Archive for the ‘Circuits’ Category

Here is something new, something I’ve been working on for a short while. I hope you like it.

I’ve joined forces with Darren Heath, in my view the number one photographer in F1. He and I started in F1 around the same time, 20 years ago and have been mates ever since.

This is an audio slideshow of the Malaysian GP, with Darren’s photos and my words.

Enjoy and Happy Easter!

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I have no wish to start scaremongering, but looking at Bernie Ecclestone’s comments in the Express that he wouldn’t rule out a ban of a few races for McLaren, makes me look through the F1 calendar at the races ahead with some nervousness.

The recent precedent was BAR, which received a ban over its fuel tank irregularities in May 2005. In that instance BAR was found guilty of ‘fraudulent conduct’ and the word ‘fraud’ was used again this week by Ecclestone in the McLaren case,

“It is about stealing a point and a place but those are worth money so basically it is fraud, although I am sure it started off more innocently without thought of the consequences,” he said.

Ecclestone also highlights the fact that McLaren will be back in front of the beak on similar charges to the ones they faced less than two years ago and it is never a good thing to show you haven’t mended your ways.

I’d be surprised if McLaren – and therefore Lewis Hamilton – missed races, but if he did, the timing might get a little uncomfortable for Silverstone. The hearing is April 29, very shortly before the Spanish GP. If handed a three race ban on April 29, it could be for Monaco, Turkey and British GP, the last at Silverstone, in June.

BAR were banned with immediate effect and forced to miss the next two races in the calendar after the decision, which were Spain and Monaco. They were also excluded from San Marino, the race where the illegal fuel collector system was discovered. Hamilton has already been excluded from Australia, where his offence occurred.

However BAR faced the international court of appeal, whereas McLaren face the World Motor Sport Council, who whacked them in 2007 over the spy story and who can issue more or less any punishment they see fit.

Exclusion from the constructors’ championship, or loss of constructors’ points again, as in 2007, remains the more likely option I believe, as that punishes the team and not the driver and carries a financial penalty as well, with loss of earnings from their share of the commercial revenues of the sport.

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I don’t know about you, but I need some light relief after all the heavy duty stuff about McLaren. Here’s a review of the week’s winners and losers.


Good Week for:

Nick Heidfeld – Gambled on only one pit stop in Malaysia and got a podium. Though short, he now stands above his highly-rated team mate in points table

Timo Glock – The gambler of Interlagos does it again, but this time it has no effect on the outcome of the championship. Glock shows he’s a canny racer.

Brawn GP – We now know just how fast this car is when pushed. Button’s fastest lap in Sepang was almost second faster than rivals. Get working, lads.

The English language – Eddie Jordan demonstrates its versatility on TV. Words can be put into any order, with or without verbs.


Bad Week for:

Evening race starts – F1’s sketchy understanding of geography shown up again as an evening monsoon, predictably, douses the Sepang track. Race abandoned.

Martin Whitmarsh – two races in to his dream job and it’s become Nightmare on Elm Street. Will he actually be garotted on April 29th, or merely flogged?

Ferrari – The team which seemed to have forgotten how to lose… has suddenly remembered again. Full wet tyres… on a dry track?

Honda – the boss who decided to quit F1 is now sitting in a bar, comparing notes with the man from Decca Records, who turned down the Beatles.

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It’s a shame that Jenson Button has yet to see the chequered flag at full racing speed at the end of a full race. Both his wins have been terrific, but this one today was really special and you have to pay tribute to the masterful way that the Brawn team, Button and his engineer Andrew Shovlin managed the changing conditions.

Others, like Glock and Heidfeld made greater gains by gambling on wet tyres, and Heidfeld gambled several times with the result that he made only one pit stop compared to Button’s four. But then Glock and Heidfeld had nothing to lose, while Button had everything to lose.

He said afterwards that the car wasn’t very well balanced on wet tyres, so it was a credit to him that he was able to keep his pace up in the wet conditions,
“The conditions we had today, it’s very unusual to drive the full wets in slightly greasy conditions, we had to go for that option because he thought it was going to rain and we were in the lead. It felt pretty terrible, the rear was always trying to break away. But that was more down to the conditions.

“When we put the intermediates on, the car felt pretty good I had a good balance for the car, because it was the right tyre for that condition, until it started bucketing it down and then no tyre was usable.”

So he did his bit. But the team did a brilliant job. If you compare his outcome with Nico Rosberg’s you’ll see what I mean, Rosberg had the early lead and was on a similar strategy to Button, just a couple of laps shorter on the first stop. He had the pace for a podium today. And yet he made stops on laps 27 and 30 and slipped from 2nd to 8th, with the fourth stop from inters to wets, a stop other cars didn’t make. This could have happened to Button, but he had kept the momentum going and at every stage the team stayed calm and did what was required.

Today’s other great revelation is that we got to see just how fast this Brawn car really is, when Jenson had to push hard in his two laps before his first stop, in order to leapfrog Rosberg and Trulli. He did a 1m 36.641, which is a second faster than the next non-Brawn car!!

