Sahara Force India Week: The Force of India

 

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 30 August 2009. courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

Once upon a time in India, a great country where you can find or loose yourself. Now, there is Force India, an F1 team that since 2008 has always surprised us. And in this special team was a special driver, the gladiator Giancarlo Fisichella.

The Roman driver began his F1 adventure in 1995 as a tester for Minardi and taking part in some races of the 1996 season without scoring points. In 1997, with a decent car, Jordan allowed Giancarlo to score 20 points with some great races, podiums and fastest laps, ending the season in eighth place in the final standing.

After four good seasons in Benetton, from 1998 to 2001, the Italian driver returned to Jordan, where in 2003 claimed his first win of his career in a thrilling race at the circuit of Interlagos. He could celebrate the win only 5 days later, because of an error of timing that gave the victory to Raikkonen. After passing a season at Sauber, Giancarlo began a great period of his career signing for the winning team Renault, where he didn’t have an easy life sharing the box with Fernando Alonso. Anyway he was able to win some good races and score many points both in 2005 and in 2006. But Fernando Alonso was the man in that era, so the Spaniard won both the championships and Fisichella had to be content with minor results in the final standing. In 2007, Renault lost Fernando Alonso to McLaren, and with him a lot of performance, so Fisichella could only score 21 points without wins or podiums.

And finally we arrive to the first season in Force India, 2008, where Giancarlo couldn’t score points because of a lack of reliability with the VJM01, even using a Ferrari engine. But in 2009, after a troubled start to the season without any points, in the Belgian grand prix he grabbed a fantastic pole position and a second place in the race. It was epic! In fact, after Massa’s accident in Hungary, Ferrari, to replace the Brazilian, choose Giancarlo for the remaining races of the season. And there happened the paradox! Maybe Ferrari didn’t suit him well, maybe Ferrari had a deep technical crisis, but Fisichella couldn’t reach good results with Maranello squad.

That’s the life: often it’s not gold what you see shining.

Massimo Trapanese, F1 correspondent

Monaco Grand Prix: two shots of happy, one shot of sad

Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Thursday 25 May 2017.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONZ8912  courtesy of Pirelli Media

What an ordinary Grand Prix in Monaco we saw on Sunday! Ferrari took all the stakes. Everything they could win in the Casino of Monte Carlo, they won. A fantastic Sebastian Vettel, even losing the pole position, was able to overtake the great Kimi Raikkonen, who grabbed the pole but wasn’t able to keep the fury of Seb behind him.

Valtteri Bottas tried too, but this year Ferrari is a title challenger, strong in every race. And without an unlucky Lewis Hamilton, things were surely easier for Italian squad. They have to thank Stoffel Vandoorne, who showed he is still young to feel the pressure of Monaco’s corners, for crashing twice: once in qualifying (and causing the end of the Q2 for Lewis Hamilton trying to improve his time) and once in the race, ending in inglorious fashion McLaren’s Grand Prix. But even if Lewis could have made it into Q3, we really don’t know if he could have battled with Ferrari on Sunday.

Behind Ferrari a superb Daniel Ricciardo grabbed a fantastic third place, despite many saying his performance was going down lately. No way! I’ve always thought Daniel is a great race driver and he hasn’t lost his talent. And it’s always so good to see his endless smile on the podium! And with Carlos Sainz finishing in sixth position, I think these two are the drivers of the day. Carlos showed how good Toro Rosso is in this moment and his own performance is remarkable considering the difficulty of a circuit like Monaco.

In the end, let me spend some words for Jenson Button. I was absolutely surprised looking at his performance in qualifying. He never tried the car before, only some laps in the simulator. And with wider tyres and new regulations he got in the car and learned immediately how to go fast! He is still a champion.

But the sad thing to face was that stupid penalty. After having qualified ninth, Jenson had to start from the pit lane because of new power unit parts. So, a race ruined from the start, in a circuit where is almost impossible to overtake. And after a frustrating part of the race spent behind Pascal Wehrlein, he finally tried to pass but Monte Carlo said no, you can’t. And, as a result, we saw a spectacular and scary accident with no consequences for poor Pascal and a retirement for Jenson too.

So, while Ferrari went to win the race, with two shots of happy, McLaren went to lose again with one shot of sad. Courtesy of Bono Vox…

Massimo Trapanese, F1 correspondent

Who will win in SilverMonaco?

 

Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain.
Sunday 16 April 2017.
World Copyright: Charles Coates/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _27I8921

Welcome to the fourth round of the season, Sochi, Russia. A circuit that I like to call SilverMonaco, because I see a lot of Silverstone in the first part and a lot of Monaco in the final, in this beautiful racetrack we should see another intriguing battle for victory.

