Archive for the ‘Melbourne’ Category

I’m grateful to Robbie for sending me the link to YouTube where there is an extract of Toyota team radio, which gives a vivid picture of what it he experienced when Lewis Hamilton passed him in the final stages of that Australian GP. Trulli slows down to let him repass, but he doesn’t pass.

Hamilton is in front of the stewards, two of whom were Melbourne stewards, as I write this.

Some bits I pulled out from the Trulli recording which I find interesting – Trulli says that if he has a KERS car behind him he is ‘in trouble’ at the restart. The KERS made quite a difference to the racing and certainly helped with overtaking non-KERS cars. Once everyone has it of course the situation will be normalised, but for the moment there are some good opportunities for KERS cars.

When asked whether Hamilton passed him under the safety car, Trulli is not sure if the safety car had been deployed or not. This shows how much of a picture a driver has at a time like this. He knows that there were yellow flags, but hasn’t noticed any SC boards around the track.

Trulli spells out that he passed Hamilton, because he was going very slowly, but then he slowed to let him back past and Hamilton does not go past.

Very interesting stuff and I’m sure under the FIA’s new transparency rules regarding the stewards decisions, full radio extracts of this incident will be published on the FIA and F1.com websites once the decision has been reached. Another example of how the internet is bringing the fans and media closer to the sport and, critically, closer to understanding the sport!

Read Full Post »

I’m sitting in Melbourne airport in the departure lounge waiting for a 1am flight to Kuala Lumpur. I’m not alone, there are plenty of F1 people milling around, rather bleary eyed waiting for the plane. Ferrari are on the flight, along with some French and English journalists, a few photograpers and others. It’s an eight hour flight and it will be tiring, but it’s not a bad flight to catch as it gets in to KL at 6-30am, so you don’t lose a whole day travelling.

I was rather surprised at the check-in to see Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali with both of his drivers, travelling as a team. I was quite impressed actually, I’ve not seen that before. I don’t know whether it’s just circumstance or whether there is some kind of edict that they should be together. Ferrari as a team has always been good at sticking together to travel, not for them the private jets for the senior management, there are no obvious signs of hierarchy. But the drivers are not normally a part of it.

Felipe Massa, his wife and his manager were together, while Kimi Raikkonen had one of his Finnish mates with him, the pair with their distressed baseball caps worn at an angle, making cracks in their own private language about people they saw, laughing like teenagers.

It was a shocking weekend for Ferrari, with reliability once again the problem. They also have to catch up to Brawn or hope that the appeal against the diffuser succeeds. I’m hearing that they have two parallel development programmes going, one with a copy of the new ‘double decker’ diffuser and with a new gearbox, the other a development of the car they have. McLaren are also flat out building new parts and they will be flying out packing cases full of kit to Malaysia this weekend. Both teams are chucking money at solving the performance crisis.

I’ve also heard of teams who were about to lay off staff from the aerodynamic department, who have delayed the move so that they can accelerate the development of their own ‘double decker’. It rather makes a mockery of the whole cost-cutting mantra we were hearing over the winter! Brawn has got the big teams on the run.

I bumped into Jenson Button twice today, at lunch and dinner. The Melbourne race winner was in a very relaxed mood, hanging around near the beach, just savouring the moment and looking forward to the next. He enjoyed a long lunch with his new girlfriend Jessica.

He was saying that his main emotion before the race was excitement, rather than nerves. He struggled to control the excitement, but now that he has the win under his belt he knows he can start to build momentum. He has to capitalise while the big teams are down.

He feels that the Red Bull is the biggest threat at the moment and certainly until Vettel crashed into Kubica, he had kept Jenson honest. Jenson added that the tyres were quite tricky on Sunday, especially towards the end as the temperatures dropped, but the Red Bull seemed able to stay in touch. I wonder if it will be able to on Sunday.

It is such a graphic illustration of the fact that in F1 you really are only as good as your car. Jenson was not a tosser last year, although he struggled with motivation at times and was outperformed by Rubens Barrichello.

