Crashgate 2: FIA Must Avoid Being Tempted to Further Punish Sebastian Vettel Because of Lewis Hamilton’s Unrelated Problems

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONY8206 via PIRELLI media

 

So, the fall-out from the most dangerous 30mph collision in F1 history isn’t quite finished yet.

Earlier this afternoon the FIA announced that they were going to look again at the collision between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton during Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Vettel drove into Hamilton, deliberately or otherwise, while wildly gesticulating after he perceived his British title rival to have brake tested him during a Safety Car period.

He was given a 10 second stop/go penalty, a punishment that ordinarily would look to be a very severe one – indeed it is the second harshest the FIA can give. The harshest is outright disqualification.

Despite Vettel’s 10 second stop/go, which cost around 30 seconds, he finished fourth ahead of Hamilton (Largely due to the Wacky Races nature of the Grand Prix).

A disgruntled Hamilton came home fifth after pitting to repair a damaged headrest.

Vettel was also given three more points on his F1 superlicense to take his total to nine, with 12 inside a year leading to a race suspension. He will lose two of those after the British Grand Prix.

The FIA’s decision to call this tribunal sits squarely with its President Jean Todt, who is miffed at the four-time German’s conduct. Todt is the only man with the authority to call the tribunal.

Großer Preis von Monaco 2017, Freitag – Steve Etherington – Mercedes AMG Petronas

Vettel was warned after his angry response to Max Verstappen’s driving in Mexico last year, swearing about the Dutchman and swearing at Race Director Charlie Whiting.

He apologised straight away to Whiting in person and in letters to Whiting and to Todt, but he was warned that more road rage could lead to a tribunal such as this, with the outcome revealed by July 3rd.

This is risky business for the FIA.

There is a real chance that they could be seen to be reacting to the race result instead of the incident.

It would be laughable if they were to re-punish Vettel based on Hamilton’s headrest strife, as that was beyond his control. It was a separate problem, irrelevant to incident in question.

Another potential issue is that they could be seen to be not trusting the stewards’ decision by further extending the penalty or changing it completely.

If that was to be case, then what’s the point of the stewards being there. This isn’t a cut-and-dried case of a wrong punishment, despite the furore from some quarters.

There is a good reason that other sports don’t alter the results post-match for sporting reasons, as this would be.

How many football matches have seen their results changed because, for example, a referee incorrectly failed to award a goal?

And thirdly, disqualification or a race ban handed out because of this tribunal would be laughable bearing in mind that far worse have seen no further action or mere grid drops. Incidents for example, such as Ayrton Senna carting Alain Prost off at 150mph at Suzuka in 1990?

You aren’t convincing any sane F1 observer that Vettel’s daft actions were as bad as that.

To change the penalty awarded in race then would be wrong. A 30mph moment of madness does not mean that Vettel is mad, bad and dangerous to know even if he was extremely stupid.

If the FIA do want to extend his pain, they can do that while avoiding making themselves a laughing stock by awarding a grid penalty and warnings in the harshest terms possible.

It would be sheer stupidity to react based on emotions and the FIA must act with care and caution to avoid causing more long-term issues than they solve with this tribunal.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

 

 

Ferrari Review: Sebastian Vettel’s penalty not a talking point if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest had stayed attached

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONY8206 via Pirelli media

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s incident is unquestionably the hot topic of what was a crazy Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

For Ferrari it represents points lost in the Constructors’ Championship as Kimi Raikkonen retired after an eventful evening while Valtteri Bottas produced a comeback worthy of Felipe Massa to finish second behind eventual winner Daniel Ricciardo, after stealing extra points from Lance Stroll on the line.

Ultimately after a race containing more than a few melees Vettel gained on his title rival Hamilton by finishing fourth, a place ahead of the Brit, who had to pit from the lead to address a broken headrest.

So, I might as well get straight to it.

On lap 21 Lewis Hamilton appeared to slow slightly (Not brake) at turn 16 to prepare for the restart of the race after a Safety Car period for debris.

