Friday, April 23, 2010

The Gravel Trap

The Gravel Trap will be a weekly short column which will focus on what is happening around the world of F1 for the week. It will run regularly during the season.

Michael Schumacher has been on the radar of the Tifosi since he jumped ship to Mercedes and him promoting the new AMG supercar which is ironically colored as Rosa Corsa has not gone too well but his comeback has been more like the other Schumacher’s comeback rather than the bloody driver who pushed his own brother to get a podium place!

The Volcanic ash has affected the F1 crew but now there is no reason why the Spanish GP has to be cancelled. It is interesting that teams & drivers have travelled all over the world to reach their home bases and some locations include Morocco, Hawaii, New Zealand, etc.

Ferrari finally has a young gun program and I guess gone are the days of sending a boy to Sauber to get some training but then doing a few laps every grand prix is not exactly training. Some future F1 hopefuls include Jules Bianchi and one Mirko Bortolotti, who is said to be the most talented Italian driver of this generation. Though the last talented Italian driver got his Ferrari drive a bit too late and rest is history.

Hamilton likes moderate F1 stewards so that he can weave to overtake a rookie and then go drag racing in the pits stop so that he can show of to Nicole Scherzinger!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Race to the Championship

Only four races are over this season and already we have had 3 different winners and 3 different people leading the championship. Before the start of the season, as many as four teams were in contention with up to 8 drivers having a chance for the title. Though only four races are over, realistically as of now only 3 teams have a chance for the constructor’s championship and 7 drivers have a chance for the driver’s championship. Stranger things have happened and it is still very early to discount Mercedes in the constructor’s title race and Schumacher in the driver’s championship along with Webber.

Let us look at the driver’s and the teams to see what has been done so far and who has to do what to get closer to the title race.

Jenson Button – No one expected Button to lead the championship after the 1st four races of the season but he is leading the championship and he also won 2 races so far. A mix of good driving and a sound tire strategy could be the key towards this but Jenson Button has proved that he is not going to let Hamilton blow him away and though there have been 2 races where Hamilton has beaten him, Button has made the most of the conditions and because of various factors he leads the race as of now. If Button has to retain his title, he needs more solid drivers and should hope that strategy always works in his favor.

Winning the title could be another Cinderella story but finishing ahead of Hamilton is a possibility

Lewis Hamilton – The 2008 World Champion was expected to leave off Button but Hamilton despite some brilliance on the track is once again followed by controversy for his on track antics. His weaving maneuver on Vitaly Petrov has not gone well with the F1 community while his pit-lane skirmish with Vettel is sure to attract some criticism. Though he drivers flat out there is a difference between fair racing and bending all sorts of rules. If Hamilton continues to do that, it will only be a matter of time that he will be black flagged very soon.

Chances of winning title is slim as of now as he needs to be more consistent but beating Button should be a worry

Sebastian Vettel – The man who was expected to win all the races so far has won only one while mechanical failures has cost him 2 while bad strategy cost him another one in China. Vettel is one of the best driver’s on the grid and if Red Bull overcomes their mechanical issues, he is the clear favorite to win the title. Though he has shown great maturity, he also needs the backing of the team. If things continue as it has been during the 1st 4 races, he may still be in the hunt but these early mistakes could cost him the title.

If Red Bull gets it act together, expect Vettel to be crowned the youngest F1 driver

Fernando Alonso – After the 1st race everyone expected the Spaniard to win the title without any hiccups but now not only has Alonso has to worry about Massa but with the likes of Vettel, Button & Hamilton in the background, Ferrari’s engine trouble may cost him the title as he may just run out of engines by the last few races and with grid penalties it would be an impossible task to win the title when it gets close.

Alonso is a very serious contender if Ferrari’s engines don’t blow up

Felipe Massa – Massa was leading the table after 3 races without even winning a race shows how consistent he has been. It has been his best ever start to season and he has been very consistent so far with points scored during all the races. Though his best chance of winning a title was in 2008, he has really improved as a driver but has to beat Alonso consistently to ensure that Ferrari backs hid bid for the title.

