Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Driver Files: Jean Alesi

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.

Next to be profiled was an enigmatic and often moody, yet spectacular Frenchman who had only one moment of glory to show for his 200+ events in the sport, Jean Alesi.

Jean Alesi celebrates his one and only win at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix (MotorsportRetro)

NAME: Jean Alesi

TEAMS: Tyrrell (1989-1990), Ferrari (1991-1995), Benetton (1996-1997), Sauber (1998-1999), Prost (2000-2001), Jordan (2001)

POINTS: 241

GP STARTS: 201

BEST FINISH: WINNER (1) – (1995 Canadian GP)

JEAN Alesi was one of Grand Prix racing’s leading stars in the 1990s.  He was awesome in the rain, often searing fast on a flying lap and put in some spectacular performances against the odds.  Therefore, for someone who drove for Ferrari and Benetton between 1991 and 1997, it seems staggering to think that the Frenchman only ever won one Grand Prix in his entire career.  Alesi had some rotten luck and also had his off days.  Plus he was never shy to criticise anyone if he was unhappy with the setup of his car.  An emotional character who was always committed and in many’s eyes, deserved more but for some dodgy career moves.

Alesi was a rising star from an early age and was actually into rallying rather than motor racing in his early days.  He graduated through the French motorsport system which was thriving at the time and won the F3000 championship in 1989.  Tied on points with compatriot Erik Comas, Alesi’s three wins including at Pau and Birmingham were enough to give him the title as Comas could only win twice.  This followed a French Formula 3 title in 1987.

By now, Jean’s big break in Formula One had already arrived.  Ken Tyrrell gave him his debut at the 1989 French Grand Prix, replacing the experienced Italian Michele Alboreto.  He finished a stunning fourth on his debut and further points finishes at Monza and at Jerez meant despite only contesting eight races, Alesi finished in the top ten in the drivers championship.

1990 was his first full year in F1 and Alesi stayed at Tyrrell, now partnered by Satoru Nakajima.  At the season opener in Phoenix, he wrestled his car to fourth on the grid and then took the lead at the first corner.  He easily resisted the challenge of Gerhard Berger’s McLaren and then went on to have an entertaining dice with Ayrton Senna for the lead.  Senna overtook him but the Frenchman was not daunted and cheekily repassed the great Brazilian on the very next corner.  Senna eventually overwhelmed him but Alesi’s star was born with a brilliant second place.  A fine second placed finish in Monaco backed up his talent and although there were some iffy performances in the second half of the season, 13 points was enough for ninth in the championship.

Tyrrell were keen to hold onto him, especially with Honda engines coming onboard.  However Williams signed a contract with him although Alesi’s preferred destination was with Ferrari.  Nigel Mansell’s decision to leave Ferrari opened the door for Alesi to get his dream move.  He would be partnered alongside three-time world champion Alain Prost.  Surely it was a match in heaven.  However 1991 was a disaster as Ferrari entered a period of being in the doldrums.  Alesi retired nine times, often because the car let him down.  Third placed finishes in Monaco, Germany and Portugal reminded everyone of his skill but with little reward.  Prost was fired before the season’s end after describing the 1991 Ferrari as a ‘truck.’  Williams went onto dominate the 90s so had Alesi gone with his head over his heart, he could well have been a multiple champion.

Ferrari continued to struggle in 1992 and 1993 and Jean’s frustration began to show with regular mistakes creeping into the car’s abysmal reliability issues.  A fine second placed finish at Monza in 1993 was the only highlight of a dreadful two seasons.  The Ferrari 412T1 in 1994 was a marked improvement, taking Alesi to podium finishes in Brazil, Silverstone and in Japan after a thrilling dice in the rain with Mansell.  1994 also saw his maiden pole position at Monza of all places but gearbox failure in the pits whilst 12 seconds ahead of eventual race winner Damon Hill robbed him of certain victory.  The final year with the Scuderia brought more consistent results although he still could not better fifth in the drivers championship.

There were second place finishes in Argentina, San Marino and Britain and fine performances led to nothing from Japan in a trademark Alesi surge through the field, Spain with a blown V12 engine and again at Monza, as wheel bearing failure denied him another potential success on tifosi homeland.  Alesi broke down in tears after this event.  However there were no such issues at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Having qualified fifth, Alesi snatched third from his team-mate Gerhard Berger when the Williams of David Coulthard spun off on lap three.  He eased past Damon Hill and on his 31st birthday, looked set for an excellent second place finish.  For once, lady luck was shining on Alesi and dominant race leader, Michael Schumacher suffered a gear selection glitch that lost him a full minute.  Driving the famous No.27 in Montreal, the number Canadian hero Gilles Villeneuve had in his Ferrari days, Alesi took the chequered flag at his 91st attempt.  His Ferrari ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap to complete his lucky day.  However after all the bad luck in his career, no-one could deny Jean his deserving moment on the top step of the podium.

With Schumacher moving to Ferrari for 1996, Alesi and Berger moved from Ferrari to double champions Benetton.  Fourth in the championship with 46 points, Alesi’s best total for any season.  There were eight visits to the podium but no wins, although the crazy Monaco Grand Prix was his until wheel bearing problems intervened, AGAIN!  Alesi’s relationship with Flavio Briatore was always a strained one and a kamikaze attempt to take the lead from row five at the start of the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix saw him destroy his Benetton B196 on the exit of turn two.  Briatore was furious, as it allowed Ferrari in to finish second in the constructors championship and claimed that Alesi had crashed on purpose to help his former team.  From that moment on, he was damaged goods at Benetton and 1997 was not much better.  At the season opener, Alesi blatantly ignored constant pit calls to come in for fuel and ultimately grounded to a halt, out of petrol.  ITV commentator Murray Walker summed up the mood in the Benetton pit during the race, as they looked absolutely furious at Alesi’s refusal to come into the pits.  He said; “Oh Jean, you’ve got a major problem when you get back to the pits sunshine.”  There were second placed finishes at Montreal, Silverstone and the Nurburgring and another pole position at Monza but Jean’s time was up with Benetton and he jumped ship to Sauber.

Partnered with Johnny Herbert, Alesi cleverely moulded the team around him and drove out of his skin in 1998 to often qualify the car in the top ten and run strongly in the race.  He survived the Spa carnage to finish third, pushing the two Jordan’s all the way to the finish.  Fifth in Argentina and Monza plus sixth at Imola enabled Jean to outscore Herbert by 9-1.  1999 was more disappointing, with some shambolic performances such as qualifying 21st for the German Grand Prix!  When another mechanical problem cost him a potential fourth place in Budapest, the emotional Alesi announced he was leaving Sauber at the end of the year, frustrated with lack of progress and more preferential treatment that paydriver Pedro Diniz seemed to be getting.  Mind you Diniz outscored Alesi in 1999, so the team had a point.

