Vettel the Villain

Sebastian Vettel’s dominant win at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday was a masterful drive. He dominated both qualifying and the race, putting all the rest to shame, giving him an almost unassailable points lead and puts him well on course for his 4th consecutive championship.

However, despite his stunning drive, the now standard pantomime booing of Vettel while on the podium once again emphasizes a nasty habit that F1 fans seem to have developed this year.

The Malaysian Grand Prix and the ‘Mult-21’ situation between Webber and Vettel 6 months ago was undeniably the catalyst for the ‘boo boys’ and despite plenty of clean racing since then, F1 race fans are still labelling Vettel as the F1 Villain.

I believe it’s a combination of factors, not just the Red Bull team orders row from the Malaysia Grand Prix. I believe the booing fans are actually making a bigger statement, that they are finally bored of Vettel’s dominance of F1 over the last 4 years.

Let’s be 100% clear, if this is true, it has nothing to do with Sebastian Vettel. The fault here lays with the other team in not doing a job as well as Red Bull team and Vettel.

Hypothetically I ask the question, if Vettel was currently 3rd in this years’ championship and behind say, Alonso and Hamilton in the championship and he picked up say, his second win of the year in Singapore, would there be the same reaction to a Vettel win? Unlikely I say.

So what can the German do about it?

I noticed both Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz supporting Vettel over the weekend, with Kravitz saying in his Notepad summary s that he felt it was for Vettel to show what a likable and nice character he was and that he isn’t as evil as the crowd make out. I find this view interesting, not least because it is essentially blaming Vettel again: His fault – he needs to change. This is a rather odd opinion if you assume he is actually guilty of the above charges in the first place.

Why isn’t it for the FIA, Teams, Drivers and Circuits to educate those race day fans who are booing him to stop? Help shape the culture and behaviours that we expect from the F1 community while at the race trace, but ultimately the blame lies with those who are the booing and it is them that need to change their reaction to him.

While Vettel is winning races and closing out the championship, the fans perspective of him will not change and no charm offensive from Vettel will nip this in the bud.

Vettel is no Villain! Nothing he has done on the race track in his career comes close to what Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher did on the track to win championships. In fact he is largely impeccable most of the time, on and off the track.

Time will tell if the F1 fans are aware of how poor it sounds to the global public when the winner of a Grand Prix is greeted with a chorus of boos. I wonder what the sponsors of Red Bull or prospective sponsors to the sport make of it? Is it worth the negative press on live global TV?

I have a feeling the F1 public will only be happy when Vettel leaves Red Bull and joins a lesser team to take that new challenge F1 fans seem to demand of multiple champions, before they finally seem to accept the greatness of a top driver.

People seem to forget though, Vettel won in a Torro Rosso and has contributed hugely to the success of Red Bull, who had never won a race before he joined the team.

Vettel the villain – Vettel the legend more like!

Modern F1 car launches are rubbish: They should be ditched!

Sauber-C31-launch-Sutton_2713949

F1 fans are a passionate lot. No sooner has the chequered flag dropped on the final race of the season in Brazil do the F1 fans start their countdown until they can get their next fix of F1 fever, and as we move through the dark winter months all eyes become transfixed on the F1 teams’ car launches for 2013.

Many see this as a chance to see how hard the teams have worked over the winter, to see the new driver line ups, to evaluate how the new car looks and to identify where a team has developed a competitive advantage or more importantly take it as a chance to predict just how the teams 2013 fortunes are going to pan out based on the new derivative car that they present to the public.

But these new car launches are a waste of time. Utterly pointless! So I ask the question; should F1 even bother with them.

Why?

Because these launches do not serve the F1 community with anything meaningful other than to see how the marketing and graphic design departments have conjured up the teams latest branding and colour schemes that emblazon the car and drivers overalls, and that is all. In a pioneering technical, mechanical and aerodynamic sport, these critical elements that determine a cars performance are all hidden away with deliberate act of smoke and mirrors.

Red Bull epitomised this perfectly this year. Their launch was in a room that resembled a sleazy night club, the invited press were forbidden to take any photos and no sooner were the covers off the 2013 challenger where they whipped back on again. To add insult to injury for all the disappointed fans that tried to streamed the event live over the internet, as a parting gift Red Bull presented the worlds audience with a hand drawn rendition of the 2013 car! I mean come on!

