So last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix was good, then?

No, of course that sentence is inaccurate. Partly because there isn’t really such a thing as a “good” Bahrain Grand Prix, but mostly because of the distinct lack of Bahrain Grand Prix that took place. And despite the deeply unpleasant reasons behind the race’s cancellation, I can’t help but, from a Formula 1 perspective, be a little happy about it. I didn’t buy into the nonsense that ‘professional’ ‘journalists’ spouted after last years opening event at the wealthy island monarchy. It was by no means the “worst race ever” or “a sign of Formula 1’s continuing decline” as we were told by the same group of predictable sensationalists who told us that the following race in Australia was stunning. It was an unsurprisingly disappointing event after 4 months of build-up, but average by Bahrain standards. What that race did give us though, is a very good indication both of why Bahrain should not be the opening race of the season, and why it shouldn’t really be a race at all. Or at least those are the lessons it should have given us. Instead we had weeks of team managers, drivers and others telling us they would “improve the show”, which damaged the credibility of F1. These people were basically saying “F1 is boring, and to make it more interesting we must make it less of a sport”. Of course the following race in Australia was exciting, as it always is, and the fuss ended. Everyone forgot about Bahrain, the real questions of why that fuss occurred were not answered, and no lessons were learnt. Fast forward a year and F1 is somehow faced with exactly the same situation of Bahrain being the opening Grand Prix, and the inevitable disappointment and damage to F1’s public image that will arise as a result. A repeat of that has been avoided however, and I’m sure Australia will provide the thrilling season opener that it always does.

Of course to suggest the situation Bahrain finds itself in is a good thing because F1 fans won’t be bored for a couple of hours on a Sunday, would be mind numbingly selfish. The Grand Prix is insignificant compared to the situation the country is currently in, and far more important is the issue of human rights that the people of Bahrain have been denied. It does raise an important question though. Is Bahrain the kind of country F1 should be involved with? The actions of the corrupt monarchy (members of which we are used to seeing walking down the grid and telling us how wonderful Bahrain is) and the way in which they have reacted to the incredibly reasonable demands of the protesters with force would suggest no. There is also a very strong argument, however, that politics (real politics, rather than F1 politics) should not interfere with sport. It’s a question that will always spring up for as long as Bernie’s money seeking brings us to more and more countries with questionable leadership. It’s also a question I’m not going to answer, because I don’t have an answer, but it’s one we should continuously ask ourselves. Or we could just not go to Bahrain because the Grand Prix is a bit rubbish and leave it at that.

I still think F1 fans should be happy about the cancellation, however, purely because the race would have been dull, and that dullness would be exaggerated by the fact we have been deprived of F1 for several months. In recent years Melbourne has established itself as the rightful location of the opening race, and we should make the most of it. Especially seeing as it may not be around much longer, a great shame that will deprive Melbourne residents and politicians of the wider economic benefits that the race brings (which they appear to have failed to notice) and deprive Formula 1 of a popular, exciting and successful event. We should also make the most of the season finale returning to it’s rightful place at Interlagos this year, after two strikingly uneventful concluding events at the enthusiasm-crushing Yas Marina circuit. Presumably they failed to pay the extra 700 billion pounds or something. Either way, with a race schedule increasing dominated by money, it’s nice to get the ‘bookends’ right, even if there are still some issues with the ones in the middle.

As far as Bahrain is concerned, with violence and suppression continuing in the country, Bernie’s aim of holding the race this year is increasingly unlikely. The future of F1 and Bahrain is unclear, and if the much criticised 2010 event was the last race we see in the country for a while, I don’t think Formula 1 should be disappointed. There’s increasing demand for a slot on the F1 calendar, and I think everyone agrees Bahrain needs to do a lot more to deserve a place ahead of, say, Spa or Montreal. I also highly doubt the real people of Bahrain would be particularly disappointed either. There are more important things that the Bahraini people need than a Grand Prix.

I feel extremely sorry for Renault right now, partly because I believe they are a very good team of people who have been let down far too many times by both the actions of others and situations out of their control, and partly because last year’s resurgence made it look like they were once again heading back to the front of the grid where they belong. Of course, without Robert Kubica, this will be incredibly difficult. He’s a driver who has indisputable talent, is almost unanimously liked among both fans and F1 folk and, unlike the other leading figures in the most recent generation of F1 talent (Hamilton, Vettel), he has not been handed an opportunity for success on a plate. His return to the F1 paddock will undoubtedly be a very popular one, but until that day I wish him well and hope that F1 driver’s seemingly super human abilities of recovery ensure that his nasty injuries will not stand in the way of the future champion’s career.

