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F1 Ð AND THE MAGIC NUMBER IS 4

  Four races, four different winning drivers and cars, four different championship leaders, four different drivers and cars finishing second, four fourths in a row for Mark Webber and about four gazillion races since two Lotus’s finished on the podium in a Grand Prix. It may not seem like it just yet but are the stars aligning behind the Hoon in car 4? For the record, Sebastian Vettel left Bahrain as the fourth different winner and championship leader although he damned near didn’t. Kimi Raikkonen came within inches of pinching that victory in his John Playe…..errr….sorry, Lotus.

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  The Red Rags seem finally to have come to terms with their underperforming steed in qualifying, out-doing McLaren and Mercedes for the first time this year. Seb grabbed pole by just under a tenth from the Hoon with Webber another tenth back in third. Button was fourth with Chinese pole-man Rosberg next up, just beating out the surprising Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. Just over half a second covered this top six in qualifying. Neither of the Lotus’s gave any indication of the pace that was to come while the Ferraris where, as usual, crap. Astonishingly, considering the one lap pace of the Mercedes so far, one M.Schumacher didn’t even get out of Q3, being knocked out by Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotu….err…sorry, Caterham.

   The first three got away reasonably well and held position while the second three had shockers. Button only lost a couple of spots to Grosjean and King Fernando, who has just about become this generation’s Gilles Villeneuve when it comes to demon starts, while Rosberg dropped to ninth on the first lap and had to henceforth take on the role of bar-room brawler in his slow climb back to fifth at the flag. To say that neither the Hoon nor King Fernando were overly impressed with Nico’s defensive tactics or the thought processes of the stewards is putting it mildly. One can only say that Nico seems to have learnt from his team-mate and seems to be being punished in just the same manner. Perhaps they thought it was Michael…..

   Young Dan buggered it up totally from his superb grid slot and after having his snout damaged ended the first lap down in sixteenth place and from there he would not recover. Still, he’s young and will learn how not to hit other cars on the opening lap. And when he does, good things will follow. Now speaking of good things, the Lotus in race trim certainly seems to fit the bill. Starting seventh (Grosjean) and eleventh (Kimi) they were fourth and seventh after the first lap and had both overtaken Webber and the Hoon and risen to second when they pitted. As the field settled down from the first series of tyre stops the Lotus twins emerged comfortably in second and third and were never pressured for the podium again. Indeed as the race progressed it became clear that they were the fastest things out there and Kimi steadily hauled in the Red Rag of Vettel. Kimi had one go at the lead, which was strongly defended, before he very slowly dropped back, having used the best of his tyres. Romain Grosjean in the other Lotus backed up his first points finish of a week ago with his first podium which included his first lap in the lead of a Grand Prix. 

  All in all a fine weekend for Lotus. It has been thirty three years since two Lotus’s were on a Grand Prix podium and whether or not you think the current Lotus has anything at all to do with Colin Chapman’s squad, it was still nice to see. Back then, at Jarama for the 1979 Spanish Grand Prix, Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti finished on the lower steps behind race winner Patrick Depailler in the erratically super-fast Ligier JS11. Carlos was still running the previous years 79 while Mario was giving the Lotus 80 it’s debut. The 79, which had dominated in 1978 was no longer a real front-runner and the 80 was supposed to take ground effects to a whole new level. Initially designed with no wings at all, the 80 was one big inverted wing with sliding skirts being used along the sides of the nose-cone as well as from the front of the side pods all the way to the very rear of the car. By the time the car arrived at Jarama it had sprouted wings and its podium scoring debut was promising.

 

 

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    The Lotus 80 was not to bother the scorers again though as several problems could not be overcome. The sliding skirts that were curved so that they were inboard of the rear wheels continually got stuck causing loss of down-force and when they were working, the chassis was not stiff enough to cope with the down-force generated and would flex. Not what you want in a Grand Prix car. The 80 only appeared in two further races, at Monaco and Dijon while being Mario’s spare car at Zolder and Silverstone before being cast aside for the aging 79. There arern’t many cars that spring to mind that have had such a promising debut, followed by such a short and unsuccessful racing life. In its Martini and Essex colours though, the Lotus 80 did give us one of the most striking, and I think, beautiful liveries seen, even to this day.

   Pity today’s cars are SO BLOODY UGLY!!! 

