2013 Formula One season wrapped up

 

Sebastian Vettel won the last stage of the 2013 Formula One season at Interlagos.

Overtakes, accidents, engines blown, drive-thru penalties, records broken, burnouts and good-byes, all packed in the most entertaining and most emotional race of this year.

THE RACE

Sebastian Vettel claimed the ninth consecutive victory equalling Alberto Ascari’s record and 13th in a season, equalling Michael Schumacher’s. Mark Webber didn’t look like a retiring F1 driver at all, offering a great demonstration of driving skills and tenacity behind the wheel, fighting with Alonso. The rest of the field was not less keen on offering the audience something to be excited about, with the known midfielders battling for the points or even further down the standings.

In the early stages, Romain Grosjean’s Lotus blew the last V8 engine ever, leaving a thick layer of oil smoke behind him. Massa, while in fourth, was (unfairly in my opinion) penalised with a drive-thru for cutting the white line that marks the pit entry. This decision might have possibly had an effect on the final constructors’ championship results. Later on, Hamilton got the same treatment after causing a collision, which put an end to Bottas’s race. Confusion at the Red Bull’s box when Vettel pitted but the team was waiting for his teammate to come in, causing both of the cars to lose important seconds. Alonso, who pitted as well, could overtake Webber but it took only a lap to the Aussie to regain his second position.

In conclusion, it was the best race of the season, as it often happens at Interlagos, also due to the unpredictable weather conditions throughout the whole weekend.

THE GOOD-BYES

Mark Webber is leaving Formula One to join Porsche in the Le Mans programme. I will miss his outspoken comments about his team and Vettel, but today everybody paid their tribute to him. I still remember his first race in Melbourne 2002, finishing 5th and getting Minardi two, fundamental points. In my opinion, he deserved the 2010 world championship more than both Vettel and Alonso for how he resisted until the end in a team clearly focused on his teammate. His celebration on the podium, today, was epic.

Felipe Massa is moving to Williams. Similarly to Webber, he’s been criticised a lot since 2010, but at the end of the day, he was world champion for 30 seconds in 2008 and showed great skills until his 2009 accidents. And since he announced his move out of Ferrari, his overall performance got better. Basically, he went from hero, to zero, to hero again.

Other good-byes see Ross Brawn possibly leaving Mercedes; there are rumours of him having talks with Domenicali for a possible comeback to Ferrari, but I see it unlikely to happen.

Perez has been sacked by McLaren after just one year. I honestly cannot understand this decision, especially considering what a bad car the MP4-28 was. A move back to Sauber will mean an all-Mexican team in 2014, maybe?

Other moves include Maldonado leaving Williams and possibly Formula One together with Di Resta and Sutil, Hulkenberg going to Lotus, but everything is still a big mess there. We shall wait and see.

THE ENGINES

As much as I have never liked these V8s since their introduction in 2006, I am not looking forward to next year’s ‘Formula Dyson’. The new 1.6L, V6 turbo engines will surely have all the necessary power, but they will be lacking of the sound that made V8s (and even more V10s) so great. Unfortunately I have never heard a V12 F1 engine in person. It was interesting to see Grosjean’s engine blow up, although I am sure it was a tribute that the Frenchman would have preferred not to pay!

THE BURNOUTS

I have to admit, I am glad to see Vettel celebrating at the end of these few last wins with some good old wheel spins. Similarly, I liked Webber taking his helmet and balaclava off in the cool-down lap. As he told in a post-race interview, in F1 it is hard for a driver to show his emotions. Well done to both!

Well done to Marussia for finishing 10th in the standings and to Chilton for being the first rookie to finish every race in a season.

All I can say is that I wish my best to Webber in his new adventure, to Massa in a hopefully improved Williams (powered my Mercedes engines) and of course to Ferrari for putting up a decent car and team. I cannot wait to have Alonso and Raikkonen in the same team!

See you in March!

PS: congratulations to the photographer who took my cover’s picture. He surely earned his bread today!

F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 3 – The last of the last

Someone up there in the skies apparently loves tricking me.

As I was going to start writing Part 1 of my Tops and Flops list, criticising Mercedes and Lotus for the poor results they achieved despite the expectations, Lotus won their first race of the year, indeed.

