Saturday, May 30, 2009

India: The Future of F1?

India has its very own F1 team, the first among Asian countries apart from Japan and also had Narain Karthikeyan as its first and only driver in F1 so far and with the Indian GP expected to join the FIA world championship calendar by 2011 things are looking good for the country. But all this has not happened in the last few years as Indian motorsports goes way back in time and it had a humble beginning in the industrial town of Coimbatore often called as the motorsport capital of India. It is in Coimbatore where the first open wheel racing was started in the mid 80’s and originally it had wealthy industrialist customizing their own cars and racing among themselves.

The dream of an Indian GP and India’s first F1 team began in the year 2007 when Vijay Mallya thru his Kingfisher Airlines decided to sponsor the Toyota F1 team and promised to bring F1 to India. Though the initially there was some talk in 2005 about the potential of either Hyderabad or Bangalore as possible venues but nothing materialised and it was in 2007 that Mallya after his takeover of Spyker F1 s along with Bernie Ecclestone had a provincial agreement with the Indian Olympic Association to bring F1 to India and Delhi was chosen as the venue and it is expected to hold its first race by 2011.

2005 will be the most important year for the country with relation to F1 as Narain Karthikeyan after years of competing in the British F3 and Formula Nippon series made in debut for the Jordan F1 team. Though he did nothing spectacular that year as Jordan was in a deep decline and he managed to score points by coming 4th in the controversial USGP as only 6 cars took the field. But he was consistent and proved that he can put some decent performances provided he had a decent car. But due to various sponsorship issues that happened to be his last year as a driver in F1 as the next two years he spend time testing for the Williams F1 team. Though he was in F1 for only a year but he proved that India can also produce F1 drivers and it is possible for an Indian to compete in the championships. Though none of the actual fans expected Narain to actually even score points during the 2005 season but the Indian press which at times does show blind patriotism over-hyped his team there and could be one of the factors which led to his decline.

When Vijay Mallya bough the Spyker team and renamed it as Force India, there was a buzz in the paddock that Narain Karthikeyan could well make his comeback with the new Indian team but Mallya felt Narain was too old for the long term future of the team and decided to bring in ex-Renault deriver Fisi and young German talent Sutil for the 2 seats. This was the end of Narain Karthikeyan’s F1 dreams and he right now competes in the A1GP and also made his Le Mans debut this year.

Though India is yet to have a proper systemic structure like other counties, it still able to produce drivers of International quality and currently two of its drivers Karun Chandhok who competes in GP2 series and Armaan Ebrahim who competes in the new launched FIA F2 World Championship are both touted as potential future F1 drivers. Karun has already tested the Red Bull Racing car and if he manages to have very good 2009 GP2 season, well he could either land a driver’s seat or even a testing role with the Force India or even the STR team.

The future for F1 is looking very good especially with expected Indian GP in 2011 and the Force India F1 team currently on the grid; all it needs is an Indian driver to score points in the Force India team to really have a big boom. Currently among global sporting events F1 is the most watched sport after Cricket and the English Premier League. Many cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi have sports pubs which show the races and you can lot of people in both Ferrari and also McLaren gear. These two apart from Force India are the most popular teams in India and it is very common to see F1 fans discussing who is superior between Ferrari and McLaren.

Things look bright but the media will play a crucial role and currently there is more than enough coverage for F1 but then with Cricket being the only major sport which gets the attention of the nation, F1 may never become the mass sport but it surely will become the favourite sport among the urban educated Indian people as they belong to the 25 to 35 age bracket and many of these fans even go to Singapore to Malaysia to watch the races. Only an Indian GP will tell the true story of how successful can F1 become in India.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

2009 Monaco GP: Button and Brawn conquers the streets of Monaco

Jenson Button won his 5th race of the reason and he is all set to pull off a Schumacher like performance and win the world championship. Partner in crime Rubens Barrichello came 2nd and well he could have lost his own plot for his quest for the world title. Brawn also extended its lead over its rivals Red Bull as the man who was expected to challenge Button for the world title Vettel had a horrible race and eventually crashed out thanks to a poor car.

While Brawn and Button demonstrated how their car can perform in all conditions, it was also a sort of revival for Ferrari as both Kimi and Massa scored points with Kimi getting the first podium for Ferrari by coming in 3rd while Massa came 4th. It was good to see Ferrari not only score points but also closing in the gap between them and Brawn GP. They could pose a very serious threat to Brawn’s dominance during the Turkish GP and though it may be too late to challenge them for the titles, they could still make them work hard for the win.

