British Grand Prix: The Aftermath: Pirelli, Mercedes and Red Bull Reliability

We witnessed a remarkable race today, one that shed light on three talking points that could dominate the rest of the season.

After much doubt early on in the season about the legitimacy of Mercedes’ pace, the British Grand Prix cemented the Brackley-based outfit’s position in the title hunt. A one-off win in Monaco was a good and well for the team’s morale, but after the tire test debacle and the tribunal’s ramifications, further questions were being raised about Mercedes’ potential this season.

The mere fact that Mercedes remained competitive in Canada proved two things: one, that Mercedes did gain an advantage from their test in Barcelona, and two, that a glimmer of hope was emerging on the horizon. While a bit more traditional than Monaco, the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is still not Silverstone, or Barcelona for that matter. Mercedes’ decent result in Canada offered up some validation of the team’s hard work to end their tire woes.

Mercedes went into the British Grand Prix still apprehensive about their prospects in the race. The Red Bulls were the fastest car over long distances and, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber right behind the two silver arrows on the grid, hopes were wearing thinner and thinner. Both cars prevailed, however, and Nico Rosberg’s impressive win and Lewis Hamilton’s monumental fight from the back of the field both prove that Mercedes have indeed solved their issues. No longer will the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus be able to automatically give themselves two extra places at the end of a race. They will have to earn them. Now, we’ll just have to see if missing out on the Young Drivers’ Test will balance out the advantage they gained in Barcelona.

Red Bull’s reliability reared its ugly head for the first time this season. After capitalizing on Hamilton’s unfortunate tire failure, it looked like the British Grand Prix would be another Vettel win. He controlled his gap to Nico Rosberg with expert precision, and managed his tires beautifully when he knew that at any moment, he could be the tires’ next victim. For all of that work to amount to nothing with just 10 laps to go can be nothing short of heartbreaking for him and his Red Bull team.

This is not the first time we have seen the Red Bull’s reliability plague them in the early part of the summer. This time last season, Sebastian Vettel retired from the lead of the European Grand Prix with an alternator failure. That was the start of a summer full of reliability issues. Sebastian would later retire from the Italian Grand Prix with the same exact issue, while his teammate Mark Webber would retire from the U.S. Grand Prix with alternator troubles.

Could this be the start of another string of issues for the World Champions? Perhaps. Red Bull assured us last season that Vettel’s Valenica hiccup would be a one-off, but it reappeared two more times before season’s close. Red Bull now have to take extra precautions to ensure that Vettel’s gearboxes (the failure in the British Grand Prix) in the future do not suffer similar failures. Fernando’s prediction in Canada that Vettel would have his own run of bad luck proved true today, and it has opened a door for the rest of the field to exploit.

Finally, I want to end with Pirelli. Today can only be considered the worst day in the company’s time as F1 tire supplier. Sergio Perez’s tire failure in Free Practice Two was down to debris on the track. All fine and dandy right there. In the race, however, Lewis Hamilton’s tire failed in dramatic fashion on a straight section of track, out of the danger of any debris. It was completely out of the blue, and can only put pressure on an already stressed-out company.

Add to that the failures of Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne, Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez, and you have a very worrying trend.

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If these failures are all put down to debris on track, then the problem should not return, lest debris be a large factor in next weekend’s German Grand Prix. If the failures are put down to a construction flaw of the tires themselves, then I would not be surprised if this was Pirelli’s last season in the sport. It may be a long shot to hire a new manufacturer for 2014 so late in the current season, but if safety is so blatantly compromised by a construction flaw down to the manufacturer, then there can, realistically, be no other option but to make a serious change.

We can, however, take solace in the fact that another reason for the tire scares today can be put down to the teams. Speaking in yesterday’s NBC coverage of the Grand Prix, Will Buxton explained that the tire failures can be traced to all of the teams’ lack of unanimity in regards to changes to the tires. Remember, Pirelli desperately wanted to bring back the Kevlar-lined tires from last season to limit the number of delaminations that came to the fore in Bahrain this season. But the teams were unable to make a decision regarding this paramount situation, so can only take a lot of the blame for what happened. Again, if the tire failures today were only down to unfortunate coincidences regarding on-track debris, then what I just explained is of no interest. If we learn that there is a fundamental flaw in the tires, however, then all the teams along with Pirelli need to reconvene and work out these serious issues.

