imagine that it will move far from the £40 million. I have the impression that McLaren could be okay with the budget cap and also BMW will line up behind it.”

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Three hours waiting in the Ferrari motorhome this evening, for a press conference which was all set up for a 5pm start, but then that slipped as the meeting between the teams, the FIA and FOM rolled on.

In the end we were told that the meeting was ‘constructive’ but inconclusive so there will be more meetings in the next couple of days.

This means that there is some hope. There have clearly been some concessions on both sides. The teams and the FIA stood on the brink and stared into the abyss and Bernie Ecclestone worked hard to make sure that neither pushed the other over the edge. I think the teams, after the first meeting on the boat, presented a united front, but in order to do that Ferrari may well have had to concede some things.

The feeling behind the scenes, incidentally, is that Toyota is shaping up to leave the sport anyway and that it is pursuing the line of disasgreement with the rules to give a credible reason for its exit. Time will tell. We’ve been hearing Toyota want out for a long time and they are still here..

The concessions made this afternoon will be financial, mainly, possibly a review of Ferrari’s share of revenues, possibly a review of FOM’s share of revenues. I also get the impression that the manufacturer teams have put forward some more far reaching cost saving ideas in order to try to head off the budget cap idea.

I’m afraid I can’t say much more that that, other than to show you the latest voting on the twitter poll we’ve been running on how important Ferrari is to F1. It’s a bit spooky, I hope someone else votes soon…
Picture 3

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While we wait for the grands fromages to have their meetings and decide what kind of spectacle we are going to see next year and beyond in Formula 1, I thought a brief colour post might be in order.

For the first time in years I’m not staying in Monaco this year. I’m in Villefranche, which is 20 minutes west by train. They have a fantastic train service here with double decker trains whizzing you along the coastline. Monaco railway station is a 10 minute walk from the paddock and the media centre.

On my way in I passed a series of posters on the wall which stopped me in my tracks; they are Marlboro adverts. You get so used to not seeing any kind of tobacco advertising any more that so see these bold posters of a tattoed Kimi Raikkonen with his car really grab you. This is Monaco, a law unto itself.

I stopped at the market this morning on the way in. Chatting to locals it seems that everything is 20% down this year; ticket sales, hotel bookings, restaurants etc. I’d say that extends to boats in the harbour. There are some nice ones out there, but not the megas we have seen in recent years. I think part of it is the ‘being seen to do the right thing’ aspect. A lot of sponsors take big boats here normally, but in the current climate they don’t want to be seen to be living it up.

Ironically the team bosses have their boats here, like Flavio Briatore, who’s Force Blue is playing host to Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Alesi this weekend. It is available for weekly charter the rest of the year for a fee slightly north of £200,000. This afternoon it is also the venue for the FOTA team owners meeting at 2pm. They will have to cover a lot of ground quickly as they are due at the Royal Automobile Club at 4pm to meet Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone. It’s a good ten minutes from Flav’s boat to the club.

One of my Swiss colleagues has pointed out to me that Ferrari has been in F1 for 60 years, but in that time it has not taken part in every race. Apparently they have missed 27 races mostly due to strikes and industrial action in the 1960s. But the funniest bit is that they missed the first ever race, the 1950 British Grand Prix, because they weren’t happy with the start money! So in a way nothing has really changed.

Bernie Ecclestone has come out today to say that Ferrari cannot pull out before 2012 because of the binding agreement they signed in 2005, part of which was the celebrated right of veto. The French court agreed with Ferrari that this was still in place and the flip side of that is that Ferrari is committed to stay for three more seasons.

“We would always respect our contracts,” Ecclestone said. “And all the teams that have signed contracts with us would expect us to respect them, and we would expect the same from Ferrari. They are saying they are going to walk, we are saying we hope they respect their contract.”

As you know, I work now for RAI, the Italian TV station and I was interested to see that the boss of RAI sport, Massimo De Luca, told La Gazzetta dello Sport that if Ferrari wasn’t in the game they would want to review their contract with Ecclestone: “If Ferrari leaves F1, along with other major manufacturers, then I can guarantee you that RAI, along with all the main TV companies, would take legal action to review our contract.”

Meanwhile a spat has broken out between Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella. The pair got into a bit of a spat on the track yesterday and afterwards Massa criticised Fisi, comparing his unhelpful approach to a footballer who never passes the ball. Fisi replied, “He’s wrong. He ruined my lap on new tyres, he doesn’t own the circuit.”

So you can see, it’s happy families all round here in Monaco.

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This is going to be a big day. The F1 team owners meet this morning to discuss their next move in the escalating row over the 2010 budget cap rules.

By the end of today, the teams will really have to make their minds up whether they are going to put an entry in before the deadline of May 29th.

At the moment, there is every indication that Ferrari are determined to stick to their guns and if nothing changes they will not put an entry in for 2010. They are backed up by other manufacturers including Renault and Toyota. I sense that BMW are sitting on the fence a little bit, having given indications that they would put their own statement out along the lines of Ferrari and Renault last week, but the statement never came and you keep hearing that the view of the race team management on this issue is different from what the board of the car company thinks.

The FIA is sticking to its guns too, determined to drive through the budget cap, but possibly able to make some concessions around what is included and what is not.

One point I heard last night from Mark Webber, which hasn’t been said much before is that Ferrari is important to F1 for all the other teams because racing against them adds prestige to their own team. Without Ferrari, in other words, F1 would be struggling for a reference point. From the way McLaren and Mercedes are behaving at the moment, they may be well placed to benefit from a manufacturer withdrawal from F1 and so would become one of the few reference points for the teams who would continue, along with Williams. But it is too soon for Brawn, for example, to be seen as the reference point for F1, despite their strong form this season.

As for the new teams coming in, I Sport’s Paul Jackson has given an interview to Autosport website where he talks very confidently about coming into F1 with his team, which has been very successful in GP2. His is precisely the kind of team which used to make the step up, as Jordan did and Sauber in the past. He contends that F1 is for teams like his and that the manufacturers’ place is as an engine supplier, as it was largely until the late 1990s.
“F1 always was small teams. If they named GP2 Formula 1 and put it on the TV, how many people would know? Only the real hardcore enthusiasts,” I’m not sure I agree fully with this, as you cannot unknow what you know, but he makes a good point.

All eyes on Flavio Briatore’s boat for the first of the day’s meetings.

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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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