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30 Nov 2010

F1 Season Review 2010: Part 3

Before the next race in Hungary, teams had already labelled the Hungaroring as Red Bull territory. The track's high amount of mid- high-speed corners suiting the RB6's high-downforce characteristics. Even though Red Bull were expected to be ahead in Hungary, nobody quite expected the gap between them and the rest to be so vast. In Free Practice 1, the fastest non-Red Bull was a full second slower. Come qualifying, Red Bull's Vettel was fully 1.2 seconds faster than the first non-Red Bull car. This domination was largely down to a new front wing assembly pioneered by Red Bull. The endplates appeared to flex towards the track much more than any other car. As the wing gets closer to the track, it generates more downforce and so the car goes faster round corners. McLaren and Ferrari immediately claimed the parts were illegal and should be banned. The FIA put the wings under tests before the race, and they passed them easily. The parts were deemed legal.                          
          Teams expected "70% of the final result" to be decided in turn 1. Alonso muscled his way through Mark Webber to P2 and Kobayashi moved from 24th up to 16th in an impressive first lap. Liuzzi was overly aggressive when overtaking a backmarker, turning across the front of the car and losing his own front wing in the process, causing the Safety Car to be deployed and the majority of the field to pit. Renault's Robert Kubica was released at the wrong moment and collided with Sutil's Force India, a crash that ended the German's weekend and earned Kubica a 10-second stop-go penalty. Webber led behind the safety car and Vettel attempted to back the pack up from 2nd to allow his team-mate to get enough space to pit and rejoin 2nd. Vettel backed up too far and was awarded a drive through penalty much to his disgust. Hamilton's gearbox cut out meaning he DNF'd for the first time this season. Webber eventually won the race from Alonso and Vettel.

 In the final few laps, Barrichello caught up to the back of Schumacher and pulled along side, prompting the German to pin him right to the pit wall, incredibly close to a huge accident.

Every year, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa never fails to provide an exhilarating event. 2010 was no different. The setting, deep in the Ardennes forest, means unpredictable and frequently changing weather conditions. Qualifying arrived and rain was expected just 5 minutes into the first session and with the long lap-time there were chaotic scenes as all 24 cars took to the track at once. The first moment was when Vitaly Petrov ran across a wet kerb, spinning through 720 degrees before colliding with the wall and red-flagging the session. Thanks to the adverse weather, both Heikki Kovaleinen and Timo Glock made it to the second part of qualifying, at the expense of both Saubers who also span out. The final session saw another rain shower right at the death cause Alonso to fail to move up from 10th. Webber grabbed pole from Hamilton for Red Bull's 12th pole in 13 attempts. The race itself began in dry conditions and Mark Webber's anti-stall system kicked in, meaning he dropped to 6th by the first turn and promoted Hamilton into 1st. By the end of lap 1 however, rain had began to fall at the final turn, catching the entire field out who all overshot the turn into the run-off area. The biggest loser was Barrichello, who ended up colliding with Alonso's Ferrari and retiring. The Ferrari would somehow survive the heavy impact and continue. A group of drivers pitted for intermediate/wet tyres hoping the rain would continue, however a few laps later it had stopped almost completely, and all those drivers had to pit again for dry tyres. This cost Alonso most, already near the back after his crash with Rubens, he had to pit from wet to dry and lost another load of places. Vettel in 2nd began to reel in Button and attempted to pull alongside going into the Bus-stop chicane, however he lost grip and T-Boned into the radiator of the McLaren, earning a DNF for Jenson and a drive-through penalty for Vettel. Having served the penalty he made good headway cutting through the pack before he tangled with Liuzzi's Force India. The Italian managed to pit for a new nose cone, but Vettel continued another lap before realising he had a slow puncture, costing him yet more time. The chaotic weather came back with a twist near the end of the race, unleashing a downpour that so nearly caught out Lewis Hamilton as he slid through the gravel and clipped a tyre wall but recovered still 1st. Alonso, having a nightmare race, made a rare mistake and ran wide out of Les Combes and span into a wall, triggering another safety car and more pit-stops. A messy stop from 2nd place Kubica saw him drop to 3rd behind Webber. The front-runners held position for the final few laps after the Safety Car, with Hamilton taking his first win since Turkey.

Up next, Hamilton's title challenge suffers fatal damage.

19 Nov 2010

F1 Season Review 2010: Part 2

After that chaotic Monaco GP, the party moved to Istanbul for the weekend. And boy they did not disappoint. Providing one of the moments that defined 2010.

