Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Full Throttle: Button takes the spoils Down Under

Full Throttle: Button takes the spoils Down Under: Underlying my casual observations that this year, for the first time in quite a while, McLaren have finally...

Button takes the spoils Down Under

Underlying my casual observations that this year, for the first time in quite a while, McLaren have finally dispensed with their tradition of unleashing a new car made of brick and instead, delivered a race-winning machine from the off. With Jenson Button winning the 2012 season-opening Grand Prix in Australia, faith has been restored that finally, finally, Red Bull's dominance over the sport has been broken. 

True enough, McLaren are not set to disappear into the distance at every race but with Button's team mate Lewis Hamilton claiming pole position in Melbourne the previous day, the signs are that the boys from Woking have been paying attention in numeracy classes and have at last got their sums right.

Button's display in Oz was yet more proof that while Hamilton is largely regarded as being the 'faster' of the two over a single lap, winning grands prix necessitates multiplying that skill over the course of many laps and it is here were Button excels. The 2009 world champion is arguably the most relaxed human being on the planet let right now and his driving is of another world right now and this enables the 'Frome Flyer' to focus purely on his driving. Setting the fastest lap of the race in Melbourne with but two laps to go was testament to the speed of his McLaren and served notice to his rivals that his eyes are fixed firmly on the 2012 crown.

Hamilton on the other hand looked on the podium like he had lost a million pounds and found a Euro. His face belied his 3rd place performance and while this natural-born winner was at a loss as to why his speed on Saturday was not replicated in the race, his demeanour was of a child who had just had his sweets taken off him. Although there is no doubt that Hamilton and Button do get on as team mates, there is no question that Button’s influence within what has been regarded as ‘Lewis’s’ team, has started to irk the 2008 champion.

Last year’s much publicised meeting between Hamilton and Red Bull boss Christian Horner at the Canadian GP was more than just a casual chat over a cup of tea and with Mark Webber out of contract at the end of this year, Lewis must surely be tempted by the prospect of driving an Adrian Newey-designed car in 2013. McLaren is now a different team to the one prior to Button’s arrival in 2010 and while Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh and Managing Director Jonathan Neale state otherwise, there is no doubt that the 32-year olds personality and laid back approach is replicated in the team’s appearance and personality. There are no more ‘serious-looking, deep in thought, pressure obvious looking’ faces down at Woking and they are all the better for it. Last year, Button signed for another 3 years and to many within the Formula One paddock, he is seen as the future, not Hamilton. Signing for the Entertainment PR guru Simon Fuller’s 19 Management after leaving the comfort of his father’s guiding managerial hand, Hamilton has immersed himself with the company of ‘other’ celebrities and one has to wonder whether this has impacted on his much publicised mental state of mind.

In declaring last year that he ‘missed’ the benefits of a Button-esq ‘comfort-zone’ around him throughout the grand prix paddocks of the world following the breakdown of his relationship with his father and splitting with his long-term pop star girlfriend, Lewis was undoubtedly at sea during most of 2011. Now he says he has adopted a similar approach to his racing to that of his team mate but is that going to be enough to help keep him at McLaren beyond this year?

Time will tell…

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Toys and Prams

"Which would you prefer Lewis? The soft teddy? The Sylvanian Families house and figures? Star Wars figures? Action Man doll? Barbie even?"
"All of 'em please Martin. Please please, pretty please with a cherry on the top!"
"Ok but only if you promise not to throw these ones out of the pram I am paying you squillions a year to sit in..."
"I promise, I promise! I'll be a good boy - honest"
"OK,  there you go. Oops, you dropped your dummy now silly boy. There, that's better..."

I have to be honest, while I admire Lewis Hamilton's aggressive nature behind the wheel and would never wish to see him abolish it (contrary to others banging that drum) I am growing tired of his endless moaning after each race as he continues to throw his toys out of the pram.

As with all racing drivers, it is always the fault of another upon matters of contact on the circuit and while it has been hardly surprising to see Lewis adopting this stance in the wake of his troubled runs in Monaco and Montreal recently, his comments regarding the performance of his McLaren and of his title aspirations for the year are it is in bad taste.

Speaking after Sunday's European GP in Valencia where he finished 4th and Sebastian Vettel claimed a 6th win in 8 races, Hamilton said: "It's finished really. In the sense of the championship it's almost over already."

He then did all he could to garner support for his upcoming home race at Silverstone by declaring: "I'm not looking forward to it, I'm really not looking forward to it. I'll be going there as prepared as I can, racing as fast as I can, but we really might struggle." The PR department at Silverstone will no doubt have been raising a glass to those pre-race ringing endoursements...