A link-up with former Ferrari team-mate Alain Prost at his team for 2000 was a disaster.  There were no points, with ninth and last at the Nurburgring being his best result.  There were 12 retirements, the Peugeot engine kept blowing up and the car was a slow as a Morris Minor.  In Austria, Alesi committed the ultimate crime by driving into his rookie team-mate Nick Heidfeld, two weeks after Heidfeld had hit him at his home race in Magny-Cours.  He was happier in 2001 with a customer Ferrari engine and there were superb drives in Monaco and Montreal to gain much-needed points for the ailing Prost outfit.

When Jordan mysteriously sacked Heinz-Harald Frentzen on the eve of the 2001 German Grand Prix, Alesi decided to leave Prost, much to Alain’s annoyance and join Jordan.  It led to a brief reunion with Eddie Jordan who had Alesi in his F3000 team during 1989 when he won the title.  Sixth place at Spa and seventh on his 200th GP start at Indianapolis were the best results as Alesi fought to retain his drive for 2002, alongside one of his best friends in the paddock, Giancarlo Fisichella.  However Honda’s insistence on placing Japanese backed Takuma Sato in the car meant Alesi made a sudden decision to retire from racing on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix.  Sadly he was involved in a scary accident on lap six with Kimi Raikkonen, when the Finn’s rear suspension broke on his Sauber and Alesi t-boned him.  Amazingly both drivers walked away.  The DNF denied Alesi a record of finishing in every single Grand Prix in 2001.

Jean has continued to race since his F1 retirement, spending four solid seasons competing for Mercedes in the DTM series, winning four races including two at Donington Park.  He competed at Le Mans in Fisichella’s Ferrari team in 2010, finishing fourth in class and is an ambassador for the Lotus Formula One team.  Later this month, Alesi will attempt to qualify and compete for Newman Haas at the legendary Indianapolis 500.

Jean Alesi was one of the greatest mysteries in the 1990s.  He only won one race but won many fans around the world for his aggressive and charging driving style.  With a bit more luck and better career judgement, who knows what career he could have carved out for himself in Formula One.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES:  The most dominant British Formula 3 career led to a loss of confidence and the sack from a three-time world champion.  The struggles of Dane, Jan Magnussen

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Remembering Imola: The aftermath and the improvements

IN MY final blog this week remembering the ghastly weekend at Imola in 1994 – it is time to look at the aftermath of the events and how the sport has moved on with radical and rapid improvements in medical facilities, safety and learning lessons from very dark and distressing times.

In the days after Imola, there was a lot of soul searching to be done by everyone who was involved in the weekend’s proceedings.  Gerhard Berger, who was driving for Ferrari had to consider his future in the sport, especially after witnessing the death of his closest friend Ayrton Senna and countryman, Roland Ratzenberger.  Others had sleepless nights but the show carried on and all the drivers who raced at Imola in 94 didn’t retire in its aftermath.

The FIA and especially its president, Max Mosley were inspirational in a time of real crisis.  They made immediate changes to safety regulations in the sport, beginning from the Spanish Grand Prix, just two races after Imola and contiuning with this until well into 1995.  Changes included the introduction of the ‘plank,’ to remove illegal skidblock wear which was the downfall to Michael Schumacher’s disqualification after winning at Spa that August.  Driver cockpit sides were strengthened and made bigger and the FIA crash test came into force as a mandatory procedure, both in frontal and side impacts.  A new pitlane speed limit was brought into force to reduce the chances of significant injury after the Michele Alboreto incident in the pits at Imola.

These changes were too late to save some from other nasty accidents.  Austrian Karl Wendlinger fell into a deep coma after crashing at the Nouvelle Chicane during practice for the next race in Monaco.  Wendlinger’s injuries were caused thanks to driver impact from the barriers.  Pedro Lamy had a monumental shunt during private testing at Silverstone in which he was ejected from his Lotus Mugen Honda.  Lamy survived but suffered serious leg injuries and multiple fractures.  In Barcelona, the destroyed Simtek team had to deal with another cracked monocque when Andrea Montermini ran wide into the final corner and crashed heavily during practice, fracturing his heel and breaking his foot.

However driver injury has become far less in recent years.  There have been close escapes, with Felipe Massa especially in 2009.  Although there were two marshal fatalities due to flying debris at the beginning of the millennium, the most serious driver injury since 1994 was Olivier Panis breaking both of his legs after a suspension failure pitched him into the barriers during the 1997 Canadian Grand Prix.  The FIA continue to set the standards in safety today.  The deaths of Marco Simoncelli in MotoGP and Dan Wheldon in IndyCars last October highlight that motorsport is dangerous and always will be.  However it is much safer than it ever has been.

In the wake of the Imola tragedies, the GPDA was reformed, having been disbanded in 1982.  Three time world champion Niki Lauda initiated its return with Berger, Michael Schumacher and Christian Fittipaldi as directors.  Membership isn’t compulsory but many of today’s drivers are part of the association.  Temporary changes were made to many circuits including ridiculous but necessary tyre chicanes in Barcelona and the slowing down of cars for one year through the daunting Eau Rouge corner at Spa.  A year later Formula One returned to Imola with permanent chicanes installed at Tamburello and Villeneuve corners to slow the cars down.  Again, these measures were needed to slow the average speeds down but Imola lost its glory as a drivers circuit, often produced processional events and was axed from the F1 calendar at the end of 2006.  Schumacher remained chairman of the GPDA for 11 years until his first retirement in 2006.  Today’s chairman is experienced Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa with Massa and world champion Sebastian Vettel as directors.

Ayrton Senna’s name is spelt wrong in the poorly researched ‘Going Critical’ documentary – shown by Channel 4 in September 2001 (SennaFiles)

The cause of Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident is unlikely to ever be found out.  There have been many points of speculation including a terrible Channel 4 documentary in 2001 as part of the ‘Going Critical’ series where it was wrongly promoted the whole truth would be revealed.  There was a high-profile trial into the case in Italy and Sir Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey were all acquitted of manslaughter in 1997.  It would be wrong for me to speculate on what caused Senna’s accident although driver error was very very unlikely.  For a car to crash at Tamburello, something would have to break or explode on the car, as Berger experienced at the same spot in the 1989 race.  Roland Ratzenberger’s accident was caused by his front wing breaking as a result of it being weakened by impact with either an off-track moment or a high kerb.  Ratzenberger’s car went straight on into the concrete wall with no steering or braking capability due to the loss of the front wing.

The legacy of both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s accidents and the entire weekend at Imola is that Formula One has taken onboard what happened and has done all it has to make sure that these kinds of tragedies are prevented in future.  Death in F1 has happened before and it will at some stage, probably happen again.  However so many precautions have now been taken and that is thanks to the hard work of the drivers and the FIA.  Everyone wants to race in a safe environment and to a large extent, this has been achieved since that terrible weekend in April/May 1994.