Red Bull yet again got a pole position, a running theme in 2010. Shortly after the start, Lewis Hamilton managed to get the jump on Sebastian Vettel into second spot. However a slow pit-stop at the wrong time cost him that place when Vettel emerged from his own stop ahead of Hamilton and promptly started to drive away towards leader Webber. Then the mayhem began. Vettel began to reel in his team-mate pretty quickly, and eventually he was right behind him which resulted in the single biggest talking point of the season:

Webber drives into Vettel? Vettel drives into Webber? You decide. The general belief is that Vettel caused the crash. Sebastian then went on to blame Mark Webber, a move that won him huge amounts of criticism from across the sport. He later retracted this statement but the damage had been done. This prevented Red Bull from collecting a certain 1-2 finish and gifted that to McLaren with Hamilton in first ahead of Button, but not without the two Brits having their own very tense and very nearly identical battle. Webber managed to recover and finish 3rd.

Canada came along next, and presented McLaren with their first real chance of stopping the Red Bull monopoly of pole position. And boy was qualifying a treat. Webber and Vettel were both right up there before Hamilton posted the fastest lap with the final lap of qualifying, running with so little fuel that he couldn't get his car back to the pitlane after his effort. The race itself was not totally spellbinding, but it gave the 2008 champ his second win in a row, and McLaren's second straight 1-2 finish.

Valencia held it's third F1 race in 2010, and it was slightly better than the previous two years' offerings. Albeit only a little. The major moment of the weekend was Mark Webber proving that Red Bull really can give you wings, he launched his car off the back of Heikki Kovalienen's Lotus before completing a full 360 degree flip through the air at over 190mph, taking out an advertising hoarding for good measure. IF this accident had happened in the 80's, we would have been burying the Australian in a matchbox. The scariest crash I have witnessed, and the first for a long time to seriously make me fear for a driver's life. After the Safety Car was deployed, Hamilton hesitated too long before overtaking it after the time he was allowed to do so. The FIA took fully 20 laps to decide to award him a drive-through penalty, by that time he had already pulled out a big enough gap over 3rd-placed Alonso to retain it after he served his penalty, enraging the Spaniard and Ferrari. Vettel would go on to win from Hamilton and Alonso.

Formula 1 returned to Silverstone, the home of F1. It held the first Formula 1 championship race way back in 1948, and has been a permanent feature on the calender since 1987. It did not disappoint. Even before qualifying, the Webber/Vettel argument had turned into a full-blown conflict between the two - not even on speaking terms according to some sources. During practice, Vettel and Webber ran brand new front-wings. Vettel's suffered a failure causing it irreparable damage. The usual solution is to do nothing, the other driver is equal and deserves his new parts. Red Bull decided not to follow the usual solution and took the sole remaining new wing and gave it to the young German. Vettel went on to take pole position using the wing, just ahead of his angry team-mate. Immediately after the start lights went out, Vettel tried to force Webber to the wall before turn 1 and make him back off, this failed and Vettel ended up being forced off the track, picking up a puncture in the process. Enraged Vettel then had to pit and managed to crawl back through the field to 7th following a decent series of overtakes. Alonso got himself into even more trouble with the stewards after he cut Club corner to pass Kubica and did not give the place back, winning a drive-through penalty for his troubles. This would leave Alonso 47 points behind the championship leader after this race. Webber coasted through to the win, with Hamilton and Rosberg completing the top 

Germany provided probably the second biggest talking point after the Turkey incident. Alonso stole ahead of the Red Bull of Vettel, showing again that he can't do starts, and Felipe Massa soon followed him and made his way past Alonso into the lead. Two thirds of the race had passed when Felipe's engineer, Rob Smedley, sent him the message: "Fernando is faster than you, do you understand the message?" Just a couple of laps later, Massa coasted out of the hairpin and appeared to let Fernando past, prompting Smedley to reply "Good lad, now stick with him. Sorry." The apology issued gave away the obvious team orders at work here. This resulted in the Team Orders scandal being dragged back to the present (last mentioned in detail: 2002) and earned Ferrari an official warning from the World MotorSport Council. Alonso would win the race, Massa second and Vettel third.

Part 3 will be available, right here, before Monday.

15 Nov 2010

F1 Season Review 2010: Vettel and Red Bull do the double!

It's been a Marathon at times. After 257 days of spellbinding competition. 19 races in 18 different countries, 24 drivers in 12 teams fighting it out for a total of 1,919 points.

In the end, the championship was decided at the final race of the year by just 4 points. Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing became the sport's youngest-ever world champion by some 2 months. An incredible achievement that will surely be the first of many championship wins.

