Massa’s intransigence shows up wider woes at Williams

Yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix was won in sterling fashion by Lewis Hamilton, a real return to form. The racing did not have a great deal of spice, however, and the meat on which to chew was to be found in seventh and eighth places in the form of the Williams duo Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas respectively.

The issue was as follows. Early on in the race they were line astern, Massa followed by his Finnish junior. Then Bottas apparently made an unseemly attempt to purloin the position from Massa, unseen by the TV cameras. Massa’s ire which followed was caught on the team radio – ‘Did you see what he did? He tried to attack me!’ Williams promptly radioed Bottas to request that he hold position. ‘Tell him to go faster then,’ riposted Bottas.

Onto the denouement of the afternoon. The two gorgeous Martini-liveried machines again find themselves in close proximity, the order as before. This time the magisterial stick insect Jenson Button is pootling round in front, apparently on ailing tyres and attempting to conserve fuel. Though Massa in the foremost machine cannot mount a sortie, for his tyres are similarly worn, the team reckon that Bottas might. The Finn is on tyres two laps younger than his team mate. ‘Felipe, Valtteri is faster than you,’ comes the message. Yield please, Felipe. There is no audible or physical response. Again, Massa is asked to let his team mate have a go at Button. Again, he does not. They finish in the same order.

Post-race, Felipe is combative – full of adrenaline and ready to argue his case. ‘I’m sure the result would not have changed even if I had let him by,’ he asserts. Bottas is unwilling to get into a war of words. On Sky, to Ted Kravitz, Claire Williams makes a somewhat mealy-mouthed attempt to deny Massa had ignored a direct team order. Everyone else is sure he did. A lot of pundits (mainly ex-drivers, for there are precious few of the other sort these days) immediately side with Massa and trot out the line that he’s a racing driver and will not give up a position just like that. It transpires that Williams had a switch-back plan to ask Bottas to let Massa back past in the event that the Finn couldn’t pass Button.

Well. Two things. Firstly, it’s clear that 2014-spec Massa has evolved a personal selfishness behind the wheel that although long overdue, cannot be justified by his talent. Despite being lauded in some quarters for making the decision unilaterally that Bottas wouldn’t have been able to pass Button, this call is of no merit because the driver is simply not in possession of the full facts. The team are. They know that Bottas is on fresher tyres, that he is going faster, that he might be able to have a good go at Button. Massa doesn’t and can’t know those things.

The team’s mistake was to be insensitive with the wording of their message, which were an unfortunate echo of the Ferrari call for Massa to move over for Alonso at Hockenheim in 2010. But that doesn’t mean Massa should ignore it. He has to do what they ask. He’s an employee of the team, just like any other, and if there’s a chance the team can do better by his surrender of a seventh place, then he must make that sacrifice.

This leads onto why the team later backtrack and bemuse by denying there was a problem. Obviously it’s hugely embarrassing that a driver would publicly fly in the face of the team’s wishes, so the line should be: ‘this will be dealt with behind closed doors, and it won’t happen again’ (which seems to be more the tone deployed this morning by press releases). But that wasn’t what happened in Claire Williams’ interview, where we all squirmed as she denied Massa had ignored the message.

So what is going on? This, I think. Massa is at Williams partly because of a sponsorship deal or two that brought much-needed cash to the Grove purse. Rumours swirl of the historic team’s pecuniary difficulties, and whatever the truth of the matter, empty side pods don’t get balanced out even when there’s a legendary title sponsor. So Massa must be kept happy, to an extent. The trouble is, this is a false economy, because they might, just might, have nicked sixth place yesterday. They’ve built a nippy car and should do well this season.

But it would be deleterious to the sport if lacklustre drivers, unable to overtake because of their own shortcomings, could brazenly ignore inter-team stipulations because they knew the team would bow to them. Selfishness? Blackmail? Call it what you will, but it ain’t racing.

Vettel dominance boring? Perspective, please

And so to Japan, where it is mathematically possible for Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull Racing, to wrap up the 2013 F1 world title. Such is his margin of dominance that with five rounds still to go, Vettel will win it if his closest challenger, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, finishes no higher than ninth. Even if Alonso does manage to score well, there is a distinct sense that he would only be delaying the inevitable.

