F1 Paddock Insights

August 21, 2009

After nearly a month since the last race, the F1 drivers are strapped back in their seats and ready to hit the Valencia harbour. The teams have had to take a two week break from anything F1 related, but don’t be surprised if you see a raft of new changes – development happens very quickly in F1, it’s our job to try and keep up with it. Find out what’s happening in the paddock in sunny America’s Cup Harbour.

– When Fernando Alonso’s tyre went bouncing down the circuit to end his chances of a good finish in Hungary, the F1 world was taken back to the tragic accident that killed Henry Surtees only a week prior and the freak accident that injured Felipe in qualifying the previous day. Perhaps that is why the FIA took the accident so seriously and immediately banned them from the European GP. Crowd favourite Alonso was in disbelief and the race organisers were starting to count their ticket losses. In the end, though, it was four of the major teams in F1 who came to Renault’s rescue (Red Bull Racing, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Panasonic Toyota Racing and Ferrari), by submitting letters to the court in support of the French team. Either way, the Spaniard and his French team are racing in Valencia, but Nelson Piquet is not. The unsuccessful Brazilian has been dropped by the uncompromising Flavio Briatore for his lack of points this season. Then flew a tirade of abuse towards the Italian and the whole team, saying that Flav on the radio is “like listening to something my sister would say about the car. Pat Symonds is the guy who really understands what is going on with the team” and that “he makes comments that don’t make any sense”. As Romain Grosjean takes the seat still left warm by the young Brazilian, one can only hope that he has more luck than its previous inhabitant.

– There was a time where all F1 fans’ hearts were lifted prior to the Valencia GP – Michael Schumacher had climbed back into a Ferrari Formula One car with the hope of filling the injured Felipe Massa’s boots for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for the great man, the neck injury he sustained in February on his bike was too severe for his F1 racing career to get back on track and the F1 world could breathe again. No worries for the bookies – his replacement is none other than Luca Badoer…Who? I hear you ask. Luca Badoer – the man who has started more Grands Prix than any other man in F1 (48) without scoring a single point. Now that’s a replacement to a seven-time world champion who has won a record 91 Grands Prix, scored a record 1,369 points and finished on the podium 154 times. So who is Luca Badoer? He is an Italian man through and through. Born in 1971 and a graduate of the Italian karting system. He has raced for only Italian teams and is the first Italian to drive for Ferrari since 1992, when Ivan Capelli scored a total of 3 points. He has been a test driver at Ferrari since 1997 and according to his engineers has completed “over 150,000km in F1 cars since he joined Ferrari – nearly 5 times the amount covered by an F1 driver in that time”. The decision to chose him over Marc Gené, Ferrari’s other test driver is one that confuses a number of people. Luca di Montezemolo told insiders that “In agreement with Stefano Domenicali, we have therefore decided to give Luca Badoer the chance to race for the Scuderia after he has put in so many years of hard work as a test driver”. Sounds to me like he has been given the drive as they are already testing for 2010 and Luca is the best person to test the new parts.

– Felipe Massa has recently told insiders that he is expecting to be back in time for the Brazilian GP from the 16-18 October. This, given the Brazilian suffered a double-fractured skull and eye injuries as well as injuries to his brain. The comeback would be remarkable and, of course, subject to an FIA medical. Having spoken to insiders close to Felipe, they say he “is confident that he can make it back with some karting laps before the weekend.” Suspicions across the paddock suggest that Felipe’s encouraging words ahead of his home Grand Prix have been used in an attempt to bolster ticket sales as without Piquet Jr and Massa, Rubens Barrichello remains the only Brazilian interest on the grid. Even then he might be on his way out of a Brawn team that he has fallen out with on more than one occasion this year already.

– The man to watch this weekend will be Lewis Hamilton. Not only has he been tucking into pancakes, care of his Pussy Cat Doll, in LA but he is coming to the Harbour circuit off the back of his first victory all season. He promised his fans one when the MP4-24 was a second off the pace in Australia, but few believed it was possible. Speaking to McLaren engineers in their Woking factory, it seems that the two week break came at just the wrong moment this season. They have been working “19 hour days, 6 days a week” to get the car up to speed and the break in August could “potentially de-rail their plans to take another victory in Valencia”. It’s not only the engineers under pressure at McLaren at the moment, though, as Heikki Kovalainen is fighting to retain his seat into 2010. With Nico Rosberg apparently “ready to relish the opportunity to drive for McLaren”. He added that he “would like a competitive team mate, that’s for sure” – is he saying that Kazuki Nakajima isn’t doing well this season?!

