By Berthold Bouman
McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh believes Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes was a mistake, as he wouldn’t recommend any driver to leave the McLaren team. Yesterday it was announced the 2008 World Champion sealed a three-year deal with Mercedes, believed to be worth £62 million.
“Mercedes-Benz is a great partner of ours and they are a great team,” said Whitmarsh. “But anyone leaving McLaren, who wants to win, I think that’s a mistake because I have faith and belief in this team. “Whether you measure it over the last four races, four years or 40 years, we’re a fantastic team. I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave McLaren if they want to win. But I’ve got to respect Lewis’s decision and really wish him well.”
It wasn’t a question of money Whitmarsh admitted, and he also admitted his mission to keep Hamilton in the team has failed. “I know we made a very, very big financial offer, bigger than I believe any Formula One driver is enjoying today.
We went a long way to make a good offer to Lewis. But ultimately it takes two to get a signature. We clearly didn’t agree terms and we’ve moved in a different direction.”
Asked whether Hamilton’s management, XIX Entertainment, was the culprit Whitmarsh said to Sky Sports, “The fact is Lewis is a great racing driver, he’s got to make decisions in his life. So we had lots of discussions with XIX, we went in to lots of details, we drew up very complex contracts, we negotiated lots of detail, lots of freedom within those and it was a very commercial offer that we made.”
Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn also denied the move was all about money. “Lewis didn’t come here because we offered more money, because we didn’t,” he said. And he added, “I think for Lewis, the attraction was being part of that building structure — the creation of the team. Not walking into a ready-formed, successful package; it was being part of the process of building that package.”
And it must be said, although McLaren is one of the three top teams in Formula One, when a driver doesn’t feel at home anymore and the motivation is gone, then there is not much one can do. Hamilton didn’t want to go to Ferrari because of his arch-enemy Fernando Alonso, and at Red Bull both drivers already had a contract for 2013, and thus Hamilton opted for the next best team: Mercedes.
It won’t be easy for Hamilton in 2013, hopefully Mercedes will soon make a huge leap forwards, only then Hamilton will have chance to fight for the title for Mercedes next season.
By Berthold Bouman
By now it has become clear the recent postponement of the Formula One floatation on the Singapore Stock Exchange has everything to do with Bernie Ecclestone’s involvement in the bribery of former BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who recently has been sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for several crimes, including bribery.
During the court case German State Prosecutor Christoph Rodler already hinted Ecclestone might have to stand trial for his part in the affair and at the time said, “Ecclestone was not a victim of blackmail, but a fellow participant in bribery.” Ecclestone’s financial affairs are already under investigation by the British tax authorities, the HRMC, but the 81-year old Formula One boss still claims he paid the German banker because he was blackmailed.
Gribkowsky, a former BayernLB risk officer, received £28million from Ecclestone during the sale of the German bank’s stake in Formula One to CVC Capital Partners in 2005. CVC has always maintained they had nothing to do with the bribery and have been silent ever since the case became world news.
As said, now Ecclestone himself could face trial, because the Briton has in the past mockingly and publicly labelled Gribkowsky as a ‘civil servant’, and the German prosecutor has now interpreted those words in such a way, that he concluded Ecclestone therefore was ‘knowingly bribing a public official (civil servant)’.
The sting is always in the tail and this time it seems Ecclestone’s joke mocking Gribkowsky could also be the start of his own demise. Perhaps Ecclestone suspected something was going on, because he didn’t show up for the German Grand Prix, three weeks after Gribkowsky’s sentence was announced.
Which brings us to the floatation again, and although Ecclestone always has denied speculations that the Gribkowsky case has had its impact on the floatation, CVC, now Formula One’s biggest shareholder, has until today failed to make the so-called Initial Public Offering (or IPO, basically a prospectus with prices and a minimum number of shares one has to buy, expected profits, and without a doubt a colourful story about why one should buy F1 shares). Initially it had to be published in June, but at the time CVC mentioned ‘volatile markets and continuing problems in the eurozone’ had postponed publication of the IPO until October.
Ecclestone stated at the time, “We haven’t got a date set yet, but with all the problems in the eurozone and the markets, we will be waiting until things have settled a little. Who would want to try and list now. This year, for sure, we are going to go through to market. I don’t think there’s a big rush, but we plan to get it done by the end of the year.”
But earlier this week Ecclestone again announced the floatation would be postponed, again the economic situation would be the culprit, as Ecclestone said, “The float won’t happen this year, but next year it will if the markets change.” To the UK Telegraph he said, “No IPOs have gone through, only [football club] Manchester United. I was surprised that they let it go through at the price.”
Others blame the new Concorde Agreement as it hasn’t yet been signed by all Formula One teams. The Concorde Agreement is an agreement between the Formula One teams, the governing body the FIA, and the commercial rights holder CVC, which among other things rules on the distribution of television revenues and prize monies until 2020.
It is also understood teams want more control over the future technical regulations, although Ecclestone recently said signing is just a formality, “We are just talking to the lawyers — ‘why have you used this word, that word’. Typical lawyers but everything’s fine. Commercially it’s done,” he said.
If Ecclestone has to stand trial for bribery, it will have an impact on the current commercial value of Formula One, whether he likes it or not, and he will need a whole army of lawyers, and a whole lot more money than he paid Gribkowsky, or — to use his own words — he will indeed also be ‘done’ …
By Berthold Bouman
Mercedes have confirmed Lewis Hamilton has signed a three-year deal with the German Silver Arrows outfit. It was no secret Hamilton was no longer happy at his previous employer, McLaren, and now has finally made the decision to leave.
