After a three week gap and the dust settling over the Red Bull saga, the Formula 1 circus rolled in to the Jiading circuit in Shanghai, China. After the practice sessions it was evident to see that the Lotus and Ferrari’s were quick on the long run pace. Tyre degradation was the biggest concern though as the soft compound was degrading at such a high rate.
Qualifying was uninspiring due to the teams conserving tyres for the race. Only seven drivers setting Q3 times with Button, Vettel and Hulkenburg settling for slow times or no times to optimize strategy on the Medium compound tyres. Lewis Hamilton made the most of the soft tyres and taking pole position.
As the five lights dropped the Mercedes of Hamilton had a good jump and pulled away from second position Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus who in turn was swamped by both Ferrari’s of Alonso and Massa. A clean start for the rest of the field behind as Kimi settled in to fourth position.
Fernando Alonso wanted to make an early impression and lay down a marker and on lap three with DRS enabled swept around the outside of Hamilton in to turn one and with a great run out of the final corner, Massa took second spot off Hamilton going in to turn one. The soft tyres, as predicted, dropped away after just six laps. Mercedes gambled and stacked their cars on pit entry, but thanks to some slick pit work Hamilton had a quick stop and Rosberg was serviced in quick sharp time also. Ferrari opted not to stop both cars and Massa lost out massively by staying out one lap longer and dropped to fifth and never recovered from that position.
Mark Webber started from pit lane after his car stopped out on track in qualifying without fuel due to a fuel rig bowser error meant that his car was not carrying the required fuel sample putting him to the back of the grid. Red Bull decided to start the Australian from pit lane to break parc fermé and allow for setup changes. This all came undone on lap fourteen when Webber tried to pass the sister team car of Vergne in to turn six but the door was firmly slammed in front of him and it damaged the front wing. After his stop there was an issue with the rear left wheel at it popped off in turn fourteen forcing him to retire from that race.
Story of the opening part of the race was how Hulkenburg was able to get past both Button and Vettel and had great pace in front of Vettel. They pitted on the same lap for new medium tyres but a slow stop for Sauber allowed Vettel through. Sauber on the second stop switched the soft compound but left Nico out for too long and his race pace fell away and dropped backwards through the field.
Due to the strategic warfare playing out it allowed for plenty of overtaking but the DRS zones were too powerful and allowed for relative easy overtakes unless you are Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus with clearly more grip tried to go to the outside of turns four and five to negotiate a slower Perez at the time but was pushed way out on the grass and speared in to the back of the McLaren damaging the front wing. The Iceman opted not to pit and to battle on, to his credit considering the understeer he still maintained great pace.
If it was not for that damage it would have been likely that Kimi could have made an impression on Fernando Alonso who at this point was romping away to an emphatic victory. Controlled, patient and calculated allowed the ‘all-round’ best driver to secure his first win of the season in front of Raikkonen and Hamilton.
The Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was on the mirror strategy by starting on the mediums and running them all race until the last five laps where he pitted and came out thirteen seconds behind Hamilton’s Mercedes. Vettel’s imperious driving qualities once again prevailed by holding on to those tyres but also smashing the lap times and came right up behind Hamilton going in to sector three of the final lap. On the approach to turn eleven both cars had to negotiate a Caterham and Vettel ran too deep in to the corner, he ran under the one second marker required for DRS but could not make the impression in the final couple of corners and Hamilton took another podium for Mercedes.
One week now before the chaos resumes in Bahrain. This race will hold special regard for me after visiting the track in 2011 for the race to be cancelled and also my parents living in the volatile country for three years. Protesters have already started to use the F1 as leverage to make their voices heard once again for the human rights campaign. It is likely tyres will again be at the forefront of the teams minds. I for one sincerely hope the tyres are the only issue and the Grand Prix is not over shadowed by politics as the teams head to the Middle-East.
This is our second podcast and we take a look at the antics that went on between the Red Bull and Mercedes team mates along with a brief review of the race. We are looking to get as many people involved and round table discussions open. Please like and comment below and we look forward to reading your comments out on the next show.
Searching for the right words to describe what we saw at the Malaysian is really very tough. Eventful comes to mind as being the main one but many others would apply fittingly also.
Before we get on to the chaos of the race, let us review qualifying. Sebastian Vettel once again showed he was class of the field by pitting for fresh inters and set a blistering time nine tenths quicker than Massa and a second faster than Alonso. Australian GP winner, Raikkonen was not so clever and also fell foul to a three place grid penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg.
