Reflections on the Spanish GP 2013

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso vanquished the opposition at the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya yesterday. Hugh Podmore looks at the biggest stories from the weekend’s action.

Alonso in charge and with momentum
Fernando Alonso has looked like a man possessed with one ambition this season – to win the world title. Whether it was winning commandingly in China, charging back to eighth in Bahrain after his DRS failed twice, or even carrying on death-or-glory-style with no front wing in Malaysia, he looks almost psychotic in his pursuit of the championship this season. But Spain is out front in terms of performances – that wondrous move round the outside of Raikkonen and Vettel at turn 3 on the first lap. He found grip where no one else would dare look, and thereafter had speed in his pocket to cover off the chasing Raikkonen. If he can continue in this vein he will be fearsomely hard to beat.

Ferrari and Lotus kinder to tyres than the others
Tyres are the story of this season so far, even more so than in 2012. Catalunya’s periods of soporificity has again opened Pirelli to charges that they have gone too far, and that strategy and preserving rubber has become the name of the game in place of racing one’s rivals. Whatever the truth of the matter, these are the circumstances; and it’s who plays the cards they are dealt best that counts. At the moment, that’s Ferrari and Lotus, with even the famous Red Bull seeming less happy.

As for Mercedes…
Has there ever been a team with such a wide discrepancy between qualifying pace and race pace? Hopes had been high that they had solved their Sunday degradation and graining issues, but what transpired could not have been further away from that. Lewis Hamilton, who these days does a creditable imitation of a man who has suddenly been put in a formula he is totally unfamiliar with, is worst affected. His style rinses tyres at the best of times, but seeing him battle with lowly Williamses is the nadir. He had always had his eyes on 2014, though…

Punching above their weight
…were Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi. Rosberg did very well in a car that, as has been noted, cannot be easy to drive. Ricciardo was outstanding and although Vergne has now retired twice in two races, the Australian is beginning to get his nose in front. There’s pace in that Force India and a little more dynamism from di Resta would have seen a big haul of points. Bianchi does a fantastic job at the back of the grid. Evidence? His hanging on manfully to the race leader (granted, after having been lapped) Fernando Alonso, when no one else could. Watch that man – Ferrari seat next year?

McLaren Win Prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise

McLaren Electronic Systems (MESL), part of the McLaren Group, have won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for achievement in international trade.

The company previously won a Queen’s Award in 2009, then a recognition for its innovation in, and development of, leading-edge control and data systems.

MESL is best known as the Official ECU (engine control unit) Supplier to the FIA Formula One World Championship, NASCAR Sprint Cup and IZOD IndyCar series. However, with growing sales (increasing 60% since 2008), they’re quickly moving into other areas which include hybrid and powertrain technologies, FAA approved aircraft controls and, even, data and monitoring technologies for mass transit systems.

On receiving the award, Dr Peter van Manen, MD of McLaren Electronic Systems said “We are delighted to have been recognised in the Queen’s Awards for the growth of our international trade. We are proud that our technology is at the heart of international motor racing and that are able to translate it into other important markets. This is a wonderful endorsement for the reputation of McLaren and British development and manufacturing and will help energise our strategy even further to develop the business further in new markets and sectors.”

Bahrain GP shows racing is back on the agenda

Following last week’s Chinese Grand Prix, a busload of F1 people, fans and otherwise, could be heard on Twitter bemoaning the oddly neutered racing in that race. Mea culpa here – this column also contributed to that racket. But a few things in yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix restored the post-2010 consensus that wheel-to-wheel action is good.

Firstly, the fact that tyres did not wholly dictate the race for anyone. It was a fair fight, which Sebastian Vettel won in his habitual style. But those who fear the beginning of another hegemonic season should consider the winning margin – under ten seconds. This, then, no 40 second romp. Raikkonen, Grosjean, Alonso and maybe even Hamilton had the pace to win that race and might have done another day. A great shame for all that Alonso had the DRS problem he did – his recovery was typically dogged and showed what speed he had.

