FORMULA One takes a brief break from Europe for its first visit to North America this weekend and the Canadian Grand Prix doesn’t do dull! 33 years of glorious action at Montreal, with its first event being an emotional success for Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve in 1978 on home soil.
The circuit has changed on occasion, the weather can be unpredictable and strange things seem to happen here more often than not, such as regular scrapes with the infamous Wall of Champions at the last chicane and the pitlane red light. The sport didn’t visit Canada in 1987 or 2009 but its popularity with the teams and drivers mean a great atmosphere is always created between the fans and everyone associated in the paddock.
In 1991, Nigel Mansell looked set to secure a dominant victory, having led throughout until he suddenly slowed entering the hairpin on the final lap. The Brit’s engine died and he beat the steering wheel in frustration as his Williams crawled to a halt. Mansell had prematurely started waving to the crowd as he began the last lap and had accidentally dropped his engine revs which ultimately caused the problem. Nelson Piquet came through to take a fortunate win for Benetton. It was the great Brazilian’s last ever triumph in F1 and Pirelli’s last as a tyre supplier until their re-entry into the sport at the start of 2011.
Four years later, Michael Schumacher had a similar advantage in his Benetton Renault when a gearbox gremlin left him coasting back to the pits for a new steering wheel with 12 laps to go. The change cost him a certain victory but what it did do was open the path up for Jean Alesi to take his first and only win at his 91st attempt. It was the Frenchman’s birthday and what made it even more special, he was driving Ferrari n0.27, the exact number Villeneuve had when he won in 1978.
Gilles’s son Jacques came into the sport the following year but success went onto elude him at the circuit named after his late and daring dad. A close second place finish to Damon Hill at his first attempt in 1996 was to be his best result at Montreal. He had a string of accidents and mechanical gremlins that always got in the way of a special success.
Schumacher won his second Canadian Grand Prix out of seven in 1997, although it was lucky as a precautionary tyre stop for David Coulthard went wrong. The McLaren’s clutch overheated and he stalled twice in the pits, losing an eternity of time. The race was cut short as Olivier Panis suffered a front suspension failure on his Prost through the turn five/six complex. Panis hit the concrete wall on the outside, before hurtling into the tyre barriers on the inside, with his car failing to deceleration in speed. The Frenchman broke both of his legs and his Formula One career that was full of promise, never really recovered.
F1 history was created at the Ille Notre Dame in 1999 as it was the first event to end behind the Safety Car. This was after Heinz-Harald Frentzen needed medical attention following a big crash when his front brake disc exploded on his Jordan with just four laps to go. Mika Hakkinen won the race, which was full of drama and earnt the ‘Wall of Champions’ tag in the process. Reigning FIA Sportscar champion Ricardo Zonta and three former F1 champions, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all crashed out at exactly the same point. Giancarlo Fisichella finished second that day, during an excellent run of four successive podiums in Canada.
More history was made in 2001 with the first 1-2 for brothers in Formula One. Ralf Schumacher and BMW Williams were more superior against Michael and Ferrari that day, with Ralf taking the victory by 17 seconds having waited until the pitstops to jump his bigger brother. Hakkinen finished a distant third and said in the press conference afterwards that ‘he was glad there wasn’t a third Schumacher around!’
In 2005, the Renault team pressed the self-destruct button. Looking set for a 1-2, they kept the slower Fisichella ahead of an animated and frustrated Fernando Alonso. Alonso eventually was told ‘you’re faster than him, overtake him.’ Seconds later, a loss of hydraulic fluid ended Fisichella’s afternoon. Alonso joined him on the sidelines when he hit the wall only a few laps later. A Safety Car to clear up Jenson Button’s crashed BAR caused a miscommunication at McLaren between the pitwall and race leader Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya missed his chance to pit and when he did come in after a slow lap behind the pace car, he exited the pits with the red light still on. That’s a no-no and the Colombian was promptly disqualified, enabling Kimi Raikkonen to win.
Montoya hasn’t been the only driver to be caught out by a red light on the exit of the pitlane. Two years later, Felipe Massa and Fisichella committed the same offence and got the same penalty of exclusion from the event. In 2008, Lewis Hamilton misjudged the red light still being on and crashed into the back of Kimi Raikkonen at the pitlane exit, taking both drivers out. This came a year after Hamilton’s sensational first victory in F1, on a day when so much happened. Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri even passed Alonso’s McLaren!
In 07, the Polish driver Robert Kubica came so close to losing his life at the track after an aeroplane shunt with the Toyota of Jarno Trulli. His car was destroyed but he walked away relatively unscathed. In 2008 – Kubica benefited from the Hamilton/Raikkonen crash to record his sole Formula One victory for BMW Sauber.