Twenty-four hours pass and the race is started on intermediate tyres after a down pour of rain prior to the race. Lights out and Alonso’s Ferrari got a quick start but Massa was not as quick as in Australia and was passed by his team mate with relative ease. Alonso saw an opportunity to capitalise but locked his brakes on entry to turn two, clipped the back of race leader Vettel and damaged his front wing. Incredibly he battled and held second place until the line of the first lap, but going down the pit straight his front wing collapsed underneath the front tyres and sent him spearing off in to the gravel. Ferrari had told him to pit and were ready with a new front wing but the Spaniard did not and paid the price. Reminded me of Raikkonen at the Nurburgring in 2005 for McLaren where his front right tyre exploded on the last lap of the race.
The first laps unfolded and as the track dried, Vettel was the first to dive in to pit lane for a set of slicks. Turns one to four were still very wet, too wet in fact and Vettel was left battling cars on inters and trying to get his slicks up to temperature. Webber pitted two laps later and benefited massively by jumping his team mate and coming out in the race lead. With Massa’s relative lack of pace it allowed both Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg to capitalise and close down the Red Bull pair. Hamilton in particular in the mid part of the race had some excellent pace but it was too much too fast, he had to settle in to fuel conservation mode which allowed Rosberg to close up even further but he was also managing his tyres better.
The turning point of the race came for both Red Bull and Mercedes. Webber had been controlling his pace, tyres and engine management to the point where Vettel came out just behind him after the final round of pit stops. Vettel then engulfed in an all-out battle with his team mate chopping and changing positions for two laps which saw the young German get pushed right up against the pit wall. Vettel had earlier moaned in the race that Webber was too slow but knowing how the Pirelli rubber works, Webber was simply controlling his pace. Vettel eventually threw the car around the outside of turn four and took the lead of the race. While Webber’s earlier battling was valiant he was not too forceful to push his fellow Red Bull driver off the circuit.
Behind the Red Bull pair the battle raged on between Nico Rosberg and, not Hamilton, but Ross Brawn. Hamilton was in pure tyre and fuel conservation mode but settled in to a third place and podium finish. Brawn clearly having understanding of the situation told his drivers to just settle in to their respective positions. A wiley fox like Ross Brawn is not going to be told by anyone, if Schumacher could not then Rosberg is definitely not going to be telling him.
The chequered flag dropped with Vettel crossing the line first, an angered Webber in second and a disappointed Rosberg in third. You can imagine at this point this podium is going to be a rather feisty place. Before the drivers stepped on to the podium and furious Mark Webber walked in to the post-race room, steam pouring out of his ears, glaring looks at Vettel and with a deep Aussie boom voicing the words “Multi 21, Seb. Mutli 21” This is code from the Red Bull team indicating team orders and stay in your positions. On the other side of the podium we had a glum looking Hamilton almost scratching his head and wondering what had just happened.
Martin Brundle joined them on the podium for the post-race interviews and, as ever, Brundle doing an excellent job tried to defuse the situation but Webber was quick to jump and say “Vettel took it in to his own hands, and as ever will be protected by the team”. Sure enough the ears of Dr Helmut Marko and Christian Horner pricked up at that point and knew they were in for a tough evening, the team already in a hot environment the pressure cooker seemingly getting ever hotter. Hamilton explained how he thought Rosberg should be up there will probably not go down well with Mercedes bosses as it was Ross Brawn’s call. We very much see two different dynamics of team and team mates appearing in both camps. Dr Helmut Marko was quick enough to say that there is a “Clear number one” in Mercedes trying to deflect the attention away from his own team.
More was to come yet though as Vettel and Webber had a chat after the podium and before the press conference, Vettel sat down and apologised to Webber but the Aussie was having none of it and did not accept his apology. Webber’s interview with Natalie Pinkham of Sky Sports was the most revealing though. Webber stated that he wanted some time off to head back to Australia and also that he was “questioned things” in the last ten laps of the race. That is quite a bold statement to be saying and while it may be heat of the moment you have to wonder.
I think all Formula 1 fans will have opinions and likely differing opinions on this. Team orders have always been in Formula 1, whether that be a blatant as radio communication or a pre-race agreement. Webber was clearly under the impression that he had the lead, conserve tyres, engine and control the pace to the flag. Vettel was even told “This is silly Seb” by the pit wall but still persisted to pressure and eventually pass Webber. Now, the one big thing here that has been broken is trust. Webber can not only trust Vettel, probably ever again, but also the team. How does he then trust the team that tell him one thing and then another thing happens? Not only that but they still had another ten laps or so to go that they could have swapped the positions back around and never did! This is sour situation to be in and Webber will be left wondering and questioning his own position but also the position of the team. Webber only has this year left on his contract which I am sure he just wants to enjoy racing. After the antics we saw from Vettel today you have to wonder if he will stay.
