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.

Catholic? Atheist? No, Ferrarista.

 

I was disappointed for the nth time by my favourite team, yesterday.

I have been a Ferrari supporter for ever; I do not remember a period in my life that did not involve being surrounded by red cars. The Scuderia is like a faith for me, for several other thousands of people in Italy and outside Italy.

Reading around blogs and forums on the Internet, it appears that foreigners think of the Tifosi as a particular kind of supporters. Passionate, tough, really committed.
To be honest, however, I have spoken many times with people of other “beliefs”, such as Williams and McLaren fans, and I do not see any difference in the type of support we give our own favourite team.

Maybe, the real difference is when we, the Tifosi, gather; that is when the true spirit of the Ferrari community stands out. That happened, for example, when I went to Maranello to watch the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, decisive to assign that year’s title. The atmosphere was incredible, even when, at the end of the day, we were all frustrated by the outcome of the race.

That was one of the worst weekends of my life, with no jokes. And yesterday it was even worse.

I am based in London, which means no fellow Tifosi around me. I set my TV to watch the race, my laptop with the live timing on and I put on my Ferrari shirt. It was raining outside and I had already had a bad day for other reasons, so I was really looking forward to spend a couple of hours watching my favourite sport.

I cannot say I truly believed Alonso could win the title this time, but after such an unpredictable year, and an equally unpredictable race as it developed, belief was starting to grow inside me. My screams and cries filled the silence the house was immersed in.

After the race was over, I felt like I had been dumped by my truly beloved girlfriend. The one that you know “she’s the one”. The one that changes your mood, the one that you are ready to do everything for. I know this might sound silly, or childish or just… weird, to people who are not like me.

But for me, and many other Ferrari supporters, this is what Ferrari is. Ferrari is what can turn a bad day into a good day. Or a good day into a bad day. Ferrari is what distracts you when you need a break from anything else. Ferrari is, as I said, a faith. It is my faith.

And it is going to be like this forever. I do not know if the Tifosi are really different from other supporters, I do not think so. All I can say is that I am proud to be a supporter of this team, for better or worse.

If Ferrari was a girl, she would definitely be the one.

F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 2 – The midfielders

After one of my friends published Part 1 of my Tops and Flops on Reddit, I received some nice feedback.

In particular, I was called “an ass” because I compared Mercedes’s expectations in F1 to those of a panzer division in Poland. Or, people simply told me I did not know anything about Formula One at all.

For these reasons, I felt even more motivated to write Part 2 of my Tops and Flops. After focusing on the first-liners, let’s move to the midfield, which means, that no-man’s land which includes teams like Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso, and which often sees some of the greatest battles on the track.

Sauber is a Top without any doubt. I mean, have you seen it? The C31 is a hell of a car, surely the best Sauber since 2001 (and excluding the BMW era). They are now fighting for the fifth position in the championship with Mercedes (yup, the panzers) and, with one race to go, drivers Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi will have to do their best to recover 13 points.

Which means, for example, a podium, which Perez has already achieved three times this year. No wonder why McLaren offered him a contract for next season, after Lewis Hamilton signed for Mercedes (seriously, what is wrong with him?).
On the other hand, Kobayashi really impressed me since his debut at the end of 2009, and he was even considered a serious candidate for a seat in a top-team. Especially because he was backed by Toyota, which unfortunately retired before the 2010 season. Even though I would not consider him a Flop at all, I was surely expecting more from him. He is now just eight points behind Perez, but he struggled in the first half of the championship. He is without a seat for next year, who is ready to give this young guy a chance to finally emerge?

Maybe Force India, which lost Nico Hulkenberg who decided to sign for Sauber, indeed. However, a swap of drivers is unlikely to happen, given the fact that Kobayashi might lose his sponsor and the difficult financial situation of patron Vijay Mallya.

Force India is definitely another one of my Flops. Not because of this year only, but because of all the past years’ results altogether. They arrived in Formula One in 2008, on the ashes of the former Spyker F1, which was Midland before that, and which was called Jordan until 2005. Which used to have the best pit babes of the lot. But that is not the point now.

In five years, they have been able to score one single podium, in 2009, with Giancarlo Fisichella at Spa. And what a podium for the Italian driver, finishing second following his pole position on Saturday. After that, however, the team has stuck where it still is now, in the midfield, navigating between P6, P7 or P8 in the constructor’s championship. Their technical director, until 2010, was James Key, the man behind this year’s Sauber, and this year’s line-up is not bad at all, with Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta, the latter being a good bet for a top team, in the future.

Talking about James Key, he will not be working on next year’s Sauber because he was hired by Toro Rosso, my second Flop team today. They are the last of the best. The last that can be considered a Formula 1 team before the world of unknown. They are like Neptune: the solar system is not over yet, but you have to travel a long way before you can find Pluto.

