On Fernando and Mark’s penalties

We are all upset by Webber’s penalty from yesterday. The interaction between him and Fernando was a sight for sore eyes. In the midst of intensifying rivalries and drivers enduring completely unwarranted booing as they receive their trophies on the podium, it was wonderful to see genuine friendship, even plain sportsmanship, come to the fore.

And for it all to end with both men given a reprimand, and subsequently for Webber a 10 place grid penalty, was very disheartening to see.

But it was necessary.

While it was nice to see Alonso give a ride to Mark after his car broke, it was dangerous. To top it off, it wasn’t even what Webber was penalized for. Only Alonso was reprimanded for offering, and eventually giving, Mark the lift.

No, Webber was punished for something completely justifiable and, frankly, necessary.

Mark entered the track, after he got out of his burning Red Bull, without the expressed permission of the Marshals. This is forbidden by FIA regulation, thus it was only correct that Mark received due punishment.

The fact that this happened to be Mark’s third reprimand of the season, thus giving him an automatic 10 place grid penalty in the next race, was a dreadfully unfortunate and terribly timed case of bad luck.

But that is all it was. Frankly, mark’s forbidden entrance to the track, and his subsequent ride with Fernando, is a much more pressing matter of safety than we all made it out to be. When you remove the rose-tinted glass, it was an outright and blatantly dangerous thing to do.

Yes, some of the sport’s most iconic images and beloved memories stem from these types of generous and sportsman-like acts of kindness, but safety must be considered.

It would take only the slightest of mistakes on Fernando’s part to offset Mark’s precarious position on the side of the car and throw him onto the track and into the path of oncoming cars. The fact that Hamilton and Kimi had to take evasive action when nearing Alonso (this was taken into account when the penalties were dolled out) speaks to the grave danger Mark could have been in should something have gone wrong.

Had Alonso pulled into a safer area of the track, and had Mark gotten the express permission from the marshals to enter the circuit, none of this would have happened. But it did.

We all love when drivers are nice to each other. It makes the sport more human. We can connect with it. It makes the drivers seem more like people than robots.

We all remember what happened in Germany, though. That rouge tire caused a lot of physical and mental trauma for that cameraman and his family. But that was a freak accident. Mark and Fernando were acting in complete consciousness.

I’m not suggesting for a second that any potential accident that could have happened would have been on purpose, but any accident that could have happened would have been a direct result of a conscious decision to do something that was, however consciously they thought about it, overtly dangerous.

Safety is the message here. Mark wasn’t punished for the ride, he was punished for getting back on the track in the first place.


Sebastian Vettel: Public Enemy Number One

It’s been a rather stressful day in Singapore. Not only is Sebastian Vettel cementing his 4th championship by the minute, but he is criticized for doing so! I don’t know everyone’s opinion of Sebastian Vettel, and I won’t claim to either, but it is a sad day when “fans” attend an even they paid good money for only to boo the driver who won, just because they’re tired of seeing him on the top step so often.

Vettel should, and will, be rewarded for his efforts. I am far from his biggest fan, but I am certainly mature enough to recognize his other-worldly talent. It’s staggering, especially when all the talk of Formula One is centered around how closely matched the cars are. If someone can make everyone else in the field look like lost sheep compared to his own performance on track, he should be applauded and, frankly, worshipped for his monumental achievement.

Every one of Sebastian’s actions to day is praiseworthy, yet, at the first opportunity, those attending the event belittled them and reduced them to something to be ashamed of. Sebastian was a picture of supreme composure as he talked to Martin Brundle during the podium interview. The barrage of boos would have thrown off anyone else, frankly, and that is a sad thing, as it is a testament to how often Sebastian has had to endure it.

No one should have to get USED to being booed. It is a misfortune no one is deserving of.

So why did we once again hear booing during the podium ceremony? Our personal preferences got in the way of decency and humility. I won’t try to tell anyone to not have an opinion about a driver or team; lord knows I don’t try to hold back. But I do question the purpose and loathe hypocrisy of the booing,

It is fairly obvious that most of the podium onlookers were fans of Fernando and Kimi. That was clear. Yet, those two drivers, arguably, are the most humble of all the drivers on the grid. They put on Herculean performances themselves, yet they let Sebastian bask in what little glory was given to him. If the so-called fans of Fernando and Kimi, and indeed the sport as a whole, can watch a race in awe of those two humble drivers, admiring their skill on the track and their attitudes in defeat, how can they sit back and boo the very driver their heroes  congratulate? This type of hypocrisy is tainting the reputation of the sport every time that young champion steps onto the podium.

