Monthly Archives: March 2012
TV PUNDIT and former Grand Prix team boss Eddie Jordan has been made a honorary OBE by the Queen. Jordan, who has just celebrated his 64th birthday said to his employers, the BBC; “When it’s not something you’re expecting you dismiss it. It came as a big shock, but I’m thrilled.”
Born in Dublin in 1948, Jordan has had a colourful involvement in the sport ever since 1991, when his team made their debut. It took eight years for victory success, when Damon Hill led Ralf Schumacher home to a famous 1-2 finish at the Belgian Grand Prix. After 250 events, he sold his struggling team to Midland F1 in 2005, which is now known as Sahara Force India. He has been part of the BBC F1 presenting team since they regained UK TV rights of the sport in 2009. He has received the honour due to his services for motor racing and also, his fantastic charity work. Jordan is a patron of the child cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
Having been absent from the BBC F1’s team in Malaysia, it is belived that EJ will be back for the corporation first live event of the season in Shanghai on April 14-15.
PIRELLI have announced their driver line-up today in the role of testing the latest tyre developments. Former Virgin driver Lucas di Grassi will be joined by axed Toro Rosso star Jaime Alguersuari. The Spaniard, who turned 22 years old last week, will return to the F1 cockpit for the first time since his former employers decided to replace him with Jean-Eric Vergne just before Christmas. This season, Alguersuari is going to combine his role with a job being an expert analyst for the commentary team on BBC Radio Five Live.
Alguersuari was delighted when the news was confirmed today, telling Planet F1; “A week ago it was my birthday, when I turned 22, and now Pirelli has given me the best possible present. I can’t wait to get started with this very important and challenging job of developing the new tyres for the future, which I’m looking forward to a lot. I have a huge desire to get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car again and return to competition, so this is a brilliant chance for me.”
Pirelli have upgraded their test car to a 2010 Renault chassis, having ran a 2009 Toyota for the past two seasons. Pedro de la Rosa, Nick Heidfeld and Romain Grosjean have previously used the role as a parachute into getting back into F1 competition. Now, with this move, Alguersuari has every chance of following in their paths.
IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
The first driver featured in The Driver Files is the Frenchman, Erik Comas.
NAME: Erik Comas
TEAMS: Ligier (1991-92), Larrousse (1993-94)
GP STARTS: 59
BEST FINISH: 5th (1992 French Grand Prix)
ERIK Comas was part of the former French generation. He came through the junior ranks alongside the likes of Eric Bernard and Jean Alesi. In fact, Alesi only narrowly pipped him to the F3000 championship in 1989. Erik bounced back to win the title the following season, adding to success in winning the French Formula 3 title in 1988.
With a proven record in junior formulae, Erik had forged himself a strong reputation and was signed by a Ligier team in 1991 that was going through a period of severe decline. He was never the most exciting or vintage competitor, but had the ability to get the job done. The 1991 Ligier Lamborghini was not a good car, proved by him failing to qualify for his first event in Phoenix. Thierry Boutsen, a Grand Prix winner with Williams was his team-mate and he struggled too with a poor chassis. Comas did well to match his more experienced team-mate, but neither driver scored a point. Erik’s best result in his debut season was 8th placed in a carnaged Canadian Grand Prix.
Ligier switched to Renault engines in 1992 and things improved for both drivers. This season turned out to be Comas’s peak in his F1 career. He finished seven of the first nine events and came in the points on three separate occasions. His best ever career result was a fifth place performance at his home event in France. Sixth in Canada and Germany meant he finished equal 11th in the drivers championship, with four points. However, his working relationship with Boutsen took a nosedive as they took each other off in two separate races; (Brazil & Hungary). Both were fired at the end of the season, to be replaced by English duo Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell.
Before that though, Erik had a lucky escape during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix. He had a mammoth shunt at the flat-out Blanchimont corner, which knocked him out. Boutsen drove past the wreckage, but Ayrton Senna bravely stopped his McLaren, got out of his car and rushed to his stricken colleague. He held Comas’s head still until the paramedics arrived. Luckily, he only suffered concussion but his race weekend ended there and he never finished a race for Ligier again.
