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27 Mar 2011

F1: Vettel invincible in Australian sun

Sebastian Vettel claimed the first victory of 2011, and he did it with a display of perfect driving in a near-perfect weekend for the reigning champion.

After blowing the field away in qualifying Vettel capitalized on a poor start by Lewis Hamilton in 2nd to pull out a huge lead in the opening lap. By the end of the second lap, Vettel was 2.3 seconds ahead of the Brit in his redesigned McLaren. Button and Alonso were both pushed back by a fast-starting Vitaly Petrov who guided his Renault down the inside of turn one and past the pair of former-champions.

Alonso was frozen out on the outside of turn one and lost 5 places as he slid back to as low as 10th on the opening lap. Massa climbed to 5th from 8th and Scottish rookie Paul Di Resta was another man with a handy start, up from 14th to 10th on lap one. The only casualties of first-lap shenanigans were 7-time champion Michael Schumacher who got a puncture from some contact with another car, and Buemi who pitted for repairs to his car after contact with team-mate Algersuari.

For a number of laps, Jenson Button sat staring at the rear of Massa's Ferrari, making use of the new adjustable rear-wing to get alongside the red car but could not make a move stick, becoming increasingly frustrated with his inability to make his superior pace count against a spirited defensive display from Felipe. All the while Alonso crept back up to the fighting duo. When he did manage to get the better of Massa, he was forced into cutting across the turn 13-14 chicane and should have given the place back to the Brazilian, but chose not to. Ferrari then made use of the lifted ban on team orders to switch their drivers so that Button would lose out to both Ferrari cars when he conceded position to Massa. Button never did, and received a drive-through penalty for his troubles.

With a relatively quiet start, Mark Webber quickly fell into a lonely race in 4th as he couldn't keep the pace of  the leading pair and ended up driving a solid race to 4th place with no real problems until he parked the car immediately after crossing the line. Lewis Hamilton was also lucky to finish as his car's floor came loose and began dragging on the track surface sending sparks flying at times. How much this affected the car's performance is unknown but Hamilton dealt with it well as he lost little time to the Red Bull in front or the Renault behind.

The upper part of the wing was found to be
breaching a rule on minimum size.
A resurgent Sauber pairing of Kobayashi and Sergio Perez overtook their way into the top 10, with Perez being the only man to complete the race with just one pit stop needed, an impressive feat after all the talk about 2, 3 or even 4 pit stops being necessary for an optimized race pace. However, pain was just around the corner for the team as they were both disqualified post-race due to a part of the rear-wing being smaller than the minimum size allowed by the rules. The piece in question was the moving part of the adjustable wing which resulted in a bigger size whole in the wing on the Sauber and therefore a higher top speed.
The DSQs were good news for some including Massa who was moved up from 9th to 7th, and the two Force India's of Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta, moved into ninth and tenth respectively, earning the young Brit a points finish on his debut.

Next up, a trip to South-East Asia and the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur. Will we see rain? Will we see blazing hot sunshine? Will Ferrari rediscover that pre-season form they were trumpeting as they arrived in Australia on Friday morning? So many questions that remain unanswered.

15 Mar 2011

The great big F1 2011 Preview!

Well, it's just 11 days until the lights go out in Australia to kick-start the 2011 Formula One season.

This year, I'll be doing race-by-race previews, reviews and breakdowns of all the major talking points and controversies that will almost definitely appear this season.

You can keep track of them by adding this page to your favorites, and checking back daily for the latest news and gossip from across the F1 world!

F1 Preview: HRT, Virgin and Lotus

"The Great Big Preview" INDEX

Here, I'll break down our three newest teams who are about to enter their second year in Formula 1. HRT, Virgin and Lotus all had their ups and downs in 2010, and they will all be looking at making the leap from back-of-the-pack to midfield runner.

Hispania Racing Team: HRT had a forgettable debut season in 2010. Their car was easily slowest of the 3 new teams and they remained that way for a large portion of the year before finally closing the gap in the final third of the year. Early teething problems with the car saw them struggle to finish races, and the drivers often found themselves taking the back row in qualifying. Bruno Senna showed some promise in a terrible car, Karun Chandhok did too. Then the money started talking as driver after driver rolled in with sponsor cash. Sakon Yamamoto was given a drive at the expense of the widely-liked Chandhok, a move that many considered to be cash-related rather than performance-related. Christian Klien also came in, reportedly with a high-value sponsor.

