Former Drivers

Williams knows the score, it’s time we did too

Photo Credit: Williams Martini Racing

Recent news has told us the fairytale of Robert Kubica’s return to a Formula 1 grid looks to be all but over after recent tests with the Williams team, Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin also tested the car in Abu Dhabi and the team has concluded the Russian was faster. While some of you may be upset by the decision that could see Kubica out of the running, Williams knows the score and it’s time we did too.

It may sound ridiculous that a team of Williams’ stature has to resort to the possibility of signing yet another rookie driver in what looks to be for financial reasons, which in reality is complete hogwash. To sign fast and experienced drivers, you need to show you can deliver the results for them to compete at a high level and as hard is it to admit, the Grove-based team just haven’t done that.

Their last title came at the hands of Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 and have only won a single race in 13 years with Pastor Maldonado at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix taking the only one since Juan Pablo Montoya’s last win for the team at Interlagos in 2004. When you think about it in that respect, it’s certainly a no-brainer Williams just cannot attract the type of great names from the past that lies in their trophy cabinets.

Having utilised the talents of Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa since 2010 in order to try and gain stability within the team having an experienced driver helping in the development of the car and the team, it could be time to abandon that ideology.

Paddy Lowe openly stated mid-season the design philosophy of the car would change for the FW41 into 2018 in order to climb back up the grid and it seemed that having an experienced driver could help with that. But with changes in the technical departments, maybe it’s time to change how they view a driver line-up too.

While Stroll had a very mixed bag of results and form in 2017, he did show glimpses of what he and the team were capable of, Should Sirotkin be the one to partner the 19-year old next season, it may not be the worst line-up imaginable. With a fresh perspective from both drivers and a solid leader technically in Paddy Lowe, maybe some youth and speed behind the wheel isn’t a bad way to change to look for a change of fortune.

Sirotkin may come with money from his backers at SMP racing, every driver brings some form of sponsorship/money with them to an F1 seat, that’s just how it works. The 22-year old has had relative success in the junior series but has shown he has pace in F1 machinery after Renault’s Alan Permane said he believes the young Russian deserves a shot at the top level.

On Kubica I admit, when I first got wind of his possible return to an F1 cockpit I was supremely excited, a man who impressed three world champions in Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and his new manager Nico Rosberg claim was one of the best they’ve ever raced, was going to get a chance that was never supposed to have been possible.

Having run for Renault at the test after the Hungarian Grand Prix, it all looked good on paper, but eventually the French team passed over on the Pole in favour of the youth in Carlos Sainz. A decision you certainly cannot blame them for, especially as they’re looking forward and working hard to return to the front of the grid in years to come.

Kubica’s pace at the Abu Dhabi test behind the wheel of Williams’ FW40 did look to be quick, but there always appeared to be question marks over his performance through the subtle comments the team did say after the two days of running.

With seven years out of the cockpit, it appears that despite the efforts made to make him comfortable in the car, the pace we were accustomed too from him just didn’t seem to materialise in order to get himself back on the grid. Despite everything the 32-year old should be enormously proud of himself to be able to drive an F1 car again at speed, having once been told he would never drive a racecar again.

There are opportunities for Kubica outside of F1 in sport cars, especially with the WEC LMP1 field growing after the departures of Audi and Porsche in recent seasons and the rapid growth of the IMSA series in the USA, there is plenty of room for him to still find a spot on a race track and continue his own journey, even if it is away from Williams and F1.

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Felipe Massa Announces Retirement from F1

Photo: Williams Martini Racing

In a press conference with team principal Claire Williams in in the Williams motorhome, Felipe Massa has decided to announce his retirement from Formula One after 14 seasons in the sport.

Massa said “Every team I have been a part of has been a special experience, and not only in Formula One. I have so many great memories over the years and thank everyone in all the teams I have come through to help me get to where I am today. My career has been more than I ever expected and I am proud of what I have achieved. Finally, it is a great honour to finish my career at such an amazing team as Williams Martini Racing. It will be an emotional day when I finally conclude my Formula One career with my 250th Grand Prix start in Abu Dhabi.”

