Tag Archives: Ferrari

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 – 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 – 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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Pit Stop – Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari – By Lewis Brearley

When Kimi Raikkonen was ignominiously dropped by Ferrari at the end of the 2009 season, the odds of a future return looked slim, to say the very least.

Yet, this week Ferrari announced that their 2014 driver pairing would be Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, in a blatant change of policy from recent times.

Ferrari have nearly always operated with a clear number one gunning for the driver’s championship with a reliable and co-operative number two in support. In fact, never has this technique been more obvious that in the past three years, with Massa supporting Alonso significantly. The tifosi claim that anything should be done in order to win the Holy Grail – the driver’s championship – but it makes a lot of people uneasy. From Massa being told to allow Alonso into the lead exactly a year since his almost fatal crash at the Hungaroring, to having his gearbox deliberately tampered with so that Alonso would have a better grid slot at Austin last year, it’s a controversial and largely unpopular tactic.

But the reason for the shift towards two equal drivers is not because of this. If Ferrari cared what the media said, they would have changed policy years ago. The announcement instead signifies an even more important change.

To understand why, you need to understand the history. Ferrari signed Kimi Raikkonen as an heir to the departing Michael Schumacher for the 2007 season. He was to be the new number one in the post Schumacher era and he duly delivered a world championship in his debut season in red.

However, things then quickly went astray. After being led by Schumacher for a decade, the team had got used to their driver spending hours in the factory and attending endless technical meetings. But Kimi didn’t.

As the relationship deteriorated so did Raikkonen’s performances until, in a reverse of the previous season, he was ordered to let Massa through as Massa was the team’s best hope of that year’s championship.

Ferrari weren’t impressed and decided to sign Alonso for 2010, actually paying Raikkonen to sit out his last year of his contract. Alonso seemed much better suited to be a Ferrari number one, he spoke positively to the media and he spent time back in Maranello.

The relationship was working seamlessly until last year’s Indian Grand Prix. A team strategy error had blown the 2010 title, and in 2011 Red Bull had a huge pace advantage over everybody, and in the third year of the partnership Alonso led the driver’s championship.

Going in to India however, Alonso had seen Sebastian Vettel win three races in a row and now the pressure was on.

After qualifying, technical director Pat Fry wondered aloud whether his drivers had performed to their best. Some might say he was right, especially after hearing Alonso criticise his car all year.

Yet Alonso was angry and while at the time it appeared to be just a disagreement, now it seems as through the relationship hasn’t recovered.
Alonso doesn’t like seeing Vettel win championship and championship and is aware that his career is nearer the end than the beginning. And the team are fed up of having their car criticised while their driver gets all the credit.

The result: a change away from a focus on Alonso’s championship towards a constructor’s championship. With arguably the finest pairing, Ferrari are probably early favourites. But drivers don’t drive for the constructor’s. They want the driver’s title. Whether Ferrari’s new approach works will be fascinating to watch.

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Pit Stop – The Future Webber – By Lewis Brearley

Mark Webber is one of the more direct and honest drivers in the Formula One paddock. In many media appearances he has shown no aversion in expressing how difficult his relationship is with his team-mate and his deep dislike of the current style of Formula One racing. Hence, when he speaks people tend to listen.

His latest quotes that the Formula One grid is lacking in quality when compared with the year he debuted in the sport – 2001 – are easy to disagree with. While it’s easy to understand why he holds such a view, having been held up by many unyielding Caterhams and Marussias in the past few years including the scary incident which left him hurtling up in to the air at Valencia 2010, it’s most definitely a rose-tinted viewpoint.

Most of the 2013 grid have proved perfectly adept, even highly talented. The five world champions at the front of the grid are some of the sport’s finest ever competitors and the midfield contains some very fine talent.

One thing that is clear though, is that there are fewer journeymen racers now than there were in 2001. Competition for seats is much tougher and any mediocre talent is quickly disposed of in favour of a highly promising rookie or unfortunately, a money-backed youngster.

Yet the number of such drivers who are only present for their accompanying sponsors is much lower than many commentators have led you to believe. Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Esteban Gutierrez are the only three who have been fast tracked for the cash. Other well-backed drivers, such as Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado have proved to be up to the standard needed and just happen to have bounds of talent alongside the money.