The sport is doing nothing to make Pirelli’s life easier, yet Pirelli are the first ones to take the blame. That is not a feasible working relationship, and it needs to be sorted out for the sake of Formula One.

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Journalism Musings with Peter Windsor

Is journalism a lost art? It’s hard to deny that the immediacy with which we are able to get information these days has affected the quality of journalism. What were once insightful and well-planned articles have been reduced to glibly written soundbites of sometimes questionable credibility. That is not to say that there are no longer any quality writers out there looking to write similarly quality articles. That is not the case at all. The ever-increasing presence of those who value speed over accuracy has tainted the reputation of a once highly regarded profession. But not all hope is lost. I strive to write with as much accuracy as I can guarantee while (hopefully) managing to maintain your interest. That is the very thin line that journalists must traverse. Interest versus accuracy. Some value one over the other. I value both equally.

But this blog is not about me. What it is about, is journalism. At least for today.

I had the privilege to speak to Peter Windsor this past week, and I got an in-depth look at his life as a budding journalist, the obstacles he overcame, and the ones he has yet to conquer.

I posed a similar question to the one which started this very article. Is journalism a lost art?

“I think you raise a very good point, and I have a lot of discussions with my friends about this” says Peter of the state of journalism. “I think one of the big issues today is the fact that the internet and the ease of cutting and pasting has transformed the industry of journalism, if you will”. Pleased that I thought along the same lines as Peter on this subject, I was eager to hear what he had to say next. The “ease of the internet” is a recurring theme in this opening topic of discussion. Are people lazy? Probably. Are all people lazy? Not at all. Peter raises a fantastic point about the ease with which people are able to sound like they know a lot about a subject.  A simple series of taps on a keyboard can give you a wealth of power. This is a dangerous tool when you consider the influence journalists have on the public conscience.

“We see traditional print magazines closing down”, explains Peter, “because people aren’t buying them anymore”. This is where our opinions differ. I am no expert in the industry of journalism, so what I am about to say may irk those that are, but it seems bringing a magazine or newspaper from print to digital is a relatively simple thing to do. Newsweek and The New York Times have done a fantastic job of bringing their depth of journalism to the internet. Even in the world of motorsports, Autosport is arguably the leader in online motorsports news and analysis. I buy their digital copies each and every week, and judging by the excitement on Twitter on most Thursdays, it seems my fellow Formula One fans do as well.

So, is it a question of what people are replacing traditional journalism with? Certainly it is much easier to read a tweet than a 3000 word feature when both cover the same subject, and you’ll find that the vast majority will opt for the former. And that is a shame. We run the risk, these days, of rendering the work of our admired journalists obsolete because of our lazy tendencies.

What we need is quality. There are many traditional print magazines that are still selling vast numbers of copies despite the mountain of circumstances conspiring against them. Autosport is one example. Whether you read the digital or print version of the weekly magazine, it is the quality of the reporting that makes you dedicate your time to reading it. That is what will keep real journalism alive. “I think there are still some very very good writers out there”, says Peter of today’s journalism quality. “Some of them are young, some of them are not so young, and there always will be [journalists out there]. It’s like race drivers: there will always be good drivers out there, regardless of the standard of the time.”

One thing I am wary of, though, and perhaps so is Peter, is that aspiring journalists like myself will forever be hindered by our natural inclination for the quick and immediate devouring of information. I will not deny my prolific use of social media to distribute soundbites of information to my followers. I, for one, embrace this tool, and believe wholeheartedly that despite the bad reputation is receives from certain users, social media, specifically Twitter, is the future of information transfer on both the small and large scales.

There is a thin line we all must tread these days, I mentioned it before, and it all has to do with how interested your readers are versus how accurately they are informed. This has been the only way to produce quality journalism ever since the first person began writing for the world’s first newspaper, wherever it may have originated; and this is how we must act today, though, perhaps with more care.