Neither Senna nor Ratzenberger will be forgotten by the Formula One fraternity.  The experience of these hellish events has made Formula One a safer environment today.

Remembering Imola: Ayrton Senna – A genius behind the wheel

THE penultimate blog from remembering Imola focuses on the career and the life of Ayrton Senna, eighteen years after he tragically perished at the wheel of the Williams FW16 in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  Forget Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.  In my opinion, Senna was the greatest ever human being to drive in Formula One.

Senna was very successful in the junior formulae in Brazil and in England.  He begun karting at the tender age of four.  For him, racing was in his blood and so to was his will and desire to win.  To him, second place wasn’t acceptable; he felt it was first of the losers.  He underlined that ruthless streak early on in his career, in the tense and exciting duel with Britain’s Martin Brundle for the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship.  Senna dominated the first half of the season, Brundle the second half and it left Ayrton to pull off some crazy overtaking attempts that often ended in accidents.  Eventually he overcame Brundle in the season finale at Thruxton and Formula One beckoned.

Despite testing for McLaren and Williams in the winter of 1983, Senna opted to sign for the Toleman team, later to become Benetton.  Immediately Senna made an impression, despite his inferior equipment.  He came so close to winning his maiden race in 1984.  In Monaco Senna made full advantage of the awful weather conditions, to charge through from 12th on the grid.  He pulled off some stupendous overtaking moves, with the confidence that suggested he would be a champion in future waiting.  Only a red flag that brought the race to an early conclusion denied him.  Senna insisted that he would have won if the race had it run just one more lap.  The determination to succeed was firmly there.  Podiums at Brands Hatch and Estoril followed but Senna knew that Toleman was not a long-term stay.  He went to Lotus for the next three seasons, convinced that this might be the team that could deliver him the world championship.

In only his second race for the famous British marquee, Senna won in Portugal – in very similar conditions to those of Monaco 1984.  Second placed Michele Alboreto was the only driver not to be lapped, in a clinical and masterful performance in the wet.  Not only did Senna become a great wet weather runner, he developed a close association with the Japanese manufacturer Honda in his time at Lotus and also the amazing skill he had to produce a flying lap.  Eight pole positions in 1985 and this skill remained with Senna all the way till his untimely death.  Although Schumacher has beaten this statistic, it took him twelve years to do it after Ayrton’s death.  65 pole positions in 161 races, over 33 per cent is one of the most impressive ratios I’ve ever seen.  In his three years with Lotus, Senna achieved third place in the 1987 championship and six wins in total, including a maiden triumph on the streets of Monte Carlo.  However the British team was on a steady rate of decline and Ayrton elected to jump ship, taking Honda with him to McLaren.

Frustrated by seeing the more superior Williams of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell often get the better of him despite his undoubted talent, Senna was convinced the switch to McLaren would finally give him the success it craved.  There he was partnered with the Frenchman Alain Prost, the golden boy of McLaren at the time.  Fireworks would explode between the pair, though not initially.  The 1988 McLaren Honda was the most dominant car in Grand Prix history, winning 15 of the season’s 16 races.  If Jean-Louis Schelesser hadn’t taken Senna out in the closing stages at Monza, it could well have been a clean sweep.  Senna won eight races to Prost’s seven – though the ‘Professor’s’ consistency meant he went on to score more championship points.  However on a countback system, which the sport used at the time, Senna knew that victory in the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix would be enough for his first championship.

The start was a disaster as Senna squandered pole position and dropped to 14th by turn one, giving Prost a colossal advantage.  Very quickly Senna showed the superiority of his McLaren and charged through the pack.  By lap 16, he was fourth and eleven laps later, was challenging for the lead.  When Prost was trapped in backmarkers, Senna seized his opportunity and squeezed past his team-mate on the start-finish straight.  It was a clinical piece of overtaking and a drive that thoroughly deserved to win the championship.  Prost was very gracious in defeat, admitting that Senna had been the better driver during 1988.  Apart from a moment in Portugal, when Ayrton had nearly put Alain into the pitwall, their battle had been a joy to watch in 1988.  Sadly the next two years bought politics and accusations to the heartfelt of the sport.

Race two of 1989 was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.  Prost and Senna entered a gentlemanly agreement, that the man who approached the braking point for the Tosa hairpin first, would go onto win the race.  Senna took pole position and led on the first lap.  However when his good friend Gerhard Berger crashed at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames, the race required a restart.  Second time round, Prost made the better start and led approaching Tosa.  Senna, presuming that the agreement was only meant on one attempt, stole the lead into the hairpin and drove into the distance.  It was perhaps a gentle misunderstanding but Prost, who finished over a minute adrift refused to talk to Senna again.

1989 was not a lucky year for the Brazilian, losing certain victories in USA, Canada and Italy due to mechanical problems, whilst he was taken out in Portugal by the already disqualified Mansell.  Once again Suzuka would be the deciding factor in the championship battle, this time with Prost the favourite.  Senna had to win to stand any chance of taking the fight to Adelaide.  He lost the lead with a poor start and harassed Prost all afternoon, with little chance of getting ahead.  On lap 47, he closed up and made his move into the final chicane.  Prost, knowing that Senna had to win turned into the corner and the accident was inevitable.  The two McLaren cars interlocked wheels and slid to a halt.  Prost unbuckled his belts and walked away but Senna kept his engine running and restarted.  However he needed outside assistance from the marshals to get going again.  Despite needing to pit for a new nosecone, catching and overtaking the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini, Senna won and was promptly disqualified for the outside assistance offence.  Prost was champion.  Ayrton was furious, threatening to walkaway from the sport he loved, believing that a conspiracy had been set-up against him by Prost and the unpopular FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre.  More allegations and accusations followed and Senna’s super license was revoked.

The following March he was back, having apologised and won the season opener in Phoenix.  Once more the fight for supremacy was between Senna’s McLaren Honda and Prost, who had swapped seats with Berger and moved to McLaren’s closest rivals Ferrari.  For the third successive year, Japan was the deciding point for the championship saga.  This time it was Prost who needed to win to keep his title dream alive.  Senna took his customary pole position but bitterly complained all weekend that pole position was on the dirtier side of the grid.  He campaigned for it to be changed and Prost actually agreed.  The officials granted Senna’s request, but Balestre refused to back down.  Consequently Senna vowed that if Prost turned into turn one first, he would regret it.

Twenty-four hours later and Senna accelerated away but Prost got the better start and took the lead.  Senna looked for a gap on the inside of the first corner that disappeared quickly.  Contact was inevitable and the McLaren and Ferrari disappeared into a cloud of dust.  The outcome of the 1990 FIA Formula One World Championship had been decided in a matter of seconds in such sad and distasteful circumstances.  It was a second title for Senna but bittersweet.  Only at the same event a year later, with Balestre gone and replaced by Max Mosley did Senna admit that he deliberately ran Prost off the road in 1990.  His will and desire to win couldn’t be faulted but in attempting to knock another car out on purpose was a hideous crime, which on a normal UK road would land you with at least a driving ban and possibly a jail sentence.