For whatever reason Vettel was wrong-footed and ran into Hamilton, angering the German.

While madly gesticulating in a return to last year’s red mist mayhem at Mexico, Vettel hit Hamilton with his hands off the steering wheel.

I would find it very difficult to believe that Vettel would risk his car in such a way as to deliberately wheel-bang into his rival.

At 50mph it is very easy to break the suspension of both your car and your target if you were to deliberately ram into another car.

What is more logical is that he simply wasn’t looking at his steering angle in his rush to perform hand-gymnastics in the direction of Hamilton.

And then there is the furore over the 10-second stop/go penalty that the stewards dished out on one of their busier days.

That cost Vettel half a minute, and was a fittingly severe penalty for a moment of stupidity from a vastly experienced World Champion.

It doubtlessly cost him the race victory.

The reason I say that is because no amount of F1 dodgems would have caused Hamilton’s headrest to become loose.

Without Hamilton’s strife Vettel would have lost at least 15 points and thus surrendered the lead of the World Drivers’ Championship, and with only himself to blame.

Had Hamilton not hit structural gremlins then precisely nobody would be calling Vettel’s penalty lenient, least of all the frustrated three-time champion – who branded Vettel a “disgrace.”

So yes, Vettel ended the race with upper hand but it had nothing to do with his lovetap of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

The punishment was announced at the same time that Hamilton pitted to fix his headrest, and that means it would have been decided beforehand.

So to then alter the punishment based on Hamilton’s issues would have been mind-bogglingly amateurish. They were rightly chastised with their handling of Daniil Kvyat’s penalty(ies) in Canada for parade lap infringements.

The stewards had to stick with what was the correct punishment.

The incident was at low-speed and because of aforementioned factors it was unclear just how deliberate the contact was bearing in mind Vettel wasn’t looking where he was going (The key shot is the onboard).

There have been far more heinous acts committed in a Formula One car, if not necessarily far more thoughtless ones.

The incident adds fire to what was a peaceful Drivers’ Championship fight. This could turn into a fight as heated as the Rosberg years.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

Canadian Grand Prix: Ferrari pegged back by resurgent Mercedes

at Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Montreal, Canada, Saturday 10 June 2017.

 

If Monaco was the race in which everything went right for Ferrari, the Canadian Grand Prix was the exact opposite.

Arriving in Montreal on a high after a 1-2 in Vettel’s favour with Hamilton only seventh in the principality, the Scuderia were confident that they could repeat their form in North America.

Second and fourth for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying put a damp towel on those expectations, but it was just the start of a frustrating weekend.

At the start, Verstappen’s jet-propelled Red Bull got ahead of and subsequently hit Vettel’s front wing as Sainz and Massa collided to bring the Safety Car out.

Vettel’s front wing was badly damaged with debris hitting his floor also hampering him for the race.

The German elected to pit two laps after the Safety Car period on lap 5, and bolted on the supersoft tyres. He emerged down in 17th position. Meanwhile, Raikkonen ran wide at turn seven and lost out to Perez.

At the front Mercedes were comfortable, Hamilton and Bottas pulling away after the retirement of second placed Max Verstappen with battery failure on lap 11.

This was just the tonic for a poor Monaco Grand Prix.

Vettel’s determined drive earned him fourth place eventually after some masterful overtaking including a move on the inside of Esteban Ocon as he attacked Force India teammate Sergio Perez with five laps to go.

That result represents something of a save, as Hamilton took 13 points out of Vettel as opposed to the 19 Vettel took off the Brit in Monaco.

Raikkonen meanwhile had to limp home to seventh, after his brakes wore out towards the end. The Iceman was a little hot under the collar after an off at the final chicane, but held off the charging Nico Hulkenberg.

Formula One’s second visit to Azerbaijan in two weeks looks set to follow the rest of the season in being on a knife edge.

