Category Archives: Formula 1

F1 at 900 – the Milestone Races

This weekend sees the 900th Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. Let’s take a look at some of the milestones from the past, including all the first race wins for future world champions.

RACE NO DATE RACE MILESTONE/WINNER
1 13 May 1950 British Grand Prix 1st Race / First win for Giuseppe Farina
2 21 May 1950 Monaco Grand Prix First win of Juan Manuel Fangio
13 29 July 1951 German Grand Prix First win for Alberto Ascari
28 05 July 1953 French Grand Prix First win for Mike Hawthorn
50 13 May 1956 Monaco Grand Prix 50th Race / Race won by Stirling Moss
76 10 May 1959 Monaco Grand Prix First win for Jack Brabham
93 04 September 1960 Italian Grand Prix First win for Phil Hill
100 06 August 1961 German Grand Prix 100th Race / Race won by Stirling Moss
103 20 May 1962 Dutch Grand Prix First win for Graham Hill
105 17 June 1962 Belgian Grand Prix First win for Jim Clark
117 04 August 1963 German Grand Prix First win for John Surtees
139 12 September 1965 Italian Grand Prix First win for Jackie Stewart
152 07 May 1967 Monaco Grand Prix First win for Denny Hulme
183 05 October 1969 United States Grand Prix First win for Jochen Rindt
196 04 October 1970 United States Grand Prix First win for Emerson Fittipaldi
198 06 March 1971 South African Grand Prix First win for Mario Andretti
200 23 May 1971 Monaco Grand Prix 200th Race / Race won by Jackie Stewart
239 28 April 1974 Spanish Grand Prix First win for Niki Lauda
242 09 June 1974 Swedish Grand Prix First win for Jody Scheckter
258 22 June 1975 Dutch Grand Prix First win for James Hunt
292 14 August 1977 Austrian Grand Prix First win for Alan Jones
300 04 March 1978 South African Grand Prix 300th Race / Race won by Ronnie Peterson
332 30 March 1980 United States Grand Prix West First win for Nelson Piquet
350 05 July 1981 French Grand Prix First win for Alain Prost
371 29 August 1982 Swiss Grand Prix First win for Keke Rosberg
400 19 August 1984 Austrian Grand Prix 400th Race / Race won by Niki Lauda
406 21 April 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix First win for Ayrton Senna
418 06 October 1985 European Grand Prix First win for Nigel Mansell
500 04 November 1990 Australian Grand Prix 500th Race / Race won by Nelson Piquet
528 30 August 1992 Belgian Grand Prix First win for Michael Schumacher
543 15 August 1993 Hungarian Grand Prix First win for Damon Hill
585 28 April 1996 European Grand Prix First win for Jacques Villeneuve
600 13 April 1997 Argentine Grand Prix 600th Race / Race won by Jacques Villeneuve
614 26 October 1997 European Grand Prix First win for Mika Hakkinen
699 23 March 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix First win for Kimi Raikkonen
700 06 April 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix 700th Race / Race won by Giancarlo Fisichella
710 24 August 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix First win for Fernando Alonso
763 06 August 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix First win for Jenson Button
774 10 June 2007 Canadian Grand Prix First win for Lewis Hamilton
799 14 September 2008 Italian Grand Prix Sebastian Vettel’s first win
800 28 September 2008 Singapore Grand Prix 800th Race / Race won by Fernando Alonso
900 06 April 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix ?

 

The Last Ten Disqualifications in Formula 1

With Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo having been disqualified from his impressive second place at the recent Australian Grand Prix, I took some time to check out the last ten disqualifications in Formula 1, investigation who had the misfortune to get disqualified, and the reasons why they suffered that fate.

  1. Sergio Perez/Kamui Kobayashi – Australian Grand Prix 2011

Both Kobayashi and Perez in their Sauber’s were disqualified post-race after their rear wings were deemed to be illegal.  They had finished in seventh and eighth.

DQ1

  1. Lewis Hamilton – Australian Grand Prix 2009

Hamilton in his McLaren was disqualified post-race after the stewards deemed his team had provided deceptive information about why Jarno Trulli passed Hamilton behind the safety car.

DQ2

  1. Rubens Barrichello – Australian Grand Prix 2008

Barrichello in his Honda was disqualified post-race for exiting the pitlane while the red light at the end of the pitlane was illuminated during a safety car period.  He had initially finished sixth.

DQ3

  1. Felipe Massa/Giancarlo Fisichella – Canadian Grand Prix 2007

Both Massa in his Ferrari and Fisichella in his Renault were disqualified mid-race for exiting the pitlane while the red light at the end of the pitlane was illuminated during a safety car period.

  1. Takuma Sato – Chinese Grand Prix 2006

Sato in his Super Aguri was disqualified post-race from his 14th place after it was deemed he had ignored blue flags during the race.

  1. Robert Kubica – Hungarian Grand Prix 2006

Kubica in his debut race for the BMW Sauber team was disqualified post-race from seventh due to his car being underweight in a post-race weight check.  This was blamed on excessive tyre wear but the disqualification remained.

  1. Tiago Monteiro/Christijan Albers – German Grand Prix 2006

Both Monteiro and Albers in their Midland F1 cars were disqualified post-race as the rear wing was deemed to be too flexible.  They had finished 13th and 14th respectively.