Sam Snape 

25/04/2012 

For full results go to; 

http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=148&dir=ASC&order=name&limit=5&limitstart=5

F1 - KING FERNANDO - WET WEATHER WIZARD

  King Fernando’s description “the most beautiful” applied only to his miraculous win in the Malaysian Grand Prix, certainly not to his Ferrari or its handling. Regarding the latter he would have been justified in quoting Keke Rosberg after his 1984 Dallas GP win in the evil Williams FW09 Honda. As the track fell apart and great drivers in good cars came unstuck due to the abnormally bad grip conditions Keke sailed through to an unlikely victory and said that the crumbling track “made no difference to me, my car always handles like shit.” Then again, he is driving for Ferrari and the last bloke to get away with lambasting a prancing horse was the sublime Gilles Villeneuve who described the 1981 126CK as being like “a big red Cadillac.” When Alain Prost tried to suggest something similar a decade later, he was summarily sacked. “Merde”

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  Yet again Alonso was faultless, getting the maximum speed out of the Ferrari which is probably only the fifth or sixth best car in the field. His timing for his tyre stops was perfect and in the final stint on slicks his performance under immense pressure from the startling Sergio’s Sauber was evidence, if any were needed, as to why many consider him to be the most complete Grand Prix driver of this generation. Given that he started in eighth only because of a gearbox change penalty to Raikkonen in the Lotus and he was over 1.3 seconds off the pace in qualifying this was, simply put, an absolutely stunning drive that will probably be the standout of the year. If anyone betters it, then they deserve to be world champion. 

 

  If it wasn’t for a momentary lapse with just a few laps to go, that performance may have gone to Sergio Perez in the Sauber. Starting ninth, Sergio pitted early for full wets and after the deluge hit and the rest of the field changed tyres the Sauber was sitting third behind the two McLarens. This was followed by fifty-one exciting minutes of watching the world’s best drivers in the most technologically advanced cars sitting under tents on the main straight. Finally the race restarted behind the safety car but once it pulled off the rest of the pack pitted and Perez spent two glorious laps leading a Grand Prix. It was generally thought the Sauber team had cocked it up at this point but to the surprise of all Sergio rejoined behind only King Fernando with the McLarens and Red Bulls dropping slowly away.

 

 

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  Sergio closed and closed on his prey until the Ferrari stopped for slicks on lap 39 and the Sauber led another two laps. Again his pit stop sequence was slower that that of the King but yet again he set about closing down the gap, often at over a second a lap. With a handful of laps to go the gap was down to under a second and then the game changed. A radio message came out telling Sergio to be careful as “we need these points”. A worse bit of timing cannot be imagined. Nor can anything less likely to break the intense focus of a young man gunning for his first win. Needless to say, that aforementioned lapse came just a lap later, Sergio ran wide and it was game over. Even so Perez was just 2.263 seconds adrift at the flag and a dozen or so seconds ahead of the battle for third place.

 

 

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    For the second week in succession it was Hamilton and Webber brawling over the final podium spot, and just like last week it was the Hoon that held out. Despite the McLaren not showing the same superiority in the wet conditions as it has so far in qualifying. Lewis was much happier with this third place than in Australia. Mostly because Jenson the Lion tamer was back in 14th place. Jenson was the first guy to change off the wets after the pace car and would have probably been fighting with his team-mate had he not ignored the fact that Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT was, not only up in tenth place, but in the bit of track that Jenson turned in to. The result was Button rejoining again down in 21st place and no hope of points.

   Oddly enough, on lap 46 Sebastian Vettel tried a similar manoeuvre while lapping the Indian and put himself out of fourth place with a punctured left rear. On neither occasion was Narain at fault despite the dubious 20 second penalty handed to him, and Seb did his reputation no favours with his petulant outburst after the race. He is a nice enough kid when all is going well, but he needs to remember that when he fucks up, he really should just keep his mouth well and truly shut. Remember Turkey 2010 anyone?

   Over at Lotus, Kimi Raikkonen again showed that the car is only just off podium pace with a fine drive to fifth place. He would have started fifth but for that gearbox change that dropped him back to tenth on the grid. Grosjean again failed to finish but this time he had no assistance when he speared off when the heavens opened. He is quick though so when he has some luck you can expect the points to flow. Mercedes repeated their Australian performance, great in qualifying but very hungry on the tyres in the race. Third and seventh on the grid became tenth and twelfth in the race.