Hamilton was very happy with his move and is already looking forward to the new challenge that faces him at Mercedes. “It is now time for me to take on a fresh challenge and I am very excited to begin a new chapter racing for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team. Mercedes-Benz has such an incredible heritage in motorsport, along with a passion for winning which I share,” said the Briton.
But above all, Hamilton is hoping to win many races for his new team, “Together, we can grow and rise to this new challenge. I believe that I can help steer the Silver Arrows to the top and achieve our joint ambitions of winning the world championships.”
Nico Rosberg will stay at Mercedes, but has not yet given his comments, but he knows Hamilton very well, as they were team mates at TeamMBM.com in Formula A karting.
Team Principal Ross Brawn was of course happy to have Hamilton in his team. “Looking ahead to 2013, I am delighted to welcome Lewis Hamilton to our team. The arrival of a driver of Lewis’ calibre is a testament to the standing of Mercedes-Benz in Formula One and I am proud that Lewis shares our vision and ambition for the success of the Silver Arrows,” he said.
Hamilton and Rosberg will be a great combination as Brawn commented, “I believe that the combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year, and I am looking forward to what we can achieve together.”
And he added, “Over the past three years, we have been putting in place the foundations and building blocks that are needed to compete regularly for the world championship. The potential is now there to match any other team on the grid, which is the minimum standard for a Mercedes-Benz works team. Our task is now to translate that potential into on-track performance for next season and beyond.”
Hamilton will replace seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher, who is now facing an uncertain future in Formula One. Brawn thanked the German for his contribution to the team, “I would like to thank Michael Schumacher for the important contribution he has made to the growth of our team over the past three seasons.
“His energy and commitment have never wavered, even when results have not matched our own expectations, and we are determined to finish the 2012 season together on a high. As always, it has been a pleasure to work with Michael.”
By Berthold Bouman
The double DRS system as it has been used by Mercedes this season, will be banned in 2013. The Mercedes system provides an extra performance boost when the ‘normal’ DRS is active. Although the idea is actually quite simple, in practice it is a complicated system to integrate into an existing car, the reason why other teams have problems emulating it.
Mercedes has integrated the system in the chassis, when DRS is deployed an opening in the rear wing endplate is exposed, air is led through a system of pipes all the way to the front of the car where it stalls the front wing, while the air that is led away from the rear wing also gives an extra boost on top of the boost of the normal DRS, hence the name double DRS, or as some call it very appropriately: the double whammy DRS.
The system also gives more stability as both wings are stalled. But the system has been banned as Article 3.18 (Driver adjustable bodywork) now states: “It cannot be used to change the geometry of any duct, either directly or indirectly, other than the change to the distance between adjacent sections permitted by Article 3.10.2.” The latter article refers to the dimensions of the DRS wing flap.
Lotus’ Double DRS
But the 2013 regulations do not apply to the double DRS as developed by Lotus, as it is a passive system and its working does not depend upon activation of the DRS system, so the name double DRS is very misleading. The Lotus design actually goes one step further into the unknown, as it is designed to stall the rear wing at high speeds.
It is understood Lotus has designed a system of two ducts situated at both sides of the engine air intake behind the driver’s head, the air flows through a channel to the rear where it should stall the rear wing. The air should only stall the wing at high speeds, and not at low speeds. How Lotus regulates the air flowing through the channels is still a mystery, as the regulations say no mechanical aerodynamic devices, such as spring-operated valves or flexible parts that do the same, are prohibited.
The new regulations also allow teams to cover the stepped nose, a concept that received a lot of negative feedback from the Formula One fans, and although one by now should be used to it, it still looks very ‘unnatural’ and the FIA has confirmed teams are allowed to cover the ‘step’ with a ‘modesty panel’, purely for cosmetic reasons.
Article 3.7.9 now states: “With the exception of an optional, single piece, non-structural fairing of prescribed laminate (whose precise lay-up may be found in the Appendix to the regulations) which may not be more than 625mm above the reference plane at any point, …”
By Berthold Bouman
Formula One is a global sport, but with just six of the 20 races on European soil, the 2013 calendar is certainly bad news for the European Formula One fans. The fact FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone goes wherever the money goes, is not really something new, but Formula One should never forget its roots, and those roots are certainly not just there where the money is.
Primarily for commercial reasons Formula One was very eager to stage two Grands Prix on American soil, but the latest news is that the Grand Prix of America, round eight on the 2013 calendar to be held in New Jersey on June 16, could already be off the calendar, as Ecclestone recently stated the organisers of the race have “not complied with the terms and conditions of the contract which is now gone anyway,” according to Formula One Grand Prix broker Ecclestone.
“They don’t have a contract,” Ecclestone told the UK Guardian. “We are pretty close to the final deadline. We have got a World Council meeting coming up. I think if someone got behind them it could happen in 2013 because they have come a long way with the circuit.”
Luckily for the fans in the United States, the race in Austin is still on for ten seasons to come, as the Circuit of the Americas have sealed a ten-year contract with Ecclestone, and the FIA on Tuesday confirmed the circuit has officially acquired the Grade 1 status, needed to host a Formula One race.
But France, who were hoping to stage a Formula One race again, cannot fill the gap if New Jersey fails to meet the deadline, as the French Autosport Federation (FFSA) confirmed French Minister of Sports Valerie Fourneyron said the state will not grant any financial help to the French Grand Prix, to be held at Magny Cours or Le Castellet.