But let’s put ourselves in the position of Red Bull or any of the leading F1 teams, why on earth would you use your launch event to reveal all or any of your hard work and secrets to the public and other F1 teams in one fell swoop?
That’s right, that genius diffuser configuration your team had painstakingly drawn up, modelled, built, tested, revised, tested and then fitted to the new car in time for launch day which included many man hours and late nights has just been sold down the river in go or broadcast live on SkySports News! Bosch, there goes your 0.5 seconds a lap advantage as all the other teams find it, copy it and have it on their car in time for the first race of the season.

It is this hyper competitive environment that means F1 team will never openly display what their real 2013 challenger looks like and why we should not even bother to look at the car on display at a F1 launch. Yet, they continue to persist with the format of inviting the world’s media to travel to each team headquarters to enjoy lunch while F1 fans get to watch the event over a crappy buffering web streams.

In my view we should just ditch this futile exercise all together and just skip to the track and testing. F1 should hold a standard launch day on the afternoon/evening prior to the official first day of testing. Each team is given a slot whereby they roll up their car, pull off the cloth their latest model, say the nice things to camera, let the photographers take the pictures, then just get on with testing, where we really start to learn something.
The concept of a united F1 launch event for the team was banded around a few years when cost saving was being driven through by Max Mosley in his fight with the FOCA, but that seems to have died a death as the strength of FOCA has slowly dwindled.

Currently the F1 cars are testing in earnest in Jerez and slowly we will begin to see a picture of how the season is going to pan out. Testing reveals how the cars will look, how the concepts from the drawing board will play out, how contenders are shaping up. Modern F1 launches are pointless because the need for secrecy is paramount. They should be ditched but instead the teams should spend more time in coming up with better ways they can engage in a meaningful manner with their fans for the year ahead.

Analysis of the Red Bull accident

Formula One Turkish Grand Prix

The incident involving the Red Bull drivers was clearly the hottest topic from the Turkish Grand Prix. The first rule in F1 is not to take your team-mate out, it is the worst sin in the sport that is seen as a team game despite the individual ego’s of the drivers. By having what is perceived as the fastest car in F1 at the moment, the chances that the two Red Bull drivers fighting it out on the track are greatly increased. We have seen in previous years how destructive it can be when team-mates go head to head on the track. Some of the sports most famous incidents over the past 30 years has come as team-mates take strips off each other.

Senna & Prost in 1989 is perhaps the most famous on track incident between team mates. However I feel the incident at Istanbul Park is slightly different. We are yet half way through the championship, and despite the pressure being on the drivers, now is not a time for at all costs driving.

The scene is set in Turkey as Vettel saw he early season performances overshadowed in recent races by Mark Webber, who was now leading the championship and was coming off the back of two wins and a comprehensive display in Monaco. In summary, the balance of power in the Red Bull team was shifting away from Vettel in the course of the last month. Vettel wanted to put a stop to this in Istanbul and a problem for Vettel in Qualifying meant that the German was further behind his now nemesis (Webber) for the start of the race.

Vettel got the jump on Hamilton away from the starting grid, but was convincingly past by the Briton by turn 3. Vettel however got lucky during the pit-stop window. Having pit earlier than Hamilton he was able to jump up to second and get on the tail of Mark Webber. Vettel however, unlike Hamilton didn’t seem to be able to press Webber so aggressively. Perhaps because the cars were so closely matched Vettel never really looked like making a move stick on Webber. However on lap 38 Vettel was able to take advantage of a ‘fuel saving’ phase that Webber was asked to enter for a couple of laps to ensure that he could make the end of the race. Webber having less horse power was vulnerable down the straight and Vettel decided to put himself on the inside line for the left handed hairpin at turn 12.

The gap left by Webber wasn’t large, it was just enough space to put a car, and initially when Vettel made the move to the left hand side Vettel was almost over the white line and on to the dirt. Mark Webber kept a straight and true line to the hairpin as Vettel pulled along side and marginally in front and if both drivers kept their trajectory to turn 12 then the change in position would have happened and both drivers would still have finished 1-2 for Red Bull, but in a dangerous move Vettel tried to edge Webber out to the right to give Vettel the much easier line for the hairpin and also to robustly elbow Webber out of the way.