After I criticised Force India for their poor results throughout the years in Part 2, they had a great race with Nico Hulkenberg fighting for the lead until he faultlessly crashed into Hamilton and got a drive-thru for that.

Luckily the Championship is over, it has not really ended the way I was hoping, but at least there is no risk my opinions get proven wrong by the facts.

In Part 3 of my Tops and flops list I am going to analyse the back of the grid, the not-so underdogs, but rather the hopeless, desperate, last of the last teams. Caterham, Marussia and HRT.

They were all “wisely” chosen in 2009 from a list of several other teams to compete starting from the 2010 season. Times have changed since the 1980s, when new teams were born every race: they were purposely chosen based on their likelihood to compete on the same level with the other teams.

However, you could see that something was wrong from the beginning. Take HRT, for instance: Bahrain 2010, their car was completed the Friday before the race. Australia 2011: same story. Australia 2012? You guessed it right.

Caterham (formerly known as Lotus Renault) and Marussia (formerly known as Virgin) are just slightly better. Caterham is surely the most consistent of the three, with good chances of scoring their first point soon. This year’s car was equipped with a Renault engine and a Red Bull’s gearbox. Their business is solid thanks to the amount of sponsors and the financial stability of patron Tony Fernandes.

Despite this good basis, however, they are still looking to gain their first point. This year they even risked losing the 10th position in the Championship in favour of Marussia. A  10th position is the last spot that guarantees money from TV rights, $19 million to be precise. A huge amount of money for a team like Caterham, that will surely help them develop next year’s car.

The result was achieved during the last Brazilian race, thanks to Vitaly Petrov’s  11th place. Marussia’s Timo Glock previously secured the aspired 10th spot after a nice 12th place in Singapore.

Despite this result, Caterham have not confirmed Petrov yet, whereas they already dismissed Kovalainen (surely a Top in my list) in favour of Charles Pic who, apart from money, will not bring much to the team. He has driven for Marussia this years, so you cannot really expect him to bring some know-how. Only a big bag of green notes, which is never to dislike, after all.

What else to say about these three teams and six drivers? Quite strangely, 2012 has seen no driver dismissal, except Jerome D’ambrosio replacing Romain Grosjean at Lotus due to his disqualification from the Italian GP.

I would give a plus to Pedro De la Rosa just for the way he keeps fighting for HRT. Not many people realise that he is already 41! Thumbs up, I wish he got more from his intermittent Formula One career.

An absolute Flops is Narain Karthikeyan: I am sure he can bring a lot of useful money to HRT, but he has been a constant danger on the track. We will surely not miss him next year.

Provided that HRT is not forced to close down.

F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 1 – The A-listers

The 2012 F1 world championship is almost over, the battle for the title is tight between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull are going to win their third constructors’ championship in a row.

As every year, the focus is not only on the winners, but on the losers, too. Teams could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research, development and drivers’ wages and end up empty-handed.

Therefore, I was ready to write my tops-and-flops list of this year, being almost sure that nothing would change. However, last Sunday’s victory for Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi forced me to change my plans… sort of.

In fact, at the top of my Flop list you would have found two of the most-acclaimed-but-still-little-achieving teams: Lotus and Mercedes. The former, which has nothing to do with the legendary team founded by Colin Chapman, had been indicated as a possible winner since the pre-season tests. Moreover, given the fact that the first five races saw five different teams winning, there were high expectations on them.

Their line-up is interesting as well. Kimi Raikkonen coming back after two years spent rallying with little luck and 26-year-old Romain Grosjean, who debuted in F1, with Renault, in 2009, but showed little attitude at the time.

Everybody was expecting a great result from them, but they were only able to score several podiums from Raikkonen and several million dollars of damage from Grosjean. Until last Sunday. When, to be fair, the victory was in Lewis Hamilton’s hands before his engine died.

But still, a victory is a victory, they are safe fourth in the constructor’s championship and Raikkonen is even third. We will see them next year, hopefully stronger and more consistent.