In 1991, Senna won his third and last drivers title for the umpteenth time at Suzuka, the deciding point of most title battles.  Prost fell away and was fired by Ferrari before the season’s end, so it left for a renewed rivalry to remerge between Senna and Nigel Mansell.  Senna won the first four races in 1991 but as the Williams Renault became the stronger package during the campaign, Senna grew frustrated realising that McLaren were being out developed by a rival for the first time in his stint with the Woking team.  Eventually reliability and a terrible pitstop in Portugal shot down Mansell’s 1991 title dream but not for the worth of trying.  He went wheel-to-wheel with Senna, sparks flying at some 200mph down the backstraight of Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, one of the sport’s most iconic images.

As the Williams team mastered the active suspension system, McLaren drifted further behind and Senna had to work especially hard for any of his later victories in his career.  1992 was a major disappointment, as Ayrton finished 4th in the final standings with just three wins, compared to the nine of the dominant Mansell.  One of his greatest victories came in Monaco 1992 when he managed to hold off a hard-charging Mansell, who clambered all over the back of his McLaren in the last five laps.  Honda pulled out of F1 at the end of the season and Senna questioned whether he should remain in the sport, especially when Prost ‘vetoed’ him not to drive alongside him at Williams in 1993.

Senna decided to stay with McLaren on a race-by-race basis in 1993 and was excellent throughout the season.  There were memorable victories in Brazil for the second time at home, Japan, Australia and for a record sixth time in Monaco.  However he saved the best for a damp Easter weekend in 1993.  The venue was Donington Park for the European Grand Prix.  Senna qualified 4th and was squeezed out by the uncompromising Michael Schumacher on the rundown to Redgate.  Undeterred he sprinted past the young German on the exit and then swept past the fast-starting Karl Wendlinger in his Sauber around the outside of the Craner Curves.  Next target were the dominant Williams and just three corners later, he went inside Damon Hill to move into second.  He tore into Prost’s early advantage and outbraked his chief rival into the Melbourne Loop.  He had gone from fifth to first by the end of the first lap, definitely the greatest lap in Grand Prix history.  Senna won the race from Hill by nearly a full lap. 

For 1994 Senna got his dream move to the Williams Renault squad.  With Prost having retired and Mansell competing in IndyCars, this was Senna’s chance to add to his forty-one victories.  Sadly the partnership that promised so much never came to fruition.  Senna didn’t like the handling of the FW16 and had a miserable first two races.  He spun off and stalled his engine in Brazil, chasing down Schumacher’s Benetton.  Then he was tipped off the road by Mika Hakkinen into the first corner of the Pacific Grand Prix.  Arriving at Imola, Senna had no points, Schumacher twenty.

Autosport magazine claimed he was a man under pressure.  He didn’t show it though, focused on his goal to bring Williams back to the top after an unconvincing start.  He blitzed the entire field in San Marino, setting the quickest time in every single session.  However accidents to his countryman Rubens Barrichello and the death of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying deeply affected Senna.

Deep down he didn’t have the passion to race.  Some say he was not on the best of terms with his family, due to his burdening relationship with Adriane Galisteu.  Others suggest he believed that Schumacher and Benetton were cheating their way to success, by using the now banned electronic aids.  Either way he put those issues aside and went out to race.  A startline accident put the race behind the Safety Car and it was going too slow for Ayrton’s liking.  On the restart Senna charged away, determined to pull away from Schumacher.  On lap seven, he entered the flat-out Tamburello bend when his Williams refused to turn into the corner.  The rest they say is history… 

Ayrton Senna may have not endeared himself to everyone.  However his skill behind the wheel of a racing car cannot be questioned, nor could his charitable work he put in for many local Brazilian and worldwide charities.  His speed, desire and commitment to win were immense, even if some of his tactics had to be questioned.  A devote Christian, Senna believed that God would save him on the racetrack.  His death brought shock to the whole world – and the funeral that followed brought Brazil to a complete standstill.  Chillingly he had predicted that the new regulations for the 1994 season would bring serious accidents, possibly even bring the horrible fatality that he feared could happen.  On 1 May 1994, the world lost a famous icon, and although Williams found replacement drivers easy to come by, Formula One will never see the likes of him again.  In 2010 a movie was made about his career, simply titled ‘Senna.’

Ayrton Senna is a legend who leaves an endearing legacy to many and is a sporting legend forever.

AYRTON SENNA (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)

The greatest of all time, Ayrton Senna (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)

Surprising link-up between Sauber and Chelsea FC

FA CUP finalists Chelsea and the Sauber Formula One team have announced a surprising link-up between the two parties.  The result of Monday’s news will see both organisations carry each other’s logos around their places of sporting events.  Chelsea showed off the partnership with advertising hoardings backing the Sauber team during their 2-0 Premiership loss to Newcastle United last night.

Sauber will show off the new link-up at next week’s race in Barcelona (Sky Sports F1)

Sauber have carried some messages on their car at the Bahrain Grand Prix saying “True Blue” which might have given away an indication of the potential deal.  It will be big for the Swiss team, that is now in its 20th season of competing in Grand Prix racing as their car has been missing sponsors on a regular basis since BMW’s withdrawal from the sport at the end of 2009.  Sergio Perez’s stunning second place finish in Malaysia will surely have played a part in the West London club agreeing this deal with Sauber.

Sauber’s CEO Monisha Kaltenborn said on the Sauber website; “A partnership like this between Formula One and Football has never existed before in this form, yet there are numerous commonalities and possible synergies.  The Sauber F1 Team and Chelsea FC are dealing with many of the same sporting and commercial topics and we want to strengthen each other in these areas.  We are looking forward to exploiting these opportunities, and we congratulate Chelsea on making it to the final of the Champions League.”

The relationship is believed to promote sporting and business ventures together and the two will work on merchandising, sports science and sponsorship opportunities.  Either way, the deal works very well for Sauber and continues their impressive start to 2012, especially if as it turns out, to have a link-up with the potential new Champions of Europe.

Mugello Test Day 2 – Grosjean is the testing king again

Once again, Romain Grosjean led the way in a testing session (Ausmotive)

FRENCHMAN Romain Grosjean continued his solid return to Grand Prix racing yesterday, by nicking the quickest time in the second day of the Mugello Test.

In much better and consistent conditions than were seen on Tuesday, the Lotus Renault driver lapped around the Italian circuit in 1.21.603 to join the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi at the top of the timesheets.  The two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were third and fourth fastest as Red Bull look to understand their new car more after Vettel’s recent success in Bahrain.

The test is seen as a major opportunity for many teams to test significant upgrades in packages before next week’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.  BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson explained on their website a little bit more about the advanced changes to Ferrari’s package.  “Ferrari have tried two different positions of exhaust exit here – the one they have been racing with and the one they had to abandon during pre-season testing because it was overheating the rear tyres.  They believe the pre-season testing one is the best, and they have been doing more work on that here.”