Cue much navel-gazing and gnashing of teeth. Gadzooks, they cry, how dull is this? Vettel waltzes into the distance, pulverising at will, and comfortable enough in his superiority to make wisecracks about his car having illegal traction control. Hamilton feels sorry for the fans, writers feel sorry for the fans and the fans feel sorry for themselves, particularly when they get up disagreeably early on a Sunday morning to watch the denouement of the championship in far flung lands.

It is boring to watch, frankly. The last two races have only been made vaguely palatable (even to hardened F1 nuts) by battles for fourth place and thereabouts, and in Korea’s case by Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil and the chap behind the wheel of that fire truck. Otherwise there hasn’t been much to say, and those whose job it is to comment and bring insight inwardly curse, because their job gets quite a bit more difficult. The temptation to bleat ‘something must be done!’ is almost irresistible. Bernie’s artificial rain showers, anyone? Strategically deployed fire trucks? Added time multi-ball?

No, no, no. As Vettel reminds us as if to excuse himself, Schumacher was much worse. He was. Senna and Prost swept all before them in 1988-9. Mansell was yawningly crushing in 1992. It’s not unprecedented, and it has been more mundane. Doff your cap to Vettel (because it’s not just Newey’s brilliance that is on display here). Salute the German wunderkind and his Red Bull team. Tolerate a couple more races where your instinct is to go back to bed.

Because it would be incredibly surprising if this is the case come March 2014. The rule changes are the principal saving grace, but also the teams whose 2013 efforts have been conspicuously hampered when they realised that this season was probably a lost cause. McLaren, you say – but also Mercedes and possibly even Ferrari. There are a number of teams for whom it is imperative – in some cases for the sake of their own survival – to be competitive in 2014. And that’s quite apart from what Dietrich Mateschitz might do when he catches on that his brand is under a great big BORING headline.

Vettel will win this championship, here in Japan or in India, and at an outside shot in Abu Dhabi. He utterly deserves it and plaudits that haven’t yet come his way will certainly do so when he is crowned with a fourth straight title. And his brilliance is enhanced rather than created by the talent around him, both in terms of his team and of his rival drivers. And so any criticism of him, or booing, or whatever, is definitely lacking in perspective.

*Perspective, too, for it was this morning that we received news of the death of Maria de Villota, the erstwhile Marussia test and reserve driver. Although I never met her, she was well-known for her lovely character in the paddock and her passing is as untimely as it is tragic. It is most sincerely to be hoped that some good, particularly for the Women in Motorsport foundation, will come from this sad day.

Book review: Gilles Villeneuve by Gerald Donaldson

In the month following the 30th anniversary of the tragic death of one of the greatest racing drivers ever, Gilles Villeneuve,’s Hugh Podmore came across his biography in a charity shop in South London. Here, he reviews the book, written by legendary F1 journalist Gerald Donaldson.

This book charts Villeneuve’s rise through snowmobiling, through Formula Atlantic and into F1, right up to his death in Zolder in 1982. Those close to the French Canadian, such as wife Joann, Jody Scheckter and manager Gaston Parent, feature prominently, and add a great deal of insight into the life of the man who became a legend. Notable contributions also come from Enzo Ferrari and his contemporaries like James Hunt and Niki Lauda, but a significant proportion of the book consists of Donaldson’s account of watching Villeneuve behind the wheel.

Villeneuve’s daredevil style was renowned and much loved. His unwillingness to lift from the throttle, yield a position or accept that a race was over was the stuff of fairy story, and putting that magic into print can be a challenging task. It is, however, one that Donaldson usually manages, conveying the passion, dynamism and above all speed with which Villeneuve undertook his art.

Further than that, Donaldson often enlightens even the knowledgeable reader. Villeneuve’s style, though obviously treated by the author with the careful reverence it probably deserves, is shown to be the causative factor behind many of Villeneuve’s not infrequent shunts. Jody Scheckter also tentatively suggests that mechanical misfortune could also be the fault of the little French Canadian, as his penchant for thrashing up and down through the gears wore the patience of a number of Ferrari mechanics and engineers, not to mention their driveshafts. Scheckter’s triumph over Villeneuve in the 1979 world championship was perhaps, then, a victory for reticence and controlled aggression, rather than out and out charging with no perspective.