Staying loyal to French teams, Erik moved to Larrousse for 1993, partnered by the French no-hoper Phillipe Alliot. He scrambled sixth place at Monza and qualified an excellent 11th in France, ahead of Riccardo Patrese’s Benetton and Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari. However, the accident in Belgium the previous season seemed to have knocked any forward motions in his form. As Larrousse’s finances seriously declined, Comas went backwards and plugged away through 1994, when he was partnered by many team-mates, including Olivier Beretta, Yannick Dalmas and Hideki Noda. If anything, his career will be remembered more for a crazy incident on the fateful Imola weekend.
Following Senna’s serious accident, a member of the Larrousse team clearly didn’t realise the situation and allowed Comas out of the pitlane underneath a red flag. He screamed through the flat Tamburello bend and was lucky to be flagged down without clobbering the medical helicopter or track officials. The scenes were so distressing for Erik, he didn’t feel like taking the restart. Although he got blamed for exiting the pits, it seemed like a team communication issue was the main fault. Nevertheless, it was a ridiculous move and just added to the nightmare that was Imola 1994.
Comas managed sixth place finishes in Aida and at Hockenheim, but said during the year that he would retire from Formula One if he would end up being outqualified by a Simtek. In Spa, David Brabham managed this and the Australian gloated afterwards, telling media; “I wish Erik a very happy retirement!’ He was replaced by the end of the season, with Jean Denis Delatraz taking his seat for the season finale in Australia.
Since Formula One ended for him, Comas spent several years competing in GT racing in Japan, as well as focusing on driver management, promoting further French talent. He suffered from ill health in 2006 and effectively retired from all forms of racing. Today, he runs Comas Historic Racing, which is a service that provides customers to pay and drive historic rally driving cars.
Erik Comas ended up having a frustrating Formula One career, which promised much after success in junior formulae, but ended with little joy.
NEXT UP IN THE DRIVER FILES: An Italian whose career ended thanks to one of the worst chassis/engine combinations in history – Stefano Modena
LESS than 24 hours after Bruno Senna’s stirring drive to sixth place in the Malaysian Grand Prix, the restructuring of the Williams Formula One team continues. The chairman of Williams, Adam Parr has resigned. Reaction to this news has been seen as a surprise, many believing that Parr was the figurehead of the team to ultimately replace Sir Frank Williams.
Parr will leave his position on Friday, having been at the helm since 2010. He has been with the team in some form of capacity since 2006. This follows Sir Frank Williams decision to resign from the board last month and Sam Michael’s defection to McLaren at the back end of last season. In a statement on the team’s website, Sir Frank had nothing but thanks for Parr; “Over five years, Adam’s achievements have surpassed my expectations and I must thank him for his service. Not least for the decisive role he played in the technical changes made last year which are beginning to show through in the team’s improved competitiveness this season, and for leading this company to a successful IPO. Adam leaves us on good terms to pursue a better balance in his life for which I wish him and his family well. He has left us in good shape and I have every confidence that the Board and senior management team at Williams will continue to drive the business forward into a promising future.”
Senna’s sixth place result yesterday means that the team has already collected more points than it did in the the whole of 2011. Team-mate Pastor Maldonado crashed out from the same position in Australia last weekend. Following the promising signs of competitiveness Williams has shown in the first two races of 2012, this news shows no-one can rest on their laurels in F1. Nick Rose will take over next week, appointed as non-executive chairman. No reason has been given for Parr’s sudden departure.
HERMANN Tilke’s first Formula One circuit was the challenging and demanding Sepang, home to the Malaysian Grand Prix. In the 13 runnings of the race so far, there have been plenty of great stories in a place known for its humid heat temperatures and biblical thunderstorms!