  1. Takuma Sato – Japanese Grand Prix 2005

Sato in his BAR was disqualified post-race for a collision with the Toyota of Jarno Trulli.  The move was deemed dangerous by the FIA.

  1. Juan Pablo Montoya – Canadian Grand Prix 2005

Montoya in his McLaren was disqualified mid-race for exiting the pit lane while the red light at the end of the pitlane was illuminated during a safety car period.

  1. Jenson Button/Takuma Sato – San Marino Grand Prix 2005

Post-race, Button’s BAR car was found to be underweight, and both Button and team-mate Sato were disqualified and banned from the next two events in Spain and Monaco.

Bruno Junqueira – The F1 dream that never Happened

It was a case of what might have been for Bruno Junqueira.  He was one half of a shoot out for the Williams F1 drive in the year 2000.  Unfortunately he would miss out on the drive to a certain Jenson Button, and the Brazilian would never get the opportunity to compete in Formula 1.

Junqueira 2

Alessandro Zanardi’s departure from Williams at the end of 1999 following a disappointing season left an opening alongside German Ralf Schumacher for the 2000 season.  In a shoot out at Barcelona, both 1999 Williams test driver Junqueira and then rookie Button impressed, finishing within two tenths of a second apart.

“Both drivers did a very good job,” said a team spokesman at the time. “They kept the car on the road, and the sessions were totally trouble-free. It will be a very tough decision to make.”

It was a tough decision, but ultimately Williams went for Button, leaving Junqueira out in the cold.

‘We decided to go for Jenson because we feel that over the long term he has truly vast potential,’ said Frank Williams at the time of signing Button.

Patrick Head admitted that Junqueira was his driver of choice prior to the Barcelona shoot out, but Button’s performance made it impossible for them to ignore him.

“I’d pretty much decided we should have Junqueira because we were already familiar with him and the engineers had a high regard for his technical understanding,” said Head.

“Then Jenson did a test for us at Jerez that suddenly made the decision very difficult. We then went to Barcelona and he used a left-foot braking set-up for the first time – it wasn’t something he’d done before.

“And instantly, on a track he’d never seen before, he was very quick and in the end we had to go for him.”

Junqueira 5

Junqueira would return to F3000 with the Petrobras Junior team, and won four races en-route to the championship, defeating Frenchman Nicolas Minassian in a final race shoot-out.  When asked about his prospects about moving to Formula 1 in 2001, he was doubtful.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m just trying to stay away from this, because I don’t want to have a big frustration if I don’t get an F1 drive,” said Junqueira.

“On the other hand because I’m not hoping too much, if I get it, it will be very good for me, and I will be really happy. I think I’ve learned in the past that I have to do my job and try to get a good team, and see what happens.

“I have a possibility to go to CART, and I also have to think about being a test driver. I like to race, but you can learn testing. If Jenson was staying at Williams, there might be more opportunities to test next year, but a new driver needs time.

“At the start of this year I wasn’t doing many tests, but at the end of the year I will do much more, because Jenson already has a handle on the car and doesn’t need to test so much.”

Ultimately, an F1 drive was not forthcoming for the Brazilian, and he did move to CART with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“It’s good to come in with such a good team, such a competitive team,” said Junqueira on signing with Ganassi.  “And that will help me a lot in the first year. The first year is going to be a learning year. I don’t know about ovals, I don’t know the other circuits either. I think with a good team like Ganassi, they can teach me and show me how to go.

“I enjoyed the car a lot. There was a lot of power, really fast on the straights. The biggest thing is the power, and how fast it comes in, when the turbo comes in you have big power. I thought that after the test went very well, and that I could have a good opportunity.”

Chip Ganassi was happy to announce Junqueira as one of his drivers for the 2001 season, alongside Nicolas Minassian.

“Bruno and Nicolas displayed a lot of talent and experience during our tests and they both have impressive racing resumes,” said Ganassi.

“One thing that jumped out at us was how similar their attitudes and racing styles were to [Jimmy] Vasser and [Juan Pablo] Montoya. We believe these guys will quickly become stars in this series.”

Junqueira 6

Whereas Minassian was dropped after just seven events, Junqueira remained at the team for two seasons and won his first CART race at Road America event in August.  He finished 16th in the standings, and was second in the rookie of the year rankings behind New Zealander Scott Dixon.  He was then retained for the 2002 season.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to drive for Team Target in 2002,” Junqueira said.

“Last year, I developed a good relationship with my engineers and team members, and I’m looking forward to working with them again. We had some good races, but I was hoping for better results than what we had. I’m looking forward to getting back in the seat of the Target car and winning some more races this year.”

Ganassi managing director Mike Hull welcomed the Brazilian back to the team for a second season, and praised his speed and ability on track.

“Bruno learned a lot from his rookie season last year,” said Hull.  “He’s an extremely talented driver who had some flashes of brilliance last year. He also made some mistakes, which I’m confident he’s learned from. Bruno has shown he can run at the front and win races.

“With one year of experience in CART, he has a chance to compete for the championship this season.”