Still, now Robert is recovering, attention turns to the situation his employers are left in, and it’s an extremely difficult one. There is little doubt in my mind that Renault have put together a more than decent car this year, and had Robert been racing, a championship win would not be out of the question. As much as I am a fan of Vitaly Petrov, he is still a second driver and has much work to do ironing out the errors of 2010, so taking Robert’s place is out of the question. And this has re-opened the unquestionable silliness that is, well, the silly season. Yes, the silly season has returned to haunt February, interrupting the expected talking points of testing, launches and just how rubbish Hispania will be this year. Names mentioned to take the number 1 at Renault have included strange piquet-mimicking Frenchman Romain Grosjean, surprise pole sitting sponsorship victim Nico Hulkenberg, Toro Rosso refugee and Hispania superstar Christian Klien, retirement denier Pedro de la Rosa, deadpan motivation seeker Kimi Raikkonen and bizarrely even Jarno Trulli, although I like to think his name was only mentioned because people have gotten confused between which Lotus team is which.

Renault have rubbished suggestions of expensive Finns and irate/drunk Italians turning up at Enstone, however, and have singled out their three preferred replacements. It appears the fight is between the team’s very own new reserve driver Bruno Senna (recently dumped from Hispania), unemployed Viantionio Liuzzi (recently dumped from Force India), and Mercedes reserve and fringe enthusiast Nick Heidfeld (not so recently dumped from the old Sauber/BMW operation). It’s a difficult, and frankly slightly uninspiring decision to make, and although Senna and Liuzzi have plenty still to prove and Heidfeld has several years experience (albeit not winning races) on his CV, none of the three will be able to fill the hole left by Kubica. It’s a sad situation that a team like Renault don’t deserve to be in, having dramatically turned the fortunes of the team around after their disastrous 2009 season, and with the Lotus/Lotus court case hanging over the team until after the first race (a casual observer may suggest that it is a court case they don’t have a particularly good chance of winning, but obviously I wouldn’t dare suggest such a thing unless, well, I already had) I wouldn’t blame some members of the team for looking eagerly towards the 2012 season. Still, as we well know, anything can happen in Formula 1 and if Renault can make it work with whoever is driving for them, it may be unwise to suggest we should forget about them just yet.

Real life is bloody irritating, isn’t it?  You set up a Formula 1 blog, pledge to spend hours updating and perfecting it, and then along comes ‘real life’ like a stalker waiting for the worst possible moment to make its presence known. It’s real life’s fault that this blog, well, failed. Nothing to do with a lack of commitment or motivation, real life is to blame for this abandoned attempt at a hyperactive examination of F1. Well, a lack of commitment and motivation probably played a bigger part than real life to be honest, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is I have returned to make a firm commitment that I will from this moment on be running an irregular, haphazard blog of questionable quality on all things (or rather some things) Formula 1. I beleive this is a promise I can almost certainly deliver on. Not a new years resolution, more an end-of-January resolution, but that suits my style of unapologetic lateness perfectly.

At some point in the near future I’ll be moving this blog somewhere else, but right now I’ve sat down and forced myself to write something about F1 before I have the chance to argue with myself over whether there is any point in doing so. So if you are reading this, then congratulations, you have given this blog post meaning and successfully proven myself wrong and right at the same time. I cant possibly thank you enough…  I think?

I love the off-season. Well every other year when I’ve actually been following the off-season I’ve loved it. It’s a great example of how Formula 1 can be interesting without any racing actually happening. I think if it were down to me there wouldn’t be any racing, the entire year would just be the off-season. That way I wouldn’t have to bother spending every other sunday watching cars go round and round in circles. Because secretly we all know that’s just the boring bit. Once the off-season comes around you get to hear about drivers with amazing names like Filipe Albuquerque and Bertrand Baguette, and how they might be moving to Toro Rosso because this guy told you that it is definitely going to happen, and he’s freinds with some other guy who just so happens to know a guy who once bumped into a guy who may or may not live in Milton Keynes. And you can’t argue with evidence like that, especially when GMM are reporting it too. There are other reasons why I love the off-season, but I fear I may be losing you, so I wont list them. The point is, since November, in which Abu Dhabi staged their second attempt at producing the most boring sporting event ever witnessed, I’ve been a bit disconnected with the goings on in F1, and having spent the last couple of hours catching up, this years off-season seem a bit… rubbish. Still, seeing as I’ve made it back to this blog just before the teams begin their annual ‘who can incorporate their sponsors logo in their livery the best’ competition (or the launch season as everyone else seems to call it), I thought I’d do a little round up of off-season news.