   At Team Willy Pastor Maldonado again lost out on a point scoring result on the last lap. Unlike Grosjean though, this time it was not Pastor’s fault as his Renault engine did it’s best Puff the Magic Dragon impersonation. Bruno Senna put a smile on the teams faces though with an excellent sixth place, scoring more points in one hit than they scored all last year. Of the others Vergne showed good pace again and claimed eighth place while the Force India’s again picked up the crumbs as others faltered.

  For full results go to;

 http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=148&Itemid=38 

Sam Snape 

29/03/2012   

 

F1 Ð FIRST BLOOD TO BUTTON

  Or Daniel mauls the Lion again. Continuing his super form from 2011 Jenson Button again outraced Lewis (The Hoon) Hamilton to take victory in the Australian Grand Prix. Last year Jenson became the first driver in the same team to outscore Lewis over a championship and at Albert Park yesterday he continued that supremacy in convincing fashion. Since winning the championship with Brawn in 2009 and then “entering the Lion’s den” by joining the Hamilton dominated McLaren squad Button has proved just what an outstanding Grand Prix driver he really is. The Hoon still has the advantage over a single lap and displayed that on Saturday when he was the only driver in the 1m 24’s and beating Jenson to pole, but come race day over the last year Button has had the upper hand. The comparisons with Alain Prost do not end with his super smooth style. Neither may have dominated qualifying when up against a super fast team-mate, but both are bloody hard to beat come Sunday afternoon.

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  On a personally satisfying note I was delighted that the only car (except the real tail-end Charlies) that didn’t have one of those appalling stepped noses was by far the quickest and most stable throughout the weekend. It’s nice to see that the old adage, “if it looks right, it usually is” still pulls some weight. So much for Ferrari chief designer, Nikolas Tombazis’ prediction that if his car wins it will be beautiful. The Ferrari looks frightful and evidently handles in a similar descriptive manner. The Ferrari constantly looked like it was about to provide it’s drivers with a far too intimate introduction to the concrete barriers and both King Fernando and poor bloody Felipe were both lucky that when they were bitten, there was no concrete in the immediate vicinity. 12th and 16th on the grid was probably representative of where they currently stand as the McLarens, Red Bulls, Mercedes and Lotuses (Lotii?) are definitely quicker as are possibly the Williams cars. Their eventual fifth place was only due to the phenomenal skill of King Fernando, God alone knows what would have happened if he was in one of the McLarens, apart from a punch-up with Hamilton that is…

 

  While on the subject of Williams, it was also good to see them showing some form after the horror season they suffered in 2011. Pastor Maldonado had his FW34 in the top ten in all but one session and was set for a fine sixth place when, battling hard with King Fernando he made the one error of a fine weekend and planted the Williams very heavily into the concrete with just one lap to go. If you were going to place money on who, out of a Williams or a Ferrari, was going to have that accident this weekend, you wouldn’t have had your hard-earned on the car from Grove. In an interesting coincidence their respective team-mates took each other out of the race on lap 46 while squabbling with the recovering Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso.

 

 

  Apart from a spin in the wet on Friday afternoon and being assaulted from just about every direction at turn one Ricciardo had a debut with Toro Rosso to remember. Consistently in the top ten throughout practice and qualifying he brought his battered baby bull into the pits at the end of lap one and then proceeded to put in one of the drives of the day. By lap 20 he was battling with the Caterhams and by lap 40 was brawling with Senna and Massa. By lap 50 he was by Paul di Resta in the sole remaining Force India (who where a bit of a disappointment after their testing pace) and closing rapidly on the battle for the final point. Entering the last lap he was still in 12th place, right behind his team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne when a) Maldonado bit the concrete, b) Rosberg and Perez bit each other and c) Vergne slowed to avoid being bitten by both. A ninth place finish and two points were well earned.

 

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  “I don't really know how that happened on the last lap. I saw blue flags and a lot of cars in front and I was sure I could make up at least one place because it was chaos. I was a bit lucky to be the last one in that group because I could have a clear picture of the other cars going off in front. Then I had a chance to attack Jean-Eric. He defended into Turn 13 and I thought I could make the switch back and I did, which put me in P9. The last few laps were crazy and I was pushing like hell. At the start, I got caught up in the accident and at the moment I don't understand how it happened or who was to blame. I made a decent start, I moved to the outside but there were too many of us there. I hit the left front quite hard against a Williams and had to come in to change the nose. I had to race with a bit of damage after that. It's good to finish ninth, but I think I could have done better because the car was very strong, given how fast it was even with the damage I had to carry through the whole race, with the car pulling to one side. It was not easy to come back, but I never gave up, pushing all the time. I'm extremely happy and it's great to score my first F1 points here at home in Australia, where the crowd has been just fantastic all weekend long.” 