Whereas a fight for the championship did not exactly happen, four wins saw him finish second behind fellow Brazilian Cristiano da Matta in the standings.  He did shock the Indy Racing League though, when in a one-off appearance at the Indy 500, Junqueira grabbed pole position.

“I thought I could qualify in the first or second row,” he said. “One thing I have learned in one year of racing ovals is you have to be patient, especially in the race. But today I was the first one to qualify. That can be good or bad – you never know what can happen.”

Junqueira 7

He swapped Ganassi Racing for Newman/Haas Racing for 2003, and once again he finished second in the championship, this time behind Canadian Paul Tracy.  It was a much closer affair, and Junqueira was still in the hunt for the championship going into the penultimate event.  However Tracy won in Mexico to clinch the title, leaving Junqueira to fight Mexican Michel Jourdain Jr for second.

He remained at Newman/Haas for 2004, this time in the newly formed Champ Car series, which had replaced CART, and for a third consecutive season ended up runner-up in the championship.  He lost out this time to Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, but Junqueira did not go down without a fight, and won twice and finished second on no less than seven occasions!  Ultimately he would come up 25 points shy of Bourdais in the championship.

His 2005 season would end abruptly in a crash at the Indianapolis 500.  He broke two vertebras in his back and his ankle when he hit the wall, which saw him ruled out for over six months.  He returned to the paddock at Toronto in July, but only as a spectator.

When Junqueira made his return, he was instantly quick in testing, and legendary actor and Newman/Haas co-owner, the late Paul Newman, praised him.

“That kid had a long, hot summer and he probably got real tired of watching all those guys race when he had to sit,” said Newman.

“He was very impressive wasn’t he? He got right back in rhythm and right back up to speed.  I’m proud of him because he was hurt pretty bad and he really worked hard to get back in shape.”

Junqueira was surprised by Newman’s comments and attendance at the test and admitted it was one of the best days of his life.

“To have Paul here today, I cannot tell you how much that means to me,” said Junqueira.

“He’s not only a great owner, he’s a good friend and this was a very nice surprise. It’s one of the best days of my life.”

Junqueira 1

Junqueira’s 2006 season was not as impressive as in previous years however, and he came only fifth in the championship without winning a race.  He was almost 170 points behind champion Bourdais.

For 2007, he swapped Newman/Haas for Dale Coyne Racing.  He managed three podium finishes for the small outfit, and finished seventh in the championship.  He remained at Dale Coyne for the 2008 IndyCar series; the first year that Champ Car and the Indy Racing League were reunited.  He only managed two top ten finishes as the Champ Car teams adjusted to life in the IndyCar series.

Since 2009 however, he has been left on the sidelines for the majority of the time, with only sparodic appearances in the IndyCar series.  He qualified for both the 2009 and 2011 Indianapolis 500’s before being replaced by other drivers before the race.  In 2009 he was replaced by Conquest Racing team-mate Alex Tagliani, while in 2011, Andretti Autosport paid AJ Foyt to put Ryan Hunter-Reay into his Foyt Enterprises entry.

Tagliani repaid him in 2010 when the FAZZT team he was a part of gave him a chance in their second car at Indianapolis.  He qualified comfortably with barely any running but crashed out early in the race.  In 2012 he made his final IndyCar appearance to date at the Baltimore street race, when he replaced an injured Josef Newgarden in the Sarah Fisher Racing entry.

Junqueira has been most recently seen racing in the now defunct American Le Mans Series.

Junqueira 4

But could have Junqueira cut it in Formula 1?  In my honest opinion, Williams made the correct call to take Jenson Button, but I also believe Junqueira deserved a shot.  He was outstanding in F3000 in 2000, and won many races in CART and Champ Car since.  Had he not had that season-ending crash at Indianapolis in 2005, he could have been champion that year, and it is in my belief that he was never quite the same driver again.  He has always been quick around Indy though.

F1 was an opportunity lost for the Brazilian, and I feel sorry that we never saw him race in F1.  A certain Jenson Button put paid to that dream.

Sources: Autosport

Could Force India spring a 2014 surprise or two?

With Mercedes-power the apparent power-unit of choice for 2014, the Sahara Force India team could be in a position to fight at the front in grand prix this season, at least in the early races.  Add to that the driver line-up – Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez – 2014 could well end up being the team’s most successful season yet.

Testing F1 Jerez de la Fronetra, Spain 28-31 January 2014

Whereas Ferrari and Renault-powered teams have struggled, the Mercedes-powered teams – Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Force India – have all been at the top of the timing charts throughout winter testing in both Jerez and Bahrain.  Force India were linked to changing their engine supply during the 2013 season but stuck with Mercedes, and it looks like this has played dividends.

“It would be engine dominated this year and the biggest differential for teams would be who got the right engine and at the right time,” said Force India Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley.

“It looks at the moment that Mercedes have a slight lead – but that will change – it’s only a matter of time.”

The team completed 213 laps in the first Bahrain test, 137 for Hulkenberg and 76 more for Perez.  Whereas this was the least mileage run by a Mercedes-powered team, they still did considerably more mileage than current world constructors champions Red Bull Racing, who managed a paltry 116 laps in total.  The lap-count could have been higher, had it not been for some technical gremlins that affected running.