He has the car to get the job done and the team has developments in the pipeline for Barcelona. He should have his nose well in front by then.

Read Full Post »

Rubens Barrichello had an unbelievable afternoon in Melbourne on Sunday, which deserves a closer look. He started and finished second, but in between it was far from plain sailing, with two collisions, both of which caused bodywork damage. It is one of those, ‘How did he get there?’ races, so I thought I’d go through the race history and try to explain it.

At the start he bogged down when the anti-stall mechanism kicked in as he left the line. He was swallowed up by the cars behind him, and entered the first corner in amongst the cars from row 5 of the grid.

In the melee at turn one, with Webber, Fisichella and Heidfeld involved, his car was hit hard from behind, which broke a chunk of the diffuser off. He also tagged his front wing, losing one of the endplates. So some pretty important parts for creating downforce were missing from the outset.

At the end of the first lap he was in 7th place, behind Nico Rosberg. The pair were lapping relatively quickly at first, until they came up behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen on lap 5 and from there the pace dropped off by three seconds as Raikkonen struggled with the sudden deterioration of his soft tyres. Raikkonen pitted on lap 10. By lap 14 Rubens was back to 4th place, but still lapping two seconds slower than his team mate in the lead car. Rosberg was driving away from him. Rosberg pitted on lap 16 and Rubens came in two laps later. At this point he was 45 seconds behind his team mate.

It was a long stop as they replaced the front wing and in the 14 seconds he dropped there, he was passed by Buemi, Trulli, Massa and Raikkonen, all of whom had made their first stop and Piquet who was one stopping.

So he had sacrificed a lot of track position, he was now 10th, but at least he had a functioning front wing. Up to this point his best lap was 1m 29.6, whereas Button with an intact car and no traffic had done a best of 1m 28.0 and could have gone faster still.

At this point the safety car came out after Nakajima shunted the Williams. This gave Rubens back 40 seconds of the deficit to his team mate.

At the restart he passed Buemi and Rosberg, while Piquet flew off the road, so he was up to 7th and lapping at around a second per lap slower than Button. Trulli was three seconds ahead and gently pulling away. Massa and Trulli then pitted, which brought Rubens back up to fifth place. That became third on lap 40 after Kubica and Raikkonen pitted. At this stage he was back to 23 seconds adrift of his team mate.

Brawn had quickly realised from watching Ferrari that the soft tyre was a disaster and so at the first stops they had fuelled both the cars for a long middle stint, 33 laps in Rubens’ case, which would mean he would only have to do seven laps on the soft tyres at the end.

This strategy brought him up to third place by lap 41 and by now he was lapping at the same pace as Button, in other words Button had slowed down by a second a lap, he says because the tyres were losing temperature and grip (This almost cost Button the lead to Vettel, when he had his slow pit stop on lap 47.)

Rubens was essentially racing Trulli for 5th place at this stage, with Button, Vettel, and Kubica due to finish ahead of them. Trulli had the advantage in the middle phase of the race, but what lost him time was being stuck behind Fisichella after his second stop on lap 33. The long middle stint worked very well for Rubens and when Vettel and Kubica had their collision towards the end, Rubens picked up second place, putting him back where he started the race! He was 27 seconds behind Button, but it would have been a lot more if Button had been pushing.

Interestingly neither Brawn car really registered on the fastest lap chart. Barrichello had a damaged car, but Button’s fastest race lap was that 1m 28.0, only the third fastest lap of the day, behind Rosberg and Kubica. In contrast Button had been doing consistent 1m 26s in Friday practice.

He did what he needed to, win the race at the lowest possible speed. Smoothness of style isn’t the only quality he shares with ‘The Professor’ Alain Prost.

Barrichello was always dealing with traffic and Button wasn’t on the limit, so it’s very hard to say how much that diffuser is worth to the car. But it’s a lot.

