Category Archives: F1

Pit Stop – Part One of 2014 Season – By Lewis Brearley

It’s scary to think that by the end of this month, pre-season testing in Formula One will already be underway. It gives you a sense of the work rate needed by the teams to get their new cars made and transported to Spain just two months after they packed up their 2013 cars in Sao Paulo.

But this year the turnaround is even more complex than usual. The 2014 cars are designed to brand new technical regulations: new engines, new KERS, new exhausts and new aerodynamics.
When the teams turn up and unveil their new cars on 28 January down at Jerez, Spain a new era of Formula One will begin.

The biggest change will be the introduction of 1.6 litre, turbocharged engines – or “power units” as they are being termed – with much more powerful energy recovery systems than the 2013 cars.

The power unit will contain both a kinetic energy recovery system similar to the ones used in 2013, only more powerful, and a second system which will utilise waste power from the turbo. However, unlike 2013 this energy will be used automatically and not at the press of a button.

Furthermore this system will be restricted to using only 100kg for the entire race with a maximum flow rate of 100kg per hour meaning fuel efficiency may be almost as important as outright power.

Next, the requirement of a single exhaust exiting the centre of the car at an upright angle, eradicating practically all of the downforce derived from blowing the exhaust gases towards the diffuser – Red Bull’s specialty.

The other changes are aerodynamic such as a front wing 75mm narrower and, for safety reasons, a much lower nose. These will affect the flow of air around the entire car and therefore are perhaps much more important than they may first appear.

The decrease in engine power combined with the loss of aerodynamic downforce means the 2014 cars are almost certainly going to be slower than the 2013 cars, as was intended by the regulations. How much slower they will be is unknown however, but the pessimistic predictions of silent cars circling six seconds slower is probably rubbish.

Even if the pace of the cars is much slower, such is the pace of development at the top teams that they will soon close in on the speed of the V8 machines.

The truth is that no one, not even Adrian Newey at Red Bull or Pat Fry at Ferrari, knows what next season will bring and that’s why 2014 is so highly anticipated. By the end of this month the first piece of the puzzle will be in place.

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Pit Stop – Tough time at the bottom – By Lewis Brearley

It’s a tough time for Formula One’s smaller teams at the moment. Financial worries are causing ructions within all but the largest teams and disappointingly no action seems to be in the pipeline.

Force India replaced Paul di Resta with Sergio Perez this week and with it gained an estimated $10 million from his Mexican backers and sponsors.

Many fans decried the fact that a very talented driver had lost out to a guy with a fat wallet. Yet this is harsh on Perez, a man who gave a world champion, Jenson Button, a decent challenge in a tricky car.

Indeed it’s arguable that Perez and di Resta are on the same level, unlikely to be world champions but capable of winning races when given the machinery. It’s not Force India’s fault that they need all the money they can get and it’s certainly not Force India’s fault that no other team has picked him up.

However, this deal is yet another sign that Formula One’s financial model needs to change. Another driver who is supported by a large amount of corporate money and another good driver destined to spend the rest of his career in sportscar racing, IndyCar or the DTM.

The answer is simple but it will be a complicated political process to implement it. The owners of Formula One, a private equity named CVC Capital Partners. With over $46 billion in investments and no passion for motor sport, their number one priority is squeezing profit out of Formula One and they do this very successfully.

For example in 2012 Formula One revenues were estimated at around $1.5 billion and CVC took a colossal $865 million from that. From the remaining revenues, the FIA takes a small percentage and then the teams take their share, decided by the all-important Constructors’ Championship standings.

Hidden within this share is a hugely unfair element however. Recently the teams signed up to a new payment structure which gives bonuses to teams who have won championships in recent years – Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull – and also Mercedes thanks to an agreement between Bernie Ecclestone and the team that kept them in the sport.

So unfair is this structure that Ferrari could score zero points in next year’s championship and still receive more money than if Lotus managed to win the championship.

Why sign up to the thing then, you may ask? Well, it was forced upon them after Red Bull and Ferrari first signed it. Rumours swirled that the remaining teams had no other option than to sign up or else face watching a Ferrari Formula One World Championship sponsored by Red Bull with two constructors providing customer cars to the smaller teams.