I think we all know Sebastian is going to be champion this year; I welcome any opportunity for myself to be convinced otherwise. But what will happen in Abu Dhabi or Austin? ¬†Judging by the gap in the standings right now, the championship is hardly likely to go down to the wire. When Sebastian is finally crowned the 2013 champion, will there be more boos? I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were, to be honest. And knowing that is a hard pill to swallow.

The problem Sebastian, and perhaps Red Bull itself, faces is that he is and is not a part of the true culture of Formula One. He is a young guy leading a team that is upsetting the natural order of the sport. Formula One is pretty conservative. The switch to more green technology is a few years overdue, and any change to the sport is nigh on impossible to execute. Just look at the cost-cutting measures in place. Oh wait, you can’t. Because they haven’t happened yet.

Because Sebastian is a part of a team that is upsetting the natural order of the sport, people are going to not like him. There are two distinct Formula One audiences: the ones who have been watching for years and don’t want change to ruin what they’ve considered the status quo, and then there are newer fans who are more open to change, more open to the fact that a new guy in a new team is shaking up the order. This doesn’t sit well with a lot of Formula One fans.

You may trace the roots of the booing to the “Multi-21” scandal back in Malaysia. Sebastian was pretty selfish during that race. While, he would have probably gotten past Mark for the lead eventually, nothing can deny the truth of the matter; he disobeyed team orders. That is the number one no no of the sport. Sebastian learned his lesson from that. I don’t think he had a responsibility to apologize to anyone but the team. It would have done wonders for his reputation if he apologized to Mark, but he didn’t have to. It wasn’t Mark who told Sebastian not to pass him, it was the team.

You may see this as the source of the booing, but it really isn’t. Sebastian has been public enemy number one since he won his first title back in 2010. He took it from two other equally deserving men in Mark and Fernando, two drivers who were easily held in higher regard than Sebastian at the time. Whether that flicked a switch in the psyches of half the watching world is hard to tell, but it certainly set the tone for the next three years.

You may not like Sebastian one bit. Your opinion is totally up to you, and I will never try and tell people to like a certain driver and hate others on this blog. But there is a certain amount of decency and respect we all should express toward the drivers we all hold in such high esteem. You may not like Sebastian, but he sure deserves your respect.


Nico Hulkenberg Wows us all Again

As if we didn’t already know it by now, Nico Hulkenberg has shown us again just how talented he is. If confounding expectations in Formula One was its own separate championship, Nico would be leading it by a lot more than Vettel’s paltry 53 points.

It was merely a pleasant result that Nico snagged third on the grid for the Italian Grand Prix. That’s fine. We know Monza can throw up some unusual results, so surprises are often unsurprising. What we, and I, did not expect, however, was for him to hold his own throughout the entire race. My goodness!

Nico made a lackluster start, fine. That was expected in a midfield car. The pressure to hold position maybe got the better of him. But he stayed with the leaders, if you discount Vettel and his god-like speed, and showed just how truly talented he is.

What I found most compelling about his drive today, though, was his pace in the closing laps. With about 12 laps of the race to go, Nico was valiantly defending from Nico Rosberg in a much faster car. That was a job in and of itself. But the way he closed down a six second gap to Felipe Massa in the small amount of time he had was staggering. The Ferrari was supposed to be even faster than the Mercedes, which was already troubling the Sauber anyways.

So, Nico is the best young talent in the field today. That much is glaringly obvious. What is less so, is the reason as to why he is at Sauber. You can site the team’s 2012 performances as the selling point, but Nico knows, just like any midfield driver, that results in a midfield team are sporadic at best. There is often no way of telling when results are just a one-off, or if they are the new norm. Nico knows that all too well.

When he left Williams at the end of 2010, he left a team that had just secured 6th place in the constructors’ championship. He had just achieved his first pole position in the most spectacular fashion possible, and he was getting better and better with every race. Sure, Maldonado’s millions were the deciding factor in the team’s 2011 lineup, but it must have been a hard decision for the team to make. I guess it was lucky he got out of there quickly, for we all know what 2011 was like for Williams.