The move slightly to the right in to Mark’s path is what in my opinion caused the accident and why I would put most of the blame on Vettel. What was Webber expected to do? He was leading the race, leading the championship and had given just enough space for his team-mate to decide if he wanted to take the risky move. Vettel under the duress his previous form in recent races acted like it was all or nothing, not from a driver that understood that there were still many laps to go and to look at the wider picture of the championship as a whole. Let’s not forget that Vettel had already lost some key points in earlier rounds of the season and could have been on top of the championship. His driving indicated that he did not appreciate his situation and had a very narrow perspective on his racing. It was win at all costs, and the need to stop Webber here in Turkey. Where in reality a more mature outlook would have realised the long game would be better. If he had listened to any words of wisdom from any world championship winner that most would have told him championships are won at the end of the season not at round 7. Sports News - May 30, 2010

I remember Jackie Stewart saying that Nigel Mansell struggled to win Championships in the late 1980’s because he was too aggressive all the time. He drove like he was always out to prove everyone wrong, and this move by Vettel reminded me that perhaps the German could do with a sit down with the 3 times world champion about his approach.

The case against Webber in my opinion is small, but let’s have a look at what he could have done.

Firstly we know he had less power and would have expected a move from Vettel on the back straight. Webber could have closed the door completely through turn 11 making sure that Vettel had to switch over the the right hand side for the left handed turn 12. This would have made Vettel’s task almost impossible.

Webber could have also have just let Vettel through. Applying the logic or commonsense I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, Webber might have been better off just letting his team-mate through, after all he would have only lost a hand full of points. This, however, would have set an astonishing precedent. It would have sent a message out the Red Bull team, Sebastian Vettel and Webber’s rivals that in a straight out dog fight he would just succumb.

David Coulthard I feel had this tag, Riccardo Patrese, Rubens Barrichello and Damon Hill to a certain extent had their careers blighted by seemingly being happy to make things easy for their team-mates. All drivers are very fast, but once you get pigeon holed with that reputation, it becomes a constant up-hill battle to convince the F1 public that you are the real deal. Mark Webber being Australian by nature doesn’t have know what capitulate means. The fighting spirit of the Australian sportsman is famous and I don’t think for one minute it should have been expected for a driver who wants to win the championship to easily give away his position not just in the race, but in the team. Webber isn’t a spring chicken and this could be his one and only chance to win the championship, Vettel underestimated his older team-mate and got his hands burnt in return for his aggressiveness towards Webber.

The Red Bull team were instantly in the public eye and the reaction from some of the senior management was telling. There seemed to be sympathy for Vettel and condemnation of Webber for not giving him room. This is just  Bull-Shit in my opinion.

Christian Horner had proclaimed to want to give each driver the best chance to win the championship, but seemed to be insinuating in his subtext that Mark had to give way to Vettel in a head to head. Helmut Marko another senior member of the Red Bull management also criticised Mark Webber post race. This lead widespread rumours that Vettel was the unofficial number 1 in the team and the team should have criticised Vettel for the incident in the same way most of the F1 paddock saw the incident.

Days after the accident Red Bull seemed to have changed their corporate tone to a more balanced view, but it seems reluctantly and that the dynamics in the senior management still blame Webber and his race engineer for not managing the situation better. Before Turkey, both Red Bull and Webber looked set to resign a new contract, but now that seems to be an impossibility. Ok so they might get a grip on the tension on the track between the two drivers, but Vettel who is clearly the darling of the Red Bull young driver programme and also foreseen as a driver that could win many championships over the next 10 years, is likely to demand that Webber be replaced for next year otherwise he would look to go elsewhere.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel Meet At Team Factory

The one winner though on Sunday – Formula One. The sport is at its best when the ingredients are hot and spicy between two championship contenders in the same team and it will become a unmissable spectacle throughout the summer.

Lewis Hamilton wins thrilling Turkish Grand Prix

Formula One - F1

Wow! Just where do you start with a race that is packed with excitement and controversy from the get go?  Like it or not, the Turkish Grand Prix of 2010 will be remembered for the ticking time bomb of  4 cars racing it out at the front for the win, and ending with that bomb going off in the hands of the Red Bull team, that will certainly damage their points situation as they threw away a win and handed maximum points to the Mclaren team, but it will also have an emotional cost to the team and crank up the pressure in the team .

