Sunday, September 28, 2008

Race Report: Fantastic Fernando!!!

What can you say really, Fernando Alonso won the Singapore Grand Prix, an unlikely victory given Renault's year and the two time world champion has been decidedly non-commital about his future. Make no mistake it was a brilliant drive from Alonso and a not so subtle reminder that he is still one of the top drivers in F1. Not only did Alonso remind us of how good he is, Renault also reminded us that they still have the tactical know-how to win races, despite average cars and gutless engines. Alonso's joy was Ferrari's misery as once again they had a race winning car and once again they managed to screw it up so bad so as they end up with no points. Felipe Massa had a comfortable lead but when he pitted behind the safety car it all went to shit as his crew released him while the fuel hose was still attached. This led to some red mechanics being strewn across the pitlane and a drive through penalty for driving out into the path of Adrian Sutil (again). The dramas and resulting penalty left Felipe at the back of the field, to let him get frustrated and cause problems, ironically for Sutil again. Kimi Raikkonen was also delayed by the shenanigans in the Ferrari pits and he was back in the pack. The world champion recovered to run fifth in the closing stages only to screw up and crash on his own. At the front Fernando Alonso pitted early to be rewarded in spectacular fasion on the following lap when his teammate made yet another mistake and stuffed his Renault violently into the wall, bringing out the safety car. Fernando thus stayed out while everyone else pitted, some having to do so while they were closed. At the restart Alonso rocketed away in the lead, aided by some slower cars between him and the main contenders. Fernando looked set for the victory, with a 35 second lead, when the safety car came out once again, this time when Felipe Massa messed up and spun causing some confusion, Felipe himself rejoined, but in doing so got in the way of Sutil, who had to take avoiding action which ended up meaning stuffing it into the tyre wall. With the arse-end of a Force India car in the middle of the track the Safety car was the only option and the field was bunched up again, with ALonso leading the surprising Nico Rosberg and Championship leader Lewis Hamilton. If Lewis could get by Rosberg at the restart then we could have been on for a grandstand finish, but thus was the nature of the track he couldn't and the top three cruised home. Fouth place went to Timo Glock, who was much better than Toyota teammate Jarno Trulli all afternoon and the points were rounded out by Sebastien Vettel, who was the class of the four Red Bull cars and destroyed under-fire teammate Sebastien Bourdais, Nick Heidfeld, who was solid and uspectacular, David COulthard, who reckoned he could have had much more had he not had a fuel rig problem in the pits, and Kaz Nakajima, who was promoted to 8th after Kimi Raikkonen's late race boob.

This result leaves Lewis Hamilton now seven points up on Felipe Massa with just three races to go. If he wins the title this year it will be helped largely bu Ferrari's errors. The Ferrari pit crew were the best in the business for so many years and now they are mistake prone and slow. Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen have not helped matters by making more mistakes than Hamilton, but as a team, Ferrari are struggling to perform consistently. Maybe they need a leader that can rally the troops, maybe they need Fernando Alonso..........

Thursday, September 25, 2008

IRL Musical chairs continues.

The music plays on as Vitor Meira secured himself a seat with AJ Foyt enterprises starting in 2009. This leaves Darren Manning the next man looking for a seat as it is he who is losing his job. Manning and Meira finished within one point of each other in 2008 with both men being consistent challengers for the top 10 and both men having a season best finish of second. I like Vitor Meira and am happy that he has landed on his feet, but at the expense of another quality driver is unfortunate. I think that Manning deserves a ride somewhere and this move is more of a step sideways than a step forward for AJ Foyt enterprises. AJ is still dreaming of running a second car full time, possibly for Franck Perera, but that does not seem likely. This move also rubbishes any rumours that Meira will replace Tomas Scheckter at Luczo Dragon racing, although we still may see Darren Manning jump to Jay Penske's squad, if they run next year.

The other piece of news comes way out of left field and it has to do with a brand new team and a brand new Indycar driver. The team is called 3G motorsports (or three guys motorsports) and is run by Greg Beck, who has previously fielded a cars in the IRL as early as 1996 and ran two races last year with Roger Yasukawa, at Motegi and the Indy 500, where Roger failed to Qualify. There had been rumblings that Beck was trying to get something together but nobody took them really seriously until this announcement. The big surprise is the choice of driver, NASCAR veteran Stanton Barrett. Barrett will be 36 when the season starts and has no open wheel experience. He also has very little in the way of road racing experience and was a journeyman in NASCAR at best. He will probably struggle mightily in the first few road races and may end up in the wall at some of the street courses, but he will probably improve as the season progresses. He is a veteran who knows full well that you are only as good as your last race. He may start the season in Milka-Marty land, but will certainly improve as the season progresses, especially on the ovals. It is nice to see new teams having a go at it and hopefully this becomes a permanent thing. This announcement brings the confirmed car count up to 20 with teams like Dale Coyne, KV, Dreyer and Reinbold, and Roth yet to confirm their 2009 plans.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

News and notes from the world of single seater racing

There has been very little in the way of news on the driver and team front recently, but I will do my best this time out.

Toro Rosso have said that they want to bring in Sebastien Buemi for next year as one of their drivers. This has yet to be confirmed, but it is obvious that Red Bull wants Buemi in one of the smaller teams cars. If this does come true, then it would be a worrying sign for Sebastien Bourdais as Gerhard Berger has said that next year he wants an experienced driver with a young hotshot, and one year of experience may bot be enough for Herr Berger. Hopefully Bourdais keeps his job, he has been very good of late after a slow start to the year and he is a really talented driver.

Fernando Alonso is going......Nowhere. After all sorts of speculation regarding a move to BMW or Honda for next year it appears that Alonso has decided to stay where he is. Renault plan to increase their budget, especially for engines, in a desperate plea to get back to the highs of 2005 and 2006. Winning championships may be unlikely for the team given how good McLaren, Ferrari, and BMW have come along recently and how much money they have to spend compared to Renault. Even if they don't have the budget, the right ingredients are there to build a race winner again, providing that Fernando's heart is into the project.