Grosjean’s fastest lap came early on in the day and on a harder tyre than the one used by Kobayashi to set his quickest effort.  This, along with previous testing form does suggest that some of Lotus’s race performances so far have flattered to deceive in 2012.  Michael Schumacher did the most duration, completing 144 laps yesterday for Mercedes GP before departing for a break before Barcelona.  Nico Rosberg is expected to be back at the wheel today.

It was a quiet and calmer day after the storms of Tuesday but hydraulic problems for most of the day left Force India in the pits and Paul di Resta largely on the sidelines.  Day three has already begun and it will be interesting to see if Lotus can continue their good form today.

DAY 2 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN

1. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.21.603 – 97 laps

2. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.21.603 – 87 laps

3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.825 – 64 laps

4. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.997 – 54 laps

5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.257 – 106 laps

6. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.424 – 65 laps

7. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.759 – 22 laps

8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.23.404 – 144 laps

9. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.23.982 – 46 laps

10. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.24.312 – 112 laps

Remembering Imola: A catalogue of shocking events

REMEMBERING Imola continues with a deeper look into the catalogue of horrific events at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  A weekend that changed Formula One racing forever.  18 years on, the safety of today’s modern Grand Prix cars has improved greatly.  Sadly though it happened at the loss of taking away the life of the greatest Grand Prix driver of his generation, Ayrton Senna.

The horror of the weekend began on Friday 29th April 1994, when in the first official qualifying session, the young Brazilian Rubens Barrichello lost control of his Jordan Hart car approaching the quick Variante Bassa chicane.  His car launched off a kerb and smashed into the tyre wall at colossal speed, narrowly avoiding going over some catch fencing.  Only the quick reactions of Professor Sid Watkins prevented the talented Barrichello, second in the drivers championship at the time from swallowing his tongue.  Remarkably he walked away with just a cut lip, minor bruising and a broken nose.  His weekend was over but his life had remained intact.  It reminded Grand Prix fans and drivers of the real dangers that the sport possesses.  Just 24 hours later, the luck ran out.

Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was attempting to qualify for what only would have been his second Grand Prix, having finished his first race in Aida just a fortnight earlier.  Eighteen minutes into Saturday’s second qualifying session, Ratzenberger’s front wing broke off exiting the flat-out Tamburello bend.  His wing had been weakened by leaving the track on his previous flying lap at the Aqua Minerali chicane.  With no steering or braking capability, the Simtek Ford car ploughed straight into the concrete wall at Villeneuve bend on the approach to the Tosa hairpin.  The impact was thought to be close to 200mph.  As soon as his car came to a halt, it became clear from a very early evident stage that Roland wasn’t going to be as lucky as Barrichello was.  The session was stopped and the medics did what they could to save the rookie’s life.  However it was to be a battle in vain, with Ratzenberger being pronounced dead on arrival at Bologna Maggiore Hospital.  He became the first driver to be killed at a race meeting for twelve years, since Ricardo Paletti’s demise at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.  The last driver to suffer a fatal crash in an F1 car was the Italian Elio de Angelis at the wheel of a Brabham, during a test session at Paul Ricard, France in 1986.

On raceday, meetings were held between the drivers with the decision to announce the reformation of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association).  In the wake of Ratzenberger’s accident, no-one could predict the chilling omens for raceday.  The show went on with David Brabham, Ratzenberger’s devastated team-mate electing to continue for the Simtek team.

At the green light, Ayrton Senna stormed into the lead from his 65th pole position leading Michael Schumacher’s Benetton Ford and the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger.  Further back, JJ Lehto had stalled his Benetton from row three on the grid.  The two Ligiers of Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard narrowly missed the Finn’s stricken car but Lehto was to be collected by Pedro Lamy’s fast acclerating Lotus Mugen Honda.  Lamy spun into the barrier and across the road with both cars completely destroyed by the impact.  Lehto suffered a light arm injury and Lamy escaped unhurt but it was a wheel from the departed Lotus that caused the mayhem this time around.  It vaulted into the spectactor fencing leaving nine people, including a policeman with minor injuries.  Despite all the debris on the circuit, the decision was taken to deploy the Safety Car for only the third time in Grand Prix history.

After five laps under the Safety Car, Senna charged away with Schumacher in hot pursuit.  Two laps later, Senna’s car didn’t turn into the flatout Tamburello corner Tamburello corner, pitching straight on into a concrete wall at some 140mph, possibly even greater speed.  The crumbled Williams returned to the edge of the circuit with Senna slumped in the cockpit, debris being thrown in all directions.  The race was red-flagged.

Once again it was clear that Senna was in a grave condition from the outset, with very little sign of movement from the cockpit of his car.  As Professor Sid Watkins and the marshals got to work again, the severity of the crash especially from the pictures being beamed around the world on television made the scene even worse.  Senna was airlifted to Maggiore Hospital from the track.  As soon as the first medical bulletins filtered through from the track, any hope of a recovery was realistically lost.  The race was eventually restarted 45 minutes later with Schumacher claiming his third successive victory in a very sombre atmosphere.

During the race, the final event of a horror weekend occurred when a wheel departed from Michele Alboreto’s Minardi as he exited the pits from his final stop.  The errant wheel bounced down the pitlane and struck one chief mechanic from Lotus and three from Ferrari.  Luckily, none of the injuries were serious.  After the race, Senna was announced as clinically brain dead and his life machine was switched off.  Brazil went into a state of national mourning, the world of sport stunned into silence.

Fortunately the steps taken to improve safety in Formula One have been of massive leaps and boundaries.  Many drivers since 1994, including Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Takuma Sato and more recently in Hungary in 2009 with Felipe Massa have had serious, frightening accidents.  All have been able to live the tail and go racing again.  The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix will go down as the darkest weekend in motorsport history and eighteen years on, its pain will never heal.

Mugello Test Day One: Rain disrupts opening day

It was a day where most teams had to sit in the pits due to the weather (F1network.net)

FORMULA ONE’s first in-season test since 2008 turned into a damp squib, as rain ruined the first day in Italy.  There was something for the patrotric tifosi to cheer however as some consistent times from Fernando Alonso this morning saw the Spaniard end up fastest today.  Alonso was a full 1.2secs quicker than the Red Bull of Mark Webber, although that isn’t a fair representation of times due to the weather.  In fact the afternoon session was a washout and the track had to be closed for a while as the medical helicopter couldn’t take off.  The Mugello circuit, where this test is based turned into the lake, akin to the weather most of the UK has seen in April.

Alonso’s quickest time today was a 1.22.444 on slick tyres as drivers did at least have the morning to set competitive times and gain useful data for the European leg of the 2012 championship, starting in Barcelona on May 11-13.  Ferrari will be hoping that the new aerodynamic package it has brought to this test can revive the flaling fortunes of the F2012.  Despite Alonso’s shock win in Malaysia, the team has struggled to set the standard and were often in the midfield in the flyaway events.