This is what Toro Rosso is, sadly. Powered by Ferrari engines, as well as Sauber, they used to be Red Bull’s junior team. After the teams have been forced to build their cars fully (until 2010, TR used the RB car from the previous year), the team has fallen into disgrace. Last year’s line-up, Buemi and Alguersuari, were replaced by two almost-debutant drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

They scored 22 points this year, which means ninth place. The team fired technical director Giorgio Ascanelli, who joined them in 2007, and he is surely not the most inexperienced men in F1. Sebastian Vettel won his first career race with Toro Rosso in an extremely wet Italian GP at Monza, in 2008. This remains the first and only victory for the team, which replaced the even-more unsuccessful Minardi.

Not much to say about this team, just that I would like to see them battling for something more than an occasional ninth or tenth position. But that is like wishing that Caterham, Marussia or HRT were proper F1 cars, rather than fast GP2 cars.

Stay tuned for the last part!

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.

Alonso wins in Malaysia

Fernando Alonso gained an unexpected victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Spaniard won ahead of Sauber’s underdog Sergio Perez and poleman Lewis Hamilton.

The heavy rain affected the race, which was interrupted after only nine laps due to visibility and safety problems. After a 45-minute break, the race was started again under the safety car.

Fernando Alonso, who started from 8th, gained advantage by his strategy, since he changed his tyres to the “Intermediate” compound before all of the others.

The right choice made at the right moment allowed him to take the leadership of the race with large advantage.

Nevertheless, he was helped in this by the fact that the current leader, Jenson Button, had to head back to the pits to change a tyre flattened after a contact with Narain Karthikeyan, who was surprisingly in the top ten.

From this moment on, Alonso started to gain more and more advantage over the others, while Perez, who started from 9th, was able to maintain his second position.

None of the big contenders (McLarens, Red bulls and Felipe Massa) were able to keep up with the pace of the first two drivers, who put more than 15 seconds between them and the rest of the group.

However, Perez was going to catch Alonso in the last laps of the Grand Prix, when his team told him “Be careful, this result is very important to us.”

Maybe distracted by this radio announcement, he made a mistake going wide when he was almost behind the Ferrari driver.

Not a big deal: he could recover but he was unable to catch what would have been the first victory for him and for his team.

“It’s an unbelievable result for us, today,” Alonso told in the post-race press conference. “We were not competitive in Australia, we were not competitive here, so it’s an unbelievable result.”

However, as he admits, “this changes nothing. We are in a position that we don’t want: we want to fight for pole positions, for victories. There is still much work to do on the car, but we trust each other a lot in the team.”

The championship now sees the Spaniard first, five points ahead of Hamilton and 10 on Jenson Button, who scored a none, as well as reigning champion Sebastian Vettel.

The circus will move to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix, on the 15th of April.

 

Sunday was created for men… to watch sports on TV!

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work and watched sports on TV.

OK, maybe this is not what really happened; but I am sure that, if God had invented the cable TV at that time, he would have enjoyed resting on the sofa watching a football match or a Grand Prix. Because, let’s be honest: Sundays would not be Sundays without sports on TV.

No matter what the sport you are passionate of is: if you are a man, you know that Sundays are dedicated to sports on TV. And, when this is missing, you simply get mad and start to swear against everyone, from your family and relatives to the government.

Every man knows that, after a tiring week, he will have his peaceful and quiet afternoon, normally between 1 and 5 pm. I love Formula 1, so the time of the races may vary depending on the location of the Grand Prix, but football, for example, is a tradition: matches start at 3 and finish at 5.

I have just finished watching the last Grand Prix of this year’s Formula 1 season: if I think that I am going to spend four months without my favourite sport, I get mad. What am I going to do in this time?? ARGH! I need to find an alternative.

University assignments? Oh God please, no! Even though I really need to, I do not want to spend my lazy Sundays this way. Although I think I will, as many of my fellow students. I have never been so keen on studying, and I have always tried to find alternatives to it: and the alternative on Sundays was, guess what: sports! Cycling, athletics, any kind of car racing, rugby, volleyball…

I think that God created Sundays especially for sports. Or better, sports were designed to fit into Sundays. So, please, girls, women, wives and teachers: why do you want us to go shopping with you, help you decorating home, write our university assignments and so on? Let us just enjoy our lazy Sundays. Normally we do not want to do anything but sitting on the couch quietly. We do not harm anyone. So, what is the matter?

And maybe, after spending your lazy Sunday doing nothing, you could just call your friends for an Xbox night… your nerdy Sunday is served, gentlemen. Enjoy!

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.