Force1

A drivetrain issue on the final day in Bahrain limited Perez to 19 laps, but the team were happy at what they had achieved during the test.

“It’s a shame to lose the track time this afternoon, but I think we can feel quite positive about what we have learned this week,” said Perez.

“Every lap in the car gives us more information and we are always trying something new.”

Team-mate Hulkenberg was happy about what he managed to achieve during his two days in the car in Bahrain, one of which saw him setting the fastest time of the day.  He kept his feet on the ground however, as the team were not focusing on performance.

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Bahrain Test One - Day 1 - Sakhir, Bahrain

“My two days in the car have been very positive,” said Hulkenberg.

“We’ve made some improvements to the car, collected lots of data, and continued to learn with each lap. At the moment it’s still early days, but I’m pleased with the progress we have made in terms of understanding the car.

“Even yesterday with my P1, I’m not cheering, we are not focusing on performance at the moment. It’s the first couple of tests and these are early tests so it’s about taking these things onwards.

“The lap times are not worth a lot in these days, it’s all about checking systems, understanding data. It’s not a lot to be at the top of the time sheets at the moment.”

When describing the characteristics of the new car – the VJM07 – Hulkenberg said the car was full of torque, and was a different beast to drive, but was confident he would get on top of it as the season went on.

“I had one experience of double wheel spin and pulling black marks for 100 metres out of a slow speed corner, which was quite fun, but not ideal for performance!” said Hulkenberg.  “These engines are quite tourquey but I think they will get easier as the season goes on.”

Force5

In the end, Hulkenberg’s time saw him sit fifth overall in quickest times of the four-day test, but was over three seconds down on what pacesetter Nico Rosberg set in his Mercedes.  But Force India were the third fastest team after Mercedes and McLaren, both of which are former race winners, whereas Force India have never had a victory in Formula 1.

If they can iron out the mechanical issues, there is a good possibility that Force India can be challenging for podiums early in the season.  They have only ever had one podium in their history – a second place for Giancarlo Fisichella at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.

“I think we’ve established ourselves as the best of the rest teams and we’ve got five teams in front of us and we’ve got to get in amongst those five teams,” said Fearnley.  “We’ve got to be challenging for podiums.”

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Day 4 - Jerez, Spain

In Hulkenberg and Perez, Force India perhaps have one of the strongest young-driver pairings on the grid.  Hulkenberg in particular is thought of very highly throughout the F1 paddock, and was linked to drives for Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus during the 2013 season before deciding on a return to Force India, for whom he drove for in 2011 (as a test driver) and 2012 before a year at Sauber.  But the German is happy to be back at the Silverstone based team.

“I think the team has grown,” said Hulkenberg on his return to the team. “You can see when I came back to the factory first, the infrastructure has changed.

“There are more people as well and the team is growing, so it is a good signal.”

Bob Fernley was delighted to be able to team Hulkenberg up with McLaren refugee Sergio Perez.  The Mexican spent one-year as Jenson Button’s team-mate before being dropped in favour of Danish driver and 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion Kevin Magnussen, and Fernley was happy Perez ended up at Force India.

Force8

“I actually got really excited about what Sergio did in the last six months with McLaren,” said Fernley.  “I think the McLaren experience for Sergio has transformed him.

“He’s grown up, he’s a very mature driver today and working with a top team like McLaren brings the best out in the drivers. Force India benefits from the efforts of McLaren.”

Whereas Hulkenberg has yet to step foot on a podium in Formula 1, Perez has three to his name in 2012, when he finished second in both Malaysia and Italy, and third in Canada.  The Mexican driver has hopes for a return to the podium, and believes the team could indeed challenge for such results.

“Things are looking good for Mercedes cars but I expect the other manufacturers to catch up so it will be a really close battle in the midfield,” said Perez.

“I think we should aim high as a team and hopefully we can score some podiums.”

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Day 1 - Jerez, Spain

Like team-mate Hulkenberg however, Perez has his feet firmly on the ground.  When asked about the Force India looking strong, he was cautious to agree.

“I wouldn’t draw that conclusion yet,” said Perez.

“We are definitely doing good work before Melbourne, which is the target. We will see what we can do before the first race.

“The other teams are having issues, but everyone is at the moment.  Even us, this morning we had a big delay of two hours so we didn’t manage to complete the full programme.

“Other teams are struggling in the same way, so it’s difficult.”

The pre-season tests come to an end this week with the second Bahrain test, and the team will hope to solve the reliability issues they’ve suffered and get long runs for both Hulkenberg and Perez on the board.

Force7

“With the amount of work involved in resolving the [drivetrain] problem and the lack of time available, we decided it was better to regroup and put our efforts into achieving our objectives next week,” said Otmar Szafnauer, Force India’s Chief Operating Officer after the final day of the first Bahrain test.

So what can we make of Hulkenberg, Perez and Force India with the 2014 Formula 1 season less than a month away?

Well it appears Force India have made a tidy car.  With the new regulations in force, and with Mercedes-power, they have been around the front runners throughout all eight days of the test.  Even reserve driver Daniel Juncadella showed well when given some track time in Jerez.