A big setback for the organisers, but the FFSA hasn’t given up yet and President Nicolas Deschaux said, “I will put a question to the two bidders in the coming days to contemplate with them the conditions in which they could carry on with their candidacies.” Which in plain English means they have to find the money somewhere else or there isn’t going to be a French Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, the organisers of the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne, want to renew their contract, but with a reduced race fee. The current contract expires in 2015 and the Australians would love negotiate a new deal, but according to Louise Asher, Australia’s Minister of Tourism, the current agreement is too expensive for the tax payers.
“I’d love to have the race beyond the 2015 contract, but the contract that we discuss has to present value for taxpayers and I’m not comfortable with this level of subsidy,” she said. “The Brumby Labor government signed off on a contract that is too expensive for the taxpayer in my opinion. This is a very, very expensive race and I personally am not happy with this level of subsidy.”
In Asia, Thailand is trying to open the door for Formula One, as they aim for a spot on the 2014 calendar with a race on the streets of Bangkok. It is understood they have struck a very basic deal, which was confirmed by Kanokphand Chulakasem, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand. Chulakasem said to the Bangkok Post, “It will be a city race like that in Singapore and Monaco, and it will be a night race like the Singapore Grand Prix.”
However, there is no official contract and all parties still have to agree about the sanctioning fee. Ecclestone nevertheless remained optimistic, “It’s difficult to know. The trouble is they’ve started something that’s so popular worldwide that I’m sure other people are going to want to do this.”
Below the provisional 2013 calendar, still to be approved by the FIA World Motorsport Council, during a meeting tomorrow.
2013 Formula One Calendar (Provisional)
March 17 Australia (Melbourne) March 24 Malaysia (Sepang) April 14 China (Shanghai) April 21 Bahrain (Sakhir) May 12 Spain (Barcelona) May 26 Monaco (Monte Carlo) June 9 Canada (Montreal) June 16 America (New Jersey) * June 30 Britain (Silverstone) July 21 Germany (Nurburgring) * July 28 Hungary (Hungaroring) September 1 Belgium (Spa) September 8 Italy (Monza) September 22 Singapore (Marina Bay) * October 6 Japan (Suzuka) October 13 Korea (Yeongam) * October 27 India (Buddh International Circuit) November 3 Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) November 17 United States (Austin) November 24 Brazil (Interlagos) *To be confirmed
By Berthold Bouman
Great news for the American Formula One fans, as FIA’s Safety Director Charlie Whiting has given the green light for the United States Grand Prix on November 18. Whiting has given the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) the FIA seal of approval after his latest inspection, and has given the circuit the Grade 1 status, the highest grade a circuit can get, which means it has been approved for Formula One racing.
Whiting was impressed with the progress that has been made. “Everything that I’ve seen so far has been absolutely first class, and the progress that’s been made since the last time that I was here is amazing,” Whiting said. “The guys have done an awesome job — it really is quite fantastic! It’s built to the highest quality, exactly as we expected, and I’ve got absolutely no complaints whatsoever.”
Whiting personally walked the complete now fully paved 3.4 mile circuit for a closer inspection. Everything was checked: the asphalt, kerbs, guard rails, safety barriers, run-off areas, debris fences and other safety measures. Whiting was especially happy with the layout of the circuit and its turns.
“There are 3-4 corners that are very likely to see overtaking,” said Whiting. “If you look at Turn 1, you’ll see that the turns have been designed so that they’re extremely wide and the apex is very short. It’s a very modern approach to slow corners where we hope overtaking will take place. So I’m very confident it will work well.”
And his favourite part of the circuit? “Turn 1 is awesome! It’s the only word I can think of to describe it, and I think drivers and teams coming here for the first time will say the same thing,” he said. Whiting also visited the pit and paddock facilities and the Race Control building, where Whiting and his team will be housed during the race.
Whiting will be back in Austin for the final approval on Monday, November 12, as the remaining landscaping and painting projects will be completed in a few weeks time. The COTA was designed by German Hermann Tilke, and is the first purpose-built Formula One circuit in the United States.
Bob Bondurant takes a lap around the Circuit of The Americas
Time lapse video of the construction of the Circuit of the Americas
By Berthold Bouman
Not a great weekend for Mark Webber during the Singapore Grand Prix, the Australian driver lost his tenth place because he had overtaken Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber while he was off-track, the FIA Stewards deemed he had gained an unfair advantage and he was stripped of tenth place and was classified as 11th.
The weekend started with a bad qualifying session on Saturday, Webber qualified in seventh position, not good enough for him as he commented, “It was a difficult weekend for me, it’s not easy to overtake at this track, so you’re making your life hard when you have a bad qualifying. You need a bit of luck to make progress and I didn’t have any!”
Just after the start he had to fend off Romain Grosjean in the Lotus, and after a few position changes Webber left Grosjean behind him and stayed in seventh place. He then got stuck behind the Force India of Paul di Resta, he couldn’t get past and his team decided to change the strategy and called him in for an early pit stop.
“The pace of the car was good,” said Webber. “By the time of my second stop I’d climbed up to sixth and at this stage of the race I was hoping to give Paul [di Resta] a very hard fight for fourth, or maybe do even better. But the second Safety Car killed us.”
After the Safety Car had left the track again, Webber was in 15th place and had to fight his way back to the top ten. “The racing was good fun, but I’m not here to fight for 10th place and I need to break this little cycle of poor results that’s occurring,” said a disappointed Webber.
Webber is currently in fifth place of the Drivers’ Championship, 62 points behind leader Alonso, and there are just 150 points still on the table. “The championship is getting harder,” said Webber, “but I never give up and I’ll continue to take each race as it comes. The next race is at Suzuka, which is one of my favourite tracks. I’ve always gone pretty well there and I hope to get a good result.”