My fellow millenials, we must be wary. Whether you admit to it or not, we all have a certain relationship with technology and the immediacy it brings to our lives that is unique to our generational demographic. But this immediacy is not just in the personal information we give and receive through it, say to friends and family, but in the way we use it to report global happenings to people we have never met. We must be wary, therefore, that our desire to be the first to talk about something does not override the necessity of that something’s accuracy. We live is a world where information seekers develop a sort of hipster-esque attitude to news. “Oh you know about what happened last Thursday? Yeah, I knew way before other people knew about it. I can’t believe people still talk about it. It is so last Thursday.”

Call me old-fashioned, but it seems we get bored with information too quickly and easily. We discard fascinating developments because they failed to develop quickly enough for us.

“I grew up in a time when there was no Formula One on television in Australia”, explains Peter,” and it was impossible to buy any of the weekly publications from England. So, I had to wait a couple of months while they made their way out to Australia by ship.” Stark contrast to today, indeed. We are constantly inundated with sometimes annoyingly similar information that can, unfortunately, get quite old. There are many out there today who admirably aspire to be a journalist in Formula One, yet rely on already published news to get their information, which they then proceed to regurgitate for their own purposes, whether it be for their own blog or other information outlet. This is something that frustrates me to no end, yet is an unavoidable constant in my own life. I don’t want to criticize anyone, but if you go to Autosport to get your information (nothing wrong with that) but then regurgitate that information on a blog, where do you think potential readers will go? Your blog, or the most respected motorsports website in the western hemisphere (probably)? I am not telling anyone to stop doing it, but it’s something to think about.

One’s “field of perception”, as Peter aptly describes it, is the scope in which you understand a subject. The depth to which you go to know not just what happened, but why, and how it happened. Context is at the crux of all journalism, and it is why Peter focuses solely on what he thinks of a subject, rather than common public perception. It is a beautiful way of going about your job, admirable in fact. We live in a world now where others’ perceptions are the code we live by. Not focussing on what others have to say is nigh on impossible when their opinions are tweeted, retweeted, linked, posted and uploaded multiple times per day, and success in the face of all that technological adversity is something to be admired.

We are at a time in the whole context of existence where average people are not given the intellectual credit that most of them deserve, due to the nature of the way we can now distribute information. 140 character tweets do not a genius make. But they don’t define people. I asked Peter about this very issue and he explained to me the constraints journalists are under these days. “Editors, film directors, producers, people who are above the layer of journalism think that they have their finger on the pulse of what the public wants”, says Windsor. “They believe that the general public today has a very short attention span and responds only to very large type face, headlines, big pictures and small amounts of words”. I can say, as one of the very people those editors seem intent on targeting, that some of that is true. Real journalism, journalism in the sense of what Peter and I consider it, stands out in our society of tweets and blogs like the sore thumbs of those very journalists.

Ironically, technology has made journalism, if anything, easier. If you want to be a newshound and get the latest story, Twitter, Facebook and other social media ensure that is made possible. You can be the first to break a story if that is what you want to do. If you want to focus on analyzing said news and delve into their implications, you can also do that. Technology has in many ways opened the doors for journalism, rather than unceremoniously slam them shut as many would have you believe.

But what attracted Peter to journalism? “I had a very good English teacher”, says Peter on his start in writing, “and I have always been good at, I don’t know why, but I’ve always been good at writing quickly under pressure.” These are perhaps the most important aspects of being a journalist. Grammar is also at the crux of good journalism, while punctuality is essential to a publication getting its latest issue on sale. Certainly, in the time of his youth, the whole face of journalism was different in many ways to what it is now. Even physically, they way you went about writing was different. As a young journalist, Peter would often be in line to use a typewriter to write a race report. A couple thousand word race report would have to be thought of, written out, and checked for mistakes in extremely small amounts of time. Budding journalists today are lucky to have SpellCheck.

It wasn’t all stress, though. From his childhood, Peter wanted to be in some way involved in motorsports. He seemed to be in the minority, though, as while his schoolmates talked endlessly about football, tennis or cricket, it was a young Peter Windsor who always wanted to talk about racing. There was a sense of anticlimax on the Monday after a Grand Prix. He couldn’t delve into the minute details of the race with any of his peers because they didn’t care. This is why Peter was so intent upon getting into the industry. He would be able to combine both of his passions into a lifelong profession.

