Category Archives: Drivers

Kovalainen: A Possible Replacement for Massa?

Ferrari’s has left the Formula 1 world in suspense by allowing Felipe Massa’s contract option to expire. This option would have allowed Felipe Massa to extend his contract with Scuderia Ferrari. If Felipe Massa is to continue racing with the team, he must negotiate a brand new contract.The expiration of this option has shown that Ferrari are at least considering other drivers for 2012.

Massa has failed to produce for Ferrari, having not finished on the podium since he Korean Grand Prix in 2010 (crankandpiston.com)

Several drivers have already been linked to a seat alongside Fernando Alonso. There have been rumors of Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez, Jenson Button, and even Lewis Hamilton piloting the second scarlet car. Around this time of year, it is common to hear rumors concerning vacant seats and expiring contracts. However, I am convinced that Ferrari are seriously looking for a replacement for Massa, and may be considering Heikki Kovalainen as their replacement.

 

 

 

Kovalainen reportedly ‘smiled’ when asked about Ferrari rumors, leading some to believe that there has been contact between the two parties. He also stated that he “has what it takes” to compete in a top team (motorsport.com). These actions could mean nothing, and predictions should not be based on a statement given in front of the media.

 

Under further examination however, Kovalainen seems a completely viable option for Ferrari to pursue. Ferrari would undoubtedly be looking for a driver who could rise to fill the gaps left by an underperforming Felipe Massa. One of Massa’s weakest areas has been in qualifying, an area in which Kovalainen has been most impressive recently. So far in 2012, he has outqualified his team mate 9 times from 11, with an average advantage of over 3.5 tenths of a second throughout the course of the season. In 2011, Kovalainen qualified higher than his team mates in 17 of 19 races. Furthermore, Kovalainen has made Q2 twice already this year, making him the only driver in the “new teams” to have made Q2. Where Massa has fallen short in qualifying, Kovalainen surely has the potential to bring the second Ferrari higher up the grid.

Kovalainen has been stellar in qualifying at Lotus and Caterham (stephenenglish.ie)

Another area where Kovalainen has proved successful is in his consistency and his overall pace. Ferrari have found in Fernando Alonso a driver that can recover from a poor qualifying performance. A great example of this skill was in Valencia, where Alonso was able to fight back through the field to win the race despite qualifying 11th on the grid. Felipe Massa seems to hover around his grid position through out the race, or do more damage to the team’s championship hopes by losing ground and failing to recover. Kovalainen has proven to be a very efficient, consistent driver. Rarely has Kovalainen retired from a race due to driver error. In fact, Kovalainen could have finished in the points this year in the European Grand Prix, had it not been for a collision caused by Jean Eric Vergne that required Kovalainen to pit, and eventually finish 13th. Results like these show Kovalainen’s potential to punch above his car’s weight, as well as fight through the field efficiently and consistently.

Kovalainen was given a puncture by Jean-Eric Vergne in Valencia (thesun.co.uk)

There are some cases to be made against Kovalainen, the first being that there are alternative drivers. Drivers such as Button, Hamilton, and Raikkonen are superb drivers and are considered among the best in F1. If Ferrari have the option to hire such a high-calibre driver, they may choose a Hamilton or a Raikkonen over Kovalainen. A second problem is that any driver going to Ferrari know that they will most likely play number 2 to Fernando Alonso, as Felipe Massa is doing currently. Whether Kovalainen would be willing to do this or not is unclear. Finally, it has been three seasons since Kovalainen has driven for a competitive team (McLaren). Some people say his experience in quicker cars has been beneficial, but driving for three years at the back of the grid may have offset some of the experience he may have gained earlier in his career.