The A1 Ring in Austria appears to be getting a rebuild with money from, surprise surprise, Red Bull. is reporting that Red Bull are planning to invest 100 million dollars into rebuilding the A1 ring as a test venue. The chances of getting a race back are slim due to the underwhelming enthusiasm from the locals to the idea. This will provide a good test venue in a very scenic, if not out of the way, location. The Osterreichring if the 70's was a grand old circuit with ast sweeping and ultimately rather dangerous corners. It was eventually scrapped and replaced by a decidedly ordinary track that at least had overtaking opportunities. An Austrian Grand Prix there would be really good for the television spectators, but the locals and the teams may not be as enthusiastic.

In the IRL, most of the new signings will be with their new teams in the non-championship race in Australia, meaning that Dan Wheldon will be driving for Panther and Dario Franchitti will be in the car for Ganassi. This is not too surprising and should make for an interesting race.

In other IRL news and notes Alex Taglani has been confirmed by Conquest racing as one of their drivers for 2009. Tags will provide some experience to the team and their second driver, who has yet to be confirmed but the team website is saying that they will be hiring a driver "with equal grit and gift". This is really vague but it suggests that it will be neither Enrique Bernoldi nor Jaime Camara. Camara had flashes of brilliance throughout the year but was largely average while Bernoldi proved to be a spoiled, whining, backmarker. Tagliani will be a great addition that should provide some leadership that the likes of Bernoldi could not provide to the team as it moves forward. Elsewhere Robin Miller is reporting that Vitor Meira will be replacing Tomas Scheckter at Luczo Dragon racing, should that team continue. I don't know if this is a step forward for the team or not as Meira, although stable, will probably end up just in the middle of the pack, but will keep the car in one piece, while Sheckter will go balls out and crash. At least with an accident the sponsors get some airtime. Maybe that's why Marco Andretti is so marketable........

Thursday, September 18, 2008

IRL Team By Team Reviews amd Grades.

Hi there folks. Now that the IndyCar series is done and F1 has been quiet on the rumour front of late, I have decided to do a team by team and driver by driver Report Card for all the entrants.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
The Overview: The best team in the IRL this year they won 8 of the 17 races they entered, including the Indy 500. Scott Dixon was the class of the field and a deserved Champion.
The Good: Scott Dixon was easily the best man for most of the year and was good on pretty much all the tracks. But for some bad results late on he would have locked up the championship early.
The Bad: The way that the team made some crucial errors in critical races, such as strategic blunders at Sears' Point. They very nearly grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory as a result.
The Ugly: The way that Chip handled the Dan Wheldon contract situation. Without telling Dan he went after Tony Kanaan through the media, prompting Dan to become disillusioned.
The Grades: Team: A Dixon: A+ Wheldon: B+

Team Penske
The Overview: The second best team all year who garnered four wins out of 17 races. They were consistently able to come close to Ganassi for pace and were unlucky not to get more wins. Helio Castroneves made a spirited championship charge and always kept his spirits high despite continually coming in second throughout the year.
The Good: Helio Castroneves's consistency and determination. The two time Indy 500 champion really deserves an IRL title as he has been one of the biggest stars of the series for many years. Ryan Briscoe also had some brilliant performances but was not consistent enough. They also showed that they are still the masters of strategy by getting results that they really did not deserve.
The Bad: The team was also not able to match Ganassi at some of the ovals in terms of speed and had to rely on Roger Penske's genius to get some results. If they want to win the title next year they will have to shore up this part of their game.
The Ugly: Ryan Briscoe's incident filled start to the season did not do wonders for team morale. He recovered nicely but he will have to be more consistent if he ever wants to be considered a championship contender.
The Grades: Team A- Castroneves: A Briscoe: B+

Andretti-Green Racing
The former powerhouse, AGR were nowhere near their former self and although they got some good results, including two wins, they were a team rife with internal conflict.
The Good: The team has lost some of it's major players and found themselves with a relatively inexperienced crop of drivers. They kept themselves in the headlines with Danica Patrick's memorable win, but it does not hide that last years champs only had two wins this year. Tony Kanaan still managed to seven podiums and was instrumental in keeping the team in the big three.
The Bad: The woeful driving of two of the so-called stars of the team, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick. Both showed flashes of brilliance but neither could stay out of trouble or put together full races. Marco spent far too much time in the wall and Patrick spent too much time complaining about everything. These two need to be better if the team ever wants to compete for a championship again.
The Ugly: Team Chemistry. AGR spent much of their year dealing with internal strife and had more than one incident where drivers forced each other into the wall. Michael Andretti held a closed door meeting where he apparantly berated his drivers in Edmonton, but a team boss should not have to yell and scream at his drivers not to run into each other, it should be established.
The Grade: Team: B Kanaan: A- Patrick: C+ Andretti: C Mutoh: B

Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
The Overview: The former Champ car superteam showed that they have the means to break into the elite in the merged IRL in the coming years. Both Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal managed wins on Road Courses and they managed to be fairly fast in turning both ways. They are still not up to scratch on the ovals, but that will take some time considering how quickly they had to adapt to the new cars.
The Good: Two wins from two very good drives by the drivers. The team was also very quick on the road courses in qualifying and they managed to use their strategic experience to get some better results than they deserved.
The Bad: Were still unable to be competitve on the ovals and did not seem to improve in this aspect as the year went on.
The Ugly: Graham Rahal was mature in front of the cameras, but tended not to be on the race tracks as he was involved in too many accidents. He is only 19 and can be forgiven, but it was the main sore point of his season.
The Grades: Team B+ Wilson: B+ Rahal: C+