Thanks to this unequal agreement and a bizarre lack of interest from sponsors, most teams are now struggling to stay afloat with soaring costs and declining revenues combining to crush their accounts.

If only there was a spare $800 million that could be shared between the grid. However, CVC will not give up this money easily. Aware of the financial difficulties they have an alternative answer: have five ‘constructors’ and five ‘customers’ which would sharply reduce costs for the smaller teams and allow CVC to keep even more of the revenues for themselves.

This isn’t an acceptable answer. It would reduce Formula One to a shadow of the fair, engineering battle that it is supposed to be and if one big team quit, the customer would be taken down with it.

The true answer as CVC are unlikely to be moved aside, is a budget cap. For this to happen Red Bull and Ferrari would have to accept that the good of the sport should be prioritised over the good of their teams.

Whether this will happen will be the background story throughout the 2014 season.

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Pit Stop – F1 changes – By Lewis Brearley

Almost all Formula One fans have ideas about how the sport should be improved. From less prescriptive technical regulations to more prescriptive technical regulations, more durable tyres, less durable tyres, bringing back refuelling, fewer teams, more teams, a budget cap, stopping racing on the newer and less romantic Tilke-designed circuits, there’s myriad ideas, some more worthy than others.

This week, the newly established “Strategy Working Group,” which comprises six team principals and six representatives from both the FOM and the FIA, had their first meeting and agreed on some changes which they believe will improve Formula One.

Firstly they decided to bring in, with immediate effect, permanent numbers for all the drivers. Sebastian Vettel will get the first choice, including the option to use the #1 earned by winning the drivers’ championship, with the others getting their choice in championship order.

This is a pure marketing tool and has been very well received among the fans and drivers alike. Formula One bosses will be hoping that sometime in the future they will be able to match the image and income of Valentino Rossi’s iconic #46 in MotoGP.

However, it’s unclear how the system will be implemented. If a driver retires only to return a couple of years later such as Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, will their number be kept “on ice” for a couple of years or will they have to pick a new one?

Also, how will the numbers be visible? At the moment the numbers on the cars are too small to even be seen in slow motion close ups, and the teams are unwilling to increase this size for fear of reducing space for paying sponsors.

A number which is therefore only really visible on the driver’s caps and t-shirts before and after races is hardly going to have the same impact as the clear numbers used in MotoGP.

Secondly, a tentative plan to have a workable budget cap for 2015 was announced. Due to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes’ current blasé and selfish attitudes to the ridiculous current financial situation in Formula One, it’s very unclear how this system will be properly enforced.

It’s certainly very unlikely to be set as low as the $40 million cap pushed by Max Mosley in 2009. The lack of information in the press release itself shows just how early into negotiations this decision is.

A more immediate change to the rules, and the one which has gained the most headlines, is the decision to award double points in next season’s final race.

This means the winner of next year’s Abu Dhabi grand prix, a race seen as one of the least challenging on the calendar, will receive 50 points.

As of now, Vettel is the only man to share his opinion on the issue, calling the whole idea “absurd and unfair,” and he is completely right. Never in the history of Formula One has one race been worth more than others.

This is a purely business-driven move, just like the permanent numbers, as it almost guarantees a final race championship decider, yet this is different as it affects the racing itself.

In football, the goalposts aren’t widened in stoppage time and in a 19-race championship, one race should not outweigh any of the others.

It’s also a sign of Formula One taking a worrying direction towards gimmickry and entertainment and away from sport. What’s to stop a circuit organiser deciding to pay double the hosting fees to get their race billed as a “50 points super-race?” Or giving points for overtaking in the final few laps?

This sort of gimmickry is not what Formula One needs to be entertaining and it’s concerning that the very owners of the sport think it is. They need to have more confidence in their product and remember that when Mika Hakkinen overtook Schumacher at Spa in 2000, or when Raikkonen overtook Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap of the 2005 Japanese grand prix, there were no gimmicks, no double points and no overtaking aids.

Pure racing, rivalries and personalities is what makes Formula One the second most watched sport in the world. There’s no need to dilute that.

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Pit Stop – Webber bows out- By Lewis Brearley

Mark Webber’s gesture of taking off his helmet after the Brazilian grand prix was a perfect summary of his reputation in his sport.