Read Full Post »

I will never forget the feeling I had when I saw this Brawn car for the first time on the Monday morning in Barcelona on the 9th of March. It looked different, the detail on the car was so refined, and it went like stink.

Here was the most dominant F1 car we’ve seen since the Ferrari of 2004 and it was born out of the wreckage of the Honda team. Today they got a one-two finish in the first Grand Prix, making monkeys of the opposition as they went. How must Honda be feeling now? They pulled out of F1 just before Christmas, despite the assurances of Ross Brawn that the car would be a potential championship winner.

The executive who took that decision is like the man from Decca Records who turned down the Beatles. He would say it had to be done because car sales were plummeting, but the other manufacturers have stayed in and they didn’t have a car like this one.

It’s very likely that they will dominate again in Malaysia, although the heat there will test the reliability of this car, which has still not done a huge mileage in testing. They have a good 8/10ths advantage over the Ferrari and more than a second over the McLaren. Both teams are frantically working on bringing new parts to the car at the next few races, hurling money at the problem, making a bit of a mockery of the concept of cost saving. For Ferrari to do the diffuser properly it requires a new gearbox casing, so it’s a very big job. McLaren have an astonishing manufacturing capability and they will need it because they are coming from a long way back.

As for Jenson Button, he was enjoying himself this weekend, always looked relaxed and happy, not feeling pressure, revelling in the second chance that fate has given him. But behind the scenes he was very intense all weekend, apparently. He knows that this is his opportunity to do all the things he thought he was going to do in his career, before it went down the wrong path with Williams, then BAR and Honda.

I expect to see a more intense Button now, more single-minded, more ruthless even. He can take no prisoners from here, he has to translate this car advantage into results every time, keep Rubens behind him and nothing can stand in his way. If he can get far enough ahead in the points before the big teams wake up, he can win the world title. If they had stuck with the ‘winner takes all model’ of deciding a championship, he’d have had an even better chance.

This Brawn car has been very carefully prepared and has come out of the oven perfectly cooked, whereas, in comparison the grandee teams have whipped something up in the microwave. They now have to work hard to refine. It’s unlikely that the FIA appeal court will help them by upholding their appeal against the Brawn diffuser, they are going to have to do it the hard way, in the wind-tunnel.

Read Full Post »

It was Ross Brawn himself who made the connection, when we were talking on Saturday morning about the last team to win on its F1 debut; Wolf in 1977.

“Yeah, I was working for them then,” he grinned.

Ross started out at Williams, but when Sir Frank got involved with Walter Wolf, Ross was seconded to go and work on the black and gold cars. What an amazing symmetry that 32 years later Ross should repeat the feat with cars bearing his own name.

Brawn was the story in Melbourne this weekend, from every angle; the staggering pace of the car, the front row qualifying performance and 1-2 in the race and of course the appearance of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin in F1 after decades of thinking about it.

Branson was giggling like a schoolgirl after the race, admitting he was ‘hooked’ on F1 and revealing that Bernie Ecclestone had rung him after the race to say that he would be meeting him off the plane and taking him directly to a casino, where Bernie would gladly place a million pounds on any number Branson suggested at the roulette table!

When asked if he would be a silent partner in the team, the business world’s leading self-publicist said, “I don’t really do silent.”

He’s delirious, but he also knows that the price tag just went up. If he is going to pump some proper money into the team, it’s going to be decided over the next few weeks. He won’t be in Malaysia (who would, if they had an option?), but is likely to make an appearance in Shanghai. His money will have a decisive influence on the way this championship unfolds. The team has a decent budget for the season, but extra money will mean extra development and that will be necessary if the team are to keep McLaren and Ferrari behind them.

The Brawn team members meanwhile, acquitted themselves well for an outfit that is not used to dominating. There was a palpable sense of nerves on the grid, but the experienced hands, like sporting director Ron Meadows, kept things in order. The mechanics bustled around the two plain white cars, sitting on the front row of the grid, pointing down towards the first corner.

