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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Will F1 Work in America?

This year, we will see Formula 1 make a return to the United States in the Austin Grand Prix in November. Over the past decade, Formula 1 has expanded to many new places, mostly in developing countries. F1 will return to the United States for the first time in 2007, meaning that the sport has been absent for five years now. With a race in New Jersey planned for the 2013 season, the reaction from the viewers in the United States, and also around the world, is critical.

F1 will return to the US for the first time in 5 years

Many new races, such as Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, have been criticized heavily by Formula 1 fans as boring tracks designed specifically to make money for the F1 franchise. Whether this is true or not, many F1 fans prefer the classic European tracks such as Monza, Spa, and Silverstone. The fact that Spa will now alternate with a French GP every year has made several fans upset, and many fans asking for Formula 1 to return to its European roots. Will the new races in the United States be a further digression from the classical European F1, or will the United States provide exciting races that attract both international and domestic approval?

Races such as Bahrain have been criticized for being boring

I spent last night watching the Sao Paolo 300 Indycar race. It was the first Indycar race I was able to watch this season (I live in India and usually do not get the opportunity to watch American races). I was curious to see the race firstly because it was a street race, and also because I wanted to see how Rubens Barrichello was coping with his debut season in the Indycar season. I was happy to see that Rubens finished in 10th position, and was running up in 5th at one point during the race; he looked quite competitive.

Rubens looked to be adapting well to a completely new series

The more important factor here, however, is the racing. It was great. I was somewhat confused and naive at points as I know nothing about the teams, drivers, or strategies. Despite this, the racing was close, exciting, and left me wondering why I didn’t spent more time following the Indycar series.

The Sao Paolo 300 provided thrilling racing

Watching this race made me think -Will F1 work in the United States? If American motorsports fans already have their own “F1” to watch, why should they be interested in attending an F1 race. There are two sides to the coin on this question. A pessimistic opinion would claim that American fans should have no interest in F1 since they already have their own super-competitive series to watch, and know nothing about the likes of Alonso, Hamilton, and Vettel, and therefore will have no interest. A more positive outlook would say that American fans are curious to witness the “pinnacle of motorsport” for themselves, and will be hooked if the races are exciting.

If Austin provides an exciting race, they can gain a huge following for F1

There is a motorsport following in America, there really is. European fans often criticize Americans of watching cars go around in circles for hours, a feat that many claim takes no skill at all. Many European fans have never watched a Nascar or Indycar race, and haven’t noticed that the racing is always close, always rough, and always thrilling, even if the cars are driving around one ring. I hope that the American population will be open to the F1 races coming to Texas and to New Jersey, and I am sure that if they see an F1 race in person, they are incredibly likely to follow the sport for good. I encourage anyone who has never watched an Indycar or Nascar race (especially a circuit race such as Infineon) to do the same. True fans of racing will love both series.

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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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Webber vs. Vettel: The Season So Far

Two races into the F1 season, and we as F1 fans have been treated with a fantastic couple of races in Australia and Malaysia. There have been some surprising results, the strong showings from Sauber in the first two races, Mercedes’ lack of race pace, and Fernando Alonso’s stunning victory in Malaysia. One area of interest in the F1 world lies within the Red Bull Racing team, more specifically between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. 

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The Red Bull team mates have another head-to-head season in front of them

Last year, Webber was completely dominated by Vettel. Although Webber scored more points than he had in 2010, he was completely outgunned by his younger team mate, and won only a single race. Many thought 2011 could be the end of Webber’s run among the top driver’s, although some had hope that he could rebound in 2012. 

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Webber was relegated to #2 after the 2010 season

So far, Webber is looking strong. His main downfalls in 2011 were a lack of qualifying pace, and a tendency to lose several positions before the first lap was over. His pace during the races, however, was often quite strong, and on par with Vettel’s lap times. So far this year, he has outqualified his team mate twice in a row, showing possible signs of an improvement from Webber in qualifying. Webber lost out to Vettel in the first race when Vettel secured second place, and Webber could only manage fourth. In Malaysia, Webber secured another fourth place finish, while Vettel scored zero points after a tire puncture late in the race. 

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Webber in the pits in Malaysia

 

 

The Malaysian Grand Prix was somewhat chaotic, and therefore did not give a clear picture as to how the drivers and teams stacked up. If Webber can manage to beat Sebastian in qualifying, and be consistently quick on the first lap, he stands a strong chance of beating his team mate. 

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Webber loses positions in Malaysia

For Webber, one can be sure that one of his primary goals this year is to beat his team mate, or at least race on the same level. After being completely dominated by Vettel last year, he must feel that he has to prove himself worthy of a Red Bull seat. So far, Red Bull have been slightly slower than McLaren, who seem to have the quickest car at the moment. If Red Bull are able to bring significant upgrades to the next few races and gain some aerodynamic advantages, then the title is fair game. 

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So far, McLaren have proven to be quickest

 

So far this year, it seems that F1 fans around the world could view Round 2 of the titanic battle between Webber and Vettel that took place during the 2012 season. If Webber keeps up his pace, he could bring the fight back to Sebastian Vettel. Most likely, it will take a few more grand prix before we are able to determine how they stack up against each other. As of now, Webber is ahead of Vettel in the championship, but this could all change in an instant. If Webber is considering staying in F1 for much longer, he must seize this opportunity to fight back and finish ahead of Vettel. 

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2012 could be the season for Webber to win races again

 

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