Last year’s race was the longest ever in the sport and was simply extraordinary. Jenson Button survived scrapes with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, made six pitstops and was 21st and last on lap 41. Incredibly he won, pressuring Sebastian Vettel into a rare mistake on the last lap to clinch a stunning victory. After last year’s drama, anything is possible especially given the unpredictability we’ve seen so far in 2012.
THIS weekend sees the hosting of the ultimate jewel in the crown of Formula One, the Monaco Grand Prix. The late team boss Enzo Ferrari once said that ‘winning Monaco is worth half a championship.’ It isn’t quite like that but after the unpredictable start to 2012, with five different winners in the first five races, Monaco could turn out to be a pivotal event when it comes to momentum for the rest of the championship.
Many of the greats have won around here. The late Ayrton Senna won six times between 1987-1993 and was almost unbeatable at his peak. 2001 might have been his last success in the principality but Michael Schumacher didn’t win Monaco by accident on five separate occasions. Graham Hill is another five time winner and the ‘Professor,’ Alain Prost triumphed four times. Out of the current crop, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won around the principality.
However with the radical advances in modern day technology, especially in the car industry – have the streets of Monaco outgrown Formula One and is it time to stop racing there for good?
Last season’s race weekend had some lucky and frightening shunts that brought the safety around Monaco argument up into the mould again. Nico Rosberg was incredibly fortunate to escape a nasty connection with the barriers on Saturday morning last year when he crashed his Mercedes on the approach to the Nouvelle chicane. In qualifying, Sergio Perez wasn’t so lucky and missed the race following an even worse shunt at the same corner. Perez was concussed, bruised and admitted later on that it took him at least three races to get over the accident psychologically. In the race, a multiple accident triggered by Adrian Sutil clattering the wall at Tabac saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised with bruising on his ankles and caused the race to be suspended. It was the busiest weekend for the F1 medical team since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.
The officials have listened and made some safety changes for the 2012 event. The barriers where Perez crashed last season have been moved back in the hope of restricting a sudden impact should a car lose control at the fastest part of the track. Like in 2011, the use of DRS has been banned from use in the tunnel and more of the corners will have the impact-absorbing barriers that no doubt saved Perez from even more serious injury. The tunnel area has come in for criticism as a hotspot for potential serious shunts. Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and fell into a deep coma from his injuries. Jenson Button was concussed and missed the 2003 event following a similar shunt in practice and Alexander Wurz escaped without injury after a huge smash in the 1998 race. However the only fatality at the Monaco Grand Prix has been Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini, way back in 1967.
Michael Schumacher told BBC Sport last week that the risk of racing in Monaco is justifable as it is just once a year; “For so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety and then we race in Monaco but in my view this is justifiable once a year – especially as the circuit is so much fun to drive. Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track.”
I asked the opinion of some F1 fans through the Planet F1 forum about this subject;
Laura23: “Schumacher says it’s worth the risk because it’s once a year. I’m sure all the other drivers, Petrov excluded perhaps, share the same views. If they don’t go to Monaco because of the risk then I’m afraid F1 won’t be F1 anymore, it’ll be a nanny stated sport. The real reason they should stop going to Monaco, if they ever do, is because it doesn’t exactly provide good racing unless it rains.”
JohnnyGuitar: “Monaco is probably safer now than it’s ever been. The top speeds the cars hit around the circuit has been pretty similar for two or three decades probably but trackside barriers have improved and the safety of the cars themselves has increased immeasurably. If it was safe to race there throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s – I see no reason why there should be any talk of stopping the event on the grounds of safety now.”
Lt. Drebin: “Not safe but safer than before. Still, the possibility of a disastrous crash is enormously high in comparison with any other race track.”
j man: “Personally I love Monaco, precisely because it is a laughably unsuitable setting for an F1 race. It presents a totally unique challenge for the drivers, provides a totally unique setting for the fans and the race’s rich history means that it should never be removed from the calendar.”
slide: “No , it seems dangerous to race there but thats the draw.”
The Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious event on the calendar and still king of the street circuits, despite the glamour of night racing in Singapore. If you’d say Monaco is dangerous, what about faster tracks with average speed like Spa, Suzuka and Monza? Fingers crossed that the weekend goes through peacefully without any serious accidents but the risk has always been there. It isn’t a deathtrap and as far as I’m concerned, if the race in Monte Carlo disappeared ever – there wouldn’t be much point of holding a Formula One World Championship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.