It was my first time on the grid since the US Grand Prix of 2001, my last race as a pit reporter before taking over from Murray in the commentary box. I’d forgotten how much energy there is down there.

Alonso was very impressive, fired up and instructing his engineers on how he saw the race unfolding and what options to think about on strategy. He leads, without a doubt.

Every car, particularly the quick ones, has a member of another team hanging around it, looking at details in the design. The grid is the only time that the cars are fair game to be examined like that.

Behind the scenes this weekend was a sense that F1 has renewed itself, that the credit crunch might have actually saved F1 from itself, by forcing everyone to address spending, by creating the circumstances for the Brawn team to exist and to write a thrilling new chapter in the story. Most sponsors and teams have made cutbacks, some have already made redundancies, but in austerity comes a spirit of togetherness and that is very much the tone at the moment.

There were politics between teams over the protests and the appeal and so on. But there was almost a conviviality about it. After Williams withdrew it’s protest against Ferrari last night, this morning Stefano Domenicali went down to the Williams area for a friendly chat with CEO Adam Parr. The atmosphere between the teams is the most cordial I’ve seen it in F1. One McLaren figure even told me today that he was a bit worried because he actually felt sorry for Ferrari for their poor showing! That is what you call rapprochement.

The teams are not at each other’s throats as much as you might imagine. Sure there are some people who are annoyed by the diffuser trick that Brawn, Williams and Toyota have played, but they also know that they are in a much bigger game with Bernie and Max and that sticking together is the important thing.

Read Full Post »

Pre race update

Great atmosphere in the pits and paddock as the clock runs down towards the start of the race.

There is a general acceptance that the Brawn cars are going to drive away at the front of the field. Their pace over long runs is even more impressive that their qualifying pace. Rubens did a great job yesterday on low fuel in the early part of qualifying, because the Brawn team did not do any work on low fuel running during their all too brief seven days of testing. There simply wasn’t time with all the other things they had to do. Rubens got his car dialled in nicely for low fuel running, but the team knows that there is a lot more to come there over the next few races.

Jenson was able to exploit the car better with race fuel in it during the third part of qualifying and that is how he took the pole by three tenths of a second.

The chat in the paddock is of how long it will take McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and the rest to close the gap on Brawn. As I posted the other day, everyone has a trick diffuser being tested in the wind tunnel, in expectation of the appeal against the Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers failing on April 14th. You can expect to see most of them with something similar at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The only possible exception to that is McLaren, because I’m told that they have an amazing manufacturing capacity and it’s possible they could turn something around by China or Bahrain.

But it would be wrong to think that Brawn’s success is only down to the diffuser, the car generates loads of downforce generally.

What is quite hard to ascertain is how much money Brawn has to develop its car. There are suggestions that they have been given a budget to impress from Honda, in order to find strong partners and sponsors for next year. But you also sense undertones that the money is not plentiful, that Virgin’s millions, if they can be secured in the next few weeks would genuinely make a big difference.

This is key to whether Brawn can figure in the eventual outcome of this championship, because Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will bring a huge amount of performance to the car in the next few months. I’d expect McLaren to find a second in the next four or five races. Brawn has to capitalise on it’s performance advantage while it still has it.

The other talking point in the paddock is why Williams protested Ferrari and red Bull last night, which caused the principals of all three teams and the stewards to have a late night, before Williams finally withdrew its protest.

I’m told that this is the first time anyone can remember that Williams have protested another car, so they didn’t do it lightly. My guess is that they had two motives in mind. First to give RBR and Ferrari a little bit of pain back for the protest and appeal made against them earlier this weekend. But also to be seen to be settling ‘for the good of the sport’, which is what ideally they would like Red Bull, Ferrari and Renault to do over the appeal.

There is a good chance of a safety car today and that could catch Jenson out. If he catches it into turn one and has to do a two minute lap before pitting, while a car running third can just drive straight into the pits, he can lose control of the race right there.