Webber was second fastest and will hand over the duties at Red Bull to Bahrain race winner and world champion Sebastian Vettel tomorrow.  The Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne finished third fastest just infront of Lotus Renault tester Jerome D’Ambrosio and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.  It was a tough day for the drivers and the afternoon deluge prevented Michael Schumacher from doing any serious running.  Nevertheless, he told Planet F1 of his joy of being back at a circuit where he spent thousands of kilometres pounding around in his Ferrari days.  “This afternoon, I was literally able just go out to check if it made sense to run – which it did not – and at least I could show the spectators who were waiting in the rain a running car for some short moments.  Still, it was nice being back in Mugello after so many years, and I must say it was also nice being welcomed back by the tifosi so warmly.”

11 of the 12 teams are testing here, including Marussia.  HRT will be absent this week as they concentrate on moving factory location to Madrid.  Also away are McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.  Button was doing a demo run on the streets of Budapest today with young British duo Olivier Turvey and winner of the DTM opener at the weekend, Gary Paffett in action this week.

Better weather is forecast in the region for the next two days which will be hoped for by all the teams.  On the 18th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola, May 1 saw the return to testing and not enough of the anticipated track action forecasted.

DAY 1 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN

1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.22.444

2. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.648

3. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.891

4. Jerome D’Ambrosio (Lotus Renault) 1.24.048

5. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.100

6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.24.736

7. Olivier Turvey (McLaren Mercedes) 1.25.303

8. Jules Bianchi (Force India Mercedes) 1.25.475

9. Rodolfo Gonzalez (Caterham Renault) 1.27.197

10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.359

 

Remembering Imola: The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix starters – Where are they now

REMEMBERING Imola continues with this special look at all the drivers who took part at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and what has happened to them since.  We sadly know what happened to both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, but what happened in the race weekend to the other 26 competitors and where are they now.

1994 Gran Premio di San Marino Grand Prix – The drivers

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Drove for: Benetton Ford, Qualified: 2nd, Race: 1st

Schumacher was chasing Senna hard before the Brazilian’s inexplicable accident which caused the race to be stopped.  In the second race, he was beaten off the line by Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari but stayed on the Austrian’s tail and passed on lap 10 exiting the Aqua Minerali chicane.  Schumacher cruised to victory afterwards by some 50 seconds.

Today: Michael Schumacher still competes in Formula One, driving for the Petronas Mercedes F1 team.

NICOLA LARINI

Drove for: Ferrari, Qualified: 6th, Race: 2nd

Larini was standing in at Ferrari for Jean Alesi, who had been injured at Mugello in a testing accident a month earlier.  The Italian qualified a solid sixth, but slipped to seventh off the start.  On the second start, he quickly moved into fourth and jumped Mika Hakkinen on the road and aggregate timing after the first round of pitstops.  He then drove calmly to finish an excellent second, easily his best ever finish in Formula One

Today: Larini forged a stronger career in touring cars, often a frontrunner in the European and World series.  He retired from professional racing at the end of 2009.

MIKA HAKKINEN

Drove for: McLaren Peugeot, Qualified: 8th, Race: 3rd

The McLaren Peugeot alliance was a disastrous combination but went well at Imola.  Reliability problems and some overdriving in qualifying left Hakkinen back in eighth place on the grid, jumping Nicola Larini at the start.  Following the restart, the Finn ran third for the majority of the distance and held off a late attack from Karl Wendlinger to take McLaren’s first podium of the season.

Today: After two Formula One titles in 1998 and 1999, Hakkinen retired from Formula One in 2001.  He did some driving in DTM before stopping racing completely in 2007.  He now has a career in driving management.

KARL WENDLINGER

Drove for: Sauber Mercedes, Qualified: 10th, Race: 4th

The under-rated Austrian took tenth spot on the grid as Sauber didn’t run in qualifying on Saturday following Ratzenberger’s fatal accident.  Wendlinger leapfrogged Ukyo Katayama at the start and was eighth before the red flag was thrown for Senna’s accident.  On the restart, he ran fifth and moved into fourth when Berger retired.  He was catching Hakkinen and just fell short of a maiden visit to the podium.

Today: Wendlinger’s F1 career effectively ended after a serious accident in practice for the next race at Monte Carlo.  He forged a career in sportscars afterwards and was still racing in GT1 with Lamborghini in 2011.   

UKYO KATAYAMA

Drove for: Tyrrell Yamaha, Qualified: 9th, Race: 5th

A radically improved Tyrrell had Katayama flying all weekend.  He started in the top ten and spent most of the race fighting for points with Damon Hill and Christian Fittipaldi.  Fittipaldi’s late retirement helped Katayama into fifth place, equalling his best ever F1 result.

Today: Katayama has focused on his other hobby, which is climbing mountains.  By 2010, he had successfully climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro amongst others.  He also is a commentator for Fuji TV on Formula One.

DAMON HILL

Drove for: Williams Renault, Qualified: 4th, Race: 6th

Damon had a difficult first day of qualifying but improved to fourth on the grid from seventh just moments before Ratzenberger crashed.  Holding position from the start, he clashed with Schumacher at the Tosa hairpin on the restart and limped back to the pits with a damaged front wing.  Hill set fastest lap on his fightback to sixth and the final championship point.

Today: After retiring from Formula One at the end of the 1999, Damon had a successful time as president of the British Racing Drivers Club, securing the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in the process.  He is now a pundit on the new UK F1 channel, Sky Sports F1.

HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN

Drove for: Sauber Mercedes, Qualified: 7th, Race: 7th

This was only Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s third race in F1 and it was a dramatic weekend.  He did well to qualify seventh and was devastated by the death of his close friend Ratzenberger on Saturday afternoon.  He missed Lehto’s stalled Benetton by millimetres on the green light and was due to line up in fourth for the restart.  Unfortunately he stalled on the dummy grid and had to start from the pitlane.  A collision with Mark Blundell damaged his front wing and meant despite setting the fourth fastest lap of the day, Frentzen missed out on points in seventh at the chequered flag.

Today: Frentzen has plans to race in the Indian Racing League next season.  For now, he competes in some sportscar and GT events and is often a driver steward at Formula One race meetings for the FIA.

MARTIN BRUNDLE

Drove for: McLaren Peugeot, Qualified: 13th, Race: 8th

Brundle went fourth quickest in Saturday’s practice session, but an engine failure on Saturday and crash in qualifying on Friday left him well out of position in 13th on the grid.  Tenth at the red flag, Brundle’s race was compromised by a dreadful second start that him scrapping with Johnny Herbert and Pierluigi Martini for most of the distance.  He finished a frustrated eighth, but it was his first race finish of 1994.