Claire Williams went on to say “It has been a pleasure to work with Felipe these past three seasons and we will all be sad to see him leave. Felipe came to us at a time of huge change and his blend of experience, talent and enthusiasm have been an important factor in the turnaround of the team. Anyone who knows Felipe knows what a warm and caring person he is, with an infectious personality. He has done a great deal for our sport over the years and I think every team that has had the pleasure of working with him has great affection for him. I know this has not been an easy decision for him, but we all respect his decision to bring his Formula One career to its conclusion at the end of this season. I would like to thank him, on behalf of all the team, for all his hard work over the last three years and we wish him the best of luck for whatever the future holds. He will always be a member of the Williams family and we hope that he will always feel welcome within our team.”

Massa’s F1 career began in 2002 with Sauber pairing up with Nick Heidfeld, scoring four points and a best finish of fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix certainly showed that despite his youth he was going to be a great talent of the future.

In 2003 he was replaced by Heinz-Harold Frentzen at the Sauber team, however Massa spent that year with Sauber’s long term engine supplier Ferrari, he completed testing duties gaining more experience during the Scuderia’s most successful era.

Massa rejoined Sauber for 2004-05 and still produced some good results including a best of the season fourth place at the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix. In 2005 he outpaced his team mate Jacques Villeneuve comfortably through the season.

When compatriot Rubens Barrichello announced he was moving to Honda for 2006, Massa’s career really took off after it was announced as he was Barrichello’s replacement. After enjoying a great first season with the Maranello team he secured his first pole position and victory at the Turkish Grand Prix, then to cap off the season he also won his home Grand Prix at Interlagos. 

After a strong season with three victories in 2007 including having a new team mate in the shape of Kimi Raikkonen after Michael Schumacher announced his first retirement, Massa was really announcing himself at the top end of the field.

It was in 2008 that came Massa’s chance to shine with six victories he was almost world champion, this was spoiled by the last gasp moments of Lewis Hamilton passing Toyota’s Timo Glock at the final corner to claim the fifth place needed to beat Massa to the championship. Massa was gracious in defeat and showing his pride in front of his home fans who came out to back him.

The 2009 season saw a very different shape to himself and Ferrari with the new regulations and the team did not perform well, however at the Hungarian Grand Prix in qualifying a rear suspension spring came loose from Barrichello’s Brawn who was in circuit in front of him, as Massa exited turn three he didn’t see the spring bouncing in the road and subsequently it hit him the head at 150mph rendering him unconcious, because of this incident he duly missed the rest of 2009 with a fractured skull.

After recovering well he returned back to the cockpit in 2010 and after four more seasons at Ferrari with strong results reluctant to appear despite numerous podium appearances, a race win kept failing to appear although it came close in the 2010 German Grand Prix, however he  was told through a coded message that he had to allow Alonso to pass to gain maximum points towards the title.

In the November of 2013 it was announced he would be leaving the Scuderia to head to Williams for the 2014 season on a three year deal partnering the young Finn in Valtteri Bottas, his best moment with the team came at the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix snatching a surprise pole position ahead of his team mate and both Mercedes, since then he has secured five more podiums and continued to show  he still had the speed to compete at a high level

His subsequant time with Williams has been a solid relationship as he has been  imperative in helping the team secure third place in the constructors championship for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. 

There is no doubt he’ll want to help see out his career on a high in helping keep Williams ahead of Force India for the 2016 constructors championship.

Felpie Massa will be a missed figure in the field having gone from an aggressive rookie to a very near world champion, he has always carried the latin charisma that has helped him become a well liked member of the F1 paddock.

Race Hard Or Go Home

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Many fans out there want to see all out attacking racing with no quarter given, that’s what the drivers are brought up to do through their junior years. Now we all all know there is an entiquette to overtaking in Formula One because of the speeds that get achieved. Respect is paramount when racing at 200+ mph.

In light of the incident between Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen at the German Grand Prix a week ago, questions have to be asked as to whether we’re sending out the right messages to the junior drivers out there from today’s top level formula.

