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Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

NICO Rosberg is on cloud nine following his maiden success in Shanghai last weekend and momentum is a key word in Formula One.  So the German picked up where he left off in Sakhir to end up quickest driver today in the opening two practice sessions for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

As the sport is forced to deal with a very unstable environment, Rosberg and Mercedes GP did their talking on the track.  His fastest time of 1.32.816 was nearly half a second quicker than Mark Webber in the afternoon session.  Consistent pace on a long race simulation towards the end of FP2 suggests that the team’s tyre wear issues don’t seem to be such a nightmare issue as it was in the first two races.

Red Bull have gone for a standard exahust configuration setup after different variations for both Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  The Australian was marginally faster today, although the 0.3secs difference at the end of the session flattered the closeness between the pair.  Vettel was second quickest this morning and third fastest in the afternoon.  Championship leaders McLaren have never won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but will still probably be marginal favourites going into tomorrow’s important qualifying session.  Lewis Hamilton was the pacesetter this morning and content to work on race setup this afternoon, ending fourth fastest.  Team-mate Jenson Button didn’t seem as settled with the balance of his car today, but was still amongst the top six in both sessions.

Once again, Ferrari lacked the ultimate pace as Fernando Alonso managed eighth and Felipe Massa twelfth in the afternoon session.  Sauber ran excellent race simulations and both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ended up in the top ten.

However off-track politics continued to be the dominant landscape today.  In midweek, clashes between Bahrani police and protesters over the running of the country almost led to a tragic incident involving the Force India team.  Four of their team mechanics had petrol bombs thrown at them and two of them have flown back to the UK.  With other team members expressing concern over their safety of leaving the circuit at dusk, the team elected to pull out of the second practice session on safety grounds.  Personnel from the Sauber team also were caught up in flare ups in the Manama region last night and it is reported that Mercedes GP have requested moving to a hotel closer to the circuit to be further away from the protest.

With Amnesty International and Labour leader Ed Miliband among those today who added their voices to the demand in calling the Grand Prix off, the king of F1 Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain had to face some akward questions from a hungry worldwide media circus.  Both have said that the race will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday, although you get the sense that the racing will disappear into obsecurity all weekend.

Mercedes GP and McLaren look set to lead the way in qualifying tomorrow again, but the region’s issues might have more severe implications as the weekend progresses.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES  11 1.33.572 
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  21  1.33.877 
3 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.150 
4 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  23  1.34.249 
5 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  14  1.34.277 
6 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.344 
7 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  17  1.34.483 
8 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  22  1.34.552 
9 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  18  1.34.609 
10 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  20  1.34.817 
11 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  22  1.35.024 
12 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  25  1.35.268 
13 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  21  1.35.436 
14 VALTERI BOTTAS  WILLIAMS RENAULT  24  1.35.497 
15 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  19  1.35.719 
16 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  24  1.35.929 
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.195 
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 11  1.36.330 
19 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  18  1.36.484 
20 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.591 
21 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.37.467 
22 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.38.006 
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  19  1.38.877 
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  23  1.39.996 

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  35  1.32.816 
2 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  26  1.33.262 
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  28  1.33.525 
4 LEWIS HAMILTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  26  1.33.747 
5 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  32  1.33.862 
6 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  28  1.34.246 
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.411 
8 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  31  1.34.449 
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  32  1.34.615 
10 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.893 
11 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  29  1.34.895 
12 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  30  1.34.941 
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  33  1.35.183 
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  26  1.35.229 
15 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  38  1.35.459 
16 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  33  1.35.913 
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN  CATERHAM RENAULT  35  1.35.968 
18 BRUNO SENNA  WILLIAMS RENAULT  30  1.36.169 
19 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.36.587 
20 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.37.803 
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  28  1.37.812 
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  27  1.39.649 
23 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 
24 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 
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FIA confirm Bahrain race goes ahead

THE sport’s governing body the FIA confirmed in the early hours of the morning that next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix on the Sakhir circuit will take place as scheduled.  FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone met the team principals from all 12 Formula One teams in Shanghai this morning where the Chinese Grand Prix takes place this weekend.  No concerns were raised from the meeting and all agreed that the race should take place.  The FIA insisted that assurances had been made about general security following regular disputes in the country over the past year during the Arab Uprisings.  It is these protests that led to the cancellation of the 2011 race.