So let us look at the other side of the garage. Red Bull clearly know that Vettel is the stronger driver and the most likely to challenge for the title. After seeing Alonso drop out of the race they must have been rubbing their hands together. Vettel was behind Webber though after the stops and it took a forceful pass to get back the top step of the podium. The team stated that it was ‘silly’ and that he should be careful. Vettel even said during the race “Get him out the way, he’s too slow” about Webber who was actually looking after his tyres. A lot of comparisons have been drawn with Schumacher in the post-race aftermath and, sure, correlations can be drawn but the things that still stands out for me is Vettel’s immaturity. The youngest triple world champion but hardly the maturity of a world champion. Vettel was booed on the podium in Australia, and even as a triple world champion is far from a fans favourite. Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton all with fewer titles hold a better fans reputation than Vettel. After the race today, you can see why.
Flip over to Mercedes and Rosberg got out of the car, fully understood the situation, knows that the same would happen if that roles were reversed and gave a very dignified and diplomatic response to the media, an excellent showing from the German and, if anything, gone up in peoples estimations and I suspect has gained a lot of respect. Hamilton clearly unsatisfied himself, Mercedes almost have a luxury on their hands because they have two friends that want to fight, properly, but also both play the team game.
Fans may be disgruntled by what has happened but I think Red Bull actually have a greater issue on their hands. They have a driver that has clearly disobeyed team orders. Now while Schumacher, Senna or Alonso are/were rarely on the receiving end of that, I do not remember them disobeying the team quite so directly. Argument could state that it is early in the season and they should be allowed to battle, but outright disobeying the team that pays you? That is not something you want to be doing, even as a triple world champion.
Three weeks now until China and a lot of damage has to be repaired and a lot of conflicts to be resolved. Question is, can Red Bull do it or maybe, just maybe was that Mark Webber’s last ever Formula 1 race?
Well it is a while since I have written a blog here but I thought I would make my grand return for 2013. I had planned to write consistently but as ever life seems to interrupt along the way and it gets broken up. Along with writing I hope to be able to bring a podcast to the site also.
It is a couple of hours after the race down under around Albert Park, Melbourne and many fans and viewers will be stepping away or back to bed with very wide smiles on their faces. I for one I am exceptionally pleased to see Kimi Raikkonen win for Lotus.
After the initial washout of qualifying before both Q2 and Q3 were run on Sunday morning prior to the race I think most people thought this would be a stroll, quite literally, in the park for Red Bull after what can only be described as a stunning pole position lap from Sebastian Vettel, such commitment in very challenging conditions.
Start of the race actually felt quite tame in some respects. Usually the season opener is drivers dusting the cobwebs away from the winter break and the race craft is not quite there but from turn one onwards it all seemed relatively clean other than new boy Chilton in the Marussia having to pit for a new front wing after contact with van der Garde’s Caterham.
The front of the field squabbling for position all the way down to turn three after negotiating the mobile chicane of Mark Webber after a software failure did not allow for a correct bite point for the clutch, the drivers escaped and the race started to unfold.
Fernando Alonso made a wonderful sweeping move around the outside of Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes around turn three and hunted down his team mate in quick smart fashion. Come the end of lap one Vettel had calmly created himself a two second advantage. That would whittle away quite sharply as both the Ferrari’s came tearing up behind him quite menacingly.
Ferrari initially appeared to show equal fairness to the drivers whereby Massa was allowed to pit first and have the luxury of strategy advantage over his team mate who was behind. Were the tables turning at Ferrari? No. Come round two of pit stops Ferrari pitted Alonso earlier to take him out of the traffic and Massa was asked to push to see if he could two stop. He could not and was left tucked up behind Adrian Sutil.
Force India have quietly gone about their business in pre-season, turning many laps and appearing to have a car capable of at least fifth in the constructors at the moment, Adrian Sutil though had other ideas. After starting from twelfth on the grid he quickly made his way up the field starting on the medium compound tyre which proved a great strategy call for the first two stints which put him right in with Vettel, Alonso and Massa. The quad group all running together for many laps as the strategies unfolded.
While this was happening Kimi Raikkonen was carefully lurking off the back of them controlling his pace and his tyre management and in doing so put himself in the window of a two stop strategy. This was quite a surprise as many had foreseen it to be a three stop race but Lotus got excellent longevity out of the super soft compound in the opening stint allowing the ‘Flying Finn’ to only stop twice in the race. It would appear Lotus have an advantage of a car that is very kind on its tyres and looks after them well.