He stated the intention of the gesture was to show to human side to his sport. And of all the Formula One drivers of recent times, Webber has always seemed one of the most human; honest, direct and charming. Always putting the individual over the corporate, while also remaining popular and likeable.

Ever since his debut at his home grand prix in 2002, Webber has stuck to these values and the respect for his talent from his peers has only increased as his career has progressed.

His career began with a three race contract for perennial strugglers Minardi. With minimal backing and without a sparkling junior career, Webber’s prospects for a future in Formula One weren’t strong. So it’s arguable that his extraordinary fifth place finish in his debut race, helped by a heap of good fortune with at least eight faster cars retiring early, was the sole reason Webber lasted more than a season in the sport.

Yet, however fortuitous Webber got in that debut race, for the rest of his career he had to work for every single thing he achieved. From qualifying third at the 2003 Hungarian grand prix for the poor Jaguar team, getting his first win after a drive through penalty at the Nurburgring in 2009; to finishing third in the drivers’ championship three times – 2010, 2011 and 2013.

For his first seven seasons, Webber toiled in the midfield for Minardi, Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull. Occasionally, his unique blend of hard graft and raw talent allowed him to shine. Times such as the 2006 Monaco grand prix where a probable podium finish was snatched away by a mechanical failure. Or the 2007 Japanese grand prix at the sodden Fuji racetrack, when another likely podium slipped away when a young rookie in another midfield car smashed into him.

It was unknown to everyone at the time, but this rookie would end up becoming an integral part of the Webber story, for it was Sebastian Vettel.

From 2009-2013 Webber had five seasons in a car capable of regularly winning races. And for those five seasons he was partnered in the Red Bull team by Vettel.

In 2009 and 2010 Webber and Vettel were quite even over the course of the seasons with Vettel taking eight wins to Webber’s six. Vettel seemed faster but was prone to crashes and rookie mistakes.

The record from 2011 onwards is less kind to Webber, as Vettel began to dominate the whole sport by utilising the unique aerodynamics of the Red Bull much more effectively, with the win ratio for 2011-2013 ending up as 28 for Vettel and only three for Webber.

This makes the first conclusion of Webber’s career as a good but not great driver. Yet, if Vettel really is as good as some claim, then Webber must go down as one of the best “B-level” drivers along with Rubens Barrichello, Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese. And that’s something that a poor kid from the middle of New South Wales should be very, very proud of.

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Pit Stop – Vettel makes it nine in a row – By Lewis Brearley

So the 2013 Formula One season is now over. Sebastian Vettel equalled the ancient record of nine consecutive grand prix wins set by Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari across the 1952 and 1953 seasons.

The seasons themselves only contained six races back then and the fact it took 60 years for it to be repeated emphasizes just how big of an achievement it is.

Formula One has changed so much in between the ages of Ascari and Vettel. From races where half the grid would fail to reach the chequered flag due to mechanical gremlins and the racetracks were lined with unprotected trees and walls, to almost impeccable reliability and cars and tracks which have to pass strict safety tests before they see any action; yet one thing is constant – the fastest driver and car combination always wins.

The fastest combination by far this season has been Vettel and his Red Bull RB9. Using his superb feel for the delicate Pirelli tyres and the aerodynamic characteristics of 2013 Formula One cars, he has managed to harness phenomenal speed from Adrian Newey’s genius design.

The RB9 was the pick of the field in 2013, especially in the second half of the season post-Hungary. Newey and the Renault engineers managed to smooth the flow of the exhaust gases so that the diffuser was ‘sealed’ more often and more effectively.

This sealing means the disruptive wake caused by the rear wheels does not invade the air flowing through the diffuser, thereby decreasing the air pressure within it. The lower the air pressure, the faster the air can flow through the diffuser and the greater the downforce level produced.

However, harnessing the full benefits of this technology required a certain driving style. As the effect was lost when the driver took his foot of the accelerator, the driver had to cope with oversteer on corner entry. As the car got loose through the middle of the corner, the driver would have to have the confidence and balanced feel of the throttle, to re apply just the right amount of throttle to get the read end working fully again.

If the driver could react to this oversteer and had superb feel, then this combination of an early, sharp turn in and early acceleration led to amazing speed. As the season’s results show, Sebastian Vettel was much more adept at driving in this style than his team mate, Mark Webber.