The season started way back on March 14th, in the deserts of Bahrain. The race itself was a dull affair, marked only by Red Bull confirming that their 2009 push was not just a one-off. Taking pole position in qualifying was the best possible start for the team. Their joy soon became despair as the RB6's engine had it's first failure of the year. A broken spark plug cost Vettel 4 seconds a lap and he became easy prey for the Ferrari's of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa and the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton. The weekend sparked huge criticism from many experts, pundits and fans over new regulations and a track layout that appeared to cut overtaking to a minimum.

On to Australia, the traditional starting point of the F1 calender. And the season really did start here. A sprinkling of rain on the morning of the race threw everyone's set-ups to the wind. The action kicked off when returning legend Michael Schumacher, 2009 champ Jenson Button and 2-time champion Alonso tried to get through turn-1 at once. Button tapped Alonso who in turn hit Schumacher, the end result was the Spaniard facing the wrong way, Schumacher taking to the grass with a damaged front wing and Button falling backwards into the clutches of his team-mate. The Safety Car made it's debut in 2010 after a front-wing failure on one of the Saubers sent the car crashing through Buemi's helpless Toro Rosso and Nico Hulkenburg's Williams got caught up too. The race was won by Jenson Button after a brave call to change to slick tyres paid off and he cruised to the win. Vettel's troubles returned as a brake failure sent him into the gravel and Mark Webber made a mess of an overtake on Hamilton which left both further down the field.

Malaysia, Round 3. Red Bull's 3rd pole position in 3 races and their 2nd consecutive front-row lockout. A cautious start from Mark Webber let his team-mate into the lead on the first turn and the pair never looked back, dominating the race. Hamilton was lucky to escape with just a warning for 'excessive weaving' down the main straight as Petrov's Renault followed him closely. And with just 2 and a half races done, Alonso became the first big-name driver to lose an engine after a spectacular blowout ended his Grand Prix.

In China, another rain-shower caused a chaotic and exciting race. Red Bull's 4th pole position and 3rd straight 1-2 start. Alonso appeared to have a lightning quick start until replays showed a jump start gave him the advantage. A pileup at turn 6 called for the safety car and almost every driver pitted for intermediate tyres as the light rain became heavier. A second safety car and mayhem on the restart as Button slowed the pack down too much, the result being Webber losing 6 places after having to take evasive action. Hamilton stormed through the field, picking of driver by driver thanks to his car's superior straight-line speed. Button collected his second win of the season with Hamilton close behind, completing McLaren's first 1-2 finish since the 2007 Italian Grand Prix. Rosberg scored another podium with Alonso 4th, Vettel 6th and Webber down in 8th on nearly bald tyres.

The F1 Circus arrived in Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix at Catalunya. Red Bull's ownership of Saturday continued as Webber led Vettel in Q3 with Hamilton edging local boy Alonso on the 2nd row. The top 6 made their way through in order at the start. Contact between several cars caused a change in the order down the field and Pedro de la Rosa into retirement with damage. In the pitstops, a delay for Vettel cost him a position to Lewis Hamilton and a similar problem for Button allowed Schumacher to overtake him. With just one lap remaining, Hamilton suffered a wheel-rim failure on turn 2 which became a full on blow-out which ended in the tyre wall at turn three. Hamilton's loss allowed Alonso up to 2nd ahead of Vettel who lost out when he pitted with brake issues and crawled home. Schumacher scored his best result after his comeback after holding off Button for 4th.

The crown jewels of the season came up next with the circus moving a few hundred kilometres up the Mediterranean coastline to the tiny principality of Monaco. The prestigious event has been held around the streets since 1929 and is regarded as the most sought-after victory of the year. Alonso made a rare mistake during third practice on Saturday morning that resulted in his Ferrari grating along the barriers near Casino Square and causing a cracked chassis. The team decided that the car was damaged to much to be repaired for qualifying later that day and Alonso was forced to start from the pitlane. Webber took a 6th Red Bull pole position out of 6 with an amazing lap from Robert Kubica giving him a front row start ahead of Vettel and Massa. On lap one, a huge accident for Hulkenburg in the tunnel saw the safety car out for it's first trip of many. Alonso stole the chance to pit early, a call that would ultimately decide every other car's strategy. Button's race ended on lap 2 when a cover was left on his radiator by accident. Further into the race, and the sister Williams car of Barrichello suffered a catastrophic suspension failure that sent him backwards up the hill and into a massive crash. The safety car had to be brought out for a 2nd time. Just a few laps later it was back out after a loose manhole cover was discovered near the start of Barrichello's crash, this was eventually found to be the cause. Chandhok and Trulli decided to park on top of each other at the final corner of lap 70 sending the safety car out for the 4th time in the race. Webber eventually won the race ahead of team-mate Vettel and Kubica's Renault.