Secondly, overtaking happened, and in glorious quantities. It was riveting, and not least at McLaren as Jenson Button found out that Sergio Perez is actually quite fast (and possibly faster in the right conditions). There’s an old racing adage – ‘go fast. Don’t crash’ – of which the Woking team seemed only to have instructed the latter to Perez until yesterday, when Perez seemed to twig that driving rapidly was also required. The ensuing duel enthralled and delighted. Button was arguably overreacting with his contention that Perez had been aggressive, and it was interesting reading the team’s post-race press release which always tries to put a lovely chrome sheen on events. Even when events constitute red-blooded rivalry. More please.

Thirdly, I was struck when idly flicking onto Sky Sports F1 and alighting on a rerun of the Bahrain GP in 2010. Sky’s service is little short of outstanding, but they must admit culpability for false advertising as regards the title under which this race ran – ‘Classic Races’. Bahrain 2010 was by no means a classic race. In fact, it was dullery epitomised, and I know because I immediately began actually listening to Jonathan Legard’s commentary for subtler factual errors as opposed to the glaring howlers you cannot miss. Two things to be learnt from this: David Croft (and Ben Edwards on the Beeb too – there isn’t much between them) are excellent professionals who do their difficult job extremely well by comparison with recent incumbents.

More importantly, Pirelli and DRS and KERS have made the racing so good now, we’re spoilt. Even watching Nico Rosberg’s doomed but valiant attempts to hold back the sea of overtakers yesterday was worth last weekend’s strategy-fest. Rosberg’s Mercedes does seem to devour tyres when other machines merely consume them, but this unpredictability which we bemoaned last week also brings us considerable pleasure.

So next time I feel like criticising a race when it seems a bit sterile, I shall remember to spend some time watching F1 when the races really were insipid. Ignore us, Pirelli, and keep making those tyres out of paper. Ignore Jenson, McLaren, and let your drivers race. Ignore your fears of Vettel romping to a fourth straight title, people – this will be closer than you think. Hold onto your hats.

Notes between China and Bahrain 2013

Midweek between the back-to-back grands prix of China and Bahrain, 2013, and much to discuss. Here’s Hugh Podmore presents a run-down of the noteworthy news in F1 as it stands.

Alonso reigns in China
Fernando Alonso won imperiously in China, to deliver on the promise Ferrari have shown all early-season. The Spaniard was as cunning and as quicksilver as always and Lewis Hamilton is absolutely right to say that Alonso is looking the man to beat in 2013. Massa looked at the start but faded – it’s crucial for Ferrari’s designs on both titles that the Brazilian continues his renaissance.

Raikkonen to Red Bull?
All the pieces fit, don’t they? Another sterling drive from the Finn in China meant he could have won, were it not for his dreadful start. And so to Red Bull, because Webber’s had enough, Vergne isn’t ready, and Lotus are never going to be as consistent as Red Bull? Maybe, but it’s not a done deal yet. Many more performances like last week and Raikkonen will be going somewhere – that is, to the lead of the championship.

Continued promise from Hamilton and Mercedes
Hamilton did well to put the Merc on pole, but such a result rather flatters to deceive. It seems the car (and also possibly Lewis) fades quickly once the tyres do. Pace at the start of a stint is awesome but drops off dramatically and he cannot keep pace with Ferrari, Lotus or even Red Bull. Blame Pirelli, with their paper-thin india rubber (and curiously sterile strategic racing)? No. Hamilton and Brackley have much to be getting on with. It bodes well, though.

Not so Stirling
Arse of the week, Sir Stirling Moss. Anathema that sentence may be for a man rightly revered for his achievements behind the wheel, but his pronouncements concerning women in similar positions should clearly not be so flippantly aired. With F1 already seen in many quarters as male-dominated and anachronistic, the last thing it needs is its demi-god proving that.

The political situation in the Kingdom continues to be uncertain, and as the world has tragically seen over the past 24 hours, sporting events can be targeted fatally by homicidal lunatics. In all probability F1 should not be going to Bahrain. Let us just hope and pray it passes without injury to people who really have nothing to do with the trouble. And serious thought must go into this race’s place on the calendar.