And that is what he did.

I interviewed Peter because I wanted to know more about him. His life is fascinating, and the role he has played in Formula One is one that should not go overlooked. I wanted to know more about Peter, as well, in terms of his role with journalism. I want to be a journalist, and hope someday to write for an esteemed publication and live out all the idealogical fantasies that come with being a journalist. I want to hunt down a story, break it before anyone else. I want to provide people with insight that they may otherwise have gone without, and I want to do something for the rest of my life that I know I enjoy.

Journalism is an historic profession. Yet, it seems that its reputation has been tainted somewhat by the advent of technology and the ease with which you can distribute information with it. It makes the job less noble, in a sense. What once was a week-long investigation into a story has become a retweet. What once was a tiresome three thousand word race report has become, in some cases, a simple copy and paste. But, for all the cynicism about the direction that Journalism is taking, there is one thing we must keep in perspective: our desire to do it. We have to remember that we are the ones who actually want to be journalists. Peter knew when he was a kid, and he made something of that assurance. I, and many other aspiring journalists, am not writing everyday for the money. I write because I want to.

That is what makes good journalism.

Who will be the next Murray Walker?

Commentators have a lot of responsibility. They must have, and also strive to develop, intimate relationships with both the sport and the audience with which they share their knowledge. That is a lot to ask considering this transfer of information is all done live and in real time.

The news of Murray Walker’s cancer diagnosis is truly heartbreaking. While I am in the relative infancy of my Formula One obsession, it is impossible to not know all about how much of an impact that vehement commentator had, and still has, on the sport. Murray deserves a lot of credit for his work, as all of you will know. I am no commentator, but I praise highly anyone who can manage to string together coherent sentences about Formula in real time. The infinite details that comprise a Formula One race result are far in excess of what anyone can cover in the time allotted, so to be able to convey to an F1 novice what the heck is going on is no small feat.

What Murray Walker championed, though, was emotion. Pure, unbridled emotion. Murray was a master at commentating calmly and factually under all conditions, yet able to exude his own passion for the sport in a way that made the viewer only more at one with what he or she was watching. It was, dare I say, an art form. Rhetoric is considered an art, so one could argue that the way Murray was able to not influence you, per se, but create a heightened sense of thrill and excitement that was able to alter your sense of the action was, in fact, art.

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Murray’s diagnosis sent shockwaves through the F1 social bubble, and goes to show the high esteem in which we hold our heroes. I do not know the full extent of the severity of Murray’s cancer, though no diagnosis of this caliber can be overlooked, but I struggle to not think about who will take up the gauntlet for the future of Formula One commentary. Such a task comes with a lot of expectation, as the legends of the past will remain with us forever. When Murray is eventually no longer with us, he will continue to be the benchmark for outstanding commentary.

Who is capable of emulating Murray? Some will say no one whatsoever, and rightly so. There is the potential that we will never return to the golden era of Murray Walker commentary. But I don’t think that will happen. It is rather depressing on my part that I am already thinking of a world without Murray, but I believe that excellence in commentary is almost, if not just as, important as any technical or sporting regulation. Like I said before, the relationship between a commentator and their audience must be extremely close. The viewers have to, first, believe what you are saying, and they must also share the enthusiasm that you convey with every word you utter.

I’ll just come right out and say it: Will Buxton is possibly the best commentator of our day, and the fact that he is stuck in the pit lane for the entirety of the race is a crime. I’m sure he thoroughly enjoys the work he does in the pit lane, and relishes the opportunities he gets to break stories during the race before anyone else, but the enthusiasm he brings to NBC’s coverage of Formula One is breathtaking. I don’t want to criticize the rest of the crew at NBC at all, as I think the job they do is commendable. They have to cater to an audience that is not yet on the F1 bandwagon while also please the niche audience that is fanatical about the sport. The line which the commentators must walk is so thin and precariously perched above an abyss of failure, I don’t blame the sometimes frustrating commentary, no matter how I express it in the moment. That being said, Mr. Buxton is so brilliant at explaining every nuance of a race, that I can’t even detect any simplification he may attempt. That is a hard-to-come-by gift that every commentator should strive to perfect.