It has to be applauded the valiant effort of Fernando Alonso though. The Spaniard setting fastest lap after fastest lap trying to bring the gap down between the two and the three stop strategies. It was not to be though and other than a moment with a Caterham he could not close the gap and Raikkonen conveniently set the fastest lap of the race with just a few laps to go just to let Alonso know he was not winning today.
Kimi has been quoted as saying “It was one of the easiest races I have done to win. Hopefully we can have many more of these races.” and quite honestly it was. He was flawless in his drive and kept the measure of his competitors when he needed to and turned the wick up just at the right times. He seems to feel at home with the Lotus and the freedom he has. His latest interviews we have even seen a more open smiling Kimi which is rather nice but his cool character approach was always a winner with those that liked him.
So what have we learnt from Melbourne? Kimi is up for it, Fernando wants it and Vettel is not really sure what to think. Red Bull have made improvements to what is already a good car but have they over done it and now have degradation issues? I doubt it and I think Malaysia may see Red Bull come to the front again but now more than ever they have a big challenge on their hands and it’s not just from one team it could be anything up to three teams currently.
And just to round my first piece of the season up, a word on Mercedes. Qualifying looks be a strong point for them but similar to the past few seasons, add the fuel in and the balance of the car changes. They tried their best to two stop with Hamilton but they could not and while Lewis is happy with the base clearly the overall package is missing something. Work to be done but definite promise for the Silver Arrows.
Follow me on Twitter: @Nico888
A view and written by my Father, an ex-pat in Bahrain:
Well it happened! What a great event put on at the Bahrain International Circuit – a true carnival of motor sport. Even a few spots of rain in the desert did not spoil this parade! I half expected Vettel to perform well – much like he did here two years ago before mechanical failure ended his day prematurely. He turned in a truly accomplished performance from the moment the red lights went out to taking the chequered flag.
For those interested in the support card; a day of contrasting fortunes Siedler in the Porsche Super cup completed an excellent double podium (3-1) as did Rene Rast (1-3). A solid second from Sean Edwards in race one though became 14th after an incident into turn one left him with a punctured rear right and with no Safety Car to bunch the field back up his day was over almost as soon as it had started! At least there is a promising season ahead.
The WGA Supercars ME Championship an Australian copy – produced its own excitement. With some excellent driving, there was a double victory for Batelco Racing Team driver Ramez Azzam. Over the two days, the final rounds of the class took place with championships victory for Alban Varutti. This contrasted with a particularly spectacular example of out-braking at end of Oasis straight, resulting in Nasser Al Alawi sliding across the outfield into the sand trap. His subsequent punching of the vehicle’s roof in frustration was brilliantly caught by some great camera work.
Mention also of GP2 and double victory for DAMS driver Davide Valsecchi. Two terrific drives with spectacular overtaking move on turn one of the last lap in race two, to gain top spot. Fabio Leimar had looked certain to win the second race but by ignoring waved yellow flags incurred a drive through penalty dropping him to 12th.
So as the strains of The Toreador’s March by Bizet fade away who else are left as the real winners and are there any genuine losers?
A winner was Lotus. Raikkonen and Grosjean were the surprise package and a welcome addition to the podium committee along with Vettel and Christian Horner for Red Bull Racing.
Certainly a firm loser was McLaren – two poor pits stops for Hamilton and finally an exhaust failure for Button. Ferrari would have wished for better – as did their drivers both running out of fuel on the slowdown lap the cars being carried in on recovery trucks.
Also a firm loser is the credibility of the western news media who, throughout the weekend, have seen fit to link the GP event with political unrest – even after the opposition openly stated it was because of the GP that they were stepping up their protests to sucker in world attention. Just why Channel 4 believed it correct to enter the country on grand prix tourist visas and then start interviewing protesters is difficult to imagine. Do they not realise that this abuse was unlawful and causes problems for all British workers on the island – ask my wife who was delayed by 45 minutes due to additional security checks after the last batch of activists came in. Perhaps they should be asking why they were refused accreditation in the first place.
As to all the tanks and barbed wire reported as being along the highway to the circuit, plus the ring of steel around the BIC this was complete fabrication. During the three days travelling to and from the circuit I did not see any tanks – yes quite a few police vehicles and three APV’s parked on the circuit perimeter but no more than you would expect and no more security level than a visit to Wembley Stadium.