Whether the 22 of 2013 would beat the 22 of 2001 is forever to remain unclear but what can be known is who, from the current crop, has been outstanding and who looks like being remembered as just another footnote in F1’s history.

Nico Hulkenberg’s decision to move to Sauber has certainly been proved to be an error. From leading last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, the hugely respected young German is now scrapping for points, only seven of which are now his. In the longer term, Sauber, together with their newly acquired Russian backers do have the potential to improve on this year’s poor performance, but if

Hulkenberg gets lucky he won’t be around to see such improvements.He is on the short list for promotion to one of the top teams. The confirmed exit of Mark Webber and the likely sacking of Felipe Massa if he doesn’t raise his game leaves room for two more additions to the championship teams. The only major obstacles standing in his way are Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi, the other two youngsters who look more eligible for a top class seat.

Hulkenberg appears to be the favourite for the possible vacant Ferrari seat, having trumped di Resta in their year as team mates at Force India; and being more experienced than the very raw Bianchi.

This is all conjecture, however and the truth will reveal itself as the second half of the season goes along. What is fact though is who has been disappointing this season.

Esteban Gutierrez stands out the most. Before the season even began many claimed that he looked unready for the step up, including his own team. He still stands pointless ten races in and needs to make a big leap if he is not to be unceremoniously booted out at the end of the season.

Formula One has never been more ruthless and in this age of minimal testing, youngsters have never had less time or more pressure to adapt to the class. The cream nearly always ends up rising to the top though.

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Pit Stop – Kimi in Demand – By Lewis Brearley

This week Kimi Raikkonen’s management are having a series of meeting with the Lotus team owners, ostensibly to discuss Kimi’s contract extension, but in reality in order to hear persuasions for Kimi to stay.

The timing of the meeting is fine for Lotus, having just powered Kimi to second place in the German grand prix, finishing less than a second behind Sebastian Vettel driving for Kimi’s other prospective employers, Red Bull.

Kimi, as is the case for probably all the drivers on the grid, is enamoured by the promise of driving a Newey-machine; the title-winning Red Bull team having openly sounded out the Finn as a replacement for Mark Webber.

That combined with the challenge of going head to head with a triple world champion is sure to entice one of the best competitors in the history of modern F1.

However, the plusses of being a Lotus driver mean the decision isn’t so straightforward. Less media and corporate days than not just Red Bull, but all of the big teams, give the laconic Finn plenty of space and it’s a relationship he highly enjoys.

Add in the obvious pace of the Lotus E21, as demonstrated on Sunday, and it means plenty of sleepless nights for Kimi.

Kimi’s main doubt about staying with Lotus is that he isn’t convinced that the team can remain as title contenders on a consistent basis.

Indeed it is true that Lotus have a smaller budget than other title contending teams Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes and that they have rarely shown Red Bull rivalling pace this season, with one win to Red Bull’s four.

Lotus though will be eager to point out that they have performed well enough for Kimi to take one win and that he currently lies third in the championship, above Mark Webber – a Red Bull driver – and both Mercedes drivers. This, in addition to the fact that they developed well enough last season that they were the same delta behind Red Bull at the final race in Brazil as they were at the start of the season.

But this is why Kimi’s pure racing instinct leaves him still a distance away from putting pen to paper. “Behind Red Bull.” Not level. Not at the very front where he wants to be.

Events on Sunday perhaps made Kimi’s decision even more difficult. For the first time since Australia Lotus showed pace which was probably just a tad quicker than Red Bull, but still a Red Bull won. Sebastian Vettel’s classy victory, in which he defended impeccably from both Lotus cars and aced the fast laps when needed, takes him to 30 wins, one behind Nigel Mansell who took ten years to achieve such a number.

And perhaps more ominously for his championship rivals, 157 points, 47 more than he had at the same point last year; and 41 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

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Pit Stop – Engines at war – By Lewis Brearley

McLaren’s freshly announced engine partnership with Honda brings into focus the situation surrounding next year’s engine supplies.

Four teams have not yet confirmed which manufacturer they will use for power from 2014. Lotus, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Marussia are all still seeking final confirmation from their preferred choices.

With 11 teams on the grid and three engine manufacturers present next season, four teams for two manufacturers and three for the other appears to be the optimum and obvious solution.