Jack Prentice

Image Credit: Pirelli Media

Canadian Grand Prix: Marks out of Ten

 

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada.
Sunday 11 June 2017.
World Copyright: Steven Tee/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _O3I0085

Lewis Hamilton once again ruled the roost at the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, on the Ille De Notre Dame in the St Lawrence Seaway in Montreal is a highlight of the Formula 1 season, a break between the European rounds. Known as a power reliant track compared to the prior rounds at Spain & Monaco the pecking order was shuffled slightly. We analyse each driver’s race in the simplest way we can, through marks out of ten.

Lewis Hamilton – 9

Ten years on since his maiden win in F1, Hamilton once more sees the top step of the podium. Montreal is a happy hunting ground for the Brit – this is his sixth time winning in Canada. He destroyed his teammate in qualifying by 0.7secs and matched his icon Ayrton Senna’s pole total of 65. It was a weekend that he needed, the hat-trick, pole, lights to flag and fastest lap. He kept the action kept behind him and caught up in the championship as we head to Baku.

Valteri Bottas – 7

The first 1-2 of the 2017 campaign for Mercedes, signs of the previous three seasons, but with Bottas all the challengers fell by the wayside. A poor qualifying from the Finn, a quite considerable gap of 0.4secs from the front row. He was helped by Ferrari’s issues as he took a comfortable second place. A solid result from the Finn but once more in the shadow of his teammate Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo – 8

The Honeybadger made it three podiums in a row, taking advantage of other drivers and using a unique strategy of running softs on the second stint rather than the super softs. He struggled early in the weekend with car trouble, and missed most of free practice two. The most important factor was his quick out lap which managed to keep Perez in the Force India at bay. We got to see a shooey to the delight of the Canadian fans – even getting Sir Patrick Stewart himself to partake in the ritual.

Max Verstappen – 8

Verstappen looked for all the world as if he could split the Mercedes after a blistering start, clipping Vettel’s wings especially. His race ended only ten laps in after an ERS failure and battery shutdown, the Ducthman visibly angry at his misfortune. Red Bull look as if they’ve made a step forward.

Sebastian Vettel – 9

Excellent recovery drive after contact damaged his front wing. Dropped to last after repairs, and a despite a damaged floor came from 16th to 4th. The four-time champion provided entertainment in the final twenty laps, limiting the damage to his championship lead to 13 points.

Raikkonen 7: A poor start saw Kimi stuck behind Perez and Ricciardo early on, the Iceman came alive when Ferrari switched the strategy to a two-stop. Unfortunate with brake failure but did well to preserve seventh from a difficult position with ten laps to go.

Sergio Perez – 8

Perez will not have won himself many French fans as he kept a faster Esteban Ocon behind him in the race-long battle for a podium position with Ricciardo. Perez will have his reasons, while Force India showed their car to be strong once again this season.

Esteban Ocon – 9

Showed a good temperament during the race and kept his head despite losing out to Vettel late on. His tyres were fresher at the end of the Grand Prix as Force India kept him out for a longer first stint, and wanted to have a go at the podium, but Perez refused to let him by.

Nico Hulkenburg – 7

The reliable Nico Hulkenburg scores points again after taking a gamble early on with the virtual safety car switching the strategy that they more than likely had planned. Renault are still not where they want to be and with this in mind it was a solid job all weekend. Almost caught the ailing Raikkonen at the end.

Jolyon Palmer – 6

This is the second successive race that the Brit has finished just outside the points after 11th in Monaco last time out. He’s faced constant speculation about his future after Hulkenberg’s excellent start at Renault. A man under pressure, he will be heartened by the step forward made in Montreal.

Lance Stroll – 8

The Canadian rookie got the monkey off his back as ninth place secured his first world championship points, at his home race. He is the first non-Villeneuve Canadian to score points in F1. After struggling in qualifying, Stroll executed a one-stop strategy well and we may now see the tension that he’s driven with all season loosened for the rest of the year.

Felipe Massa – 5

Massa was pole-axed by a pirouetting Carlos Sainz on lap one after being boxed in at the start. A good qualifying saw the Brazilian take seventh, and with power circuits such as Baku and the Red Bull Ring coming up, Williams can be confident of further points.