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It is Will’s enthusiasm, though, that makes him so brilliant. Like Murray, Will is able to captivate the audience with his love of the sport. This makes the fact that he is not a lead anchor of NBC’s F1 coverage all the more unfortunate. I think that role will come in just a matter of time, and necessarily so, for the race coverage is in need of his ever-present avidity for the sport.

Perhaps no one will ever be able to replace Murray Walker. He had an indefinable quality about him that is impossible to replicate. Everyone does, though, and perhaps it is time for the next personality to flourish.

 

Kimi and the Enstone Gang are Searching for Answers

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It was a trend we anticipated for much of last season. With their relatively small budget compared to the top three teams, Lotus seemed destined to fall off the pace at some point last season. This didn’t really happen, though you could maybe consider the races between Italy and India below par, as Kimi was not on the podium. It wasn’t until the Finn’s famous win in Abu Dhabi that we realized Lotus was here to stay, and here to win.

2013 started off much in the same manner; a win in Australia followed by 3 straight podiums between China and Spain, including a double podium in Bahrain. It seemed like 2013 could, and possibly would, be Lotus’s year.

A wall, though, has been met in recent races. While Lotus’s more consistent tire usage was used to its advantage in Australia and China, one could argue that it was used as a means of survival in Spain. While Fernando Alonso stormed to victory with a 4-stop strategy in Spain, Kimi Raikkonen had to make his way to a podium with 3-stops. While that should be applauded in this day and age, where tire conservation is paramount, it does hint at the fact that perhaps the Lotus is not quite as fast as it needs to be. Ferrari could have done 3-stops in Spain. It would have been perfectly feasible. But they knew that their car was easily fast enough to make up the deficit of a 4th stop. So they went for it. They went for a surprisingly controversial 4-stop strategy to dominate the race, while Kimi Raikkonen was left to try and compete on an alternate strategy.

Let me explain the differences between the alternate strategies of Lotus in Spain and Australia. To begin, we must remember that the Australian Grand Prix, along with practice and qualifying, was far from straightforward. The presence of rain immediately makes conventional strategy unconventional, and unconventional strategy more feasible due to the various uncertainties surrounding the performance of the cars, tires and track. This means that Kimi’s two stop in Australia, while unconventional in theory, was more “in the box” thinking. Add to that a clear performance advantage, in race conditions at least, for the Lotus (backed up my Kimi’s fastest lap with 2 laps to go in the race) and you have a shining recipe for a win.

In Spain, the weekend, all through practice and qualifying, was completely conventional. At this point in the season, Lotus was not the fastest team over one lap, and their superiority in race conditions was being questioned, no doubt because of Sebastian Vettel’s crushing performance in Bahrain just three weeks prior. When it was decided that either three or four stops would be the norm for the Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari took a leap of faith and chose to race flat out the entire way, while relying on a four-stop strategy. The confidence with which Ferrari approached this race, however masked, was phenomenal. Fernando Alonso in particular left the field scratching their heads at his dominance. Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, used whatever advantage could be had with the Lotus’s easy tire wear to make a three-stop strategy to work. He limited the damage by coming home a distant second, but Lotus was now faced with the possibility that their car was falling behind. 

Monaco proved inconclusive in terms of how much progress they made with their car, as passing is nigh on impossible and as Kimi was taken out in the race by Sergio Perez (though I personally place some of the blame on the Finn for taking an unconventional line into the corner and not giving Sergio as much room as was available).

Once in Canada, the harsh realties really came to the fore. Both Kimi and Romain were nowhere in the race, getting lapped by more than just the leader. Kimi’s two points in the end can be taken as a slight victory given the circumstances. Where the pace went in the race, no one really knows. The track that delivered a fantastic podium for last season left the team with a bad taste in their mouth.

Their championship ambitions rest on the possibility of a good performance at Silverstone. One could argue that the Lotus was the best car there last season, with a win out of their reach because of the dreadful qualifying conditions. Whatever the race was last season, it is what happens in two weeks’ time that could prove vital to the team’s championship hopes.

Talking to….Stoffel Vandoorne

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He has been in the spotlight more than any other driver in his series, mostly for reasons out of his control. The mere fact that he has taken the same path as the highly regarded Robin Frijns has made Stoffel a target for high expectations.