Mark Webber once again had a very consistent race and managed to come 5th while Rosberg did come 6th but it should be disappointing for the German driver as he is not able to match his practice drives during the actual race but he more consistent he performs, he may well be on his way to McLaren to partner Hamilton for the 2010 season. Alonso had a typical race with an underperforming Renault and had to work very hard for his 7th place while Bourdais took the last points available by coming in 8th in what could have been a drive which saved his seat for this season.

Yet again Force India came close in scoring a point but once again failed with Fisi coming in 9th and this well could have been the last opportunity for the team to score points but unless if another race is disrupted by rains well they may have to focus on how to score points the next season.

McLaren had a disastrous race and it is time they give up on this season and start rebuilding for the next season as Hamilton after starting from the back of the grid could come only 12th while his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen crashed out of the race. BMW continues to have a miserable season as Nick Heidfeld came 11th while Kubica did not even finish the race.

Toyota had a very disappointing race and we all hope they re-group for the next race as they need a race win as without it the boys in Japan may just pull the plug off their F1 program. Nelsinho Piquet will surely not be in Renault the next season while it is also very interesting to see when and who will replace him this season as he continues to have a miserable season though today’s crash was no fault of his for once.

A surprising thing about the race was that though there were a few crashed and 5 cars retiring during the race, not once the safety car was used and I am wondering when was the last time we did not have a safety car come in during the Monaco GP. This also helped Button to have a flawless victory.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Monaco GP Preview: Will Ferrari and McLaren upstage Brawn GP?

This Sunday the most prestigious race in motorsport will be on but the last 2 days most of the focus was on the legal suit files in the French courts by the Ferrari team against the FIA’s budget cut proposals and the aftermath after the French court rejected the verdict and how Ferrari continue to insist that they may pull off the season. Well they are not alone in this battle against the FIA as teams like Renault, Toyota, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and even BMW may back them in this battle.

Now let’s get back to the actual sport and leave alone the politics that comes with it as we go to the streets of Monaco to find out who will emerge as the king of the street circuit. Traditionally the track has favoured McLaren off late and the last time Ferrari won was in 2001 when the Red Baron Michael Schumacher won it for them. Though Ferrari and McLaren has been quick in practice, we all know how deceptive this can be as if we have to go by practice timing then Rosberg and his Williams would have won the races and now Brawn and Red Bull.

Jenson Button and Brawn GP would once again head the field as favourites as even during Spanish GP, everyone did suspect them if they will do well once the European season begins but the team has proved that they are no flash in the pan and they are a true Cinderella story and they are the favourites to win the championship. Two things may go against them and one is the internal battle which is brewing after Barrichello suspected that he lost the Spanish GP after team orders while Brawn GP has denied this till now.

The other threat is from the fast improving Red Bull whose young driver Vettel is showing that race after race he is the heir to Schumacher’s crown and he could spoil the party for Brawn GP. Vettel is not the only threat as Webber finally has a car with which he can challenge for race wins and well Monaco could be the place where he wins his first race of his F1 career.

Though overtaking will be next to impossible on the streets but last year we did see some sensational move from Barrichello on Webber. So overtaking will be done this year especially with the inspired Spaniard who surely will want to go fighting as his Renault is yet to challenge the front runners. His partner Piquet needs another good showing as his career depends on every race he drives. Renault will feel good if they manage to do better than BMW, Williams and Toro Rosso.

Toyota has been very consistent this season but they are still after their elusive first win and they need this win to continue in F1 as even without the current crisis, if the team fails to win, they will most probably pull off F1 and at the most may supply engines to teams. BMW seem to be on a rut after the first race and well they will be once again counting on luck to score points during the race as the car is struggling and they need to something spectacular to pull it off from there.
Both Ferrari and McLaren have claimed that they are good to win but if Massa somehow manages to get pole well he could win the first race of the season for Ferrari while Kimi without a race win after a year needs to pull off a near impossible task to win the race. Hamilton is not affected by any new controversy now and with everyone focused on the FIA – Ferrari battle, he has been in pretty good form this season and if McLaren manages to pull off a Monaco special car, well he too will be in the reckoning for a race win.

Williams once again dominate the practice sessions but for Rosberg this should be the race where he should make the call if he wants to continue in Williams or not, if he manages not to score a podium finish, well I think he should just quit the team and he surely will have a lot of offers for a racing seat. Again a win here will end the long draught for the team and their future could well be secured for another season.

Toro Rosso had a disastrous Spanish GP where both their drivers were knocked out of the first lap. It will be very interesting to see how Buemi handles the streets of Monaco while Bourdais will be desperate to score points as the team’s patience on him is running out and he could be back in Indy racing very soon.