Massa could once again end up his teammate for the title challenge during the 2nd half of the season

Nico Rosberg – During the last season, he was one of the most wanted drivers on the grid with McLaren, Brawn and BMW courting for his services. He joined Brawn and was expected to lead the newly reformed Mercedes GP team but his lack of race wins saw Schumacher making a shocking comeback and though Rosberg was expected to struggle against Schumacher, he has proved that he deserves a top car and so far has not only comprehensively beaten Schumacher but a very consistent season means that he is now 2nd in the drivers championship.

Still early days but needs a few wins to really make him a title contender

Robert Kubica – No one expected Kubica to be on podiums leave alone actually has a fighting chance for the driver’s championship. Kubica and Renault were expected to be fighting the likes of Williams and Force India but after a stunning start to the season, Kubica has become the dark horse of the season and if the big 4 drivers continues to take points off each other, he maybe the unlikely candidate for the driver’s championship.

The Dark horse of the season needs luck to clinch him the title more than anything else

Though it is early days, both Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber have struggled and have failed to have an impact like their teammates have had. Also their performances may decide the fate of their teams in the constructor’s championships.

Michael Schumacher – Has had one of his worst starts to the season but he has been out of F1 for 3 long years and things have changed. Previously Schumacher was used to just one team and one driver challenging him but now with some many rivals; this could his toughest ever season. Though Schumacher winning the title for 2010 may not happen, him winning a race towards the end of the season is a possibility.

Winning a race would make this comeback a great success but he needs to beat Rosberg

Mark Webber – Talk of Kimi replacing him at Red Bull next season will be running at the back of his head but this could be his only chance of having any realistic chance at the title. He needs to drive like a champion for the rest of the season to make an impact and put his name in the title race. Even a top 3 finish at the year end driver’s ranking will not guarantee him of a seat at RBR unless he beats Vettel.

Webber may have his last season with a very good car

Expect Vettel & Alonso fighting for the championship with Button, Hamilton, Massa & Rosberg also in the mix. But this season the result will depend on the team reliability rather than the drivers.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2010 Chinese GP Review: Button wins with Mercedes power dominating the podium

Jenson Button won his 2nd race of the year and won the Chinese GP under wet conditions to take lead in the driver’s championship. Jenson Button had a flawless driver where a mix of solid driving and good tire strategy won him the race. It was a good weekend for McLaren as Hamilton though did make some questionable moves throughout the race came in 2nd to ensure that they lead the constructor’s championship as well.

Rivals Mercedes should be happy with the result as Rosberg not only got his 2nd consecutive podium but also ensure that he is now 2nd in the championship while teammate Schumacher was still struggling and could get only one point of the race. Mercedes though were expected to struggle this weekend did look strong and it will be only a matter of time where they will have a car as fast as anyone else in the grid.

Red Bull though managed to have both their drivers scoring points should be highly disappointed with a questionable tire strategy which saw both their drivers who were on target for podium finishes to finish at 6th and 8th. It is still early days but then with the grid so tight and as many as 7 drivers fighting for the title as of now, RBR needs to get its act together or else may once again lose out on the championship.

Ferrari did not exactly have a good weekend and now they have lost both the driver’s and constructor’s championship positions to McLaren. Ferrari needs to sort out small issues if they need to win the title. Massa & Alonso are not too behind Button but they need a string of wins to start dominating the tables as there have been too many changes within such a short span of time.

Renault and Kubica would be cursing the safety car as they were on track for another podium but they once again had a solid weekend and managed to get both the cars on points. It was a good weekend for the team with Kubica still on the hunt for the driver’s championship while the team is definitely ahead of Force India, Williams and STR while it is fast catching up with Mercedes. Vitaly Petrov scored his first points and it was good to see the Russian driver finish his first F1 race with points as the previous 3 races saw him retire.

Force India had a solid package and should feel unlucky for not scoring any points but then the team is ahead of both Williams and STR but they have to do a lot of work to catch up with Renault. Williams are struggling and though the team may score points, they need some upgrades to catch up with Force India while STR is on par with them and could even overtake them during the European leg of the season.