Ferrari may choose a higher-reputation driver, such as Jenson Button (mirror.co.uk)

In my opinion, Kovalainen would be a very valuable asset for Ferrari. His three years at the back of the grid would unlikely have a large impact. Kimi Raikkonen did not race in F1 at all for two years, and upon his return he was up to speed very quickly. Kovalainen’s strong qualifying performance, coupled with consistently strong race performances could provide Ferrari with a much more stable driver in their second car. Although there are other possibilities for Ferrari drivers next year, Kovalainen must be taken into consideration. His performance at Lotus/Caterham has been most impressive, and he has matured as a driver since his McLaren days. Ferrari would be making a right decision by hiring Kovalainen as a second driver.

 

 

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Should Anything Happen to Maldonado?

A thrilling British Grand Prix saw Mark Webber climb to the top of the podium this year for the second time, beating out pole sitter Fernando Alonso in the last stage of the race. Unfortunately, the race also saw Pastor Maldonado involved in an incident that brought another driver’s race to an end for the second time in a row.

Webber was the star of the day -certainly more popular than Maldonado

Ever since his win in Barcelona, Maldonado’s public support has collapsed. His reputation was dealt a huge blow when he crashed with Hamilton in the final laps of the race, bringing Hamilton’s race to an end. In Monaco, Maldonado put Sergio Perez in danger during practice by suddenly cutting in front of the Sauber driver. And finally today was an incident between Maldonado and Sergio Perez, causing Perez to crash out of the race.

Perez was the victim of an incident between he and Maldonado at the British Grand Prix

Perez was attempting to overtake Maldonado after the DRS zone into Brooklands corner. Perez tried to take the outside line all the way through the corner to overtake, but made contact with Maldonado midway through the corner. Maldonado was able to limp back to the pits and finish a lonely sixteenth, while Perez was out of the race then and there. Watching the incident for the first time, I immediately blamed Maldonado for the incident. I assumed he was attempting to push Perez out onto a dirty line and take the better line for the next corner. However, I watched the incident several times and in my opinion, Maldonado should not take all the blame.

 

Perez put his car on the outside of Maldonado’s. By doing this, he is putting himself at risk of having an accident. F1 cars run wide frequently, and Perez knows this. On entry into the corner, Maldonado lost the back end of the car and slid wide by a couple of feet. Had Perez not been there, Maldonado would most likely have recovered and carried on racing. Rather than an over-aggressive maneuver to push Perez wide, the accident was a result of Maldonado losing control of the rear of his car. One would argue that a good driver should have maintained control of the car, but under such pressure every driver has made mistakes. Maldonado was not making an aggressive move as he did in Valencia. He was taking a normal racing line, attempting to defend his position, and lost control while doing so. This is the reason why this collision should be ruled a racing incident.

The moment of contact: Maldonado lost control and slid wide into Perez

Perez went on a rant at the end of the race about how Maldonado makes errors and ruined the races of both Perez and Hamilton. He went on to call Maldonado a “very stupid driver.” Most likely, Perez was incredibly frustrated at the time of this statement, and probably had not watched the footage of the incident. Perez has a strong reason to be angry at Maldonado, especially after their completely unnecessary coming-together in Monaco. Don’t get me wrong, I still acknowledge that Maldonado is a particularly aggressive, possibly dangerous driver. In this case however, he should not take the blame completely.

Maldonado is an accident-prone driver. Bring more wings, Williams.

Immediately after the crash, fans were full of anger toward Pastor Maldonado, criticizing his dangerous behavior and his reckless driving. It was somewhat unfortunate, because I believe that Maldonado was blamed for this incident simply because of his history with other incidents. There are accident-prone drivers, and Maldonado is certainly one of them. But I find it unfair that he be blamed immediately for this incident due to his reputation, as he was not entirely at fault for this collision today. In my opinion, he should receive no penalty for his collision today.

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Do Tires Play Too Much of a Role in F1?

Could Sauber win a Grand Prix this year? To answer simply: Yes, they could. However, the question this year should be something along the lines of: Can Sauber hit the Pirelli sweet spot? This year in F1 is so unique in the way that it revolves mostly around the tires. As always in F1, the chassis development does play a massive role in determining the championship. But for the 2012 season, it is more critical than ever to be able to manage tires in their optimum temperature zone.

