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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

Stunning Spa & stuff

  On the face of it, Sebastian Vettel winning his eighty gazillionth race of the year from Webber and a McLaren might not sound too interesting. It might sound predictable, dull, boring, bereft of suspense and denuded of excitement. But Noooooooooooooooooooo!!! The Red Rags may have, yeah OK, yet again, dominated practice but until the final lap of qualifying the dominator was Mark Webber, showing yet again that he is rather useful on the damp stuff. Even that should not have happened. The Red Rags are not supposed to have enough grunt to be quick on the super-fast Spa-Francorchamps and it was assumed that they would struggle against the McLarens and Ferraris. 

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  Then, just to make a Red Rag one-two even more unlikely, they blistered the buggery out of their front tyres in qualifying by running an extreme degree of camber. Of course the rules state that they had to start on these damaged bits of black and could not alter their set-up so their race chances didn't look so hot. And THEN, they both bogged down at the start with the anti-stall kicking in, more so for Mark than Seb and the surprise leader at the end of lap one was the super starting Nico Rosberg. Seb's start wasn't too bad and he held out Massa for second but Mark's was the F1 driver's version of discovering rampant crutch-rot.

    He has, however, obviously found a new friend in young Bruno Senna who undid all his excellent practice and qualifying work to make a complete pig's breakfast of La Source, and slam, tyres smoking, into Jaime Alguersuari who had started a career high sixth on the grid. The resulting carnage rescued Mark's start as he weaved through the flying shrapnel and emerged ninth through Eau-Rouge. The major casualties were Alguersuari, who oddly enough survived Senna's assault, but was, as a result pushed into the path of the faster starting King Fernando who neatly removed the left front corner of the Toro Rosso. Senna, obviously had a bent snout and had to pit at the end of lap one while both Lotus's got caught up with each other while avoiding the mess and Button's McLaren not only had a damaged wing but also had one of his mirrors taken out by someone's debris going through Eau-Rouge. As he mentioned, a bit scary that.

   From there, it was one of those races where a mixture of circumstance, conditions and testicles infected with elephantitis resulted in the Red Rag one-two. Part of the circumstance was the Hoon putting himself into the wall after forgetting to look and see if there was anyone along side him who he could hit when moving over to take the ideal line through Les Combes. There was and he did. Kamui Kamikaze did not roll over and die as the Hoon imagined when he initially passed the young Japanese Sauber pilot, but closed back in on the run from Radillon and had come alongside in the braking zone. Quite aptly named, as the result was a very broken McLaren and an equally broken Armco barrier. On this occasion the Hoon won back a few of the fans who he lost at Monaco when, after viewing the footage, he admitted that the accident was "100%" his fault. You don't mind a guy making a mistake if he admits it. The conditions took care of the Ferraris as, as ever, the flying fag packets could not make the harder tyres work in the cool temperature and King Fernando dropped to a distant fourth by the flag.

   The Testicular Elephantitis Passing Move of the Year will surely go to Webber who, on the harder rubber, caught King Fernando who was leaving the pits and ballsed it out around the OUTSIDE at Eau-Rouge. Everyone watching, including commentators, spectators and Red Rag managers closed their eyes and waited for the resulting plane crash. There was no horrible noise, just the joint exhalation of a few thousand breaths and the stunned viewers opened their eyes to see Webber pulling away from the Ferrari.  Both intact. It is as much a tribute to King Fernando's racing ethics as the skills of both drivers that something very horrible did not happen. I may be wrong, but I cannot remember a successful pass for position around the outside of Eau-Rouge. In fact, the last time I recall anyone even trying it was the unfortunate, but very brave, Stefan Bellof attempting the move on Jacky Ickx in Porsche 956s in 1985. Despite Ickx's equally high standard of ethics and skill, that particular move had tragic consequences and robbed the sport of quite possibly Germany's first World Champion.

   Had it not been for Webber the award may well have gone to Jenson Button who pulled off some wonderful moves in a great drive from thirteenth on the grid to the final step of the podium. Or maybe Vettel passing Rosbert on the outside at Blanchimont. There may have been a lot of overtaking as a result of a very long DRS zone between Radillon and Les Combes but it was the passing elsewhere that this race will be remembered, and for a very long time at that.

   Another beneficiary of the Senna carambolage was Daniel Ricciardo who was running as high as sixteenth early on and although he dropped back as the faster cars recovered he was still on course to give HRT one of their better finishes until the car ground to a halt just as the red flag came out for the Hoon's mangled McLaren. Also benefiting was the under-whelming Herr Schumacher who had one of his better days since the comeback. It didn't look too flash on Saturday when a rear wheel decided it just didn't want to hang around with the Mercedes, leaving the German to get somewhat better acquainted with the barriers than he would normally like on his out-lap in first qualifying. Starting dead last, however, may have been a blessing as if he had begun in a normal sort of place, somewhere around the bottom of the top ten, he would have been in the middle of the La Source kafuffle. As it was, he rose steadily through the race and just before the end took fifth place from the other Mercedes of the kin of the Flying Finn.

   Just days before the Belgian Grand Prix it was announced that Bruno Senna would be taking Nick Heidfeld's place at Renault. Despite outscoring Vitaly Petrov so far this year, his pace, especially in qualifying, has disappointed Renault team management. After 185 starts it would appear that Nick's dream has come to an end, although it has seemed that way before. Despite being a member of the Mercedes junior squad he debuted with the hideously crap Prost-Peugeot in 2000 (not even Jean Alesi could score points in that) before joining Sauber in 2001. He out-pointed team-mate Kimi Raikkonen that year and expected to be named as a replacement for the retiring Mika Hakkinen at McLaren-Mercedes for 2002. It came as a surprise for Nick then, when Raikkonen was signed by McLaren and so he stayed with Sauber for another two seasons. Dropped by Sauber at the end of 2003 it looked like the promising German's career may have stalled but he was given a lifeline by the struggling Jordan squad. After another fruitless season he was given a surprise chance with a drive alongside Mark Webber at Williams where he proved his capability with a pole and three podiums in the year that Williams decline really began. 

   When Williams engine supplier, BMW, split with the team to form its own squad, it purchased the Sauber outfit and named Nick as their lead driver. Four seasons with the Bavarian/Swiss squad brought eight more podium finishes but as time wore on he was slowly outpaced by the super-fast Robert Kubica. When BMW pulled the plug and sold the team back to Peter Sauber, Nick's career once again seemed to be over and he was replaced by Pedro de la Rosa. There was the possibility of finally joining Mercedes as they rejoined Grand Prix racing as a works team but then the deal was done with Michael Schumacher and Nick became a "test" driver who, because of the new testing rules, could not even test the car. De la Rosa's poor form saw Nick back in the Sauber for the last five races of 2010 and when Kubica suffered his horrendous rally accident at the start of this year, Nick stepped into his former team-mates seat at Renault.

    He may not have achieved the heights that he would have liked but if Hungary was really his final Grand Prix, then Nick bows out with a record that many drivers would be proud of. 185 starts, 1 pole, 13 podiums and 259 points ain't half bad for a guy that was often in mediocre machinery.  

 

Sam Snape

05/09/2011