  In the senior team, the Red Rags were the best of the “fuglies” with Seb finishing second after a nice aggressive drive and Mark having his best result at Albert Park in fourth. Vettel’s pass on Rosberg on lap two was possibly the highest “pucker factor” pass ever completed at Albert Park around the outside heading down to the right hander at turn 12. “I had a good start initially and was surprised by Nico, who had a very good start and got past. I passed him again, which was a great manoeuvre and on the edge. Behind Michael, I had a mistake and went off in the first corner; he then did exactly the same when I got close to him, which was good.” Yet another crap start saw Webber get caught up in some of the turn one mess and he completed the first lap in just ninth place but from that point he put in another good drive to close right onto the battle for second at the flag. The Red Rag was especially quick on the harder prime tyres and Mark emerged from the second pit stops in the fourth place that he would hold until the finish.

 

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    Of the rest? Lotus (formerly known as Renault, Benetton, Toleman etc) showed that it will be up amongst it this year with a great qualifying performance by Romain Grosjean who lined up third on the grid. Unfortunately for Romain he slipped to sixth after the start and was then nerfed off the track on lap 2 by Maldonado and ended his race with a broken right front suspension. Raikkonen made an error in his final qually run but drove well in the race to finish seventh from seventeenth on the grid. Promising signs. The Saubers again showed that they like Albert Park with Kamikaze Kamui entertaining everybody (except Kimi possibly) on his way to sixth and Perez putting in another excellent drive from the rear of the grid (placed there after a gearbox change) to eighth even after savaging Rosberg on that last lap.

   And of the Silver Slings. Well they flattered to deceive. Super quick in practice and qualifying but when it came to the race they were far too brutal on their tyres and both fell off towards the end of their, rather short, stints. On top of that Schumacher’s gearbox lunched itself after just ten laps and Rosberg also missed the points when he and Perez disagreed over a patch of track on the last lap. Rosberg had been dropping back all race though and was only eighth when said disagreement occurred anyway so they slunk off with no points.

   Paul di Resta took the final point for the second year in a row but was shaded by the returning Nico Hulkenberg all weekend. Unfortunately for Nico he was out on lap one, being damaged in the first corner chaos but the Force India was just not really on the pace here. Caterham (formerly Lotus, gets confusing doesn’t it) were closer to the midfield pack than recent seasons but still not there, they still need about another second to be in with a chance of points and the Marussia pair where about where you would expect a team that had no testing to be. At least they were better than the HRTs that for the second year in a row didn’t qualify in Australia. Again they were still building the cars at the track and even when they got going struggled with boiling hydraulics that robbed them of their DRS, power steering and any chance of racing at all.

 For full results go to;

 http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=148&Itemid=38 

Sam Snape 

19/03/2012          

FORMULA FUGLY Ð THE LAWS AND UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

  When the F1 rule makers wrote the new regulations regarding the height of the nose of a Formula 1 car for 2012, I’m sure that their main concern was the safety aspect, but I reckon that they also had in mind that the lower nose would make the cars more pleasant to the eye. Something along the lines of the McLaren MP4/27 whose nose slopes gently and gracefully and yet stays within the new parameters. Unfortunately the three other new cars that have been launched so far look as if they have been built using Lego blocks and have all the aesthetic appeal of a dog turd in a swimming pool. A couple of years back folk were dismayed by the appearance of the cars with the very wide front and the narrow rear wings. Sure, they were ugly but you sort of got used to them, they were just different from what we had previously been used to and so after a while you just stopped noticing them. They were just wings after all. But the cars launched by Ferrari, Force India and Caterham? Yee Gods, I have seen more attractive Soviet era apartment blocks.  Genital warts have more appeal.