These are the key points in the statement released to the world by the sport’s governing body from the FIA website;

“The FIA is the governing body of motor sport and therefore of Formula One.  As such, it sets the season’s calendars following the proposal of the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH) in accordance with the local national authorities in all matters relating to safety.  Within that context, the FIA ensures that any event forming part of an FIA World Championship is organised in compliance with the FIA Statutes and the relevant Sporting and Technical Regulations and that the safety of the public, officials, drivers and teams is secured at all times during an event.  The FIA must make rational decisions based on the information provided to us by the Bahraini authorities and by the Commercial Rights Holder. In addition we have endeavoured to assess the ongoing situation in Bahrain.  Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula One World Championship event in Bahrain.  Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 Gulf Air F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled.”

The drivers haven’t said much in recent weeks, but some have expressed their views over the weekend in China.  In his official column he does with BBC Formula One, Red Bull’s Mark Webber said; “If we have a choice…I want to race, and I would like to go there and do that. But you cannot ignore the fact there are a lot of good people in our sport and all of them have in the back of their minds that we want it to go down smoothly and we don’t want to be involved with the situation that’s out there.”

Earlier in the week, Sir Jackie Stewart had insisted the sport should visit the Gulf State, which before last year had held an annual event since 2004.  1996 world champion and Sky Sports F1 pundit Damon Hill disagreed, raising severe safety concerns over the region.  Since the protests began on the government last year, upto 50 protestors have died and although not on the scale of the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and more recently Syria, the trouble has not left the Manama region.

Bernie Ecclestone has been under severe pressure all week from media outlets and this afternoon, he sat down for an exclusive interview with BBC F1 anchor Jake Humphrey.  Ecclestone insisted that he was confident there would be no trouble at the event next week.  The interview can be seen below;

The decision has been made and it will have driven various opinion from many sources.  However the race does go ahead now and let’s hope it proceeds without any serious implications for the sport, the drivers, spectators going to Sakhir and of course the Bahrani people.

Talking Point: Should F1 go to Bahrain?

IT HAS been a frantic start to the Formula One season of 2012 and whilst the teams, mechanics and the fans have a brief break from racing, a real concern is threatening to bubble over the surface and explode over the Grand Prix scene.

After the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 15, the sport is due to make a scheduled return to Bahrain.  The race was cancelled last year as the season opener due to the Arab Uprisings.  It was rescheduled two months later, then cancelled for good last year, as the teams couldn’t be certain about the safety within the country.  This time around, it seems like there is support for the race to go ahead, but pressure is building on whether the sport should stay away.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, a prime mover in F1 not going last season sees no reason why the event shouldn’t run on the Sakhir track in 2012.  He told JAonF1 last week; “F1 is a sport at the end of the day and we’ve always enjoyed racing in Bahrain, its on the calendar and the FIA and promoters deem it right to hold a race in Bahrain so we will be happy to be there and race.”

Despite Horner’s belief that there will be race held on April 22, protests in the region continue even a year on after the first signs of political unrest.  Yesterday, Al-Jazeera reported of more protests in two towns near the circuit, which involved demonstrators being arrested and the police spraying tear gas.  The protestors are also believed to be using Twitter as a useful source to get their message across.  The hashtag #bloodyf1 is being used to show their displeasure.  Although the trouble is nowhere near as bad as it has been in Tunisia, Egypt and most especially of late, Syria – the concern of many has to be highlighted.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is adamant that the race will go ahead, no matter what.  He recently told the Press Association; “Of course the race is going to happen.  No worries at all.  These people were brave enough to start an event in that part of the world (2004) and that’s it.  We’ll be there as long as they want us.”

Ecclestone might want the race to go ahead and the Bahrain Royal Family, prime movers in getting the region onto the calendar in 2004 might want the spectacle to run too.  However, the Bahrain people still seem restless and the risks are inevitably going to be very high for spectators, the worldwide media, volunteering marshals and of course, the drivers.  Is this a risk too far?