The first event was held in 1999 and the inagural race came at a crucial time for the world championship battle that season. Mika Hakkinen arrived in Kuala Lumpur with a slender two point advantage over Eddie Irvine. What’s more, Michael Schumacher chose this race to return after his six race absence as he recovered from the broken leg he suffered at the British Grand Prix. Schumacher returned in style, by qualifying a whole second faster than anyone else, then dictating the race so well, Irvine was almost too slow to beat him. The Ulsterman got help from the normal Ferrari no.1, twice being allowed into the lead. He used clever defensive tactics to keep an exhausted Hakkinen back in third place. Just as Ferrari celebrated a magnificent 1-2, the team were thrown out after measurements from the scrutineers suggested the team were running illegal barge boards. The fault was even admitted by technical director Ross Brawn and the championship was Hakkinen’s. Conversly, Ferrari’s lodged an appeal, saying the measurement taken was from an angle, not a flat surface. A week later, the FIA overturned the decision made by the stewards and Ferrari kept their victory.
The Schumacher family have had plenty of success down the years in Malaysia. Ralf produced one of his most convincing displays in 2002 to lead home a Williams 1-2. That day, his older brother clashed with Juan Pablo Montoya in the first corner and the Colombian was given a very harsh drive-through penalty. At least he made some history in becoming the first ever recipient of one of these penalties! Schumacher Snr won the final race in 2000, more remembered for the red wigs the team showered themselves on the podium with after wrapping up a second constructors title in a row. The race also brought a sad end to Johnny Herbert’s career, as he sustained leg injuries in a nasty accident when his Jaguar rear suspension collapsed. In 2001, the Ferrari team produced a stunning recovery from a synchronised gravel visit from both Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, then a 84-second pitstop in the midst of a traditional Malaysian monsoon. The team’s decision to fit intermediates saw them ending up annihilathting their rivals once the Safety Car withdrew.
Malaysia was also the setting stone for a changing of the guard in 2003. Then, a 21-year old fresher looking Fernando Alonso stunned the paddock by becoming the youngest ever poleman for Renault. He went onto finish third on an aggressive strategy, becoming the first Spaniard on the Grand Prix podium since 1956. The race was controlled by Kimi Raikkonen, with the 23-year old winning his first race for McLaren, a feat that left Ron Dennis close to tears. That day gave us a glimpse of the exciting future that lay await for Formula One fans. A year later, Jenson Button joined the elite when he made up for two agonising near misses in Malaysia previously and earnt his first F1 podium for BAR Honda. For the record, the 2004 race was Schumacher’s third and final Malaysian success.
There were victories for Alonso in 2005 and 2007 for Renault and McLaren respectively and a Giancarlo Fisichella triumph in 2006, also for Renault. In 2008, Raikkonen produced a convincing display to take the honours on the tenth anniversary of the event. A Ferrari 1-2 was thrown away when Felipe Massa made an elementary error and spun into the gravel trap. Raikkonen has had plenty of drama down the years in Sepang and more came his way in 2009. Predicting a thunderstorm in this part of the world is always hard to do, but Ferrari attempted to do so and put Raikkonen on full wets on a bone dry track! The thunderstorm held off for a long while, but when it rained, you know about it. Fading daylight and the unrelanting rain meant the race was stopped and eventually abandoned, with half points being awarded. Button won his second race in a row for Brawn GP. On the same weekend, Lewis Hamilton was forced to face the media after being disqualified from the race in Melbourne for lying to race stewards.
Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel have turned the place into their own over the past two seasons, winning in 2010 and 2011. Can they make it a hat-trick in 2012? Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen have all tasted success in Sepang in the past – who knows what will happen in 2012, especially with the forecast for a wet weekend.
IT MIGHT only be the second round of the championship this weekend in Malaysia but already, Felipe Massa is under a pile of huge pressure to deliver. The Brazilian’s shambolic performance in last week’s season opener in Melbourne has left his future prospects of staying with Ferrari hanging even more by a thread. On Tuesday, the Italian team announced that a new chassis will be flown to Kuala Lumpur, but is that enough to save the charming Ferrari no.2 from the sack.