That curiously sterile racing
Watching the Chinese GP, you could be occasionally be forgiven for thinking you were standing on a bridge watching the M25. On the M25, you don’t block the bloke behind you from overtaking, partly because you don’t know where he is going, but also because you’re not racing him. And that was the result of the myriad strategies and complexities in China. (Oh, and the DRS and the track). Pirelli – please make tyres unpredictable enough to make the racing interesting, but not so unpredictable that cars can’t race. Too much to ask?

Tip for Bahrain
To finish where we started, it’s got to be Alonso. The man is driven this year, and he’s so good. He is just so good.

Webber ‘not drinking enough Red Bull’

Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber has sensationally been accused of not drinking enough Red Bull, according to a German-language news agency.

Paloirfol Ausgezeichnet Bild this morning alleges that sources within the team have suggested that his lack of ability to keep pace with Sebastian Vettel may be due to his dislike of the energy drink.

“We have told Mark to down Red Bull before a race so he can up his game,” a team member called Hans Onzeviel told the agency. “But he refuses – and look what happens, he always loses out to Vettel!”

“No one wants to question Webber’s thirst. But it seems he is not thirsty enough!”

Sebastian Vettel’s level of consumption of the drink is not known, but it is thought he may be drinking Webber’s share as well. Onzeviel is reported to have seen Vettel drinking cans clearly marked “multi 21” – team code for priority Webber.

It is thought that Red Bull’s new flavour range is an attempt to help drivers stomach the drink. David Coulthard was well known to despise the taste, and once spat a mouthful in Helmut Marko’s shoes.

Thailand aiming to host an F1 race in 2015

Thailand is one step closer to hosting a Formula One race in 2015 – if the Thai cabinet gives the go ahead.

SAT governor Kanokphand Chulakasem explained, “The racing contract is in my and Red Bull’s founder advisor, Michael de Santiesteban’s hands. However, before signing an official contact the authority has to present details to the Cabinet for final approval.”

He also revealed that Rajdamnoen Avenue, one of the venues on the short-list to host the F1 race, has already been inspected by the FIA and given positive feedback.

One obstacle currently facing the race is a new Thai law banning racing on city streets. The law has been passed in an attempt to prevent illegal motor cycle racing on the streets and if the F1 event is given the go ahead and is confirmed as a street race, an exemption will need to be made to the law to allow the event to go ahead.

Late last year there was some speculation that Thailand could host a race as early as 2014 however with no official confirmation, it appears that these were just unfounded rumours.

Claire Williams becomes Williams Deputy Team Principal

Claire Williams has become Deputy Team Principal of the Williams F1 team with immediate effect. Williams will retain also be retaining her Commercial Director role and continue to be a part of the Company’s Board of Directors.

Williams started as a press officer for the team in 2002. In 2010 she was promoted to Head of Communications and a year later became Head of Investor Relations.

Frank Williams commented, “Over the past decade Claire has worked tirelessly for Williams. Her knowledge of the sport and passion for the team is unquestionable and I’m proud to say that during her time here she has proven herself to be one of our most valuable assets.

“With Claire being appointed Deputy Team Principal, I know the future of Williams is in extremely safe hands. This appointment also had Ginny’s blessing who I know would have been incredibly proud to have seen Claire taking on this position by my side.”

Commenting on her new role, Claire Williams said; “I’m truly honoured to be taking on the role of Deputy Team Principal and look forward to working alongside Frank to help run the team this season and beyond. I have grown up in the sport and have learnt the ropes from one of Formula One’s legendary Team Principals and as a result I feel well equipped for this new challenge.

“I understand the commitment that every person within the team gives each day to see our car out on the track and I am determined to see us back at the top. I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead but I have the full support of the Board and a very talented Executive Committee who will be invaluable as I move forward in this role.

“It has been a sad month for my family and Williams as a company following the death of my mother, but as the season takes hold we must look to the future. It will be a privilege to play a part in taking the team into what I hope will be a successful next chapter.”