Round 7 of the F1 championship was held on the Istanbul Park track, which over the last few years has failed to produce anything nearly as exciting as Sundays race.  In it’s sixth year of running and which still fails to captivate the imagination of the Turkish people meaning one of the exciting Grands Prix in years played out  to an empty stage!

Mark Webber went in to the race on the back of two wins on the spin in Spain and Monaco and after a commanding performance in qualifying, looked the clear favourite for the race win on Sunday. Because the only other person people thought that could get near to Webber was Sebastian Vettel and he was down in 3rd place on the grid having been split by Hamilton in the Mclaren.

The Mclaren’s had shown good pace in practice and qualifying, however, the telling signs was that despite the F-Duct giving the Woking teams cars a visible and distinct advantage down the long straight at Istanbul Park in sectors 1 & 3, the Red Bull was putting them and the rest of the field in the shade through the tight and twisty 2nd sector of the track.

Before the race there was some optimism that if Hamilton could jump Webber at the start of the race, he could have a realistic chance of stopping the in form Aussie from romping off in to the distance.  The only potential flaw in this theory was that Hamilton, like his team-mate Button, were on the dirty side of the starting grid, potentially handicapping their get away from the lights and thus giving away their good from qualifying to the Red Bulls.

As the 5 red lights went out, it was the latter that happened and as the field came through turn 1 Vettel had  jumped Hamilton in to second place and Schumacher caught out Button to demote him to 5th.  However the Mclaren’s were able to re address the balance, with Hamilton bravely driving around Vettel by turn 3 and Button passing Schumacher at the hairpin on lap 1.  By the end of lap 1 the order was back to their starting positions.  Webber – Hamilton – Vettel – Button.

This is how the race started to settle in, with Button and Vettel dropping back slightly from Webber and Hamilton. Hamilton looked particularly aggressive in the opening in the laps and was able to really push the Red Bull for the lead.  This was a great sign that despite the Red Bull’s performance in the last 2 races and in their out and out pace in qualifying, the Mclaren on full tanks was going to be a match and make Webber and Red Bull work for their win today.

The differences in the cars was clear to see during this early phase of the race, with Hamilton trying desperately to hold on to the tail of Webber through the twisty sector 2 which incorporated the challenging turn 8 which requires a car with excellent aerodynamic performance, something which the Red Bull has in bundles but the Mclaren is still clearly lacking.  However once through the never-ending turn 8 it was Hamilton and the F-Duct that inexorably pulled in the Red Bull, lap after lap Hamilton tried desperately to get close enough to pull Webber in down the long straight to be able to try and make a pass stick.  A few times Hamilton looked like he would be close enough, but Webber would have just enough lead to cover off the attempt by the time they made the apex of the tight turn 12.

With Pit stops approaching it looked like the first person to pit out of Hamilton and Webber would get the critical advantage that might give them track position to go on and win the race.  Surprisingly then it was Vettel that was the first of the top 4 to come in for tyres.  It was expected to trigger of Button at least to cover off Vettel, but the 2009 Champion decided to stay out, and started to put in some good sector times. It was clear that Button was hoping to have conserved his tyres in the early part of the race to be able to bang in some good times once he was in clear air, but he would have a bit ask to jump Vettel considering he was at least 2 seconds back on the German.

For Mclaren it was clear, pit Hamilton as soon as possible and hope that Webber stays out, but as this was the likely scenario, Redbull covered the Mclaren team and pulled Webber in at the same time.  It was disastrous for Mclaren, being a few meters down the pit lane from the Red bull team, it make the likelihood  of getting Hamilton released before Webber a virtual impossibility.  With such huge pressure on the Mclaren team it is not surprising that a fumble on the right rear wheel held Hamilton up for a crucial second or two and sealed his fate in that he came out behind Vettel and Webber, which would eventually be 3rd once Button had made his pit stop a lap after, rejoined in 4th.