Last year if Kimi had not taken out Sutil, well Force India could have scored its first points and well this year too this could be the best place for the team to cause an upset and score points. The budgets caps of FIA will benefit teams like Force India but they need an amazing show from their drivers to score points.

It should once again be a battle between Vettel and Button, while on paper Button will be the favourite but Vettel may just pull it off. Also don’t discount Webber who should be the dark horse of the race. Kimi, Massa and Hamilton should fancy their chances but they need a flawless drive to pull it off.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Will Ferrari pull out off the 2010 Season?

Ferrari the most successful and the most glamorous team in F1 filed a suit in a French court to stop FIA from going ahead with its controversial budget caps but the French court rejected the bid. The team has threatened to pull out of the 2010 season and they are not the only ones to do so. Even teams like Toyota, Renault, Red Bull and Toro Ross are planning to pull out.

More to follow on this…………………………

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rosberg’s path to Greatness!

Nico Rosberg is an enigma and even before he joined the Williams teams during the 2006 season, he was hailed as a future F1 World Champion and he was the first GP2 World Champion in 2005.

He scored points in his debut race in Bahrain and was expected to lead Williams into a new era as the team once again become an independent team at the start of the year and had a tie-up with Cosworth to supply engines. While great things were expected, it was the worst ever year for Williams as the team struggled to even finish races leave alone scoring points and challenging for wins.

2007 seems to be a promising year for the Williams team as they had Toyota engines and Rosberg scored points in the opening race of the season but then after an indifferent run of form towards of the end of the season Rosberg was very consistent and eventually finished 9th in the driver’s championship.

After the Alonso-Hamilton saga, rumours were flying that McLaren were interested in signing the German driver and add into the fuel Ron Denis also accepted that Rosberg would be an ideal fit for the team given his talents and also nationality which would definitely please Mercedes Benz but his father decided that his son was better off in Williams and be the lead driver rather than play 2nd fiddle to Hamilton his old rival from F3 days.

After a very promising start to the 2009 season where Rosberg and Williams were topping the testing timing during Friday practice but during the race a combination of bad luck and poor strategy failed to see the team make any impact while the likes of Brawn, RBR and Toyota were dominating the races. Now with the European leg of the season in and with the likes of Ferrari and BMW improving every race and with McLaren and Renault expected to be competitive very soon expect another season for Williams where to struggle to score points.

Rosberg has always had the potential to become a world champion if he drives for the right team but now after 4 seasons with Williams he is yet to get a car which can challenge for the World Championship. Atleast Jenson Button’s long wait with the BAR/Honda team finally paid off this season as the Brawn GP is setting the track on fire and he has won 4 out of the 5 races this season and only Vettel seem to be the guy who can pull off the title from Button at the last minute.

But given the financial situation Williams is, it is unlikely that they reach the glory days of the 80’s and 90’s unless Toyota does makes them their works team but then with the way Toyota is performing this season it is unlikely to happen very soon.

Rosberg can survive with a quick teammate and he has enough options on the grid and he needs to choose quickly or he may become another Mark Webber a very good driver but was always at the wrong place at the right time.

Webber was Rosberg’s first teammate and Rosberg during his rookie season was not too far behind Webber and during his 2nd season was even faster than the experienced journeyman Alexander Wurz who’s CV includes stints with McLaren and Benetton apart from Williams.

Rosberg’s best option would be either McLaren or even BMW but BMW race seat will be open only if Heidfeld has a drastic dip in fortune and that is unlikely to happen given his early season performance. Other teams in fray could also include the likes of Renault, Toyota and even Brawn GP given that Barrichello is 37 and after the controversy in Barcelona may not stick with the team for too long.

Given the conditions, Renault may not stick around for too long and McLaren a team which can’t keep off controversy his best bet would be Brawn GP and with Jenson Button as a teammate and under the leadership of Ross Brawn, Rosberg can finally fulfil his potential and become a World Champion if not then he would become another Mark Webber who is a highly talented driver but it is a bit too late for any championships.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ferrari is F1

Every Tifosi on the planet would accept this and 9/10 F1 fans would also back this barring a few loyalist of McLaren!

Ever since the FIA president Max Mosley announced a radical policy to cut costs so that F1 becomes more affordable and we get to see more teams, things have not been the same in F1. The last decade or so has seen the manufactures dominating the championship with Ferrari led by Schumacher creating all sorts of records.

We need to understand that spending big money alone does not win you titles and if that was the case Toyota would have won a few championships by now and they used to spend close to 600 million USD everywhere since they launched their F1 project. Renault who spends the least among the manufactures propelled Alonso to 2 world championships.