Romain Grosjean – 7

Grosjean managed to snatch a point from the jaws of nothing. The Swiss-Frenchman was chopped by Sainz on lap one to spark a safety car as the Spaniard was speared into an unsuspecting Felipe Massa. Picking up the pieces from Alonso’s engine failure on the penultimate lap, Haas’ weekend was rescued.

Kevin Magnussen – 5

A weekend to forget for Magnussen. He tried to be opportunistic at the end of the virtual safety car by pouncing on Stoffel Vandoorne, but timed his jump too early and earning himself a penalty. Failed to get out of the first qualifying session as both Haas’ struggled for pace through the weekend/

Marcus Ericsson – 6

This was always going to be a case of rolling treacle up a hill for Sauber. An underpowered old Ferrari engine was always going to suffer on a circuit where top speed is crucial. Sauber will be stronger on other circuits.

Pascal Wehrlein – 5

Wehrlein did himself few favours when he spun in qualifying, breaking his rear wing and gearbox. The German’s only route to points this weekend was going to be a Safety Car strategy call as in Barcelona, but it didn’t materialise for the ex-Manor man.

Stoffel Vandoorne – 6

Stoffel Vandoorne was another man on a hiding to nothing this weekend, with his Honda engine severely lacking in power. McLaren will hope improved results come on more twisty circuits.

Fernando Alonso – 8

Alonso had tigerishly fought his way up to ninth place until the penultimate lap, when his engine expired in a familiar tale of woe for the former double World Champion. The Spaniard still found time to vent his feelings about his engine during the race at a weekend in which he demanded McLaren show that they could win races by September. That looks well off.

Danil Kyvat – 5

Failed to get away for the formation lap and couldn’t get back into position. As a result received a drive through penalty. The Russian managed to fight his way back up to tenth but damage ended his day. Another chapter in a frustrating season for Kvyat.

Carlos Sainz – 5

His race lasted a matter of half a mile before his squeeze on an unco-operative Grosjean sent him to the wall, via the Williams of Massa. At a circuit where Toro Rosso were expected to struggle, he showed solid pace until Sunday.

Chris Lord & Jack Prentice

Image Credit: Steven Tee via PIRELLI MEDIA

2016: Force India break the glass ceiling

GP EUROPA F1/2016 – BAKU (AZERBAIJAN) 19/06/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

2016 is a year that will be associated with Nico Rosberg’s sole World Championship title after ten years in Formula One.

But his was far from the only underdog success story on the grid, as Force India took fourth in the World Constructors’ Championship courtesy of strong results including two podiums.

The pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez had been a successful one during the previous two seasons, and it was no surprise to see the two regularly upsetting more established teams such as Williams and McLaren.

And yet it was to be a slow start for the Silverstone team as Hulkenberg’s seventh place in Australia was the only points finish either driver had for the first three races, while Perez got off the mark with ninth in Russia ahead of the unveiling of their new car in Europe.

Hulkenberg was to retire in Spain but in the hands of Perez the F1 paddock saw the step forward made by the team as he took seventh at the downforce-heavy Circuit de Catalunya. That preceded the best weekend of their season in Monaco.

After qualifying fifth and eighth respectively, Hulkenberg and Perez were both keen to use the difficult track conditions to their advantage on raceday. With Nico Rosberg struggling from the start, Perez made use of a good strategy and excellent wet-weather pace to take a comfortable third, while Hulkenberg’s persistence paid off in his pursuit of sixth from Rosberg, which he took on the final lap.

It was on to Canada next where eighth and tenth for Hulkenberg and Perez kept the points ticking over, while the team took their second podium in Azerbaijan. Perez was once again there to take advantage of a poor race for Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull to finish third behind Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, with

Hulkenberg ninth after poor luck early on. Perez had qualified second only to be hit with a gearbox penalty.

A poor weekend in Austria was followed by another excellent team performance in the rain at the British Grand Prix, a mere stone’s throw from their base. They took advantage of Williams woe to finish sixth and seventh, while Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa failed to trouble the scorers. The battle was on.