Yet these characteristics are all gone now. Next year’s cars have a set place for their single exhausts, angled up towards the rear wing. It’s accepted that it will be impossible to redirect the flow towards the diffuser this time.

This all means Vettel’s advantage from the past three years will be wiped out. How he copes with this and how he adapts to the new cars will be his chance to get the last of those pesky critics of his back.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Mark Webber’s illustrious, 215 race long, career.

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Pit Stop – Season Finale – By Lewis Brearley

This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be a historic affair even if Sebastian Vettel doesn’t win and equal both Michael Schumacher’s season win record of 13 and the nine race long consecutive win streak set by Alberto Ascari.

Not only is it the final race of 2013, it is also the final race with the current aerodynamic regulations, the last hurrah for the glorious V8 engines Formula One has used since 2006, Mark Webber’s final grand prix before he moves to the World Endurance Championship and Felipe Massa’s last race in his storied time at Ferrari.

A Webber win with Felipe Massa on the podium would therefore be a perfect way for the 2013 season to sign off. The likelihood of such is low however with Vettel having such a strong advantage over Webber and Ferrari being far off the pace set by both Red Bull, Lotus and Mercedes.

No driver has ever won their retirement grand prix and Webber has probably the best chance anyone has ever had to do so and the Aussie is always at his best at the classic racetracks like Interlagos. So for a full Webber appraisal it would be wise to wait until after his 217th grand prix.

While watching this weekend’s Formula One, take a moment to admire the machinery. The current cars with their exhaust blown diffuser technology mastered so brilliantly by Adrian Newey and his Red Bull team have been evolving ever since the regulations were altered in 2009.

The five seasons with the rules have been dominated by Red Bull and their lead driver, Sebastian Vettel who has managed to harness the technology to levels beyond any if his rivals. It has brought him four straight championships and 37 of his 38 career wins – one being before the 2009 changes.

The era of the V8 is longer. The rasping roar of these engines has provided the background noise for eight seasons and will be given a fond farewell at the atmospheric racetrack in the middle of Sao Paulo.

Fernando Alonso took the first win in the V8 era with a Renault engine and with Red Bull so strong and Lotus second best, Renault is very likely to bookend the era with another win.

With this history in mind, the race between the two Red Bulls and the battle for second in the constructors’ championship could be gripping.

While Lotus have the best race car at the moment, Mercedes have a 33 point advantage over the Enstone team. With Ferrari dead in the middle and on a weak run of form, Lotus could nick third from the mighty Scuderia, which for a team having financial difficulties would be a huge boost.

Tune in this weekend, it won’t be “just another Vettel win.”

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Pit Stop -Vettel takes fourth title – By Lewis Brearley

The Buddh circuit pit straight, a Red Bull RB9 and a four time world champion. A series of donuts followed by a bow from driver to car. An exuberant celebration after a flawless and sublime victory in which Sebastian Vettel made the legendary appear easy.

It was an iconic moment on a day when Vettel seemed to finally get the respect he, his team and his fans felt he deserved a long time ago.

Lewis Hamilton, who a few months ago claimed that Vettel was not even in the same class as himself and Fernando Alonso, admitted he might just have got it wrong.

Hamilton was talking after a poor race in which he had been outpaced by his team mate, Nico Rosberg. It’s the frequency of these subdued races that stops Hamilton from putting up any sort of championship challenge against Vettel who himself has worked to make sure every single race is a show of excellence.

Alonso also had a poor race by his own high standards. Outqualified by Felipe Massa, contact on the first lap and a race long struggle to overtake slower cars combined to damage his claim that Vettel is only beating him because he drives a faster car.

This isn’t criticism of Hamilton and Alonso as not even the greatest drivers are perfect. But Vettel is currently the closest of any of the current grid to that perfection. Sure, he does have the fastest car but his team mate – a highly rated race winner and championship challenger – lies fifth in the championship with zero wins in 2013.

Vettel took his sixth consecutive win – becoming only the third man to do so – and his tenth win this season with a perfect performance.

Starting from pole position he pulled out a comfortable gap before he pitted on only the second lap, the extremely short first stint necessitated by the fragility of the Pirelli softs.