By Berthold Bouman
A busy weekend for the FIA Stewards present at the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend, this time ex-Formula One driver Allan McNish represented the drivers.
On Saturday Marussia driver Charles Pic, who overtook a car under red flags during the final free practice session, got a 20-second penalty to be added to the driver’s elapsed race time of the Japanese Grand Prix, in addition Pic and his team engineer have to ‘perform 1 day’s Community Service for FIA Action for Road Safety campaign at the instruction of the FIA President’.
Also on Saturday it was announced Pedro de la Rosa had incurred a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox, Bruno Senna got the same penalty after qualifying for changing the gearbox after he had crashed into the wall.
Mark Webber was reprimanded for leaving the track twice at the end of Q3, according to the FIA Stewards Webber could not offer ‘a justifiable reason for deliberately leaving the track’. Not a good weekend for Webber as he also during qualifying was accused of impeding the Marussia of Timo Glock, but the FIA Stewards, after viewing the video and telemetry evidence, decided no impeding had occurred.
But on Sunday Webber lost the one point he had scored by finishing in tenth position, as the FIA Stewards concluded the Australian had left the track while overtaking the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi. Webber was handed a post-race drive-through penalty, which meant 20 seconds was added to his elapsed race time and thus the Red Bull driver lost his 10th place.
Michael Schumacher incurred a ten-place grid penalty for the collision with the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, both drivers had to retire. A FIA statement read, “The driver admitted the collision was his error due to the failure to anticipate the braking performance of the car with lower tyre grip following a safety car period.”
And last but not least, the numbers one and two in the race, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, were summoned to see the FIA Stewards after Button had complained about Vettel’s sudden braking after the first Safety Car period of the race.
In a statement the FIA Stewards concluded, “An examination of the telemetry overlay for throttle, steering and brake traces of both cars did not indicate any erratic driving behaviour on the part of the race leader.”
Vettel said his sudden braking was not intentional, “You try to warm up your tyres and also try to keep the brakes at the right temperature. So it was possible that he was looking at his steering wheel and I was braking a bit abruptly and then you almost meet at a spot where you both would not want to be.”
Button said after the race it wasn’t a brake test, “Sebastian is not a stupid driver, he knows if he brake tests me we are going to crash. I was not trying to get him penalised, I was just looking for clarification of where we are.”
By Berthold Bouman
Schumacher obviously needs a new pair of glasses, which design would you pick?
By Berthold Bouman
Seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher has been handed a ten-place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit for causing a collision with the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne this evening at the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore.
“It was obviously a very unfortunate ending to my race this evening when I ran into the car of Vergne who accepted my apology straight afterwards,” Schumacher said after the race.
He suspected a mechanical failure caused the crash, “I am not totally sure why it happened like this; I was braking but the deceleration was not as strong as it usually would be, and I could not avoid running into the car in front of me. We have to find out what has happened.”
Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn also didn’t know what happened, “It was an unusual set of circumstances so we will have a careful look at the data and work out what could have happened.”
Although Schumacher hinted he could have suffered from a mechanical failure, he apparently told the FIA Stewards he had misjudged his braking on cold tyres, as a FIA statement read, “The driver admitted the collision was his error due to the failure to anticipate the braking performance of the car with lower tyre grip following a safety car period. The penalty takes into account that this is the second similar offence by the driver this season.”
Vergne said about the crash, “I was focussing on catching Perez at that point, trying to brake late to catch him, so I am not too sure what happened exactly, but I assume Michael braked a bit too late and could not avoid running in to me.
“There is no sense in being angry about it, because these things happen in racing and even the most experienced driver on the grid can make mistakes! He said sorry and that’s the end of it.”
It was the second time this happened on the Marina Bay circuit, last year Schumacher slammed into the back of the Sauber of Sergio Perez in similar circumstances and was officially reprimanded by the FIA Stewards.
By Berthold Bouman
Bruno Senna will be demoted from 17th to 22nd place on the start grid for the Singapore Grand Prix, as his Williams team had to replace the gearbox of his car after he had crashed into the wall for the second time this weekend.
During the second free practice session on Friday the Brazilian had already crashed into the wall while exiting Turn 19, he caused a red flag and could not participate in the remainder of the practice session.
During qualifying yesterday he had already kissed the wall but not much later he crashed out of qualifying while exiting Turn 21, the right rear suspension was badly damaged and this meant Senna was out of qualifying altogether.
His mechanics later found the impact had damaged the gearbox as well, and it had to be replaced. Gearboxes are required to last five consecutive events according to the regulations, thus Senna will drop five places and start from 22nd spot on the grid.
“I was pushing very hard to get a good lap but I pushed a little over the edge. This place isn’t very forgiving so we broke the rear suspension. Unfortunately that brought an early end to qualifying but we now we need to focus on tomorrow,” Senna commented yesterday.
His team colleague Pastor Maldonado will start from the front row after a great qualifying lap in the third and last qualifying session yesterday.
By Berthold Bouman
Extraordinary rumours are circulating on the internet and social media: Robert Kubica could make a return to Formula One as Pirelli test driver. The rumours started after a remark of Pirelli test driver Jaime Alguersuari, who said he is very close to returning to Formula One after being ditched by his previous employer Toro Rosso.
This could open the door for Kubica who recently made his racing return by participating in the Ronde Gomitolo di Lana and the Rally San Martino di Castrozza, he won the first event after winning all four stages, but during the second event the Pole crashed two times and had to retire.