And it is here that probably inadvertently, the Villeneuve story as told by Donaldson loses some of its sheen. Villeneuve lost out on his best chance of championship glory in ’79 because he was too demanding of himself, the machinery and the track, flaws which may also have led to his death. There is a strong argument that he was driving with anger in his eyes when he came across the slowing Jochen Mass in qualifying in Zolder in 1982, and that his traditional refusal to lift off was the direct cause of his death. Donaldson has it that his time had run out; perhaps luck running out would be more apposite.

Donaldson’s periodic tendency to recount stories of public highway felonies also detracts from the man’s mystique, although the author’s intention is clearly the opposite. Villeneuve often drove recklessly and illegally on the roads of Europe, and more than once an autograph sufficed as bribery for the authorities. Donaldson’ stance is that Gilles refused to lift driving anything, and always did everything at the maximum; but that is rather unsatisfactory, considering that often he was carrying passengers like his wife and young children. That is not big or clever, and is certainly not to be tacitly endorsed. Joann’s account of Gilles’ extravagant purchase of a large powerboat, its fitting out with oversize engines, and his insistence on taking youngsters Jacques and Melanie out in it, is mind-numbing in its stupidity.

As such it may be difficult for the reader of this book to accord such a Villeneuve the mythological demi-god status that many do. What cannot be called into question was his fierce determination, sheer passion, and rapidity. Stories of his sterling defensive effort to keep the superior pack behind him at Jarama in 1981, or his magnificent drives in the rain, or the wheel-banging duel with Arnoux in Dijon, themselves speak for the man. As does his willingness to follow the Ferrari credo as he understood it in Italy in 1979, declining to challenge Scheckter in the closing stages.

That not everyone acceded to the same scrupulous code of honour (some would say naivety) would ultimately be Villeneuve’s undoing. He stuck to a pre-arranged team agreement not to ‘race’ at Imola in 1982 in the bastardised race entered by only a handful of cars. But race his team mate Didier Pironi did, re-taking Gilles repeatedly, taking the race win, and ‘stealing’ it in Villeneuve’s eyes. Perhaps the greatest accolade that could be accorded him was that Pironi probably thought he was in an actual race, whereas Villeneuve slowed immediately after passing his team mate, thinking that he could cruise from there on in as per team orders. The ins and outs of this battle are well-documented, and this column will be the most recent to avoid laying total culpability at Pironi’s door – but Villeneuve left Imola seething.

And that was the anger that would kill him. Donaldson alludes to this, but stops short of outright statement. For the author, perhaps, Villeneuve’s fury was a contributing factor to the accident. But to me it was the catalyst, the final straw, when the gap did not materialise, and the luck finally ran out. Villeneuve himself had a strong sense of foreboding – ‘one of these days I’m going to have a really big accident,’ he said.

Ultimately, that is what makes him such a hero, and this book so eminently readable. As F1 fans we idolise those who push the limits and who fear little, who are so often so close to the edge that they have stepped over it. In a club of very, very few – a sole other who immediately springs to mind is Ayrton Senna – Villeneuve stands proud. He was quite simply too fast for his own good, too good for his own good. He must, therefore, stand very high in the pantheon of great F1 drivers.

McLaren to open new regional HQ in Bahrain

The McLaren Group have announced plans to open a new regional headquarters in Bahrain.

McLaren Automotive, the sports car branch of the group which was launched last month in London, are to operate out of Bahrain offices for reasons of proximity to business links, such as the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company which owns a stake in the McLaren Group. The nearby Sakhir racetrack also informed the decision.

“We will soon start announcing our first dealerships in the region,” said Ian Gorsuch, the McLaren Automotive Asia Pacific, Africa and Middle East regional director.

“All distributor-side management, marketing and support functions for the premium high-performance sports car manufacturer will be managed from our new offices.”