Sauber continued to have a miserable start to the season and if this continues the team may just fold off. Though the car is pretty quick, the team has to work on reliability and should ensure that the team start finishing races before even thinking of points.

Among the 3 new teams, Lotus once again proved to be the best among them while HRT as of now seems to have a better package than Virgin but the European season could see some major changes among this pack.

It was very chaotic Chinese GP and Jenson Button is proving to be a good competitor for Hamilton as before the start of the season everyone expected Hamilton to blow Button away and though it is early days, if Button continue to perform this way, he may have a very serious shot in retaining his title.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2010 Chinese GP: Ferrari & McLaren seek redemption during Bull Run

Red Bull totally dominated the 2010 Malaysian GP with a perfect race which saw Sebastien Vettel winning his first race of the season with teammate Webber coming in 2nd. Red Bull has been strong since the start of the season and seems to have the fastest car but reliability have hit them hard and Vettel was on track to win both the Australian and Bahrain grand prix till reliability issues stalled his progress but they seem to have got everything right when he won at Sepang. Mark Webber is under severe pressure to perform this season as there are rumours of Kimi taking his seat for the 2011 season. SO far he has been a bit shaky this season but if he continues to race as he did in Malaysia, he should be on the hunt for the title very soon.

Ferrari and McLaren had a very bad Malaysian GP which saw them mess up qualifying so badly that the teams failed to get a driver on the podium despite having superior machinery as of now to Mercedes GP. McLaren seem to have an upper hand as we go towards the Chinese GP as their cars looks more suited to the track and could provide stiff challenge to RBR while Ferrari may lead both the championships as of now but with engine reliability as an issue things are not looking as rosy as it was for the team. Massa may lead the drivers’ championship but with the rumour of Kubica joining Alonso in Ferrari for 2011 should be a distraction which is best avoided for his own good.

Mercedes scored its first podium of the year with Rosberg finishing 3rd and though on paper he is just 4 points behind leader Massa, he needs to score as much as points as possible till Barcelona as the team is expected to debut a “B” spec car which is expected to put them on the title hunt firmly. Michael Schumacher’s last win was here but that seem to be a long time back while even rival Alonso might still consider Schumacher as his title rival for 2010, unless Mercedes does something to the car, Schumacher will only be a prop for the team. He may still beat Rosberg to prove a point that he still has it in him.

Renault and Kubica have had 2 amazing race weekends and Renault is looking to catch up with Mercedes during this weekend. Though Kubica is not much behind Massa, but if he continues to drive the way he is doing as of now, he may emerge as a dark horse for the title race this season. Russia’s 1st F1 driver Petrov proved that he is every bit of a racer and it took Hamilton to pull off an unsporting weaving to actually keep Petrov off. He will be looking forward to score his 1st set of points this weekend.

Force India has had its best ever start to the season and the team while it was known as Jordan actually even challenged for the title for a season will be looking to catch up with Renault. So far Force India is well ahead of Williams and STR but it needs both its drivers to score points together to catch up with Renault. The track should favour them and they could even be faster than Mercedes GP this weekend. Force India has to make the most of the conditions and ensure that they get both drivers on points with one of them even having an outside chance of making it to the podium.

Williams and STR are with points and though STR seems like it has caught with Williams during the last race, it is a long season and STR should work really hard to sustain the momentum. Jaime Alguersuari may have ended his points scoring draught but Sebastien Buemi is still considered a better driver and the tussle between these 2 through the season should be interesting. Nico Hulkenberg proved that he has the talent by scoring his 1st F1 point but he needs to beat Rubens Barrichello once again to show that he is the real deal.

Sauber is the only old team yet to score points and the way things are going if they don’t score points they may not even last the season. Pedro de la Rosa is yet to score points while Kamui Kobayashi is just the shadow of the driver we saw he was with Toyota last season. Sauber needs a change in fortune or else it will be only a matter of time when Lotus catches up with them.

It is good to see the new teams making progress and Lotus may be the only team among the lot to have a realistic chance of scoring some points during the season. Still lot of work has to be done but with 2 experienced drivers and a good set-up they can surprise people towards the 2nd half of the season. HRT has done well so far but with Dallara not building a car up to the mark they may lag behind Lotus and even Virgin Racing.

