Pastor’s Perception and Pay Drivers: Bad or Misunderstood?

No driver currently in Formula One does not deserve to be there. What Formula One fans around the world fail to comprehend is that the drivers we all know deserve to be in Formula One but aren’t, are just more deserving than the ones we perceive to be undeserving, that are. The line is grey, not black and white. There aren’t a certain number of podiums, wins and pole positions in a certain number of junior categories that suddenly qualify you to race in Formula One. That isn’t how it works. If it was, then Daniil Kvyat wouldn’t have been signed by Toro Rosso to race for them in 2014 and nor would Kimi Raikkonen have been signed by Sauber.

But like I said, the line is grey, not black and white. There is a huge margin of error, you could say, that both Formula One fans and Formula One teams like to exploit in different ways. While the former will write off any driver who brings money that overshadows his junior CV, the latter will use the money to enhance a junior CV, making an unimpressive junior career seem more impressive than it really is by sneakily using the money he brings to sign him, while employing some conveniently vague wording to justify their decision. Just look at the press releases Sauber may make should they sign Sergey Sirotkin for 2014 and you’ll catch my drift.

But why do we hate pay drivers so much? There is a certain air of entitlement in Formula One these days. Should you have a rich father and are more than half-decent at racing then one season in Formula One suddenly isn’t as far-fetched as it may have seemed as a child. That is a fact of the sport.

But nothing is ever entirely given to a “pay driver” either. If it was, then half of the grids in GP2/3 and Formula Renault 3.5 would be gone. You still have to go racing. If there is money involved, then some mistakes or frankly bad driving is inevitably forgotten, at least by the investors behind the driver. A few crashes? Just pump in a couple million more dollars.

While it is not quite that simple, a lot of goes on in junior racing is compensation. Take Rodolfo Gonzalez. He is far from the best driver in the world, and his GP2 record is frankly embarrassing, but he isn’t the worst driver either, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten where he is. No team, regardless of how financially desperate, would take an outright terrible driver. Why then, has Rodolfo had so many pointless practice outings with Marussia then? The team is gaining nothing from them, as he is often two seconds off either Max Chilton or Jules Bianchi, and Rodolfo is gaining nothing other than an exciting afternoon because he isn’t realistically in the running for a race seat anytime soon. They guy is almost 30 years old for goodness sake. He makes these outings because PDVSA pays for them. They compensate the team for a wasted morning in return for a Formula One outing for one of it’s lesser F1 hopefuls. That is what really gets fans angry.

When a young driver is rumored to be in the running for an F1 seat, we immediately investigate how much money he has with him. If there isn’t any, then you can almost immediately write him off. If there isn’t money, but he is connected to a young driver scheme with another team, then you should still count him in the running. But, if there are millions upon millions behind him in the form of oil or banking or technology, and he has a decent or better junior career, then the seat is almost certainly his. Those are the facts of modern Formula One.

We are never going to get rid of pay drivers. While they may not be good for the sport, they are vital to its longevity. If there were no Maldonados, Perezes or van der Gardes, then the sport would not be here. They are what drives F1 forward in a time where manufacturers consistently avoid getting into the sport or threaten to leave. In a way, pay drivers are just another example of the privatization of Formula One. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, like any perceived negative in life, it must be used in moderation. Should the number of pay driver proliferate, then there would be a problem, but there aren’t that many right now. The sport is not doomed because of Max Chilton and Pastor Maldonado. Far from it. But we as fans have such an idealistic view of what the sport should be that we forget that the sport has to be.

With Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus signing today, the issue of pay drivers was once again shoved into the faces of every Formula One fan. Yes, Nico Hulkenberg deserves to be in that seat. His performances in the second half of 2013 are more than justification for Lotus to sign him. But Maldonado is not undeserving of the seat either. He is just far less deserving than Nico is. That is the grey margin we find ourselves in today. We would all love for there to be a black and white distinction between who deserves to be in a top seat and who doesn’t. But we will never get that. In fact, the sport depends on there being some ambiguity between the deserving and the undeserving. Otherwise, their vital millions would never get into the sport.