On the other hand, the case of Mercedes is even worse. They made their comeback in Formula 1 in 2010, after retiring in 1955. Like Lotus, they had been said to be possible title contestants since the 2010 pre-season tests.
No need to say that this team dominated the 2009 season under the name “Brawn GP”, which was formerly nothing less than the Honda F1 team.

What about the line-up? Ladies and gentlemen the Germans went the whole hog, hiring Nico Rosberg and Mr Michael Schumacher, coming back (it must be a sort of a trend now) after four years of abscence.

They were the actual fourth team on the track. However, they have never been as fast as the first three teams (Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren), but they were a lot faster than the rest of the field.

They are just mediocre; there are no other words to describe such a failure. One victory and six podiums in three years is not acceptable for a team that was aiming to conquer F1 like a panzer division in Poland. No wonder why they were thinking of giving up the Mercedes name in favour of a more diplomatic AMG F1.

The first -and last, for now- victory arrived at the Chinese GP from Rosberg. After that, he has fallen in a deep nothing. Schumacher was looking forward to winning his eighth title within three years, when he accepted to come back at the end of 2009,  but he has just scored a pole position in Monaco and a podium, up to now.

What else can be said about Lotus and Mercedes? They are an almost complete failure, the proof that money alone cannot guarantee success. Which is something that other teams know best. Like HRT for example, which not only is lacking of success, but it is lacking of funds, too. But I am going to talk about them later on… stay tuned!

By Tommaso Cervini

The Monza circuit: a glorious past, a terrible present

The 2012 Italian Grand Prix has just ended. Lewis Hamilton won his third race of the year ahead of Sauber’s Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso.

This year I attended the Friday’s free practice thanks to a couple of friends of mine who invited me to join them. It was my first time at a Formula 1 event at this track, not considering the 2007 summer test session -they were still allowed at the time- and the 2011 WTCC race.

Well, I want to say I feel sorry for all of the foreigners who have come to this great track, maybe for the first time, for what they have seen.

Where should I start from? The state of decay of the probably-once beautiful park the circuit is immerged in? The unreasonably-overpriced food and drinks for us, mere mortals? The astonishing high number of swindlers tricking the visitors with the Three-card Monte? Or the thieves who have stolen or damaged some of the drivers’ cars and those who booed Lewis Hamilton on the podium?

Let us go in order. The Monza circuit was built in Europe’s largest fenced park, which dated back to the 1700s and includes some great examples of Neoclassic architecture, the main one being the Royal Villa, built by Napoleon Bonaparte’s stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais.

Alright, there is just one little problem: the visitors and fans who have come for the F1 weekend have probably seen nothing of all of this. The area surrounding the track is dirty, poorly cared of and with few facilities. You see a series of toilets every now and then, a few kiosks scattered amidst the woods and that is it.

Of course, the food is overpriced, otherwise how could you make the most out of this already-expensive event (general access for Sunday only starts at €80)? A sandwich filled with a sausage and a salad leaf and a beer can cost you as much as €13. There are of course restaurants inside the track, but you can imagine the price.

While you are having your walk through this decaying park, with your stomach not actually full and your wallet which has started to get lighter and lighter, you would probably meet groups of people who try to squeeze money out of the ingenuous visitors with the three-card trick. They actually do not just try, they succeed. And there are lots of these people.

You can see them from a distance: one is the dealer, one or two are his partners in crime (the only ones who actually win) and the last one is on the lookout, in case the police arrive. And it happens, but that is not a problem. When the police are gone, they are ready to start again on the same spot.

This is the awful show that welcomes the 120,000 spectators. Is it over? Not yet, of course. Because there is something happening outside the track, too.

Romain Grosjean’s car was vandalised while he was having dinner at a restaurant, and things were stolen from it. The same happened to one of Fernando Alonso’s staff people. The worst happened to Paul Di Resta’s vehicle, which was stolen.

Last but not least, the podium. Hamilton won, he is not the number one driver in order of liking among the Italian fans, but why boo him? He did a great race, he fairly won, he even spoke Italian because he probably already knew the crowd’s reaction and tried to appear friendly. He is often an arrogant, childish douche, but more childish are those “fans” who booed him.

Something should be said about the Padanian flags that every year appear under the podium (I am talking about those white flags with a green symbol in the picture below).