Today: Martin Brundle has crafted out a successful career in the media and his technical analysis has made him a wanted man for all UK TV broadcasters.  He has commentated for ITV, BBC and from the start of 2012, joined the Sky Sports F1 team.

MARK BLUNDELL

Drove for: Tyrrell Yamaha, Qualified: 12th, Race: 9th

Mark Blundell struggled to match the pace of his team-mate Katayama and had a weekend of total obsecurity, qualifying 12th and finishing two laps down in ninth place.

Today: Blundell was a CART driver until 1999 and a pundit on the ITV F1 team until they lost broadcasting rights to the BBC at the end of 2008.  Now, Blundell runs his own management company, 2MB Sports Management, handling the career of McLaren tester Gary Paffett amongst others.

JOHNNY HERBERT

Drove for: Lotus Mugen Honda, Qualified: 20th, Race: 10th

With an old spec Mugen Honda engine and a difficult Lotus chassis to handle, Herbert’s frustration was starting to creep in with the dwindling outfit.  He got the maximum out of the car at Imola to finish tenth, little reward for his determination.

Today: Herbert has done various roles in motorsport, from British Touring Cars with Honda to racing at Le Mans for Audi.  Like Brundle and Hill, he is a regular contributor to the newly formed Sky Sports F1 team as a pundit.

OLIVIER PANIS

Drove for: Ligier Renault, Qualified: 19th, Race: 11th

As with Lotus, 1994 was a very tough season for Ligier due to ownership issues with both engine and management.  F3000 champion graduate Panis struggled around to 11th in the race, gaining important race mileage for his future career.

Today: Panis has a new love now, competing in Ice Racing.

ERIC BERNARD

Drove for: Ligier Renault, Qualified: 17th, Race: 12th

Eric Bernard was often outpaced by Olivier Panis in 1994, but got the better of his team-mate in qualifying at Imola, lining up 17th.  He was behind David Brabham at the time of the red flag and trailed home 12th and the last runner, three laps down.

Today: Bernard has gone onto a successful career in GT and sportscar racing

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI

Drove for: Footwork Ford, Qualified: 16th, Race: Retired on lap 56, brake failure led to him spinning

Fittipaldi drove superbly under adversity after seeing what happened to his compatriot and close friend Senna.  He looked set to finish fifth until a brake failure sent him into the gravel and out of the race with six laps remaining.

Today: Fittipaldi quit F1 at the end of 1994 and has moved to America where he still lives today.  He has raced in CART, NASCAR and American sportscars ever since.

ANDREA DE CESARIS

Drove for: Jordan Hart, Qualified: 21, Race: Retired on lap 49, accident

de Cesaris returned to Jordan where he had raced in 1991, subsituting for the banned Eddie Irvine.  Lacking race fitness and sharpness, he had many predictable spins and accidents all weekend and on lap 49, retired from near the back from you guessed it, another crash!

Today: de Cesaris has carved out a successful career in Monte Carlo as a currency broker and spends a lot of his free time windsurfing around the world.  

MICHELE ALBORETO

Drove for: Minardi Ford, Qualified: 15th, Race: Retired on lap 44, wheel flew off on pitlane exit

The veteran Italian Michele Alboreto had a tough weekend full of mechanical gremlins.  He was forced to start from the pitlane in the spare car and on lap 44, retired after a loose wheel fell off his car and bounced down the pitlane injuring mechanics from Ferrari and Lotus.

Today: Alboreto won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Porsche in 1997, but tragically was killed in April 2001 when a tyre exploded while doing some testing in Germany for Audi in the build-up to the 2001 sportscar classic.

GIANNI MORBIDELLI

Drove for: Footwork Ford, Qualified: 11th, Race: Retired on lap 40, broken engine

Morbidelli qualified a strong 11th and was running in a closely fought midfield pack along with Martin Brundle and Heinz-Harald Frentzen when the unreliable Ford engine broke down on lap 40.  Points were possible as he was running ahead of eventual sixth placed finisher Damon Hill on aggregate timing at the time.

Today: Morbidelli raced in BTCC for Volvo in 1998 and had time in European Touring Cars too.  He now is racing in the V8 Supercar Series in Australia.

PIERLUIGI MARTINI

Drove for: Minardi Ford, Qualified: 14th, Race: Retired on lap 37, spun off trying to overtake Brundle

Martini had a quiet weekend and was closely matched with Michele Alboreto.  On lap 37, he spun off at Tosa and ended up in the gravel after a failed overtaking attempt on Martin Brundle whilst running tenth.

Today: Pierluigi won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997 and 1999 and he was last seen competing in public during a one-off Grand Prix Masters series event at Kyalami in 2005. 

DAVID BRABHAM

Drove for: Simtek Ford, Qualified: 24th, Race: Retired on lap 27, spun following handling imbalance

David Brabham showed his brave committment to continue in such tragic circumstances after the fatal accident of his team-mate, Roland Ratzenberger.  He raced Eric Bernard and was ahead of him before the red flag came out.  From the second start, he carried on until suspension failure caused by handling imbalance saw the Australian spin out.

Today: David is still competing in GT racing and in V8 Supercars in Australia last year.  He is a keen charity campaigner and won the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours alongside Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz.

BERTRAND GACHOT

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, Qualified: 25th, Race: Retired on lap 23, engine failure

Gachot managed to drag his incompetent Pacific Ilmor package onto the grid and did well to miss Pedro Lamy’s out of control Lotus on the first lap.  He toured around at the back before retiring with a blown engine on lap 23.

Today: Unknown

OLIVER BERETTA

Drove for: Larrousse Ford, Qualified: 23rd, Race: Retired on lap 17, engine failure

The unknown Beretta never matched Erik Comas at Larrousse and was the team’s only entry in the second race following Comas’s decision to withdraw in the wake of witnessing the medics attending to Senna.  An engine problem saw him retire on lap 17 with only Brabham and Gachot for company at the back of the field.

Today: Born in Monte Carlo, Beretta is still racing today, competing in a GRE-pro class Ferrari in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

GERHARD BERGER

Drove for: Ferrari, Qualified: 3rd, Race: Retired on lap 16, Suspension issue after running over debris 

ERIK COMAS

Drove for: Larrousse Ford, Qualified: 18th, Race: Withdrew on lap 5, distressed by Senna’s crash

Qualifying in 18th, a miscommunication from his pit sent Comas screaming out of the pitlane exit when the red flag came out and he only narrowly missed the medical helicopter on the circuit attending to Ayrton Senna.  Eurosport commentator John Watson called it the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen in his life.  Distressed by what he witnessed, Erik elected to withdraw from the restart.

Today: 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.  Now he runs Comas Historic Racing, which is a service that provides customers to pay and drive historic rally driving cars.

