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When the music stops

 

  When the music stops and the fortunate few have taken their seats there are always those unfortunates who are left standing with no-where to go. Their dream of a career in the global lime-light has evaporated and most turn their sights to careers in other classes that they once saw as beneath their self deluded God-given right. Some are truly unfortunate and have had a promising career cut short or hopefully at best, just interupted while others have had their time to prove themselves and are either past their sell-by date or only proved that they were never really going to make it. For others, it must be said, that their very presence was over-optimistic at best. At least they all lived the dream for a while. There are those that, despite all the promise, talent and success never get to start a Grand Prix, mostly for reasons other than promise, talent and success. They all feel hard done by and aggrieved that those with obviously less talent have a seat and one or two are actually correct in that belief.

  One that falls into the latter category is Jolyon Palmer. The son of Jonathon Palmer, one of those who had a lengthy but unfullfilled career in Grand Prix racing, Jolyon has moved through the junior categories winning in every series and thoroughly dominated the GP2 series in 2014. He achieved it all just through shear bloody talent (and a lot of hard yakka obviously) without any huge financial backing or the support of manufacturer (I include Red Bull there) junior programmes. He arrives with all this success at just the time when the smaller teams that he would have probably gotten a break in have fallen by the way-side due to the stupidity, self interest and greed of those who "own" the sport. If he is REALLY lucky he might pick up a test role with one of the remaining smaller teams but short of dropping off the F1 bosses radar and racing in sportscars or the US, there is not much on the horizon for the poor bloke.

   Bernie may not feel that the "minnows" add much to the spectacle but they have always been the nursery, the finishing school, for some very good drivers and one or two of the greats. Would we have seen King Fernando without Minardi? Niki Lauda without March? Nelson Piquet without Ensign? Alan Jones without Hesketh, Hill, Surtees and Shadow? Rosberg (Keke) without ATS, Theodore and Fittipaldi? Senna without Toleman? And they are just the champions.

   The list of winners that began their careers at Minardi for example, an almost perenial back-marker team, is impressive. Michele Alboreto (in F2), Alessandro Nannini, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. When you add to that list others that have had a glittering career in and away from F1 such as Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene (who just won the World Endurance Championship for Toyota), Christian Fittipaldi, Ukyo Katayama, Pierluigi Martini, Gianni Morbidelli, Roberto Moreno, Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson you can begin to see just how important this little team from Faenza was. Then of course it morphed into Toro Rosso and has produced both Sebastien Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo in recent times but they can no longer be described as a minnow.

   It may well turn out that Jolyon is no better than his dad and would not turn out to be the champion in the making that he currently appears, but without a small team to take a punt on him we may never see if he is another of the greats. Not only will that be a loss for Jolyon, it will be a loss for the fans and the sport as a whole. He certainly deserves to feel a little aggrieved as one of the drivers that he gave a drubbing to this year in GP2 has just been signed to drive with Sauber after placing third in the championship. But then Felipe Nasr comes with a lot of Brazilian cash. And talent, and perhaps Felipe will prove himself and that he deserves to be there. But on current proven form, Jolyon deserves to be there more.

   Another that deserves to be there somewhere is Kevin Magnussen who in better times could have been farmed out to one of the minnows by McLaren. After a fairly impressive rookie campaign he is entitled to feel a bit hard done by in having to take a step backwards to the test role as McLaren finally decided that King Fernando would be mated with the 2009 champion Jenson Button. To be honest it would have been pretty tough on either of McLaren's incumbents to be ditched as Button's performance in more than doubling Magnussen's score was far better than the car deserved in 2014 and which ever driver got the raw prawn was never going to get another drive in '15 due to the late announcement of the team's decision.  The only silver lining for Kevin is that he has been kept on the pay-roll and is presumably there to step back into the seat when Jenson's time is up. Or if the three car per team rule is activated as per my previous suggestion, I gotta say I was pleased that Ron confirmed my suspicions on that when they finally announced Jenson's deal. However asuming that King Fernando and Button see out at least two seasons as team mates and Kevin does hang arround hoping, where does that leave Stoffel Vandoorne who is also running out of series to progress through as a McLaren junior team driver?

   Whether you think they are deserved or not you can mostly see the logic in most of the team's line-up choises;

 Mercedes would have been insane to change.

 Red Bull could possibly have the most exciting pairing next year with Kvyat joining Ricciardo and promoting from within. That's what junior teams are for after all.

 Williams would not want any more change after many years of disruption and have gotten themselves back towards the front with a very effective pairing of one young champion in the making (Bottas) backed up by a very capable experienced almost world champion (Massa).

 McLaren have gotten the bargain of the year with Alonso and one of incoming engine partner's favorites in Button to ensure some stability in a year of transittion. Magnussen waits in the wings.

 Force India are very happy with their current pair with a potential great (Hulkenberg) more than abley backed up by Perez who has his occasional superb moments.

 Toro Rosso are also promoting from within with Verstappen and Sainz sharing rookie seasons in the hope of following in Vettel/Ricciardo/Kyvat's footsteps to Red Bull.

 After a shambles of a year Lotus could not have hoped to get better drivers than their existing pair with Grosjean being potentially from the top drawer & Maldonado bringing in a shit-load of petro-dollars while being pretty handy on his day (see Spain 2013) himself.

Saubers recent "ishoos" mean that they need cash as much as talent so their pairing of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson is probably the best compromise they could come up with.

 The one that I wonder about is Ferrari. In the midst of sacking an awful lot of their senior management and technical staff they have chosen the two drivers that seem to have struggled the most with the latest generation of Grand Prix cars. Vettel simply never got to terms with the lack of rear grip that these turbo cars have (and no blown difusers) and was blown away by Ricciardo while Kimi did no better against a King Fernando who himself was slowly losing his passion for anything red as the year progressed. Sure they are both world champions and given the right car can easilly be again. But neither of them showed any progress from seasons start to end and they are in a team where the design staff are in a huge rebuilding phase and will, in all probability, not supply that all conquering car. In terms of development they don't even like the same things in a car. Vettel likes the rear end to be planted and is less concerned by the front end due to his corner entry style while Kimi can't (and this year didn't) cope with a car with no front end feel. His butt and sensative right foot can sort out the rear end so long as the front is planted. They'll both be pulling in different directions with an unsure design team and so I forsee a very lean year for the fans of the prancing horse.

 Mind you I have also been known to be wrong. Really! It's true……….I remember once back in 1976 when…..

 

Sam Snape

 

29/12/2014