Though RBR seems to have the speed, you cannot discount Ferrari or McLaren while Force India and Renault may surprise a lot of people. Mercedes needs a sound strategy and a miracle drive from Schumacher to pull anything of this race. This was also the venue where Vettel driving for STR during his debut season crashed into Webber during the safety car period while Hamilton got stuck into gravel on his way to pits. So strange things have happened here and 2010 would definitely benefit from another strange race with rains.

Chinese GP Top 10 Predictions

1. Sebastien Vettel
2. Mark Webber
3. Adrian Sutil
4. Lewis Hamilton
5. Fernando Alonso
6. Michael Schumacher
7. Felipe Massa
8. Jenson Button
9. Robert Kubica
10. Vitantonio Liuzzi

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Red Baron is no more but will the Silver Knight rise again?

Michael Schumacher is one of the greatest if not the greatest driver ever in motorsport history. He is a former 7 times World Champion and holds every possible record possible. But a lot of things have changed in the sport since the time he left in 2006 to what it is now. Three years may not be long enough span in other sports but in F1 lots of things have changed. Apart from the rules and regulations, 4 teams namely Honda, Toyota, MF1 & Super Aguri do not exist anymore while BMW has left Sauber while Renault is not in control of its own team.

Kimi Räikkönen, the man who was hastily pulled in as a replacement for Schumacher managed to have a stellar season during his debut for Ferrari and erased the image of Schumacher for a while after a stunning victory at the Brazilian GP to snatch the titles from the McLaren duo of Alonso and Hamilton. This was to lead another golden era for the team but then Kimi started to fade and he became very erratic. Kimi had way too many ups & downs that his teammate Massa who was expected to be the 2nd driver rose up for the challenge and fought hard for the Championship during the 2008 season and ended up losing it by a point to Hamilton despite winning more races through the season.

2009 is a year which Ferrari should forget as they had their worst ever showing since the Schumacher era but Massa’s accident nearly made Schumacher to make his comeback for the Ferrari team but then his neck was not yet healed and instead longtime test driver Luca Badoer was Massa’s replacement while after just 2 races he himself was replaced by fellow Italian Giancarlo Fisichella who’s long dream of racing for the Scuderia was fulfilled. Brawn and Jenson Button managed to win both the titles and for a while there was talk of both Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld both linked with both McLaren and Brawn. But with the exit of manufacturers like BMW and Toyota, the driver market was turned upside down and the signing of Alonso, the man who beat Schumacher to 2 World Championships with Ferrari ended in the exit of Kimi.

The most shocking turn of events began when Mercedes decided to pull out from the McLaren team and decided to take over the Brawn team. Though Jenson Button was expected to stay, he ended up moving to McLaren to prove that he did not win the title only because of his car while Nico Rosberg after months of speculation joined the newly reformed Mercedes GP team. Though Nick Heidfeld was expected to partner Rosberg in an all German team, the team lacked the star value which rivals McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull had and both their drivers were yet to win a race. Ross Brawn has send an SOS to long term friend Schumacher and the unthinkable happened. The Red Baron quit Ferrari to join rivals Mercedes and made one of the most dramatic comeback in sports by racing for the Silver Arrow team.
Schumacher is 41 years old and made his F1 debut when Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari was just one year old. Though he is very fit, he has not been racing or even testing during the last 3 seasons and him making a comeback and finishing in points at the Bahrain GP itself is an awesome achievement which only he could have done it. Last season Rubens Barrichello who was Button’s teammate had one podium finish after the 1st 3 races while Button won 2 races and managed a 3rd in the other race. Though Barrichello was quick and was racing in F1 without a break, he was totally outpaced and outclassed by Button during the 1st half of the season.

This season Rosberg who was always been a good driver but never had the car to win races even now does not have a car which can win races. Mercedes is improving but no way is it close to Red Bull, Ferrari or the McLaren cars. It is a decent car which can challenge the other 3 teams but it is not like Rosberg is winning with the current car while Schumacher is failing to finish races. It is still early days and if Mercedes does have a car which can challenge for wins, Schumacher will be in the hunt. It may take some time but Schumacher will win more races before he retires permanently.