However the 26-year-old clearly woke up rejuvenated on Monday as he posted on his official Twitter account: "To all our supporters, ignore what u read in the papers today. My team will never give up & I WILL NEVER GIVE UP!!!!
"Bring on silverstone, ur support will make a world of difference to us. I'm going to the factory now to do all I can with our team."

Trouble is Lewis, the papers only reported what you actually said so you cannot lay the blame at their door on this occasion. The Ali G gag after his Monaco debacle went down like the Titanic and his assessment of suitable places to overtake other drivers were highly questionable in the rains of Montreal so a safe game was necessary in Valencia. All the while, Vettel romped to yet another win in a team Lewis unquestionably wishes employed him.

Come to think of it, given his obvious frustration at the inability of McLaren to provide him with a consistent race-winning machine since his title winning campaign in 2008, is it any wonder he is unable to hide his displeasure at being unable to drive an Adrian Newey-designed winner?

He is currently a man ill at ease with himself, his team or the attitude of consecutive Race Stewards and feels his talent deserves more respect. Lewis' attitude suggests he believes he deserves a bye within certain areas of the sport and while his cavalier technique should not be discouraged,it can only be acceptable when applied with correct judgement.

In contrast to the adolescent attitude of his team mate, Jenson Button was also disappointed to have had a poor showing but notably failed to be defeatist.
"We had the fastest race car in Barcelona, Monte-Carlo and Montreal, but we didn't have the fastest race car here in Valencia today,” he said. “However, you can take it as read that we'll be working flat-out over the next ten days to do our utmost to ensure that we have as fast a race car as we possibly can for Silverstone.”

Sure, button also appreciates that McLaren have a lot of work to do to catch Red Bull, but every other driver out there is in the same boat but still they offer no comments of a similar nature to Hamilton.

The new regulations banning the 'off-throttle' devices from next Sunday's British GP could see Red Bull loose their advantage a little but will that be enough to appease Lewis? Who knows but it's going to be fun reporting what he does say after the race-but please remember, don't believe what we write, will you...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I tried my hardest but the end result was never in doubt, I cried....
There, I said it. yes, I, cried.

'SENNA' is the work of genius and sitting through the docu-film for over an hour and a half was to re-visit why I fell in love with Formula 1 and motor racing in the first place. It was a wonderful visualisation of a man with a talent not of this world and it is unquestionably a brilliant collage of imagery that beautifully encapsulates all that was Ayrton Senna.

In capturing the main points behind the Brazilian's 10 year grand prix career, the viewer is subjected to footage of artistry in its purest form. Pictures of Ayrton making his Lotus Renault literally dance as he feathered the throttle around the Australian streets of Adelaide in 1985, or those on-board, mesmerising clips of Monaco in 1988 and 1989 as we ride with the McLaren Honda between the tight confines of the principality, all contribute to providing a glimpse into the passion with which Brazil's favourite son drove.

He was an emotional driver in extreemis, and while his blatant denial of wrong doing in the aftermath of the infamous Suzuka collision with Prost in 1990, was almost laughable yet the passion in his voice at the injustice he perceived had been directed at him the previous year, almost made you side with him...

I thought the coverage of that weekend in hell back in 1994 was wonderfully handled and while sad, it was warming to see previously unseen footage of those three days at Imola which ended in such tragedy.
Roland Ratzenburger's crash footage was preceded by a short clip of the man himself in discussion with a member of his Simtek team moments before his fatal run. Explaining that he was trying to stop over driving the car and needed to calm down was harrowing in the extreme when the following few minutes delivered the crash, the terrible scenes after the impact and Senna's clear distress at the fate of his fellow driver.

Since Sunday May 1st, I have always been convinced that Senna was not mentally ready to race that fateful day and upon observing the pre-race images of the triple world champion sat in the cockpit of his Williams Renault FW16, frowning, shaking his head and sighing, I realised that he was in no fit state to race. We had known he was unhappy with the handling of the car until his death and that even during the weekend of Imola he is seen discussing these issues with the car's designer Adrian Newey and race Engineer David Brown. "The car is just unstable in every way" Ayrton is heard saying repeatedly and when you combine such factors with the anguish he was still obviously feeling at the demise of Ratzenburger the previous day, it makes those images of Senna in his final few moments all the more poignant.

The subsequent funeral was mammoth and the footage screened before me brought tears to the eyes and failed to dissipate until I had left the auditorium.

In the final minute of the film, Ayrton is asked who was the driver he most feared and admired throughout his entire career: "Terry Fullerton," is the immediate response.