He is well-placed for success, though. As the reigning Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Stoffel is one of the favorites for the 3.5 title. Add to that the backing of Fortec Motorsoprts, and you have a winning recipe. Stoffel will now hope that he doesn’t encounter any troubles this season as he hunts down Kevin Magnussen for the championship.

1. You came into this season with a lot of outside pressure; you were seen as the next Robin Frijns. How has this affected the way you approach the season?

It didn’t really affect my approach. I tried not to think about it. I knew I have a similar driving style to Robin, and with the same car we can almost do equal things. This was making me feel confident.

2. How is the relationship with your teammate, Oliver Webb? Do you get along? Do you help each other out at races in terms of setup directions?

We have a good relationship. We get along well and we help each other during the weekend. This is the best way for both to improve instead of hiding everything.

3. What made the Formula Renault path more attractive to the GP3/GP2 path?

Well, it was my only choice to make the Formula Renault path. I don’t have the money to put into GP3, F3 or GP2 so the best solution for me was winning the FR2.0 Eurocup and getting the prize money to make the step into FR3.5. I think it is now one of the best series on the road to F1, and F1 teams tend to place their junior drivers in the Formula Renault series.

4. Your championship campaign got off to a great start when you won the first race of the season. You’ve had some trouble recently, though. How do you keep yourself motivated when things don’t go according to plan?

The speed has always been good, and when things didn’t work out for us, I knew it was bad luck or either mistakes we made. This kept me motivated to carry on, as I we didn’t lack pace and I knew we could battle for victories.

5. What was it like to win in front of your home crowd in Belgium? What emotions went through your mind?

It was amazing! I won my home race in 2010 when I drove in the F4 Eurocup 1.6 championship, but winning in Formula Renault 3.5 is even greater. It was just so cool to have so much support from all the people and fans around. Everybody was just cheering for me and they were all really happy about the result. This just gives you so much motivation to carry on, and fight for victories!

6. How did you get into racing? What got you interested?

My dad designed the restaurant of an indoor karting track when I was 6 years old. I sometimes went with him, and the boss of the karting always let me drive. The boss then also bought me a little go-kart and from then on I never stopped driving.

7. As you’ve been compared to him a lot, do you think you may end up struggling to find a race seat after Formula Renault 3.5 like Robin has? There is a lot of competition out there?

It’s not easy for sure. Everything has to be perfect and you also have to be lucky to get into F1. Having the right people around you makes it a bit easier, but I’m not losing hope.

8. Is the goal after this season to get a third driver role at a F1 team, or do you think a race seat is possible?

At the moment I’m not thinking about next year too much. It’s still too early in the season and first I want to concentrate on Formulaa Renault 3.5 and make the best out of this.

9. Who do you think will be your toughest opponents over the course of this season?

I think definatly Kevin Magnussen. He has shown great pace, and also his consistency is great this season. This is also why he is now leading the championship. It’s still a long way to go and I’m sure if we do well we can catch him by the end of the year. Ultimatly, you only have to be leading the championship after the last round 🙂

10. Finally, what has been your favorite race of your career so far and why?

Well, last weeks one in Spa was one I will always remember for sure. It’s something special winning at home. Another one I liked was Paul-Ricard 2012. I spun from the lead in the opening lap and fell down to P19. The track conditions were really tricky, as everyone was on slicks and it started to rain. I managed to finish the race in P2 again which felt like a victory as well.

Best of luck to Stoffel for the rest of the championship! The Formula Renault 3.5 season promises to be epic!

Kimi Raikkonen and the Battle for the Last Red Bull

There are four drivers with a chance of the second seat alongside Sebastian Vettel. Strangely, the most unlikely of the four seems to be the favorite. Kimi Raikkonen, for his monosyllabic nature, is making a lot of noise in what has been a rather early start to the silly season. With the sport’s largest regulations overhaul looming, it is important to get race seats confirmed early, so there isn’t any last minute scrambling.