The talk of Schumacher’s comeback as a failure is very premature and childish as also Schumacher’s 9 points compared to Rosberg’s 35 points is also because of the new points system. It is early days and it is a long season, once Mercedes is up to pace, Schumacher will be back. Ruling out a legend like that is just plain stupid and however good you are, if the car is not fast enough you just cannot produce results. A good example of this was Alonso during the last season when the Renault was just not performing. Schumacher is more motivated than ever and by the end of the season if Mercedes do have a car which can be quick, expect some wheel to wheel racing between Schumacher & the young guns like Hamilton and Vettel.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2010 Malaysian GP Review: Vettel wins with Red Bull 1-2

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull showed that why they were the most feared team before the season started as finally the Red Bull managed to hold up and Vettel drove the perfect race to finish a one-two for the team with Mark Webber coming in 2nd. Though rains main qualifying unpredictable with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren missing Q1, the rains stayed away from the race and though Vettel was not bothered much by anyone, there were awesome fights across all the other positions on track.


Lewis Hamilton drove one of his best races and though was at times a bit too aggressive, it was great to see him finish 6th after starting from the 20th. Though towards the end he struggled to overtake Adrian Sutil, but it was a great site to see Force India keeping ahead of McLaren. Teammate Jenson Button managed to come in 8th but was luckily to keep out Alonso who had gear problems which eventually not only caused him problems in overtaking Button but with a lap to go the engine blew up causing him to lose 2 vital points as now he is tied 2nd in the championship with Vettel while teammate Massa leads the table for Ferrari with a 2 point lead.


As expected this season should be a close one, but Mercedes GP who was title contenders before the season started finally managed to get to the podium with Rosberg taking a well deserved 3rd place. Not only he proved that he is faster than Schumacher but he showed that he has it in him to fight with the best. Schumacher once again had a disappointing race but this time he retired due to technical issues but he did show glimpse of old form during the qualifying and by the 2nd half of the season he should be back to normal.


Renault after a very good Australian GP which saw Kubica finish 2nd, once again had a good race for Kubica as he managed 4th place. This was a crucial finish for the team as now in the Constructors championship, it is well ahead of the rest and fast catching up with Mercedes. Vitaly Petrov proved that he has all the talent in the world but going wheel to wheel with Hamilton and even successfully keeping him at bay for a while till Hamilton pulled an illegal move to overtake the Russian. It is only a matter of time with some luck Petrov should be scoring points.


Force India proved that early season form is no flash in the pan with Sutil finishing 5th and the team managed to finish ahead of well funded teams like McLaren and Ferrari. Force India have started the season well and if they improve further they have a good chance of getting one of their drivers on podium but now keeping up with the Renault team should be a challenge for the team.


William’s Nico Hulkenberg scored his maiden F1 points by finishing 10th and though he was lucky at times, he managed to perform in an underpowered Williams which is fast losing out to Renault and Force India, while Toro Rosso was faster than the Williams during the Malaysian GP. Toro Rosso also opened its account for the season with teenage driver Jaime Alguersuari scoring maiden points after a miserable last season. Alguersuari is very young and with experience he could become a very godo driver in the future.


Sauber had a horrible weekend once again with reliability issues hurting them badly. Pedro de la Rosa failed to start the race while Kamui Kobayashi who was looking good early on retired after 8 laps only. Though Sauber is a quick car if they manage to sort out the reliability issues, they can score a few points.


HRT which had a very bad start to Bahrain looked better than both Lotus and Virgin Racing as the Spanish team had both drivers finishing the race. The team has improved a lot and both Lotus and Virgin had to seriously look at this team as they could emerge as the front runner among the new teams this season.