– And finally, with Luca Badoer returning to race in F1 for the first time since Japan 1999, I tried to think of anyone who had made a comeback after so long. The only man that beats Luca’s 9 years and 10 months is Jan Lammers, who retired in 1982 and returned a full 10 years and 3 months later at the 1992 Japanese GP. Lammers failed to finish that race, by the way…

After 4 more weeks of off-track news, F1 finally returns to the tarmac. Expect Valencia to be hot, tight and close, with at least half the grid looking to take podium finishes. With only a week to wait until the next round in Spa, the next fortnight could make big steps towards the destination of the Championship trophy. Or it could make it all the more confusing.

Enjoy the racing.

F1 Paddock Insights

April 24, 2009

Have we just seen the emergence of the new Schumacher? A consummate drive in seriously treacherous conditions guided Vettel to his second (wet weather) victory behind the wheel of an F1 car. First in Monza last year, now again in China, the 21-year old German left the field for dead. He managed his fuel behind the safety car to extend his refuelling window. Then with the extra lap he pulled out 10 seconds on teammate Mark Webber to guarantee him coming back out in front. Nice work, kid! Find out what’s happening in the paddock at Bahrain.

– Is Flav just jealous of Ross? – Flavio Briatore has attempted to mount a serious Fota mutiny against its own technical delegate, Ross Brawn. Despite the team principals supporting the reincarnation of Honda over the winter, they have now made themselves victims of their own success. First there were the quick testing times resulting in diffuser-gate. Then came two Grand Prix victories and a fresh attack on their TV money or transportation allocation as a new team in Formula One. Shouldn’t the team principals simply forget the fighting and focus on the racing – it seems like that’s what Brawn is doing!

– Experience counts – It seems as though Bahrain holds a special place in a number of Formula One drivers’ hearts. A technically difficult track and one that look likely to stay dry, Bahrain will offer some different challenges this weekend to that experienced in China. Only Ferrari, Toyota and BMW have been at Bahrain since the new regulations kicked in, so you would imagine they would have a fair idea of the set up required, but at the moment their on-track performances are anyone’s guesses. Let’s see how Ferrari’s quickest time of 1.32.102 will compare to the Toyotas and the BMWs this weekend.

– Fortune favours the brave – Following the late night garage work in China and the urgent delivery of parts to Bahrain, this weekend will provide an interesting conclusion to the first of the fly-away races. We all expect to see a host of new diffusers lined up on the grid, and with the conditions expected to be hot and sunny, word from the paddock is that this is the first glimpse we will see of how far the teams have come from Australia. Jenson Button recently told an F1 Insider that “braking from over 300kph to first gear into turn one is an amazing feeling. It is surprising to see how early people get on the brakes, so if you’re confident in your grip and corner-speed, you can really make it count.” A race engineer told me that the average corner angle for the circuit in Sakhir is 143 degrees (the F1 average is 121 degrees) so the driveability and the speed taken through the corners is going to be critical this Sunday.

– Donington in trouble already? – Donington circuits owner, Tom Wheatcroft has taken DVLL (Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd) to court over unpaid rent of £2.47m since September 2008. Simon Gillett, CEO of DVLL, took a 150-year lease and had acquired the rights for the British Formula One Grand Prix for the next ten years. Wheatcroft is a notoriously ruthless businessman and I’m certain he is not going to back down until he gets his money from Gillett.

– And finally – It turns out the Red Bull 1-2 still wasn’t the perfect weekend for the team. The Austrian (yes, Austrian) registered team, based in Milton Keynes (UK), celebrated their Constructors’ victory to the sound of the British national anthem. Helmut Marko, Red Bull Racing’s advisor, told an insider in the garage that he “was disappointed that the wrong anthem was played”. Perhaps the Chinese didn’t expect the Red Bulls to perform so well in Shanghai.

As the curtains falls on the first set of races this season, Eddie Jordan will be back in front of the BBC cameras, the sun should be shining and expect Bahrain to have prepared the Austrian national anthem. Maybe.

Enjoy the racing.