Check back later for the 2nd part of this bumper review!

11 Nov 2010

Football and War

On the 11th day of the 11th month, on the 11th hour of 1918, the Great War came to and end. Millions had died and millions more would carry the battle-scars for the rest of their lives.

For many of the young soldiers, football was a large part of life pre-1914. The sport had just begun to take off into the international sport it is today. The war forced all of that to come to a halt. Many footballers signed up to join the army, even whole teams would sign up together. Eventually, the Army formed the 'Football Battalion.' The Battalion of 600 of Britain's footballers fought alongside each other in Europe.

500 of them died.

There were around 5,000 professional footballers in the UK at the beginning of WW1, it is not known how many died. Celtic FC lost 7 of it's best 11 players, Brechin City lost 6. Bradford City lost 7 of their best 11 too. Almost every club in Britain was affected by the fighting in one form or another.

Football was not just a casualty, it provided one of the most memorable and beautiful moments of the war. On Christmas Eve, 1914, the guns along the trenches in Northern France and Belgium stopped firing for the first time since the war began.

The Germans began singing Carols during the evening while attempting to decorate their trenches as best they could. The British could hear these, and decided to "Fight back" by singing their own. Eventually, Germans and British were singing Silent Night (Stille Nachte) to each other across the divide. Both nations singing the same Carol in the middle of the bloodiest war.

On Christmas morning, 100,000 soldiers dropped their guns and went out to meet each other in the middle of mess and the blood of No Man's Land. Enemies and friends ate Christmas 'dinner' together, they sang carols, held Christmas Services and had a chance to bury their dead in proper funerals.

“Soon most of our company (‘A’ Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us... What a sight—little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Where they couldn’t talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!”

Then, from somewhere, a FOOTBALL was produced. And a mass game took place between two bitter rivals:
“...from somewhere, a football bounced across the frozen mud... Immediately a vast, fast and furious football match was underway. Goals were marked by caps... Apart from that, it was wonderfully disorganised, part-football, part ice-skating, with unknown numbers on each team. No referee, no account of score. It was just terrific to be no longer an army of moles, but up and running on top of the ground that had threatened to entomb them for so long...”

On December 27th, the soldiers shouted warnings to each other, and the guns came back to life. In other parts, the celebrations lasted right through until New Years Day.

In 2008, Ancestors of soldiers who took part in the games played a match on the same spot, 94 years later. Germany won 2-1.

In 2005, the last known survivor of the Great Football Game that Christmas Day, died. He was 109 years old.

In Remembrance of every soldier killed from the Great War to the present day. Long may we remember how they gave up their own lives so that we may live in peace and freedom today.

Never Forgotten.

8 Nov 2010

F1 climax approaches

In 7 days time, we will have a new Formula One world Champion.

Either Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Mark Webber or Sebastien Vettel (Both Red Bull) will be crowned champion at the sport's season-ending race in Abu Dhabi this Sunday. Alonso heads into the weekend 8 points clear of Webber and 15 ahead of Vettel. Lewis Hamilton is still in with a shout, but at 24 points behind with just 25 maximum available, it would take an extreme set of events for him to turn it in his favour.

Fernando Alonso would become the youngest ever 3-time World Champion if he can come out on top on Sunday, while Webber would cap off a fantastic career if he won it, and Vettel would prove himself as the greatest young driver for a number of years.
The maths is a little confusing when it comes to who must do what to win the title. This years scoring system:

If Alonso wins the race or finishes 2nd, he is Champion regardless of all other contenders.
If Alonso finishes 3rd or 4th or 5th, Webber and Vettel need to be 2nd or lower.
If Alonso finishes 6th or 7th, Webber must finish 3rd or lower, and Vettel 2nd or lower.

Webber must win the race with Alonso lower than 3rd.
If Webber finishes 2nd, Alonso must be 6th or lower and Vettel must not win.
If Webber finishes 3rd, Alonso must be 7th or lower and Vettel must not win.
If Webber finishes 4th or 5th, Alonso must 9th or lower and Vettel must not win.
If Webber finishes 6th, he cannot win the Title.

Vettel must win the Race with Alonso lower than 5th
If Vettel finishes 2nd, Alonso must finish 9th or lower and Webber must not win.
If Vettel finishes 3rd, he cannot win the title.

Hamilton must win the race to have any chance.
If he wins, Vettel must be 3rd or worse, Webber 4th or worse and Alonso 6th or worse.

So, very likely for Alonso to win, 7-11 with some bookies now. Webber is the best placed challenger, but he has the not-so-small problem of his team-mate to overcome, a team-mate who is unlikely to pull over to help Webber to win the title.

Just the usual simplicity of Formula 1 then.