F1 Paddock Insights

July 24, 2009

As the Formula One season briefly settles back into its fortnightly cycle, the ten teams, global media and VIPs make their way over to the Hungaroring circuit just outside Budapest’s eastern ring road. One of the oldest circuits on the calendar, it held its first race here in 1936, only to wait 50 years before the zenith of motorsport lapped the track once more. Here what’s happening in the paddock at the historic Hungaroring:

As if the legal war between the FIA and FOTA has not dragged Formula One through enough of a public quagmire, poor old Sebastian Bourdais has joined in on the action. Having recently been booted out by Scuderia Toro Rosso for not delivering on the track, the French driver is considering taking his former employers to court for wrongful dismissal. Adding fuel to the already freely-burning fire, STR then promptly employed young Spanish racer, Jaime Alguersari. At only 19 years of age, he will likely be the youngest driver to ever race in Formula One, with his only experience before the Friday practice in the 2009 a straight-line test this week back in Italy. The 30 year old is unsurprisingly upset about being replaced, especially by someone so young, but with only 6 points in 27 races, perhaps the team is right to turn its attention to one of the brightest stars on its Red Bull young driver programme. Felipe Massa – who himself started his Formula One career at 20 years of age – recently told insiders, “Maybe he’s an incredible talent and he will do much better than everybody thinks, but for me it’s not good for him.” Jaime Alguersari has recently defended the decision for him to compete in Formula One alongside the Formula Renault World Series simultaneously by telling critics in the paddock that “I need to do as many races as possible. I need to experience as many situations as possible. For me, for sure it would be good because it would give me more experience and of course there are no clashes with Formula One, so there is not really a reason not to do it. If it becomes an issue, then obviously we may have to reconsider.”

The on-track struggles of 2008’s most successful teams have not gone un-noticed by the world’s media, despite the roaring success of Brawn GP or Red Bull, and questions have often been asked of their commitment to improving their 2009 contenders. Stefano Domenicali recently told F1 insiders that he expects Ferrari to turn its attention to the 2010 version of its F60. Having been caught up in the nail-biting finish to 2008’s Formula One season with McLaren and, to a certain extent, BMW, all three teams are feeling the pressure this year, with a severe downturn in their performances. “We have already started some work on the new project and in the next couple of weeks we will basically move on to that to make sure we do not lose any time. Next season will be crucial and we really want to start with a different pace compared to this year.” Interesting that Domenicali and his Ferrari friends should come out with this when McLaren has recently stated that Lewis Hamilton has a greater chance of winning then before with a number of new parts to the MP4-24 coming to Hungary. Some of the team mechanics in the paddock have told me that perhaps Ferrari should look at continuing their development in 2009, either that or McLaren are so far behind that they feel they need to keep working on the car before they can consider being competitive in 2010.

With McLaren looking stronger this weekend than they have all season, are we going to see another shift of power on the Formula One grid? There’s a few conversations flying around the paddock this weekend that make me think that it’s going to be down to the drivers, rather than the cars in Hungary. With all the teams looking stronger and making the right noises, we can expect to see the Brawns back somewhere near the top (the higher temperatures with put the heat back in the their tyres and returning to the site of Jenson Button’s first ever win), Red Bull are still on a high and have a car to match the Brawns in all departments, the Ferraris have looked stronger and stronger every week with the new/last developments of 2009 working wonders for Felipe Massa in particular. A number of the chief mechanics in the paddock have told me that the team with expectant smiles on their faces is Toyota. Timo Glock claimed second place here in 2008, where a Toyota podium was more of a shock than this year and with a new rear aerodynamic package to boot, it could be the Toyotas who surprise the crowds.

And finally, it is with great sadness that we are reminded about the danger of motorsport as Henry Surtees was killed in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch on July 19th. After achieving his maiden podium in the race on Saturday, Surtees was involved in an incident in which a loose wheel from fellow competitor Jack Clarke’s car hit him on the head and caused him to crash on the entry to Sheene Curve. He later died of his injuries in hospital. Henry’s father, John Surtees, remains the only man to claim the World Championships on both 2 wheels and 4, winning the Formula One World Championship with Ferrari in 1964 and the Motorcycle World Champions in 350 and 500cc in 3 consecutive years from 1958-1960. Henry Surtees, at only 18 years of age was only just embarking on his career as a racing driver. His own father issued a statement that read, “Despite his young age he had shown maturity, technical understanding and speed.” He was also described as “one of the best Brits in the racing series” and will be sorely missed by everyone involved in motorsport. Our sincerest condolences are with the Surtees family and friends.

So, as we return to the summer heat of eastern Europe, keep your eyes out for a mixed field, a close race and some all-important tyre choices.