This year thanks to various new regulations have made F1 very interesting and different that both independent teams like Brawn and Red Bull while also manufacturer like Toyota have done extremely well. Though the big 4 of F1 have struggled, Ferrari and BMW have show signs of revival and well could be challenging the likes of Brawn and Red Bull during the next few races.

Now with F1 clamping in with budgets on spending and even proposing a 2 tier F1 system where the teams which can stick to the cap of 40 million USD will have unrestricted freedom when it comes to aerodynamics and testing while teams which do not follow the cap will have various technical restrictions and this could lead to a scenario where the budget cap teams will be faster than the manufactures by more than 3 seconds. Imagine the likes of Force India lapping Ferrari and McLaren race after race.

Ferrari has been the only team which has been part of the championships since the inception of the event you go to any track you will always see a huge crowd wearing and waving Ferrari flags. 75% of F1 fans are Ferrari fans and every young driver’s ultimate dream is to drive for Ferrari at one point or the other in their career. Just ask Jean Alesi, the Frenchman could have been a multiple world champion had he driven for McLaren or Williams but he followed his heart and joined Ferrari.

Ferrari is like a religion and if F1 is the pinnacle of motorsports then it needs F1 more than Ferrari needs F1. The rich heritage that Ferrari brings in can never be replaced by how ever brilliant the driver is or how much technically the car is advanced.

Ferrari is not alone in the battle, others like Renault, Toyota, BMW and even independent teams like Red Bull and Toro Rosso have threatened to pull off the 2010 championship. McLaren thanks to the lean verdict FIA gave for the incident during the Australian GP has been very quiet while only the likes of Brawn and Williams been supporting the budget caps.

Who would want to see the likes of Force India, USGPE and Lola fighting for the world championship? F1 needs Ferrari for its survival and if FOTA launches a rival series, well FIA’s F1 World Championship will be dead and will be living of its past glory.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

2009 Spanish GP: Button and Brawn all set for the Championship

Jenson Button and Brawn GP showed that they are no flash in the pane and they pulled off an amazing race with brilliant strategy to continue their lead in both the driver’s and constructor’ world championship. Brawn had a perfect weekend with Button and Barrichello coming in one-two and now the team is all set to run away with the championship unless Red Bull and Vettel pull something special.

Brawn engineers also made a brilliant strategic shift of converting Button from a 3 stop to a 2 stop strategy and this was the turning point of the race for Button as he managed to win while Barrichello who was leading the first half of the race had to take 3 stops and this cost him the race and more importantly he once again may have to play 2nd fiddle to a driver going for the championship.

Mark Webber probably the most under rated driver on the grid managed to finish 3rd thanks to a very clever strategy by the RBR team while his teammate and championship contender Vettel finished 4th despite starting the race from the 2nd place on the grid. Vettel like Bahrain once again was just unlucky and had he got ahead of Massa in the first corner well he could have given the Brawn guys a run for their money.

Alonso despite limited support from the car once again showed why he is the best driver on track pulled off an inspiring 5th place in his home race and also thanks to Ferrari’s strategy error, Massa just enough managed to finish the line and lost 2 places due to it. Potentially this race was supposed to be the revival for the team but now I think the team should just forget the current season and work on the car for the next season and Brawn is way too ahead to catch up and if they finish in the top 3 it would be a great achievement for the team.

Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg got the final points while BMW should be happy to score points after a disastrous Bahrain GP but they still have lots of work to do and in a way they managed to get these points thanks to a huge crash at the first corner which took out Trulli, Sutil and both the Toro Rosso cars. Williams continue to disappoint after a good Friday practice once again and well Rosberg may already be negotiating with various teams regarding drive for 2010.

The big 4 has a lot of work to do if they have to catch up with the likes of Brawn and Red Bull. Toyota had its worst race of the season but then they can bounce back quickly but among the big 4 only Ferrari has shown drastic improvement while McLaren, BMW and Renault continue to languish in the mid-field.

The next race is Monaco and it will be very interesting to see how the likes of Brawn and RBR handle on the street circuit but so far Brawn has cleared every test this season and well if luck can help Vettel, expect him to pull off a victory in Monte Carlo.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spanish GP Preview: Big 4 face the Brawn Test

Spanish GP will be the start of the European leg of the FIA world championship calendar and it is very interesting to see teams like Brawn GP, Red Bull Racing and Toyota dominate the first 4 races of the season. The usual suspects Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Renault have all got major updates coming in and they would be hoping that it would help not only catch up Brawn but also have enough pace to beat them from now on to have any realistic chance of challenging them for the title.