That is quite some margin they have, greater than we imagined previously and it’s also impressive to note that that lap time was set at the end of a 16 lap stint on soft tyres, so the Brawn can be said to have fantastic tyre management ability.

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Interested to see that Ross Brawn has started responding to the criticism levelled at him by Flavio Briatore that he has misused his position as chair of the technical working group by not declaring his hand on the diffuser issue whenthe rules for 2009 were being discussed. Brawn raised the subject early last year, he says and proposed that the rules be tightened up.

“In March 2008 that was offered. If I’m frank I didn’t say ‘look we are going to do this diffuser if you don’t accept this rule’ because I’m not going to tell people what we’re doing, but I explained that I felt that we should have a different set of rules to simplify what needs to be done,” he said.

“I offered them and they were rejected, so my conscience is very clear. And those rules that I put on the table would have stopped a lot of things. It would have stopped the diffuser, it would have stopped all those bargeboards around the front, and it would have cleaned the cars up.”

I’ve been told by a senior engineer from a non-trick diffuser team that Brawn came to one meeting and said, albeit not in so many words, “Look we need to change the rules here because we are going to be miles ahead next year.”

The others chuckled politely given how far back Honda were at the time. They are not chuckling now.

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After a dominant performance in qualifying in Melbourne, Brawn GP has been made to work a lot harder here in Sepang by the Toyota team and I think Toyota can win this race tomorrow.

It looks as though the Brawn is about 2/10ths faster around here than the Toyota, but thats close enough for Trulli and Glock to put real pressure on Button, so he will have to keep the car on the limit, which could be interesting in this heat. Reliability is still not assured for Brawn, look at Barrichello’s gearbox, for example and they have not done much mileage in hot conditions, really only what they’ve done here this weekend.

In contrast Toyota had the most reliable car in winter testing and they did a big mileage in the heat of the Bahrain test. So it’s not going to be comfortable for Button tomorrow.

Let’s look at the fuel weights, just published by the FIA: what strikes me straight away is that Rosberg, Trulli, Glock and Webber are all carrying identical fuel loads. They will pit on lap 15 tomorrow. Looking at their qualifying performances then, we can make a direct comparison on pace. Trulli was half a second faster than Rosberg and Webber, whereas Glock was only a tenth ahead of them. This means that the Toyota, Williams and Red Bull are almost perfectly matched, but that Trulli did an exceptional job in qualifying.

Button has four kilos more fuel than these four drivers and he will probably stop on lap 16. Again this shows that the Brawn has a small margin, but that Trulli excelled himself today.

Kubica lines up sixth tomorrow, with more fuel in his car than the other front runners. He will go to lap 17. With only two laps more fuel in the car than Williams, Toyota and Red Bull and yet three tenths slower, it’s not a great picture for BMW.

As predicted Vettel has gone aggressive on fuel, in order to be able to attack in the race tomorrow from P13 on the grid (thanks to a 10 place penalty) He will stop on lap 11!

To make that work he’s going to have to be able to pass the KERS cars of McLaren, Alonso and Heidfeld, which will not be easy. They are substantially heavier than him – 40 kilos in Hamilton’s case, more for Heidfeld and that should make passable if Vettel really goes for it. I would say that this will be the area to keep an eye on in the opening phase of tomorrow’s GP.

Massa - P16 on grid
Meanwhile Ferrari had another bad day with Felipe Massa. At the end of last season they said that they needed to work on better reliability for 2009 as well as to make fewer mistakes as a team. Already in two races we have had mistakes on strategy and today on over-confidence, as well as poor reliability with both cars in Oz. No wonder Stefano Domenicali the team principal says that this is falling way short of expectations.

There is a long way to go in this championship and Raikkonen, Massa, Kubica and Hamilton, the four guys you’d expect tom fight for the title, are all level on points – zero! Meanwhile Button has a headstart he can add to tomorrow.

Keep an eye on BMW though. Their first go at a 2009 car is a bit half cooked, but they have an updated chassis for Spain, which has been lightened to allow for the extra KERS weight with Robert Kubica driving. No doubt it will also have a trick diffuser.

I can see Kubica having the mirror opposite season to the one he had last year, where he started strongly then drifted away. He will be a contender at the end, so these early races are all about keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

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This is going to be close!

In Practice 3 this morning, Rosberg was fastest by a tenth, from Webber, Massa and Trulli, the three of whom were separated by a few hundredths. Then Trulli, Glock, and Vettel were all within six hundredths of each other.

The question mark hangs over Brawn. There is no doubt that their margin over the rest is not what it was in Melbourne, certainly as far as single lap performance is concerned. Jenson Button’s long runs yesterday were competitive, but he has been struggling with understeer in fast corners and today he’s losing time in the slow speed corners. He and Rubens may well have been carrying more fuel than the cars in front of them in that practice session, but we’ll really only find out this afternoon, where Brawn is relative to the rest.

At one point there was a plume of smoke coming out of the back of both Brawn cars, but it was just an overfill on the oil, nothing to worry about.

It will be a hell of a scrap between Rosberg and Webber this afternoon, both are capable of front row slots. The temperature is likely to drop as we get to 5pm when qualifying starts and the cars with extra downforce will benefit because they’ll be able to keep more heat in their tyres.