On lap 29 Rosberg on warmer tyres made a lunge up the inside of Verstappen for third place into the turn six hairpin. This move was very optimistic and bold but managed it without making contact and has to be appluaded from how far he came back.

This is where I’ll stop and now recognise a similar move between Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya from the same race in 2002, Montoya attempted to try around the outside of the same hairpin but Raikkonen ran him out of room, the two then ran side by side for the next four corners before coming into the stadium section with Raikkonen being ran wide into putting two wheels in the astroturf/gravel exit.

Now, not one complaint was made about that racing from either driver at the time and that to me showed respect, determination and above all sensibility from the stewards to allow them to settle it out on track. 

So why can’t this happen today?

In the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg raced hard all the way to end ducking & diving all without making contact despite how close they ran and yet, once again the stewards let them get on with it. 

We don’t like to see contact but we do want to see hard racing without drivers being penalised for doing what is only in their nature to do, which brings me on to another point.

Since when did driver’s start complaining so much!?

For quite a few years now we’ve been privalidged enough by FOM to hear team radio during the sessions. While I think we can all appreciate the odd mumble and grumble over certain facts of a race weekend because lets face it, we can’t always have a perfect weekend.

But it seems now to be becoming a trend that drivers will winge and moan over sometimes the most trivial of things. The British Grand Prix in 2014 witnessed a great tussle between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, however while racing each other, they were constantly on the radio complaining about each others driving when it came to track limits on the exit of copse.

Max Verstappen entered Formula One in 2015 and quickly made an impact with his style of driving, flamboyant, aggresive and unwillingness to back down quietly. This became apparent in Monaco while despite being lapped, on lap 55 he followed Sebastian Vettel past Valtteri Bottas into Portier to steal a postion away from the Finn.

At the Belgian Grand Prix he preceded a daring pass around the outside of Felipe Nasr into Blanchemont and making it stick into the bus stop. On the flip side at the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix he defended bravely against Kimi Raikkonen who came attacking in the final stages of the race, even despite the contact made.

Verstappen has had his critics, but so have many when they’ve made such a bold impact.

While not all of the drivers moan and groan, it has to be said that some drivers need to focus on racing hard, give no quarter and do whatever it takes to win. 

Give as good as you get and race hard or go home.

Bridging the generations

As we enter the 2015 season, the 65th Formula One season to be officially contested, I have felt it’s time to examine a few subjects that have been hanging on my mind.

Engines

In 2014 we began a whole new era of Formula One when the sport went to Hybrid power for the very first time, many criticisms came forward about the speed and noise of the new era.

What was the clearest picture though, the sport had to go down this road sooner rather than later otherwise it would have faced extinction, Renault were not interested in carrying on the V8s and nor were Mercedes, we also would not have Honda coming back into the sport after a 6 year absence.

The fans of old are still even crying out now for a move back to V8s & V10s where fuel consumption is higher and faster, but with serious pressure on manufacturers to explore a greener option and Formula One being the global sport it is with hundreds of millions of viewers around the world, the change was right and needed to happen.

All the engines last season managed to complete the season using 30% less fuel in 2014 than 2013 which is a phenomenal achievement, all of this while being no less than 3-5% slower than the pace of 2013, producing more horsepower and torque whilst having up to 40% less downforce, surely this a great success for the hybrid era, and with power levels increasing for the new season, I’m hoping this trend can continue.

Always looking back, not forward

We are now in 2015, if we look back 20 years, we had only just lost the great Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher had won his first title, We go back 40 years and Niki Lauda was preparing for the 1975 season in which he would win his first title in a time where safety standards were still sub standard and drivers were dying every season.

It’s clear to see how quick the sport has come in years since, we are using 1.6 litre hybrid turbo engines now where 20 years ago a three litre V8, V10 or V12 was the engines of choice, but what I have found is that many fans of the sport are continuously making cries that Formula One needs to go back to the good ol’ days.

But I ask. What are the good ol’ days? In times gone by we’ve had a 28-32 car grid, but pace difference was so enormous the lower teams couldn’t even qualify for the race some weekends. Are those the good ol’ days?