To make a long story short, this is the flag of an nonexistent country, called Padania indeed, invented by a separatist party which would like to divide Northern from Southern Italy. A few years ago, one of this party leaders even said that the Italian Grand Prix should be called the “Padanian Grand Prix” instead.

For all the reasons mentioned above, I feel sorry. Sorry to all of the foreigners who have come to a place with such a history, that has been irremediably damaged.

Spa-Francorchamps, where men used to be Men


What is Belgium famous for? Les frites, trappist beers and some EU-related stuff. And Spa-Francorchamps, mais oui.

This 7-kilometre circuit is popular also among those people who are not keen on motorsports, because of its history and its charm, which you can find nowhere else.

The greatest drivers of the history became “the greatest” here, indeed: the latest in chronological order is Michael Schumacher.

He debuted here in 1991, with Jordan. He set the 7th time on the grid, but he retired in the opening lap due to clutch failure. He would win his first Grand Prix one year later, on this very track. In 2001, he obtained his 52nd win in Formula One, becoming the most-winning driver of all times, surpassing Alain Prost, stuck at 51. In 2004, he won his seventh and last (for now) world championship.

He was also involved in an accident with David Coulthard, during the extremely-rainy 1998 edition, when the Scottish driver, who was going to be lapped, slowed down right in front of the Kaiser, causing the retirement of both.

Last but not least, in 2000 he underwent what is thought to be one of Formula One best overtakes, by Mika Hakkinen, who was one of Schumi’s best opponents, if not the best. With lapped Ricardo Zonta as a defenceless viewer.

He has won the Belgian Grand Prix six times out of 16 starts. This year’s will be his 17th.

But he is not the only driver who has bound his name to this circuit. Ayrton Senna won five times here (four consecutively between 1988 and 1991), while Jim Clark won four times (all consecutively from 1962 to 1965).

Until 1970, it was a different track from today’s, with its 14 kilometres of length. Because of safety matters raised by driver Jackie Stewart, the Belgian Grand Prix was moved to other locations for the years to come (Zolder for the most part), to then make its comeback in 1983, with the current 7-kilometre shape.

Start from La Source, turn right and then straight to “keep-your-foot-down-if-you-dare” Eau Rouge, up to Raidillon and pedal to the metal on the Kemmel straight. And this is just the first sector of the track.

Actually, with today’s cars, every driver keeps his foot down driving the Eau Rouge. But combine this with the rain that very often comes in the race weekend, and you will obtain one of motorsports’ greatest shows.

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Spa-Francorchamps.

Miracolo a Valencia

Gli elementi per fare male c’erano tutti: partenza da metà schieramento, un circuito che non è poi granché e il Presidente ai box, che quando c’è lui le cose vanno sempre di male in peggio. Per di più, inquadrato dalle telecamere internazionali a “coccolare” il casco di Alonso prima di scendere in pista per la Q2, come se Nando apprezzasse quel tocco magico, un po’ divino.

Insomma, la sfiga era già nell’aria prima di partire e i presupposti non erano dei migliori. Se poi ci aggiungiamo quell’orrore di pista che è Valencia, il menù della tristezza è servito. Un’altra gara da rincorsa, con il falco (forse più gufo) spagnolo che parte undicesimo, pronto ad approfittare di ogni errore degli altri e a mettere in tasca più punti possibile e Massa, tredicesimo, in perenne punto di domanda.

Pronti via, tre posizioni guadagnate da entrambi i ferraristi, mentre Vettel, primo, inizia a guadagnare più di un secondo a giro per i primi 10 giri. Secondo, Gigi Hamilton, che un po’ il tappo lo fa a  Grosjean (che, a seconda del telecronista, diventa GrossGian, GrosGin o GroGien), terzo. Dietro, un’orgia di Lotus, Force India, Sauber, varie ed eventuali.

Il Nando naturalizzato nostrano che cerca di risalire, compie un po’ di sorpassi e si ritrova in sesta, poi quinta, poi quarta posizione, non male per uno partito dall’undicesima. Intanto, Grosjean finalmente supera Hamilton e si mette alla rincorsa del ditino Seb (che brutto soprannome, non me ne vogliate), che ormai ha bisogno del calendario per calcolare il vantaggio sugli altri.