There is no denying that the pit stops changed the complex of the race. Webber now had his worse case scenario playing out – Vettel in the same superbly handling car as Webber behind him and desperate to halt the Australian’s march in recent races. The pace of the top 4 was immense, with fastest laps being traded between the leading drivers lap after lap, but unlike Hamilton, Vettel didn’t seem to be able to amount a tangible attack on Webber.  Did Webber have the race under control or were there team orders dictating that Vettel stay put?  One thing is for sure it was neither!

Despite the frantic pace at the front, the Red Bull’s were still being hampered by Hamilton and Button, however the Mclaren’s were unable to make the F-Duct work as strong in the second half of the race.   Then on lap 38 the worst case scenario happened for the Red bull team.

Unknown to us at the time, both Mclaren’s and Red bull’s were tight on fuel margins, meaning that neither team could allow its drivers to race flat-out to the end of the race without having to lean off the engine and fuel mixture to get them to the end.  Mark Webber was now in this ‘fuel saving’ mode and this gave Vettel a run on him as they came out of turn 10 and out on the flat-out section through turn 11 and down the tight hairpin at turn 12.

Red Bull Formula One driver Webber of Australia leads the race ahead of team mate Vettel of Germany during the Turkish F1 Grand Prix race in Istanbul

Webber spotted Vettel’s charge coming and specifically placed his car in the middle of the road through the flat-out kink that is turn 11 and as they made the run down to the hairpin Vettel pulled alongside to the left of Webber.  Webber had left just enough space for a car to get through as the headed to the left had corner at turn 12.  Vettel looked to have the position in his pocket with the next corner being a left hander he would have the line and Webber would have to capitulate his hard-earned lead.  But in what seemed like seismic seconds, the two cars touched and were unbelievably out of control with debris flying everywhere.  In scenes that were almost beyond belief Vettel had spun off the track in to retirement and Webber was making his way back on to the track in 3rd place after taking avoidance of the out of control Vettel.  Webber needed a new nose to replace damage, and in a second the race was past to the Mclaren team. With the crowd barely recovered from the Red Bull incident, the Mclaren’s were at it as well.

Formula One Turkish Grand Prix

TV viewers were able to hear radio messages to Hamilton that both cars were to enter in to their ‘fuel saving’ mode to ensure that both cars were to get to the end of the race.  This message most people interpreted as the order to hold station and bring it home, but to Lewis Hamilton’s surprise Jenson Button didn’t seem to understand the significance of the message.  Like Webber and Vettel the two Mclaren drivers were side by side in to the turn 12 hairpin, with Jenson Button sensationally trying to go round the outside of Hamilton. The outside became the inside in to turn 13 and Button took the lead with Hamilton shaping up to pounce along the start finish straight and in to turn 1.  It was in to turn 1 that the Mclaren management and mechanics had to close their eyes as Hamilton dived deep in to the apex giving Button the choice to surrender his short reign in the lead or to have a crash with his team-mate.  Luckily Button is a much more mature driver than Vettel and he let Hamilton ease back in to the lead.

F1 2010 - Rd7 Turkish GP - Hamilton wins in McLaren 1-2

It was then an easy run to the flag for the Mclaren drivers after both having to be told again to stop racing due to fuel shortages.  Hamilton’s emotions were telling in the lack of celebration or the restrain he showed through his body language.  He wasn’t happy with Button.  Having been told to back off and preserve fuel Button seemed to chance his luck and try to take Hamilton by surprise.  A word in Hamilton’s ear from Button post race seemed to ease the tension, but like Red Bull, the Mclaren team has some pressure to ease within their camp before the next race in Canada.

What about the others, oh yes, there were others in this race, but they seemed to pale in to insignificance due to the red-hot battle at the front.  Key headlines were Schumacher beating his team-mate Rosberg again, and the lack luster performance all weekend from Ferrari and Fernando Alonso in particular.

Mclaren jump Redbull in the Constructors Championship and both Mclaren drivers are now within touching distance of Webber who managed to bring the car back in 3rd despite the mayhem.

Canada is going to be thrilling, not only because the Mclaren should be good there too with the long back straight, but the lack of high-speed corners should bring the rest of the field back towards the Red Bull’s which is probably the least of your worries if you are a Red Bull fan. Let the inquest begin….