JJ LEHTO

Drove for: Benetton Ford, Qualified: 5th, Race: Retired on lap one, stalled and hit by unsighted Lamy

JJ Lehto was making his first appearance of the season after recovering from neck injuries he sustained in a pre-season testing crash at Silverstone.  He flew to fifth on the grid in qualifying but stalled on the grid and was collected by Lamy leaving his car stranded in the middle of the track.  He walked away with a minor arm injury.

Today: Lehto commentated for Finnish TV for nine years at the start of the millennium.  In December 2011, he was sentenced to two years in jail, found guilty of reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol after a boating accident in Finland that killed his passenger.  Lehto has served intention to appeal against his conviction.

PEDRO LAMY

Drove for: Lotus Mugen Honda, Qualified: 22nd, Race: Retired on lap one, careered into back of Lehto

Young Pedro Lamy made a spectacular exit in this race, when unsighted by Andrea de Cesaris, the Portuguese driver smashed into JJ Lehto’s stranded Benetton on the grid.  Lamy walked away from his shattered car unhurt.

Today: A serious crash in private testing at Silverstone in 1994 left Lamy with serious leg injuries.  He left Formula One in 1996 and is a regular Le Mans competitor.  In 2012, he is competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

PAUL BELMONDO

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, DID NOT QUALIFY

Pacific’s woeful chassis/suspension combination meant Belmondo had little chance of ever qualifying for a race other than by default.  He ended up 0.3secs behind Ratzenberger after his crash, meaning he spent Sunday afternoon as a spectactor.

Today: Paul Belmondo became a motorsport team owner in 1998 and dovetailed that with a career in GT racing.  His whereabouts are unknown since the Le Mans Endurance series folded in 2007.

RUBENS BARRICHELLO

Drove for: Jordan Hart, DID NOT QUALIFY FOLLOWING ACCIDENT ON FRIDAY

Barrichello’s weekend ended almost as soon as it started.  Ten minutes into first qualifying, the Brazilian lost control of his Jordan Hart in the tricky Variante Bassa chicane near the pits.  His car hit the top of the tyre barrier and almost somersaulted the catch fencing.  Only quick action from paramedics stopped Rubens from swallowing his tongue.  He was very lucky to suffer only a cut lip, broken nose and light damage to his right arm.  However his participation in the San Marino Grand Prix was over.

Today: After failing to find a drive in Formula One for 2012, Rubens Barrichello has begun a new chapter in his career, competing for KV Racing Technology in the 2012 IndyCar series, finishing in the top ten twice in his first three events.

Talking Point: Driving Etiquette in Formula One

REFLECTING on Nico Rosberg’s crazy and unecessary swerves on his rivals in Bahrain, I wanted to share my opinion on the state of defensive driving in Formula One and how lucky there hasn’t been any serious accidents because of this for a while.

Schumacher's attempt failed at Jerez in 1997 (f1wolf)

There was a time in Grand Prix racing where turning into your rival early or deliberate attempts to take a competitor out of the race seemed to be okay.  Ask Michael Schumacher, who did it at Jerez in the 1997 title decider and received a very leninent penalty for the crime.  Then we had the debate about weaving excessively to keep track position in defence.  Damon Hill did this in Canada 1998, which upset Schumacher greatly afterwards.  The boundaries continue to be pushed in the element to be totally successful.

Driving etiquette in Formula One needs to be looked at because the standards in defending a position seem to be getting worse.  Any driver doesn’t want to get into a position like Jarno Trulli used to; ‘There’s a green arrow, pass me on the inside.’  However, today’s drivers need to respect their competitors more and know when track position is gone.

Rosberg’s moves on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in Sakhir were dangerous and he didn’t get penalised.  Luckily no contact was made in either incident but they were lucky escapes.  In the first incident with Hamilton on lap 10, Rosberg dived inside the McLaren as Hamilton was exiting the pits from his first pitstop.  As Hamilton got into the slipstream, the Mercedes driver went to defend the inside and started to move across the road.  As the Brit dived out from underneath the rear wing, Rosberg squeezed him completely off the track.  Lewis had to take to the concrete asphalt to avoid Rosberg’s late direction movement and actually got infront.  He might have exceeded track limits but it was either that or have an accident.  I would have given Rosberg the benefit of the doubt, maybe give him a reprimand for this as he isn’t a regular offender in Formula One.

The second moment with Alonso was even more dangerous, as the Spaniard had to get out of the throttle to avoid being launched over the Mercedes car.  The extra speed used thanks probably to some KERS use from the Spaniard looked frightening.  Rosberg continued to move from the traditional racing line and although his direction change wasn’t quite as brutal as it was with Hamilton, he didn’t give Alonso an option and sensibly, the double champion took a safe choice and backed out of the attempted overtake on lap 25.  On this occasion, I would have added some time onto Rosberg’s finishing position, maybe 5-10 seconds as there seemed to be more of a thoughtful decision in what he was doing rather than a sudden movement or rush of blood.  It was risky and very severe, uncalled for actually.

No-one wants a repeat of Mark Webber’s terriyfing accident in Valencia 2010.  The race stewards in Bahrain had their chance to send out a message of no nonsense and this they failed to do.  Rosberg’s manoevures were not the worst ever seen in Grand Prix racing but it deserved a time penalty even if that just dropped him behind the two drivers affected in the final classifcation.  He could count himself lucky to have not been sanctioned for the incidents.

On his team radio during the race, Alonso said; “He pushed me off the track.  You have to leave a space, all the time you have to leave a space.”  Later that evening, he posted on his Twitter page when finding out Rosberg would not be punished,“I think you are going to have fun in future races!  You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track!  Enjoy! ;)))”  It is very true but I find his reaction to this hilarious.  Pot, kettle, black spring to mind Fernando.  Weren’t you the driver who squeezed Sebastian Vettel onto the grass during the Italian Grand Prix last season?  Vettel criticised the move and rightly so, he was brave to make it stick too.

The FIA Sporting Regulations say this under Article 20.4;

“Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”

Sounds like Rosberg was guilty then but no action was taken.  The defending ruling changed at the start of the season where a competitor will be penalised if they moved across the road more than once in an overtaking scenario.  This ruling was brought in after the feisty scrap between Schumacher and Hamilton at Monza last year.  Is it a ruling or just a guiding?  After last Sunday’s incidents, you can’t help but agree to some form with Fernando Alonso.

The decision was made and at the end of the day, all the drivers have pushed the regulations of driving etiquette to the brink on occasion.  Schumacher has done it all throughout his career, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton have both made questionable track movements in the past in an attempt to defend their position and even the world champion isn’t perfect.  Vettel has shown his ruthlessness at times.  Remember giving Jenson Button minimal space at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix last season.  These examples show I’m not singling out Nico Rosberg but I reckon that a precedent has to be set, starting from the annual drivers meeting before practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11.   I worry that in the top line of motorsport, we have got to a point where the standard of defensive driving is getting to a very dangerous stage.  Make it hard and competitive of course but fair and responsible too.