Sport for the many thousands of fans on Bahrain went ahead without incident. Perhaps it is worth remembering that although Shia hold majority representation, in fact half of the Bahrain population is ex-pat and, along with guests, were clearly in evidence at the Circuit.
Economically the country gained $2-400,000 seems the ball park range. The impact though was best seen in the group of stadium attendants laughing and giving themselves a round of applause after completing their three day stint. Common purpose of a different kind with goals achieved. I am sure they did not earn a lot but a lot better than nothing at all!
All of those here in Bahrain are neither offering judgement on the government nor judging the level of violence which the opposition engaged in. Media seemed content to give them credibility for lobbing half-heartedly Molotov cocktails to incite police? If someone sets out to make a bomb let alone throw it so as to put me in fear, I do not stand and think whether this is even remotely related to a Grand Prix?
Maybe there is success for the moderates in government as King Hamad has reaffirmed his commitment to reform. Bernie Ecclestone’s interview on Press day was direct and the Crown Prince has again gained credibility in trying to navigate the path to peace. Those who relate to Ireland know this will be long. David Cameron in support of the process showed knowledge and understanding in complete contrast to the ignorance should by some Labour MP’s in the UK.
The opposition had their voice heard – they were winners of sort but the violence was not needed. Hopefully both sides can now start talking meaningfully.
But the real success is the fact the event went ahead. The Crown Prince wanted the race to be for the greater good. What the western world does not understand is the bloodbath which has been avoided by the race taking place. It never is good to empower extremism yet it is equally good the ruling monarchy understand not only the significant internal problem but that the eyes of the world have been turned on them. What is needed is increase in pace of reform and to achieve this requires peaceful engagement by all sides.
Did FIA breach its own objectives in taking on the event? Certainly sectors of the media have taken the opportunity to decry F1 as a gaudy spectacle and set it up as supporting a despotic regime. In the latter they failed and contracting with Bahrain was no different to contracting with places such as China and Brazil. Being more pragmatic sport has won – there will now be a vacuum, a chance to draw breath and seek a way to peace. If supporting this race pushes that a small way I for one will be proud to have been part of such a well organised event.
Bahrain has been on the lips of many journalists over the past few weeks in anticipation for the Formula 1 race to be held in the Kingdom over the weekend of the 20th, 21st and 22nd of April.
Once again though sport and politics clash. What started as an all-party Bahraini call for improved constitutional rights has, twelve months on, degenerated into sectarian aggression. For those old enough to understand the religious polarisation in N. Ireland there are stark parallels.
To gain some perspective and understanding it is crucial to point out that Bahrain is a Sunni led government with a Shia Muslim majority people. The security forces comprise Sunni’s though many do not have Bahraini ancestry. For many years Shia have considered themselves the underclass and have been treated as second class by the Sunni monarchy who has consistently favoured their own sect. Many felt though opportunities for Shia were better than similar unfavoured classes in the region which coupled with a feeling of Bahraini first had led to a peaceful co-existence.
The geopolitical position of Bahrain in the in the Gulf has also to be understood. Linked by causeway to eastern Saudi Arabia and its oil fields it faces, across the water, Iran. Bahrain is also home to the US Fifth fleet, demonstrating why it is so important to Western economic and security interests.
Bahrain’s unrest which led to cancellation of last year’s Grand Prix came on the coat tails of the Arab Spring – the wave of civil unrest which swept N. Africa and into the Middle East and indeed still continues today in Syria.
The crackdown though was brutal even in Arab terms and with free reign given to the security forces backed by Peninsula shield troop’s sent in from Saudi Arabia, human rights abuses did one could say inevitably occur. Remember Mubarak in Egypt had fallen, Tunisia had changes and all eyes were on how long Gaddafi in Libya would last. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas and the reaction from hard liners in the ruling family was entirely predictable. Remember also that the Crown Prince all but pulled off a peace deal – which side scuppered it at the last moment remains one for the historians.
King Hamad though took the unprecedented step to set up an independent commission to deal with the failings and accepted without reservation recommendations for future reform published with final report on 23 November 2011.
This gave an unparalleled opportunity for the opposition Al Wefaq National Islamic Society to enter into serious dialogue.
Talking, as in Ireland, takes time. Healing will take even longer.
Wary Al Wefaq remain and it is only time which will judge the success of the road to unification – if indeed it can be achieved.
What is true though is that reforms are in progress; some still remain interned, even on hunger strike but what is more disappointing is the continuing apparently meaningless daily violence. Burning tyres on highways, Molotov cocktails thrown into schools, gas bottle explosions, even beating of Asian ex patriot’s interference with daily life of the working population has an attritional effect.