KV Racing Technology
The Overview: The surprise of the field, KV managed to consistently be up front on the road courses and had some decent results on Road courses. In my mind they out-performed the more expereinced Newman/Haas/Lanigan boys despite not getting a win.
The Good: Both Oriol Servia and Will Power proved to be very consistent throughout the season and they got some surprisingly good results on the ovals. They managed to adapt much better to the ovals than the other "transition teams".
The Bad: Despite getting some great qualifying runs on the road courses they could not seem to seal the deal. Consistently making it into final qualifying is great, but they should have converted it to more top 5 finishes than they got.
The Ugly: Their future. It seems as though KV's 2009 may be tied to the Australian race, which does not seem likely at the moment. It would be a sad loss for the series as both Servia and Power were great all year.
The Grades: Team: A- Servia: A Power: B+

Rahal-Letterman Racing

The Overview: The team were quiet but effective throughout the year and Hunter-Reay rewarded the hard work with 1 win and an eight place finish. Hopefully this can springboard the once great team into having two cars and being back with the elite.
The Good: Ryan Hunter Reay Quietly went around his business of getting result after result. Apart from his win at Watkin's Glen he did not have a top 5 finish but had 9 top 10's. He also had a great finishing record with only 3 DNF's, although all of them due to accidents.
The Bad: Although a spirited bunch they never seemed to be able to move forward. Hunter-Reay just seemed content to bring the car home in 8th or 9th without making a spirited charge, it may be just as well as when he did make a charge he was taken out by Marco Andretti.
The Ugly: Nothing really, although the turquoise paint job leaves a lot to be desired.
The Grades: B Hunter-Reay: B+

Vision Racing
The Overview: Tony George's band of Merry Men continued to be decidedly average, with some great runs on ovals and abysmal ones on road courses. If they are going to be seen as more than just a grid filler they will have to be better all around.
The Good: On the ovals they were right up there and Ed Carpenter especially showed himself to be adept at oval racing, consistently running in the top 10 on the ovals and getting a couple of top five finishes. Anthony Foyt IV was also decent on the ovals, but not quite as good as Carpenter.
The Bad: The woeful performance on the road courses. Both Carpenter and Foyt were dreadful when they had to turn both directions and despite hiring Bryan Herta as a road course coach, there was no improvement shown. With more road courses coming next year Ed and AJ will have to improve in this aspect.
The Ugly: Ed Carpenters car, get ride of the vomit-yellow colour PLEASE!!!!
The Grades: Team: C+ Carpenter: C+: Foyt IV: C-

Panther Racing
The Overview: Another former IRL standout team, Panther did not seem to be going anywhere this year and despite Vitor Meira's valiant efforts they were still only midfielders.
The Good: Meira's flashes of brilliance. When they can get it together Panther have shown that they have still got it in terms of technical ability, they just don't have money. Vitor's run at Indy where he finished second was the best non-winning performance we saw thus year.
The Bad: For a once great team they have sort of become afterthoughts in the IndyCar world. Vitor is a great driver but he must have been banging his head seeing all his effort lead to average finishes and a few too many accidents.
The Ugly: The way they jerked Meira around. Yes Dan Wheldon is a former champion, but giving Meira the sack via email was just classless. Hopefully he can find himself in an IndyCar next year.
The Grades: Team: B- Meira: B-

AJ Foyt Enterprises
The Overview: One of the original IRL teams, AJ Foyt's team continue to plod along in the midfield not making any headlines.
The Good: Darren Manning was solid if unspectacular. Managed to take advantage of good strategy and some luck to get second at Watkin's Glen and had a few other top 10's, but nothing spectacular otherwise. Their car is pretty sharp looking as well.
The Bad: Aside from his second place, the only time the team really made headlines was when Manning retired due to fatigue at Iowa, drawing the ire of the usually colourful AJ Foyt. The seem to be stuck in a perpetual cycle of mediocrity.
The Ugly: Nothing really, hard to have anything Ugly when we rarely see them on televison.
The Grades: Team: C Manning C+

Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
The Overview: The underfunded men managed to punch above their weight a few times, but were mostly solid backmarkers
The Good: Buddy Rice's driving. The former Indy 500 winner managed to capitalize on circumstances to get some good points finishes. Occasional teammate Townsend Bell also managed to score a couple of decent results.
The Bad: Despite having one of the best drivers on the grid, money will always be a problem for the team and they have to revert to hiring woeful pay drivers.
The Ugly: Milka Duno's driving. Ms Duno is way out of her league in the IRL and here habit of getting in the way of other drivers caused some hair-raising moments. Her altercation with Danica Patrick at Mid Ohio, although humerous, highlights just how other drivers feel about her driving "skills".
The Grades: Team: C- Rice: B Bell: C Duno: F

The Overview: Keith Wiggins' men were a small but fiesty bunch who improved throughout the season.
The Good: EJ Viso's enthusiasm and aggresive driving were a breath of fresh air to the series. Viso had some great runs and was unlucky not to score more points than he did.
The Bad: Viso's enthusiasm and aggresive driving was a little uncontrolled at times and he ended up drawing the ire of other drivers on more than one occasion.
The Ugly: Viso's severe brain fade at Edmonton where he was a long way back and kamikazeed Graham Rahal. If the team are to improve, Viso will have to be a little less wild.
The Grades: Team: C+ Viso: C+

Dale Coyne Racing
The Overview: After flying high in Champ Car last year, Coyne are back to their roots as perpetual backmarkers.
The Good: The team spirit. Despite the adversity of a new car, and very little money, they managed to score some top 10 finishes with some fine driving by both Junquiera and Moraes.
The Bad: The team were relatively nowhere all season in terms of results, and although they never quit, they tended to be quite slow all year and had to rely on a bit of luck to get the points.
The Ugly: We would have expected former race winner Bruno Junquiera to wipe the floor with rookie Moraes but he didn't. Junky seems to have lost some of his edge and is going through the motions.
The Grades: Team: C- Junquiera: C- Moraes: C-