This early stop put him right in the centre of the midfield and here was where many expected Mark Webber, on the alternative strategy of starting on the longer lasting hard compound, to gain time.
However, as with so many things this season, Vettel showed his class by pulling off a series of clean and precise overtakes, and also setting fastest laps in the meantime.

Vettel made sure he encountered his victims at the DRS zone and backed off during the fast corners, minimising time spent in a car’s dirty air and therefore minimising tyre wear and lost time.

Towards the final few laps, after Vettel had relentlessly gained a 20 second lead and Webber had retired, the team began to worry that they wouldn’t make the finish with their number one car either.

So paranoid were Red Bull that even Vettel’s KERS and drinks bottle were purposely disabled. Yet Vettel reached the chequered flag and became only the fourth, four time world champion.

A sub plot to all this was Kimi Raikkonen’s spat with his Lotus team. After stupidly getting in the way of team mate Romain Grosjean, Raikkonen was profanely told to move aside. Kimi responded with his own strong words and unsurprisingly is rumoured to have fallen out with the team over the affair to such an extent that on Thursday he hadn’t yet arrived at the Abu Dhabi circuit.
Whether he turns up or not, Vettel will be there. And he’ll probably be leading too.

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Pit Stop – Wrap up in India – By Lewis Brearley

No one else has lead even a single lap of the Indian Grand Prix except for Sebastian Vettel. This year, he heads into the third – and perhaps final – Indian Grand Prix, needing just a fifth place finish to secure his fourth successive world title. But, if you don’t enjoy watching sustained excellence and prefer to call such achievements boring predictability, there’s still plenty of unresolved issues to keep your attention.

Lotus have become the closest rivals to Red Bull’s pace since the introduction in Monza of the long wheelbase E21. This, along with Romain Grosjean’s recent profound upturn in form has led to them being in the big battle for second in the constructors’ championship with Ferrari and Mercedes.

If Kimi Raikkonen can finally get to grips with his tyre issues in qualifying, as he claimed he progressed with at Suzuka, then Lotus could score heavily this weekend. The financial benefits of claiming the second spot in the constructors’ championship would be a huge and timely boost for a team which is running on much smaller resources than its manufacturer backed rivals.

Second in the championship is currently held by Ferrari, but with no podium finishes in the past two races the 10 points they have over Mercedes, and 34 over Lotus is seriously under threat.

As was the case in the past two seasons, Ferrari have struggled with developments to their car as the season has progressed. Their wind tunnel still seems to be suffering from correlation problems and their technical department is in transition from Pat Fry to James Allison’s leadership.

Just with Ferrari, Mercedes have also fallen away from Red Bull’s pace in the second half of the season and are without a podium in four races.

With all the teams now mainly focused on their 2014 cars and bringing only very minor developments, there’s no reason to believe the competitive order will change much for the remainder of the season.

Whatever happens this weekend, whether Formula One will be returning to Delhi is not known. Next year’s event has ostensibly been cancelled due to calendar issues with a return promised for 2015. However, organisers are believed to need government backing if they are to be able to afford to host the event in the future – something the government isn’t very keen on.

Whether or not you like the Buddh circuit isn’t the main point here. If Formula One is to lose its roots in a market of over one billion people after only three races, then that is a profound blow to the sport’s future global audience.

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Pit Stop – F1 and Moto GP last Weekend – By Lewis Brearley

Last weekend was one of those rare ones where both Formula One and MotoGP races happened. And at Suzuka and Sepang, the respective championships became a practical foregone conclusion.

In Formula One, Sebastian Vettel took a fifth successive victory – the first time such a streak has happened since Schumacher did it twice in 2004 – meaning his only remaining rival needs to win all four remaining races to even have a chance of stealing it away from him.

Meanwhile over in MotoGP, Marc Marquez took an easy second position finish behind his team mate, which gave him a 43 point lead with three races remaining.

If you only watch motorsport for a close and nail-biting championship battle then this probably leaves you disappointed. However, if you wish to see excellence from people mastering their sports then the 2013 championships are still absorbing stuff.

It has long been the nature of motorsport that some years provide closer championships than others. If you still feel like tuning out of either or even both of the championships, think again because there are many reasons to stick around.