I have said it before (in what has been this blog’s most read article which you can read here), and I stand by it, but I do not believe Kimi is a good fit for partnership alongside Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull epitomizes all that we know Kimi does not like, most importantly: Media responsibilities and politics. The former has been a hatred of his ever since he first made his debut in the sport, and the latter, while always an annoyance, became a nuisance while Kimi was at Ferrari.

If you want to get a lesson in team politics, just go back to the Malaysian Grand Prix. You all will not likely have forgotten what happened there, particularly in the days afterwards. The team’s handling of the situation was, at best, mediocre. They let Sebastian run away with complaints while Mark, far from guilty-free, was left to his own devices to focus ad best he could on the races ahead; races that seemed increasingly to be his last with the team.

Will Mark stay with the team for another season? It is possible. Mark is far from his peak at this point. 2009/2010 signaled the times where the Aussie was at his true best. Now, he is merely a solid supporting act to his teammate. As much as I don’t want to come to grips with the fact that Mark’s time is up, I, and everyone else, must. He is in contention for the seat next season, but will he want to be?

This leaves Kimi Raikkonen and the Toro Rosso duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne. The two youngsters have done a lot this season to make it aware their desire to partner Sebastian next season. 2013 has been a to-and-fro of advantage between the two, starting with Ricciardo’s great performance in China to Vergne’s breakthrough result in Canada last weekend, where he qualified a solid 6th in the wet and fought hard to stay there for the whole race. If these two are in the final running for the second seat next season, it will be a difficult decision, for sure.

One thing we must keep an eye out for, though, is consistency. As I feel either Ricciardo or Vergne are more suitable candidates for the second Red Bull seat, I will focus on them from now on. Both relatively new to the sport and, as a result, still show signs of rookie apprehension. Ricciardo himself has been his own biggest critic when it comes to his gutsiness in on-track battles. He conceded towards the end of last season that his race craft would be his most prominent area of improvement.

Has it worked? For the most part it seems that it has. The young Aussie has yet to really wow us like Vergne did in Canada, though his performance in China was commendable, yet despite his lack of standout performances, Ricciardo has, for the last few weeks, been considered the favorite of the two drivers. This could be down to his smooth driving style which is at a premium in the Pirelli era of Formula One. This quality will definitely be something Red Bull has taken notice of, though there is a danger that Pirelli might not even be in the sport next season, but that is a topic for another day.

So what has Vergne got going for him? His is very aggressive on track. He fights for positions and is perhaps a bit more daring than his Australian teammate.

This could come at a price at times, though, but Vergne has certainly improved his consistency since he made his F1 debut last season. He has also vastly improved his qualifying performances, something which plagued him last year when it was almost a given that he would be eliminated in Q1.

Both drivers have a lot going for them, both in terms of their own skill and how they can improve if given the opportunity to drive for Red Bull. Whether it will be enough to overhaul the advantage Kimi Raikkonen holds in the favorite category, will be answered soon enough.

Canada, the Aftermath: Testgate and Vettel’s Looming Domination

You know when you get a nasty hunch about something? A hunch that you don’t want to be true but just get tthe distinct feeling it may be so? That is the feeling I got when Vettel crossed the finish line of the Canadian Grand Prix.

It was a brilliant display of dominance from the German, for sure, and one that should have the likes of Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes cowering where they stand. It wasn’t the mere fact that Sebastian Vettel dominated the race, though, that was astounding. It was the sheer unexpectedness of the dominance that left us all shocked. There were no signs from the previous two races that Red Bull had this type of performance advantage in them. Their increasing troubles with the Pirelli rubber, highlighted in Spain, cast a shadow on a potential overwhelming title campaign for the season. In Canada, however, Sebastian Vettel and the rest of his team seemed to shake off any preconceived notions that the team was in trouble.