From the moment Felipe spun off in the opening practice session, his fate in Albert Park of a mediocre performance was sealed. He never looked comfortable with the F2012, which it has to be said, is proving to be a real handful anyways. Qualifying saw him a distant 16th, four places behind Fernando Alonso. That was despite Alonso spinning out early on in Q2. Although he made an excellent start which saw him upto tenth, Massa quickly fell away from the leading group and spent the majority of the afternoon battling a poor chassis, high tyre wear and probably, his demons on a mental basis.
He was overwhelmed by the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi and the race ended with an unsavoury tangle involving the Williams of Bruno Senna. When you consider Alonso saved fifth place for the team and was lapping 2-3 seconds a lap quicker on a regular basis, it highlights Massa’s nightmare Down Under. I described his driving performance as akin to a pig on rollerskates! It is a sad and sorry decline for one of F1’s nice guys. Team principal Stefano Domenicalli is still backing his driver though, telling JAonF1; “We need to stay close to Felipe because it’s clear that he’s under pressure. I’ve asked his engineers to analyse the data on the car, also to reassure him.” It means that there can be no excuses this weekend.
Mentally, Massa is driving like Damon Hill did in his final, troubled season in the sport in 1999. The former golden boy of Ferrari has been cast adrift by Alonso’s arrival and moulding the team around the Spaniard’s comforts. The days of Felipe outpacing Raikkonen in their three years together are a distant memory. Has he ever recovered from the radio message below (using clever F1 2010 graphics) whilst leading the German Grand Prix by merit in 2010;
I don’t think he has and Shanghai aside last season, I don’t think he has driven as well as he did that day at Hockenheim. Immediately afterwards, he said he would walkaway from F1 if he was a no.2, having experienced a similar order at Sauber in his debut season, ironically at the same circuit.
Now I don’t know what Felipe Massa thinks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mental note saying ‘it is wrong to beat Alonso.’ It is frustrating, as he can match the best on his day. Since Hockenheim 2010, it has led to those basic errors that littered his first season in 2002 reappearing far too regularly. Don’t forget his attempt to pass cars on the grass on the approach to turn one of the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix? Of course, his high profile incidents with Lewis Hamilton last year have been well documented.
Then, there’s the factor of the crash during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when Massa was knocked out by a loose spring that had bounced down the road off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car. He might have scars for the incident, but big knocks can affect a driver. Ralf Schumacher had a similar experience after a testing shunt in 2003 and he never recovered from this shunt, while it took Mika Hakkinen the best part of 18 months to fully recover from his near fatal accident at Adelaide in 1995. Only Massa will know how much the Budapest shunt has affected him.
I do hope that the driver who came within seconds of the 2008 world championship does find some of his old form again. The bare facts are he hasn’t scored a podium since Korea 2010, the longest run a Maranello driver has gone without a podium since Eddie Irvine, 17 races between (1996-1997). We will see whether a new chassis is the solution to Massa’s problems. However, more races like Melbourne and Felipe will be lucky to see the season out, let alone hope for a contract extension.
Here is a sneak peak at what I will be doing in the build-up to and every weekend of the 2012 Grand Prix season;
– A charted history of every country that is hosting a Grand Prix this season ,with archive footage through YouTube.
– Biographies of drivers in the sport from the last 25 years (1987 onwards) both legends and those who weren’t so good. There will be two of these every weekend and this feature will begin at next week’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
– Detailed reports from Friday practice, the Saturday qualifying session and of course, the Grand Prix.
– Selected driver quotes from the race weekend.
– A driver rating tracker after the race, analysing the performances of all 24 competitors during the weekend and scoring them to see who is my no.1 at the end of the season.
– Plus, some other special features during the season.
This weekend, due to a family occasion, my race report won’t go online until Monday evening and qualifying report is unlikely – but my aim is to keep you up-to-date with the latest news throughout.
Also, you can follow me at @Siwri88 on Twitter.
I look forward to blogging during the 2012 season; FORMULA ONE IS BACK!!