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.

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F1 Paddock Insights

June 17, 2009

As we approach the British Grand Prix, a teary, reminiscent mood has fallen over the Formula One paddock. The circuit that launched the very first World Championship race is now hosting its last. At least for a while. As the memories of Silverstone’s high speed corners, redesigned complex and old school charm makes its way further north to Donington Park, the future of the original home of British racing hangs in the balance. Yet again the back pages have been dominated by the civil war that has broken out between the FIA and FOTA. It seems like FOTA are once again making a nuisance of themselves and could, indeed end up as FOCA did – as a distant memory and a reminder of Bernie’s authority. Here’s what’s happening in the paddock this weekend:

Jenson Button returns to Silverstone as a man on top of the world. He is currently 26 points ahead of his nearest rival – the perennial 2nd placed man, Rubens Barrichello – and with 6 wins under his belt he almost has the title within his sights. All this after Bernie Ecclestone pushed so hard for the former Honda Racing F1 Team to avoid collapsing even before the pre-season testing sessions. I don’t think he could have foreseen the dramatic turn of events this season and for the first time in his professional career he must be glad he was wrong. Had the pocket-sized powerhouse of Formula One got his way, Jenson would currently be developing neck muscles not from the cornering speeds of the BGP001, but from the weight of gold medals hanging from his neck. Having taken 6 victories so far in 2009, another win at Silverstone and one more at Hungary would signal the end of the Championship, with no other driver able to match his haul of 8 wins. It would have given the Briton a good long summer holiday and the chance for Brawn to start developing their car for 2010, whatever that may yet look like.

What a twelve months it has been for the man from Stevenage. Lewis Hamilton’s meteoric rise through the ranks of McLaren and Formula One was nothing short of mesmeric. The youngest ever Formula One World Champion had the world at his feet 12 months ago and as he feathered the throttle through the final corners of a rain-soaked Silverstone he must have thought it would never end. Compare, though 2009 to 2008 for the young star and it is strikingly obvious how different his life may now be. Last year Hamilton had stepped onto the podium and qualified on the front two rows of the grid in each of the three like-for-like races prior to the British Grand Prix. This year, however, he has only finished once inside the top ten and not qualified higher than 12th. No surprise then that, when recently speaking to F1 Insiders, he remarked: “It’s a perfect place for the race, so let’s hope it’s not the last time we race at this track”. Lewis Hamilton is clearly searching for the glory days of his youth to propel his car back to the front of the grid.

If Lewis Hamilton’s career has been in reverse, Jenson Button has seemingly applied the KERS button to his. As the man who has forever been a back-marker, Jenson Button’s career has shot up the starting grid. As a result one would think that everyone at Brawn would be jealous. Everyone, that is, including their sponsors, Virgin. Richard Branson, the enigmatic billionaire who has everything he has ever wanted is seemingly high on the list of jealous team members. Surprising, you’d think, until you take a look at the object of his desire. The sleek lines and curves of a champion, Jenson’s girlfriend has been the victim of his affection recently – to the extent that at a recent BrawnGP party, Branson decided to try his luck with the young model. This, obviously didn’t go down to well with his world-beating compatriot and when asked what Jenson thought about Richard Branson, he calmly stated that: “I get on very well with the Virgin Group!”

Many of the drivers have been reminiscing about the history of Silverstone this week. Vijay Mallya, team principal of Force India (based across the road from the Silverstone’s main gates) has possibly the most legitimate reason to call this his home Grand Prix simply told insiders, when asked his thoughts on the venue: “Because it is home to us and Silverstone is a special place” . Ferrari has even more reason to look at the past – their future in the sport is as blurred as everyone’s right now – as it was at Silverstone that José Froilan Gonzalez took victory in 1951 to record the Prancing Horse’s first ever Formula One victory. Fernando Alonso’s view of the circuit seems to be similar to that of his fellow drivers, telling insiders (with a hint of anti-establishment frustration) at the Renault headquarters that: “In terms of the track, it’s a great place to drive a Formula One car and as this is probably the last time we will race at Silverstone, I will make sure I enjoy the experience”.

Whatever memories Silverstone may hold for you, enjoy the racing from the fast and furious ex-air force base.