Reliability is his other enemy. A 10p seal could go at any moment and they haven’t done the mileage in testing to be overly confident.

Read Full Post »

The fuel weights have been published by the FIA for the first time, under the new rules for this season.

There are some very interesting things here. For a start the Brawn cars are, as we expected, massively quick, given that Jenson Button’s car has 22 laps worth of fuel in it (59 kilos).

Allowing for the fuel he will need to get to the grid and do the formation lap, this means Jenson will probably make his first stop on lap 20.

Barrichello will go one lap longer, to 21. This is quite a long first stint for a two stop strategy.

Knowing this we can say that Jenson did a stunning job today in the final part of qualifying as the extra fuel he’s carrying will have given him less than a tenth of a second of lap time compared to Rubens and yet he is three tenths faster.

Rubens liked the car more on low fuel in the early part of qualifying, Jenson liked it more in heavy fuel mode. He will be on his own tomorrow in the race.

Sebastien Vettel, who qualified third, will probably go to lap 18, the same as Nico Rosberg. This means that the Red Bull is a couple of tenths faster than the Williams.

Meanwhile the Ferraris are in trouble, Massa has only 18 laps of fuel in his car, so he’ll get to lap 16 and yet he was 8/10ths off Button, who has 3/10ths of a weight disadvantage. That puts the Ferrari a second slower in quali trim today. Raikkonen has a similar amount as his team mate and was a tenth slower.

Kubica’s lap looks less stellar when you realise that he is running light – he will be stopping on lap 15.

Button should control the race, reliability is his only competitor tomorrow. Barrichello has more than enough speed to stay ahead of Vettel and Rosberg who will be fighting for a podium.

Massa is the driver to watch. Ferrari had a bad time in qualifying, but the car is strong in race trim. Massa moves forward to 6th on the grid after Glock’s exclusion and he has a good shot at a podium from there to get his championship campaign off to a strong start. If anything goes wrong for the Brawn cars he could well pick up the win. The Ferrari should prove a faster race car than qualifier here.

UPDATES: I’ll be doing a Twitter feed during the race, with my take on what’s going on. Look out for it here on “JAonF1” [ in the sidebar on the right ]

Read Full Post »

Finally after all the talk the protests and the politics we got some track action today.

It was very weird starting the first session at 12-30pm and the second one at 4-30pm, basically two and a half hours later than normal. I got to the track for 8-45 am and there was hardly anyone here! Many of the teams were saving money on catering by taking advantage of the breakfast included at the hotel.

By the time the second session was underway the shadows were lengthening and all the drivers commented on how hard it was to see in certain places. The sun is right in their eyes and Jenson Button, for example, was complaining that he could not see the display on the steering wheel.

If there are no hold ups or safety cars, the race will finish around 6-30pm here, by which time the sun is very low in the sky and the temperatures are dropping. It’s quite challenging for the drivers. If we do have delays then we could be cutting it fine on light.

If we are to have an incident it may come at the start. We are likely to have the seven cars using KERS in the midfield pack on the grid. Ferrari, McLaren and BMW’s Nick Heidfeld will use the system, which will give a 80hp boost of power once the cars have reached 100km/h. So there will be quite a big speed differential with the non-KERS cars in front on the short run to turn one. I’m betting that someone leaves one of these new wide front wings behind in Turn 1. In recent years we have had quite a few large shunts there anyway.

The upside of the later start is that the cars look great on TV in the yellowey light.

I’ve had some comments here about Brawn’s pace, accusing me of adding to the hype over the team. They have a massively fast car, they showed that in Barcelona and I was there to see it. I posted on it at the time.

Their mistake was to go to fast at that test. They reined themselves in at the next test in Jerez, not showing their full pace and if I were them I would not show all that they have here this weekend. They don’t need to and it would aggravate the situation after the protest over the diffuser. They can win on Sunday with something to spare and then move on to the next event.