There is a question I want everyone who reads this to think about long and hard: Would you rather watch Formula One with many great drivers and a few average, or no Formula One at all?

 

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Could Perez be Lotus’s Savior?

Now that Sergio Perez has officially announced he is leaving Mclaren, its time to officially add him to the mix of drivers currently looking for employment in 2014. Speculation has no place here. This is real uncertainty for Sergio.

It’s hard to deny that Perez was given a pretty tough set of circumstances to deal with in 2013: a bad car, a teammate at the top of his game (at the end of 2012, at least), tricky tires, more media/sponsorship commitments than ever before, national pride always pressuring him, oh, and a bad car. All of these factors conspired against Sergio and eventually clouded what really hasn’t been a bad season for the Mexican. Sure, it has been far from what he expected, and some mistakes on his part have prevented him from scoring more points than he has now (Monaco comes straight to mind), but considering all of the setbacks mentioned before, Sergio has been a solid performer this season.

Perez’s departure, then, would seem as something of a surprise to the casual onlooker; surely since it was not Sergio’s fault that the car was uncompetitive, the only fair thing to do would be to give him another chance in a much more competitive car to see what he can really do. Mclaren, in all likelihood, would have taken this path, had their priorities not gotten in the way.

I can completely understand the Perez sympathizers in this situation. I agree that he deserves another chance in the car when it is more competitive and representative of his talent, of which there is plenty. But I do understand the commitments Mclaren have to their own, that is, to Kevin Magnussen. It is rare to get the chance to put a rookie in a top team these days. It’s been six years since Lewis Hamilton made his splash into the F1 scene. Mclaren would be silly to turn down an opportunity like this, and looking for any way to do so is understandable.

We must also not forget that Perez is not a Mclaren man. He was a Ferrari protégé just days before the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix, destined for greatness alongside Fernando Alonso in 2013 and as the team leader once the Spaniard left. But then Lewis Hamilton left Mclaren. That meant the team had some frantic searching to do to find a suitable, or at least suitable enough, replacement for their 2008 champion. At that time Perez was the man to watch, having just scored his third podium of the season at the previous race in Italy after, ironically, almost chasing down Hamilton for the win. Importantly, he was out of contract for 2013 with Sauber. That gave Mclaren some pretty serious leverage when it came time for contract negotiations.

Many rightly criticized Mclaren’s decision to sign Perez. I still believe he was not meant for the seat. Nico Hulkenberg was the man to sign, and that became even more clear at the Brazilian Grand Prix. But his lack of “standout” performances at that point in the season (though his fourth and fifth place finishes in Belgium and Valencia, respectively, were extremely impressive) meant he was at a disadvantage when it came to making his case to Mclaren as to why they should sign him for 2013.

One year-and-a-bit later, and now Perez is gone. Almost like he wasn’t even there at all. One can almost here the name “Kovalainen” ringing in one’s head as the words of Perez’s classy, respectful, but rather sad, letter are read aloud.

The driver market is now busier than it has ever been, with Perez, Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg the three key players in this rather confusing tale of the silly season. This is how it all plays out, though: Should Lotus’s deal with Quantum fall through (remember, it isn’t officially done, just agreed to on both sides of the deal i.e. Quantum and Lotus), then money from a driver is of vital importance.

Pastor Maldonado has been the favorite candidate for that seat should the situation play out in the manner described above. But Maldonado’s millions are not as secure as we may have once thought.

AUTOWEEK reported in its most recent issue that all “disbursements of hard currency to automobile and motorcycle racers (from Venezuela) who compete abroad” have been “frozen” as the Venezuelan government investigates a corruption scandal. That means Maldonado shouldn’t sit pretty just yet. That $48 million a year in precious oil money could all but disappear just when it would come in its most handy.

Enter Sergio Perez.