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Bahrain Test One - Day 3 - Sakhir, Bahrain

With Hulkenberg and Perez, they do have two very talented drivers on board – perhaps the best line-up in the teams seven year history.  They have a very good chance of adding to that solitary podium of 2009.  Bernie Ecclestone even reckons a win is not out of the equation.

“Why a podium? I would love to see them win a race. And I am confident they can achieve that,” said Ecclestone.

“They might not be as strong as the Mercedes but as their customers, Force India should progress farther up the grid.”

Whereas a win might well be out of reach, I for one can see Force India having their best season to date.  If Nico Hulkenberg has not finished on the podium by the end of the 2014 season, something would have gone drastically wrong.  Both Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez are fantastic talents, and can bring Force India amongst the big boys, not just in 2014 but for years to come.

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Bahrain Test One - Day 1 - Sakhir, Bahrain

With Mercedes-power, a tidy aerodynamic package, and two strong drivers, Force India are a team – my team – to look out for in 2014.

Sources: Autosport, http://www.espn.co.uk/, http://www.forceindiaf1.com/, http://www1.skysports.com/

Giovanna Amati – F1’s last Female ‘Racer’

With Susie Wolff being confirmed by Williams to run in two Friday morning practice sessions this season, I thought it was appropriate to look at the last female driver who attempted to qualify for a Formula 1 event – Giovanna Amati.

Amati 2

Italian Amati signed for the Brabham team in January 1992 to partner Belgian driver Eric van der Poele after testing for 30 laps driving for the Benetton team at the end of 1991 season.  She joined a very select list of women that made it to the top level of motorsport. The others are:

  • Maria Teresa de      Filippis – 1958-1959 – 5 entries, 3 starts
  • Lella Lombardi –      1974-1976 – 17 entries, 12 starts, 0.5 points
  • Divina Galica –      1976, 1978 – 3 entries, 0 starts
  • Desire Wilson –      1980 – 1 entry, 0 starts

It was clear that Amati was out of her depth when she stepped into the car.  In practice for the opening race of the season in South Africa, Amati managed to spin her Brabham on no less than six occasions, and when it came to qualifying, she was more than four seconds behind team-mate van der Poele and nine seconds behind pole sitter Nigel Mansell in his Williams.  Van der Poele scraped into the race in twenty-sixth position, but Amati was thirtieth and last and failed to qualify.

It was no better in Mexico for the second round of the year, when Amati was three seconds off van der Poele’s pace.  Again she was thirtieth and last, almost nine seconds off pole sitter Mansell’s time.  Van der Poele also failed to qualify in a Brabham that was underpowered and under-financed.

Amati 1

Round three was held in Brazil, and again Amati failed to qualify, this time by over ten seconds.  It was the last straw for Brabham and despite her bringing in some much needed cash to the team Amati was dropped after Brazil, and was replaced by future world champion Damon Hill.  The Brabham team would not see out the year, when money ran dry.

Giovanna Amati’s F1 record

1992 South African GP – 30th – DNQ
1992 Mexican GP – 30th – DNQ
1992 Brazilian GP – 30th – DNQ

It has been twenty-two years since Amati’s failed attempts at qualifying for a formula 1 race, and while Susie Wolff is not in a position to attempt that, to see her compete in an official session will be good to see.  While Amati was obviously out of her depth, Wolff’s performance in last year’s young driver test for Williams proved she was not.

Wolff 1

“I had a fantastic chance from the team, they took the chance to put me in the car today,” said Wolff.  “Many people said they were crazy, why were they wasting a day on me and they took that chance.

“I was happy that I could do a good job and pay them back for that.  I saw what he [then Williams test driver Daniel Juncadella] had done and the team were quite impressed with that so that was my goal.

“I was only four-tenths off a Formula 3 European champion, the guy who is rated as an up-and-coming young star, for me that was really important.”

In recent years Katherine Legge and the late Maria de Villota have both tested F1 cars, but none have done so in an official session.  At Silverstone with Susie, this will change.

“Competing in two FP1 sessions, alongside an additional full test day this season will be a big step and I am looking forward to the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the FW36 on a grand prix weekend”, said Wolff.

“It’s a challenge that I will relish and it will be a great chance for me to continue assisting the team.”

Wolff 2

With Sauber signing Simona de Silvestro to be an affiliated driver, and with the likes of Wolff, Michela Cerruti and Alice Powell coming through, the likelihood of seeing a female racing in Formula 1 becomes a little bit more realistic.

And about time too in my opinion.

Sources: Autosport

What a difference a year makes – the rise of Romain Grosjean

One year ago, there were many doubts about Romain Grosjean, and whether or not be belonged in Formula 1.  Now a year on, those doubts are gone, and the Frenchman is regarded as one of the best talents on the grid.  So what changed, and can he build on his excellent end-of-season run into 2014?

I think we have to look first at his 2012 season.  While showing flashes of speed, he was sometimes a liability on track.  He was blamed for the first corner crash in Spa-Francorchamps that eliminated many of the front-runners, and took responsibility after being given a one-race ban for the incident.

RoGro1

“When you love racing this is very hard,” said Grosjean after the incident. “I accept my mistake.”

“We know that La Source is a very tough corner. It was a bit of a crazy start as well with [Pastor] Maldonado leaving [the grid early] and the Sauber [Kobayashi] smoking a lot,” said Grosjean.