I was interested to hear from Fernando Alonso this evening that he is using the KERS button on six or seven occasions on the lap, coming out of corners mainly. He aid that in the race it will be used more on the straight and to line up an overtake. Lewis Hamilton agreed with this analysis. He is using short bursts of a second at a time.

Both drivers said that they will not touch the moveable front wing flap at any point in the race.

I was interested to see the body language between the pair at the end of the press conference. As they got up from their seats, Lewis asked Fernando a question and Fernando put his arm around Lewis’ shoulder to listen and respond. They did not look like the enemies we take them to be. It’s a relationship which has evolved a bit from the dark days of 2007.

Read Full Post »

It’s been a fairly calm day for the start of the new season. The predicted protest from the teams over the diffuser row has happened and the stewards are looking into it as I write this in the Melbourne press office, with the sun setting outside.

I’ve felt all along that the three cars in question, from Brawn, Williams and Toyota will be declared legal. Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s top technical man, has approved the cars and you sense that he actually admires the innovative solutions the teams have come up with. Whatever the outcome we’ll have an appeal in a Paris court room, that much is clear. To quote Humphrey Bogart, “We’ll always have Paris.”

I’ve posted on ITV-F1.com today about the nub of the diffuser issue, as well as making the point that McLaren is staying out of it because Brawn is a customer of Mercedes engines.

Actually they are a delighted customer of Mercs. I’ve been hearing today what a fantastic engine it is, but also how easy the Merc guys are to deal with and how professional. Force India say the same thing. It’s amazing that this is Mercedes’ first year as a customer engine supplier, so slick is their operation.

I started the day collecting my F1 permanent pass, the 20th I’ve had now. Can’t believe this is my 20th season in the sport. As a TV person for the last 17 years, I’ve had a heavy, metal topped pass, issued by FOM. Now, although I am doing some work for Italy’s RAI TV, because I represent the Financial Times newspaper, I fall under the FIA’s jurisdiction and they have much smaller lighter passes. I guess the TV people get the bling pass because they pay the big bucks to be here, tens of millions a year in rights fees.

From the accreditation centre I travelled over by tram to the Westin Hotel in the City, where the Ferrari boys did a press briefing, Kimi was his usual eloquent self [not] while Felipe got quite worked up on a few issues. He hates the idea of the winner takes all point system. As a Ferrari driver you can see why. It’s a system which calls for a team to have a clear number one and number two driver.


He also described the U turn last week over the winner takes all points system as ‘a complete mess.’

Meanwhile Kimi managed one smile, when a camera man got up from his prone position in front of their table and knocked the glasses of water over. Kimi got a big rise out of that. Otherwise he was even more detached than he normally is. We’ll see, but I felt from watching him in testing that he has rediscovered his sense of purpose. He’s got his race face on again.

After Ferrari I jumped back on the tram and headed to the Stokehouse restaurant, on the St Kilda beach, to see the McLaren lot. They have been doing a lunch there for 11 years. Lewis admitted that he was in new territory with a slow car, which has a lot of work in front of it, to close the gap on the others. New team boss Martin Whitmarsh was on our table and looked very calm. In some ways they might wish they hadn’t thrown so much effort at last year’s car, as it seems to have cost them this year, but then again McLaren desperately needed to win that drivers title after ten years of missing out.

Part of the McLaren event is a quiz, with some very obscure questions. I was sat on a table with a few people who knew the most obscure facts about F1 you could ever imagine. And guess what? We came away with a little trophy for winning the thing! Can’t say I had much to do with it!

At the circuit, everything looked busy and colourful as normal. There is talk of the credit crunch, of teams laying people off, but the general mood is very positive, everyone excited to see where they are in the pecking order.

Behind the scenes there is a general resignation that we are in for a long and painful battle between the FOTA teams, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone and some of the things which happen this weekend will be wrapped up in that political and financial struggle. But there’s nothing really new there.

Elsewhere one winner already is Giancarlo Fischella, who took part in a poker tournament at the city’s Crown Casino on Tuesday night and won £400.

Read Full Post »