 

Pirelli tires have arguably become the most critical factor in 2012

 

Take McLaren for example. The 2012 Canadian Grand Prix demonstrated exactly the ‘issue’ of tires playing a dominant role in F1. Lewis Hamilton was setting blistering lap times throughout the whole Grand Prix from start to finish. Jenson Button on the other hand struggled to get any pace at all in his McLaren. Button did miss out on practice on Friday, but this would not cause him to be overlapped by his team mate while running in 16th position in the lower midfield. The problem was the tires; Button was unable to work the tires into their correct operational window, and therefore had no pace at all.

 

Button seems to have lost the edge he had in 2011

The Canadian Grand Prix provides us with an interesting perspective from which we can either criticize or praise the role of tires in F1. In 2011, Jenson Button won the race in what many fans claimed was the best drive of the year. He was in last place at over half-distance, and came through the pack to overtake Sebastian Vettel in the final sector of the race. Some fans were expecting a similar performance from Button in 2012; they expected him to bounce back after wasting away behind the Caterham of Heikki Kovalainen in Monaco. The tires squelched what could have been another strong performance from Button in Canada.

 

Should Button be fighting with Kovalainen if he can’t get his tires to work?

 

Should tires have such a commanding role in F1? Of course, they should determine race results to an extent; drivers such as Sergio Perez, who manages his tires exceptionally, should be rewarded. In my opinion, the tires this year have gone too far in determining which drivers are winning races. People have referred to this season as a ‘lottery,’ and it seems to me that tires have somewhat negated driving talent. This year, drivers who are able to keep their tires in their optimum temperature window are the ones who win races. We know how skilled Jenson Button is, we saw it in 2011. Now we are seeing him being punished terribly for being unable to find maintain the operational window for his tires.

Drivers such as Perez should be awarded for their tire management skills, but by how much?

Then again, one could argue that tires in F1 are fair as long as each driver has identical tires available to him. It should be the driver’s job to adapt to the tires. Some fans claim that it is a driver’s job to optimize their tire use and strategy in order to be as quick as possible. But in my opinion, the role of tires in F1 has grown too large. Stellar drivers are being relegated to the midfield by failing to work the tires up to temperature, and drivers who happen to be able to turn their tires on are winning races. When one team mate is overlapping the other, the dominance of tires over a Grand Prix has gone too far.

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Why is Hamilton’s Future Hanging in the Balance?

Believe it or not, 2012 is Lewis Hamilton’s sixth season with the McLaren team. It feels like yesterday when Hamilton made his outstanding debut season, and shocked the motorsport world by nearly winning the driver’s title as a rookie. His first two seasons with the team were incredibly successful, and he created a bond between he and the team that looked unbreakable. Now, however, Hamilton seems quite fed up with the simple errors being made by his team. The bond created by Hamilton in his first two seasons, and even prior, when he was in the McLaren Young Driver Program, seems to be weakening by the Grand Prix these days.

Hamilton is visibly frustrated with McLaren as well as with his own career in the past two seasons.

Look at it from Hamilton’s point of view; he has every reason to complain. The combination of a high-quality team such as McLaren and a driver like Lewis Hamilton should not be hampered by tedious errors. Hamilton should be winning races, chasing after the title. Instead, he loses several positions due to slow pit stops, or starts a race from the back of the grid due to a fueling miscalculation in qualifying. The Hamilton-McLaren duo isn’t enjoying the  nearly flawless success that it did in the early days of its birth.

Slow pit stops have cost Hamilton points several times already in 2012

When asked about his future with McLaren, Hamilton has been very cautious to make any definite statements. He does not skirt around the question, but leaves us with vague answers concerning his future. When asked whether he might wait until the end of the season to decide on a new contract, he answered with a simple, “Possibly. Possibly.” He claims that winning  most important to him now, and he can deal with another contract later. This behavior, combined with speculation and connections to several other teams, leads many to believe that his future with the McLaren team may not extend much further.