“I did a mistake and I misjudged the gap with Lewis. I was sure I was in front of him. So a small mistake made a big incident.”

Grosjean was angry with himself more than the penalty, but was sure the individual incidents were not all caused by over aggression but by misjudgements in space management.

“I did too many,” he said. “If there is more than one then that is too many, I agree. But as I say it is not always the same. It’s not over-aggressive by braking 200 metres too late, it’s just most of the time misjudgement of the space I have in front or the space I have on the side.”

RoGro3

The Spa crash was his seventh early-race skirmish of the 2012 season, but it would not be his last.  In Suzuka, Grosjean punted Red Bull driver Mark Webber into a spin at the second corner, and the Australian driver was furious with the Frenchman over the incident, even suggesting that it would be appropriate for him to sit out another race.

“I haven’t obviously seen what happened at the start but the guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again Grosjean,” said Webber in Japan.

“The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend but he is trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race.

“It makes it frustrating because a few big guys probably suffered from that and maybe he needs another holiday.”

So how did Grosjean move from ‘first lap nutcase’ to being praised by the same driver exactly a year later in Japan?

Vettel flys past Grojean's Lotus on the pit straight

“It’s very clear that Romain has a very different mental approach to the job this year,” said Webber.

“He’s driven some quite strong races, putting together the whole weekend, which is a sign of a driver starting to get a bit more relaxed and confident. A lot less mistakes, not just in races but in practice too.”

So what brought about the change?  Grosjean knew that he had to raise his game and remove the mistakes from his driving to progress.  He was worried about losing his seat after the mistakes of 2012.

I was worried,” said Grosjean. “It hasn’t been the easiest part of the season, to get to December when all of the races are done and you are waiting for an answer.

“I had good discussions with the team owners and we tried to analyse the situation, understand it and see if we could keep the speed at where we wanted to and to score a lot of points.”

RoGro2

Then Lotus team principal Eric Boullier admitted the team sat down with their driver at the end of the 2012 season to work out whether Grosjean was the right driver for the seat for 2013.  It was a positive meeting, and the Frenchman knew he had to change his approach.

“He clearly showed us, with some feedback from the engineers in the teams, that everything he was taught – and everything he learned – was applied in his understanding of what is a complex matter,” said Boullier.

“He definitely proved to us that he wanted to do well and it was really clear.”

It was not long after that meeting that Grosjean was announced for a second season at Lotus alongside 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen.

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“I learnt a lot in my first full season in Formula 1 and my aim is to put these lessons into practice with stronger and more consistent performance on track next year,” said Grosjean.

“I think when there are stats that show you have one fastest lap, three podiums and 96 points and stuff like that, and if you told me one year ago at Race Of Champions – I would not believe it.

“So it was a good year in that respect. We had some fantastic results, a little bit too [many] mistakes as well – which is the shadow of the year.

“But they helped me to improve myself in the winter – to try to analyse it, keep the speed we show and go for the results we deserve. We now need to score points for the team, for myself and for all the championship.”

He began quietly in Australian and Malaysia, but sprung into life with a great display in Bahrain, fighting through to a podium finish and passing Paul di Resta’s Force India for third near the end of the race.  He was also heading for a strong result the following race in Spain before suspension failure curtailed his day.

Monaco 2013 however was the low point of the season for Grosjean, with the Frenchman crashing in virtually every session, including the race when he misjudged his braking and hit the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso, eliminating both.  Grosjean was given a post-race grid-drop penalty for the following Canadian Grand Prix.

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“We want him to keep the pace and make sure that he is back in control like he was at the beginning of the season,” said Boullier.

“We need to sit with him and go through the weekend. He had the pace and we saw all weekend he could do it.

“And it is even more frustrating because of that.”

However, his season would improve once and for all at the German grand prix at the Nurburgring, and after that he would not look back.  Gone were the mistakes, and the results were coming.  He took the fight to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull at the Nurburgring and grabbed his second podium of the season.  At the Hungaroring, he was the recipient of a penalty for apparently overtaking Ferrari driver Felipe Massa whilst all four wheels of his car were off the track.  Even Massa said the penalty was unjustified.

“If he took the penalty because of what he did with me, that’s completely wrong,” said Massa.

“He didn’t go four wheels outside, he went with two wheels. Two wheels is possible.”

Nether-the-less, he was given a drive-penalty and finished on the road in sixth.  He was later given a second penalty for a pass on Jenson Button that went slightly awry, but remained sixth.

Gran Premio del Giappone Formula 1, la Gara

At Singapore, Grosjean was running a very strong race and was heading for another podium before an air leak in the engine pneumatic system forced him out.

“We’ve never been so annoyed to get a podium,” said Alan Permane, Lotus F1’s trackside operations director.   It was Grosjean’s misfortune that enabled team-mate Raikkonen to take a podium finish.

“Romain had a perfect day yesterday pretty much. He didn’t have a great first lap, but I defy anyone to keep Fernando [Alonso] behind them on the first lap. He was just doing his first lap and would have been third without a doubt.”

In the following race in Korea, he was on the podium.  He was the only driver to keep Vettel in sight throughout the race, but lost out to Kimi Raikkonen after a safety car period closed up the drivers.  A slight mistake at turn 15 enabled his team-mate to pass going into the first turn.