The Japanese grand prix saw Romain Grosjean exorcise himself from the horrors of his previous season with a stunning drive to third place. While last year he ambled straight into Mark Webber at the first turn, this time round he led Webber for the duration of the first stint and was by far and away the best non-Red Bull performer, with Fernando Alonso a 36 seconds further back.

Over in Malaysia, Dani Pedrosa put his long win drought to an end and triumphed over Marquez. Even if Marc was taking it slightly easy with a championship in mind, it was still a great win for Pedrosa, who had looked demoralised in the face of his rookie sensation team mate for much of the season.

One fully reliable gauge of measuring excellence is when someone makes it seem a predictability. Marc Marquez finishing second is a disappointment to some. Many put Vettel’s Japanese victory down to his machine, his RB9 and team preference. They say Red Bull sabotaged Webber to hand their favoured son victory with the hope of sealing another title.

However these conspiracy theorists forget the many obvious flaws in their theory. Such as Christian Horner’s televised quote about liking to see Webber take a win before his career ends. Such as the fact Red Bull weren’t sure which strategy was best even as the race began. Or the fact Webber was unable to look after his tyres as well as Vettel during the first stint, which led to worse tyre degradation. They forget Webber’s lap times on his last set of fresh rubber put him on course to race Vettel in the last few laps until Vettel overtook Grosjean as soon as he was able to, while Webber didn’t and hence couldn’t catch his team mate.

It’s true that the Red Bull RB9 is the best racing car in the world. What isn’t true though, is that Sebastian Vettel doesn’t deserve his forthcoming fourth world championship. As glib as it may be to write, he is one of the greats.

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Pit Stop – Go Nico, Go – By Lewis Brearley

If you weren’t a member of the Nico Hulkenberg fan club before Sunday morning, then chances are, you probably will be now.

The young German driver’s performance in the Korean Grand Prix last weekend was sensational. He used his Sauber’s newly acquired speed to hold off Fernando Alonso in the first half of the race and then defended perfectly against Lewis Hamilton for over 20 laps.

Whatever the world champions tried they just couldn’t overtake the extremely talented Hulkenberg. He knew at which parts of the track he needed to take a defensive position and, equally important, he knew which areas he didn’t need to bother – the tight, technical turns of the last sector for example.

It was arguably his finest race, beating his Interlagos race leading effort last year thanks to making not a single error throughout.

What is certainly not arguable is that Hulkenberg now deserves a seat at a bigger team than Sauber.

He was seriously considered for the Ferrari seat which Kimi Raikkonen instead received. Doubts as to whether Alonso would leave the team prompted Ferrari to choose the big name, safe bet over a rookie.

Hulkenberg was publicly disappointed that he didn’t get the seat he knew he had a good chance of getting. Now however, Hulkenberg still has a big chance of getting a good seat as both Lotus and McLaren are considering him.

Lotus management are known to prefer Hulkenberg over Felipe Massa, but only if the team finally secure the long awaited financial deal with Infiniti. McLaren are also interested in Hulkenberg replacing Sergio Perez, such is the team’s disappointment with the young Mexican. But McLaren are also without a big name, big money financial deal for 2014 and a Latin American driver such as Perez or Massa would attract much more business interest than Hulkenberg.

Also weighing against Nico is next season’s new V6 turbo power train units. These are expected to weigh much more than was previously thought and heavier drivers such as Hulkenberg would bring the total car-driver package close to the minimum weight limit. The teams would therefore have no ability to use ballast to improve the balance of their car and hence lighter drivers, such as Perez and Massa have a second advantage.

Massa and Perez may be lighter and they may be more commercially friendly, but they are both held in less regard as Hulkenberg as drivers, their inconsistency is obvious and their speed is questionable.

Hulkenberg has to therefore rely purely on his immense talent to get a better seat and if Formula One really is a sport rather than a business, he will seal the deal he clearly deserves.

It was noted in this column a few weeks ago how tricky McLaren’s decision about its drivers is. They have a massive new deal with Honda set for 2015 and the partnership is keen to get the best drivers possible to make the team champions again.

They have openly approached Alonso only to be turned away. However, they are still attempting to sign the double world champion. This makes the decision for their second seat even harder. Should they sign a promising rookie to partner Alonso if he returns or should they nudge aside Jenson Button to start their new era afresh and sign two rookies for next year?

The next month is likely to reveal at least some answers.

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