His Telmex money, once a major sponsor for Sauber when the Mexican was a driver there in 2011 and 2012, could be put to use in securing him a drive at the Enstone-based squad for 2014. Perhaps not quite as sizable as Maldonado’s sponsorship, Perez’s backing from Telmex would still ensure whichever team was the recipient was far from scared for its financial future. This is where the Mexican’s more highly regarded talent would come in handy. The fact that he isn’t labeled a crash-happy nutcase puts him a step ahead of Pastor. While the mistakes have been cut down vastly in 2013, it takes more than just obscurity on the grid to erase a name like that. Just ask Romain Grosjean.

Sergio Perez may have ended the day a sad fellow, but all is not lost. He could just have set himself up for a future at a team that now has the capability to beat Mclaren on a regular basis. That is something to smile about.

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.

Michelin in for 2014?: It’s All or Nothing

Michelin has recently expressed a possible interest in becoming Formula One’s tire supplier for the 2014 season. Whether this is in place of Pirelli, who have yet to sign a contract for next year, or alongside is yet to be revealed. Here is why the situation is either all or nothing.

A tire war starts off with goodhearted intentions. To promote quality, the FIA and FOM would set out to promote a competitive, but constructive environment in which both suppliers are able to use their competitive spirits to the benefit of their product’s quality. That is a sound argument to make in this Pirelli day and age where the memories of exploding tires and shards of carbon fiber flying through the air from a month ago are still fresh in Formula One’s psyche. If quality is improved, then surely incidents like those in Britain would not happen again? Right?

That is a completely fair assumption. Even without the competition from another tire manufacturer, Pirelli would not have for a second allowed for any more tire failures. The events from the British Grand Prix are those that we only imagine happening terrible dreams. The lives of the drivers and spectators alike were in danger that day, and the presence of another company wouldn’t have changed Pirelli’s desire to right their wrongs.

Think back to the early 2000s when tire culture was in an entirely different spectrum. Back then, tires’ impact on a race were minimal to irrelevant because of the fuel factor. As long as the tires lasted longer than a fuel stint, you would be alright. This very fact prompted tire manufacturers to construct tires that would not only last a little longer than the fuel would, but would stay intact for eons beyond that. To completely reduce the amount of time lost due to degrading tires, companies like Bridgestone and Michelin, who supplied the teams in the 2000s, would make rock solid tires that lasted far beyond their required distance.

This culture of indestructible tires went as far in 2005 that the regulations stipulated that one set of tires would have to last a whole Grand Prix distance. That seemed like a pretty terrible idea at the time, and it does now, especially when you consider that happened at the United States Grand Prix that season when the Michelin tires were so unstable that only the Bridgestone-shod teams partook in the race. It was a farce that would not be allowed to happen again.

The 2010 Formula One season was a bit of a shocker for the sport. While it was a fantastic demonstration of technological achievement and was host to one of the most thrilling title battles ever, the individual races were often quite boring. Here’s why.

In the regulations overhaul of 2009, refueling was kept. This kept the type of racing we saw that year relatively similar to that of the previous generation of Formula One. In 2010, however, refueling was banned yet the tires stayed the same. Bridgestone took it upon themselves to create tires that were a bit more unpredictable for that season, because they knew that the tires would play a much larger role in the development of the championship. Unfortunately, Bridgestone didn’t go nearly far enough. Races were easily done in one stop, barring the extremely hot or wet races, and the amount of overtaking was underwhelming due to Bridgestone’s lack of daring.

Enter Pirelli.

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The Italian tire company was told that the tires needed to play a larger role in the races. Not enough to alter the competitive order, but enough to wake people up. That is exactly what they did. Apart from Sebastian Vettel dominating most of the races, the 2011 season of races was one of the most engaging and exciting. Teams were challenged by the new forms of strategy involved with racing fast-degrading tires. It was a challenge, though, that would need some time for the fans to warm up to. Pirelli has been a very polarizing entity of late, and the type of racing that comes with high-degradation tires is either hit or miss with people. There is not a whole lot of room in the middle.