The point I have tried to make to every fan, whether you are younger fan or an older fan of this great sport, we must continue to look forward and embrace this new future that Formula One is offering, and not look back to the past where we may have enjoyed great times before, but the sport has a lot more to offer in the future.

Let’s enjoy it.

Classic F1: 1996 Japanese Grand Prix

It’s Sunday the 13th of October 1996, Damon Hill will have woken that morning thinking this was going to be possibly his last shot at a world title.

It was well documented at the time that Damon wouldn’t be continuing with Williams into 1997 with Heinz-Harold Frentzen coming into the team and with very little drives available, Damon had signed with Tom Walkinshaw’s new Arrows project for 1997.

On Saturday’s qualifying Damon had only managed to secure 2nd on the grid behind title rival and team mate, Jacques Villeneuve by nearly half a second.

The first start had to be aborted due to David Coulthard stalling his McLaren, the grid then reformed and on the second restart Jacques got a terrible get away and fell to sixth behind Berger, Hakkinen, Schumacher and Irvine.

With Damon needing only one point to seal the championship in his favour he must have felt like everything was falling into place by this point, on lap three, Berger tried passing Hill into the final chicane but damaged his Benetton’s front wing in the process.

As the race wore on Damon kept the lead and pulled away from the field, Michael Schumacher overtook Mika Hakkinen for second place in first round of pitstops. On lap 37 Jacques’ car heading into turn one had lost his rear right wheel, because wheel tethers were not used in Formula One yet, his wheel overtook the car hit the barrier and actually hopped the fence landing in the grandstand, thankfully no one was hurt.

But because Jacques was out of the race, this meant Damon was finally world champion regardless of the result of the race. At last his dream finally realised after losing out in 1994 and 1995 to Michael Schumacher.

To sum up my review, I leave you with Murray Walker talking through Damon’s last lap of the race.

Schumacher: A Year On

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Today marks a year onwards from Michael’s horrific accident in the French Alps, it’s been good news to hear of late that he has made substantial gains in his recovery so far, we know that he has still a long way to go, but considering that state of his injuries, we are sure he can continue on the upward trend.

We will always remember Michael for his great achievements and the record books will always hold him at the top of many statistics, many of which may never be beaten.

He is a brief overview of his past year:
December 29 2013: Michael hits his head on rocks while skiing with friends and his son near the French resort of Meribel. He was airlifted to Grenoble Hospital suffering “a severe head injury with coma on arrival, which required immediate neurosurgical intervention”.

December 30: A press conference was called at Grenoble Hospital, doctors described Schumacher’s condition as being “extremely serious”. After a second operation, lasting two hours, was carried out in order to reduce the swelling on his brain.

December 31: Sabine Kehm, Schumacher’s manager, accuses a “journalist dressed as a priest” of attempting to gain access to his hospital room.

January 4 2014: With Schumacher remaining in a medically-induced coma, a statement from the hospital describes his condition as “critical but stable”.

January 8: After an initial investigation into the crash concludes that speed “did not appear to be an important factor” and finds that Schumacher was around eight metres off piste when he hit his head on a rock.

January 30: In the first official update from Schumacher’s family in almost a month, it was revealed that ‘Michael’s sedation was to be reduced in order to allow the start of the waking up process.

February 17: Prosecutors in France close their investigation into the crash, ruling: “No one was found to have committed any offence.”

March 12: Schumacher’s family thank fans for their support and reveal that “there sometimes are small, encouraging signs”.

April 4: A new statement from Schumacher’s family describes Michael as showing “moments of consciousness and awakening”.

June 24: Sabine Kehm reveals that files purported to contain Schumacher’s medical details have been stolen and offered for sale.

July 18: In the programme notes for the German GP, Corinna Schumacher thanks fans for their messages of support.

September 9: Schumacher left Lausanne Hospital to continue his rehabilitation at home

November 13: Schumacher’s website is reopened to mark the 20th anniversary of his first F1 title.

Below I feel I have found what is a fitting montage to Michael’s illustrious career