It is early days but it is good to see 3 different winners already this season and as many as 5 drivers separated by less than 5 points. It is good see Kubica and Renault in the mix as well and though it may be an impossible task for the team but Kubica is ahead of Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher as off now and just one point behind Lewis Hamilton. Still early days but the F1 season after a boring start at Bahrain has really kicked off and it should only get better as the we head to China in 2 weeks.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

2010 Malaysian GP Preview: Vettel will win if he finishes while rain could play a part

After a boring start to the season at Bahrain, it was a slug fest at the Australian GP and Jenson Button would definitely feel vindicated after a stunning win on a wet track due to a great gamble and Vettel’s reliability issues. Though had Vettel had not had that failure he would have won the race but nevertheless Button showed that he is not purely dependent on very good cars to win the race and he can also drive for victories. His teammate had a weekend to forget and though he did manage 6th place but he still was critical of McLaren’s strategy and have to forget what happened in Melbourne last week and regain composure to challenge for the win in Malaysia.

It is early in the season but it is high time Red Bull solves all reliability issues as Vettel can’t be the fastest man on track but still struggling to finish races and he has been vocal about the possibility of moving to Ferrari in the future and if Red Bull wants to keep him post 2011, he needs to win the title this season while teammate Webber though tried too hard in his home grand prix, he needs to up the game and perform like Vettel’s equal rather than a # 2 driver and if Webber continues in this form, Red Bull may just put Kimi in its cars as he is already racing for them in the WRC.

Ferrari leads both the titles as of now and do have the most all-round car on the grid but with team orders a thing of the past but if Massa and Alonso continue to eat points of each other then it may be a case where they will win the constructor’s title easily while may yet lose out on the driver’s championship. Though the relationship between Massa and Alonso has been cordial it is still early oart of the season and once it gets heats up, there can many potential clashes between the duo both on and off track.

Mercedes as Brawn managed to totally decimate the opposition but now with Schumacher, a 7 time World Champion and Rosberg, one of the brightest young talent on the grid, the team is struggling and they need to up their performance quickly as if they do fail so they may be faster than the rest of the grid but will lag behind Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull. They may have a lonely season and Schumacher may just quit once again if he is not motivated enough.

Kubica’s stunning performance may have given Renault all the inspiration in the world and though they may not achieve the same in Malaysia, but still it was a very important result for the team which went through various changes towards the end of last season and a strong Renault team is always good for the sport. Vitaly Petrov has not had the perfect debut season but he needs to start performing soon or else though he is a talented driver, the pay-driver stigma will hurt him badly in the future.

Williams and Force India ware well ahead of Sauber and Toro Rosso but now with the emergence of Renault, it has turned into a 3 way race to see is who will finish as the 5th best team in the grid and though Force India compared to the last few seasons had had one of its best starts ever and at times seems even quicker than Williams but if Williams continues to aim to remain as a premier team, they need to do something real quick as they have not won a race since 2004 and great teams usually do not go on such a long losing streak.

Sauber have to overcome their reliability issues and though they de la Rosa did manage to finish the race, the team was not expected to do a Brawn but was considered a dark horse but now struggling to keep up Toro Rosso and the way things are shaping up, the Italian team may just upstage their rivals and may quickly want to catch up with Force India, fellow back markers during the previous seasons.

Lotus must relish racing here as this is their home grand prix and though scoring any points will be an amazing thing for the team especially at sepang but so far they have proved that there are the best of the new teams and if they continue to improve they realistically have a chance to catch up with the likes of Sauber and STR before the season ends.

Virgin may not finish races as off now due to a very small fuel tank while Hispanic Racing after a disastrous start at Bahrain have got their feet on ground and it is only a matter of time before they start challenging Virgin and Lotus but their only problem could be is that Lotus and Virgin have drivers with F1 experience while HRT has 2 rookie drivers.

Last year’s Malaysian GP was a deluge and though rain is expected this year, it should not be that bad and if it does rains, it will be amazing to see wet track specialists like Schumacher, Vettel and Button battling each other. F1 season has really begun and Malaysia will once again provide a total entertaining race.

Malaysian GP Top 10 Predictions

1. Sebastien Vettel
2. Fernando Alonso
3. Felipe Massa
4. Jenson Button
5. Lewis Hamilton
6. Nico Rosberg
7. Michael Schumacher
8. Mark Webber
9. Adrian Sutil
10. Vitantonio Liuzzi