What we do know is that this is a very strong KERS track, so cars like Red Bull, Williams, Toyota and Brawn will not want to be behind the Ferraris, because they will never get past. KERS is believed to be worth between 3/10ths and 4/10ths per lap and is a major advantage tactically in the race, both defensively (relelling attackers) and offensively (passing cars).

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In all the excitement of the McLaren and Hamilton apologies, we are forgetting that the cars have been running and that today they will go out and qualify for the Grand Prix. So what is the state of play here in Sepang.

Well yesterday the Brawns were not dominant, even though every one expects them to be later today and tomorrow. The feeling is that they have between three tenths and half a second on the field, depending on which tyre they are on and set up.

Yesterday Jenson Button wasn’t too happy with the balance of his car in the high speed corners, the front tyres were not biting and he felt understeer. They will dial that out for today, I’m sure. Still the teams has done very little low fuel running to optimise the set up for qualifying 1 and 2.

Toyota look quite quick here and I think it will be between them, Red Bull (Webber, as Vettel has a 10 place penalty), Williams and Ferrari for the top ten spots on the grid. BMW looked slow yesterday, especially Heidfeld, who was not running KERS, but I think at least one of them will get in the top ten today.

These teams are all very close on pace so it will come down to the individual driver’s performance on the day. Alonso may well get himself in there, because he’s Alonso and he knows all the tricks and because one of the front runners may drop the ball, as Nakajima did in Melbourne.

As for Vettel, watch out for him being very fast in Q3, with a view to an aggressive first stint in the race. he cannot do the same things as everyone else because it won’t get him anywhere. He has to use a strategy option called ‘game theory’ which is all about setting expected outcomes and then seeing what other possible outcomes there are if your change variables, like what lap you stop on and what tyres you start with. If you want to know more about this, there is an article elsewhere on this site where Renault’s Pat Symonds explains it.

Symonds used it for Nelson Piquet last year in Germany, where he got a podium and almost won the race, from deep in the second half of the grid.


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Things are moving so fast here in Sepang it makes your head spin. Lewis Hamilton has just made an appearance in the media centre and given what has to be the most frank and open admission of guilt and sincere apology we have seen in this sport.

He sat alone on the stage and spoke for a little over ten minutes , his voice cracking at times, his body language full of anguish and regret.

“I went into the meeting wanting to tell the story and I was misled. I was instructed and misled by my team manager to withhold information and that’s what I did. I sincerely apologise to the stewards for wasting their time. I’m very sorry for the situation. Sorry to all my fans, who have believed in me. Who I’ve showed you I am the past three years is who I am, I’m not a liar, I’m not a dishonest person, I’m a team player and every time I’ve been informed to do something I’ve done it. This time I realise it’s a huge mistake and I’m learning from it. It’s taken a huge toll on me.

“This is the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life and that’s why I’m here, because it’s right for me as a human being and as a man to stand up here in front of you all and tel you exactly what went on and say how sorry I am. I’m sorry to the team, to my family for the embarrassment.

“I’m sure that the FIA will act accordingly and in the right way.”

He also said that Trulli had driven a great race and that “it wasn’t my intention to get him a penalty.”
Actually by making such a frank admission, it’s likely that he will escape a ban or even a suspended ban. The damage to his reputation and the loss of the result in Australia are likely to be deemed punishment enough.

Hamilton and Ryan have been in the stewards’ room together on many occasions over the past two years and the only thing we didn’t get the chance to ask today is whether this is the first time Ryan “instructed” Hamilton to lie. I’m sure that the FIA will consider this when the world council look at the situation.

The FIA’s Alan Donnelly was at the back of the room listening and the event was televised by FOM’s TV crew, so it was a really public affair.

Hamilton has been criticised in the past for not putting his hands up and saying “sorry” often enough. He couldn’t avoid it on this occasion.

One thing he will have to deal with is the impression many of his critics have that he is a manufactured driver, not his own man. The fact that he went along with the deception, didn’t take a stand at the time, even though he knew what he was doing was wrong, will fuel that impression.

The room was full of media from all around the world, with the Fleet St boys on the front row. At the end there was a light round of applause from some journalists, as Hamilton walked from the room, his shoulders sagging.

How the public will view him now, only time will tell, but it’s been a savagely bad start to the season for Hamilton, for McLaren and for new team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

Other teams are surprised that McLaren has allowed this to come down to individuals, that they have not stuck together as a team. By singling out Ryan, they have acted in a way which is different from the team spirit of McLaren in the past.

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In an intensely feverish atmosphere here in Sepang, as the situation around McLaren and Lewis Hamilton ramps up and threatens to spiral out of McLaren’s control, a bit of light relief has been offered by Sebastien Vettel.

The German driver says in the Red Bull press release reviewing today’s track action,
” It’s very hot and no matter how much you prepare, the first outing is a bad surprise. Fortunately I’ve got a bag with dry ice in it, which I put next to my balls, so at least they stay nice and cool.”

Two questions, Seb.
1. What happens if you have a shunt and the bag bursts?
2. Does this reveal which part of your anatomy really does the thinking?

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