Don't know who he is? Look him up and you'll see why he was held in such high regard by Senna. 
The fact that Fullerton is not mentioned in the film is the only gripe I have with the movie. Showing Ayrton Senna in every light was not an easy task though personally, I feel that had his early career in karting been given more allocation, a greater picture would have emerged of why Ayrton Senna became the driver he was - and an idol to millions...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Anticipating 'Senna' movie...

Well, this is it, the moment has finally arrived for me to make my way to the cinema and indulge myself in a couple of hours of joy, laughter and tears no doubt.

Much has been said of the Senna film and the impact it has had on audiences since it's general release in the UK on June 3rd and while non have been more eager to see it than I, knowing the emotions I am going to go through has meant needing to find the right moment to go.

today is that moment and while I am smiling at the thought off seeing this docu-film about a man who was my childhood idol, I am anxious at the thought of what I know will be heart-wrenching for me and countless Ayrton fans the world over.

Imola 1994 was the blackest day in contemporary Formula 1 and the memory of sitting the front room of my parents house,watching the accident unfold alongside my father, the two of us gasping in astonishment, will last forever. Much was said in the years that followed, opinion polls were unanimous in their results that Senna was a legend and in death, will forever remain so.

What many didn't appreciate was that away from the track, Ayrton was capable of such generosity and kindness and from my understanding of the film, this is not lost on the audience and for that, i am thankful. He was a staunch Brazilian national and the people of Brazil worshiped him and both won and lost with him on the circuit during his short F1 career.

He was to me and millions the world over,  a true inspiration and I hope in a few hours time, to be reporting on a wonderful motion picture.

In fact, I know I will.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Sauber F1 Team
Press release

Monaco GP – Qualifying – Saturday, 28.05.2011
Further update on Sergio Pérez
Weather: sunny and dry, 23°C air, 45°C track
After Sergio Pérez‘s heavy accident in the final minutes of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, of course, the relief that the 21-year-old Mexican didn’t suffer any serious injuries is the overriding emotion inside the Sauber F1 Team. He was taken to the Hospital Princesse Grace in Monaco where he underwent an extensive examination. The medical staff informed the Sauber F1 Team that he escaped the shunt with concussion and a bruised thigh. Pérez will remain in hospital at least overnight and will definitely not start the race on Sunday.
Until the accident Pérez had shown his strongest qualifying performance so far in what is his first Formula One season. He made it into Q3, the qualifying session for the top ten drivers. In Q2 he had finished ninth on a fresh set of super soft tyres (1:15.482 min). The accident happened when he was on his final fast lap in Q3 on another fresh set of super soft tyres. He crashed into the barrier in the fast section after the tunnel. According to the current information, the team has no indication there was a technical failure, but it is investigating the accident further to find the reason for it.
For his team mate, Kamui Kobayashi, qualifying was over after Q2. With a lap of 1:15.973 min on fresh super soft tyres he qualified 13th. The Japanese said: “Sergio’s accident was, of course, a shock and I’m obviously happy he has no severe injuries. In the beginning I didn’t know about the accident because I had been taken for a doping test. In qualifying I still had difficulties with my car, which kept bouncing too much despite some further set-up changes we did in the third free practice. Nevertheless, from my grid position points are within reach and this is what I’m heading for tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Peter Sauber, said: “Of course we are very relieved that Sergio wasn’t seriously injured. Up to the accident he was doing very well in qualifying, and also better than expected as he had outperformed all his direct competitors. For Kamui it didn’t go too well in qualifying, but we know what his skills are and expect them to play a role in tomorrow’s race.”
The team’s Technical Director, James Key, said: “First and foremost we are obviously relieved with the reports that Sergio is okay. It’s always very worrying for a team when you see an accident of that magnitude, so it’s good to hear that he is fundamentally okay. We are looking into what happened. There is no indication at the moment from the data we have seen that there was a problem with the car. But we have to talk to Sergio to investigate further what happened.”

Delusions of grandeur

When Michael Schumacher and Ferrari made the long awaited announcement back in 2006 that the seven-time world champion would be retiring from the sport he had dominated for many a year, the consensus was that the German had been pushed out via the imminent arrival of Kimi Raikkonen from McLaren.

The shoddily handled announcement came immediately after the chequered flag fell at the end of the Italian Grand Prix and in the post-race press conference, Michael was as uncomfortable as I had ever seen him. Despite his best efforts to deny it, it was clear the Maranello hierarchy had decided to announce the deal with Raikkonen and that Michael – who ideally wanted more time to finalise a decision, would have to like it or lump it.

The team was, correctly, looking after the interests of itself and it’s investors. One couldn’t help but feel that the man who had helped transform the once limping horse into a prancing one that galloped all over the record books, was being forced into early retirement.