The response by the now monitored security forces is measured but the drone of helicopters and use of tear gas during regular confrontations shows that divisions continue to run deep. Let us be clear the Sunni Royal family are not going to cede power yet are setting about improving life for its population. This is difficult with the economy on the rocks and limited oil revenues – it relies on support from its GCC counterparts.
At the end of last year most believed in the UniF1ied banner, that the GP was part of the healing process. Only in recent months has it become a fulcrum over which sectarian see-saw has swung.
The level of violence has risen with casualties of security personnel rising with seven injured in a bombing and others injured as they tried to clear road blocks. Wefaq have resorted to guerrilla style tactics setting alight tyres on roads and raiding shops, throwing Molotov cocktails into schools and burning banks – the attempt to disrupt daily life and thus those coming to visit Bahrain is clear.
They have been supported by the media and some non-government organisations – in particular Amnesty International who are guilty of double standards in not providing a balanced report, have caused a lot of negative speculation, uncertainty and damaging effects to the country and rising the fear in those attending the event.
I am lucky, in some respects, that I am able to receive better information than most due to the fact my parents live in the Bahrain. I had first-hand experience there last year for the GP that did not take place my first Formula 1 race outside of England.
Formula One Management (FOM) and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) called the race off back in 2011 due to the political unrest when the demonstrations were at their highest. Manama the capital had been flooded by protests surrounding the Pearl Roundabout which was ultimately torn down and the intersection remains closed.
While I was there thankfully my Dad and I were able to take a drive and were fortunate enough to cover a lot of ground and I was able to see a lot of Bahrain. Manama was a tricky area to still get in and out of but the surrounding areas at that point were still quiet. We were able to get down to the track and as a facility the Bahrain International Circuit is exceptional. A lot of people dislike the track in Bahrain; there is a lot more to the circuit than meets the eye, notably the undulation changes and it has been further modified since.
I also got to see the oil fields which uniquely give off a form of beauty to the landscape that is otherwise decimated by sand. The only time I personally was affected was when both my Dad and I were on the wrong end of tear gas. Still even after that I did not feel threatened or at any unease. Passing through barricades was no issue when the locals saw you were from the Western World they waved you on by.
I was asked by many friends and family why on earth was I still going to Bahrain when the race has been cancelled. Two reasons, firstly I wanted to see my parents but also I wanted to see experience a new country for myself even if the uprising had broken out. My Dad was asked many times why was he not returning to England, beyond the protests and stereotyping the Middle East he still had to work and peoples day to day lives still continued.
Fast forward to 2012 and the same questions that were being asked prior to the start of the 2011 race are being asked now. I find it difficult to see why though. Bahrain has changed in the past 12 months and while protests still happen they have spread to the smaller surrounding villages and are nowhere near the scale they were when Pearl Roundabout was occupied. The government have promised reform and while minimal changes have been implemented, it was always going to be a long drawn out process for it to be concluded.
It has been asked if Formula 1 should be going to Bahrain because it backs the government making it look like that Bahrain is fine. Bahrain is not fine and will not be for a period of time but it is significantly better than it was. Formula 1 then also has been looked at as a catalyst for Bahrainis to protest and “show the world” through the Formula 1 media what is going on in their country.
Significantly it is Al Wefaq who openly declares they intend disrupting the week leading up to the GP with daily protests. Of equal significance is that these are approved rallies by the government supporting the concept of peaceful demonstration. Let us all hope this remains the case. What is in no doubt is that the government will make sure the event takes place.
Monitoring of this will be the world’s media. It is unfortunate only a few weeks ago that activists from the West thought they could enter Bahrain on visit visas and then join the protests. No country is going to accept this situation. Access has thus become stricter but the same could be said for America for those attending the race in Austin, Texas they are going to need a visa. Dare I mention China – the double standards are obvious.
Two weeks ago my mother touched down in Bahrain and had to wait forty five minutes for clearance but still got through customs after a small amount of questioning. The Formula 1 teams and media have special visas for the country and will be welcomed with warm open arms I expect.
Last year England had protests in London, Manchester and other cities but you do not see Silverstone under any threat. I live in Manchester and was very close to the violence. In the space of a few months I had gone from protests in the Middle East to protests on my doorstep. The reality is that all countries have their political problems. The world is not in a very healthy state as it is. A few years ago local Brazilians attempted to kidnap Jenson Button while driving away from the circuit. Sao Paulo is still on the calendar and no one has said anything.