Now we know for sure that Ferrari has closed the gap to Mercedes. Now they are side by side. Only in qualifying the Brackley-based squad has a little advantage still. After the brilliant pole position achieved by Bottas in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton will be determined to re-establish his dominance of the team. The driver was really surprised by his team mate’s performance but he was happy to find a competitive Sebastian Vettel too. I think even against himself, every driver, including an arrogant Lewis, prefers to fight against another driver to win the title instead of a lone run towards it.

I think there is a regardable difference between the two drivers of Mercedes and Ferrari. I mean that, while at Mercedes Bottas can be at Lewis’ pace in qualifying, for now, at Ferrari we still see a too slow Kimi Raikkonen. I am sincere, I’ve never thought the Finn was a great driver. He’s good if he has a perfect car but he always struggles to find the right set up, he makes many mistakes while driving, sometimes it seems Kimi loves to stay in the shadows. So what I suggest to Ferrari is to change their second driver next year. Constructor championship is important as well.

I think the future is already here and his name is Max Verstappen. Everybody knows he is the most talented driver now, considering his age. And every top team would love to have him on board. Ferrari should think about him. The Dutch driver impressed a lot (again) in China and he is doing a lot more than his Red Bull can allow this year.

Sochi is a high skill level circuit. The walls are really close to the track in some corners. So no mistakes are needed and the drivers will have to preserve their brakes which are the most stressed part of the car here. Danil Kyvat, the local hero, is called to take a little bit of revenge here after his bad start to the season and thinking about the 2015 Grand Prix when he eliminated Vettel by touching him twice.

We hope for a clean race for the Russian and a lucky one for Sebastian, in order to see a spectacular battle with Mercedes. Williams and Red Bull are expected to be finally closest to the top teams but nothing will change in the midfield, I guess. Mclaren Honda should have a new spec engine in Sochi, so we are all curious, and hopeful, to see where they will be on the grid and on the last lap of the race, also hoping that Fernando Alonso will not think too much about other Honda-powered cars!

Massimo Trapanese

(Image Courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media)

A very deep and big move

picture courtesy of Red Bull Media.

The hot and thrilling Bahrain weekend Grand Prix, Things are beginning to become even more interesting, with the pole position of Valtteri Bottas and the increasing fight for the title between Mercedes and Ferrari, the attention focused towards Mclaren Honda’s performance, still poor, but that unexpected announcement from the team that Fernando Alonso will race in the Indy 500! In fact, according to the team announcement, the Woking based team, helped by team Andretti, will be on the Indianapolis circuit grid with Alonso, who obviously will miss the Monaco Grand Prix, held on the same weekend. To the joy of many enthusiastic fans all over the world, he will be replaced for the Monaco race by the comeback kid Jenson Button. For sure this move is an incredible marketing one. Everybody will gain something from that, Indy car will have a double F1 world champion on the grid, which will no doubt attract many of Alonso’s and F1 fans to the world-famous race, the Monaco race will have a refreshing moment seeing Jenson Button on the grid, the 2009 world champion, who is missed by all the paddock,. Both teams but mostly Mclaren will have a very big audience focused on them. So, yes, it’s all so promising. But there are some questions that come to my mind and maybe to yours too? We start with Fernando: will he test the Indycar before the race weekend? If yes, when and where? It’s clear that Indy car is very different from an F1 car and the kind of race too. Not forgetting all the different rules the Indy car series has. Can Fernando learn so many things in only one month? It will be very interesting to follow how Alonso will arrive at the Indy 500, I am curious. What about Jenson Button? You may think he will have an easier job to do. No way!! F1 has changed a lot since he left. A very different car will await him in Monaco. So I may have the same questions for him. Will he test the car before the Grand Prix? if yes, where and when? Anyway, for Jenson it will be a sort of homecoming. (He lives in Monaco!) He won’t have difficulties learning the circuit or the rules. But I really hope he will find a better car. Unfortunately, Mclaren Honda is still struggling with their chronic problems. Alonso will start from 15th place on the grid, an engine change due to a failure didn’t allow to the Spaniard to take part to the Q2. So, Alonso will compare the in best and the worst of a great motorsport brand: Honda. It will be interesting and maybe it will remind many people how strong Honda is in racing, as they showed for many years in the US series. Fernando will race in the elite, in the delta Honda racing. This makes me very happy: giving Honda the right value it deserves. With F1 the world is receiving the wrong message of what Honda is. Anyway, it seems all the world is waiting for the Mclaren Honda renaissance. Maybe the Indy 500 and Monaco Grand Prix could be a turning point for Mclaren Honda, for Alonso and for Button. Each of them has to demonstrate and gain something, Or more simply, all will remain the same, and the most important races of the year on the two sides of the world will be the only two bright stars in a dark night. We’ll see. For now, we keep all the emotions and vibes waiting for those moments and we wait for the answers we need.