MELBOURNE (AUSTRALIA) – 20/3/16
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Neither team scored heavily in Hungary as Bottas took ninth ahead of Hulkenberg in tenth, and more solid scoring was to follow for Force India in Germany as Hulkenberg came home seventh while his teammate salvaged tenth, again outscoring Williams.

VJ Mallya’s men had another spectacular weekend in Spa, scene of their sole pole position and first podium at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. Perez finished an excellent fourth, just ahead of his teammate. The European season drew to a close with another five points at the Italian Grand Prix.

Eighth place for Perez in Singapore started the flyaway rounds well for Force India, and sixth for the Mexican in Malaysia enhanced his bid for seventh place, while Hulkenberg backed him up well in eighth.

The Japanese Grand Prix is famous for Hulkenberg’s cheeky “see you later” message to Bottas after overtaking him at the final chicane at Suzuka, and it really was a case of waving goodbye to Williams. Perez and Hulkenberg in seventh and eighth finished ahead of both Bottas and Massa as the battle for fourth began to swing decisively in their favour.

Hulkenberg retired after an early collision with Bottas in America, while Massa was on for fifth place until Alonso’s aggressive move gave him a puncture. He finished seventh, just ahead of Perez in eighth. Fourth was there for the taking for Force India.

Another solid weekend at Perez’ home Grand Prix in Mexico saw Hulkenberg take seventh and Perez tenth, before Perez almost mounted the podium once again at a soaking Brazilian Grand Prix as Hulkenberg again claimed seventh.

Bottas’ retirement in Abu Dhabi when Williams would have needed a huge points advantage over Force India meant that the battle for fourth place was won. Still, seventh and eighth for Perez and Hulkenberg brought about the end of 2016 in a fitting way, the team consistently scoring well.

2016 was unquestionably the strongest season in Force India’s history, with a previous best result of fifth in the Constructors’ in 2015. This was the most successful season for the Silverstone factory since Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s 1999 title challenge.

Perez took seventh in World Drivers’ Championship with 101 points and was well backed up by Hulkenberg, who was ninth with 72.

The Mexican’s scoring streak lasted 11 races through to the end of the season and only came to an end at the recent Monaco Grand Prix, and with the budget of the

bigger teams, Force India will be hard pressed to beat 2016.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

Images courtesy of Pirelli

From the Jordan wonder years to the Force India renaissance

 

Photo courtesy of Rick Dikema

The factory at Silverstone that Force India call home has been under many guises and names since privateer Eddie Jordan entered Formula One back in 1991. What was then an operation to blood younger drivers such as Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello has undergone no fewer than three identity changes since the Midland Group bought Jordan back in 2005. Since then, Midland, Spyker and finally Force India have been perennial underdogs in the Formula One paddock.

Their first season yielded thirteen points through the efforts of no less than five drivers in an era where only the top six finishers scored points. Alongside Andrea De Cesaris’ nine points, Roberto Moreno, Michael Schumacher and Alessandro Zanardi stood in for the jailed Belgian Bertrand Gachot. 1992 was less successful with the only point scored by Stefano Modena, while 1993 was little better amid another high turnover of drivers including Irvine, Barrichello, Thierry Boutsen, Ivan Capelli, Marco Apicella and Emmanuele Naspetti. If those two years were troublesome, 1994 marked a rise to the midfield that would last until 2003. De Cesaris, Barrichello and Irvine would score between them 28 points and see the team fifth, with a further 21 scored in 1995. Irvine would leave for Ferrari in 1996 and be replaced by a much calmer Brit in Martin Brundle. Both he and Barrichello almost graced the podium as Jordan took three fourth place finishes in a more consistent year.