Conquest Racing

The Overview: After some early season fireworks the team were nowhere.
The Good: Two top five finished to start the season had some promise and Jaime Camara managed to lead at Richmond showing flashes of Brilliance.
The Bad: They seemed to regress throughout the season and just seemed to be going through the motions at the end. Enrique Bernoldi was nowhere for most of the season and Camara was fast but fragile. Far too many DNF's were counterproductive to momentum.
The Ugly: The way that team had a revolving door driver policy and were just waiting to throw Bernoldi under the bus. Alex Tagliani came in and was unspectacular, but he seemed more appreciative than Bernoldi and his ego were. Oh yeah, Franck Perera drove for them as well at the start of the season.
The Grade: Team: D+ Camara: D+ Bernoldi: D-

Roth Racing
The Overview: The smallest team to attempt a whole season and it showed.
The Good: Roth seemed to be able to put together some decent cars on the ovals.
The Bad: The team started as a two car effort but somewhere along the line the 24 car mysteriously disappeared, and the worst driver remained in on the grid. Marty Roth was woeful in all the races, despite some decent qualifying performances on the ovals.
The Ugly: Marty Roth's driving, especially on road courses. How the league can continue to allow a guy to race who is five seconds per lap of the pace is beyond me, but he only served to get in the way of everyone else. The way that Marty treated Jay Howard and John Andretti is lamentable and they are effectively paying Howard not to drive at the moment.
The Grade: Team D- Roth: F- Howard: C+ Andretti: C+

Of the others I won't do a full summary, but a little paragraph about each of them.
Pacific Coast Motorsports
Mario Dominguez and his spirited bunch but ultimetely could not keep going all year. Too many accidents stretched budgets thin and the death knell came when it was discovered that their sponsor, the Mexico City tourism board, were not paying what they said they were. Team claims they are trying to continue next year, but I doubt we will see them except for Indy.

Luczo Dragon Racing
The team added races to their schedule throughout the year and ran well at the oval races, but mechanical troubles meant the team only finished on of the six races they entered. Jay Penske is saying he will be back, and it seems far more likely than Pacific Coast Motorsports.

Sarah Fisher Racing
The feel-good story of the paddock were small but fiesty and deserved better results. Bad luck ended her day at Indy and the other two races were blighted by mechanical problems. Hopefully they will be back, but we may only see her at Indy next year.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

GP Report: Fairy tales do come true

Sebastien Vettel is now officially the youngest Grand Prix winner, winning his first Grand Prix and after 23 years the first Grand Prix win for Minardi. I know that the team has changed owners and the cars are designed for the most part in Milton Keyes, but the factory is still in Faenza, they are still the smallest team in terms of staff in Formula One, and they have a bit more money, but much of the staff are the same that were there when the team was Minardi and were the lovable backmarkers. The Same men and women who celebrated enthusiastically when Zsolt Baumgartner scored a point for 8th place at Indianapolis in 2004 are celebrating a win, yes a Minardi/Toro Rosso win. You couldn't ask for a better story as they not only won a race, they won their home race, becoming the first Non-Ferrari Italian team to win a Grand Prix since 1957. The main championship protagonists did not end up figuring in the result, although for a while Lewis Hamilton was looking as though he could challenge for the win only to be beaten by the weather.

In a wet and rainy afternoon it was a race which rewarded good driving, good strategy, and a bit of luck. Vettel was on pole and blasted away from the field when the race started (behind the Safety Car). Unfortunately for STR his teammate, Seb Bourdais, suffered a gearbox malaise on the dummy grid and had to be towed back to the pits. He ended up getting going a lap down and lapped very well all day, but could not recover. Vettel then proceeded to pull away from the field and the cynics started to wonder how much fuel he had. He ended up pitting on lap 17, four laps before second placed Heikki Kovalainen and third placed Mark Webber. After the pit stop shuffle he was back in the lead and running well as the track started to dry. Meanwhile behind him Lewis Hamilton was putting on a show charging through the field after a poor 15th placed qualifying performance, showing why he is the best wet-weather driver in F1 at the moment. He was on a one-stopper and Vettel was on a two stopper so it was looking like the race would be a Vettel-Hamilton duel. Hamilton put more extreme wet tyres on at his stop as the forecast was calling for more rain. Unfortunately for Lewis, and fortunately for Vettel this did not happen and the track continued to dry and up and down the pit lane everyone waited for someone to have the courage to put intermediate tyres on to be a guinea pig. That Guinea Pig ended up being David Coulthard who, after going off on his outlap, started to lap as quick as the leaders. The next man to go for it was Fernando Alonso, who was faster than the men on wets and it became obvious that Inters were the way to go. This played beautifully into Vettel's hands and it was right in his pit window and so he stopped and put inters on and went on his way, while Hamilton had to stop again. Lewis stopped and emerged back in seventh, where he stayed until the end. Vettel duly cruised home to his and his team's first victory, a very popular win in Formula One circles. Second place went to Heikki Kovalainen, who was solid but unspectacular. On the extreme wets he was decidedly average while his teammate was blowing past anyone and everyone who was in his way and was 2 seconds per lap quicker than anyone else. Kovalainen was also on a two stopper and his second stop was also perfectly timed for him to finish where he started. Third went to Robert Kubica, who was also one of the hard charges and who also profited from the weather. He did not have the greatest first stint, but in the middle he was very good and his pitstop was timed to perfection to get a well deserved podium. The rest of the points finishers were Fernando Alonso, Nick Heidfeld, Felipe Massa, and Mark Webber, who all drove solid races and for the most part lucked out with the tyre choices. The only notable exceptionw as Hamilton who for most of the race was incredibly quick, much faster than the field, but a second pitstop put him seven seconds behind Massa on his Inters. Lewis quickly closed the gap but in the process burned his tyres and so once he got to Massa he couldn't do anything about him and had to settle for seventh. He still leads Massa by one point in the championship with four races to go. And what of Kimi Raikkonen you ask? Well Kimi had one of his very inconsistent afternoons where he farted around in the midfield not doing anything special and then put on the afterburners late in the race and set fastest lap after fastest lap and overtook multiple cars, but he still could only finish 9th and out of the points. Kimi is now 21 points behind Hamilton in the drivers championship wih four races to go, certainly he can't catch Lewis unless the McLaren driver suffers a monumental meltdown, which does not look bloody likely. Of the rest both Williams and Toyota flattered to decieve having been caught out by the changing weather. Nico Rosberg ran very well at the beginning of the race but his strategy meant having to make an unscheduled stop for inters and he ended up 14th while teammate Kaz Nakajima started from the pitlane and ended up being able to profit from tyre strategy only to end up stupidly trying to go around the outside of David Coulthard at the entry to the Parabolica. It was never going to work and there was a collision, taking DC's front wing and damaging Kaz's car sufficiently to slow him down, given the circumstances 12th is not bad. Speaking of COulthard he was in the wars today as well, he started somewhere in the midfield and was battling Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India when, while overtaking, there was contact that resulted in a broken wing for Fisico that ended up causing the Italian to go off into the barriers. DC then putzed around in the midfield until he was caught out by the daft actions of Nakajima and ended 16th, a lap down. Honda were there woeful self again with Button 15th and Barichello 17h. There only notable action was when Rubens pitted for full wet tyres while everyone else was on dries. The gamble was never going to work, but when you are in craptacular land you try anything you can to get some points. Force India were looking decent in Fisichella's hands only for him to end his day in the barriers while Adrien Sutil did absolutely nothing and was last, even behind who started more than a lap behind the rest of the field.