The media as ever have massively blown up what is going on because it is the Middle East and it is an easy target due to the religious state of the region. Mexico is vying to have a Formula 1 race in the next few years. The police and government are in a constant head to head battle with drug cartels and yet Mexico might get a race. China has daily human rights questions hung above its head and they blacked out Twitter and Facebook. Russia hosts its first race in 2013 and is hardly renowned for warm welcoming hospitality.
Bahrain is no worse than any other country on our planet but because it is small, vulnerable, in the middle of the two power houses of Iran and Saudi Arabia the media and I include social media sites think they can swarm all over.
Even if Bahrain was not going through the current unrest it is going through, should Formula 1 race there anyway? My answer is why not. Every country we visit has some form of unrest or some sort of dispute. Human rights are questioned in every country in what is “right” or “fair” for a country in the first instance it is for them to decide – Syria is a case in point as to how the international community wishes to respond.
So where does this leave the contractual position. Frankly it is in neither side’s interest for the event to be cancelled but Al Wefaq will step up their protests like, just as a hooked fish, the media reacts.
As long as safety is guaranteed the right to demonstrate peacefully can go ahead.
Freight and display cars have already arrived: Today the main circus lands. The GP is on despite the last minute protestations on top on the Bahrain Embassy in London (why did Met Police not see that coming?) or Amnesty International being given air time.
Next week the paddock and western media move on, what then, Bahrain 2013?
Force India – Questions have surrounded the team due the financial issues Kingfisher are having, Vijay Mallya’s airline. It would appear that it is only that side of his wealth that is struggling and as of the moment not affecting the team. Sahara India Pariwar, became co-owner of the team with an investment of $US 100 million. The team since has been renamed Sahara Force India. This could be vital the teams longevity. Force India has had an encouraging winter test with some very competitive times elevating them in to the dizzy heights of top of the tree on a few days and tyre degradation seems solid on the VJM05.
Paul di Resta – Enters his second season of Formula 1 have an impressive opening campaign. Coming off the back of solid races and beating his more experienced team mate at the time, along with qualifying sixth at Silverstone it was a great 2011 for the Scot. 2012 is di Resta’s time to really shine. Now knowing all the tracks, the team and what he wants from the car he will have to lead this season.
Nico Hülkenberg – I for one am extremely pleased to see ‘The Hulk’ back in Formula 1. He had a testing period at Williams even after a sensational pole position in Brazil in wet conditions. I have watched Hulkenberg since A1GP and always thought he was a star and he star is set to rise again this year. Massively looking forward to seeing him drive again and I think he will give di Resta a run for his money.
Overall Verdict – Positive signs after uncertainty with finances and with two very sharp and quick drivers I think they could boost each other to push themselves and lift themselves to the echelons of the “big three”. Quietly confident, I would call Force India.
Lotus – Just one Lotus name and livery for fans to contest this year thankfully. Working out of the factory at Enstone, the Lotus team sprung a wonderful surprise in bringing back 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. This is a massive coo for the team and from winter testing can clearly see it has fully motivated and galvanized the squad after the Briatore era. Huge issues surrounded the car at the second test where the mount points for suspension had damaged the chassis. This required the team to close the doors and fly the chassis back to England. Much speculation surrounded if the problem was worse but the team worked flat out and got it back for the final test. Very impressive times coming from the team and a real prospect for making Ferrari sweat in the early races.
Kimi Räikkönen – The Iceman returns to Formula 1 after a couple of years out driving a Citroen in WRC. There is no doubt he is straight to the point with the media but his honesty makes him an incredible character to have around the paddock. A driver that has quite an aggressive style and likes to express himself more on the track than off it. Good thing.
Romain Grosjean – GP2 champion graduates back to the big time and ironically back to the same team. Under the Briatore era, Grosjean did not fit in well and the time away has done him a world of good. In pre-season interviews I do not think I have ever seen a grin wider than his. He is very happy about being back in Formula 1 and has good speed that could challenge Raikkonen.
Overall Verdict – The driver pairing are likely to spur each other this season and want to impress from the outset. With drives coming up in 2013, Raikkonen will want to put himself in the shop window if an opportunity arises. Boullier appears to have created a solid team around him at Enstone and will want to make sure development continues throughout the season.
Mercedes – Now with the AMG brand joining them the German outfit will want a big improvement on last season. Both drivers are retained but another season like last and they may not be around long. They have gone through significant personnel changes bringing in Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis to name but two. Ross Brawn has clearly set out his intentions for this year and it is apparent to see that the team are making strides. Some stunning times in pre-season has left Red Bull and McLaren more than looking over their shoulders. Initial times indicate that Mercedes has the quickest car but gets through its tyres sharpish also.