Photo courtesy of Crisp And Clean/ Stuart Seeger

1997 would see the team visit the podium more often with Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella, before a memorable 1998 in which Damon Hill took his last and Jordan’s first victory in a chaotic Belgian Grand Prix, with Ralf second as part of a 1-2 finish. 1999 was their most successful year as Heinz-Harald Frentzen sustained the unlikeliest of title challenges with two wins. The German remained in contention until the penultimate round of a championship won by Mika Hakkinen, before 17 points and sixth saw them fall back to earth with a bump in 2000. That marked the start of a decline in fortunes as 2001 saw little improvement to fifth despite often being on the pace, while 2002 yielded just nine points from rookie Takuma Sato and the returning Fisichella. For 2003 Jordan could only finish ninth ahead of Minardi despite a famous win for Fisichella at the Brazilian Grand Prix. The following season, despite regularly fighting with Minardi to avoid the wooden spoon, Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock notched five points as Jordan sold the team at the end of the year.

2005 was the final season under the Jordan name, and all points bar the one that rookie Tiago Monteiro scored for eighth at the Belgian Grand Prix were taken from the farcical US Grand Prix, where 3rd and 4th for Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan were enough to see them ahead of Minardi once again in a race where only six cars took to the start. 2006 saw a season-long rebrand as Midland F1, but the change in name failed to bring about a change in fortunes. Monteiro and Christijan Albers rarely looked like troubling the scorers as the team finished tenth – just ahead of Super Aguri. Dutch sportscar maker Spyker bought the team during 2006 and blooded Albers alongside German rookie Adrian Sutil for 2007. Albers was fired after the British Grand Prix while Markus Winkelhock led in his first ever race at the German Grand Prix, before fading and retiring. Sutil scored the team’s only point with eighth at in Japan.

Photo courtesy of V.Charpiat

Another season saw another owner with ambitious Indian businessman VJ Mallya, but 2008 was a struggle with Giancarlo Fisichella taking the team’s only top 10 finish in Spain. The following year the team moved up to ninth in Constructors’ championship after a memorable weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix saw Fisichella finish second to Kimi Raikkonen after pole position the day before.

2010 marked the start of a more consistent era for the team. Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi were regulars in the points and Sutil claimed 11th in the final standings with a best result of fifth in Malaysia. Scotsman Paul Di Resta replaced Liuzzi in 2011 for another consistent season for the team. Sutil moved up to ninth while Di Resta’s rookie season saw him 13th and in the points eight times, with solid rather than spectacular results ensuring the team finished seventh.In 2012 the team challenged for podium positions on a regular basis in one of the most open seasons in recent memory. Nico Hulkenberg replaced Sutil, dropped after an assault charge, and outpointed his British teammate on his way to 11th. Meanwhile, Di Resta was 14th despite both men finishing fourth in Belgium and Singapore respectively.

(L to R): Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1, Michiel Mol (NED), Vijay Mallya (IND), Jan Mol (NED), Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 and Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1.
Force India F1 Team Launch, Mumbai, India, Thursday 7 February 2008. Courtesy of Force India F1 Team

Hulkenberg joined Sauber in 2013, Sutil returning after serving his punishment for assault. He was considerably outperformed by Di Resta as the duo finished 12th and 13th following a more frustrating season for the team. Both drivers were dropped at the end of the season in favour of Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. 2014 marked an upturn in fortunes for the team as a more engine reliant formula played into their hands. Hulkenberg’s consistency meant that he only finished outside of the points four times, while Perez took a podium in the famous Bahrain Grand Prix with third place. The team remained sixth, but the improvements were obvious.

The upward curve continued in 2015 and the team retained the previous year’s pairing. Perez took another podium with third in Russia, and Hulkenberg was also consistent despite a rocky start to the season. Force India moved up to fifth in the final standings. 2016 was the team’s best ever season – and the best season from the Silverstone factory since 1999. Podiums still eluded Hulkenberg as he had to settle for fourth in Belgium once again, although the German still enjoyed another solid season before moving to Renault for 2017. Perez twice visited the podium in Azerbaijan and Monaco on his way to seventh in the Drivers’ standings. Force India beat Williams to fourth – only behind the big three of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari in the final reckoning.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10 on the grid.
Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday 14th May 2017. Barcelona, Spain. Courtesy of Force India F1 Team

In its various identities, the team now known as Force India have provided many a feel good story. From the title challenge of 1999 with Heinz-Harald Frentzen to mixing with the big boys on a small budget during this current decade. With Perez and Esteban Ocon, Force India have again looked good in 2017 – scoring with both cars in each of the first five races. You wouldn’t bet against them punching above their weight once more.