However, upon further analysis it soon becomes clear that in reality this vision may be a little cloudier.

Renault has already confirmed deals with Red Bull, Caterham and Williams but has two more teams – Lotus and Toro Rosso – pitching for engines. If the Renaultsport management are to be taken at their word and a five team supply is indeed out of the question, that leaves one team left for either Mercedes or Ferrari.

In fact it’s this decision which is causing the logjam with the other teams’ engine supplies and Renault needs to make a decision quickly. But it’s not just a 50/50, random choice. Out of the two teams – Toro Rosso and Lotus – Lotus is the one most likely to deliver success and the worldwide promotion that follows. Yet on the other hand, Red Bull are pressuring the French firm to supply their sister team Toro Rosso and Red Bull is Renault’s number one, world championship-winning team.

Once this situation is resolved the rest of the grid will quickly be fully powered.
Mercedes, just like Renault, has three teams secured – Mercedes, McLaren and Force India – leaving space for the German manufacturer to pick up another should the need arise.

However, Ferrari has no engine supply deals agreed outside their works team. It’s very likely that they will supply their long-term partners Sauber and will very probably be contracted into supplying Toro Rosso should the Italian team be turned away by Renault.

This would leave Marussia, who can hardly cobble together enough money for an engine deal anyway, at the mercy of the generosity of Mercedes and Ferrari. Marussia hope that their signing of Ferrari academy driver, Jules Bianchi will persuade Ferrari into giving them a deal. But that is not a nailed-on certainly in even the slightest terms.

If this sounds complicated it’s simple when contrasted with the situation that would arise if Renault were to bow to Red Bull’s demands and Lotus were left at the doors of Mercedes and Ferrari.

The Enstone team’s first port of call would be Maranello, even if the name Lotus-Ferrari is anathema to the purists among you.

As bad as no Enstone team though? Because Ferrari have never in their history supplied a championship contending team (a rival) with engines and Mercedes would take some persuading to supply three championship contending teams when their own board are begging for success for their own team.

The die lies with Renault. When it is finally cast, one team reaches for the emergency plan.

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Pit Stop – Bahrain Grand Prix – By Lewis Brearley

Watching the Bahrain grand prix it was hard not to imagine being in the shoes of Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal.

As his two drivers, the experienced Jenson Button and his new protégé Sergio Perez aggressively raced each other and banged wheels, I was on edge. Whitmarsh, as the man responsible for McLaren’s success must have been near cardiac arrest.
After experiencing this sensation and reflecting upon it, it is hard not to feel confused about why there was no communication from him to either of his drivers.

Perez was getting more success with looking after his rear tyres and was therefore faster than Button at the later end of their respective stints. Button was therefore fighting a battle he could not realistically win.

With so much on the line, the race having seen the best performance from McLaren so far this season, surely it was a massive risk not to order Button to let Perez past or, if McLaren are so set on not using team orders under any circumstances, at least inform Button of the likely futility of battling his team mate, to allow him to make his own informed decision.

Certainly it is hard not to believe that with the same situation at any of the other top teams, the team principal would not be heard over the team radio with some kind of instruction.

Brawn at Mercedes, Domenicali at Ferrari and Horner at Red Bull, having now learnt his lesson would have all taken to the radio airwaves.

McLaren left Bahrain with just three points less than Mercedes but if you analyse the finishing positions it becomes clear that this wasn’t the maximum return for their efforts.

The decision not to tell Button about the risks of being so aggressive with Perez arguably exacerbated his tyre wear issues and led to a fourth pit-stop being made which dropped Button right down from sixth to tenth.

Another team to make operational mistakes in Bahrain was Ferrari. After the DRS system on Alonso’s car failed early in the race it was obvious that it would be a risk to engage the device again. Yet Ferrari told Alonso that all would be fine and this decision cost Alonso any chance of getting the podium which had looked likely.

He instead finished eighth and with the competition looking so strong, who knows how costly this could be.
After four races the season looks to have distilled into a battle between the raw pace and aerodynamic superiority of the Red Bull versus the more efficient tyre use and balance of the Lotus. In fact the podium at Bahrain was the same as it was last year.