High Point: Double finishes in Malaysia, China and Korea.
Low Point: The way they dealt with their drivers and their cash was.....awful.
2011 Aim: At least become fastest of the newest teams in 2011.

Virgin Racing: After just a little problem (see below), the Virgin team quickly established itself as the second-quickest of the new runners. After failing to finish races, the team made the embarrassing announcement that their fuel tank was not big enough to complete the races. However, the team recovered and began to frequently challenge Lotus for the honor of being best of the newbies. Lucas Di Grassi did not cover himself in glory, but showed that he does deserve to be in Formula 1, albeit with a car not exactly built to showcase his talents. Timo Glock fulfilled his role as the experienced head, out-qualifying his team-mate most races and occasionally beating out the Lotus' in qualifying.

High Point: Double finishes in Spain and four other races.
Low Point: Failing to build the most basic part of the car correctly. Their fuel tank was not big enough to finish each of the first 3 races.
2011 Aim: Virgin will want to become the top new team this year, and look to show that an entirely computer-designed car is effective.

Lotus Racing: Lotus proved to be the fastest of the newcomers of 2010. They earned widespread respect from other teams, experts and fans when both cars finished the opening race of the year, something neither Virgin or HRT managed. Lotus were also the first to make it out of first qualifying at Malaysia (although this was down to rain). Lotus went on from strength to strength and celebrated the 500th race of the historic team at the European Grand Prix in Valencia. Drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli had enough experience to get the maximum from their cars, which got closer and closer to the midfield pack.

High Point: Recorded highest finish (12th) in the Korean GP
Low Point: The team was/is involved in a legal battle over the use of the 'Team Lotus' name, which somewhat turned some fans and media against the team.
2011 Aim: Lotus have the resources and base to go on and join the midfield pack, they will look for a first points-finish in 2011.


Tomorrow: Toro-Rosso, Sauber and Force India.

11 Mar 2011

COMING SOON! Formula 1 Australian GP LiveBlog!

Keep your eyes and ears open sports fans! I will be running a LiveBlog of the 20 Formula 1 races of 2011. Run in conjunction with the Official F1 HQ on Facebook. Enter your email address below to receive a reminder before the big event kicks off!

Watch this space for more details...

8 Mar 2011

Ban the Old Firm? Not likely.

The Strathclyde Police have called for the Old Firm derby between Glasgow teams Rangers and Celtic to be played behind closed doors or not played at all. Is this something we can expect to see?

In short, no.

Playing these games behind closed doors would actually do more harm than good. If the stadium is closed to fans, where do the police expect the 70,000-plus fans go instead of the stadium? That is 70,000-plus trying to get into already-full pubs and bars or simply wandering the streets instead. Violence will rise and the whole point of playing behind closed doors would be lost. It would take just one game played like this to prove the uselessness of this idea.

But what about banning the game completely? Even more unlikely. The Celtic - Rangers game is Sky's most-watched game of the season. Even more people watched the Old Firm game than watched Manchester United Liverpool or Barcelona - Real Madrid. Banning this game would take away our only internationally-watched game. The Old Firm draws attention from across Europe and the globe, it is the advert for Scottish football. The game last week was not the best advert, but the games over the course of this season have been some of the best of the past decade. The 2-2 draw at Ibrox not only contained the usual controversy that is part and parcel of the fixture, but it had two of the year's best goals from Jamie Ness and Scott Brown.

Kill the derby match and - no disrespect to the other teams - Scottish football dies with it. It is our only nationally-televised game (besides the Cup matches) and features our two greatest teams facing off. Would Sky boast the same viewing figures if it had to screen the Edinburgh derby instead? No taking away from that match which is important to those involved, but any Scottish football fan knows that the Old Firm games are what we all look for when the fixture list is announced, and they are the games that we all mark out in our calenders as not to miss them.
Let's be honest, neither team showed
any sort of professionalism.

In the end, this game was bad-tempered, the players were downright pathetic in their behavior and both Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist need to take a look at their actions at the final whistle. What's more important is that both teams look at the example set by their players on the pitch and learn from this.