Hamilton has left us with vague answers concerning his future

This begs the question of whether a possible separation is mutual, or if it comes from either Hamilton or McLaren. Both Hamilton and McLaren would have excuses as to why they may wish to separate. In my opinion, Hamilton has reason more so than McLaren. This reason is simple. As stated before, Hamilton has a winning car in a top-notch team, and should therefore be fighting for victories. The team has let him down and somewhat restricted his title chase so far this season.

Could the famous pairing of Hamilton and McLaren disappear next season?

McLaren on the other hand, have a reason in that Hamilton has been the target of the media for quite a long time, and sometimes he reflects negatively on the team. He has criticized the team’s form, and their overall campaign. Jenson Button, on the other hand, reflects positively on the team, and is quieter about the way he expresses frustration. McLaren could be seeking another Button in their team. After all, several people said that after the 2011 season, Jenson Button was the number 1 driver in McLaren.

Many fans view Button as the current lead driver in McLaren

It is possible that the separation could be caused by an external force, meaning that Hamilton has been offered a seat at another team. The most likely vacancies for Hamilton would be Mark Webber’s Red Bull seat, Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes seat, and less likely but still possible, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari seat. There has been much speculation and several connections from Hamilton to other teams on the grid, which could mean that Hamilton has been offered a tempting contract from another top team, causing a weakening of the tie between he and McLaren.

These could be the last races we see with Hamilton in a silver car. Unless…

The delay in the decision for a new contract is most likely due to Hamilton’s side of the equation. Although Hamilton can be outwardly critical of the team, or even of his own driving, he is a world class driver, and McLaren don’t really have enough of a reason to drop of him. In fact, they are rumored to have made an offer for another 5-year contract with Hamilton, showing their interest in keeping him. Hamilton does not seem to hold the same interest, unfortunately. He is not as enthusiastic about staying on with McLaren, and the ending of the current contract, combined with possible offers from other teams, has provided Hamilton with a window through which he can shift the path of his career. When commenting on Mark Webber’s speculated move to Ferrari, Alan Jones stated that a move to a new team can breathe a “fresh air” into a driver’s career, which could be exactly what Hamilton is seeking.

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Is Webber a True Title Contender?

After a sensational win in Monaco, Mark Webber heads to the Canadian Grand Prix just three points off of driver’s championship leader Fernando Alonso, tied for second with his team mate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel dominated the championship last year, overshadowing his team mate in nearly every session of the season. Many thought that Webber would be permanently relegated to number 2 within the Red Bull team, and would not be able to recover from such a difficult season.

Can Webber shed his Number 2 status in 2012?

In 2010, Mark Webber was an extremely competitive driver, winning four races, and just barely lost out on the driver’s championship in the last race of the season. The 2011 Red Bull RB7 seemed to suit Sebastian Vettel’s driving style, while leaving Webber straggling. To be honest, I thought 2011 would be the end of a competitive Mark Webber in F1.

Webber’s 2011 season was far less successful than his 2010 campaign

So far, 2012 has proven my hypothesis incorrect. The numbers themselves give an indication that Webber has bounced back to a level where he can compete with his team mate. Webber has out-qualified Vettel 4-2 in the first six races of the season. Both drivers have one victory to their name, and are currently tied in the standings. Where the figures tell part of the story, observation can fill in the rest. Webber looks more confident in the car. He looks more willing to take the car to the edge. In 2011, his performances seemed consistently lackluster. In 2012, it looks as if Webber has regained some of the shine he had in 2009 and 2010.

Webber claimed his first victory of 2012 in Monaco, his second victory at the track

Whether this strong start to the season is an indication of whether Webber is back in his 2010 form or not, one can be sure that Webber is more comfortable in the car than he was in 2011. We will have to wait a few more races before we can see whether or not Webber is a true title contender, but the first quarter of the season looks promising for the Australian. Whether Red Bull will allow him to challenge Vettel for the title could be the limiting factor for Webber throughout the season.