At Force India in 2012, Nico was resting his hopes on a repeat of the team’s surge in performance in 2011, when they almost overhauled Renault (now Lotus) for 5th in the Constructors’ championship. 2012 proved less fruitful in terms of championship position, but the way Nico composed himself as he led the Brazilian Grand Prix ¬†(on sheer skill alone) was mind boggling.

He then moved to Sauber hoping, just hoping, that podiums would be on the cards every weekend in 2013. The opposite proved true, and Nico has been fighting an uphill battle every weekend this season.

His fifth place finish, on merit, in Italy is an even truer measure of his talent than his 2010 pole position on Brazil or the way he led that same race last season. Nico is a real talent that deserves a top ride more than anyone else in the field.

That much is clear; very, very clear.


Tell me what you think!


Q&A With Nick Chester

It’s been a busy year for Nick Chester. After his boss moved to Ferrari, he found himself leading the technical department of one of the most popular teams in the sport. I had the chance to talk to Nick about his role at Lotus as well as the monumental changes occurring next season that threaten to shape up the competitive structure of Formula One.

Chris Cassingham: We know enormous changes are taking place in the engine and power department for 2014, but what are some of the aerodynamic changes we will see?

Nick Chester: There are regulation changes for a reduced span front wind, lower nose and removal of the lower rear wing. In addition the single tailpipe exit regulation will remove exhaust blowing development. The sidepod area will be shaped differently to account for the increased cooling required with the turbo engine

CC: What were the goals in making the wings and noses lower?

NC: The main goal with the nose is to avoid an accident where the car can be launched. The narrow span front wing and removal of the lower rear wing were brought in to limit aero performance.

CC: What do you think will be the determining factor in competitiveness next season?

NC: There will be various factors. Aero will be important as always but in addition there could be much bigger performance differences between power units that we have seen for many years. The most competitive car will have a strong power unit but will also have managed to integrate it in a very efficient manner.

CC: Will the new regulations require, or at least play into the hands of, certain driving styles?

NC: I don’t think there will be a significant difference to now. It will still be very important to manage tire degradation.

CC: How will the new tires, be them from Pirelli or elsewhere, work with the new engine and aero regulations?

NC: We don’t expect a significant difference in tire loadings and expect the tires to perform broadly as in 2013.

CC: How much of a financial strain will the new regulations put on smaller teams like Lotus?

NC: Obviously, it is a more expensive car to build and develop. We started it over 18 months ago which has hopefully put us in a good position.

CC: Why do you think Formula One chose to make such drastic changes now?

NC: The new regulations are much more relevant for road car manufacturers which is important to keep their involvement in the sport.

CC: What about the whole season in general do you think will be the most different to what it is now?

NC: Teams wil need to make the best use of their 100 Kg of fuel. As such, managing the power unit operation through the race will be extremely important and tied to race strategy.

Chester at the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Friday press conference

Chester at the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Friday press conference

CC: Is there a risk that reliability in the new generation will be a problem? There are a lot of new parts just waiting to go wrong…

NC: I think there may be some difficulties during pre-season testing, but teams now spend a lot of time on engine and gearbox dynes so a big proportion of the package will be validated before hitting the track. There could be some failures in the first few races but I expect teams to sort out reliability problems fairly quickly.

CC: Do you think green-friendly regulations will be able to draw upon a new fan base, or do you think we could enter a polarizing era for the sport?

NC: I am hoping it will expand the fanbase. Technically, there are a few challenges which will hopefully draw further interest.

CC: Technically, what does the future hold for Lotus?

NC: We need to stay competitive this year and push for 3rd in the constructors’ championship. For next year I hope we will start with a strong car straight away and will then need to develop it heavily through the year.

CC: What do you know about Formula E and what do you think it means for the future of motorsports?

NC: It is an exciting race format with 1 hour races on street circuits for fully electric cars. I think it will have a good following when it starts in 2014. Since the fuel limit will be reduced in the future in F1 we will keep developing and improving efficiency of the electric storage and drivetrain.

CC: How have you adapted to your expanded role at Lotus after James’ [Allison] departure?

NC: Pretty well, I think. I’m really fortunate to have such a dedicated team in all departments. We have a great team here at Enstone, with many very experienced engineers and production staff which makes my job much easier. I am enjoying the challenge of continuing to develop a competitive 2013 car whilst we design a radically new car for 2014.