The Welsh Grand Prix Blog

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Thoughts on the silly season and whatnot…

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Wow. I stop posting entries for a month and a half and it all kicks off!

It’s been a great few weeks. More twists and turns than the ‘Ring. Button staying, going, staying and going. Goodbye to the Brawn GP name. Raikkonen departing and then possibly changing his mind. The return of Senna. Toyota pulling out. And I could go on. One of the most dramatic postscripts to a season that I can remember. And it could get better/worse (depending on your POV).

Firstly, the champions. What a mess. Someone’s got a screw loose somewhere. So many different theories as to what has gone on behind closed doors at Brackley it’s hard to believe which are true and which aren’t. It could be that Button was frustrated that he had won the title and yet Rosberg was coming in as the annointed one. It could be that they weren’t offering him the money he wanted, possibly due to a clause in Rosberg’s contract. It could be that his visit to the MTC, perhaps meant as a bargaining ploy, backfired by breaching his contract and as a result losing a handsome offer on the table. It could be that Mercedes do want an all-German line-up and didn’t want Button to be a part of it. Perhaps Button’s ego’s gone through the roof. Who knows?

But what I do know is that it’s a foolish move. Jenson will struggle to match Lewis next year. Lewis is a more talented driver who has the team built around him, and as a result, he has the car built around him too. Jenson will struggle to adapt his driving style as Heikki did – Heikki has a similar smooth style, and we saw what happened to him this year. And we all know how much Jenson struggles when he isn’t on top of the car – the second half of the season shows that. Plus there’s the added impact of Mercedes switching alliegence – he could have just jumped onto a sinking ship. So much of McLaren’s budget has come from their association with Mercedes, a lot through direct funding and also through sponsorship deals – see the Mobil 1 sponsorship which could now switch to Mercedes for next year. We’ve all seen what happened to Williams when BMW pulled their money out – McLaren could easily go the same way, especially without their eternal figurehead. The complication of potentially having to build their own engines in years to come is another burden.

As for Mercedes, I believe they too could just have made a fatal mistake. A manufacturer can mess up a privateer team quite quickly. A good example is the Stewart debacle. In 1999, they looked like a promising outfit, and deserved their win at the end of the year at the ‘Ring. But by then Ford had already decided to buy the team. The failure of Jaguar Racing is well documented. The Ford board meddled too much, changing a formula that was working into one that catastrophically failed. And there are already signs that Mercedes are doing the same. If it is indeed true that they’ve dumped Button for a pair of Germans that have never won a race before, that is a crazy decision, whether or not you rate Jenson particularly highly. No doubt Haug and co will be parachuted in and I see them having a greater influence than at McLaren, when Ron was always allowed to steer the ship. The fact that this is Mercedes Grand Prix and Daimler own 70% of it (as opposed to 40% of McLaren) suggests that. Too many cooks spoil the broth. If it goes wrong next year (which is a possibility as the Merc cash injection won’t really have much of an impact until 2011), Brawn’s head may be on the chopping board, and don’t think that Merc won’t think that way – they are a manufacturer, and one manufacturer board has already shown how the efforts of a genius like Ross can go unrecognised.

Red Bull may lose out too. Some may hope that now that the McLaren stake is being sold, their veto over the engine supplier will disappear. Which is true. But Merc now have their own team – why would they supply engines to a new customer that will be a threat? If they are that desperate for Vettel, they’ll coax him to their team when his contract runs out – something that has been mooted already. Vettel is currently the best German in F1 and Mercedes want to power a German driver to the title, having missed out on signing Michael Schumacher at numerous points in the 1990s. He’s their best bet. Heidfeld probably won’t do it and it would take a damn good car for Rosberg to do it at the moment. The only other German out there right now that could be a big star is Hulkenberg, and I’m surprised they’ve not gone after him. They may do soon, although he’s managed by Willi Weber, who also manages another German F1 driver who you might recognise.