All in all it is the feel-good story of the F1 year thus far and the result has kept the championship finely balanced. Bring on the night race at Singapore!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The F1 title chase

Formula One enters it's critical stage with Lewis Hamilton temporarily (pending result of Belgian GP appeal) leading Felipe Massa by 2 points with defending champ Kimi Raikkonen 17 points back after having failed to score in the last two races. This appears to be setting up to be another Ferrari vs McLaren duel with both Felipe and Lewis very evenly matched this season. Kimi Raikkonen may end up as the wild card in this chase as the Kimster is insisting that he is not out of it yet while at McLaren there is no question that Lewis Hamilton is numero uno and Heikki Kovalainen is his reargunner. That Kovalainen tends not to be too close to Hamilton is besides the point but for the most part at the Scuderia Kimi has only occasionally been on the pace of Massa. Ferrari really should just tell Raikkonen that from here on in Massa is their man and he should play wingman to ensure that Felipe triumphs over Hamilton much in the way that Massa helped Raikkonen last year. Unfortunately this is easier said than done because Kimi is a major star and the defending world champion and thus has an ego the size of Maranello. Kimi has never had to play second fiddle to any teammate in his F1 career and I am sure that he is not willing to start now. Kimi Raikkonen is a never-say-die racer who has said many times that second place means nothing, victory is the only object, which may explain some of his accidents and mistakes when not in the lead. Ferrari are also mindful that Kimi is still sort of waffling on his future, will he retire after next year or won't he? Rumours suggest that Ferrari are already lining up a back up should he decide to call it quits, but if he continues not to drive as well as his teammate the replacement might be for him without his wishes. Either way, as long as Kimi Raikkonen continues to race his own teammate he is only helping one driver, Lewis Hamilton, and that is certainly not what Ferrari need. Lewis Hamilton has driven like a man possesed in the second half of the season and has recieved the full support of his teammate while Massa has been much better than his teammate in the second half, he has yet to really stamp his authority on his team and has yet to prove that he is a better driver than Hamilton due to his lack of adaptability. My conclusion is that if Kimi Raikkonen does not decide to help his teammate then Lewis Hamilton will win the world champion, if Kimi does decide to step in line and play support man then Massa has every chance of winning, but Ferrari have to sort their reliability out because, as scandalous as this seems given the recent history of this rivalry, Mclaren have had much better reliability than their red foes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

News and Rumour Roundup: Wednesday September 10

Hi there loyal Reader(s) it's time for an epic-level news and rumour roundup. Lots to talk about with th F1 silly season getting exciting and the IRL game of musical chairs is getting to be fun. I will sort my news in two sections, first the F1 and then the Indy Car news.

Formula One
The juiciest rumour to come out of F1 recently is one reported on Italian TV on Sunday that suggests that Fernando Alonso has signed a three year deal to drive for BMW starting in 2009. As shocking as this seems it is not entirely implausable, but unlikely. The first stumbling block to a potential Alonso to Beemer story is that there have been swirling rumours that Alonso has signed an agreement in principle to join Ferrari in 2010. It is obvious that Fernando wants to win races NOW, not in a few years when Renault can get their act together and if this Beemer story is true then it raises some interesting questions. If Fernando does go to Munich/Hinwil then it is obvious that Nick Heidfeld will be the odd man out. If that happens then Nick could end up taking Fernando's place at BMW, or he could end up with another mediocre midfielder like Williams or Toro Rosso. An Alonso move to BMW would also get Robert Kubica hot and bothered because he at the moment is BMW's designated number one and as we saw last year Fernando doesn't play second fiddle to anyone. If Alonso does go to BMW then it could mean that Kubica could head to Ferrari for 2010. Either way this years silly season hinges on Fernando Alonso once again.

The next piece of note is the rumour that the USGP may be back on sooner rather than later. The story goes that the manufactures are putting pressure on Bernie Ecclestone to get the US Grand Prix back on the schedule. At the moment the only logical venue is Indianapolis and the Speedway and Mr. E. are very far apart on the manner of money, Bernie wants a truckload more per year than Tony George is willing to pay. The manufactures ideally would want a race closer to their bigger markets on the east and west coasts, but nobody in those places has stepped up to the plate thus far with money to build a track and pay Mr. E the money he wants.