The 27-year old ex-BMW Sauber and Renault driver spent the major part of the 2011 recovering from his horrific accident in February 2011 during the Ronde di Andora in Italy, he sustained serious arm and hand injuries and still hasn’t regained all of his hand and arm functions.
Despite his limited mobility, Pirelli would offer him a test role, Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery disclosed. “We are more likely to work with Robert in rallying I guess, rather than F1, but we will see,’ said Hembery.
And he added, “I haven’t spoken to Robert for some time, but we are working on a few projects that might involve him, so it might be a possibility. I don’t know if he is able to do it at the moment.”
Hembery is confident Kubica can make a Formula One return, and is willing to help him, “He is that type of person if, physically, he could get back in, maybe doing a year with us would put him in a good situation to come back in 2014.
“It would be wonderful if we could do that. We want to continue our success level of helping drivers into F1, and after an F1 drive the Pirelli test deal has to be the best drive in the world.”
Pirelli is currently using a Renault Formula One car to test there tyres, the same car Kubica drove in 2010, so he is very familiar with the car and knows it inside-out. Kubica has not yet reacted on Hembery’s proposal to return as a test driver.
By Berthold Bouman
A very hot day at the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore, with ambient temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, and combined with the high humidity, a real torture for man and machine. A cool new helmet design for Sebastian Vettel, this time a helmet with blue flashing LED’s that light up in the Singapore night, but his flashy good luck charm didn’t work and it was Lewis Hamilton who took pole for McLaren for the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday.
“I’m very happy with pole position. It’s been a good weekend so far, but there are no points for today, and it’s going to be a long, tough race, so I still need to be cautious. I hope we’ve done the work we need to do to put us in a strong position for tomorrow — the key will just be to stay out of trouble and look after the tyres,” said Hamilton.
Pastor Maldonado surprised friend and foe again and seemingly effortlessly took second place, while current Word Champion Vettel will start from third place on the grid.
Sergio Perez in the Sauber was the first to set a time in Q1, and he lapped the circuit in 1m52.725s, but it was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who set the first serious time on the board with a lap of 1m49.511s. Kimi Raikkonen had to take the escape road after missing his braking point but nevertheless one lap later posted the fourth fastest time, the same happened to Jean-Eric Vergne but he also could continue his qualifying run.
But Hamilton was the one to set the benchmark in Q1 with a lap of 1m48.285, almost a second faster than Alonso. With five minutes still remaining, it was time for the super soft tyres for those who were not certain of a place in Q2, also Raikkonen went out on the supersoft Pirellis and he took first place from Hamilton who had set his time on the harder compound.
But much to everyone’s surprise, Romain Grosjean was fastest in Q1 as he put together a great lap with a time of 1m47.688s. But the last seven drivers, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa did not make it into Q2.
Q2 became a waiting game, most drivers initially stayed in the garage, but with ten minutes left on the clock Vettel was the first go under the 1m46 marker, and he set a time of 1m46.791s, at the same time Bruno Senna set another but more dubious record by hitting the wall for the second time today, and the third time this weekend, he again damaged the right-rear suspension of his Williams and had to retire.
Just four minutes to go and all 17 remaining drivers were ready for their last run in Q2, Grosjean went out first and took third place from Jenson Button. Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa were in the drop-out zone, both Mercedes drivers qualified for Q3, but Raikkonen and Massa did not.
Thus Nico Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Massa, Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Senna did not make it into the top ten for the third and final qualifying session Q3.
Both McLaren and Red Bull drivers decided to do two runs, but the rest stayed in the garage to save tyres and they waited until there were just three minutes to go. When they finally were on their first lap, Grosjean had a big moment but managed to keep his Lotus out of the walls and took fourth place despite his earlier mistake.
Again Formula One was in for a surprise as Maldonado took second place ahead of Vettel in third place. Hamilton couldn’t improve his time but stayed in first place, Button was fourth, Alonso fifth and Paul di Resta in the Force India was sixth. Webber and Grosjean were seventh and eighth respectively, while Schumacher and Rosberg completed the top ten without recording a timed lap.
The latter two will start the race tomorrow on the soft Pirellis, the rest of the top ten on the super soft tyres. De la Rosa has a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox, and he will start from 24th and last place on the grid.
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh summed it up like this, “It was Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ fourth consecutive pole position and the 153rd pole position in McLaren’s history, and it was achieved one day shy of the 40th anniversary of our very first world championship grand prix pole position, which was notched up by the late Peter Revson at Mosport Park [Canada] on September 23rd 1972.”
Second-place man Maldonado said, “We continued improving throughout qualifying and we found a good balance in the car. I then had to put together a good lap in Q3 and I knew we could be right up at the front.” He’s already looking forward to the race, “I’m really looking forward to the race as we’ve shown consistently good pace on our longer runs throughout practice. We have all the tools to be competitive tomorrow, so it should be a good race for us.”
And last but not least Vettel, who was sure he could have grabbed pole, “It’s hard to say what happened. I was happy until the end of Q2, but then in Q3 we weren’t able to go with the track and improve. In Q3 I couldn’t feel the grip so well and convert it to the lap time.”
He also thinks tomorrow will be a different story, “The most important day is tomorrow and we have got pace in the car. We have been competitive this weekend and our target is to have a good race tomorrow; P3 is still a good place to start from.”
By Berthold Bouman
The Circuit of the Americas has completed the track pavement with success. Yesterday workers completed the third and final layer of asphalt around the 3.4 mile long circuit. According to the circuit the last layer on the track is unique in the world.