 

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  One of the things that appeals to young boys, and these are the future F1 fans, (I mean, lets face it, motor sport is mostly followed by blokes – hence grid GIRLS), is that they can bung a picture of a beautiful car up on the wall of their bedroom and dream of racing one. For me, in the ‘70’s these were the Gulf Porsche 917, the JPS Lotus 79 but the one that really grabbed my balls was the 1975 Ferrari 312T. Maybe not your favourite, but as always beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that red car, with the high white airbox, silver wings & huge rear wheels was that ten year olds drool inducer. I simply cannot imagine anybody, any boy, any girl, any sane man or woman looking at the nose of the Ferrari F2012 and finding it any more attractive than the rotting face of a dead wart-hog. Maggots included.

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 Nikolas Tombazis, Ferrari’s chief designer has already had to defend the look of the car as the scorn of the public has poured in. His defence is, that he doesn’t care what the car looks like as long as it wins. Well Nik, old son, all I can say is that it bloody well better, ‘cause the rest of the F1 viewing public does care. And so to do the sponsors of the sport.  If no kid is going to pin a poster of their car on the wall then they know that they aren’t getting value for money either. After all, it is brand exposure that they are paying for and the most susceptible to this exposure are kids. How many of us that grew up in the 70’s have forgotten any of the main sponsors? Gulf Oil or ELF Petroleum. The fags packets on wheels, John Player Special, Marlboro, Gitanes etc. Martini. All of these adorned, and help make, beautiful cars. Not too many will recall LEC Refrigeration with any great excitement. And that’s the point. Some 30 to 40 years down the line we still remember the brands fondly, even if they were cancer tubes. Will any of today’s kids remember Acer or Santander in 30 years time?

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  But to be fair (sort of) it’s not just the Ferrari that has been belted with the ugly stick. The Force India and the Caterham are almost as hideous. Almost. I was, as I am sure you all were, looking forward to this coming weeks testing at Jerez. As much to see the new cars as get any idea who may have the right stuff this year. Now I’m almost dreading it. Hoping against hope that the other teams have not gone down this horrid path. Oh, and while we’re at it, stop insulting the poor bloody platypus. It may be a mildly strange looking creature but it’s not that damned ugly.

 

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   And while talking about Lego, the final few blocks were put in place this week with the announcement that Narain “I’m not a masochist” Karthikeyan has signed on for another year at HRC and that Giedo van der Garde has been named as Caterham’s test and reserve driver. That completes the race driver line-up for the Australian GP at least, barring any Kubica type disasters and sadly confirms that there is no longer a place for Rubens Barrichello on the F1 grid. He may have been getting a bit long in the tooth but would still have been a better bet than some that have secured a place. As one of the nicest guys around, the F1 paddock will be a much poorer place without his presence. I hope he enjoys success in Indycars where it seems he is now headed off to and the Indy 500 should now have an interesting story within a story, who will do better, Alesi or Barrichello?

Sam Snape

05/02/2012 

 

F1 Ð NICOÕS NUMBER ONE

  Good-bye Silver Slings, the Arrows are back. After 111 Grand Prix starts Nico Rosberg has given a works Mercedes team their first victory since the great Juan Manuel Fangio won at Monza in 1955. After two tough years since their return some were doubting that this latest iteration of the Silver Arrows would ever match their illustrious predecessors with victory at the sports highest level. While they still have some work to do before they can be considered true championship contenders, it’s good for both the team, and Nico, and the sport for that matter, that they now have that monkey of their first win, well and truly off their backs. Even better that this win was no fluke or fortune of circumstance, as was King Fernando’s superb win in Malaysia, as Nico dominated the whole weekend and justly deserved this fine win.

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  OK I know that the circuit favoured the handling characteristics of the Merc in a way that the first two races didn’t, but that doesn’t detract from either Rosberg’s, nor the teams, performance. The nature of the Shanghai track, punishing the front end (especially the front left) much more than the rear, meant that the rapid rear tyre degradation that blighted the silver cars at Albert Park and Sepang was not an issue. At this track, possibly more than at any other this year, being easy on the front tyres and harder on the rears meant that the Mercedes was better balanced and wore it’s tyres more evenly than their rivals. This enabled Rosberg to stop just twice for new rubber, while most of the others ran four stints.