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Unfortunately for me and good for Kimi, the safety car came,” said Grosjean. “I made a small mistake, my fault, and Kimi passed me and then there were yellow flags so I couldn’t use DRS.

I was quicker today. It is a track where it is almost impossible to overtake.

“I should have avoided the AstroTurf in Turn 15 and that would be the end of the conversation.”

Then we came to Japan, a year after being dubbed a first lap nutcase.  One of the best starts of the season saw him propel himself from fourth to the lead, a lead that he would hold through two pit stops before being overtaken by both Red Bull drivers.

“I thought today was going to be the day that my first victory was coming,” he said after finishing third.

“We were quick on the medium tyres, but unfortunately the car was less good on the hards.

“In our strategy meeting, though, we never thought we could beat the Red Bulls today and we are where we expected to be.”

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But the two Red Bull drivers were full of praise for the only driver to give them a race – Fernando Alonso was 45 seconds adrift in fourth place in his Ferrari.  Sebastian Vettel even said he was becoming a match for team-mate Raikkonen.

“I thought it was a great day for Romain; he drove a fantastic race,” Vettel said.  “I think Romain did a great job all weekend.

“We know Kimi is a strong driver. Last year I think Romain made some mistakes but the most important thing is that we learn from these mistakes as drivers. He learned a lot of things and gradually he’s improving, so big respect for that.”

In India, he finished on the podium again, but in a very different way.  He attempted to get through the first part of qualifying just on hard tyres, but missed out and started a lowly 17th.  However he fought back magnificently, and passed Raikkonen towards the end to grab third.

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“Starting 17th I had no big hopes,” he said. “The best strategy on the computer gave me P4.

“I would not have bet a peanut on being third.  The car came back to how it was on Friday.

“The race pace was great and we did a very brave strategy – as we did yesterday,” he said.

“It was not the time to go safe. It paid off, we’re back on the podium.”

A fourth in Abu Dhabi was followed by a superb race in the United States saw him finish second, and held off Webber’s Red Bull for the majority of the race, even with the use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS).

“We’ve always known Romain is super fast, actually maybe too fast, and sometimes too fast for his car,” said Boullier after Austin.  “Having some completeness with his family [he became a father earlier this year] has helped him reach another level of confidence, and then you see the results on track.

“He is starting to be a damned good driver. I think you can rate him in the top three or four today.

“He started to perform well from Germany onwards. There was still a bit fine tuning needed on his side, but he has had a very fine second half of the season.”

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So after starting the year as a driver with a questionable reputation, he ended 2013 as one of the hot properties of Formula 1.  When doubts were raised about whether Lotus would make it onto the grid due to the financial situation it found itself in, people were saying it would be a travesty if Grosjean were not on the grid in 2014.

Thankfully Lotus have made it, and Grosjean will be on the grid.  If Lotus can give him the car, and perhaps more importantly if Renault can give him the power-unit, the Frenchman’s aims for 2014 should be high.  He has made himself into a very good driver, and a win now would seal his rise up.

The speed of Romain Grosjean has always been there, it is just pleasing to see that the consistency required to be a Formula 1 driver has materialised too.  France has only ever had one world champion driver in Alain Prost, but in Grosjean, they quite possibly could have the best possibility of adding a second.

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I know that to many that is a sensational statement, but I’ve seen his career develop and I like what I see.  And I still believe he can get better.

Sources: Autosport, The Sydney Morning Herald.

What does Jean-Eric Vergne need to do to prolong his F1 Career?

Jean-Eric Vergne is entering his third season of Formula 1 at the Scuderia Toro Rosso team, and the 23-year-old French driver has a new team-mate in the form of Russian teenager Daniil Kvyat.

But what does Vergne have to do to ensure a fourth season in the sport, and what does the Frenchman hope his Russian team-mate does not do?

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You could say Vergne is in between a rock and a hard place in 2014.  If he under-performs, he will be out of a drive with Toro Rosso, but if he does perform but Kvyat comes in and turns out to be exceptional, he could still lose out on that drive.   He also has the uncertainty with the reliability of his car that has not shown well in pre-season testing to date.

Toro Rosso have a reputation of being harsh with their drivers, with both Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari dropped at the end of 2011 in favour of Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo; Alguersuari’s departure was even more cruel when it was revealed that he had been promised another year in Toro Rosso before being dropped.

“I was verbally confirmed during the Brazilian GP,” said Alguersuari in February 2012. “Hence, being confirmed by Red Bull and STR, I rejected a very good offer.

“On December 13th [2011], when Red Bull Racing told me that I was no longer part of the family I said that I was not going to judge them, neither I was feeling like a victim and that this was not a drama. But let me say just one thing: they hurt me, and moreover, it was unnecessary.”

JAPANESE GRAND PRIX F1/2010 - SUZUKA 09/10/2010

The current Red Bull junior roster is full of talent, with the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa, Carlos Sainz Jr, Pierre Gasly, Alex Lynn and Jann Mardenborough all making the Toro Rosso drivers look over their shoulders.

Talking at the time of Alguersuari’s and Buemi’s dismissals, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said that the two drivers were no longer classed as rookies and therefore no longer fitted in with the team’s criteria as a rookie training ground.