The following years saw Michael unable to prevent the urge to ‘race’ from rearing it’s addictive head and before long the German was competing once more, albeit on two wheels rather than four. An accident in a minor bike race in 2008 resulted in a hairline fracture of the vertebrae and apparently a lucky escape from more serious damage.

After Felipe Massa’s unfortunate crash in Hungary 2009, Ferrari needed a replacement and immediately the rumour mill went into overdrive suggesting Schumacher would make a comeback. Initially, it seemed as likely to happen as seeing the Pope come out of a brothel but within days it was confirmed that yes, the red Barron would don his helmet once more. Ultimately however, the neck hadn’t healed sufficiently to permit a return and so with a heavy heart, Michael confirmed he would not, after all, be seen in a racing car once more.

Fast-forward six months and with Jenson Button leaving the Brawn GP which had just been bought outright by Mercedes – previously only the engine supplier to the team, there was now available a potentially race-winning seat. While the rest of the world was asleep, Schumacher and former partner-in-crime Ross Brawn quietly came to a deal for the German to return to the sport via a 3-year contract.

While many questioned the move, most were anticipating the prospect of seeing how the old master would compare with the likes of new team mate Nico Rosberg and more importantly, the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

Inevitably, much fanfare accompanied the German at the start of last year’s return to action but it was in essence, a disaster. The MGP-01 held not a candle to it’s predecessor which had taken Button to the title and Michael was emphatically out performed by his team mate in most areas.

Many have begun to wonder if the German will put himself through another winless year and perhaps more poignant, for the first time in his career, sorry, careers, his employer is contemplating a replacement for the seat he occupies.

Back in 2005, the BAR team - and in particular Jenson Button, were prevented from reaching the top step of the podium several times courtesy of Michael Schumacher who was enjoying another year of driving the best car in the field.
Despite being one of the main reasons Button had to wait a further year before his first win, the 2009 world champion is convinced that these days, grand prix racing is more competitive and thus, Schumacher’s end goal is all the more harder to achieve.

“Michael is in a very different situation to the one he was in before he retired,” Button declared during a recent McLaren Mercedes teleconference. “When he was at Ferrari he was in a competitive car and he knew that at almost every race he went into, he had a chance of winning.

“It’s a very different situation now and for me, over the last twelve years I’ve raced in the sport, it has got more and more competitive in terms of drivers and teams that can fight it out at the front.”

There is little doubt that with age comes a gradual decline in performance. Ok, yes Nigel Mansell was 39 when he strolled to the F1 title in 1992 and yes, Andretti was still racing competitively in Indycars at the age of 53 two years later but the fact still remains that performing at the level of your immediate competitors in the hardest championship in the world, is not easy for a man of 42.

At the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Niki Lauda casually informed Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone that he was retiring from the sport with immediate effect; declaring that he no longer wished to "drive around in circles" and that he had simply had enough.

His charter airline Lauda Air was in need of his attention and so it was that the then double world champion hopped on his plane – literally, and turned his back on the sport, returning home to Austria.

Fast forward three years and Lauda, now requiring additional funds to stabilize his business, was back, now a McLaren driver intent on winning a third title. Despite initial concerns about his speed having lost some polish from team sponsor Marlboro; the Austrian promptly won his third race back on the streets of Long Beach before winning that elusive third crown in 1984.

Granted, having John Watson as team mate was never going to be a problem for Lauda and the fact that in McLaren, he had a car at his disposal that was usually there or thereabouts in terms of pace. For his title winning year and his final one in 1985, a young Alain Prost arrived and immediately out-paced his more experienced team mate. Aware that on speed alone, Prost was untouchable, the calculating Austrian won the championship through strategy and stealth before limping out of the sport for the final time a year later – annihilated by the younger Frenchman who picked up the first of his four titles.

“I think that today, it’s a lot tougher for a driver that’s spent three years out of the sport to then come back,” Button says. “I don’t know if Michael is as good as he was in his twenties but I think it’s more competitive now and he has a competitive team mate in Nico. I think he’s doing a pretty good job but he’s not setting the world alight because he is racing against some very talented drivers.”

The trouble for Michael though, is that because unlike Lauda before him, he has returned, then quickly won a race, his reputation as a race winner is being devalued with every passing grand prix.

The German Grand Prix is scheduled to be the 278th start of his illustrious career and what better way to celebrate it than by announcing his retirement. At least this way - and unlike the façade that was Monza five years ago, he could bow out under his own terms, safe in the knowledge that the employee was dictating proceedings, not the employer.