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Red Bull, Green Heaven

It has been a little while since I have written a blog but I thought I would now as it was appropriate timing.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to go to the absolutely majestic track that is the Red Bull Ring. It firstly must be stated at just how absolutely beautiful a country Austria is. It has the most outstanding landscape and scenery you could wish for. No wonder they are crazy about their skiing with the size of the mountains they have! (Congratulations Anna Fenninger)

I arrived with friends on Friday with a sense of anticipation. I have become very eager to see and hear these new generation of hybrid cars. After casually walking around the F1 Fan Village and purchasing some Ferrari and Williams t-shirts we proceeded to the grandstand along the straight between turn one to turn two.

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We hit our first problem trying to actually get in the grandstand when they said our passes were not valid which made no sense considering Friday was “meant to be” access all areas even on a general admission pass. Apparently not. Luckily we were able to peer around the grandstand and see our first glimpse of turn two. Initially I was a little underwhelmed, it looked less of an incline than I thought.

All of a sudden I could hear a rogue whistling sound followed by a large thud of booming. Sure enough FP2 had started to my absolute amazement. I did not hear them coming, I did not hear a single thing until the braking of turn two. I didn’t even need ear phones and I have a dodgy right ear!

As we ventured to the top of turn two we looked back and the landscape to centre stage. This wonderful, sweeping valley of greenery with vista’s that could only dream of. It also made me realise “Oh, turn two is rather steep.” It wasn’t until we were at the top I truly appreciated just how steep the run to turn two was or how much the track dips between one and two.

We found ourselves a spot high up on the grassed banking at turn two and took in an afternoon of sunshine and loud whistles. That really is all I can describe these V6 hybrid turbo engines. Loud whistles. I had the privilege of going to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2013 and remembering how my ears would ring all night long before going to the track again the next morning for them to be absolutely obliterated again with screaming V8’s at 18,000rpm. My chest would vibrate with the noise reverberating around the trees. It was pure magic. Absolute magic.

I realise and understand that the car industry and modern life itself is in a flux of trying to save the environment but I struggle to see the relevance of these engines in road cars. I thought that’s what the WEC boys were doing, oh and doing it better may I add. I have been a Formula 1 fan all my life but never have I been let down so much by the cars. They are woeful, truly woeful.

We returned for day two bright and early because one of us in the group had a press pass – the lucky bugger! So as he ventured off we took to walking around the track and taking more in until Qualifying. We were fortunate enough to find a nice little spot between turns two and three which gave us not only a spectacular view across the circuit but a demonstration of what these cars can do in to turn three.

Qualifying comes and it is fascinating to see when they turn the wick up on these cars, SORRY! Batteries, we see just what the can do. Both Mercedes were braking barely before the 50m board. Incredibly late braking in qualifying trim and even with the fly-by-wire braking systems they seem to work quite nicely. The transition from wet to dry caught Kimi out and we were left with a regular story come Q2 and Q3. Mercedes up front on their own with little interest from the others and a lockout even though they both through away what would have better laps.

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Post qualifying we ventured off in to the wilderness as the track cuts from turn three up to around the turn 8 area. This is where I captured a fantastic video through the fencing, wedging my phone between two bars and seeing the Porsche Supercup. They never cease to amaze. Wonderful machinery cascading down the hill and the drivers having to deal with both curb and camber changes. Sublime area to see cars fly through.

Race day and another early start. We arrived at 8.30am with cappuccino in hand waiting for the support races. We had found a bench the day before and being with a German we had to make sure we got our beach towels down early to avoid disappointment. The vantage point we had though was fantastic. I honestly could not have hoped for a better setting to sit and enjoy a day’s racing. I have often raved about the view from Knickerbrook at Oulton Park and the view you get there, this was better!

Both GP3 and GP2 were great to watch. Viewing the rising talent through the ranks and the drivers wanting to get the elusive F1 prize. It must be said at this point at the phenomenal talent that is Stoffel Vandoorne. The guy is breath-taking to watch on track. The speed and control he has with a GP2 car and the way he controls the Pirelli tyres is awe inspiring. If he does not secure an F1 seat then it would a travesty. How do you replace Alonso or Button? Easy. Vandoorne for Button and wait for Honda to sort their engine out.

On the point of Honda. Engine? Well, none of these engines may sound particularly great but where they do come alive is a low speed. A deep gargle and splattering of fuel as it tries to pull away and then it’s gone as they crank through the eight gears. The Honda engine though sounds like it’s like an extra cylinder down than any other manufacturer. It gargles, spits, pops, it has been a long time since I have heard something quite that throaty. Do I like it? Not really but many will.

Before the F1 race we were enticed by some old machinery from the 80’s and the 90’s along with a plane from the Red Bull Air Race which was very impressive and finally a giant Austrian flag was helicoptered in. When you can hear the noise of the engines from the far side of the track, blast along the start straight with the sound bouncing off the paddock that is when the blood rushes. That thrill of the sound and noise the feel of speed rushing through your body.