IndyCar Series
The big piece of interest in IndyCar racing is the future of KV racing. The former Champ Car team was mighty impressive this year but could face financial problems if there is no race in Australia next year. The number 8 car of Will Power is sponsored by Aussie Vinyards wine and they are saying they will pull the plug on sponsorship if the Surfers Paradise race does not re-appear. This could leave the team with no money and two talented drivers, Will Power and Oriol Servia would be unemployed. CDW sponsored Servia in Chicago and may pony up the money to run Servia all year, but Power, one of the real talents in the sport, could be out of luck.

The next story surrounds Justin Wilson. Wilson has revealed that he does not have a contract with Newman/Haas/Lanigan for next year despite winning a race and out-scoring teammate Graham Rahal. The speculation is that NHL are waiting on the future of Sebastien Bourdais to decide what to do with Wilson. Bourdais would be a great addition to the sport, but at the expense of Justin Wilson it may not be that big of a gain. Bourdais would be great for the team and he could probably compete for the title immediately but Wilson is an amazing talent who should be a regular in the IRL.

The future of Vitor Meira is very much up in the air but there are rumours that he may end up in a second Rahal-Letterman car if they can come up with the money. A Meira-Hunter-Reay lineup for Rahal-Letterman would be a very good lineup and could go a long way to returning the team to contender status. I hope Vitor gets a ride for next year as he is one of the sports true good guys.

Vision Racing have confirmed both Ed Carpenter and AJ Foyt IV will be back for 2009. Both drivers drove very well at Chicago but have struggled on road courses. I still don't think that Vision are done and we may see Bryan Herta at some Road Courses or a third car all year. If Vision want to be taken seriously they will have to be better at turning both ways.

A new team may enter IndyCars next year called 3G Motorsports led by former team owner Greg Beck and Steve Sudler. Beck ran a team for a few years in the IRL and I have never heard of Sudler. They are saying that they will run in the Indycar series and in Indy Lights but I am skeptical. They are claiming they have the money and sponsorship but they will not reveal any details. That either means they are lying about having sponsorship or they only have sponsorship to run part time. Either way it is not exactly confidence inspiring ans do I file this team rumour in the "I'll believe it when I see it" file. is reporting that the IRL may be asking Marty Roth to retire and focus on team management. The IRL are trying to get some of their Indy Lights drivers in the top flight but the influx of drivers from Europe and the talentless hacks like Marty make seats few and far between. If this is true then there should be dancing in the streets as Marty is the worst race car driver the open wheel world has seen since Jean-Denis Deletraz. Marty is a very smart businessman and could be very succesful as a team owner, but nobody will sponsor his team as long as they have him in the car, because Marty as a driver makes the whole team look amateurish.

Alex Lloyd has re-signed with CHip Ganassi as Chip tries to get him in the IRL. There are rumours of a third Ganassi car, or of Lloyd getting farmed out to a smaller team, but as with all rumours of this nature, I'll believe it when I see it.

HVM appear to be on the verge of running a second car for RObert Doornbos for next year. Bobby D has already said he has a deal in a "good team" for next year and Keith Wiggins has said he wants to expand to two cars. Doornbos can bring sponsorship from Trust, Muermans, and ING and could be a very attractive choice for any team. The Personable Dutchman would be a great addition to the IRL as the series tries to gain international credibility.

Monday, September 8, 2008

F1 race report: F1 throws up a thriller and then screws up the result.

Lewis Hamilton has every right to feel aggrieved by the the result. He won the race fair and square only to be screwed by some over zealous rule nazi's in the stewards room. In all fairness to Kimi Raikkonen, had the rain not come he would have coasted to victory, but the rain did come and Lewis Hamilton did what Lewis Hamilton does best in the rain and forced the issue, Kimi trued to defend but Hamilton would not be defeated. At the new bus stop chicane He tried around the outside, Kimi pushed wide and forced Lewis to cut the corner. Hamilton smartly let Kimi back before then fooling him at the next corner. Charlie Whiting told McLaren that Lewis had done nothing wrong and so Hamilton went on his merry way while a frustrated Kimi Raikkonen made a spectacular mess of things by first spinning later on the lap and then crashing just before the bus stop, throwing away a certain 8 points and all but eliminating himself from the championship. The backroom shenanigans finally gifted the win to Felipe Massa, who did not deserve it at all, but had proven his critics sort of wrong by not making a complete ass of himself in the rain, as he is prone to do and kept out of trouble. Second, but really third, went to Nick Heidfeld who did a lot to boost his stock in BMW land. Quick Nick gambled on intermediate tyres in the late race wet weather and was lapping 20 seconds per lap faster than anyone and if he had a few more laps he would have won the race, alas he did not have those laps and had to settle for third, only to inherit second after the insanity. That Lewis Hamilton was classified third is scat consolation considering how well he drove, but he does lead the championship by two points, but it should be more. Fernando Alonso finished fourth from Sebastien Vettel, Robert Kubica, Sebastien Bourdais, and Mark Webber. It was an impressive result for the Toro Rosso drivers, who were very good all weekend, taking advantage of the Grunt of the Ferrari engines. For the most part Seb Bourdais was on the pace of Seb Vettel and a few more performances like this could be enough to save his job, although with the likes of Takuma Sato, Sebastien Buemi, and Bruno Senna breathing down his neck nothing is certain. Timo Glock had finished seventh on the road but was also dinged with a 25 second penalty, this one for overtaking under yellow flags, a penalty which was justified. It was a pretty dismal day for both Williams and Honda, both teams failing to get anywhere near the points and Honda in particular being particularly woeful. With Force India improving, suddenly Honda are getting closer and closer to being the worst of the worst. It was a good race, they usually are at Spa where the men are separated from the boys, but FOM always goes with their money, not what the fans want when it comes to circuit selection.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