The worrying form of Jenson Button

May 16, 2010 - Monte Carlo, Monaco - epa02159167 British Formula One driver Jenson Button of McLaren Mercedes chat with team members in the paddock prior the Monaco Grand Prix at Monte Carlo circuit in Monaco, 16 May 2010.

This is a worrying time for all the F1 drivers, all except the two Red Bull drivers.

For it seems that unless you are in a Adrian Newey designed car your chances of winning a race at the moment are slim. That is why those that have serious plans to be in this championship are having to maximise every opportunity that presents itself to score well to keep in touching distance of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettle.

In recent races we have seen strong performances from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Both who been able to show that during the race they potentially can keep the blue cars in sight at least. But there is one driver that despite two wins in the championship so far, is starting to worry me about his ability to demonstrate true race pace in “normal” dry conditions. This driver is Jenson Button.

Button who superbly won in Australia and in China when the weather flummoxed 90% of the drivers, was able to demonstrate excellent intuition and decision making when there was no definitive tyre choice to be on. I still stand by the praise and credit Jenson received after these two wins, but lets be fair, we are going to see less races in conditions like in Melbourne and Shanghai throughout the rest of the 2010 season.

If we look at Jenson’s performance in dry races then it indicates a worrying statistic. In dry races Jenson just isn’t fast enough to take the battle to the front, and this will mean he will be out of the championship battle before too long if he is not too careful.

In dry races this season Jenson has finished 7th in Bahrain, 8th in Malaysia and 5th in Spain. This gives Jenson an average dry race finishing position of about 6th place. Jenson retired from this weekends Monaco Grand Prix through no fault of his own, however, a poor qualifying put him down in around 8th, and with no significant retirements, it would be fair to expect Jenson to have finish 6th or 7th.

This means that Jenson is potentially losing 17 points to the championship runners at this stage in the season. As we are entering summer, we are approaching a critical time for the 2009 World Champion, despite him being some 11 points ahead of his team mate Lewis Hamilton and only 8 points off the lead of the championship.

Whereas Button has struggled in dry races in his Mclaren, his team mate has put in solid performances, non more so than in the Spanish Grand Prix, where he was able to force his Mclaren to split the two Red Bulls until a wheel rim failure took 18 vital points from him and it’s this form of his team mate will also add pressure on Jenson, who has yet to look stellar in normal conditions. While Lewis isn’t having a perfect season himself, he is driving really well, despite what Bernie Ecclestone says.

I might sound mad by addressing concern to Jenson’s form and perhaps as the season moves towards a string of races based in Europe where, as we all know the weather could help Button out, it remains to be seen if Jenson can demonstrate true pace in his Mclaren without having the rain gods smile down on him. It seems that this “Hope” for rain is his only chance at the moment, and as I have always been told – Hope is not a strategy!

Australian Grand Prix Preview

The F1 circus makes its way from the low key desert of Bahrain to the hustle and bustle of the F1 crazy city of Melbourne, Australia.  For some this is the natural starting place for the F1 calender and we will see if many of the questions that were raised after the first round of the season can be answered.

The Circuit

The race is held on public roads that form the perimeter access roads to one of the city’s most enjoyed points of interest: Albert Park.   Set around the lake, the tree lined 5.3km track is a curious track that offers just a few natural places to pass, but often produces interesting and surprising races.  Most of the tracks pits complex are temporary and what is permanent is a sports hall  used as a basket ball / indoor football facility.

The track winds its way past parking lots, a cricket and soccer ground, a sailing club house and also runs parrallel to the cities busiest roads that link the bustle of the city centre to the relaxing and vibrant St. Kilda area.

Questions from Bahrain

The most obvious and most over debated subject from Bahrain is the question over F1’s excitement factor.

  • Can F1 cars pass each other?
  • Do the new tyre rules create a stalemate over strategy?

Unfortunately with Albert park not being a “typical” F1 track, it is had to say if we will be able to come to any better conclusions this weekend.

Questions marks over drivers

Michael Schumacher will be going in to this weekends race feeling a bit of pressure.  He was beaten handsomely by his younger team mate Nico Rosberg in Bahrain, and Michael will need to put him in his place if he is to avoid being asked questions all the time about if he has lost it and if he was right to return to the sport.  Of course, this is doing Rosberg no harm at all and his stock will continue to rise while he is seen to out perform the 7 times world champion.