The ingredients for the last layer have been meticulously selected to meet the standards of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). One of the subcontractors, Oscar Rodriguez from Rodriguez Engineering, explained why this is such a unique asphalt layer.
“The overall design of the asphalt mix for the track is crucial to the performance of the car,” said Rodriguez, adding, ”We work with Tilke and asphalt expert, Dr. Reynard Hart, to produce a mix that is up to their specifications.”
The circuit, designed by German Hermann Tilke, is now nearing its completion and then will be ready for the final inspection by the FIA, just in time for the U.S. Grand Prix on November 18, the penultimate round of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Tilke engineers Oliver Liedgens and Frank Both have been supervising the whole process of laying the track, and they are proud of what they and the American builders have accomplished in just two years.
“When we came to Austin a little over 2 years ago, we came to the site for the first time and all we saw was mud and trees,” Liedgens and Both said. “It was really hard to imagine that a track would sit on this piece of land and the only source of imagery that we had was a couple of renders. Today is the first time we get to see the final product and this makes us very happy.”
By Berthold Bouman
The alternator problems which especially have hurt the Red Bull Racing team, have not been completely solved, according to Renault Sport Director Jean-Francois Caubet during yesterday’s FIA press conference in Singapore.
The Frenchman also denied the problems are related to the design of the Red Bull RB8, as he said Lotus driver Romain Grosjean also had similar problems. So what is the story so far? “First of all we started to have a problem in Valencia with two drivers Sebastian Vettel and Romain [Grosjean]. It was not easy to detect or find because both alternators were completely melted and destroyed,” Caubet explained.
“So we were thinking it was an electric problem and probably the levels of power in the car, so we decided to change a bit the levels of power in each car. Spa was OK but again in Monza we have a problem with Sebastian two times and another driver also,” added Caubet.
But Renault was lucky this time, because they were able to salvage the alternator from Grosjean’s car before it had been completely destroyed. “We had a bit of fortune because we stopped the Lotus car just maybe some problem with the alternator and at the end it was not an electrical problem, it was a mechanical problem, a bearing probably.
“So, we are trying to change something. It is not easy because we detect that a few days [ago] but I think we are quite optimistic. The problem we have is that we are running the new solution in the dyno but only the race will give us an answer.”
Asked whether the heat in Singapore would make the problem worse he replied, “I don’t know. P1 was OK, P2 was OK. We cross our fingers for P3, qualifying and the race.”
Meanwhile, the manufacturer of the alternator, the Italian Magneti Marelli company has hit back at the critics, one of them is Red Bull owner Austrian Dieter Mateschitz, and he suggested Renault should find a new alternator supplier.
Magneti Marelli’s Motorsport boss Roberto Dalla said he was surprised by Mateschitz’ comments and said, “I will not comment, because I don’t understand it. All the analysis that we have done has shown that the part has no problem. It has failed probably because of the exceptional mechanical stress it is exposed to.”
By Berthold Bouman
Sebastian Vettel was fastest for Red Bull Racing during the first free Friday practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix, and also the fastest driver during the second session this afternoon on the Marina Bay circuit. The first session was a close fight with Lewis Hamilton, who was just 0.049 seconds slower in his McLaren. In the morning there was heavy rain just ahead of the session and drivers first went out on the Pirelli intermediate wet tyres, to switch to the slicks when the track had dried out.
During the second session Jenson Button was the fastest McLaren man and took second place after Vettel, but this time the difference was 0.311 seconds. Mark Webber in the second Red Bull was sixth during the first practice, and fourth during the second practice session.
Championship leader Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was one second off the pace in the morning but nevertheless took fourth place, but in the afternoon on a dry track the difference was just half-a-second, and thus the Spaniard moved up one step and took third place. Again a disappointing performance from Felipe Massa, the Brazilian driver was 16th in the morning and ninth in the afternoon.
Pastor Maldonado was fifth for Williams in the morning, but during the second session in the afternoon he fell back to 13th place, while his team mate Bruno Senna was 17th. The Force India pair Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were quick and consistent again, they were seventh and eighth in the morning on a wet track, and in the afternoon they were even a bit faster and took sixth and seventh place respectively.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean was back after he had been banned from the Italian Grand Prix, but neither the young Frenchman, nor his experienced Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen could impress, in the afternoon Grosjean was tenth, while Raikkonen was 12th.
Next on the list is Mercedes, mixed fortunes for both drivers, in the morning Michael Schumacher was the fastest man, in the afternoon the roles were reversed and Nico Rosberg was eighth and the fastest Mercedes driver.
Sergio Perez was the fastest Sauber driver in both sessions, but his time in the afternoon was somewhat disappointing as he was 2.782 seconds slower than leader Vettel, while Kamui Kobayashi was 16th on a dry track.
‘Rain is the great equalizer’ they say in motorsports, Maldonado had already proved that this morning, and Daniel Riccardo proved it as well by taking ninth place in the rain, and 14th place on a dry track. However, the same did not apply to his team colleague Jean-Eric Vergne, who was 17th and 18th in the second Toro Rosso.
Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov was at least consistent as he took 22nd place on both occasions, but Charles Pic in the Marussia was faster than the Russian, he took 21st place during both sessions, while Timo Glock in the other Marussia was faster than Heikki Kovalainen in the Caterham, they were 19th and 20th respectively during both sessions.
Chinese HRT reserve and test driver Ma Qing Hua was the only ‘guest driver’ today, as he took over from Narain Karthikeyan in the morning, and he now knows how difficult it is to drive a Formula One car on the limit on a wet track, he was almost 1.5 seconds slower than the very experienced Pedro de la Rosa in the other HRT, and almost 7.5 seconds slower than pace-setter Vettel.