    Starting from pole Rosberg dominated the first half of the race but as his second stint dragged on it looked for a brief minute that the strategy might not work after all. Button on his fresher tyres was closing rapidly and after Nico’s final stop on lap 35 it appeared that Jenson may have been able to complete his final stop and emerge just ahead of the Mercedes. On lap 39 the McLaren came in and a dodgy left rear wheel nut put the result beyond question. I recall, back in the Eighties, when we in Oz finally got TV coverage of F1 a sub ten second pit stop was considered excellent. Now it’s a killer if it’s over three to four seconds and Jenson’s stop of nine and a half seconds dropped him back into the queue that had formed behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus who was running second, also on a two stop plan.

    At this point their was a fantastic scrap going on behind the Lotus with thirteen cars separated by just twenty odd seconds and battles raging for each place between cars on differing tyre strategies. Apart from Rosberg, the leading two stoppers were Raikkonen and Vettel, while Button, the Hoon and Webber were all three stopping. Apart from Rosberg, three stops was the correct strategy. With ten laps to go Kimi’s tyres “fell off the cliff” while Seb’s went south about four laps later. Raikkonen crashed all the way down to 14th at the flag, dropping some 30 seconds in those final nine laps while Vettel got jumped by both McLarens and Webber all within the last five laps.

   Romain Grosjean was the next best two stopper with a strong run into sixth place and his first world championship points while both Williams finished in the points for the first time since God knows when. King Fernando’s ninth was probably a fair reflection of where Ferrari stands at the moment while Kobayashi’s tenth place was a major disappointment after the team’s qualifying pace and Malaysian result. 

  Oddly enough, if you follow the timeline of Mercedes Grand Prix back to it’s earliest beginnings it has won world championships under three guises and has been a works squad for three separate manufacturers. It’s first life, starting in F1 in 1968 (no, I’m not including it’s Formula 2 outings in F1 races here) was as Matra International under the stewardship of Ken Tyrrell and clocked up it’s first title with Jackie Stewart in 1969 as a Matra-Cosworth. When Matra insisted that the team used it’s own V12 engine for the following year Ken took his team in another direction and fielded Marchs for most of the 1970 season before building his own Cosworth powered racer late in the year. Two more titles followed as Tyrrells in 1971 and 1973 for Stewart but once Jackie retired the team gradually slipped down the ladder. They continued to win races up to 1976 but from then, apart from single wins in 1978 (Monaco), 1982 (Las Vegas) and 1983 (Detroit) Kens squad slowly dropped back to the tail of the field.

 

 

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    At the end of 1997 Ken sold the team to British American Racing and from 1999 the cars were known as BARs. In 2006 the team had it’s second stint as a works squad when Honda bought out British American Racing but the continual failure to produce a competitive, let alone winning, car saw Honda pull the plug late in 2008. Ross Brawn, who was by this time the team manager put his own name to the team for a year and stunned the GP world with championship success for Jenson Button in the Mercedes powered Brawn BGP001. It was on the back of this triumph that Mercedes Benz decided to purchase the team that had been works entries for Matra and Honda, and had won titles as Matra, Tyrrell and Brawn.

    Can the team taste championship success as Mercedes? Time alone will tell, but unless they get a handle on the rear tyre eating characteristics of the W03 quickly it probably will not be this year. The car suited the nature of the Shanghai track and Nico and the team took full advantage to score a wonderful win, but don’t expect a repeat performance in Bahrain this weekend.

 Sam Snape

 18/04/2012

 For full results go to;

 http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=148&dir=ASC&order=name&limit=5&limitstart=5        

THE ECSTACY AND THE AGONY

  Last weekend had every aspect of motor sport imaginable. The good, the bad, the great and the tragic. When the stars are aligned in for favour you can have your day of days but when they are not, then you, and the sport can suffer the worst of days. And oddly enough, all of these events, the wonderful and the terrible, all involved Australian competitors. From Stoner's glory at the Island to Webber's terrific dice with a feisty Hoon in Korea and Power's lucky escape in the horror that unfolded in Las Vegas which resulted in the sad loss of Dan Wheldon.  

 

 

  The weekend began in fine style for Aussie fans with Casey Stoner dominating the Moto GP event at PhillipIsland. Fastest in all practice sessions, pole position, led every lap to take out his fifth straight win at the Island, wrap up the World Championship, and all on his 26th birthday. If you believe in such things Casey's stars were very much in alignment. To take a win on your birthday is rare enough but to win your home Grand Prix and the World Championship, I doubt a better birthday present has ever been known and the celebrations were long and loud.