 

 

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Why Senna Is Revered

Motorsport fans around the world will remember today (and yesterday) as two of the worst days in racing history. 18 years ago yesterday, the world lost the young Roland Ratzenberger, who was racing for the Ford-Simtek team, and a day later we lost Ayrton Senna, considered by many people the greatest driver who ever lived.

This week 18 years ago saw the death of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger

Ayrton without a doubt had a natural talent for driving. After watching hours of race footage, the excellent Senna documentary, and interviews of other drivers on their opinions of Senna, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to deny his presence among the all-time greats in F1.

Senna was one of a kind through Monaco

Not only was his driving spectacular, but he was also a great character and a kind person. Even though he was incredibly aggressive on the race track, he was genuinely concerned over the safety in F1, and was a strong advocate of several safety reforms throughout his career.

The Senna Documentary is a must-watch

My favorite Senna moment was during qualifying of Spa in 1992, when Erik Comas crashed heavily and was knocked unconscious with his foot on the throttle. The following video explains what happens.

Senna knew that if Comas kept his foot on the throttle for two long, it could result in an explosion or a fire, which would kill Comas. Instead of driving past like the other drivers at the scene, Senna took the time to get out of his car and sprint across the track to rush to the side of Comas. Senna cut the engine and prevented what could have been a tragic event for F1. It is this level of compassion and respect for other drivers that made Senna so special in my mind. His aggression while competing for the title, contrasted with actions like these to save the lives of other drivers makes Senna one of the most interesting characters in F1 history. Some argue whether he was dangerous or not, but nobody can deny that he was a fascinating piece of F1 history.

Senna: The most fascinating racer of them all

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Felipe’s Future at Ferrari

Felipe Massa has had a terrible start to his 2012 campaign. Since testing began, it was clear that Massa and Ferrari were far from where they wanted to be. Massa had a similar season to Mark Webber in 2011 in that they were both overshadowed by their team mates at nearly every grand prix weekend. Arguably, Felipe Massa has not been the same driver since his accident in 2009. Ferrari have warned Massa that if he is not able to turn his performances around, he will not be hanging on to his seat at Ferrari for long.

Did Massa's accident in 2009 ruin his career?

His first two races in 2012 show signs that he may not be able to raise his game to match that of his teammate Alonso. He has failed to score a single point in the first two races, while Alonso currently sits atop the driver’s standings. Clearly then, there is something to be said for the gap in performance between the two drivers.

Alonso shone in Malaysia while Massa struggled

Ferrari struggled to keep up with the front runners in 2011, and are now in a similar, possibly worse position at the beginning of the 2012 season. Despite their win in Malaysia, Ferrari would be the first to admit that their car is not quick enough. Luckily, they have Fernando Alonso at their disposal, who will drive any car to a strong result, as he showed in both Australia and Malaysia.

Ferrari's F2012 has so far been off the pace

If Ferrari want to bring themselves back to the top of the order, they need two top drivers. McLaren have two top drivers with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, as do Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. At these teams, all drivers consistently deliver strong results. At Ferrari, it is only Alonso who delivers strong results, and it seems that Felipe Massa is clinging on to a seat that should belong to someone else, and is dragging down the team.

In my opinion, Felipe needs to be replaced. Ferrari can not afford to house a driver who does not bring them any benefits. But who could replace the Brazilian driver and score points for Ferrari? Based on the poor performances from Massa, several drivers would fit the bill. Sergio Perez, a top driver in the Ferrari driver academy, seems to be a promising opportunity for Ferrari to capitalize on a young talent. By scoring second in Malaysia, he became the first Mexican driver to score a podium since 1971. He had great pace and consistency in Malaysia, chasing down Alonso the whole time, while Massa was floundering outside of the points. If I were at Ferrari, I would be looking to hire Sergio Perez for a seat in 2013 or sooner.

Could Sergio Perez be a solution to Ferrari's troubles?

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