Then there’s “poor old” Kimi Raikkonen, who has seemingly been left out in the cold after McLaren’s decision to go with Button. But I have little sympathy with him – he’s been kicked out of Ferrari for simply not driving well enough to justify his gigantic salary over the last 3 years, and is thought to have wanted to be paid over the odds by McLaren and get everything his own way as well. If he is out of F1 next year, it’s down to him and his management for locking himself out of the market by asking for too much, and he may pay the price in 2011. That is if he genuinely wants to return by then. He could go to Red Bull that year but I doubt it. There has been a suggestion that he’ll replace Webber as his contract’s up, but I can’t see Vettel being too happy with that. I’d say if Mark is going to leave, a more likely replacement would be Buemi, who I see being quite happy to slot in as Sebastian’s number 2 and capable of doing a solid job in that role – in fact, I would actively encourage Red Bull to do this even at the expense of my favourite driver. If Kimi does sign for Red Bull for next year, I think it’ll be because Vettel has been snapped up by Mercedes.

It doesn’t feel like there’s been much else in the news lately but there have been a few interesting developments on the driver front. Firstly, there’s Timo Glock’s slightly surprising signing for Manorvirgingrandprixf1teammotorsportracing. It had been mentioned numerous times before that he was interested, but it was still believed that he would sign for Renault, as they are naturally a better option. As it happened, he chose Dinnington over Enstone, where he looks likely to partner Manor returnee Lucas di Grassi. This raises questions about Renault’s future, with the mixed messages eminating from the team bringing a sense of deja vu to those that followed Toyota’s slide out of the sport. I’ll predict that they’ll stay but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a politically or financially-motivated signing for the second seat – Montagny for the former or Petrov for the latter due to MegaFon’s influence. This would suggest that Kubica would probably get the Schumi/Alonso treatment – I will speculate that this could be a way of tempting him to commit his future to the team, as it is known that he has designs set on Massa’s Ferrari seat.

Talking of the Scuderia, it seems that Alonso’s move has now been overshadowed – in Britain, at least. Ferrari and Santander may be kicking themselves come Bahrain when they find there’s more attention on the last 2 world champs instead of on their man. I also see the media have been doing their best to try and whip up tensions between Alonso and Massa, reporting any slight hints of negative comments. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were intentionally badly translated to do so. I think it’ll be an anti-climax (as most things are in F1) and they’ll get on OK, although Massa may move on at the end of the year regardless. Kubica is a possibility to replace him, and it’s interesting to see Ferrari taking further interest in young Bianchi. Now when was the last time a rookie raced for Ferrari? Answers on a costpard to…

Lotus haven’t been out of the news much lately, especially on the BBC website. Now Tony Fernandes says they’ve signed their first driver. Like pretty much everyone else, I first presumed that he meant Jarno Trulli. But then I realised he didn’t specify race driver. So it’s probably Fairuz Fauzy being signed as third driver. The former Spyker tester has come on a lot in recent years, having taken a backward step from GP2 and recovered his reputation with a win in A1 GP and finishing runner-up in the World Series by Renault this year. He’s also Malaysian and his dad’s quite rich. Not that has anything to do with it, of course.

Despite his hints at a future in NASCAR, our Italian wine-making friend seems likely to hook back up with his pal Mikey Gazza and drive one of the green and yellow Force Indias…I meant Loti. The other seat seems to be a bit of a mystery right now. It has been suggested that they want a driver with a couple of years of F1 experience alongside a veteran – to me that would imply a Kovalainen, Davidson or *gasp* Nakajima. There has been forum banter about Kobayashi but I think that might be optimistic. The other driver that has been linked there is Villeneuve. Surely the capture of a veteran former world champion with experience of driving for a brand new team would override the criteria? Well, I guess that depends on 1) how long Jarno reckons he’s got on him and 2) whether Jacques’ still up to it or not. It’s a shame the new teams aren’t going to get their cars on track until January/February. It might have been interesting had they managed to get their cars ready for the Jerez test in a couple of weeks and trialled a few different drivers – like the GP2 tests but with less Bulgarians. Well, at least we get to see some new faces in the big teams’ cars – names that have been linked to the test or are already confirmed to be driving include Hulkenberg, Soucek, Jani. Chandhok, di Resta, the top 3 in Italian F3, Rossi and Gutierrez.