The fans seem split on opinion.  Amy Jones posted on her Twitter last night; “We should axe Bahrain.  While you’re at it Bernie, axe Valencia please.  Thanks. #F1.  On the Planet F1 forum, sandman1347 said; Bernie needs to realize that this partnership isn’t worth the hassle or risk.  Who cares that they are willing to pay the fee to have a race there?  There are at least 5 other countries who would love to have a race.  Ultimately, Bernie would be wise not to enter into business arrangements with despots who torture and execute their own populace.  Make a deal with someone else Bernie.  Bahrain is a bad partner.”  Valen on a separate forum topic disagrees; Don’t get me wrong, I think the situation in Bahrain is terrible, but most countries in the world are having upheavel, genocide and civil war issues.  Part of world politics I am afraid.”

Ultimately, the drivers and the teams should be allowed to make the final decision.  It surprises me that none of the drivers, especially those who you would traditionally look to in a situation like this in Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber haven’t given their opinion yet.

Has Bahrain seen its last Formula One race? (nextconceptcars)

For now, the Bahrain Grand Prix is expected to take place as scheduled on April 22.  For me, all Bernie Ecclestone has cared about for so long is money and that has made him so successful.  Formula One needs to avoid an shameful set of headlines and the worst case scenarios cannot be imagined.  If the race goes ahead, I so hope there won’t be any trouble, but I can’t say that response is full of confidence.  The Asian market might have the money as Europe drowns in a tidalwave of economic debt, but there are plenty of other countries who don’t have such unrest and want to stage an event.  At the end of the day, commonsense needs to prevail and a decision has to be taken very quickly – safety and security is more important than an extra event.

The Driver Files: Stefano Modena

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 second driver featured in The Driver Files is another Italian driver whose promise never got fulfilled, Stefano Modena.

The 1991 Tyrrell was the peak of Stefano Modena's F1 career (RichardsF1)

NAME: Stefano Modena

TEAMS: Brabham (1987, 1989-1990), EuroBrun (1988), Tyrrell (1991), Jordan (1992)

POINTS: 17

GP STARTS: 70

BEST FINISH: 2nd (1991 Canadian Grand Prix)

MANY Italian drivers have tried their luck in Formula One over the past 20 years.  There are some who have not had the chance to prove themselves in decent equipment, such as Gianni Morbidelli and Alessandro Zanardi.  Then, there are those who had the car at their disposal and blew their big chance; Ivan Capelli and Giancarlo Fisichella spring to mind.  One driver whose promise never got fulfilled was Stefano Modena.  Two words finished off his career, Jordan-Yamaha!

The 1992 Jordan Yamaha partnership is akin to McLaren’s turbulent partnership with Peugeot in 1994.  They never got on and along with Mauricio Gugelmin, Modena could only wonder as his talent was wasted and in the end, so was his F1 career.

Before this horrendous season, Stefano had been forced to work hard and shown what he was capable of on occasion.  He won the F3000 championship for Onyx at his first attempt in this category in 1987.  It led to a one-off event for Brabham at the 1987 Australian Grand Prix, as Riccardo Patrese had left early to replace the injured Nigel Mansell in the all-conquering Williams Honda package.  He qualified a respectable 15th, ahead of both Tyrrell and Lola cars, but wasn’t quite ready for the physical challenge of Adelaide’s streets and had to retire after 31 laps.

When Bernie Ecclestone announced that Brabham were withdrawing from the sport, Modena was forced into a move to the uncompetitive EuroBrun team for his full debut season in 1988.  It was a real baptism of fire.  No points and the embarassment of being excluded from two successive race meetings.  He missed a weight check in Monaco and was thrown out of the event in Mexico for his car having an illegal rear wing.  Stefano managed to record five race finishes with the limited resources; the best being 11th in Hungary.