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Five red lights go out and with all cars on the grid you can hear the engines but only for a lap or two until they have filtered out. That was proven after the safety car came in after the Alonso and Raikkonen had their bust up on the exit of two. Unfortunately did not get a glimpse of it but did get to see the truck take the Ferrari the wrong way turn round and go back the other way. Alonso and Kimi also going their separate ways on bikes back to the pit lane.

Once they were back to full speed it truly shocked me at just how much they lift and coast prior to a corner. They do brake incredibly late but because the aerodynamics has done most of the work by then it was makes little differences. They cars look incredibly easy to drive and not a great challenge for the driver. One thing of note though was how the Mercedes cars turn through turns three and four. They pitch the car in on the nose, let the rear slide and power on. This was actually the issue they had a few years ago with Schumacher and Rosberg with the rears overheating. By the looks of it they have not got rid of the issue but due to the longevity of the Pirelli’s the tyres heat up in to an operating window and keep them well enough to stretch their legs.

At all times the Mercedes looked like they could just turn the boost up and run away as and when they needed to. All very calculated and controlled and gave no openings or opportunities to other teams. Ferrari are coming though, the car looks very strong at the rear with little movement which could help in the future.

My overall conclusion though is one of disappointment. These cars are terrible with absolutely no heart or sole about them. Quiet, easy and just all round dull racing. There is a lot to be sorted in Formula 1 but something has got to be done about these cars. I would like to thank the Red Bull Ring for a phenomenal venue and support package though. Tremendous effort and I fully endeavour on returning to the track soon. I hear you have MotoGP coming…

The Mercedes Dilemma

It has again been a while since I have taken the time to write a blog but as with much of life, finding time is always the issue.

I recently posted this on my Facebook wall: “On reflection. Mercedes did play the situation wrong. Rosberg’s attacking skills are somewhat average at best. He is not as clinical a driver as others out there. Merc really had no reason to ask Hamilton to move over. Split strategy, yes, but they would come back together due to degradation. All it would do is create Rosberg with a smaller gap to close, something like 10 seconds over 22. Still prefer a Rosberg champ over Hamilton but to me it more so illustrates just how good Alonso is and how Ricciardo is fast becoming one of the best drivers in the field.”

I wanted to elaborate on this more and felt going back to my blogging would be the ideal way to approach this.

The 2014 season has turned in to a straight Mercedes fight for the Drivers World Championship while the team romp off with the Constructors Championship. I find you can understand a driver or a person more when then they fight through adversity. It is when their skill, talent and mental capabilities are tested to the maximum.

Lewis Hamilton has been tested pretty significantly now throughout this season and to be fair has actually done a remarkable job to keep his title chances alive. Arguably showing his strength mentally but then also shows utter frailties when it comes to the media which a more closely associated with throwing toys out of the pram. So, how does a guy that seemingly has the mentality of a yo-yo overcome someone that appears to play cool-calm-collected?

Quite simply we saw the Hunger in Hungary. Hamilton’s all out driven, balls to the wall, bin it or win it shows that he will stop at nothing to win the 2014 championship. Hamilton said his hunger is greater than Rosberg’s due to his background and upbringing “”I come from a not great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad’s apartment,” said Hamilton.
“Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and boats and all these kind of things – so the hunger is different.” This entire statement is utter nonsense really and just a psychological tactic and a pretty poor one at that.

Hamilton’s direct ignoring of the Mercedes team wall of team orders to move aside for his team mate and championship rival showing that his tenacity prevails over any team need. The phrase “team player” seemingly lost on Hamilton but in a sport that is the most individual team sport, do you blame him?

Mercedes stance is that they tried to maximise both strategies to get the best for the team. That is fair but also the team are fighting for a World Drivers’ Championship therefore a driver is not just going to back down. Not in the current position. I do believe there is a time and place for team orders but they are circumstantial not just a one set rule. Evaluating the whole picture is required.

I am not a Hamilton fan, I never will be a Hamilton fan but I have a level of admiration for the job he is doing, even if that is through gritted teeth. Rosberg for me is not clinical enough. He does not have that natural rawness of a Champion. He plays the media well and wins a lot of media fights. Let’s be frank here if Hamilton had not had his troubles then the Championship would be long gone. Rosberg though in truth is kinder to his car and deals with heated situations and moments better, at least until Hungary.

Hamilton during qualifying seemed incredibly calm even through a burning backside. His calmness over team radio was personified during the race. So my question is has his mentality changed? Is he now viewing things differently and simply believing he is better than Rosberg anyway and the title will come to him? Well if he does not already, he should.

Sounds like I am backing someone I do not like? No, not really. I would actually prefer a Rosberg win for the sport. I think across the first half of the season he has achieved the maximum possible during Hamilton’s difficulties and that speaks volumes also. If we evaluate this though what real challenge has he had? Williams in Austria could be viewed as a challenge but that was more patience than a challenge.

So to Rosberg’s credit he has done everything he can. To Hamilton’s credit he has fought with all his might to stay in the title. Who deserves it more? Alonso. But that is for another blog.

@Nico888

The heat is on… at Red Bull!

March 24, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Alonso’s wing disappears under his car

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.

Webber’s anger at Vettel © Sutton Images

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?