My dissatisfaction with this years off-season I think stems from the fact that the main news seems to have been about the Lotus vs Lotus saga, all of which is, ultimately, nonsense. F1 loves its pantomine heros and villians, though, and Bahar vs Fernandes looks set to reprise a role formerly filled by Hamilton vs Alonso, Barrichello vs Schumacher and Mosley vs common sense and human decency. For the record, I intend to continue calling the Renault team Renault and the Lotus team Lotus, as if nothing has changed, and I expect everyone else will do pretty much the same thing (apart from those who work at Renault, obviously). One interesting side effect of this story has been Autosport Magazine’s apparent suicide mission by running the headline ‘the real lotus is back’ on their front page, seemingly in an effort to alienate Fernandes supporters (or Fernandites as I shall call them), who probably make up the majority of their readership. Both the Lotus vs Lotus court case and evidence of Autosport’s inevitable decline in popularity are still to come.

Other news has included Rome giving up on their hopes of a Grand Prix with Russia being penciled in for 2014,  HRT leaving FOTA, Marussia (no idea either) sponsoring Virgin, F1 entering the world of HD, Luxembourg/Malaysian/French owned team Renault announcing they are British and Pirelli taking their role in Formula 1 very seriously by endlessly testing to ensure their tyres do not last too long during F1 races. Also various rule changes have taken place, which I shall go into at a later date, as they require a blog post of their own.

As far as the driver market is concerned, Williams have dropped Hulkenburg in favour of a Venezualen who has so much financial backing he may as well be made of gold. Both Renault and Virgin have made very good decisions in keeping Petrov and pushing Di Grassi aside for Jérôme d’Ambrosio respectively, while Sergio Perez has signed for Sauber. Force India are desperate to drop Liuzzi in favour of Paul di Reista, but rather amusingly appear to be unable to do so. HRT continue to be pointless and sadly appear to have dropped Bruno Senna and Karun Chandok in favour of a slower Indian driver and, erm, nobody. Easily the most shocking news of all, though, is that Michael Schumacher will be staying at Mercedes.

That’s all for now, I shall keep you updated on my future plans for this blog.

It’s been a strange season, and an even stranger championship conclusion, and for much of today’s final race under the floodlit Yas Marina circuit I had been trying to figure out exactly why that was (partly because the lack of actual on-track action didn’t really leave me with much else to think about). My overriding reaction to when it became apparent that Ferrari had blown it and Sebastian was on course for the title was something along the lines of is that it?

In the grand scheme of things this season, Ferrari’s pit wall blunder seems like such a minor mistake to have been the deciding factor in this title, but perhaps that is just because there are so many mistakes to choose from this season. I think what Vettel’s surprise championship win has pointed out to me so clearly today is that I got so caught up with just how close and up/down this years championship battle has been, it had got to the point where the actual winner didn’t really matter anymore. Any five of this years contenders could have picked up the title and I would have felt the same because they’ve all proved themselves to be worthy of this years trophy. We’ve seen their good days and their bad days, they’ve all been responsible for stunning drives and terrible mistakes and when it came down to round 19, the fact that one of them would be declared winner had become just a technicality in their epic fight for “a few more points” than each other.

If anything this shows just how far Formula 1 has come in the space of just six years, when Schumacher and Ferrari both picked up their fifth consecutive titles. Sometimes things move so quickly in this sport we fail to notice just how much has changed. Formula 1 still has its issues, and I think it’s fair to say this was not the most exciting year of racing we’ve ever seen, but the fact that not only five drivers but three teams were in contention this year would have been an unimaginable level of competitiveness back in 2004. And with Brawn GP’s success still in the mind of the Mercedes team, and a resurgent Renault being led by Robert Kubica, next year is likely to become even more competitive. I’m not quite sure how five teams competing for a title would even work, but it would be a wonderful thing for F1.

Sebastian Vettel will go down on paper as the 2010 World Champion, but in my mind this was a championship that could have gone to five different people and it almost seems a shame for only one of them to take the glory. It’s wrong to say that history doesn’t remember the losers, though, and Jenson’s intelligence, Lewis’s aggression, Mark’s fighting spirit and Fernando’s determination are likely to be remembered in equal measure with Sebastian’s raw speed as the characteristics that defined Formula 1 in 2010.

As you may have guessed, I do have the intention of returning to this blog during the off-season, and I am just hoping that intention can lead to actual blog posts. For now though, I would just like to thank those that have for some reason stayed subscribed over the last year and a half of silence so … erm … Thanks!

The F1 Files will return…

…very soon. Watch this space.

Sebastian Vettel drives to the podium after his second race win

Sebastian Vettel drives to the podium in his RB5

Sebastian Vettel has claimed his second career win at the Shanghai International Circuit as rain and standing water made conditions difficult for the entire duration of the third race of 2009. It’s Red Bull’s first win in Formula 1 since their takeover of Jaguar at the end of 2004, and a 1-2 finish, with Mark Webber crossing the line in second. Championship leader Jenson Button finished third.