Michael Schumacher – No longer the oldest man on the grid and a man striving for success. Troublesome two years has led to Michael’s final year of his contract without a win or a podium. His current demeanour suggests that he is a kid a Christmas. He believes he may have the tools to be able to push for podiums this year and this excites him greatly, along with many fans.
Nico Rosberg – The most points man without a victory. Successive years of great qualifying, stuttering race pace at times and pretty boy looks has left many questioning him. Rosberg was significantly better in qualifying last year but was often close if not beaten by Schumacher. His consistency in 2012 may need to be lifted before he sees the top step of the podium. Personally I think he has a little more to prove yet.
Overall verdict – Mercedes are oozing potential but they really have to kick off the season well and give Schumacher and Rosberg a car that they can translate it to results. The management, drivers, all now fit together. The race results are the biggest key for this season. Get it right, they will challenge Red Bull. Get it wrong, they could fall to the clutches of Lotus.
Ferrari – Something has gone wrong at Ferrari. Wonderful success with Todt/Byrne/Brawn/Schumacher has led to the Maranello team questioning the staff’s ability and whether they have got the “radical design” right. Testing would indicate not. Flashes of speed met with unknowns of why the car is behaving the way it is. Ferrari just seems to be all at sea. A pointless media blackout in Barcelona did not help their cause in an age where the media need their kick for the week.
Fernando Alonso – Will start to wonder why he signed such a long deal. He fits the team perfectly but the people around him are letting him down, big time. He is arguably still the best all round driver on the grid, closely matched now by Vettel. He deserves another shot at the title but is has to be quizzed if he will get in any time soon.
Felipe Massa – Unfortunately, the writing is on the wall. I think even the least knowledgeable Formula 1 fan realises that he is out at the end of 2012 and it is a chance for him to put himself in the shop window for 2013. The master class of 2008 is gone and no matter what people say since his accident in 2009, has not been the same driver. I wish him all the best but the end is nigh.
Overall verdict – Too many issues surround Ferrari. I do not think they are well prepared and can give the drivers any sort of opportunity in the first races. Unless they pull of a McLaren of last year and have miraculous two week turn around. Ferrari does not have to come from as far back as what McLaren did but the unknown of how the car will react is the worry.
McLaren – Got about winter testing in a very purposeful and professional manner. Went a little quicker than I think they would have liked to of at one stage and through the anchors out to not show the cars real pace. A different design philosophy for the MP4-27 which sees the monocoque to nose section dropped. It would appear this has not been a hindrance though as times dictate that the McLaren is quick and good on tyres.
Jenson Button – No-one expected him to do what he did last year but he proved it to a lot of people and himself. He has the capabilities of being world champion again and with his driving style will suit the Pirelli tyres even more so this year. Stable surroundings unlike his team mate promote the chance to be at one with the car.
Lewis Hamilton – Frustratingly wonderful, a contradiction I know. It is fantastic to see Hamilton’s speed and ability on track. His whinging and whining off track lets him down though. We all look for someone special in our lives but there is no need to make it as public as what he did. The winter hopefully has re-focussed his mind and we will see the Hamilton of old and his raw, tenacious talent.
Overall Verdict – It could get a little spicy between the two Brits this year. The car looks to have the speed to challenge the Red Bull. A lot of hope and promise for the McLaren team but for some reason I have an overwhelming feeling tedium about the team. Some sort of vigour is missing from them, Hamilton may re-light it.
Red Bull – Adrian Newey, enough said. It is hard to look beyond his design capabilities and see where anyone can challenge them. The ban on the blown diffuser has certainly closed up the pack but he usually finds a way around certain obstacles. The only boundary that Red Bull may have to overcome is complacency after a great amount of success in the past two seasons.
Sebastian Vettel – Proved many doubters wrong last year with his overtake on Alonso at Monza. He has become the full product of a quality racing driver and is a very cool, calm and collected individual all at 24 years old. He has achieved a lot and it will be whether his hunger and desire is still enough to guide the team again this year. I suspect it is as he is so young but he may see a few more cars around him this year.
Mark Webber – Quite simply has to do better than last year. Has come to winter testing with a spring in his step and feels good. He has to put together a good season to stay in Formula 1 though. It is very likely the Aussie is gone from Red Bull at the end of 2012 so will want to show through his performances he can cut it with a top team.
Overall Verdict – Favourites for both Championships but must guard against complacency. All signs indicate that they have the speed of Mercedes but have better tyre degradation allowing them to run longer. Spend a lot, get a lot.