Tomorrow is the third and final practice session, and of course the all-important qualifying for round 14 of the FIA Formula One Championship: the Singapore Grand Prix.
By Berthold Bouman
Mark Webber is confident Red Bull will have a strong race at Singapore this weekend. On the high-speed circuits of Spa and Monza, the Red Bull RB8’s weak point, the straight-line speed, seriously hampered Webber’s chances for a good result, on the maximum-downforce Marina Bay street circuit, however, the Australian hopes to be back in the running for the title again.
“It’s good to be here in Singapore,” said Webber ahead of Friday practice. “It’s a race I enjoy and we’re going back to a set-up configuration that should play to the RB8’s strengths. I see this race as a re-set for the team and I think that will be reflected in the pecking order on the grid. McLaren have been on a bit of a run recently, but I don’t expect them to have it all their own way here.”
But it will be a difficult race for man and machine, Webber reckons. “This is one of the toughest races of the year for the cars and the drivers,” he said. “It’s hot and humid, and it’s long — all of the races have gone close to the two-hour cut-off. The speeds are relatively slow, but it’s technically demanding and tough on brakes because the temperatures are high. If you get a result here, you deserve it.”
Of course there is still the issue with the alternator, which cost his team colleague Sebastian Vettel a lot of points, and although Renault and supplier Magneti Marelli have been working hard to come up with a solution, it is still not 100 percent sure the alternator problems have been fixed, and to make it worse, it is always hot in Singapore, even during the evening and night.
After the last couple of races some members of the press have been writing us off,” said Webber. “But you’ve got to remember that we’re still leading the Constructors’ Championship and the upcoming races will suit us better.”
His aim is to close the season with at least one win during the remaining seven Grands Prix, “I had a very consistent start to the season, taking four consecutive top four places, and people would kill for those fourth places between now and the end of the season. I hope to finish the year like I started it, with a win or two thrown in!”
By Berthold Bouman
Force India is currently seventh in the Formula One Constructors’ Championship, 37 points behind the sixth-placed Sauber team, finishing in sixth place was Force India’s goal for this season, and thus the Indian team has some catching up to do, as Williams is only nine points behind them and has set its sights on beating Force India.
A great qualifying performance in Italy from Paul di Resta who was fourth, but drama for Nico Hulkenberg who couldn’t even put a timed lap on the clock as his car suddenly lost drive and the German had to start from 24th and last spot on the grid.
Unfortunately di Resta received a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox and thus started from ninth place on the start grid, and finished in eight place, while Hulkenberg had brake problems and had to retire from the race after 50 laps.
“If Paul had started where he should have started I’m sure he would have finished higher up the order,” said Force India owner Vijay Mallya. And added, “It was very unfortunate what happened to Nico during qualifying, where he couldn’t set a time. Given the pace of the cars I would have expected him to qualify somewhere close to Paul, so we could potentially have had both well inside the top ten. It was not to be.”
About securing sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship he remained upbeat, “I’m an optimist and I don’t give up! It’s tough, Williams are strong, Sauber are strong. And look at what’s happening with Lotus. A lot of teams that were regarded as midfield teams last year are now pushing the big boys pretty hard.”
One of the challenges of Singapore is the different time schedule, drivers and team personnel stay on an European time schedule. Di Resta explained, “It’s not something I find difficult. The important thing is making sure you choose the right flight to arrive in Singapore at the right time of day.
“You also have to make sure the hotel staff don’t tap on your door in the morning at 9am because you need to be sleeping for another five hours! I always go to bed at 6am and wake up at 2pm, that’s my routine.” He’s looking forward to the race, “I had a good race there last year and we’ve seen already that the car has been strong on street circuits this year. So I’m hoping that we will go well there, optimise the set-up and pick up some good points!”
Nico Hulkenberg talks us through the challenge of Singapore’s Marina Bay Circuit – video by Force India
Felipe Massa’s position at Ferrari has been under pressure for quite some time now, but this time it looks like it will be his last season racing for Scuderia Ferrari, and maybe even his last season in Formula One altogether.
The only thing the Brazilian can do now is to perform well during the last seven races of the season, hoping Luca di Montezemolo will once again forgive him and give him another year. “There is no news on my future at the moment, but there’s no doubt that good results will help,” Massa confirmed. “I just need to keep pushing hard and getting good results, in the hope of hearing some good news soon,” he added.
“It’s always better to know what the situation is, as of course I want to know what I’m doing next year,” he admitted. “But I can tell you that it’s never happened that I’m in the car in the middle of the race and I start thinking about what I’ll do next year! However, I know that results are what matter, so if the situation arises where you have to take a risk in the race, then you have to think carefully about it, as you know your priority is to finish the race.”
Massa is one of the key figures to the 2013 drivers market, the same goes for Lewis Hamilton who still hasn’t signed a new contract with his current employer McLaren. Of course the rumours say Hamilton will go to Mercedes or Ferrari, which would mean Massa or Schumacher would have to find a new employer for the 2013 season, and that will not be easy, and thus retirement could be an option as well.
Ferrari President di Montezemolo has ruled out hiring Sauber’s Sergio Perez in 2013, as he thinks the Mexican is not experienced enough yet. “Next season is too early, to put a young guy to Ferrari with the pressure of Ferrari, you need more experience” said the flamboyant Ferrari boss recently.