Massimo Trapanese, F1 correspondent

Chinese Grand Prix: Long straights in a long season

Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China.
Friday 07 April 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONZ3441

So Lewis Hamilton wasn’t wrong! Ferrari didn’t bluff in testing days. In fact, in the opening round of 2017 F1 season, Sebastian Vettel and his Italian team won the race, showing the great level they reached, not only in terms of speed and reliability but in team strategy too. Yes, because their victory was helped by a well-timed pit call—and maybe also by Mercedes making the strategy mistake this time..

Anyway, we are now sure that we can have a two-team battle this year. With that, we are heading to Shanghai, China—a circuit where the engine will make the difference on the very long straights, but where aerodynamics too will play a key role in the many different corners.

For all teams China is a very challenging race, with the different demands of the straights and corners making it difficult to find the right setup balance. It’s as if they really need two cars, one developed for the long main straight, the other for the tight turns of sector one.

Mercedes will face the weekend with a big hunger for revenge and I think they have every advantage to overturn the first race result. The best engine, the

best chassis (maybe…) and a very good couple of drivers. Besides Lewis Hamilton, we saw Bottas already a perfect fit within the team, including into the number two role.

The same can be said for Ferrari, but I think it will be harder this time to beat Silver (and Green) Arrows. For this circuit I think we will see the little gap they still have…but it’s very, very little, believe me.

And what about behind them? Pay attention to the Mercedes-powered teams, Williams and Force India. With the right set up I really think they can reach interesting positions, battling for fourth place.

But all could still be strongly mixed up by the weather. Rain is expected for Friday, but not for Saturday so we should have an unsurprising qualifying. But the rain will return on race day, so we could see all the car(d)s mixed on the table and the drivers could really make the difference. So, how much will we miss Jenson Button in our first wet race of the season? It really will be a different F1 without him.

But my greatest fear is another one, and its name is: McLaren-Honda. I really hope for them, and for their glorious name, that they found some more speed for that long China straight—otherwise their Chinese Grand Prix, and the rest of their season, will seem even longer…

 

Massimo Trapanese, F1 correspondent

Ayrton Senna and the Unfinished Bussiness with Williams

2011 Monaco Grand Prix – Saturday
Monte Carlo, Monaco
28th May 2011
Pastor Maldonado, Williams FW33 Cosworth.
World Copyright:Steven Tee/LAT Photographic
ref: Digital Image _A8C6407

What do you think when you say Williams F1? It’s hard to say because there has been a long journey since the famous team was born in 1977.  Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve: this illustrious list of big names who won the title driving a Williams.

An incredible and dominating era shared with McLaren and Ferrari, that goes from the early eighties to the end of the millennium. But when I think of Williams I see a yellow lid in front of me, I hear a Brazilian accent  shouting above the screaming engine,  I feel a green flag flying in my beating heart, the legend of Ayrton Senna that tells an unfinished story from the FW16, this car was, unfortunately, the last car he would ever drive, the car he wanted so much to win the title in but betrayed him by not even finishing one race. The Williams team certainly has been through many different situations in its time: Wins, World championships, domination, good times and bad but they have always come through the tough times to fight another day.

Many other great drivers have passed through the British team during its forty years, Jenson Button started his career here in 2000, showing all his great talent.

So we can say, for sure, that Frank Williams has always been able to discover new and talented drivers. Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Rosberg to name but a few. Some of the biggest names in Formula One history have, at one point, driven for the Williams team. This year marks 20 years since they won their last world championship with Jacques Villeneuve at the helm. The competition has seen many new teams joining over the years, Ferrari, Renault, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, some of these teams doing a better job, sadly Williams has lived for many years in a kind of limbo and it seems they can’t get out of the rut they are stuck in.

So now, when I think of Williams most of my thoughts refer to the former glory of this legendary, once dominating team, Times have changed, they have never given up.  I fondly think of Sir Frank always there no matter was is thrown at him and the team he holds so dearly to his heart. Who knows maybe one day, with the right engine, we will see Willliams return to their winning ways.

Massimo Trapanese