Solito valzer dei pit-stop, niente di emozionante fino al giro 24. Vergne su Toro Rosso urta prima della staccata Kovalainen, gomma bucata per entrambi e alettone rotto per il francese. Chissenefrega, direte voi. Beh, detriti in pista, Safety Car, con buona pace del circuito cittadino più noioso dell’anno. Dopo diversi, interminabili, giri a velocità ridotta, si riprende. Vettel davanti a Grosjean e il Nando, dopo che il solito box McLaren aveva fatto lo scherzo a Gigi Hamilton allungandogli il pit-stop di almeno 2 secondi buoni. Ma già alla ripartenza Alonso sorprende il francese in staccata, tac, secondo.

E qui inizia l’inimmaginabile. L’imprevedibile. L’inaspettabile. In un caldo pomeriggio di fine Giugno, il santo protettore dei Ferraristi guarda giù, si rende conto che c’è un pilota di 31 anni di Oviedo, che corre come un diavolo ma ha la macchina che, vabbè, non è proprio divina.

E allora mettiamocelo questo fato. Giro 34, Vettel si ferma. Non si sa ancora perché né per come. Ma tant’è, Nando è primo, tra il boato della folla connazionale. Dietro di lui il francese della Lotus è sempre in agguato, seguito a breve distanza da Gigi, Maldonado e Schumi quinto, partito dodicesimo. E grande lo zio, anche se si deve ancora fermare.

Giro 41, a Grosjean si spegne l’auto. Prova a parcheggiarla e a chiedere agli steward se provano a dargli una spinta, visto che i cavi nel baule se li era dimenticati. Niente, a quei maledetti ispanici non gliene può fregare di meno dell’uomo che ha debuttato in F1 due volte. Ciapa su e porta a ca.

Ora abbiamo Alonso primo, seguito da Gigi, Raikkonen, Maldonado, le due Force India e tanti altri. Schumi è undicesimo, dopo la sosta. Dopo aver potuto respirare un po’, grazie alle noie elettriche di Grosjean, Alonso mantiene i suoi 3 secondi di vantaggio su Gigi e Kimi, in lotta. A pochi giri dalla fine, tutti girano sugli stessi tempi, con Alonso davanti che non accenna ad alzare il piede così come i due dietro. Schumi scatenato, forse intravede la sua prima gara senza problemi dell’anno, supera tra gli altri Button e Perez, è sesto con Webber incollato dietro.

Ma, ad un tratto, le Pirelli di Gigi decadono, e qui sappiamo che il fato c’entra ben poco. Kimi lo infila come fosse il tonno pinne gialle. Le sue gomme si tagliano con un grissino, ma lui sembra voler resistere, resistere, resistere. Quando Maldonado gli arriva dietro, ci resta per un paio di giri. Poi, chicane, il venezuelano ci prova all’esterno, quattro ruote fuori pista, Gigi allarga, si toccano. Gigi è fuori, Maldonado ha l’alettone rotto. Lo zio Schumi è terzo a un giro e mezzo dalla fine, e ci rimarrà fino al traguardo, con Webber attaccato alle calcagna, che poi cercherà anche di rovinare la festa al buon vecchio kaiser accusandolo di aver usato il DRS con regime di bandiere gialle. Ora, già i commissari di gara hanno le idee poco chiare sul regolamento, se poi ci mettiamo anche ad inventarci regole non scritte, ciao.

Insomma, dopo il traguardo abbiamo un podio d’altri tempi: Alonso, Raikkonen, Schumacher. 10 mondiali in tre. Il presente e il passato della Ferrari. Nando che fa tardi perché non ne vuol sapere di perdersi la festa, quindi si ferma a far baldoria coi suoi tifosi. Rantolen che, in uno stato d’ebbrezza letale per chiunque, ma innocuo per lui, non tradisce alcuna emozione, e Schumi, commosso, finalmente a podio dal 2006.