However that doesn’t mean we can discount Ferrari, Mercedes or even McLaren, all three of these teams having shown pace at different points of the four races now passed.
Bahrain certainly showed who must be classed as the favourite to succeed though. He can lead from the front, he can overtake, he can keep his head and he’s got a terrific machine under him: Vettel.

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Pit Stop – Was Vettel Right? – By Lewis Brearley

Your reaction to the team orders incidents at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix depends on what your attitude to racing is.

If you prefer your sportsmen to prioritise winning at all costs and expect them to do their utmost to achieve the very best they can then you probably supported Sebastian Vettel’s decision to pursue his own desires while ignoring his employers.

If, on the other hand, you want gentlemanly conduct and honesty from your sportsmen, then you have probably lost a little bit of respect for the triple world champion.

These two camps of opinion will never combine to agree with each other and if anything, this season looks set to provide plenty of firewood to keep each camp’s argument burning.

Formula One seasons don’t normally heat up until the European section of the season, however this year’s has already burst into life at the second round.

No sport thrives on controversy like F1, and in that case, this year’s Malaysian grand prix is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.

When Vettel made his decision to keep his KERS in overtake mode and to pass Mark Webber with a highly risky overtaking manoeuvre he revealed his true attitude hidden deep beneath the famously smiling exterior.

In ignoring his boss and in his willingness to try such a risky pass, Vettel proved that he truly believes the Red Bull F1 operation is his own, personal winning machine.

While his supporters would say that this is only the sort of winning attitude shared by his great rival, Fernando Alonso, who happens to be venerated despite his own belief that he should be treated as his team’s number one driver, this isn’t the point.

Alonso has never ignored an order in his time at Ferrari, and Vettel’s actions show blatant disregard for the team’s bosses and executives, without whom he wouldn’t have become the triple world champion he is today. A blatant disregard for every single engineer and designer back at their Milton Keynes factory who are paid with money not from Vettel’s, but Red Bull’s wallet.

A sharp contrast to this was provided by Nico Rosberg’s decision to follow his boss, Ross Brawn’s, orders despite his clear anger at the situation. This revealed that Brawn is the man in charge of the Mercedes race team and also that his drivers are respectful of this.

Vettel’s post-race apologies and downtrodden demeanour show a sorry racing driver who may have let the red mist of his young mind cloud his sense of perspective. He claims he isn’t happy with his 27th grand prix victory and that if the same situation arises again, he wouldn’t repeat his act of treachery.

Whether this is true or not, time will tell. But one thing is certain, when that time comes, there won’t be a Formula One fan not on the edge of their seat.

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Finnish Raikkonen starts on fire

The 2013 F1 season started with a surprise as Kimi Raikkonen claimed victory in Melbourne, Australia.

The Finnish driver tore up the record books as he came from seventh on the grid to take victory, his second since his return to F1 last year.

The Lotus driver managed to make his tyres last longer, doing only two stops, as he beat Fernando Alonso and triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, on a long day for F1.

With yesterday wiping out qualifying sessions two and three, this morning saw Vettel take pole from teammate Mark Webber.

With Lewis Hamilton taking third in his apparent inferior Mercedes it appeared normality would be restored with a comfortable win for Vettel.

But F1 has built a reputation in recent seasons to offer unpredictability and that it did.

A total of eight drivers, including the returning Force India driver Adrian Sutil, led the Grand Prix during the course of 58 laps.

Vettel took the lead but as Webber fell back, it was the Ferrari combo of Alonso and Felipe Massa that offered the greatest threat, with Raikkonen and Hamilton behind.

The tyres have become a talking point again and multiple racers came in early, with the three stop strategy an obvious choice.

Yet the Lotus under Raikkonen looked easy on their tyres and although he came in with the Ferrari’s his tyres were not shredded.

As the leading three moved away, Raikkonen’s careful driving was coming to the fore; he was on a two stopper.

The 2007 champion was able to keep his tyres and times consistent and although was at times not the fastest on the track, never more than half a second off the pace.

Behind him, Alonso got ahead of Vettel at the stops but it was Hamilton who, also on two stops, looked dangerous before his late unscheduled third stop put him back in fifth.

Mclaren will however want to put this race behind them as quick as possible with only Jenson Button’s ninth place consolation for an awful weekend.

But back to the winner who looked every bit a champion on today’s performance and will a lot of stopping as currently is a master of the tyres.

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