Under new owners, he moved back to Brabham for 1989 but the Judd engine turned into an unreliable nightmare, so Modena was going to be fully prepared for later disasters.  There was another exclusion for coming in underweight after qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix.  However, when the Brabham package worked in Monaco, Stefano showed what he could do.  Although team-mate Martin Brundle was robbed of a deserved podium by battery problems, his Italian team-mate stepped up when the team were feeling low and grabbed his maiden podium.  Alongside Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost on the Monaco rostrum, Modena had made his name, but still craved a better package.  Fifth in the 1990 season opener on the streets of Phoenix was his sole reward the following campaign, as Brabham’s BT59 package took the team backwards.  As their financial problems started to unravel, Modena’s stirring performances began to make him hot property in the paddock.  In fact, he was mentioned in the rumour mill as a potential replacement for the retiring Mansell at Ferrari.  Eventually, the lure of Maranello persuaded Jean Alesi away from Tyrrell and it was to Stefano’s benefit, as he moved to Tyrrell for 1991.

Alongside Satoru Nakajima, Ken Tyrrell’s wise negotating skills saw his car armed with the best engine around at the time, the works Honda V10.  With major sponsorship from German electrical company Braun, 1991 looked to be the season where Stefano Modena could become a leading star in Grand Prix racing.  In fairness, the relationship started rosy.  He finished fourth in the USA, ran third at Imola before mechanical problems intervened and then, a magnifcient front row starting position in Monaco.  On raceday, he held off Patrese until an engine failure in the tunnel saw his race cruelly end and take Patrese out too.  Even Senna mentioned after qualifying how impressed he was with Modena’s efforts.  If Monaco was desperately unlucky, Canada was more fortunate.  With frontrunners such as Senna, Prost and Alesi dropping out through reliability gremlins, Stefano inherited second place when Mansell’s Williams stopped on the final lap.  It was his landmark result but didn’t lead to better things.  Only one more point, in Japan followed.  Honda withdrew support for Tyrrell, Nakajima retired and Modena moved onto Jordan for 1992.

The writing was on the wall when he failed to qualify for the first race in South Africa.  A pitlane start in Mexico followed and he didn’t even last a lap in Brazil.  If the engine wasn’t failing spectacularly, the gearbox was breaking instead.  Modena failed to qualify for three more events and his morale was zapped.  The package was pathetic and frankly should have been put in the scrapyard as soon as it raced.  The frustrated Italian didn’t record a finish until 15th at the Belgian Grand Prix in August!  A small improvement in the last two races saw Stefano score a point in the Australian Grand Prix, but he was damaged goods and left the sport unsurprisingly for pastures new.  He carried on racing in German and Italian touring cars with mixed results for a number of years after the F1 adventure.  The tragic death of his good friend and fellow Italian Michele Alboreto in a sportscar accident in 2001 prompted Modena to retire from competitive action.  Since then, he has acted as an advisor and done occasional tyre testing work for Japanese tyre manufacturer, Bridgestone.

Stefano Modena never quite delivered on what he had, but he was a victim of one of the worst cars to have ever left a Grand Prix factory!  Sometimes, that’s the way it goes in the harsh world of Formula One.

NEXT IN THE DRIVER FILES: The Dutch boss that is Jos Verstappen! 

One race for Spain from 2013 onwards

F1 SUPREMO Bernie Ecclestone has hinted that from the 2013 championship, there will only be one race in Spain per season.  Currently, the country holds two races per campaign, with the Spanish event in Barcelona and the Valencia Street Circuit staging the European Grand Prix.

In an interview with a Spanish radio station on Friday; Ecclestone said; “Barcelona and Valencia have agreed that the best thing is to alternate and now, we are trying to decide on the dates.”  

The dire Valencia Street Circuit looks set to alternate the Spanish event in future (F1racingfan)

Although the president of the Circuit de Catalunya, Vicente Aguilera has come out and denied a certain agreement, it is believed that negotiations are ongoing.  It would be seen as a radical solution, considering Valencia’s general unpopularity with F1 drivers, fans and journalists alike, along with the growing economic crisis that is engulfing Europe.

If the agreement goes ahead, it could see Barcelona not hosting an event on a yearly basis for the first time since 1990.  It has often been recognised as the European season opener, since Imola was dropped from the calendar six years ago. They wouldn’t be the first country to alternate in track venues.  Germany has the same policy with the Nurburgring and Hockenheim, visiting the latter in 2012.

Currently, the F1 schedule stands at 20 races, with a brand new race in the United States in November and the return of the Bahrain Grand Prix.  Ecclestone is keen to extend the season to 25 races, although this is likely to face stiff competition from the remaining members of FOTA.