Campos were the first of the new teams to confirm a driver, and I’m quite pleased with it. I don’t think Bruno is an Ayrton, but I don’t think he wants to be. But he’s a solid driver and no doubt brings a bit of much-needed cash to the Spanish team. I’m glad he’s getting a shot after what happened at Honda/Brawn and for having the balls to do a year of sportscar racing, which has no doubt taught him a lot. It does look like Campos have gone down the pay driver route, but to be fair, they’re looking at some decent enough pay drivers, namely Petrov and Maldonado. I take it they’re waiting to see if Petrov gets the Renault gig before signing one or the other. I’d like to see Maldonado get a go – I’ve followed him for a while and he’s quite entertaining. He’s erratic and a bit wild but super-quick around Monaco. And he’d be the first Venezuelan to race in F1 since Johnny Cecotto.

US F1 have had more fun poked at the them than any other F1 team in recent history. Deserved? Well, they were showing Jose Maria Lopez around the factory this week… In all seriousness, I think it would be quite interesting to watch Lopez in F1, having underperformed in GP2 and abandoned the European scene for Argentinean touring cars, which he has done very well in, but it’s quite clear that money is the driving issue. He has quite a lot of testing experience compared to some of the other youngsters chasing drives, but it just sounds ominously bad. As for alternatives, various experienced F1 faces have been linked to the team, namely the likes of Klien, Davidson, Montagny, Villeneuve and de la Rosa. And there’s also Jon Summerton, who seems to have signed something with the team. Whether that’s for a race seat or not will no doubt be revealed soon. If he does get a race seat, I’ll be watching the reaction of the FIA very closely, as superlicenses have to be awarded…

With all the talk centring on Stuttgart, Brackley, Woking and the new teams, it’s easy to forget that Force India actually exist, let alone make solid progress this season. But what was thought to be a virtually-confirmed line-up of Sutil and Liuzzi has come under reconsideration in the last week or so with various rumours linking drivers to the team. Karun Chandhok and Neel Jani are thought to be testing for the team at Jerez, mainly due to nationality/heritage – Bernie recently commented that the team ought to bring an Indian driver into F1, so maybe Vijay’s taken that onboard. But there have been further rumours recently, with Nelson Piquet Jr revealing he was “close” to the team, Pedro de la Rosa (who tested for the team last year) linked to a seat by Spanish media, and Mercedes-backed DTM star (and conqueror of Seb Vettel in F3) Paul di Resta rumoured to be testing for the team at Jerez as well. The sheer number of rumours suggests that all is not well. Whether that is because Sutil is mulling over/has accepted an offer from a bigger team or because the team aren’t happy with Liuzzi’s distinctly average end-of-season form is unknown. But even if both do remain in seats, the fact that such rumours have been floating around is perhaps a suggestion of things to come – we’ve seen in recent winters that drivers like Piquet, Bourdais and Speed were rumoured to be replaced, only to be reprieved last minute, and then go on to last just half a season.

Finally, there’s Sauber. Does anyone know what’s going on? Toyota have withdrawn but the FIA have said nothing about the official reserve team stepping in. There has been talk of Notts County, the English football team also owned Qadbak, going bankrupt due to debts that haven’t been paid off, suggesting all their money is a fantasy, but now that’s all gone quiet too. Members of Qadbak have been revealed and then turned around and denied any involvement in the company. And now Nick Heidfeld could be leaving too, leaving the team with tester Christian Klien on the driver front. Are they going to make it? It’s another of the mysteries of of the 2010 F1 season that will no doubt be revealed in the coming weeks. All the waiting can’t go on forever. But then again, the Honda saga went on until February…

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Written by James Bennett

November 20, 2009 at 00:52

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