Sid Watkins: Life at the Limit – Triumph and Tragedy in F1

Sid Watkin's Book: Life at the Limit - Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One

Sid Watkins: Life at the Limit – Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One

‘Life at the Limit – Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One’ are the memoirs of on-track doctor, Professor Sid Watkins if there is a crash, it is he who must get there first.

Watkins is highly respected amongst those whom he works and has been a pivotal character in improving the safety in Formula One racing. His book houses vivid and moving collections of motor sport crashes between 1978 and 1994 including many where drivers have sadly lost their lives, treading a line between autobiography and documentary.

Despite the serious nature of the book, Watkins has retained a dry wit and sense of humour which is infused into his writing. Life in the Fast Lane is a touching yet informative book which provides a truly fascinating insight into Formula One and the evolution of safety and medical facilities within the sport.

Buy Sid Watkin’s Book: ‘Life at the Limit – Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One’ here

Steve Matchett: The Mechanic’s Tale

Steve Matchett: The Mechanic's Tale

Steve Matchett: The Mechanic’s Tale

The Mechanic s Tale is a follow-up to Matchett s book, Life in the Fast Lane. The book is well-written and entertaining throughout, telling of a young mechanic and his life from apprentice through to Ferrari mechanic and his later success with the Benetton F1 team.

There are plenty of eye-witness accounts of all the greats of the era from Michael Schumacher to Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost to Ayrton Senna. Matchett writes with wit and intelligence and provides an excellent overview to what life is like in the fast lane. Despite this, the book is not chronological or a collection of racing adventures it is semi-autobiographical so Matchett also takes us through some personal, non-F1 related memories such as an ill-fated ballooning trip.

Technology in F1 moves so quickly that the book is now slightly out-dated however even if you are not a Formula One fan, this book is an excellent read and comes highly recommended.

Buy Steve Matchett’s Book ‘The Mechanic’s Tale’ here

An Introduction To Betting On Formula One

Formula One can be an unpredictable sport, as was perfectly demonstrated by last weekend’s race in Monaco. Two safety car periods, three different drivers leading the grand prix, four different tyre compounds used and the eventual victor having hit the wall early on in the race.

It is this unpredictability that makes F1 not just an immensely interesting sport, but also a very attractive betting medium. The uncertainty can often create widely differing opinions between punters, other punters and the bookmakers. With so many factors going in to deciding the outcome of a race, there can often be value found in the prices and quotes that are on offer.

Value, in betting parlance, can be defined as the difference between the likelihood of something happening and the odds that are being offered that it will happen. The percentage chance of getting a head when tossing a coin is fifty percent. In bookmaking this is written as the fraction 1/1 (or evens) or in the decimal format of 2.00. If a bookmaker was to offer you odds of 2/1 that tossing a coin would reveal a head, then the odds being offered would be greater than the statistical likelihood of it happening and thus you would have found some value. Here ends the maths lesson.

Finding that value in Formula One depends on your preferred approach. Some people like to follow historical trends (e.g. Monaco is traditionally a circuit where McLaren have performed well) whilst others monitor the current form of teams and drivers. Statisticians will trawl through the huge amount of data that F1 as a sport generates (sector times, lap records, testing performance, last season s data etc.), whilst some fans will simply watch Qualifying and draw conclusions from what they see.

What a bookmaker will do is take all of the above factors (and often many more) and try to combine them to produce a price or quote that reflects what they believe is the chance of an event happening. If as a punter, you can do this better than they can (by correctly adding more weight to certain critical factors) then you will see a discrepancy between the odds on offer and your belief that something will happen. In the cases where the odds on offer are greater, you can claim to have spotted some value.

One of the best things about F1 betting is the huge range of markets that are on offer. The most common bets try to forecast who will take pole position or the race victory. Equally popular is betting on drivers to finish on the podium, in the points or to set the fastest lap of the race. More exotic markets include betting on the number of safety cars, the number of finishers, the lap of the first retirement or how drivers will fair head-to-head with another driver, usually their teammate or a close rival. As the marketplace becomes more competitive, firms are dreaming up ever more interesting scenarios for punters to bet on.