   There were some dark clouds though. No fewer than three riders suffered injuries bad enough during practice to prevent them from starting the Grand Prix. Aussie rider Damian Kudlin, contesting only his second Moto GP event on the Aspar Ducati had a nasty high-side which left him severely bruised while the entire Yamaha factory team was taken out in separate accidents. Ben Spies had a long and painful slide after a front end lose and was ruled out after complaining of dizziness, having given his head a fair whack before he came to a halt in the gravel trap. Nastiest of all though, was the loss of part of a finger to the left hand of Jorge Lorenzo when he went down in the Sunday morning warm-up session.

   To be honest, there was very little chance that Lorenzo was ever going to stop Stoner clinching the title this year but Casey really didn't want to win it in this manner. Not with his fellow title contender in hospital. Still, Jorge will be back, and Casey won the title that he was always going to anyway, perhaps just one race earlier than would have been the case. And who knows, the title may have been clinched at the Island anyway, Lorenzo might have come unglued during the race and he had to finish on the podium to keep the championship alive. And the way things were going, it seems that it was always going to be Casey's day no matter what happened.

   A couple of hours later Herr Vettel won yet again in Korea for Red Bull. This though, will not be what the race will be remembered for. When it is recalled it will be for the tremendous dice between Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber who spent the best part of the race brawling for second place and the best part of one spell-binding lap running side by side, just inches apart. One commentator got a little carried away comparing the lap to the famous Arnoux-Villeneuve Dijon dice of '79 but is was as dramatic a bit of motor racing as has been seen for many a year. There has been a fair amount of bitching from some quarters this year about the DRS (Drag Reduction System) being used this year but let's at least accept the fact that it, combined with Pirelli's tyres, have provided for some spectacular racing this season.

   The DRS may not have played a direct role in many of the best moments of the year but what it has done is allow the cars to be in a position where these dramatic events could take place. And haven't there been some beauties. Webber vs Alonso at Eau Rouge and Vettel vs Rosberg at Blanchimont at Spa and Vettel vs Alonso through the Curva Grande at Monza just to name a few. It may be some amazing coincidence but I love that cars racing at the front can actually overtake - on the track - once again. There are those that whine that it is all "artificial". Bollocks. Technology is just that, technology and if some technologies are used to prevent the cars behind from passing, then God bless those that are used to make it easier. And it's not as if there haven't been similar "artificial" technologies before. The F-duct for example. Or back in the Turbo era when they pushed the boost button. There were no complaints about passing being too easy then. And why should passing be so damned difficult?  It doesn't necessarily make racing more exciting. Just try telling me that those old Monza slipstreaming duels when there were several thousand passing moves per race (OK - possible exaggeration) and you had no idea who would win the race until the finish line (Peter Gethin anyone?) were dull.

   Unfortunately, following on from seeing just how good motor sport could be, came the Indycar race at Las Vegas. Here was the dark side of the sport. Considering the speeds reached at Las Vegas and the violence of the accident it is probably fortunate that a greater tragedy didn't unfold. Dan Wheldon's car wasn't the only one to get airborne before hitting the wall but although several other drivers suffered minor injuries, including a very lucky Will Power, it was Wheldon that fate chose to take from us. Those who knew Dan fully believed that he had the talent to have been a F1 champion if that is where his career had taken him. Instead he ended up in the States and although Indycar racing is not quite what it was in the late '80's and early '90's, the fact that he was the 2005 IRL champion and a two time Indy 500 winner proves that the required quality was there.

   As tragic as his passing is, and as devastating as it must be for his young family, there seems to be a similar hysterical over-reaction taking place to that of 1994. There has even been one suggestion that open wheel racing cars should not race on ovals. Give me a break. Ovals are the heritage and history of American open wheel racing and the idea of not running on them would be the same as saying that F1 shouldn't run at Monaco, Spa or Monza. Are they seriously suggesting that the US should give up on the Indy 500? Just like circuits anywhere, there are some that are suitable for various types of racing and some that aren't. The speedway at Las Vegas probably falls into the latter category for Indycars considering the degree of the banking, the speeds achieved and the narrow width of the track. These were all factors that had the drivers concerned before the event and horribly, those concerns were realized. The IRL should probably not return to that track but to use this as a reason to stop racing on all ovals would be a massive over-reaction, and one that Dan Wheldon himself, would never have argued for.

   Sam Snape

 19-10-2011