In un caldo pomeriggio di Giugno, si è compiuta una gara che mai avrei pensato di vedere, tra l’altro su un circuito tanto inutile quanto deprimente. Un podio che non dimenticherò facilmente, essendo il più bello a cui abbia mai assistito (il precedente era Monza 2006). Grazie Nando. E un po’ di culo non guasta mai!

 

 

One-way ticket to the past

Who does not remember the 2011 British Grand Prix? For those who do, during that ridiculous weekend they could not agree on whether Red Bull’s blown diffuser was legal or not and, therefore, they changed the rules three times in two days.

Controversial episodes in the previous years are countless: the F-duct (2010), the double-decker diffuser (2009), Ferrari’s nose hole (2008) and Renault’s mass damper (2008), just to name a few.

For 50 years, Formula 1 focused on drivers rather than cars. People tend to remember the drivers’ performances, rather than their cars’.

Everybody who is a Formula 1 enthusiast (and also those who are not) know about the deeds of people like Gilles Villeneuve, Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher.

They were the centre of attention, and everything that surrounded them took a back seat in one of the world’s most glamorous sports.

Cars were important, too, since they have always been the inseparable element that links drivers with achievements. However, except in some rare cases, they did not take as much space in the news as they do today.

The problem is that, nowadays, Formula 1 is getting more and more technical, and further and further from the general public and from the Formula 1 fans.

In the past 10 years we have seen an escalation in the changes to technical regulations. At first, because they tried to put a stop to Ferrari’s success of the first years of the century. Then, because races had become extremely boring for the general audience (which is more appealing to the advertisers than the inner circle of F1 enthusiast).

The lack of “show and overtakes” during the Grand Prix led to a huge change in the technical rules for the 2009 season, but there was still space for the engineers to find loopholes and gain an advantage, which is exactly what BrawnGP did.

Therefore, today, the regulations are so strict and detailed that the media, before and during the season, spend most of their time trying to explain things like double-decker diffusers, new tyres, blown diffusers and so on.

This year, the first team to undergo the FIA’s judgement was Lotus, with its reactive height system, and there are suspicions that Red Bull’s front hole in the chassis is against regulations.

Not all of the viewers are keen on technical matters, and surely most of the people and F1 enthusiasts are not interested in these topics at all. People want the focus to be put on the races rather than on such nonsense problems.

The FIA has tried to make races interesting again, but not only they have not succeeded, but they have made the wrong decisions and too often change their minds.

Every year, you know there will be something that is going to be banned on some car, or controversially allowed, giving the rest of the teams the benefit of the doubt.

To call a halt to this, the FIA should stop changing the technical regulations every year, or even more than once a year, and leave the engineers and designers freer to do their job.

Working in Formula 1 was the best job an engineer could aspire to, because not only it was the top of motorsports, but it was also one of the fields which the company invested more money in.

A simpler Formula 1 would attract more people to it and would restore its former glory, but those who rule this sport seem not to be able to understand it.

FIA bans Lotus ride-height control system

The FIA said the innovative ride-height control system developed by Formula 1 team Lotus is illegal.

This announcement comes a few weeks after Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s technical director, accepted the system designed by the formerly French team Renault.

Some top teams, including Ferrari and Williams, asked the Federation to clarify the matter, thinking that the designers were exploiting a hole in the rules.

After further investigations, the Formula 1 government body has agreed to outlaw the device, since it breaches article 3.15 of the technical regulations, according to which

                      “Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances.”

 The system consists of a hydraulic cylinder that connects the front brake calipers with the relative suspension; when the driver brakes, this cylinder pushes the braces of the front suspension upwards, reducing the rocking of the car’s nose (and therefore improving the overall car performance).

However, given that

                      “any aerodynamic effect created by the suspension should be incidental to its primary function,”

the inspectors have found this system to be primarily an aerodynamic device and, therefore, illegal.

Ferrari had already built a similar device, and it would have been followed by all of the other top teams, before this announcement came.

This is just the last of a long series of rethinks made by the FIA every year before the championship starts; in 2011 the matter was focused on the blown diffusers (forbidden this season) and, later in the year, on Renault’s reverse exhausts.

Two years ago there was uncertainty towards the McLaren’s innovative F-duct system, while in 2009 three teams used the so-called “double decker” diffuser, gaining a lot of advantage towards the rest of the teams, which did not.