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It's certainly been an eventful few weeks...

It's certainly been an eventful few weeks...

So I ran out of time and took a break from posting for a couple of months and all I missed was the entire order of Formula 1 changing. I know this sport moves along quickly, but this is ridiculous! The last two races have been nothing short of spectacular, especially for someone who’s been supporting Honda for the last two years, and I write this on the eve of the Chinese Grand Prix, with no idea what to expect tomorrow morning other than F1 at it’s very best and craziest.

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ING to withdraw from F1 in 2010

Fernando Alonso in Renault R29 at Algarve

It was announced yesterday that ING will end it’s participation with Formula 1 when the 2009 season draws to a close. The Dutch financial giants are the title sponsors for both Renault and the Australian, Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix, but after being hit hard by the global financial crisis, and receiving 10 billion euros from the Dutch government, the group have been forced out of their involvement with the sport.

A statement released by ING yesterday said: “ING’s participation in Formula One was the company’s first global sponsorship project aimed at delivering revenue and raising the global brand awareness. Over the past two years, ING has successfully achieved its objectives for the F1 sponsorship, raising its overall global brand awareness by 16%. F1 remains a powerful business driver even in a difficult economic climate. Whilst ING has cut the F1 sponsorship costs by 40% in the final year, revenue generating opportunities will be a continuing focus through 2009. ING has enjoyed the relationship with Renault F1 and will continue to work closely with the team during the final year of the partnership.”

Regardless of this announcement, the Renault F1 team were already the subject of heavy speculation about their future, as the French manufacturer struggles to cope with the slump in the car market. Team boss Flavio Briatore remains confident, however, that with cost-cutting measures coming into force, Renault have a secure future in the sport. “Drastic cost reductions have been on FOTA’s agenda as one of the first priorities and with the ongoing programme of measures we are confident we can guarantee a solid future for our team and for Formula One,” said Briatore.

Anthony Davidson in Super Aguri SA08 at Melbourne

Super Aguri refugee, Anthony Davidson, has confirmed that he will join BBC Radio 5 Live as a full time commentator for their coverage of the 2009 F1 season, alongside David Croft.

Davidson has made two appearances in the commentary box for 5live last year, as well as commentating on the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2006 on ITV, where he saw team mate Jenson Button take the win. Speaking about the decision, he said: “Commentating gives me the chance to explain what it feels like to drive an F1 car to the limit, and to share the inside view on all of the demands that a driver faces over the weekend.”

Davidson has admitted that he was close to signing for Honda before the team collapsed, but his sights remain set on a future F1 drive, saying last August: “I am hopeful of remaining in F1. If that doesn’t work out, there are many other options outside of F1 and I know there is life outside of F1. But right now I am focused on remaining in the F1 world and I feel I have got a load to offer.” The Briton has not yet announced whether he will compete in any other racing series this year.

Kimi Raikkonen in Ferrari F60 at Bahrain

The four day tests at Jerez and Bahrain concluded on Friday, with the Bahrain running resumed after a two day sandstorm, and all teams starting to set some competitive lap times. In Spain, Sebastian Bourdais set a 1:17.472 in his 2008 car, whilst Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso battled it out for the fastest time in an ’09 car.

It was McLaren and Hamilton that came out on top, again by a small margin, but not quite as small as the previous day. His 1:19.632 was two tenths of a second faster than the R29’s best time. Alonso did a lot of work in the Renault and said afterwards: “Overall, we have to be very happy as we managed to do lots of laps and the car responded well to the set-up changes we made, so I think we’ve found some good solutions. Every day the driveability of the car is improving and although we still have a lot of work to do before the start of the season, we are definitely moving in the right direction.” Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber were having their own battle for third place. Rosberg put his Williams ahead by two tenths after Webber’s RB5 stopped out on track and brought out the red flags. Kazuki Nakajima was also out for Williams but, despite completing 34 laps, he failed to set a time, by driving through the pit lane on each attempt.

Meanwhile, Ferrari, BMW and Toyota were back in action at Bahrain, after being forced to sit out for two long days. Kimi Raikkonen posted a 1:33.325 in the F60. Of the days running, he said: “I immediately had a good feeling although it’s still too early to say where we are compared to our competitors. The car is improving and there are no especially critical areas. We used the KERS also today and I’m happy with how it works, apart from some minor childhood disease.” Jarno Trulli was out for Toyota and just a tenth down on Kimi’s time, whilst BMW’s Christian Klien was a further couple of tenths behind. Another four day test at Bahrain kicks off this Monday.