The only man who seems capable of challenging Jenson Button and his Brawn for the championship is Sebastian Vettel and based on his performance in the last few races and with a few upgrades coming in, all he needs is a perfect strategy to take the win in Barcelona. Add in the rain factor and we can see a repeat of China where RBR had a dream one-two finish. Red Bull would be the only team praying for rain as they seem to be way ahead of all their rivals in the wet weather.

The home hero Alonso will definitely not be challenging for a race win but Renault has been working very hard and the next few races is highly crucial for both Alonso and Renault as if they not have the pace to match the top runners then he is surely headed for Ferrari the next year and the team itself without Alonso at helm may even pull out of F1 with the current global recession going in full swing.

The traditional power houses Ferrari and McLaren will be hoping for podium finishes as both have a lot of upgrades coming in while McLaren may still take a few more races to match the pace of Brawn and RBR but Ferrari is confident of having a car which can challenge for a win this weekend at Catalunya.

It is a make or break race for BMW who has abandoned their KERS for the time being and is having loads of changes to make the car competitive after their disastrous last race. BMW atleast did manage to score some lucky points but they need some sort of miracle to put a performance like what they did during the last season.

Toyota is really quick and will be hoping for its first win this season as the team has been very consistent and scoring points on a regular basis but then with a little luck they may score a win too. Also the team is confident they have enough resource to match the big teams to sustain the momentum and the development for the whole season.

Williams must be thinking about the missed opportunities during the first few races but for Rosberg how the team goes on from now on will be very important as if the team after showing early promise goes downhill from now on, he will leave the team for sure and there are enough options available for him.

STR and Force India will make up the numbers but STR may once again score points as their car is very similar to the sister teams RB5 and with a Ferrari engine, they do have a decent package to provide some sort of inspired challenge.

Traditionally Ferrari has dominate this race but this season that could very well change and also there has been rumours of rain dances happening in Milton Keynes but expect a blockbuster of the race with Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel being the favourites to win the race but do not rule out Massa and Kimi to pull off something.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The New Red Baron

Sebastian Vettel is already dubbed by the German media as “Baby Schumi” and he won his first race in a rain interrupted race in Monza of all the places for the Toro Rosso team last year. His win was not only the first win for the former Minardi team which been the perennial backmarker of F1 since 1985 but he also became the youngest F1 race winner by more than a year.

Vettel had a very impressive junior career and it was during the 2006 season that he came into the limelight when BMW team promoted Kubica their then Friday driver to a race seat and Vettel to that of the Friday driver. Kubica throughout the season was very impressive during his Friday drivers and Vettel immediately showed that he is as good or if not even better than Kubica and pulled off some very impressive times on the BMW.

He made his F1 debut for the BMW team during the 2007 season as a substitute for Kubica during the US GP and he scored his first points and he became the youngest driver in F1 to score points. Later on that season he joined the Toro Rosso team replacing Scott Speed for the remainder of the season. He did score his first points for the team in China by finishing 4th.

2008 would be the breakthrough year for Vettel as he inspired the Toro Rosso team to its best ever season by not only winning the Italian GP but also scored a string of consistent performance that he finished 8th in the driver’s championship and the team finished an all time high of 6th in the driver’s championship finishing ahead of teams like Red Bull Racing, Williams and Honda.

Ever since his victory in Monza where the German national anthem was heard along with the Italian national anthem for the first time since 2006 when Michael Schumacher announced his retirement, there has been speculation that he will be driving a Ferrari in the future. Also ironically he won his first race with a Ferrari engine for an Italian team.

This season he is 2nd in the driver’s championship and currently seem be the only person capable of challenging Jenson Button and his Brawn GP car. Though Red Bull has backed him for long and he was promoted as a lead driver for the RBR team after his phenomenol performance with the STR team during the last season and even though this year RBR seem to have a package of winning the titles, they still remain an independent team and will never have the resources that Ferrari will have.

Every driver’s dream is to drive for Ferrari, just ask Jean Alesi in the 90’s he had an option for driving for the vastly superior Williams or the McLaren team but his heart ruled over his head and instead of becoming a former world champion, he drove for the underperforming Ferrari and finished his career as a good driver but not among the greats. Well those were the dark days for Ferrari and though Ferrari is going thru a horrible time now, it will surly bounce back and if Vettel dreams of winning multiple world championships and come close in breaking the original Red Baron’s record of 7 world championships well Ferrari is the team which can offer Vettel the chance and well all hope by 2011, the Young bull would become the new Red Baron.