I will admit that in all my admiration for the job Pirelli is doing under the often laughable conditions presented to them, they have gone overboard at times. Though, I will not accept that Pirelli have done anything other than improve the sport. You know how every action has an equal and opposite reaction? Well, the argument against Pirelli during this year’s British Grand Prix has an equal, if not more potent, argument FOR Pirelli. Or is it perhaps against the teams?

The practice this season has been to swap the left rear tire with the right rear tire. This, for reasons unknown to me and out of my realm of technical knowledge, aids in cornering, handling and tire conservation.

That is, until they blow up.

You see, swapping the rear tires puts undue stress on the sidewalls that would not otherwise be seeing so much action. As a result, the sidewalls that weren’t used to the strains of cornering could not cope with the “pressure”. *Cue British Grand Prix*

With all of this in mind, here is why a tire war would not work.

Just as the culture of the early 2000s was to race ironclad tires, the culture of the 2010s is to race high-degrading tires. That is the mindset we as fans approach a race. Pirelli have done a great job with what they have, yet many seem unable to accept the type of racing that has resulted from their hard work.

This year’s Spanish Grand Prix was highly criticized for featuring four stops. Heavens to Betsy! Four stops? The racing world cringed and strained in agony at the thought of having to keep up with such a rate of stoppage for the rest of the season. What many failed to recall, however, was that the uncriticized 2011 Spanish Grand Prix also featured a winning four stop strategy.

A common sentiment throughout this season is that the races are too hard to follow. The 2013 tires are supposedly so fragile that the amount of stops the drivers has to make are too many to keep track of. Why then, is the idea of a tire war a bad idea? Just take the fans’ current confusion about race strategy and double it.

I personally would be fine with having another tire manufacturer come into the sport. That is a personal preference of mine. I do know, though, that I am one of a relatively small group, and I know that having double the amount of tire compounds at a race would only further exacerbate the issues currently plaguing the sport at the moment.

Michelin would be given the same briefing that Pirelli got in 2010: Make the racing exciting. More pitstops, more strategy, more excitement.

If you ask me, all we would get is more frustration.

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.

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.

Canadian Grand Prix: Vettel Victory Worrying for the rest of the Field

Sebastian’s performance in the Canadian Grand Prix was eerily similar to those of his dominating championship season in 2011. The signature Vettel start made an appearance, the German making a 2 second gap to second place by the end of the second lap. All the talk was of tires and the split between one, two and three-stop strategies. In the end, all three of those scenarios played out in what was an interesting, if slightly underwhelming Grand Prix.

With Valtteri Bottas valiantly, if slightly artificially in third place on the grid, the opening stint of the race would be all about getting around the Finn in the Williams. He made a better start than most would expect, but didn’t put up much of a fight when defending for position. It was probably for the best; why put off the inevitable, really? After about 10 laps, it was apparent that this race would be a lot like many of Sebastian’s past, where a sprint at the start set the stage for a controlled and calculated win. The pace at which his competitors fell behind, though, was astonishing. There were times when Sebastian would set a string of five of more fastest laps in a row. This type of consistency was not apparent during practice when, quite visibly, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso was the fastest man in the field.

As the laps ticked away, so did Vettel’s lead increase. Fernando Alonso, from 6th on the grid, found himself stuck behind Valtteri’s Williams for a few laps, the Finn defending hard once he got settled down after the start. The Spaniard eventually got past, but he had significant time to make up in order to catch the two Red Bulls and Mercedes at the front. Once in clean air, though, the going was much smoother.

Jean Eric Vergne made a good start to hold position in the opening laps. The pressure to impress Red Bull acting as impetus to finally pass the struggling Williams after several attempts. These two initial passes on Valtteri were just the start of a disappointing day in which points seemed very likely. The Finn will have to wait another day to jump in a body of water for his team.

As all of this happened, though, triple world champion, Sebastian Vettel, cruised serenely off into the diastase, leaving the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber scrambling for the last podium positions.

Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo were the first to blink as they hit the pits before the 20 lap mark. A two stop strategy would be the way for them. As they were the first to pit, it looked to be that one and two stop strategies would be the only options for success, barring any disaster. Nico was able to hold position after his stop to Mark Webber, despite all the signs that the German was struggling for pace. When his teammate emerged from the pits two laps later, the gap between them was bigger than he would have liked.

By this stage, Sebastian had about a 10 second lead. When he made his first stop after the three drivers behind him, he was able to increase this further. For the rest of the race, the gap to the second placed driver remained in the 14-18 second range. Any sign of the lead disappearing came when Vettel had a slight off-track excursion.

In the midfield, things were getting dicey between the Saubers, Williams, Mclarens, Toro Rossos and Lotuses. The latter were hoping to make much more ground in the opening laps with Kimi Raikkonen, instead getting caught up in the train behind Valtteri Bottas.

Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil had a wild moment after slight contact between the two caused the German to spin in the middle of the track. To avoid a major incident in this narrow part of the track, avoiding drivers had to take to the grass. Adrian came away form this incident with worrying rear wing damage which, at high speeds, caused the left side of the wing to lean awkwardly at one side. The wind seemed to be structurally sound, though, and Adrian carried on.

Back at the front, Vettel was maintaining his huge advantage. At this stage in the race, it became apparent that the only fighting left in the race was for the final two steps on the podium. It wasn’t only between Lewis, Nico and Mark, though. Fernando Alonso relentlessly closed the gap to the frontrunners to put himself in contention. All the while as well, Paul di Resta and Romian Grosjean, who started from 17th and 22nd respectively, were pounding around on the Medium tire. The two were in serious contention for a top-5 position until the reality of running for so long on one set of tires kicked in. Romain Grosjean lasted for nearly 50 laps on the harder tire while, more impressively, di Resta managed even more. Romain Grosjean had a terrible time on the Supersoft tires, though, and made a second, unplanned stop after just 8 laps. His bid for points was over for the day.

Nico Rosberg was also having tire issues. The Mercedes tire gremlins were here to stay for at least one driver. After his second stop, Nico was unable to keep pace with the leaders and his two challengers from behind. The German had to make an unscheduled third stop towards the end of the race, ending his bid for a podium.

After their second and final stops, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso were set for a great battle for the podium. Mark was further back than he would have liked, but his deficit was not insurmountable. Fernando Alonso was able to get ahead of the Australian while Rosberg was struggling with his tires. After his second stop, Fernando’s gap to Lewis Hamilton was just small enough to overcome. In the dying laps of the Grand Prix, the Spaniard made his move on the Mercedes driver for second place. He was successful, but Lewis was right behind him on the next lap and made an unsuccessful attempt to regain the place. In this battle, however, was Adrian Sutil. He was given a blue flag warning to slow down for the leaders but failed to do so to the satisfaction of the stewards. He was given a drive-through penalty, thus putting him in danger of not scoring. The German emerged from the pits in 10th place, but was under threat from Sergio Perez in the Mclaren. Both he and teammate Button had races, and weekends for that matter, to forget. Sutil was able to hold 10th at the drop of the checkered flag in the end, just behind the disappointed Kimi Raikkonen.

At the front, though, we had hardly seen anything of Sebastian Vettel. He managed his tires to perfection, pushing when he needed to and scaling back when necessary. It was a brillliantly calculated drive, one a perfect representation of his talent. Sebastian even resisted the urge to set fastest lap on the last lap of the race, much to the relief of everyone in the Red Bull garage. This was also Sebastian’s first win in Canada, and leaves only three tracks on the current calendar for him to master, the first of which, his home race, coming up in less than two months.

What does this dominance mean for the rest of the season? We certainly expected him to dominate in Spain after his performance in Bahrain, but that didn’t happen. Will the same happen this time? I get the distinct feeling, much to my annoyance, that Sebastian’s form his here to stay. Who knows, though? Formula One is impossible to predict.

Be on the lookout for “Canada: The Aftermath” where I will discuss the implications of Sebastian’s win and why Mercedes’ good result in Canada will only fuel the fire that is ‘Testgate’.