The events which unfolded on Sunday had the eerie similarity to some of Vettel’s Sunday strolls in 2011. For all the nitpicking about Sebastian’s supposed weaknesses we partake in, there is no denying the special quality the triple World Champion has when it comes to racing. I am far from a Sebastian Vettel fan, but even I can’t avoid being blown away at what that man can do in a car. When he is comfortable in a car, he is truly unbeatable, and that is what we saw on Sunday; pure, unadulterated talent.
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This is exactly what has me worried. Deep down it is slightly motivated by my personal desires for the championship outcome, but I worry for the sport as a whole if we come to another season of utter domination by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. The stranglehold both parties now exact over both championships show little to no sign of wavering. If they do, it will be due to dire circumstances unseen by all. Do we want to go back to 2011? Certainly, the races on an individual level had their own certain characters, but most of them had the same outcome: Vettel the victor with Hamilton, Button, Webber and Alonso completing the podium in various orders. This creates the perfect storm for a dominant championship with little to no hope remaining for anyone to topple the leader. This is what happened in the early 2000’s, as we all know. The individual races were thrilling on their own, but that thrill can only carry so much weight before their ultimate results counterbalance the enjoyment we get from them.

This is not to say that I am discouraging Red Bull in any way. That is not my intent. I am merely warning those in the sport that a problem is looming. As much as we all look back at the Schumacher era with gooey nostalgia, I don’t know of many people who want the championship dominated by one driver and one team. While this may not happen this season, we are undoubtedly faced with the possibility after the events in Canada.

Sebastian Vettel has hit a point in the season where all he needs is a string of wins to secure a 4th consecutive title. The podiums to ensure ultimate success will come without worry. Do we really want this again? I don’t. But I am biased, of course.

Sebastian Vettel’s looming domination are not the only topic of discussion at the moment, though. The confirmed date for Mercedes trial at the International Tribunal of June 20th will set the stage for a very exciting British Grand Prix.

While Canada was far from the success story Mercedes was hoping for, there is not denying that they had a good race. Their pre-race tire concerns, while partly justified in the race, can only be ultimately seen as media ploys to diffuse tension about the controversy that surrounds the team. Lewis and Nico were careful in clearly pointing out in any media session that their tire troubles are far from over. But we all know that things, while not perfect, are far from the nightmare the team would have us to believe. In the second free practice session, Mercedes were comfortably one of the top teams on long runs. They didn’t have the consistency of Red Bull or Ferrari, or even Force India for that matter, but there were no Bahrain/Spanish-esque slumps of shame. That was not on the menu.

The fact that Mercedes had a decent race in the aftermath of their secret test will only serve to fuel the fire surrounding the debate that the test helped them out significantly. I am under no impressions that the test was anything but beneficial for the team in terms of how they now understand their car’s behavioral characteristics with the tires. Any time a team can run a current car with a current driver on a track is time spent learning. The increased understanding they have is the hot topic of discussion throughout the paddock and is likely to remain even after the International Tribunal’s verdict.

June 20th is set to be the most important date this entire Formula One season. The trial’s implications are far-reaching and span the breadth of the championship, from the manner in which the title could be decided to how testing is approached in years to come. Some evidence of the latter cropped up during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend as the FIA revealed that four in-season tests are to take place in 2014 after select European races. I will talk about this in more detail in another post, but this can be seen as either significant progress for the sport, or just another thing to add to the tribulations if just being in the sport.

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Anyone guess who’s missing in this picture?

Whatever comes of the Tribunal hearing, you can be sure that the ramifications will he heard in every crevice of the sport. This is an all-encompassing issue, one that will leave a shadow over the championship results for years to come.

What makes this issue even more unfortunate, though, goes beyond the simple act of breaking a rule. The effects of the test, the subsequent tribunal hearing, and its results will all fall in the face of uncertainty; regardless of the hearing’s verdict, there will always be a hint of doubt over the validity of the results of the championship, no matter how much we may try to ignore it. If Mercedes win the drivers’ and constructors’ championships this season, regardless if they are found guilty or innocent in the trial, a nagging sense of doubt will always remain as to whether they deserve it. If Mercedes lose out on both championships and are found guilty, then they will just look stupid. There is no other way to say it. I refuse to believe for a second that the management at Mercedes went into their test under the impression that what they were doing was legal. I refuse to accept that. Mercedes and Ross Brawn are too smart (perhaps not anymore) to take part in a test so easily under the constraints of the FIA’s regulations.

The last thing this sport needs it to be doubtful of its victors. That will only serve to reduce the viability of the sport in the long term. For a sport under constant scrutiny of its wastefulness and excess, its champions need to be unanimously accepted. If not, the sport runs the risk of losing all of its purpose.

Like I said, far-reaching.