Jack Prentice

2009 Belgian GP – The big surprise

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 VJM02 crosses the line to finish 2nd.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 30 August 2009. Photo courtesy of Force India F1 Team

The 2009 Belgian Grand Prix was one of those rare races in Formula One where the form book was ripped up and everything was just a little off-beat. Force India had failed to score a point under the current name, and few expected them to change that when the F1 circus rolled into the Ardennes Forest. Spa though had often been the scene against the odds results. Just ask Eddie Jordan, whose Jordan team ran from the very same factory as Force India’s, about 1998.

Championship leader Jenson Button had hit some poor form after sheer dominance from Brawn early in the season and qualified 14th for the race, while his teammate Barrichello was a stronger fourth. The resurgent Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were a disappointing eighth and ninth, as Toyota and BMW found form. Not as much, however, as Giancarlo Fisichella and Force India. The popular Italian had driven to 12th in the previous European Grand Prix, so the strong pace shown throughout qualifying to eventually take pole was remarkable to say the least, although Adrian Sutil only managed 11th.

Fisichella led at the start of the race although the KERS powered Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari was now behind him, having started from sixth. A Safety Car after a first lap incident involving Romain Grosjean, Jaime Alguersuari, Lewis Hamilton and Button lasted five laps, but Giancarlo was under threat.

On the restart, Raikkonen used his extra boost to glide past Fisichella into the Les Combes chicane, but he far from drove away. Fisichella was able to stick with him, and as they pitted for fuel and tyres on the same lap Raikkonen was just able to stay ahead. Alas, it would be the KERS that Raikkonen used to pass Giancarlo that would ultimately deny the former Renault man the chance to re-pass. Fisichella was clearly the quicker driver and remained under a second behind the Iceman, but Force India were to be denied their first ever win. They did pick up their first ever points, testament to the achievement that second place was for the team.

Fisichella would go on to join Ferrari for the very next Grand Prix to replace Luca Badoer, the Ferrari test driver standing in for the injured Felipe Massa. Force India would replace him with Vitantonio Liuzzi, while Sutil would set the fastest lap and take fourth place at the next Grand Prix in Italy.

The team have never been as close to winning a Grand Prix, although since 2014 have been more regular visitors to the podium in the new turbo era of Formula One.

Jack Prentice

 

Ferrari have a chance to write the Monte Carlo script

Image Credit: Zak Meuger/LAT/Pirelli Media

How fitting that Formula One heads to Monaco around the time of Cannes Film Festival just mere miles from the principality.

As with Cannes and the film industry, the Monaco Grand Prix is arguably the most glamorous setting for F1’s main characters to produce another masterpiece such as those celebrated in Cannes..

And boy, have Ferrari given us something to get us out of our seats this season.

Where in the previous years of the turbo era Mercedes could walk off into the distance, the Prancing Horse have had something of a revival.

Each of the five races in 2017 have been filled with enough intrigue to get even the judges at Cannes out of their seats, and like all good films, the ending has often been difficult to predict.

Indeed, despite Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton winning the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago, Ferrari can arrive in Monte Carlo in confident mood once more.

Pitting under a Virtual Safety Car brought out by Stoffel Vandoorne aided Hamilton no end, as his Mercedes on faster tyres and having taken six seconds out of Vettel meant a lot of the hunting was done for the Brit.

The Silver Arrows were said to have brought a raft of upgrades compared to the developments made by Ferrari, yet Hamilton qualified just half a tenth quicker after a promising start to the weekend.

With Vettel taking the lead at the start, Hamilton and Bottas weren’t exactly all over the German four-time champion like a cheap suit.