As well as the wide range of markets, there are three main different types of bet that can be placed. Each is often most suitable to a particular scenario, but sometimes punters will just prefer one style to the others.

The first is known as fixed odds betting. This is where a bookmaker will offer a price (e.g. 10/1) on a particular event occurring and the person making the bet will place a fixed stake at that price hoping for a return. This is the simplest and most common form of betting.

Secondly, it is possible to bet against fellow punters on the Exchanges. When backing a selection to win, this is just like placing a fixed odds bet. However the exchanges also give you the chance to lay bets, just like a bookmaker can do. This can be useful when you believe that something won t happen. Perhaps you feel that Felipe Massa won t be able to maintain his challenge for the World Drivers Championship? If so, you could lay him in that market on the exchanges. As long as any driver other than the Brazilian goes on to be successful, you will win. Be aware though, the exchange operators will take a percentage cut of your winnings (from backing or laying) usually around five percent.

Finally, you have the option of spread betting. Spread betting works just like the stock market in that everything has a quote (which reflects its likelihood within the parameters of the market) and as a punter you can choose to buy (go higher) or sell (go lower). The fascinating thing about this type of betting is that the more right you are, the more you win and conversely the more you get something wrong, the more you lose. Spread betting can be great fun, but always take care and like any form of betting, don t risk more than you can afford to lose.

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of firms offering betting on sports, not just Formula One. This provides lots of scope for finding different odds on the same event. Obtaining the very best price available in the marketplace might be the difference between turning a profit or a loss over the longer term. The simplest way to do this is to use one of the many odds-comparison websites on the Internet.

One note of caution; you should only place a bet with a firm that you trust. This might mean sticking to the established players in the industry, but at the very least keep a lookout for firms that are IBAS affiliated. IBAS are the industry s independent arbitrators and will only offer affiliation to trustworthy companies.

Finally, by way of an introduction to F1 betting, I wanted to give you a tip for Sunday s Canadian Grand Prix. Watch out for the safety car.

Montreal is always a venue that I target in this market due to the proximity of its tyre walls to the track and the small run-off areas that often make vehicle recovery tricky and blockage likely. There is also the infamous Champions Wall at such a precarious part of the circuit. The statistics certainly back me up:

In the last ten years the safety car has been deployed no fewer than sixteen times, more than at any other circuit on the calendar. Seven out of those ten races have seen it appear at least once. In last year s race we saw the safety car out four times, on laps twenty-one, twenty-seven, fifty and fifty-six.

Perhaps what I like most about this bet is the knowledge that the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve has the potential to catch-out even the very best drivers when they least expect it. Good luck.

This was a guest article, written by the oracle of motorsport betting,

Lewis Hamilton: My Story

Lewis Hamilton: My Story

Lewis Hamilton: My Story

It seems slightly strange that Lewis Hamilton has chosen to write his autobiography after just one season in Formula 1. However, given his explosive entrance into the sport during one of the most exciting and turbulent years in living memory, there was plenty for the youngster to write about.

Lewis Hamilton: My Story kicks off with a look at his early career, and then moves from his karting days right through to his first season at the pinnacle of motor sport. The book gives some insight as to what drives (no pun intended) the driver and provides an in-depth look at his colourful life both on and off the track. The book details the sacrifices his father made to further his career, how he himself coped with being on the move all the time, and how he overcame the mental and physical challenges facing every one of today s F1 drivers.

Perhaps the biggest draw of this book is his take on his debut season in Formula One a season which has seen much controversy and excitement. Hamilton details his four race wins, the high-speed crash at the Nurburgring which saw him stretchered to the Medical Centre, his rivalry with McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso, and his special relationship with Team Principle and CEO Ron Dennis a relationship that was fostered when the precocious nine year-old, wearing a borrowed suit, strode up to Dennis and announced that he would one day drive for McLaren!

Overall, ‘Lewis Hamilton: My Story’ is a surprisingly honest and open account of the life of a young driver from Stevenage who sacrificed everything to reach the heady heights of F1 it is a book that every F1 fan should have, but a warning, if you are anything like us, it will leave you very envious!

Buy Lewis Hamilton: My Story here.