Jenson Button, like Schumacher will want to correct the balance of power between him and his team mate.  7th place compared to Hamilton’s 3rd, highlights the 2009 Champion has some catching up to do.  Jenson will be hoping the team can find him some more downforce at the front of the car, and he will also be pushing for more flexibility on the tyre strategy after having the rug pulled from beneath him last time out in Bahrain.

Mark Webber is on home ground this weekend and while this usually brings added pressure, the Aussie will be looking for a more consistent qualifying and practice to give him a better chance of fighting at the front on Sunday.

The teams under pressure

Mclaren carries a fairly large question mark at this time over the cars ability to generate enough down force as compared to their rivals.  Both drivers struggled in the race last time out, but the team have said that they lost their way slightly in Bahrain buy not putting enough wing on both drivers cars. With their car enjoying the highest top speed down the straights, the team will be hoping that a simple set up fix will bring them closer to Redbull and Ferrari.

Will Ferrari’s engines that seemed to get a little hot under the collar in Bahrain manage to see out another race.  While the temperature levels will be nowhere near as high as Bahrain, Ferrari might have to limit revs during practice and the race to see them through to the end.

Vettle will be hoping that Redbull have confidently fixed the engine problem that the car suffered in Bahrain in the closing laps that robbed the German of 25 points.  They won’t have to use the same engine here but it will put a lot of pressure on the team should reliability strike them down again.

A word for the new guys, Virgin will be looking to get to the bottom of their dreaded hydraulic problems that dogged both drivers in Bahrain, and HRT will be looking to get Karun Chandhok out for first practice on Friday morning.

Ones to look out for

My tips this weekend are for Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton.  Webber now with the confidence of winning races in 2009 he should have the best ever chance for a home win on Sunday.  Lewis Hamilton goes really well on this track. Even last year when he was driving a pig of a car was he able to get the car up in to the top points positions (less said about the lie-gate post race the better) I just feel even without a truly competitive car the Briton can deliver a result here.

Bahrain Grand Prix Report

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10 passes team mate Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F10 at the start of the race.Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race Day, Bahrain International Circuit.

The start saw Vettle lead away from the lights from both Ferrari’s of Massa and Alonso, as the pack headed in to turn’s 1 & 2, Alonso was able to get the inside line for turn two and thus overtake his team-mate Massa.   Mark Webber’s Redbull then blew a large thick cloud of smoke, most probably due to an overfilled oil tank, which caused the chasing pack to be momentarily blinded.  Victims of this were Renault’s Robert Kubica and Force India’s Adrian Sutil, who touched as they went through Webber’s smoke at turn two, resulting in both drivers spinning across the track as the field ploughed they way through.

Lewis Hamilton was on the move as the pack reached turn 4 and was trying to go round the outside of Massa for 3rd place.  However the Briton left his breaking too late and Massa was able to defend him off, and which also allowed Rosberg in the Mercedes to snatch 4th place.

Despite not knowing anything about the cloud of smoke that his Redbull had created, Webber was down to eight having been jumped by Button at turn 2. However the Aussie was able to reclaim his 7th place when Jenson got out of shape midway through the new section of the lap.

So the order at the end of the first lap was: Vettle – Alonso – Massa – Rosberg – Hamilton – Schumacher – Webber – Button – Liuzzi – Barrichello. Unfortunately that was pretty much how the top of the pack stayed until the pitstops for tyres.

First retirement of the season went to Karun Chandhok who crashed on lap two, after spinning on a bump.  While the team would be disappointed to see the Indian driver lose vital running time, considering the amount of time the driver had on the track, it was perhaps inevitable that could happen.

Di Grassi was next to join him in exiting the race, having to pull off with suspected hydraulic failure.  Moments before the Brazilian pulling off the track, new boy Nico Hulkenburg had an embarrassing moment when he lost control of the rear of his car while under pressure from Buemi.

Back on track, and Vettle seemed to have perfect control of the race.  Perhaps enjoying a lighter fuel load that the two Ferrari’s behind him because of the fuel-efficient Renault, he was able to pull out a lead of around 5 seconds.