IRL race report: Helio wins a thriller, but Dixon is champ

Ooh baby, the two championship protagonists going wheel to wheel on the final lap with a photo finish, and in the end the closest finish in IRL history. Helio Castroneves finally, after several minutes of debate, won the race by 0.001 seconds from Scott Dixon after having started from the back of the field. There were the usual number of accidents, not surprising for a 28 car field, plenty of passing and close racing, some good runs by surprising sources, and an amazing finish. Ryan Briscoe started on the pole from Dixon and Kanaan with Helio Castroneves being demoted to last place after a dubious decision by the stewards after qualifying to send him to the back for repeated crossing of the white line below the track. Either way it did not matter as it made for an exciting first few laps as Helio scythed through the field like a hot knife through butter. By lap 10 he was up battling for the top 10 and by the time the first caution came out on lap 36 he was eighth. The first caution was for the fourth placed man Ed Carpenter who had a suspension failure and was pitched rather dramatically into the wall at the exit of turn 2. His fiery car came to a rest in the infield and an unfortunate Ed jumped out of his car uninjured. At the stops the Penske boys went to work and helped get Helio a couple of positions. At the restart the Brazilian continued to climb and managed to get the lead before Vitor Meira brought out the safety car again for an accident caused by a mechanical failure. At the restart Helio led and we had some great battles including three wide for the lead between Castroneves, Briscoe, and Dan Wheldon and other great battles that saw the likes of EJ Viso and AJ Foyt IV running in the top 5. The third caution was for debris and under said caution Graham Rahal blotted his copybook for the first time by stupidly running into Buddy Rice in the pitlane. Buddy was understandably infuriated and one starts to question whether or not Rahal is as mature as the pundits say he is. Later on he would bring out a caution for nudging the wall while running several laps down. After this restart we had more great racing as Dixon temporarily fell down the order, at one point Castroneves was mathematically leading the championship. Two cautions came out in the meantime, one for Sarah Fisher who had a mechanical failure and another for EJ Viso who just screwed up and crashed. The dust settled and we had just over fifty laps to go with Milka Duno, yes Milka Duno, leading at the restart. She was quickly overwhelmed by the drivers with talent and drifted back to 14th. The ding-dong battle at the front pursued with most of the top driver involved, including both Penske's, both Ganassi's, Tony Kannan and Danica Patrick, plus the surprising Mario Moraes, who unfortunately rubbed the wall late on and dropped back. This set up what would become one of the most dramatic finishes we have seen. For lap after lap Helio and Dixon diced it up, runnign side by side with Helio desperately trying to get around Dixon. COming around the final turn they were neck and neck and crossed the line side by side. At first the commentators thought that it was Dixon who won the race but the computers reveal the tiniest of secrets and a couple minutes later it emerged that it was in fact Helio Castroneves who had won the race, by the closest margin in IRL history. A great race brought to a close (well sort of) to the first merged season of open wheel racing since Tony George made his bone-headed split in 1996. Scott Dixon is a deserved champion for 2008 having won the most races, although Helio was consistend as hell, he did not get the wins he needed to take the title. There is always next year for him, but how many next years can a guy have? The top 10 was completed by Ryan Briscoe, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Dan Wheldon, Darren Manning, Marco ANdretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Danica Patrick.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Weekend Racing Preview

There are two major races in open wheel racing this weekend, the Belgian Grand Prix at the awesomely awesome Spa-Francorchamps, and the Indycar series title showdown at the decidedly average Chicagoland speedway. The Belgian Grand Prix could be the race that makes or breaks the championship because a win here could be the momentum that a Lewis Hamilton or Felipe Massa need to win the title. Lewis Hamilton is talking up his chances this weekend, as he usually does, but Ferrari have been the best car out there the last few races and with the modern day Spa-master, Kimi Raikkonen, in a red car, we could be looking at a Ferrari win. I could really see the Kimster run away with this race and make it a three mat title chase, but I could also see Lewis Hamilton or Felipe Massa win to all but eliminate the defending world champion Raikkonen from contention. Spa is a track that separates the men from the boys, so I expect the cream of the crop to rise up and make an impression. The Car is important, but Spa is a track that rewards the driver more than most tracks do and it could be an interesting Ferrari-Hamilton duel this weekend. Of the rest it is hard to say, I can see Fernando Alonso outperforming his car, but Spa is a track that rewards engine power and the Renault engine has very little of that compared to the rest, something which could hinder the Red Bull team as well. This dependence on Engine Power could give an advantage to BMW and the Toyota engined cars, who look more likely to take the minor points than the Renault engined cars, although Renault do have Alonso. We will see what happens, but it could be an exciting race, especially if Spa throws up it's usual cocktail of interesting weather.

The IndyCar boys will be deciding their championship in Chicago with Scott DIxon holding a 30 point lead over Helio Castroneves. In reality this means that all Dixon has to do is finish eighth to clinch the title, regardless of what Castroneves does. There are 28 cars in the field for Sunday with Sarah Fisher returning and with AJ Foyt running a second car for Franck Perera, which could be an audition for a potential second car all year next year. Elsewhere in backmarkerland Alex Tagliani will be back in the 36 Conquest car to replace the wounded Enrique Bernoldi, and that Tags will race in the non-championship race in Australia. The team insists that Bernoldi hasn't been fired, but I am skeptical of the truthiness of that statement. Back to the race, I would be surprised if Dixon does not win the title, but anything could happen, and with some of the idiots at the back in this race he very easily could be collected in an accident among backmarkers. Helio has been dynamite the last couple of races and has every chance of stealing the title. He has to go balls out and pray that a calamity befalls Dixon. This race could be exciting due to the number of talented drivers with nothing to lose, this includes the more accident prone of them like Marco Andretti. This should be an exciting race, hopefully it will be on Television up here in Canada.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