“One has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme,” said Tost.

“Scuderia Toro Rosso’s ethos has always been that of the “rookie training school” and with over two seasons under your belt, you are no longer a rookie.  In an ideal world, drivers would move from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing, but there are no vacancies with our sister team right now.

“It might be seen as a harsh decision, but Formula 1 is a tough environment and Toro Rosso has always been very clear about the principles behind its driver choice.”

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Buemi had three years at the team, while Alguersuari two and a half.  2014 will be Vergne’s third year at the team, so by the principals that Tost set out in 2011, he is in the last chance saloon with the team.  By Tost’s words he is no longer classed as a rookie, and has to deliver results for the team.

Christian Horner admitted Vergne was on the three-man shortlist for the 2014 Red Bull drive, but thought the Frenchman was not ready for the promotion to the world constructors champions.

“Jean-Eric is again demonstrating strong development and potential,” said Horner.

“At this stage, it is probably too early for him, which is why we chose to look at Daniel in the test at Silverstone [young drivers test].

“He deserves a seat in Formula 1 and should he not be successful with the Red Bull seat then it would make logical sense for him to continue with Toro Rosso.”

F1 Testing Bahrain, Sakhir 19-22 February 2014

Vergne admits he was disappointed to miss out on the Red Bull drive when the team chose Ricciardo instead of him for the seat vacated by Webber.  But he is determined to make the most of a third year at Toro Rosso.

“Right now, it’s a bit disappointing but who knows?” said Vergne in September.  “In the future, maybe it will be a good thing to stay at Toro Rosso and get one more year to learn everything and get more experience.”

But was it simply coincidence that Vergne had a run of bad results after Ricciardo was confirmed at Red Bull?  Yes, he had some unlucky races, but other days he was just anonymous, while Ricciardo was more prominent.  Vergne failed to score a point after the Canadian Grand Prix, while Ricciardo claimed five points paying finishes after then.

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“Obviously it was a difficult moment for me to go through and, of course, I took it like a little bit of a loss and bad luck,” said Vergne.

“I really took the time over the winter to look at myself in the mirror. I realised that it was a good thing for me to have not gone to Red Bull.

“I’m happy to be here and to create myself as a stronger driver. I see myself as a really weak driver last year, especially in the head.

“So I believe that if I had gone to Red Bull, it would have been like a win for myself and all the work I have done this winter, I would not have done in the same way. That would have made it a bad surprise to fight against Sebastian [Vettel].

“I see Toro Rosso as having really big potential.  I am extremely happy to be in this team for this year.

“I think I am in a good position at STR and they have good plans for the future.

“If you can’t be in a top team like McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari, this is definitely the best team to be in.”

His two years of experience with the team, and now being the senior driver at Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne needs a strong year.  He needs to maximise what his new STR9, Renault-powered car can offer him.  If he does not achieve that, he will be another Red Bull backed driver on the scrap heap.

Initial testing of the new turbocharged car has not gone to plan, with many technical and mechanical issues meaning Vergne has spent more time in the garage than on track.  A major Renault engine issue curtailed the most recent day of testing in Bahrain, where Vergne only completed 19 Laps.  But he was happy about how the car felt when he did get out on circuit.

F1 Testing Bahrain, Sakhir 19-22 February 2014

“I’ve been really pleased with the car behaviour,” said Vergne in Bahrain. “We’ve got a good package.

“When the engine will be there I think we will look more or less OK. The team has done a good job to give me a chassis that I like.

“I have big faith in the people working in the team and the Renault people. They know what the problems are, and I’m confident they can do something about it.”

But he has one other obstacle in his way – Daniil Kvyat.  The reigning GP3 series champion comes in a time when new regulations are in place, meaning new drivers are not hindered as much as ones that have previous Formula 1 experience, as they would have been in normal years.

“He [Kvyat] impressed our team with a strong performance and very informative technical feedback at the young driver test in Silverstone,” said Franz Tost.

“This suggests that the basic qualities from which he can progress are all in place.”

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There is a possibility that Kvyat might just be a superstar in the making.  That would not bode very well for Vergne, who has already encountered a strong team-mate in Daniel Ricciardo.  Vergne could have a strong year, but if Kvyat comes in at a similar level or even ahead of the Frenchman, it might not be enough to retain his seat.

Whether or not other teams notice him depends on his on-track performances, and he does not need or want to return to the mediocrity that plagued him in the second half of the 2013 season.  He also has a new race engineer for 2014 in the form of Xevi Pujolar, who has moved from the Williams team.  The Spaniard will work with Vergne directly at all Grand Prix.

He has belief that he can have a strong year and remain in the sport, even remain at Toro Rosso for an unprecedented fourth season in 2015.

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“I believe in this team and I think they believe in me as well and I don’t see this as the last year in Toro Rosso.

“If I improve a lot as a driver and the team see in myself good potential and I see good progression in the team I will be more than happy to continue with this team.”

But he needs to perform from the off, and get results for the team.  He needs to lead Toro Rosso throughout the year, but if he fails to do this, we could be saying goodbye to Jean-Eric Vergne from Formula 1.

Sources: Autosport