Once he did get ahead, Hamilton did not simply gallop away into the distance and Ferrari still harboured hopes of a win until the final eight laps.

Both Ferrari drivers have stood atop of the podium in Monte Carlo before, with Vettel taking the honours in a crazy 2011 race and Kimi Raikkonen in scintillating form for McLaren back in 2005.

However, you have to go back to 2001 for the last time the Scuderia won in Monaco, courtesy of Michael Schumacher.

This season represents one of their best chances to end that drought, and around the casinos of Monte Carlo, their ability to nurse tyres may prove to be their trump card.

With it confirmed that Ferrari are in the title fight for the long haul, they have another chance to provide their own plot twist this weekend.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

 

Spain proves that Ferrari are here to stay

Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images (Via Pirelli Sport)
ref: Digital Image _ONZ6499

Ferrari have made 2017 interesting.

The first five races have all had intrigue and uncertainty surrounding them, and even if not all have been harum-scarum humdingers they’ve all been much more than watchable.

In 2016, the debate was all about which Mercedes of recently-retired World Drivers’ Champion Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton would win the race.

Now though, and especially with Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari have altered that equation somewhat.

With more luck, Vettel could have had four wins from the opening five races.

As it is, the reinvigorated German has had to settle for two, and three second places in a relentless start to 2017, while Hamilton hasn’t had it all his own way with Valtteri Bottas as teammate.

Mercedes had come to Spain more bullish about their chances of victory after a raft of major upgrades including a new sidepod design and front wing, and indeed that ended up being justified.

Ferrari had also brought upgrades but the consensus is that the Scuderia had made fewer changes than the Silver Arrows.

Many will argue that Mercedes’ victory came only because of a Virtual Safety Car thrown to recover the stricken Stoffel Vandoorne from the outside of the first corner, not as a result of pure pace.

Mercedes worked the strategy well and while Vettel manfully held out, using his elbows on pit exit, it was only going to be a matter of time before Hamilton, on faster tyres, breezed past.

That he didn’t drive away was telling.

Vettel had half a chance until, and not for the first time this season, he found the Williams of Felipe Massa parked in an awkward place at Turn 10 with five laps left.

The race was on a knife-edge until the end, and proved that Ferrari’s early season form was no flash in the pan.

Six points separate Vettel and Hamilton at the top of the standings in the four-time champion’s favour.

With Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen keeping their respective teammates more than honest, 2017 is shaping up to be the closest season in five years.

Let the battle commence.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

 

Melbourne a flash in the pan if Ferrari don’t back up victory

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.
Sunday 26 March 2017.
World Copyright: Sam Bloxham/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _W6I4899 via Pirelli Sport

 

Victory at the Australian Grand Prix for Ferrari set the cat amongst the pigeons for the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend and beyond.

After overtaking Lewis Hamilton’s previously dominant Mercedes he stretched the legs of his Prancing Horse to win by 10 seconds at a canter, with Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.

However, that certainly doesn’t mean they are now the new favourites for the World Championship. Far from it.

Now is not the time to be talking about a title challenge, and after talking themselves up only to flatter to deceive in previous years, Ferrari know it.

Their win in Melbourne merely announced to the world that the tumultuous year of 2016, where nobody looked happy, was well and truly behind them.

The next two races in China and Bahrain will go a long way into showing the watching world just where the field are in comparison to the scarlet Scuderia.

Should Vettel once again find himself stuck behind a Mercedes he will certainly have a better chance of passing it, with China home to Formula One’s longest straight.

Critics were already writing the obituaries of Formula One’s new technical era after a race at Albert Park that saw little overtaking on a circuit where it is difficult to do so.

Since the first race in 2004, Ferrari have four victories at the Shanghai International courtesy of Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. Vettel also has a solitary win in Shanghai.

With Vettel atop the podium in Australia and Raikkonen behind Mercedes debutant Valtteri Bottas in Australia, China will give us further answers to the questions asked after Melbourne.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8