News Analysis: Ganassi thows us a curveball

Just yesterday I was convinced that Dan Wheldon was on the verge of re-signing with Chip Ganassi racing for 2009, I mean why wouldn't i? He is in the best team in the business and is improving on the road courses, staying at Ganassi is the logical choice to keep winning, right? Well apparantly things aren't that simple in the Indycar world as today Chip Ganassi stood up and said he would have a second top driver in his team and that driver is............. Dario Franchitti!!! Wait, rewind, Franchitti? You mean the guy who left Indycar for NASCAR after winning the title saying that the open wheel chapeter of his life is closed, that Dario Franchitti? Yes boys and girls it is true, Dario Franchitti is back in the IRL after a rather dismal go at NASCAR this year. The domino effect of this is that within a couple of hours Wheldon was confirmed as joining Panther racing for next year to replace the eternally unlucky Vitor Meira in the number four car. The immediate reaction is that this is good for the sport, which it is as it does raise the talent level in the field, but it does cruelly deny one of the sports true good guys of a decent job. The panther people are touting the same old story that if Vitor comes up with sponsorship they will run a second car, but it does not seem bloody likely at this point. There will be the usual scrap jobs out there if Vitor can come up with the cash, but it does not look all that promising for the man with the most starts without a career win. One must wonder what the stumbling block was to Wheldon's re-signing. Certainly he could not have been expecting the same amount of money that he had been receiving up to now, but there has to be more to it than that. Dan is no moron and he knows that Ganassi is the best team in the business. He must realize that he will need to take a pay cut to stay in the game and there is no way that Panther racing has anywhere near the money that Wheldon wants, heck they pretty much don't have any money. This must have to do with status within the team. Chip probably told Wheldon that he would be number two within the team to Scott Dixon and Dan wants equal billing. He can go to panther racing and be the man on an average team as opposed to being second fiddle on a great team. I wish Dan all the best as he is one of the big talents in the sport, and it is good to see more big names back in Indycar, hopefully it comes at the expense of the lousy backmarkers and not at the expense of the genuine good drivers like Meira.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Race Report and Rumour roundup: Labour day Weekend

Justin Wilson won the Indycar race at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. The former Minardi and Jaguar F1 man qualified second and trailed the championship protagonists closly most of the day before mounting a serious challenge on Helio Castroneves late in the race. Helio furiously blocked Wilson, something which is a big no-no in the IRL and was forced to let Wilson pass him, giving the Englisman his first series victory and Newman/Haas/Lanigan's second win of the season. The race was one which was, unsurprisingly, devoid of overtaking and ended as a rather processional event. Wilson showed that he is truly among the elite on road courses and that Newman/Haas are clearly the class of the field of former Champ car teams. KV racing have been very fast but have not been able to put together good races, although Oriol Servia and Will Power scored solid fourth and eighth place finishes respectively. The usual gang of idiots in the back of the field were up to their usual tricks with Marty Roth not starting due to an accident and Milka Duno getting tangled with Bruno Junquiera. EJ Viso had the biggest accident of the race when he smashed his HVM car on lap 32, while other drivers to be involved in dramas included Bruno Junquiera (who collided with Duno) Dan Wheldon (who collided with Jaime Camara and spun on his own later on), and the pair of Vitor Meira and Danica Patrick, who had a coming together. One of the usual idiots, Enrique Bernoldi, was not there this weekend. He injured his wrist and while he raced at Sonoma he could not compete in Detroit and his seat was taken by Canadian Veteran Alex Tagliani. Considering that Tags jumped into the car on Saturday morning, a 21st place grid position was pretty good and he backed that up with some good running only to be sidelined by mechanical gremlins. Hopefully this will lead to more appearances for Tagliani. I apologize for the brief race report, the race was not on Television where I am as it was on TSN2 in Canada, a channel not available to most people at the moment. The final result saw Helio Castroneves second, Tony Kanaan third, Oriol Servia fourth, and championship leader Scott Dixon fifth. This result extends the championship chase to the final race of the season, next week at Chicagoland speedway, with Dixon's lead over Castroneves down to 30 points. The last race is on an oval, where anything could happen, but I doubt that we will get that dramatic a turn in events and we will probably see Dixon crowned next week, but stranger things could happen and Helio Won't stop believin'!!!

News and Rumour Roundup
The big, and potentially saddest news, is the death of 1961 F1 champion Phill Hill last week at the age of 81. One of the least known champions and the only American born world championship, Hill made his name with Ferrari, winning three F1 races and the 24 hours of Le Mans Three times. His memory will live on as one of the legends of American motorsports.

In other sad news it has been revealed that there are plans to neuter the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Apparantly the organizers are looking at having the cars go right at the exit of Pouhon and cut across to meet up with the old track just before Blanchimont. This would cut out some brilliant driver corners like Les Fagnes and Stavelot. This has yet to be confirmed and the reasons are a little vague but if they are true then it would be a tragic defacing of one of the worlds best racetracks. There is a rumour that the changes are brought about by Mr B Ecclestone being unhappy with the low lap count at Spa and if this is true then it is yet another dickeaded action by one of the world's great assholes. I hope it is not true, and although Bernie has flipped F1 history the bird in the past, this would be an unforgivabel act in my mind. Eau Rouge may be a challenging corner, but with the drivers able to take it flat out now, this section is the best place where the circuit separates the men from the boys. If this happens then shame on you bernie, shame on you Belgian GP organizers, and shame on you F1 world which has become so politicized and money sucking.

In the Indycar world a few drivers appear to be on the verge of running full time and the 2009 Car count could go up. The first rumour is that HVM are on the verge of being able to run a second car for next year, coinciding with former F1 and Champ Car man Robert Doornbos saying that he is driving for a "good" f1 team. Doornbos has connections with Keith Wiggins and although HVM's status as a "good" team is questionable, it would be great to see Doornbos back. Elsewhere Alex Lloyd and Chip Ganassi racing are apparantly close to securing the funding necessary to run Lloyd in a third Ganassi car. If this is true then it is fantastic news for Lloyd as he will be stepping into the best team in the business. Hopefully this works out as Lloyd is talented and more cars are always better.

In F1 news Luca Di Montezemelo has won the Grand Prix of stating the obvious by confirming that both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen will be back at Ferrari next year. Both men are among the best in the business and have forged a pretty good working relationship.