It was Mclaren & Mercedes who were first of the big guns to stop, bringing in Lewis Hamilton & Schumacher respectively on lap 16.  Rosberg moved to cover this next lap round, however lost out to Hamilton when his exit from the pit box was delayed slightly by Webber who was coming in to the pits at the same time as the German was exiting.  Button who also pitted at the same time as Rosberg and Webber was able to leapfrog the Redbull driver when the Aussie was delayed slightly with a sticking wheel during his pit stop.

Alonso was the first to stop of the first 3 to stop on lap 17, which then triggered Vettle to cover the Ferrari. This defensive style a seeming legacy of the new pitstop regulations, in which drivers are not wanting to allow their chasing rival to have too much time on new rubber.

Timo Glock brought the curtain down on the Virgin team’s first race on lap 18 with dreaded hydraulic problems that hampered them all through winter testing.  Bruno Senna was next to fall on the following lap with a Cosworth engine going up in smoke.

The second stint of the race started with Alonso managing to draw in Vettle, bringing down the lead to around 1 second. Massa still in 3rd was a further 2 seconds back behind Alonso. Midway through the race and we heard radio reports from the Ferrari team to both Alonso and Massa asking their drivers not to follow too closely or directly behind the car in front because they were suffering from high engine temperatures.

Then at the star of lap 34 the Redbull of Vettle crossed the line sounding very sick, and with Alonso right on his tail.  The team reporting back to Vettle that a suspected exhaust was causing a dramatic lost in top speed.  The poor Vettle was able to hold of Alonso for best part of a lap, until he had to reliquish the lead to Alonso at the last corner, and by the time the German had reach turn 1 of lap 35 he was 3rd with Massa gliding past on the straight.

It was bitter luck for Vettle who had driven a faultless race up to that point to have a seemingly assured 25 points in his pocket taken away from him by yet another mechanical problem.  However it was a question of if he would be caught by Hamilton, but whether the Redbull would finish in the points at all.

Vettle did a great job of bringing the car home, sticking it out, despite losing a podium position to Hamilton on lap 38 he was able to hold of Nico Rosberg to keep 4th place.

As the chequered flag dropped Alonso brought the Ferrari home to score his 22 victory and to claim victory at his first race for Ferrari, equalling Kimi Raikkonen and Nigel Mansell who also achieved the feat in the modern era. Massa completed a superb come back drive, taking 2nd place and Lewis Hamilton come home an impressive 3rd considering the problems with the cars handling that were mounting up over the course of the weekend.  Rosberg took first blood to his team-mate Schumacher to 5th place. Schumacher who had an un-eventful race came in 6th. Button took 7th on a day that indicate just how much work he and his new team need to do in order for the 2009 World Champion to mount a solid defence of his crown.

Credit also goes to Liuzz and Barrichello who took the final two points places, and Kubica will be disappointed  with 11th, but he did well to recover after being last at the end of lap 1.

Lotus took the plaudits for the new teams, in being able to get both cars to the finish, but Sauber will be disappointed in their form after being tipped as dark horses.

So it is on to Melbourne, Australia next for the 2nd round, Redbull will be looking to strike back after their disappointment  in Bahrain, Mclaren will need to improve the downforce on its new car and Mercedes and Schumacher will want to be nearer the sharp end of the field.

This was a poor spectacle of a F1 race, with very little overtaking or action, here’s hoping it was a one-off because otherwise this could be a slow old season.

1. Alonso Ferrari 1h39:20.396

 2.  Massa         Ferrari                    +    16.099
 3.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +    23.182
 4.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +    38.713
 5.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +    40.263
 6.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +    44.180
 7.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +    45.260
 8.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +    46.308
 9.  Liuzzi        Force India-Mercedes       +    53.089
10.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +  1:02.400
11.  Kubica        Renault                    +  1:09.093
12.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes       +  1:22.958
13.  Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +  1:32.656
14.  Hulkenberg    Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
15.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Cosworth             +     1 lap
16.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +    3 laps
17.  Trulli        Lotus-Cosworth             +    3 laps
Retirements                                Lap
De la Rosa    Sauber-Ferrari               30
Senna         HRT-Cosworth                 18
Glock         Virgin-Cosworth              17
Petrov        Renault                      14
Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari               12
Di Grassi     Virgin-Cosworth              3
Chandhok      HRT-Cosworth                 2