But if Perez is too young and inexperienced, no other of the current talented young drivers in Formula One, like Daniel Ricciardo or Nico Hulkenberg, would be able to replace Massa at Ferrari. Ferrari needs a second driver to support their bid for not only the 2013 Drivers’ Championship, but also for the 2013 Constructors’ Championship.
Another possibility is Kimi Raikkonen moving back to his old Ferrari team, but Lotus maintain they already have contracted the flying Finn for 2013, but both parties have so far refused to confirm this.
Indeed, the future is uncertain for Massa, but on the other hand, if neither Hamilton nor Raikkonen would be interested in driving the second Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso, Ferrari doesn’t have much of a choice and they might as well give Massa another chance in 2013.
By Berthold Bouman
Pirelli has allocated the Soft (yellow marked) and Super Soft (red marked) tyre compounds for the only night race on the 2012 Formula One calendar, the Singapore Grand Prix. The 5.073 km long Marina Bay street circuit has 23 turns, it has a bumpy and slippery surface, and together with the humidity, the heat and the constant changes of direction, this track is hard on drivers, cars and tyres.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented about the track, “Personally speaking I love the Singapore Grand Prix: it makes for an amazing spectacle at night with a great atmosphere and a fantastic challenge for our tyres. Due to the unusual circumstances in which the race is run, under more than a thousand spotlights, the teams and drivers have to think very hard about strategy — as track conditions and evolution are somewhat different than you would find in a normal daytime race.”
About a possible pit stop strategy he said, “One factor that could certainly come into play is safety cars: during every single Singapore Grand Prix that has been held so far since 2008 the safety car has come out at some point. This means that strategies have to be flexible as well as effective in order to quickly take advantage of any potential neutralisation.”
About the possibility of rain Hembery said, “While the humidity is constantly high, it hasn’t yet rained in any Singapore Grand Prix so this should be the same again this year and we are likely to see the ultimate performance offered by the two softest slick compounds in our Formula One range.”
It is difficult to predict which pit stop strategy would be best according to Hembery, “Last year’s race was won with a three-stop strategy by Sebastian Vettel, but Lewis Hamilton finished fifth after stopping four times and taking a drive-through penalty as well. As average speeds are not very high, degradation should not be an issue if wheelspin is controlled out of the slower corners, which can lead to overheating.”
Fernando Alonso is the only driver who won the event twice, in 2008 and 2010, while Hamilton won in 2009 and current World Champion Vettel won the race last year.
Singapore 3D Track Experience – Video by Pirelli
By Berthold Bouman
Romain Grosjean will be back in the car after his one-race ban, which meant he had to sit out the Italian Grand Prix after he had caused the first-corner accident at Spa-Francorchamps. Grosjean’s 2012 C.V at first sight doesn’t really look very pretty, he retired from five of the 12 Grands Prix he competed in, and was involved in seven first-lap accidents this year.
At Spa the 26-year old Frenchman moved to the right after the start, ran into the side of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren, who had nowhere to go, and then all hell broke loose, as his Lotus became an unguided missile and narrowly missed the head of Fernando Alonso, who was just about to steer into the corner but instead saw nothing but cars and debris flying around him and his Ferrari.
Formula One held its breath, but all drivers involved in the crash were uninjured, but both title contenders Alonso and Hamilton were out of the race, which gave Grosjean’s team colleague Kimi Raikkonen the opportunity to sneak into third position of the Drivers’ Championship.
It was a harsh punishment for the young Frenchman, Grosjean was the first driver to be banned from a race since Michael Schumacher in 1994 (he got a two-race ban for ignoring a black flag), but his ban was also a learning experience as Team Principal Eric Boullier put it, “This is a severe penalty, but it’s part of his learning curve.”
And the Lotus boss added, “Part of the problem is that he wants to do well. He is somebody who is a perfectionist. He needs to understand he will deliver more if he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself at the start of the race.”
But sitting in the Lotus garage has given Grosjean the opportunity to observe 2007 World Champion Raikkonen at work. “I can still learn a lot from Kimi; he has a huge amount of experience. As a team-mate he is both challenging and fantastic; challenging because he is so quick and has abilities I have yet to develop, but fantastic because he is also a great example to follow in the way he can switch his mind set so quickly during a race weekend to be entirely focused on the job,” he said.
And he added, “Being on the pit wall with the engineers and looking at the data is always useful. You get another perspective on how the cars are performing, where the differences are, what can be improved and so on.”
Despite his unfortunate encounters on track, Grosjean hasn’t really done a bad job, certainly his qualifying record is not bad at all for a semi-rookie. He qualified in the top-ten during all races except the German Grand Prix, but due to his retirements he only scored 76 points, which is still more than Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher. He also scored three podium places, again not bad for a semi-rookie.
Asked about his mixed fortunes he replied, “I would say that since Hockenheim I haven’t really had the same connection with the car as I had previously. At the start of the season I felt very comfortable and by the time we got to Valencia the sensation I had in the car was just amazing. Whether it’s the tyres, the set-up or something in my driving style I’m not 100% sure; we need to go through everything and find out.”
And he said, “The grids are so close this year that any tiny thing can mean the difference between being at the front and sitting in the midfield.”
Raikkonen is now in third place of the championship, will Grosjean support his team mate’s title bid? “I wouldn’t say that for the rest of the season I’m here just to play a supporting role; if I have the opportunity to reach the podium, or even a win, then I will take it.
“Of course, I want the team to achieve the best results it can and if you look at the points difference between me and Kimi it would be foolish to think only of my own results. Let’s hope we can have a fantastic end to the season for me, Kimi and the team!”