Renault already had a similar device, called “mass damper”, banned in 2006; it was built on the same purpose and was considered illegal when the season was already in its last stages, and the team was fighting against Ferrari for both of the championships.

Comments on the 2011 F1 season

This year’s Formula 1 championship ended yesterday, with a Red Bull 1-2 to conclude a championship which has been largely dominated by the Austrian-British team. Let me analyse the protagonists one by one, with my personal marks to the drivers.

Sebastian Vettel, 10: the undisputed leader and winner. 15 pole positions (new record), 11 victories and 17 podiums in 19 races; the younger double world-champion of history. He is only 24. Do I need to say anything else? Many Italian journalists still do not recognise his talent, but they are deliberately lying, and they know. Maybe they will change their minds once he jumps on a red car.

Mark Webber, 6: the great absent. Last year he fought for the title, this year he has scored more points than 2010, but with just one victory in the last race. Thanks to that, he could finish in third position ahead of Alonso for just one point. He has never been into this championship and he knows it; next year will be his last chance to drive for a competitive team.

Jenson Button, 9: considering what his ex team manager Flavio Briatore said about him in 2009(“He’s a concrete post” –“paracarro”, in Italiano), well, he has shown his best performance this year. He won the 2009 championship but, honestly, this has been his best year so far. He simply put his team mate Lewis Hamilton in shadows, and the final second position is there to prove it.

Lewis Hamilton, 6.5: where to start from? Maybe we (and he) will remember this year for his love/hate affair with Felipe Massa. They have come into contact five times, and they were so close again yesterday, before his gearbox decided to break down. His worst season so far, his vote should be 6, the plus is for amusing us with his style.

Fernando Alonso, 8: he also has had the best season of his career. He scored the only victory for Ferrari (thanks to that, it has been 18 years consecutively with at least one victory), with a car which was very far under the expectations after last year. When he realised that there was nothing to do but suffering, instead of getting depressed he gave the best of himself, showing the fighter he really is.

Felipe Massa, 5: was he actually part of the group? It has not been the same since his accident in Hungary 2009; last year, at Hockenheim, when he had to let Alonso pass, put a mark in his behaviour. He has been constantly depressed since then, and we can understand it. But a 30-year-old Ferrari driver who has been World champion for five turns in 2008 must react as soon as possible.

Nico Rosberg, 6.5: it is now for him to win a race. He has been part of the circus since 2006, but he has never had a truly competitive car (except in some races last year); Mercedes was supposed to be competitive since its return in 2010, but it has not shown its potential yet. Is it going to end like BMW did two years ago? I hope for Nico it is not.

Michael Schumacher, 7.5: the 8th position in the championship, just 13 points behind his team mate, is there to show that he can still have his say. He is an old lion, he is not giving up; God bless such old-school drivers. Same issue as with Rosberg: this year he has shown great things with great fights (Canada, 4th, and Belgium and Italy, 5th), but since Mercedes is like this…

Rapidly through some of the others:

Kamui Kobayashi, 7: a consistent first half of the season, then, as tradition, Sauber lacks of updates and the results can hardly come. He is more like an old-school driver (like Hamilton is), always ready to try. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not, but this is the right attitude.

Sergio Perez, 6: the best deb for me, but not according to the championship points. He has shown pretty good things, but his problem was that he has not been constant. He is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy to seek for new talents to bring to Maranello: he is on the right way to make a good impression, we will see next year how he will have improved.

Rubens Barrichello, 5: this year’s Williams has been one of the worst ever, but he has not been better than his car. Often behind his deb team mate Maldonado in qualifying, he has never shown the will to react. He is looking for a seat next year, but honestly, where can he go other than Williams? HRT? Better to retire then, Rubinho…

Jarno Trulli, 5: the Lotus-Renault (the green/yellow one) is not the best of the field, but it is the best of the rest. However, he has not shown his best attitude this year, often being beaten by his team mate Kovalainen. According to some rumors, he is going to be replaced by the deb Daniel Ricciardo, from HRT and supported by Red Bull, although he has another contract year with Lotus.

Renault Lotus (the black and gold one), 6: they started the season brillianty, but after a while they decided to replace the overall-good Nick Heidfeld with the not-so-reliable Bruno Senna. The result? Petrov brought 37 points in 19 races, Heidfeld 34 points in 11, Senna 2 points in 7 races, and the team could hold the 5h position ahead of Force India for just 4 points. They suffered the lack of Robert Kubica, maybe next year Kimi Raikkonen will bring some more to this once-winning team.

That’s all, folks!

Picture: http://www.flickr.com

An early end for the 2011 F1 season?

This weekend’s Grand Prix is highly likely to put an end to the 2011 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship: with Fernando Alonso out of the games after the last race in Singapore, Sebastian Vettel  needs to obtain just one single point more than his direct contender Jenson Button, number two in the standings. This means that the Briton, to become World champion, has to win all of the five remaining races, with the German obtaining zero points; quite unrealistic for a driver whose worst placement this year has been one fourth place in his home race at Nürburgring.

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Red Bull is leading the standings with 491 points against Mclaren’s 352, followed by Ferrari with 268 and Mercedes with 114. Again, with 139 points ahead, and with a maximum of 215 points available, the Red Bull team has an advantage of 3 victories and 1 point on their direct contenders.

This reminds me of the times when Michael Schumacher was not called -at least by the Italian media- “grandpa”, “retired”, “the old lion” and so on; instead, he was (rightly) hailed as the most skilful driver of the time driving a war machine called F2002; he won 11 races out of 17, became Champion in July, with 6 GPs still to go, and almost doubled David Coulthard, the second driver in the standings (at that time, only the first six drivers obtained the points, with the system 10,6,4,3,2,1).

This year’s German, still called -again, at least by the Italian media- “the baby champion”, has won 9 out of 14 races so far, with an incredible streak of 9 consecutive podiums (12 including last year’s ones). Does he have anything else to prove? He is talented, skilful, constant, and he drives the best car of the lot. If I were an F1-fanatic teenager I would surely have his poster hanged up my room wall… or maybe I would not, since he is not wearing a red suit yet. But I am sure he will, one day or another.

I would say that this year’s surprise has been McLaren: no one would have bet a single penny on them after the winter tests, where they were far behind their rivals. On the other hand, Mercedes has been the big disappointment of 2011: since the German car maker took over the former Brawn GP, they still have to show their potential. Schumacher set the fastest time during the very last day of winter tests in Barcelona, and there were great expectations toward this team. This is the sign that tests are useful but they are not a good way to judge the teams’ performances.

Talking about Ferrari, they have had another mediocre season, in which the only gratification was Alonso’s victory at Silverstone. The Spaniard is having one of his best seasons (or possibly THE best season): with nothing to lose, he is motivated to push to the maximum to express his talent. After setting the fifth time in the qualifying of the Singapore GP, (0,7 seconds behind Hamilton, 1 second ahead of his teammate!) he said “this is my best Q3 lap of the year”. And we can believe him. He is having a brilliant season, Ferrari is not, which I think is quite frustrating.

His teammate Felipe Massa has been suffering from a form of chronic depression since his accident in 2009, and from a form of subjection to Alonso since last year’s German GP, when the team asked him to let Fernando pass. There is nothing wrong in this, every team does it (even those who claim they are against team orders, i.e. Red Bull), but it affects a driver’s performance (as with Barrichello in his years in red).

Last but not least, superstition: at Ferrari they should definitely stop naming their cars after anniversaries. If we think of the F2003-GA (in honour of the recently-dead FIAT President Gianni Agnelli), the F60 (60 years from the foundation of the factory) and this year’s F150° Italia (150th Anniversary of the unification of Italy), they have all been pieces of crap. I beg your pardon for the vulgarity, but there is no other way to define them, although the F2003-GA actually, and incredibly, won both of the Championships. Also thanks to the old, dummy Grandpa.

In conclusion, since you cannot bet anymore on Vettel winning the World Champion (bookmakers are so clever nowadays!), my suggestion is to place your money on Alonso finishing second: he has not a teammate to compete with, as Jenson has, and he already won in Korea, last year, while the Indian GP is new to everyone.

As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned… we all know how it went.